Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ask, Seek, Knock, Part 2:
You Mean an Actual “Answer?”



If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.
—D&C 42:61

In part one of this series, we discussed Christ’s knowledge, and that it is the source of His power to redeem us. Without Him, we are powerless to save ourselves in our current predicament.

In today’s installment, we’ll discuss the role of our own knowledge in our eventual salvation. I’ll begin with the following analogy:

Smart
My dad gave me one dollar bill
’Cause I'm his smartest son,
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
’Cause two is more then one!

And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three dimes—I guess he don’t know
That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!

And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the seed-feed store,
And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!

And I went and showed my dad,
And he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head—
Too proud of me to speak! 

—Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends

This is the part where we need to come to grips with our own ignorance. Like the boy who values five pennies over one dollar, we foolishly tend to think we know something of value when, in fact, we know almost nothing of eternal value. In this world, we prize nearly everything else above the knowledge of God that will save us. We daily choose pennies over dollars.

Even the evil spirits who follow Satan know more than we do. Said Joseph:
“… A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” (History of the Church, 4:588)
O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)
Ignorance is our greatest sin, and in fact, leads to all other sins (a topic we’ll discuss further.) Our greatest impediment to overcoming our ignorance and learning what we need, is our foolish supposition that we already know something. The most unteachable person in the world is the one who assumes he already knows.

The Glory of God is intelligence, which is light and truth. (D&C 93:36) God wants to share His glory with us (John 17:22) by giving us light and truth. But we prevent it. Though Christ overcame all things by His knowledge, we seem hell-bent on remaining ignorant and overcoming nothing. Even God cannot give you what you do not want.

Wait, what? I thought God could do anything!

Not so. Though God technically CAN do anything, there are certain things He simply WILL NOT do. And forcing knowledge upon you is one of those things. Here’s why:

God is Just. This means He must do what He says He will do, and must allow you to experience the natural consequences of your actions. Because you will be judged according to the light and knowledge you possess, the more you know, the more accountable you become. If God imposes knowledge upon you that you do not desire, do not value, and will not obey, He simply makes you more accountable, to face a greater condemnation in the end.

But God is also merciful. Therefore, He mercifully withholds from you the knowledge you do not want and will not respect. The veil separating you from Him is actually for your protection. In your current condition, it is a mercy.

God will allow you to live and die, and spend your whole mortal existence in profound ignorance, because it will allow for the most merciful judgment possible. Though you cannot be saved in ignorance (D&C 131:6) and will therefore not ascend to where gods and angels dwell (D&C 76:101-102), you will at least be spared the more harsh condemnation required by justice, and reserved for those who have truth and choose to ignore it.
For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel. But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state! (2 Nephi 9:26-27 emphasis mine)
Ya Gotta Want It

But what if you actually WANT to be saved? What if you DESIRE the knowledge of God, and to understand the mysteries of God? (Alma 12:10) For that, there’s help. Let’s revisit Christ’s invitation and instructions, but this time from Joseph Smith’s inspired translation:
Go ye into the world, saying unto all, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come nigh unto you. 
And the mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves; for it is not meet to give that which is holy unto the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls unto swine, lest they trample them under their feet. For the world cannot receive that which ye, yourselves, are not able to bear; wherefore ye shall not give your pearls unto them, lest they turn again and rend you. 
Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened. (JST, Matthew 7:9–13 emphasis mine)
Did you catch that? Christ told his disciples to go into the world and preach repentance, but NOT to teach the mysteries. He informed them that those who desire to know the mysteries should be instructed to ask of God directly, rather than seeking to learn them from other men. 

This is because God, in his wisdom, justice, and mercy, knows exactly what to teach, how to teach it, and what to yet withhold until the learner is prepared. Men lack this ability, and are therefore commanded not to impart the mysteries they have received.
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. (Alma 12:9)
The key to receiving is to have a soft heart:
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (Alma 12:10)
A hard heart, on the other hand, leads to ignorance and captivity:
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:11)
And that’s exactly what Joseph Smith taught, about being brought into captivity by evil spirits who know more than you, in the quote I referenced above.

This is also the specific reason Christ taught in parables. Those who were prepared to receive knowledge would do so, while those who were unprepared would not. (Matthew 13:10-11)

And this brings us, finally, to begin our discussion of Christ’s invitation to ask, seek, and knock, which forms the too-cute acronym, A.S.K.

Asking

There’s a very specific reason you must ask God to teach you what you want to know. Here it is:

He needs your permission.

