Posts Tagged ‘Revelation’
I apologize for the misleading title. This is not about Denver Snuffer. This is about my progress in reading and digesting what Denver Snuffer has written. If you’ll recall, about a month ago I ordered, received and wrote about Denver’s latest publications. I just finished reading volume one of Remembering the Covenant and want to share a few things I learned from that volume.
Remembering the Covenant is a reprint of Denver’s blog. Volume one covered approximately the first five months, from 1 February 2010 to 7 June 2010. It is about 435 printed pages. I took my time reading it because I had several other reading projects going on at the same time. I read each entry twice, highlighting with a different colored marker on each pass, pondering as I read.
This is still a solo project. Carol is not interested in what I am reading, although I do share a few quotes with her on occasion. She usually likes to point out that if the Lord wanted me to know what Denver had to say, the Brethren would have told us to read his books. Sigh. Carol’s not big on doctrine. The social aspects of the church are more important to her. We balance each other.
Careful, Ponderous and Solemn Thought
Many of the entries were familiar to me, having read them at one time or another on his blog. I was also impressed that a lot of content was shared here the first time in this volume and found full expression in his book, Passing the Heavenly Gift. It’s obvious the ideas found in PtHG were developed a long time before they were put together so powerfully in that controversial book.
My objective in the methodical and deep reading of Remembering the Covenant is obviously tied to my desire to obtain what Denver has written about in his first book, The Second Comforter. No, I have not yet obtained an audience with the Lord, but then, I’ve only been asking seriously for the last year or so. I started asking in earnest after my first reading of The Second Comforter.
Maybe my approach is all wrong, but what I’m trying to accomplish here is prove one way or another that a regular member of the church can have the same experience Denver Snuffer says we all can and should have – to receive a promise from the Lord of Eternal Life. And yes, that means a personal visit from the resurrected Lord, and to receive that promise from his own lips.
Why I Haven’t Received the Promise Yet
I found many helpful entries to explain why I haven’t had that sacred experience yet. One of them is found on page 261. You can read the entry on his blog dated 27 April 2010 – God is No Respecter of Persons. About halfway through the post he discusses what alienates us from the Lord. He makes an interesting point that it is not our sins per se, but the way we offend Christ.
Specifically he says, “He is offended when we are forgiven by Him, and then return to the same sin. This shows a lack of gratitude for His forgiveness.” Denver acknowledges that some struggle with addictions, compulsions and weaknesses for years, even decades. That’s me. He then offers what I found to be a sad commentary. It made me think that I must still have a long ways to go.
He writes, “When at last, because of age or infirmity, a troubling weakness is at last overcome, He will readily accept your repentance and let you move forward, clean, whole and forgiven.” This makes me sad because it causes me to feel that those who struggle with addiction will not be accepted by the Lord until the biological temptations of the body go away due to old age.”
I Sin Differently Than You
Perhaps you can help me out in my thinking here. Maybe some of you know what I am talking about. I’m going to be frank. They say confession is good for the soul. I’ve written about this before on my blog and got a lot of positive feedback from folks who said it helped them to be so open and honest about such a sensitive subject. You may think less of me after reading this.
Mental illness runs in my family. So does addiction. I’ll bet they go hand-in-hand. I recall a line used by President Uchtdorf in a recent General Conference address (April 2012). I believe he said it came from a bumper sticker. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” In my previous blog post on the subject I wrote I was exposed to Internet pornography in 1995.
However, that wasn’t my first exposure to pornography. It seems the adversary knew what my weakness was before I ever understood. I struggled with pornography from the time I was eight years old, long before the Internet. I find it interesting that this temptation came into my life right after I was baptized. It has been a constant battle with many ups and downs for nearly fifty years.
A Common but Serious Weakness
I have never confessed this in a public forum before. I am pleased to say that I am a recovered addict and have been clean for many years, but like an alcoholic, it can come back in a second. My state of mind is something about which I have to be constantly wary. I must always be careful about what I look at, what ads I see, what TV shows I watch, what web pages I visit.
This is not a secret from Carol. We have worked on this together over the years. I am amazed at how kind, patient, loving and accepting she has always been. This is an intimate part of our lives but human sexuality is a big part of the mortal experience so it has eternal ramifications. For me, the biggest part of this struggle has always been feelings of guilt and of disappointing the Lord.
The last time I tried to confess this sin to a bishop, I also tried to turn in my temple recommend. This was many years ago, early in my married life. He pushed the temple recommend back at me and said, “I want you to go to the temple more frequently and I want you to stop confessing this. This weakness is between you, your wife and the Lord. You work it out among yourselves.”
Broken Souls Are Loved by the Lord
I came away from reading Denver’s entry that God is No Respecter of Persons thinking that I will not be worthy or qualified for a visit from the Lord to obtain the promise of Eternal Life for many more years, probably just before I am ready to leave this life. Perhaps someone who struggles with an addiction is a special case, who can’t be trusted until they’re almost dead.
I found some consolation in reading his entry on Broken Souls on page 387 which can be found on his blog dated 25 May 2010. In it Denver describes his work with and love for those who find it difficult to associate with other members of the church because they struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression caused by addictions. I could immediately relate this to my life-long hurt.
He writes that he has close friends who struggle with addictions so haunting and so terrible a force in their lives that rising each day to face the coming fight takes greater courage than he could imagine. “They are acting in faith at every waking breath, as they fight against a foe that I do not comprehend and could not face.” Yep, that pretty much describes my daily walk in life.
Forgiveness for a Former Addict
Hope came as I read there, “I marveled at how very much these broken souls, these discouraged people … are the very ones with whom I feel the Lord’s presence and love as I have the honor of meeting and talking with them about the gospel. These are the ones He loves the most. These are the ones with whom he associated during His ministry. He associates there, still.” I like that.
I made a decision a long time ago to continue to follow the gospel path, to attend my meetings each week, to accept and faithfully serve in callings when asked, to attend the temple and to do all within my power to prove to the Lord that I loved Him and wanted His forgiveness. But I also accepted the fact that I would never really feel that I belonged, that I was not worthy of the Lord.
All this, because as a former addict, I did not feel I could be trusted. I could and would do all that we are supposed to do, including prayer and gospel study, but deep down, I knew my weakness and it terrified me that I was capable of such betrayal. I had known the Lord’s forgiveness early in my life, but my constant struggle over the years caused me to feel I had offended the Lord.
You Deserve Your Insecurities
On page 408, in the post entitled Developing Your Faith dated 30 May 2010, Denver writes, “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.” He then admonishes us to go and re-read Lectures on Faith Six.
Of course, that lecture is about offering sacrifice to obtain sufficient faith to be saved. In this lecture is found the famous quote that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” I have thought and pondered about this for at least twenty years. I have yet to figure out what more I can sacrifice.
According to Denver, it is my fears and insecurities that I must sacrifice. It is my lack of trust in myself that comes from years of being a former addict that I must sacrifice. I know the Lord has forgiven me. That’s a given. I have asked and know that He has forgiven me. There has never been a hesitation when I have asked for forgiveness. But does he trust me enough to visit me?
Timing for the Visit From the Lord
I suppose the real question is, “Do I trust myself enough to let the Lord visit me?” Of course, we do not set the timing of the Lord’s visit. So the mechanics of how this works puzzles me. Let’s say I finally figure out in my mind at last a way to give up that lack of trust that I put there so long ago as I began my recovery from my addiction. I give up the fear that I can’t be trusted.
Well, that’s nice. That is, it’s nice to be able to say to myself that the Lord trusts me, but unless I hear the Lord say it to me personally, perhaps it’s just self-deception. The Lord has commanded us to drop doubts and fears from our hearts. I am willing to do so. For non-addicts I assume it’s a simple thing. You simply say to yourself, “I trust myself that I will not participate in sin again.”
I’m sure I’m over-analyzing this and making it way more complicated than the Lord intended. The gospel is supposed to be so simple that even a child can understand it. We are supposed to become child-like in our trust and faith in the Lord. I know I can trust the Lord, but I am not certain I can trust myself, even after all these years. There simply are no guarantees, are there?
Invitation to Dialog
For any other Snuffer readers out there, what do you think? Am I going about this wrong? Denver reports on page 421 in “Be Still and Know That I Am God” (2 June 2010), “Study what I’ve written carefully and anyone will find it is all there. Several people have done so, and have received the promised results.” That’s nice to know. I believe Denver and am happy for them.