Remember, He cannot and will not force knowledge upon you that isn’t for your good. He respects your agency above all, even to the point that He will watch His family torn apart and countless souls destroyed before He will interfere with your agency. Eternal law dictates that agency must be preserved if progress is to be made. The removal of your agency will destroy you. 

Therefore, God needs your permission to begin the work of teaching what will ultimately make you more accountable, and in its fulness, make you into a god or a devil. You give your permission by asking in sincerity for the knowledge you lack. When you ask, you start the process that allows God to intervene in your life in necessary ways to prepare you for the knowledge you’ve asked for.

This was the very thought that put the match to the fuse, touching off the explosion of light in Joseph Smith’s restoration. 
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
This is one of the most profound, powerful statements in scripture—and likely one of the most important to your salvation. You and I—we lack wisdom! It is impossible to be saved in ignorance. (D&C 131:6) Therefore, our only choices are to remain ignorant and damned, or ask questions and get answers.

In fact, I submit that THIS is the correct understanding of God “answering” prayers. Think about it: If someone asks you to do something or give them something, it’s not called an “answer” when you do or give what was requested. It’s only called an “answer” when it’s a response to a question. Answers convey information. God cannot answer unless you ask questions.

And yet, we have a whole culture of unbelief built up to teach us that the purpose of prayer is to ask FOR things, and that getting those things is an “answer” to prayer. Time to toss that notion.

Answer me NOW!

When you ask, the answer will often not be immediate. There’s almost always some preparation required before you can even understand or accept the answer. First and foremost, this is because we are all too ignorant to frame the question properly so the answer will have the right frame of reference. 

Here’s an example:

Suppose a man named Jonah asks, “Lord, will I have fish for dinner?” The answer may be yes, but the fish Jonah receives may be rotting in a whale’s belly when Jonah arrives there. The answer was technically correct, but the question’s framing didn’t even come close to giving Jonah a full understanding. And the full answer to the question is likely something Jonah never even imagined possible.

The other reason preparation is required is because the telestial world has so twisted and confused eternal truths, your first instinct, lacking preparation, will be utter rejection of what God wants you to know.

For example, we withhold the terrible(?) truths of reproduction from our children because they are not prepared to receive them. It’s so much simpler, sweeter and easier to believe babies just magically grow in mommies’ tummies. And then they are born. It’s lovely.

When a child finally learns the actual process of conception, the first response might be horror. It’s gross, embarrassing, undignified, even violating to contemplate such behavior. And yet, it is one of the most beautiful and crowning of truths. The difference between beauty and horror, between acceptance and rejection, is maturity and preparation for the full answer. This takes time. 

Seek

OK, so you’ve asked. Good start. But there’s more to be done. 

If you’re serious about wanting the knowledge you’ve asked for, you have an obligation to do all you can to obtain it. The Lord explained this to Oliver Cowdery when he was trying to translate:
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. (D&C 9:7)
The Lord explained that there’s more to be done. Oliver was directed to “study it out in [his] mind.”

To “seek” is to go in search or quest of; to look for; to search for by going from place to place; to inquire for; to ask for; to solicit; to endeavor to find or gain by any means. This implies much more than simply asking. 

If you seek the truths of God, you must certainly search the scriptures. You may also be directed to search other sources, which will bring light to the subject. Perhaps you will ask others, or discuss the topic with those who know more than you. Certainly you will bring it up again and again in prayer, asking the Lord to guide your search and prepare your heart for the answer. 

Seeking takes time. Perhaps minutes. Perhaps years. Either way, the eternal law that governs all blessings requires you to put forth some effort and sacrifice to obtain answers. (D&C 130:21-21)

Knock

And so, suppose you’ve asked, pondered, prayed, studied, discussed, sought, prayed some more, and you’ve simply reached the limit of what you can acquire through such means—yet the question remains. You’ve forged down the corridor clear to the end, and now you’ve encountered a locked door. What do you do?

You knock. You knock and knock and keep knocking until the door is finally opened a crack. For certain types of knowledge, that closed door is part of the preparation and testing that will ensure you are prepared for what lies beyond. 
And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 9:42)
Knocking may involve pleading with the Lord, fasting, humbling yourself, making a sacrifice, and what is termed “wrestling” before God. In this process you will NECESSARILY both develop and exercise greater faith—which is what God was after in the first place!

This is why James 1:5 continues the thought with verses 6 and 7:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. (James 1:5-7)
Asking in faith implies developing that faith through the process of asking, seeking and knocking. This is a progression.
“The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. (History of the Church, 3:295–96)
And so, we arrive at a second key. 

If the key to God’s power is his knowledge, as we discussed in Part 1, then the key to asking and receiving—is to ask for the knowledge you lack. Ask, seek, knock. This is the progression that leads to knowledge of God. 

He is delighted when you are interested in knowing more about Him. It’s all over in the scriptures, and yet, sometimes the only information we require of God is to show us where we left the car keys. God clearly had greater things in mind:
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. (D&C 42:61)
Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance. (Alma 26:22)
Why, it’s even right there in the very first verse of the whole Book of Mormon!
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days. (1 Nephi 1:1)
How did Nephi obtain his “great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God?” He asked:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16)
It’s all through the scriptures. In fact, it’s really the point of the scriptural record. We are ignorant, and God wishes us not to be ignorant. So he has given us scripture to both inform us, and to provoke us to ask Him questions. If we do not ask, we will remain ignorant.

As we move on with this series, we’ll further discuss the sorts of knowledge we lack—and how to obtain answers.


For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.
—1 Nephi 11:1

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ask, Seek, Knock, Part 1:
Knowledge and Power

And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence. And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.
—Alma 42:14-15


How many times have you heard the saying, “Ask and you shall receive?” 



If you’ve spent much time in any form of Christianity, you’ve likely heard this phrase, or a derivative of it, as a regular drumbeat. And if you have any reasoning ability at all, you know, despite the regular repetition, it is false.

What? 


Allow me to explain.


The phrase originates with Christ in John 16:24 where we read the following:

Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
But it is more commonly associated with Christ’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount, where the record has our Lord expressing it as follows:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8; 3 Nephi 14:7)
So far, so good. It’s pretty straightforward. But it also raises some questions. Ask for what? Seek for what? Knock and what, exactly, shall be opened? Is this just a blanket invitation to ask for whatever we want? We certainly tend to treat it as such.

(I’m reminded of a vignette from a 1990’s cartoon called Ren and Stimpy. At bedtime, we see Stimpy kneeling and praying, “…and please bless grandma and grandpa…” while Ren prays, “…and please give me a million dollars, and a fridge with a padlock and, oh yeah, huge pectoral muscles…”) Ask and ye shall receive, indeed.


So here’s the rub: asking doesn’t work. How many times have you asked and NOT received? Whether it’s huge pectoral muscles, a million dollars, an A on your exam, healing from a physical problem, a change in someone you love, power to break a bad habit, love, luck, money, or an infinite number of other things—ultimately it seems we wish, hope, and ask, but often don’t receive.


And further, we still attempt to testify that God “answers” prayers, even though we know that He hasn’t given us what we’ve asked for. Oh sure, we may look at the occasional “big deal” answer as evidence that we get what we ask. But even if asking works occasionally, it doesn’t seem to work reliably—even when we do, “all travel home safely” after church.


So we’re left to conclude that either Christ was lying in his invitation, or else we must be missing something in our application.


News Flash: Christ wasn’t lying. When you understand His invitation, you’ll find it works, reliably, every time.


Interested?


Let’s reconsider our Lord’s invitation and learn how to ask, seek and knock. This journey will not be brief, and will not begin as you might expect, but it will end, “when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty.” (Lectures on Faith 2:56) This will take some “time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts” (TPJS 137) before we get where we’re going. This won’t be a light read, but there will be treasure buried here for those willing to put in the effort to uncover it.


OK. Ready? Let’s begin.


The first thing we need to realize is our predicament. See, you and I find ourselves trapped here in a Telestial world, separated from God, clothed in mortal flesh, and rapidly careening toward death. Jacob chose this very theme to begin one of his most remarkable sermons:

For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come; wherefore I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God…For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. (2 Nephi 9:4,6)
There’s the predicament. Our flesh must waste away and die, yet, the only way to return and dwell with God involves the need of a body. It doesn’t help that the bodies we currently inhabit not only are dying, but are wholly incapable of withstanding God’s presence and glory. Our flesh “must waste away and die.”

The solution to this problem calls for something quite remarkable to bring us back into God’s presence, clothed with glorified flesh, able to remain and endure God’s glory. According to Jacob, this miraculous transformation requires a specific power, he calls the “power of resurrection” to provide our escape from the grave; otherwise we must remain forever cut off from the Lord. For, says he:

…this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave. And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the POWER of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 9:11,12 emphasis mine)
“Power” is defined as the faculty of doing or performing a thing. The power of the resurrection, therefore, is the power by which “all men might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Nephi 9:22) Thus, the way is prepared for “our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Nephi 9:9) and we may be “snatch[ed] out of an everlasting burning, and...born of God.” (Mosiah 27:28)

First Key


In teaching these miraculous truths about our Lord, Jacob proclaims, again and again, God’s glorious attributes. In all, and not surprisingly, Jacob declares seven specific attributes of God’s character in 2 Nephi 9, as follows:


O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! (v. 8)

O how great the goodness of our God… (v. 10)
O the greatness and the justice of our God! (v. 17)
O how great the holiness of our God! (v. 20)

After each declaration, Jacob gives evidence to support his assertion. In the case of the final declaration—holiness—we read the following:

O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it. (2 Nephi 9:20 emphasis mine)
And so we encounter our first key to asking and receiving. It is this: God’s holiness—His highest and most defining attribute, placed at the pinnacle of Jacob’s list—stems from God’s knowledge.