I’m still pondering the approach I need to take to accomplish this work that only I can do for myself. One approach is to hang onto the belief that because I am a former addict who has offended Christ by returning to my sins after having been forgiven, that I must wait patiently until my life is nearly over before the Lord will visit me to proclaim I have Eternal Life.
The other approach is to give up all doubts and fears left over from years of sin, trust the Lord implicitly that He is willing to come to me now and ask all the more sincerely for that blessing. Perhaps I have missed something in The Second Comforter and need to go back and re-read it yet one more time, asking the Lord to show me what steps I missed the first few times I read it.
On my blog, I review a lot of LDS books. For some reason, most of them are not found in Deseret Book. I don’t know why that is. Perhaps it is because some of them are considered controversial. I’m fairly certain Denver Snuffer does not care if his books are in Deseret Book. He has written that he wants people to have to search them out, make an effort to find them.
I thought I had reviewed his first book, The Second Comforter: Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil. Apparently not. I wrote about it here, but didn’t cover much of the material. There is already a plethora of book reviews out there on Amazon, Goodreads, and various other sites. I thought it might be helpful to share my study notes from the introductory overview.
Note that the numbers at the beginning of each paragraph correspond to the page numbers found in the 2008 second edition of the book. These are simply the notes I took as I read those pages. There may be some overlap and some additional ideas I have added but that’s because I felt inspired to add it as I was reading the content. I always want to be able to teach from my notes.
3 – The Lord is the Promised Second Comforter – There are two comforters. The first is the Holy Ghost. The second is the Lord. (John 14:15-18). This is a basic doctrine of the church. I think most people who have attended any LDS Sunday school class over the years have heard it at one time or another. The idea is that when we are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, we should continue to humble ourselves before the Lord, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, seeking to live by every word of God. We then have the promise that we may receive the other Comforter, which is to have the Lord minister unto us from time to time. Apparently, there are times when we need the comfort of a personal visit from the Lord to help us pass through trials. Besides, there are some things that can only be revealed in person.
4 – We are to have the heavens opened unto us – Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by the Lord on several occasions. He taught that this promise is to be taken literally by all the Saints. It is not just a promise for Joseph or the current prophet of the Church. Joseph wanted us to understand that this is an actual, physical visit with the Savior to us. This involves having the heavens opened. It is the culminating part of Christ’s gospel in which the Savior ministers to us individually, one at a time, just as he has ministered to others before. In other words, it should not seem strange or unusual to us to have or expect the Lord to visit us, while we are yet mortal. This is a promise to all the Saints. It is our heritage and a blessing for those who strive to keep his commandments. Obedience is a requirement. We should seek for and obtain this blessing.
5 – You can receive Him – there is no exception – When the Lord makes a promise, he does not excuse himself. He intends to keep his promises, even if men do not. If we come to him in obedience, he has no intention of leading us along, only to disclose an exception. There is no exception. We can all receive Him as he has promised. In the Millennium, men will walk and talk with the Savior. Any person who abides the laws that will be kept during the Millennium can expect to receive the promised blessings of the Millennium, including that of walking and talking with the Savior. It is the privilege of the saints today to receive the Lord, to separate ourselves from the world, to ask for and to receive the personal ministration of the Lord Jesus Christ. This doctrine is a part of the fullness of the gospel. It is a promise of Jesus Christ unto those who love Him. If you obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel, exercise faith and come unto Christ, he will keep his promise. D&C 93:1 lays out the five requirements for receiving the Lord.
6 – You will always need church programs and ordinances –Some teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are not for the novice. They require maturity, time and patience. The Church has wisely chosen to focus on the basic doctrines of salvation in the curriculum, especially since so many members are new to the gospel. As we grow and mature in the gospel, we are left in large measure to seek further light and knowledge on our own. Some people think that seeking to be ministered unto by the Lord is one of those “mysteries” from which we should stay away. Done the right way, with the right understanding, approached in humility as intended, it is right. You can never outgrow the programs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can never outgrow the need for the saving ordinances. The Church is His medium for delivering the gospel. Therefore, it will not be something you leave behind. Besides, it’s a great place to give service and help others learn the gospel and the only place to pay tithes to an authorized agent.
7 – Intellectual criticism brings no revelation – Many church members want a deeper understanding of the gospel. There are numerous publications and organizations, trying to append themselves to the church, attempting to satisfy this desire for higher knowledge. Dialogue and Sunstone are two periodicals addressed to Mormon intellectuals. While there is much good found in their covers, there is also much criticism and even outright hostility toward the views of the Church in many of the papers and conferences of such organizations. Revelation does not necessarily come through critical thinking. Although we are commanded to study things out in our own minds before we turn to the Lord for a confirming witness of the truth, finding fault with the Church or those we sustain as its leaders does not bring us closer to the Lord. To be learned is good if we hearken to the counsels of God. Humility is needed with intelligence.
8 – Debate is not the right method – Seemingly established to combat Dialogue and especially Sunstone, FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Religious and Mormon Studies) and FAIR (The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) grew out of the need to respond to the critics who employ scholarship or pseudo-scholarship to accuse the Church of alleged failings. These groups seem to employ a combative approach (especially FAIR) in presenting pros and cons of many matters that are not included in the Church’s internal teaching materials. These approaches promote debate among the Saints which has never been unifying. I have read many stories of disenchanted individuals who report they had never heard of some doctrine or practice of the church until they read it on the FAIR website. Sometimes the arguments composed to explain the questionable historical events do more harm than good, leaving seekers unsatisfied. Note that FARMS is now the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and a part of BYU.
9 – Intellectual approach is insufficient – All of these publications provide some interesting reading. The polemics are entertaining, even when they are not enlightening. They can be useful for defining issues and providing a source for further study, but they make no attempt to instruct in the process of receiving the Second Comforter. Denver’s book is about receiving the Second Comforter. It is an attempt to show the reader a roadmap for going from where he or she is now to the position where the Lord can be received. The book is not about the afterlife or some future millennial day when all mankind will see the Lord. Rather it is about receiving the Second Comforter during your present lifetime. The Book will explain what it means to receive the Second Comforter and outline a course of conduct to apply those teachings in your life. It is intended to provide a practical guide, an examination of what you must do in order to receive the promised blessing. It is not intended for mere academic inquiry. It is also not a scholarly work. It is about how the scriptures teach us to grow in light and truth until we reach a perfect day.
10 – Reason and scholarship does not produce revelation – Many of the things discussed in this book will be foolish to the academic. Scholars are some of our harshest critics. This work does not participate in the scholars’ debates. The greatest theologians in history have failed to crack open the heavens in the slightest. Reason alone does not provide light and truth. There are some irrational – or more correctly extra-rational – sources of truth as well. Angels do not come to us because we have an interesting paper to present to them. The well-schooled are not those who have received the greatest truths revealed to mankind. Angels visited and Christ ministered to fishermen and plow boys. The greatest prophets of history came with less education than most modern-day high school graduates. They had access to truth from another source. There is a significant distinction between the process followed by the revelators and the reasoning of theologians and scholars. Divine revelation will never come through the scholar’s tools. Instead, it comes as people follow the principles of the gospel and obey the commandments of God.
11 – Revelation obtained through a practical process – Even those who rely on reasoning and intellect must ultimately base their reasoning on the basic truths revealed to simple but faithful people who have received revelation. Scholars attempt to teach others to use analytical tools to reach reasoned conclusions. They use logic, reason and supporting studies to establish their “truths.” Prophets attempt to duplicate their experiences by teaching others to obey God and to ask Him to reveal hidden knowledge. Prophetic knowledge is not obtained merely by study, reason or logic. It is obtained by obedience to God’s will and from revelation. What we need is a practical process to discover what is required to get revelation and then we want to get that revelation. We want the truth through revelation. The scriptures tell us how to get the “mysteries of God.” Learning these “mysteries” is the fullness of Christ’s Gospel. Scholars do not pretend to uncover new mysteries or revelations from God. They do no attempt to open the heavens for us. On the other hand, the scriptures do attempt to open the heavens to all, under specific conditions. Some knowledge can only be received by revelation. It is to be learned but is not to be taught.