Indeed, the key to Christ’s power to rescue us from our fallen state lies in his knowledge. Declared Isaiah:

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11) 
By bearing our iniquities, Christ gained the knowledge of how to return from a state of sin and separation to a state of love and reunification with God. His return restored Him to God’s presence, cleansed and at peace, to be “at one” with God. This is the at-one-ment or atonement of Christ.

Christ was not born with the fulness of this knowledge within Him; rather, He had to gain it by going from grace to grace, until God called Him His Son.

And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us. And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. (D&C 93:1-14 emphasis mine)
This knowledge was not won easily or cheaply; it required Christ to, quite literally, descend below all things. His knowledge was gained by sacrifice.
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ…the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead. (D&C 88:6-7, 13-14 emphasis mine)
He had to, literally, take upon himself every problem he hoped to solve in us—every sin, every infirmity, every illness; even death. He experienced, first hand, every horror of every abuse and torture ever perpetrated by humans upon one another. His knowledge came not by theory, but by practice. He had to experience it all Himself to gain the first-hand knowledge of how to solve every issue and return to peace with God. There was no other way for Him to gain the knowledge by which he could save us.
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. 
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. 
Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; (Alma 7:11-13 emphasis mine)
By gaining this knowledge, Christ gained compassion—not mere pity, concern or sympathy for our sufferings, but actual experience with them, having borne every problem in His own body and spirit. And thus, Christ’s compassion is not a mere emotion, but an actual POWER to save us.
And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men— Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice. (Mosiah 15:8-9, emphasis mine)
To repeat Jacob:
O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it. (2 Nephi 9:20)
There is no mortal problem, no sin, no abuse, no iniquity, no disappointment that is beyond Christ’s personal, first-hand knowledge—and power to correct. Therefore He can solve and repair any problem we present Him with. Because He knows. How great the Holiness of our God indeed!


Knowledge, Glory, Power

To summarize: God’s glory is His knowledge.

The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; (D&C 93:24)
It is Christ’s knowledge that gives him power to redeem. 

Now, we started this discussion with “ask and ye shall receive.” Though we haven’t yet gotten close to approaching Christ’s statement about asking, seeking and knocking, we’re heading in that direction. There’s yet some ground to cover though, so we’ll continue in the next installment.



Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him before he manifesteth himself in the flesh.

—Jacob 4:11

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Fairy Tales and Fellowships


But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.

—1 Timothy 4:7


Boy, do I hear some crazy things about myself!



I don’t consider myself important, and I prefer not to talk about myself. I find it very strange when others think I’m worthy of their time and attention spent in conjecture or sharing rumors. I would much rather talk about the gospel, but I feel concerned that some of the rumors might dissuade people from reading this blog or considering their role in the ongoing gospel restoration. I don’t want friends, neighbors, or even strangers to avoid gospel truth due to falsehoods they’ve heard about me, so it appears I must correct some myths.

Therefore, we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming, to set the record straight on a few rumors and set forth the truth about them. Personally, I find these rumors both unfortunate and laughable.


1. We “left the church.” This is, of course, not true. My wife and I were excommunicated from the LDS church. We did not leave, and we remained fully active right up until the end. Nevertheless, shortly after our excommunication, we heard from multiple members of our ward and stake that they heard we had “left the church.”


This rumor could have only come from church leaders; nobody else from our ward or stake knew about our situation, or our excommunication. One man told me a stake leader told him directly that we had “left.” This man refused, at first, to believe we had been excommunicated. When I assured him it was true, he wondered aloud why the church leader had misled him.


2. I started my own church. This one made the rounds far and wide for quite a while, even among my children’s friends, who confronted them at school with “I heard your dad started his own church!” This one also seems to have originated with church leadership, as it appeared the very week of our excommunication, before anyone besides church leaders knew anything about our situation.