12 – Seek further light and knowledge – The majority of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are composed of new converts. The primary focus of the teachings of the Church in Sunday school and Sacrament meetings is always going to be the fundamental principles of the gospel. Discussing the “mysteries” before the foundations have been adequately established is more destructive than edifying. Immaturity leads some curious but unprepared folks to seek these things prematurely. Encouraging them in this before they are ready may result in deep frustration or even losing their testimony altogether. In most lives it will take many years of development before this process is appropriate. Those many years of development can best, perhaps only, be acquired by faithful service within the Church. Church service is the best means for obtaining the necessary preparation. The Church is literally preparing its members for citizenship in heaven. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the work of God. Through its institutions the ordinances which must precede and accompany the acquisition of mysteries are given to the members. Seeking further light and knowledge is not independent the Church, but utterly reliant of it. We need the Church. The Church needs our strength and support.
13 – Must live up to what we receive – Throughout his ministry Joseph was always torn between the desire or requirement to teach on the one hand, and the preparedness and willingness of the Saints to receive instruction on the other. In Nauvoo, Joseph lamented: “I could explain a hundredfold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.” Permission to reveal and preparation to receive go together. No one is “permitted” to reveal something else unless “the people are prepared to receive them”. That limit also applies to angels. God waits for each person’s preparation before giving them light and truth. We decide what we are willing receive. If you decide you are willing to receive more, then you must follow the path to do so. There are rules which govern these things. We want to find and follow those rules. You cannot avoid the rules and then hope to get what they offer. This book is a guide to discover and apply those rules.
14 – So many people are not prepared with basics – Those who are unprepared will never receive and incorporate spiritual things into their lives. Since they are unwilling to live a higher standard they will not be judged against that standard before they have first had a merciful season to prepare. Almost anyone will accept truth if they are prepared to identify it as truth. But many people are unprepared, and cannot recognize it as true. So, for them, the Lord withholds information to allow them to prepare first. You have no right to impose upon unprepared souls, higher information than they are able to bear. This book is intended only for active, faithful members of the Church with many years of faithful living. It is for those faithful members who have felt there is something more to the Gospel, but do not have a secure sense of how to proceed to receive it. It is for people whose lives have been filled with years of active service in the Church supporting its programs and providing service to others. It is for those who have attended the temple, and consistently returned to worship there. It is for the few humble followers of Jesus Christ as described by Nephi (2 Ne 28:14). You decide if it is for you.
15 – People today have received the Second Comforter – To receive the Second Comforter we must allow others who have been so blessed to serve as our guides. Their instructions and testimony need to be accepted and followed. The steps in this book are not innovative. They are based entirely on the scriptures. This book will show the propriety of these things from scripture and then show the reader how to approach the task. If this subject makes you uncomfortable, this book may not be suitable for you. Heaven will not open to the skeptic. On the other hand, if you believe there is a deeper level available through faith which you long to experience but is just beyond your reach because you are unsure how to proceed, this book can help you. You may already have the faith required, but you may lack the knowledge or the confidence to realize these things are in fact available to you. Rest assured they are part of Christ’s Gospel. There are people today who have received the Second Comforter. It can be done by any Saint who is willing to abide the conditions set to receive this kind of comfort. It can be done by you.
16 – Rethink – Search into the mysteries of Godliness – Joseph admonished the Saints; “I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness.” The notion you should “leave the mysteries alone” has become a mantra for some Saints. Perhaps that is an appropriate mantra for most Saints and in most settings and for all those whose maturity in the Gospel has not prepared them for receiving the deeper things of Christ’s gospel. But there are some Saints who have a legitimate right to these things. Gospel understanding is not meant to make you popular or garner acclaim. It is meant to remake you into a humble servant, to change your heart so you, like the Good Samaritan, will minister to others in need. You will not get recognition for pursuing this effort. It must be a private struggle, about which the world will never know. If you hope for status from the experience, you will be disappointed. But if you wish to know God, you will not [be disappointed].
17 – Visions are private and for our own benefit – Receiving these things does not mean you are authorized to get in front of the Brethren who preside as authorized agents, and begin teaching doctrines either in addition to or different from their authorized message. No one, at any time is authorized to teach beyond what the Lord’s chosen authorities have taught. Joseph said, “…if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction…” The mysteries can be received by any person who will follow the process to receive them, but they cannot be taught. You should note that within this last quote from Joseph is the expectation that there will be those who will receive “a vision or visitation from a heavenly messenger.” That is the right of the Saints. It is one of the characteristics of true faith that the heavens communicate to men and women on the earth.
18 – Many people are learned but cannot be taught – However, limited disclosure is one of the requirements of receiving these things. We are to “impart only according to that 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) If you are incapable of obeying these requirements, then you cannot receive any new mystery by revelation. Heaven will not permit any soul to receive mysteries if they cannot resist revealing them unwisely to others. The constraint that they may be learned but cannot be taught is enforced by withholding them from those who will not be able to abide by this constraint. If you are one of those who cannot respect this limitation, then the process will not work for you. Joseph said, “The reason we do not have the secrets if the Lord revealed to us, is because we do not keep them, but reveal them; we do not keep our own secrets…” Joseph later said, “If God gives you a manifestation; keep it to yourselves.” The Second Comforter is for your individual comfort and instruction, not for public display.
19 – We must be trusted to keep sacred things sacred – An audience must be prepared and worthy to learn of sacred things. This is a binding limitation and an essential part of the process. To be qualified you must be someone who can be trusted to keep sacred things sacred. Of course, when required to testify of something by the Lord, the Lord’s insistence upon that testimony always takes precedence. The general rule is to keep them to yourself. The exception is when the Lord constrains you to do otherwise. The Second Comforter is not provided in order to produce faith. Rather, he comes in response to faith. If you are seeking a sign, it will not be given. He comes to you at the end of a path, and not merely to begin or move you along. If you hope to receive a sign as a result of the message in this book, you will be disappointed. The witness comes after the trial of our faith. These things are given in follow-up to a lengthy process. They are not given before then. “Those who are the most anxious to see these things , are the least prepared to meet them…” (Joseph Smith DHC 5:31). There is a process, and it must be followed. The revelation comes after a maturation process, not before.
20 – Learn to practice perfectly the right sequence – The process needn’t take long, but almost always does. The expression “practice makes perfect” is really incorrect. If you practice imperfectly you cannot hope to become perfect. The expression should be “perfect practice makes perfect.” Having the veil open to you is like seeking to open something kept shut by a combination lock. No amount of turning the dials on the combination lock will open it until you have the right sequence and the right numbers. So it is here. Unless you have the right sequence and the right information, it is not possible to have the veil open. Joseph taught, “That this is a situation to which no man ever arrived in a moment.” Elsewhere, he said, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.” He encouraged us when he said, “If you do right, there is no danger of you going too fast. God does not care how fast we run in the path of virtue. Resist evil and there is no danger.”
21 – Work on the things most wrong at the moment – These things cannot, however, be rushed. You teach complicated or intricate steps one at a time. There should be in the mind of the student only one thing to do. There is always only one thing to do. There is never more than the single thing to be addressed. It is the thing most wrong at the moment. Once that is addressed and corrected, then you can move on to the next thing, where again there is only one thing to do – and it is the next thing in the sequence. When the next skill is acquired, then there is still only one thing to do. So it is with these steps. There is only one thing for you to do. You will know what you need to do within the context of your own life. Whatever it is that most hinders you is the one and only thing you have to do. When it is resolved, you move on to the next thing. If you cannot figure out what the thing you most need to resolve is, ask the Lord. He has always been willing to answer the sincere inquiry of “what lack I yet?” But the answer to that question will always be the one thing you should work on. Never work on three, thirty or fifty things at once.
22 – Feelings are more important than thoughts – There is harmony and balance to this process when it is being done correctly. You can feel it more than think it. You need to seek for balance in your life. It is the object of this work to get you to become balanced, nimble, and more attuned to feeling than to thought. If you are reading this book as an intellectual exercise, or for evaluation purposes only, it will do you no good. This is a workbook, with specific steps that must be done, completed and passed before you are ready to receive more. You will know when you have passed each step. The Lord will reveal it to you, but you must ask him every step of the way. Sometimes, you may need to go back and review a lesson. The Lord will also let you know that if it is needed. If you are not already, you will become comfortable with the voice of the Lord and know what it is he wants you to do to come into his presence and receive what he has to offer. There are some things that can only be received through His personal ministration.
23 – Test the process, experiment, prove it – Much as been written about Denver Snuffer by those who want to criticize his work. In an effort to discredit the process he describes in this book, they want to find and reveal his weaknesses. As you read the book, you will discover that he gives you plenty of ammunition if you want to go that route. Each chapter has a small but instructive vignette from Denver’s personal life that demonstrates his human weaknesses. I can’t imagine a more humble approach in teaching us that even someone as imperfect as Denver can successfully navigate this process. As he writes, “The content of this work stands alone as the authority for these things. If you accept anything from this book, you must do so on the strength of what it says and not who is saying it. This work should not be accepted for any reason other than it persuades you it is true. If it does not persuade you, then you should reject it. Test its teachings. See if they do not provide you with growth in your walk with Christ.”
About twenty years ago I served in a unique position in the church. My calling was “Melchizedek Priesthood Leader.” Because our little ward was so small, the Stake President had placed all priesthood holders in the ward into one group. In effect, he combined the Elder’s Quorum and the High Priests Group and put me in charge.
I also served as the de facto ward mission leader because we had none. As you can imagine I felt a little overwhelmed. I often prayed for inspiration to know what to do to help our little ward grow, but it was to no avail. We lived in an older part of town with many transients. Older members kept retiring and moving away to Utah.
On one occasion I attended a stake meeting where I had decided to speak up about the problems we were experiencing in our little ward. I thought about and prayed about what I wanted to say. But for some reason I didn’t pay attention to the fact that this particular stake meeting was not the right place to bring up my concerns.
Preparation for Prayer
Now in order to understand what I’m about to share, I’ve got to tell you a little bit about how I receive revelation. When I pray and ask the Lord to help me with a problem or to guide me through a difficult situation, I know I’ve got to do two things first. I’ve got to study it out and make a decision about a course of action.
Then I present my decision to the Lord in prayer. I tell Him about the problem. I tell Him what I’ve studied. Then I tell Him what I’ve decided. Finally, I ask for a confirming witness of the spirit to know if what I’ve decided to do is good or best. It’s a time-tested formula that has worked for me as long as I have been praying.
After praying, I then wait and listen carefully. Sometimes I know immediately one way or the other about what I have discussed with the Lord. But often, my prayer is not answered right away. This was one of those occasions where I did not feel that confirming witness of the spirit that what I wanted to do was the right thing.
The Mind’s Eye
A little more detail might be helpful to understand how revelation works for me. When I ask the Lord for help to know if a certain course of action is the correct one, He will often answer my prayer by allowing me to see myself engaged in that particular activity. In fact, I can often hear as well as see some things in advance.
When I was young I wondered if I should go on a mission. I followed the formula. I studied it out. I made a decision and I asked the Lord for a confirming witness. I was then overwhelmed with what the Lord revealed to me about my mission. I saw myself helping people understand the truth. I heard myself preaching the gospel.
Over the years, this gift of seeing myself perform specific actions in advance of actually doing them has been repeated. There are times when I can hear the words I say as I am performing the task, such as teaching or speaking. There are also times where the Lord inspires me with specific words or phrases so I will write them out.
Revelation is Rehearsal
For me, revelation is kind of like a rehearsal. It gives me confidence and makes it easier to do the difficult tasks of life because I have already seen myself complete them successfully. I greatly appreciate this gift and have come to rely on it more and more as I go through my life. It’s like the spiritual creation before the physical.
Now back to my story. I had studied the problem out. I had made a decision. I had prayed about it. But I did not receive that confirming witness. I did not see myself sharing my thoughts in the meeting. I knew I had done my homework. I had done my part. The problem was clear in my mind. I felt confident I could explain it.
And indeed I could, but it wasn’t what the Lord wanted expressed at that time in that meeting. The problem was real, my proposed solution was good, although not best as I later found out. In another setting, the discussion I wanted to have would have been appropriate. This meeting was not the time or place for my comments.
The Moment of Truth
I went to that meeting prepared, or so I thought. The meeting progressed to the point where the problems were being discussed. The Stake President solicited discussion. A sister shared her concerns. I raised my hand, was called on and began to speak. No sooner had I opened my mouth then I knew I had made a mistake.
A feeling came over me that I knew I was wrong in what I was trying to share. I should have stopped right then and graciously said something like, “What I’m sharing right now doesn’t feel right. Although I thought it was earlier, it doesn’t seem so now. Forgive me.” The discussion could have continued from there.
Instead, I foolishly continued to speak, reaching into my mind for the things I had studied out and thought about as I prepared to present my solution to the Lord. To my amazement and eventual embarrassment, what was once clear and concise was now a jumbled mess in my mind. I could not recall my points to make any sense.
The Stupor of Thought
And that, my friends, is how I learned that the stupor of thought is a real thing. I could not explain myself. My words weren’t making sense. My fellow brothers and sisters in the meeting were looking at me funny. Finally, the Stake President had to interrupt me to keep me from blathering on. My face burned with embarrassment.
The Lord had answered my prayer. I just hadn’t understood. There was nothing really wrong with my proposed solution, given a different set of circumstances. I didn’t have all the information the Stake President had. I didn’t have the whole picture. My ideas were fine, just not relevant or pertinent in the current situation.
I sat quiet the remainder of the meeting and reflected on what had just happened. I was chagrined and a little confused. It was then I realized I had not been careful in listening to the Lord as I prayed. I had not seen or heard myself sharing what I had studied out so carefully. There was no rehearsal, no advance spiritual creation.
Summary and Conclusion
I learned that the stupor of thought can last as long as it needs to in order to work. I had been given a stupor of thought and should have kept it to myself in my prayer. Instead, I took it with me to a public meeting where it was made evident to all. The stupor of thought God gave me caused me to forget my erroneous conclusions.
I have since learned to be more careful in my prayer rehearsals. If I am unable to see myself sharing my conclusions or performing my intended course of action with success first in my mind’s eye, then I know it would be better to seek another solution. I have come to greatly appreciate this wonderful gift of prayer.
I now know how to use the stupor of thought to refine my path through life without making embarrassing mistakes like I experienced in that stake meeting so long ago. In essence, I have learned to keep quiet unless the Lord distinctly inspires me to say something at the right time and in the right place. This has taught me patience.
Reference: D&C 9:7-9
How many hours a day do you spend studying the gospel? OK, how many minutes? Hmmm, let’s break that down. Would minutes per week work better for you? And no fair counting the time you spend sitting in church meetings or reading blogs that discuss the church. I mean time spent in the scriptures and asking the Lord to help you understand well enough to teach others in an intelligent way the doctrines you find there.
If you’re like me, your gospel study time is nowhere near what you would like or know it should be. When I was preparing for my mission I spent hours each day reading scriptures and various commentaries on the scriptures. I wanted to know what I would be teaching when I went out there to present the doctrines of the kingdom of God. I miss those days. I felt immersed in the spirit then and knew the Lord was pleased.
Fast forward thirty-six years. I’m an old man in my fifties. I’ve spent a lifetime of service in various callings, enjoying each one with the learning and growth that came with them. My calling right now is easy – stake auditor – and I have no serious demands on my time other than what is expected of any other computer guy who supports a small business with about 100 computers and a dozen servers. No big deal.
A Gospel Study Plan
There are two parts of gospel study that make it work for me. First is the discipline of a schedule. If I don’t have a set time each day where I know I have nothing else planned then the work of reading and writing is just not going to get done. Notice I said writing. For me, gospel study without taking notes, summarizing or writing out conclusions about how it can be applied or taught is really nothing more than reading.
Not that there’s anything wrong with reading. But at my age, I need to move beyond the basics of reading. Like most of you, I’ve read the scriptures dozens of times. I’m familiar enough with what’s in them that when someone quotes a scripture in a talk I can usually find it with the flips of a few pages or the scrolling of a few screens. Reading the scriptures and pondering them is certainly a good use of gospel study time.
I guess it’s the teacher in me that feels the need to prepare outlines, collect quotes, compare commentaries from different authors and gather everything I can about specific subjects. I’m not a scholar but from what I understand about the scholarly process, the idea is to become an expert on some aspect of the gospel and then to advance the body of knowledge with individual insights that add to the understanding of others.