To set the record straight: I have not started a church, and all such assertions are completely untrue. The only church I belong to is defined in D&C 10:67-68:

Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
3. I claim to be a prophet. Nope. Sorry, not true. I make no such claim, nor have I ever done so. Though I'll add that the word “prophet” has been so twisted and abused by the LDS church, that we lose sight of its true meaning.  We all ought to seek to be prophets:
And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them! (Numbers 11:29)
4. I’m bitter or angry at the church. Nope. Not at all. I’m certainly disappointed, to the point of mourning, but I’m not angry or bitter. There was only one portion of one post in which I was angry. It was in the Blood Moons series, when I wrote the following:
Why do the watchmen NOT raise the warning? Why do they tell us all is well? Why do they point to their life experience and reliance upon trained scholars, rather than their connection to heaven and understanding of scripture? Why do they tell us to keep our eyes on them, rather than on the Lord who can save us? Why do they insist we stay in the boat they blindly steer toward the rocks? 
And why, oh why, must a nobody like me raise the warning? Are we really that blind? With the scriptures before us and the signs above us, why is the truth not in us? How have we so utterly failed to recognize our predicament? Why have we trusted the arm of flesh? 
It breaks my heart—truly—to consider how many still trust their lives to ignorant, sleeping watchmen, rather than awakening and arising themselves. The flood is already upon us, the tempest is raging, and we perish.
5. I’m a polygamist. Oh my! Nobody was more shocked than me to hear this one. The rumor seems to have started when our family took in a homeless, single mother and let her live in our guest room until her situation improved. I reject the notion and practice of polygamy, and I believe Joseph Smith did as well—as I’ve written repeatedly.

6. I’ve taken the office of bishop, and made my wife my first counselor. Are you kidding me? This one really makes me scratch my head. I have no title, office, or position, nor do I want one. The same goes for my wife. In our fellowship, I preside over nothing, and govern nobody.


It appears someone within the remnant movement started this rumor, and it keeps surfacing. It’s utterly false, and yet some who should know better have both believed it, and perpetuated this gossip without bothering to find out if it’s true.


Now, I don’t mind people saying stupid stuff about me—but really, with the work ahead of us, I’m baffled that anyone has time to waste on such an unimportant topic as myself, particularly when the truth is so easily obtained. Spreading this sort of nonsense is a waste of time and shows intentional disregard for truth.


On to Stuff that Matters


Now, having dealt with the embarrassment of talking about myself, I’d like to move on to something important. 


I ran into a member of my former LDS ward, and he asked me what we do for worship and fellowship since we “left the church.” As usual, he had heard the rumors, but he asked the question in sincerity because he has doubts about the LDS church and leadership, and genuinely wants to know how it’s possible to honor Joseph Smith’s restoration and worship our Lord outside the LDS church.


I explained a bit about what we do, and it occurred to me, such an explanation might be useful here, as well. So, for the interested, the curious, or even for the opposed, here’s an overview of what a fellowship of believers looks like, without an organized church. I can’t speak for other fellowships, but here’s how it looks in Boise:


We gather on Sundays with like-minded friends in rather informal meetings as a fellowship of equals. I use “fellowship” here according to the common definition of “a friendly association of people who share the same interest.” These gatherings take place in homes, or at parks if the weather is nice. We sing, pray, discuss the gospel, and take the sacrament according to the pattern of scripture. We try to let the spirit guide us whether to preach, exhort, supplicate, sing, pray, or bless. (Moroni 6:9).


We gather our tithes as a group, and use them to bless the poor among us. We have no hierarchy, titles, positions, or leaders. Everything is voluntary and rotating in our fellowship, including who conducts the meetings, teaches, prays, blesses, or brings bread or wine for sacrament. All are welcome to speak, and there are no prepared talks. For that matter, there’s also no dress code. Women are equal with men in all things, the only exception being the ordinances of baptism and sacrament, which are only performed by men.


We perform baptisms in living water, using lakes or rivers, and conduct them strictly according to the pattern and wording laid out by Christ in scripture. Those who perform baptisms seek and obtain power from Christ to do so, much like Alma did at the Waters of Mormon:

And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart. And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him... (Mosiah 18:12-13)
We often gather at other times to study scripture together or to discuss important issues pertaining to our fellowship and the Lord’s work in the last days. We also enjoy social activities and meals together from time to time.

Above all, we are devoted to Jesus Christ, and attempt to learn and do His will for us. We recognize the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith, and we do all we can to preserve and honor all the truth the Lord gave through him.


We are by no means perfect, and we make all sorts of mistakes. But through it all we attempt to love and forgive one another, learn and grow together, and make Christ our center, both individually and as a group.


If any of this sounds interesting, and you’re in the Boise area, please feel free to contact me through the contact form on this blog. You are welcome to worship with us.