Purpose of Gospel Study
But of course, that may be the wrong way to undertake a serious study of the gospel. Take a step back and ask yourself what is your purpose in reading and searching the scriptures. What do you hope to accomplish? What will be the end result of years of pondering and study? Do you want to come across as a “know-it-all” in the gospel doctrine class? I don’t. What I want from my time is pure and simple. I want to receive revelation.
The second required part of my personal gospel study plan is inspiration. If I don’t have some goal or vision or idea of what I want to learn or discover in exchange for the investment of my time, then I struggle with the natural man in me, the inner child that needs a reason why. Let’s face it – self-discipline is not fun without a reward. I have found over the years that I need to reward myself for the work of study.
My reward, and this is personal so it may not appeal to you, is to take what I have studied and present it to the Lord in prayer, asking for a confirming witness that my conclusions are correct. Because I have invested the time in study, it’s as if I give myself permission to talk to the Lord in a language that is beyond my own natural ability. It feels as if the heavens open. There is a real closeness to the Lord that is undeniable.
There is something about the language of scripture, particularly as found in the Doctrine and Covenants that brings the spirit of revelation into my heart and mind. It is especially powerful when read out loud. After completing a study session, I’ll retire to a private place where I can sit and read a section of the D&C out loud, as if I were acting as voice for an assembly found just on the other side of the veil. It is powerful.
I then kneel in sacred prayer. I find that if I have completed my preparations satisfactorily, I am enabled to exercise sufficient faith in prayer – and I pray out loud – to call down the powers of heaven upon me. The words just seem to flow. I know what to pray for and even how to phrase it. I am able to report to the Lord what I have studied, what I have learned and conclusions I have reached about truth and its relevance.
For me, the process works best when I am confirming what someone else has taught or claimed to be true. I confess I have received very little personal or “new” revelation through this process although there are times I can say with absolute certainty that the Lord has given me something sacred that is meant just for me. I then write it down. I do the same when I have a dream that I know has come from the Lord.
This is a sacred process. If you have not experienced it you may think it unusual or strange. I can tell you it is different from the way the world teaches we should study and gain knowledge. The difference is in the addition of the elements of prayer, revelation and a confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. I have been taught and have believed from my youth that a testimony is built with both study and sincere prayer.
I am impressed by those who know history or who know how to explain a doctrine well in an expository manner. But I am more impressed by those who know how to take that knowledge and nurture or build the testimony of someone else. Knowledge of the truth shouldn’t be like a club to be wielded in a challenging or threatening manner. What you gain from heaven should be used to uplift and strengthen.
If the Lord gives you light and truth through your efforts in study and prayer then it should be sweet to you and to others if you are directed to share it, especially in a teaching capacity. To edify means to bring a focused clarity to the mind and a confirming, sweet witness to the heart. If it does not edify when shared then it is not done in the Lord’s way. Even a call to repentance has a comforting spirit to it.
My Personal Motivation
There’s a reason the Lord commanded us to study and search the scriptures. The primary song “search, ponder and pray” teaches us that the responsibility to know the Lord and his ways rests squarely upon our own shoulders. Nephi’s lament that men will not search knowledge was meant for us in our day. We are the gentiles that need to come unto Christ through a deeper knowledge of the doctrines of the Book of Mormon.
The Lord isn’t trifling with you or me when he commands us to repent and to cast off the chains of the adversary that bind us. The Holy Ghost will inspire you with exactly what you need to do to remove the condemnation from your own life. I know that I must repent and am grateful for the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon that helps me through that process. I have a long way to go and hope the Lord gives me time.
I intend to get serious about my gospel study in a way that I have not done for a long time. I intend to recapture the spirit that accompanied me as I spent hours each day in gospel study while preparing for my mission. While I may not be preparing for a mission, I am preparing for an audience with the Lord and intend to be prepared when that day comes. I also intend to have that audience while yet in this mortal life.
How about you? How are you doing on your preparations to meet the Lord? Are you motivated and do you spend the time required to know what He expects and needs you to know before He can reveal Himself unto you? How much time do you spend in gospel study each day? Are you consistent? Are you discovering new things, immersing yourself in the scriptures and coming to understand the voice of the Lord?
I invite you to join me in getting serious about studying the gospel. Make it a higher priority. Be aware of the natural tendency to think that you have learned enough. Believe that the Lord has so much more that He wants to reveal to you. Be willing to pay the price through study and prayer. If you are already serious and consistent in your studies then I congratulate you and pray for the Lord’s choicest blessings upon you.
I promise you that the Lord will reveal great and marvelous things to those who make the effort in this life to receive them. I have tasted just enough of those promises that I know I want more. I have been immersed in the light of truth and the sweet comforting spirit of the Holy Ghost on many occasions after study and prayer. I want more. I want to know the mysteries of Godliness that he offers to share with each of us.
Consider two hypothetical conversations. Here is the first:
“Bishop, I’d like to see an angel.”
“Why would you want to do that?
“Moroni 7:37 says that if angels no longer minister unto men it’s because we have no faith.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to ask to see an angel.”
“Because you might be deceived by the devil as an angel of light.”
“But section 129 teaches us how to know an angel from the devil.”
“I don’t think you should be messing with the mysteries. Leave that stuff to the Brethren.”
Second theoretical conversation:
“Bishop, I’d like to see an angel.”
“That’s wonderful. Do you feel you’re ready for that?”
“Well, I’ve been reading the scriptures. There are so many references that tell me I should seek to see the face of God. From what I can tell, if I exercise faith in prayer, angels come first to tell me what I need to do to be prepared.”
“Since you’ve been to the temple, I think you are ready. I admire your faith and encourage you in your desire. If you feel it’s not too sacred, let me know how it turns out.”
Do you see the difference? While these are both imaginary conversations, they are based on real attitudes I have encountered all my life. I’d like to address the concerns raised by the bishop in the first example, then a few more things I have heard when discussing spiritual manifestations. If anybody feels strongly enough that I’m spreading false doctrine and desires to correct me, please feel free to do so by leaving an intelligent response for discussion in the comments.
Audience with the Savior
First, by asking why anyone would want to see an angel, the bishop is either exhibiting ignorance of the scriptures or is expressing personal hidden fears and frustrations at his own inadequacies in spiritual matters. Perhaps he is testing the individual to see if they are serious in their desire. Either way, it is not a very positive response to a member of his congregation who is seeking guidance in a spiritual matter. Even, “Really? Tell me about it,” would be a better response.
I like the reply of the bishop in the second conversation because it is both encouraging and at the same time is gently probing to determine sincerity. A bishop is to watch over his flock and to encourage them to do good works. I can’t think of a good work more important than preparing for an audience with the Savior. The Bishop is simply trying to determine if there is anything he can offer in counsel to help this person achieve an exciting and admirable gospel ideal.
Lack of Belief
Moroni 7:37 has always impressed me as both a warning and an enticement to increase faith. I can’t imagine how anyone can read this and not ask why they haven’t had an angel appear and minister unto them. Of course the answer is “because of unbelief” or that faith is lacking. But it is the last phrase “and all is vain” that really catches my attention. Is Moroni suggesting that we waste our lives if we don’t receive angels and have them teach us of the things of eternity?
The reaction of the bishop that he didn’t think it was a good idea to seek to be visited by an angel is based on fear and not faith. D&C 67:3 addresses this directly. It is a real problem that was common then and even more common now. It is fear that keeps us from receiving promised blessings such as visits from angels or other manifestations of the spirit such as visions. These and more witnesses are promised in abundance to those who follow the counsel in D&C 67:10.
In fact, if you want to follow that whole scripture chain of promises start with D&C 38:8, then go to D&C 50:45, then D&C 67:10, D&C 88:68, D&C 93:1 and finally D&C 107:18-19. These are amazing and marvelous promises, each with increasingly greater privileges assured until you are promised to be brought into the presence of God the Father and Jesus the Mediator. I have long marveled at these declarations and wondered why they are not more fully believed today.
Now, the big question is, do you believe these promises are intended to be fulfilled in this life or are reserved from some future day, after this mortal life is over? I am convinced that the Lord wants us to do what it takes to receive these blessings while we are yet mortal, specifically in order to prepare us to dwell in the presence of God in the life to come. If we do not, how can we hope to feel comfortable when we are brought to that judgment day to kneel at the feet of Christ?
And yet, how many people do you know who can say that these promises are real, because they have both tested them and proved them? Perhaps some things are too sacred to share but I am of the opinion that we are under the condemnation mentioned in the Book of Mormon because we do not believe and use that book to bring us unto Christ like it was intended. I don’t think the Lord was speaking to Gentiles who don’t accept the Book of Mormon. He was speaking to us.
D&C 84:54-57 clearly spells out that condemnation. We are condemned because we do not believe and act upon the promises contained in the book. Do we or don’t we believe that we can have experiences similar to those of Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Alma, Mormon and Moroni? Or are those kinds of things reserved only for prophets and apostles? Or perhaps you feel that such spiritual manifestations were only intended for the Brethren in early days of the modern Church.
Never Seen an Angel
I write this as much for me as for anyone else who happens to read this. I confess that I have never seen an angel, or at least not one of which I am aware. Perhaps the Lord has sent angels to me as a test to see how I would respond and I did not do as well as I should have. But then, I have never specifically asked to have an angel come and teach me, probably out of fear. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that things are kept from us out of mercy so we are not condemned.
Is that a false doctrine, one that keeps us from asking for further light and knowledge as we should? Everyone has to decide how much they want to bind the Lord by doing as he commands. We are the ones who keep the heavens sealed by not asking in faith and in the way we are taught in the temple. I have taught priesthood quorums and asked the question why we don’t take the Lord seriously enough to ask that angels be sent to teach us what he wants us to do to come unto him.
Seek Visits from Angels
The answer I have received is “We have the scriptures. That’s enough. Everything we need to know about how to come onto Christ is contained in them. We just have to read them and do what they say.” While that sounds fine and admirable on the surface, I can’t help but think of the scripture “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.” It is as if we are saying we don’t need personal revelation because it has all been given and recorded.
The other common answer, which is similar to what the Bishop brought up in my first example, is that we should not ask for manifestations, visits or visions because we might be deceived by false spirits. It’s doubtful that the devil would be interested enough in us to appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14, 2 Ne 9:9, D&C 128:20 & 129:8), but it could happen, right? That’s why Joseph gave us the three grand keys of how we could identify messengers from the spirit world.
Dealing with Evil Spirits
When I was preparing for my mission back in 1975, I read D&C Commentary by Hyrum Smith in about two months. It was a most wonderful time of my life. I had many spiritual experiences. When I got to section 50, I read about how to deal with evil or unclean spirits that may come to us as a result of asking for spiritual manifestations. Note particularly the instructions in verses 30 through 33. They are to be fought, or as I like to say, “taught” in humility and not fear.
Yes, I am saying that if you ask the Lord to send you an angel, it is very likely that you will first be visited by evil or unclean spirits trying to pass themselves off as angels of the Lord. I know this is scary stuff, but from personal experience, I can tell you that it is real. While I confessed earlier that I had never seen an angel of the Lord, I can assure you that I have been visited by evil and unclean spirits attempting to deceive me. There is a difference between them.
Devils and Demons
No, I haven’t seen them with my natural eyes, but the experience is real nonetheless. An evil spirit, also known as a devil (male) or demon (female) has never had a mortal body. An unclean spirit is a deceased individual who died without the light of Christ in them, did not desire to go to the light and continues to hang around trying to co-habit the bodies of those who let them. The unclean spirits have much more power in that they know how to use our bodies against us.
Update (9-8-12): There has been enough discussion about my definition of devils and demons that I feel a need to claify. I had been taught and believed that devils were male evil spirits while demons were female evil spirits. This definition served me well for years. I have since been taught by others I trust that devils fit the description of any unborn (never mortal) spirit that followed Lucifer. Demons, I am told, are creations of Satan, along with imps (more in a furure essay).
You’re going to have to deal with fear if you’re serious about entertaining visitors from the spirit world. There’s no way you can have visits only from the Lord’s angels and not expect visits from the devil’s angels. It’s an eternal principle that there is opposition in all things. That will never go away. It is part of the balance of the universe. Simply prepare your heart and your mind to deal with them with humility and the Love of Christ, not with fear, anger or a rebuking attitude.
Cast out the Unclean Spirits
We read and hear often in Mormon culture about the casting out of evil spirits done by raising the arm to the square and commanding them to leave in the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, I have also done this. But lately, I find it more effective that I talk to them first and teach them about faith in Christ, then invite them to go unto Christ or an angel he has waiting for them in the light. This is especially effective with unclean spirits but a bit harder for me with devils and demons.
Update (9-11-12): This is important enough that it deserves clarification. I have learned since I wrote this that devils and demons will not go to the light. They hate the light. They have no light within them. They cannot understand it, comprehend it or even conceive of light. They do not want it and cannot be deterred from their course to destroy light. I have written about this in my essay on Conquering Spiritual Evil. They will not and cannot repent so don’t try to send them to the light. Just cast them out.
OK, I know what you’re thinking. This is all so weird. You’re never been taught any of this in your Sunday school, Priesthood or Relief Society classes. Just like so much of the early history of our church is not taught openly, these things are not in our curriculum. They’re deemed too scared and not for those who are young in the gospel. Yes, I agree with that assessment, but am also concerned that what was commonly understood by the early Brethren is being slowly lost.
Mysteries of Godliness
I conclude with a commentary on the bishop’s final statements in the first example I used. The word “mysteries” has taken on a negative connotation in the modern church. Joseph Smith taught that we should seek to have the mysteries of Godliness revealed to us. Do a search in the online scriptures on lds.org or use the topical guide in your own scriptures. There are 23 results in the Doctrine and Covenants alone that provide evidence of the Lord’s intent to reveal mysteries.
That was then. Today, when we hear that somebody is “seeking after the mysteries” we think of someone who has gone off the deep end and is “looking beyond the mark” or trying to make the simplicity of the gospel into something it was not meant to be. I find this frustrating. Yes, I know of individuals who fit that description, but they are also folks who do not yet have a firm grasp of the basic concepts of obedience and sacrifice, let alone purity and consecration to the Lord.
Seek after Mysteries
I disagree with my fictional Bishop’s advice. I do think we should be seeking after mysteries. I do not think that the Lord intended for us to leave that only to the Brethren who we sustain as the leaders of our church. In fact, I think it’s imperative that we make every effort to seek after greater light and knowledge than we now have. We are only saved as fast as we gain knowledge. Don’t be afraid of going off the deep end. Learn to trust in the Lord to lead you to greater truth.
Am I right or am I wrong? Am I off in left field, going in the wrong direction or have I stumbled upon a basic truth that we need to emphasize and teach more to those who are ready? I confess that I have combined many of the things I have learned from Denver Snuffer and Jan Graf in this essay, but they have all agreed with what I have studied and come to understand on my own over the years. Give me some feedback folks. Let me know if you think this is dangerous territory.
A line in my patriarchal blessing reads, “if you will listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, that comes to you, you will be directed into the path that you should go, that your advancement will not be detained, that you will use every possible moment in your development for the work that you have been called to do.”
I have long pondered that line and wondered what it meant. Now that I am getting old, I decided to look back at my life’s journey for evidence of the fulfillment of this promise. I was amazed at what I discovered with just a few moments of pondering. I share this as a journal entry, evidence of the Lord’s love for me.
A Blessing at the Age of Five
I attended the Presbyterian Church with my family the first five years of my life. I remember the singing and the constant getting up and down in the pews. I wondered what that was all about. Dad had to work most Sundays but mother took the rest of us to church each week. She was a schoolteacher and a good one.
In 1962 my mother had several people come into her life who were members of the church. She was intrigued. She asked questions. The missionaries came to our home. Most of my family was baptized. Of course, I was too young to receive that ordinance but in order to create a membership record I went up to the stand the next Sunday to be blessed by the Bishop.
I felt special. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I was in the right place. Even at the age of five, I knew when something was right. This felt right. I felt like I was part of something important. I loved growing up in the old Covina ward and Covina stake of the 1960s and 1970’s. I attended Primary, Sunday school, and later priesthood, Sacrament meeting, mutual and seminary.
Reading Book of Mormon at Age Eight
I have a small keepsake given to me by my Primary teacher when I was baptized. The memento is a well-known painting of the Savior laminated onto a round slice of a small tree. On the back are the words, “Congratulations on your baptism. Be sure to let him guide and direct all of your thoughts and actions. Remember to pray always. Love, Muriel Bay.”