If you’re not in the Boise area, you can perhaps find a fellowship close to you at this site:





And if you’d like to learn more about the movement to preserve the Restoration of the Gospel, there’s great information at this site:

Click Graphic to Visit Site



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fairy Tale Fails

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.
—Habakuk 2:18-19



Elder Jeffrey Holland, when bearing his testimony, is fond of culminating with an emphatic statement similar to the following: “I have not devoted my life to a fairy tale!” This is really a powerful way to phrase it, which is not surprising for Jeff. The man has a knack for turning a phrase.

So what defines a “fairy tale?”


Dictionary definitions include “a children's story about magical and imaginary beings and lands,” and “a fabricated story, especially one intended to deceive.” This got me thinking…which led to the realization that, really, almost all religion consists of fairy tales. Don’t pretty much all religions teach about supernatural, or “magical” beings? Don’t they all deal with places that exist only in the imagination?


But wait, there’s that “fabricated” part. What if the stories are true? What if the magical beings and imaginary lands actually exist? Well, that’s where it starts to get interesting. And that’s why I said “almost” all religion consists of fairy tales. If you happen to have true knowledge about things that actually exist, well then, my friend, you don’t have a fairy tale. You have truth. And it can save you. The trick is to know when you have truth and when you simply have a “fabricated story…intended to deceive.” Because…

…there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. (1 Nephi 14:10)
If you learn and obey truth, you are part of the group Christ refers to as His church. If you believe ANYTHING else, you are in the other category. It’s pretty straightforward. Truth saves. All else is fairy tales.

This week, I watched people ritually wash, burn incense, throw coins, and pray in sincerity to stone statues, sometimes leaving an offering of food or drink. As I watched, I considered the role of religion in human existence. In my travels, I’ve observed a number of major world religions, and what fascinates me most is that the majority of them hold so many elements in common. In general, most religions consist of beliefs to explain the following:



  • The nature and purpose of life
  • The origin of the world 
  • The origin of humanity
  • Belief in the unseen supernatural or divine, including good and evil forces or beings
  • Belief in a god or gods, as well as a devil or demons who directly interfere and intervene in human life.
  • A connection with or responsibility to ancestors who are dead
  • Behavior and rituals required to please or appease diety, often involving purification to alleviate the effects of misbehavior or unfavorable events
  • Expectation of favors or blessings for in return pleasing diety, often including health, wealth, love, luck, success, better circumstances, or whatever else one desires.
  • Consequences for failure to please or appease diety, including punishments, loss of favor and blessings, uncleanness, etc.
  • A belief in some sort of life after mortality, with favorable or unfavorable circumstances contingent on performance in this life


These common elements exist in the vast majority of religions, and seem to be part of the universal human experience. We hunger for explanations, meaning, purpose and direction. Whether we pray to a stone statue for rain, or to Jesus for money, the underlying principles hold. Though the answers and explanations differ, the universal hunger and need remains so deep seated and closely held that millions will kill or die in the service of their unseen gods, believing such behavior curries favor with the divine. We take our fairy tales VERY seriously.

Even in societies too “civilized” to kill each other over religion, we still find shunning, punishment, anger, fear, and hatred when adherents encounter someone who simply believes a different set of stories than they do.


And yet, the stories all exist to answer the same universal questions. Hugh Nibley referred to these as the “terrible questions” by which he meant the most fundamental perplexities of human existence. “Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is the purpose of life?” Which set of stories you prefer ultimately doesn’t matter if you don’t have the correct answers to these questions. For an entire generation, the marketing message of LDS mormonism focused on LDS answers to these questions.


And that’s where Joseph Smith comes in. Beginning as a fourteen-year-old boy, he somehow had the unique ability to see past the commonly accepted fairy tales and find the real thing. Therefore his religion is unique in the modern world, and rare in world history. I summarize Joseph’s unique teachings thusly:



  • God is not unseen; I have seen Him. 
  • God is not unknowable; I know Him. He is a real person with a real body who exists in a real place.
  • The purpose of life is to make humans into gods—not some unknowable, effete spirit sort of dead-ancestor god, but real, living, breathing physical beings who dwell in a family connection or kingdom of gods, in a physical place.
  • And perhaps, most important, you DO NOT have to accept these things merely on faith. You can know them by personal experience. You can and should meet and converse with these divine beings. You can and should meet and know God personally. He will speak with you; he will teach you these things himself.


This principle ought (in its proper place) to be taught, for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest. (TPJS 149)
That is an absolutely revolutionary set of teachings, and it flies in the face of nearly all other world religions, where the gods remain unseen and unseeable, unknown and unknowable, forever the objects of blind devotion or horror until death ends the mystery of the great unknown. Joseph made the astounding claim that these not only AREN’T fairy tales, but that you can obtain actual, physical proof for yourself, as he did.