I knew my Primary teacher loved me. She also gave me my own copy of the Book of Mormon. It had a plain brown cover. It was the first one I read. I read it with my mother out loud. It was also the first time she had read the Book of Mormon. She would mark out all the instances of “and it came to pass” because she thought they were distracting. We finished it together that year.
For the longest time I thought that everyone read the Book of Mormon aloud with their mother when they were eight. I now understand how special that was. Because of sacred feelings I felt as we read together, I have never doubted the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I knew then and still know that it is the word of God and was given to us to guide and bless our lives.
God Can Show us Our Future
Shortly after I was baptized, we went as a family to Disneyland as we often did. There was an attraction called the Carousel of Progress in the park from 1967 to 1973. On the way out of the ride, you walked past an exhibit called “Progress City.” It was while looking at that exhibit one day that I felt the Holy Ghost whispering to me in a setting outside church or my home.
I don’t know why I found the exhibit so fascinating. I couldn’t wait to see it each time we went to the park. Perhaps it was the symbolism of the display. It seemed to speak to me of things that would come to pass in my life. On this particular occasion the feelings were intense. I seemed to hear the Lord saying, “I love you. You will participate in wonderful technology.”
The feeling was so real that I looked around to see who was talking to me. Yet I immediately realized that I had heard no audible voice. Nevertheless, the voice came into my mind and caused my heart to burn within me. I chalked it up to the magic of Walt Disney but the impression has stayed with me to this day as evidence of the whisperings of the Holy Spirit to me.
Recognizing a Lack of Authority
I didn’t do too well in school as a youth. Not because of any lack of ability but because of a lack of discipline. One year my mother felt it best to enroll me in a private religious school. I remember they required us to go to some sort of worship service at the end of each week. Something felt out of place. There was something missing but I couldn’t place my finger on it then.
I later realized what it was. It was the spirit whispering to me that the pastor who led the worship service was doing this as a part of his job. He got paid to preach the gospel to us. It felt different when my Primary teachers and Sunday school teachers taught me. It felt right. When this pastor taught, it was more for show, so the parents who paid his wages would be pleased.
From that day on I never doubted there was something special and unique about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even as a ten-year old boy in California who barely paid attention in Primary or Sunday school, I recognized the spirit of the Lord when it moved on teachers who were set apart by those in authority. That authority is only found in the LDS church.
Putting Words in my Mouth
I was asked to be the seminary class president in 1970. One day, Sister Starr became upset by the rude behavior of the kids. She started to cry and stepped out. As the president of the class, I took over, and found myself talking to my classmates about the importance of being respectful. I think that was the first time I experienced the Lord putting words in my mouth. It amazed me.
A Comforter in the Face of Adversity
In August of 1971 I concluded my young Boy Scout experience by going on a 50 mile week long trek at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. For some reason, the other scouts teased me. I felt out of place. Perhaps it was because of my asthma. I didn’t think I could make it up and down those mountains.
One day I felt especially sad about something the other boys did to mess up some of my equipment. I was too old to cry, and was not a fighter so I bottled it up inside. It hurt. The next day on the trail I stopped to look out over the beauty of the countryside and felt my heart burn with peace and a sense of wonder. I felt the comfort of the Holy Ghost and the Lord whisper peace to me.
Faith and a Patriarchal Blessing
I was fifteen when I received my patriarchal blessing in June of 1972. The bishop said I should fast so I did. He said wonderful things would happen if I exercised faith. My mother and sister went with me. Pati also received her blessing that day. I felt the love of the Lord in the most powerful way that I don’t think I had ever felt before. It was a spiritual feast that day and still is.
Vision in my Mind’s Eye
In 1973 I was in High School watching a video about how disk drives are made at an IBM plant. I experienced what I consider my first revelatory experience. I was shown what my life’s work would be. I knew then and have always known that I would work with computers. I was amazed at the clarity of the vision. It was simple and direct, private from God to me in my mind.
As I watched the video, I could see myself working with that technology in just a few short years. I saw myself specifically on a job where I managed the very same technology I was seeing in the video. That vision was fulfilled several times over the next few years as I obtained jobs before and after my mission where I used those specific removable disk drives of an IBM System 3.
Line Upon Line Revealed
In the summer of 1974 I was preparing to attend my first year of college. I prayed deeply to understand how the Lord felt about me and how my life would unfold. Intense feelings came upon me as scene after possible future scenes of my life were revealed to me. I saw myself teaching the gospel. I saw and heard myself speaking from the pulpit as real as if in front of a congregation.
Years later, I recognized as each of these scenes came to pass. As I taught in a priesthood meeting or stood at the pulpit as a High Councilor, those same feelings came flooding back. It was the Lord’s way of saying to me, “See, I told you how it would be. Aren’t you glad you prepared yourself for this experience?”
The Lord is Willing to Forgive
That fall at Rick’s College I heard Elder LeGrand Richards speak about the power of a testimony and how it had blessed his life as a missionary. Never had I felt the spirit impress me that I needed to have a testimony like his. I spent hours praying each night that week until on Friday I knew I could pray undisturbed late into the night while my roommate was at a dance.
I had an amazing experience of receiving a powerful knowledge of forgiveness and a witness of the power of my Savior’s love for me. I felt a closeness to Him that I had never realized could be possible. I understood better how much I needed him and to have his power with me in my life so I could be successful. I had not fully realized until then that I was nothing without his help.
Powerful Witness of the Spirit
I was blessed to have many free months in 1976 to do nothing but prepare for my mission. I spent all my time studying the gospel and trying to strengthen my relationship with the Lord. President Kimball taught that we could and should have our own independent witness of the truthfulness of Joseph’s mission. At this point, I already knew the Book of Mormon was true.
I decided to fast and pray until I got an undeniable answer for myself that Joseph was a prophet. For three days I studied during the day and prayed fervently at night. One the third night the Lord whispered peace to my soul. He told me it was enough. I knew the Lord was pleased with my faith. I had a confirming witness that what I had been studying about Joseph was true.
That witness helped me resolve concerns that had come to me as I read some of the early history of our church not found in our official curriculum. It also served as an anchor to my soul when I later read how much these same events troubled others. They did not trouble me because of this powerful witness to my soul that Joseph was the Lord’s prophet in spite of his mortal failings.
Trailing Clouds of Glory
One Sunday evening I attended a regional young adult fireside just before I left for my mission in July or August of 1976. As the speaker addressed us, I seemed to drift off into a vision. I saw the gathered youth there in a similar setting as if in the pre-earth life. I knew promises were made. I was part of something special. I knew I was on a path that was pleasing to the Lord.
Power to Bless Others
My mission experience was difficult. It was meant to be. I was a long way from home in a very humble part of the world. We worked hard but we weren’t as effective as we should have been. A new mission president shook things up at our first zone conference. He challenged us to get on our knees at end of each discussion and invite the people we were teaching to join us. I shared the amazing results in a previous essay on this blog.
Powerful Revelation in Marriage Choice
I returned from my mission, finished my schooling and went to work. I struggled a bit as many returned missionaries do because I missed that intensity of the daily immersion in the spirit. At one time I was working three jobs trying to get ahead in the fast moving world of computers. Finally, I stepped back, took a look at my life and remembered that I was supposed to get married.
I started dating seriously but the girl I thought I wanted didn’t find a computer geek like me all that desirable. Her best friend came into my life when she returned from her mission. We hit it off right away but I still pursued the other girl. I confessed my feelings for her, but at the wrong time and to the wrong girl. To my chagrin Carol left the Dodger game with a broken heart.
The next day, I couldn’t get her off my mind. I went to see her. I asked what her plans were and how she felt about family and the things of eternity. An amazing feeling of revelation then came upon me. Again, it was a revelation from God, personal and direct to me. I saw us in my mind’s eye thirty years down the road. That day I saw is now. I proposed on the spot. She accepted.
The Power of Bearing Testimony
I wrote previously about how Elder Holland taught me how to properly bear my testimony so it would have a powerful effect on others. I thought I knew all about bearing testimony from years of experience in the mission field. After being instructed by an apostle, I came to realize what a powerful tool it really can be if delivered properly, in the right setting and the right spirit.
I don’t believe I have ever been as immersed in the spirit as I was that day while bearing my testimony. The Lord was bearing witness to me at the same time that I was bearing my witness to others. It was a fulfillment of another line from my patriarchal blessing, “You will be blessed with the gift of prophecy and revelation that you might speak the words of the Lord pertaining to the salvation of his children.”