Unfortunately, we don’t much believe what Joseph taught anymore. Instead, the religion he founded has been hijacked, and revelation has been supplanted with tradition to bring great wealth and power to some few, while requiring the masses to pay, pray, and obey, but never expect to experience what Joseph did. Like all other religions, it has simply devolved into fairy tales, requiring a lifetime of blind faith and ignorant obedience to receive an undefined favorable outcome in the unknown afterlife. This is most certainly NOT the religion Joseph taught.


Much has changed since Joseph lived, and falsehoods have turned truths into myths. We have intentionally and unintentionally added “fabricated stories…intended to deceive.” Here’s an illustration:


On the Autumn equinox in 1823, Joseph Smith went to bed and besought the Lord in supplication and prayer. In response, an angel visited him in his bedroom. Throughout Joseph’s life, and in at least 4 direct, written accounts, he specifically identified that angel as “Nephi.” But somewhere along the line, after Joseph’s death, someone wrote “Moroni” to replace Nephi. The change stuck, the history became a myth, and now a golden statue named “Moroni” tops most LDS temples. The LDS church continues to tell the false story that Moroni visited Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823, even though the historical information that has come to light—and is published by the church—clearly demonstrates the error. (See here, here, here (page 753), and here (page 53).


But in the end, does the identity of the angel really matter? It seems a small error, really, and doesn’t much change your quest for redemption. Does it?


I’d like to suggest at least three reasons why something even as seemingly insignificant as the angel’s identity matters.


1. Resurrection


The identity is significant because it bears directly on understanding the gospel principle of resurrection. Nephi and Moroni lived a thousand years apart, at opposite ends of the Nephite dispensation. Between their lifetimes, Christ performed His mortal mission and attained to the resurrection of the dead. Nephi was resurrected at the time Christ was, and therefore appeared to Joseph as a resurrected being with a body. Moroni lived hundreds of years after Christ and therefore has not yet been resurrected. If he appeared, it would have been in spirit form only.


Joseph’s detailed explanation of the angel’s appearance therefore properly applies to a resurrected being, and not to a disembodied spirit. There was a physical being with a physical body standing in the air above the floor in Joseph’s bedroom. The fact that Nephi had a body would have been necessary to his ability to handle physical things in this world, like the gold plates. Nephi’s visit provides us the vital information that resurrected beings come here and minister, foreshadowing John the Baptist’s later visit, when he laid physical hands on Joseph and Oliver.


A proper understanding of the resurrection is indispensable to understanding the gospel. In fact, Joseph grouped it with what he termed the “first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The Doctrines of the Resurrection of the Dead and the Eternal Judgment are necessary to preach among the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (TPJS 149)
By corrupting the angel’s identity, we fundamentally impair understanding, not only of the resurrection, but also of the covenants and connections that govern early resurrection, embodying Nephi in flesh while Moroni yet waits for that opportunity. These covenants and principles have become largely lost to us, and we therefore fundamentally misunderstand the “first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  A “small” error in identity has major ramifications.

2. Altered Records


Joseph’s records were altered after his death. In the Joseph Smith papers, you can see the alteration, where someone wrote in Moroni’s name. There is no explanation as to who did this or why, but the record has undeniably been altered.


Since this is the case for something as seemingly insignificant as a name, what happens when even more significant records have been demonstrably altered? Such is the case with polygamy, where Joseph’s clear and ardent teachings against the practice, were altered to promote polygamy.


Those who made this alteration in the written record attempted to turn their adultery into something sanctioned by God and taught by Joseph, and by so doing, they led thousands into significant error and gross sin. By altering Joseph’s words, they showed contempt for God, who said:

Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. (D&C 21:4-5)
The records were changed to establish a false tradition, which is a nice way of saying “a fairy tale.” Will you continue to believe that fairy tale now that you have more reliable information about what Joseph actually taught?

3. In a Corner


In each case, faced with clear evidence that Joseph’s teachings have been altered, the LDS church has been required to make a choice: Admit the error, correct it, and move forward more closely aligned with truth, or double down and continue teaching the false tradition as if the real records simply don’t exist.



The trouble is that the false tradition also claims that the prophet, and by extension the church, cannot lead you astray. Therefore, any concession and error correction would also be an admission that the prophet and the church do indeed make significant errors, which admission would threaten the power structure built on the foundation of the false tradition. Sadly, because of this “all or nothing” facet of the tradition, the majority of those who discover errors, walk away from it all—concluding that Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, God the Father, angels, demons, and the rest are all just fairy tales. When it’s “all or nothing” many simply check the box next to nothing, and head off into atheism. Secular humanism becomes their new preferred set of stories. This is the most pernicious result of the all-or-nothing fairy tale.

The LDS church has painted itself into a corner. They—quite literally—rely on church members’ ignorance to keep the organization staffed and funded, and the leadership in power. They know they teach fairy tales, and hope to keep doing so, because admitting error is unthinkable, and produces disastrous results.


But reliance on ignorance doesn’t work so well in the information age. The truth is readily available and easily accessed. Many cherished LDS stories are turning out to only be fairy tales after all. The transfiguration of Brigham Young, the seagulls and locusts, false quotes from Joseph Smith, manufactured modern revelation…the list goes on. Here’s another one—and a quite important one—that has recently come to light:


Joseph’s Final Charge


It’s a well-known and undisputed historical fact that the original twelve LDS apostles were never ordained by Joseph Smith, and therefore could not claim, as Brigham Young attempted to, Joseph’s authority by virtue of the apostleship alone. The continuation of Joseph’s gifts, keys, and authority is, of course, foundational to the current LDS church claims to authority, which is a problem if you can’t quite explain how other men got what God gave to Joseph.


The narrative that solves this problem is now known as the “final charge.” The story goes that in March, 1844 Joseph Smith met in council with the twelve and gave them all the ordinances, keys, covenants, endowments, and sealing powers of the priesthood, and that he rolled off onto their shoulders the responsibility to lead and govern the kingdom of God on earth. Various accounts of this meeting exist, though it was never mentioned until well after Joseph had died and the twelve needed a way to claim Joseph’s authority.


The trouble is that the minutes of those meetings are now available—and they tell no such story. Neither do contemporary journal entries of those in attendance. There’s no indication anything particularly significant happened at all. But as with other fables like Brigham Young’s transfiguration, the tale has gotten better and better through the years, until various versions have Joseph glowing as he spoke, threatening the twelve with damnation if they failed, and jumping up and down, clapping like a schoolboy as he rejoiced that he was off the hook as the only one carrying God’s authority.


Such is the tradition by which the LDS church claims rights to Joseph’s keys, powers, gifts and position. The historical record indicates it never happened. The church insists it somehow did—and thus the leaders must be obeyed and believed, even as they teach tall tales opposite what Joseph taught. Like I said, they’ve painted themselves into a corner, and they believe their only option is to double down on the lies, telling members not to look too closely, nor ask too many questions.


In other words, we ain’t gonna see a press release any time soon—not about Nephi, not about polygamy, not about Joseph’s final charge. We’ll just see more sound bites and general conference memes, pushing platitudes as if they had power to redeem. Those who point out the truth in the LDS church’s own published materials will continue to be accused of trying to “destroy faith” by telling you the truth.


And in the end it comes down to a question of truth. Joseph taught truth, including the reality of God and the opportunity to know Him. Others have traded truth for fairy tales, and continue to not only teach them, but insist you not question them. Do you want to hitch your wagon to that? Are you loyal to truth or to something else?


“I have not devoted my life to a fairy tale!” 


I’m sorry Jeff, but you have. We all have in some way or another. The Book of Mormon goes to some trouble to warn us against believing “the traditions of our fathers” when those traditions have no foundation in truth. That’s not the issue. The issue is how we respond when the traditions are unmasked as false.


Turn to God and alter your view to align with truth—this is the appropriate response. In fact, this is the very definition of repentance. It doesn’t matter if you used to believe a fairy tale; it matters how you respond when confronted with truth. If you refuse to change course, your heart is hard. And it will damn you.


It’s one thing to believe ignorantly, but once you see the written proof of the fabrication, will you still prefer tales over truth? Is it worth knowing what Joseph knew, and experiencing what he experienced? Or are you satisfied throwing a few coins, making a wish, and praying to gods of stone?


And so this brings us back to where we started. The religion of Joseph Smith—which is the religion of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Enoch, Elijah, Nephi and Jesus Christ—brings men into literal contact with Gods. It worked for ancient believers. It worked for Joseph Smith. It has worked for people now living who can testify first hand. God wants it to work for you, as well.


If your chosen set of fairy tales doesn’t produce this result, then it matters not if you pray to a stone, a cloud, an elephant, or an emperor. Though your need for fables may be satisfied, your soul never will be. Nothing but actual knowledge of truth can adequately fill that void.


Thy graven images I will also cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee, and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands; And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away. For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel.

—3 Nephi 21:17-20