Much has been written by our detractors about the practice of bearing testimony. It has been ridiculed as brainwashing and a way of avoiding thoughtful discourse. Sadly, many within our own church have repeated their lies about this practice until they believe it. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a real power in the sharing of our testimonies that strengthens.
Conclusion: My Testimony
Although I hope that every essay on this blog testifies of my love of the Lord and a witness for the truth, I want to be sure that my testimony is recorded as it stands today. Who knows, this could be my last day on earth. I want to leave a record that I knew and loved the Lord and that I know he loves me. I hope I have presented some evidence of that with the vignettes above.
As simple as it sounds, I know that God lives. I know that he loves me. He has demonstrated that to my soul sufficiently over the years that I cannot doubt it. I know he desires my happiness and is pleased when I exercise faith in Him and in Jesus Christ. I look forward to the day when I am reunited with Him. I hope and pray that it will be a joyous reunion but know it will be up to me how I live the remainder of my life, true to my faith.
I know that Jesus Christ was and is a real person, literally the Son of God. He has a glorified resurrected body of flesh and bone. He continues to minister to mankind today. I am a witness of his love, his willingness to forgive, to teach us and to guide us through this life. Like our Father in Heaven, he desires our happiness and has done for us what nobody else could do. He fulfilled His mission so that we can fulfill ours in confidence.
The Spirit Bears Witness
The Holy Ghost is real. His whisperings are real. I have been helped by the Holy Ghost countless times. In fact, I feel his help every day of my life, especially if I ask and listen. He inspires me. He teaches me. He leads me to Christ. I am so grateful for the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It is a real power in my life, one that I cherish and of which I strive to be worthy. The Holy Ghost burns the witness of the truth into my soul as I study and pray.
Joseph Smith was a prophet of God in every sense of the word. He was an instrument in the Lord’s hands to restore the truth to the earth through the Book of Mormon. I have studied his life and have learned of his failings. I feel to give thanks to God that he was so open and honest about what he experienced. The Lord re-established His church through Joseph. He restored authority and keys to perform ordinances that are binding in eternity.
I am so grateful to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has blessed my life. I sustain and support the leaders of this church. I appreciate their efforts to guide and help me on my life’s journey. It is in the LDS Church that I have been able to receive the ordinances I need to come onto Christ. I look forward to many more years of service in this Church. It is through giving service that I find joy and fulfillment in life.
Is there such a thing as orthodoxy in Mormonism? And who has the right to proclaim what is orthodox in our religion that should or should not be believed? I understand and accept that the men I sustain as leaders in the LDS Church have the right to determine and enforce what should be taught in the classrooms and declared from the pulpits of that worldwide institution.
But many things I attribute to Mormonism the religion, are not taught today in the LDS Church. Does that mean the Mormon religion and the LDS Church are two different things? Consider the recent General Conference address from Elder Donald Hallstrom, “Converted to His Gospel through His Church.” He is obviously declaring the Gospel is not the same as the church.
The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, the doctrines that teach how we can be saved and live forever in a state of happiness, redeemed from death and hell. On the other hand, the church is the institution organized and established by the Lord through Joseph Smith in 1830 that has undergone a tremendous number of changes over the years.
Religion and Church
Although it embraces both, in my mind, our religion is something altogether different from the gospel and from the church. I suppose that’s dangerous ground. If you think about it, I’m saying what I believe to be truth is not limited to what the LDS Church declares to be truth today. That is indeed dangerous ground. It invites speculation that the Church limits us in some way.
At one time we taught that we embrace all truth. Yet some things we taught as truth in the early days of the church are no longer found in our official curriculum. I’m not talking about plural marriage, blood atonement or restricting the priesthood. I’m talking about things like the reality of evil spirits, catastrophes of the last days and the literalness of D&C 93:1.
I feel a debt of gratitude to three men whose views have changed my life. Although they do not want or care for the attention, I would like to acknowledge them, their ideas and their work. Each has worked tirelessly to bring their beliefs to light and I for one have benefited from their work. They illustrate the idea that something from the early days of our religion has been lost.
Jan Graf – Reality of evil spirits
I first met Jan at a time in my life when I was troubled by many things that would not go away. There is no other way to explain it concisely. Because of his ideas and explanations of things, I was able to make them go away. It’s that simple. What he teaches about how to remove distress is nothing new or different. It is simply the application of the principle of forgiveness.
But what is unique, unorthodox and controversial about Jan’s skill in helping people find peace are his beliefs about what causes stress in our lives. It is the idea that evil spirits are real, can be found in the world around us and are very active in afflicting and tormenting us. That is a very common belief in the early days of Mormonism but hardly ever taught in the church today.
I was so excited about the amazing results in my life from what he taught that Carol and I went to St. George to interview him and talk about writing a book. Because what he does is so easily misunderstood, he asked that I not pursue my project. Out of respect I dropped the idea but continue to refer people to him I know could benefit from his stress-reduction technique.
Anthony Larson – Latter-day catastrophes
A long time ago I ran across a book that got me genuinely excited about how the last days are going to unfold. It was not told from a social, political or even religious perspective but from a cosmological view that could only be described as unorthodox. Anthony Larson explained for me how the signs and prophecies of the scriptures are descriptions of natural events.
What he explained in his trilogy of prophecy books was not thought to be so unusual in the early days of Mormonism. We were at one time considered an Adventist church, preparing intently for the forthcoming return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though his books are based on scripture and statements of early Mormon leaders, today they are considered unorthodox.
I have written many essays about his beliefs and interpretations of scripture. I have attended his seminars, read each of his books multiple times and had many dialogs and conversations about how he interprets myths of the past. I’m in the process of writing a fictional account based on the now unorthodox but one-time common beliefs of this visionary, prophetic man.
Denver Snuffer – The Second Comforter
I was recently introduced to the writings of Denver Snuffer, a man who claims to have received the Second Comforter and was asked by the Lord to write about it. That’s an amazing claim and obviously very unorthodox in our modern LDS church. He has generated a lot of controversy. Some have called him apostate or dangerous and said he should be excommunicated.
I have almost finished reading Denver’s eight published books. I have written previously that I would withhold judgment until I finished them all but I think I have made up my mind. Denver’s advice that we read his books in order has merit. I read them in reverse order. That may have been a mistake, but I survived because I read most of the “alternative views” previously.
I have decided I like Denver, or that I can at least accept and trust what he has written. Just as I have with Jan Graf’s and Anthony Larson’s writings, I have pondered and prayed about what I have learned. I am not dismayed or taken aback by his latest book as some others have been although I confess an initial misunderstanding of how he defines the sealing power.
I suppose I need to change my bio on Twitter, Google Plus and here on my blog. Because of my acceptance of the beliefs of the three men I have described, I guess I can no longer claim to be an orthodox Mormon. What’s more, I am discovering I am unusual in my church because I have long believed and taught that we can seek and should strive to have “spiritual experiences.”
After years of sharing some of my sacred experiences online, engaging in dialog about the reality of personal revelation, I have come to the conclusion there are many within our church that do not experience communication from the spirit world like I thought everybody did. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? “Spooky,” an embarrassing unorthodox belief, some would say.
Perhaps that is why there are two conflicting cultures within the LDS church today. On the one hand we are encouraged to share our testimonies, which are supposed to be based on personal sacred events. On the other hand, the subtle message is being communicated that we must keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves, because they are “too sacred” to share.
Orthodoxy seems to be all about what is appropriate and acceptable as the norm. As I wrote at the beginning of this essay, I accept and sustain the right of the leaders of this church to direct what is preached from the pulpit and what is taught in the classroom. The church is a place of order. It is a magnificent, effective organization that does tremendous good.
The meetinghouses, the temples, the missionary force, the humanitarian effort, the welfare system, the lay ministry, the willingness of the members to sacrifice and serve each other all attest to the goodness of this organization. But there is something more to our religion than just the church and our activity within it. There is something intense and personal.
That something today is unorthodoxy. It is our individual efforts to commune with God. It is our testimonies, our spiritual experiences, our determination to study, understand and internalize what we believe. It is developing our ability to hear and respond to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is our participation in the ordinances and adherence to the covenants we make.
In short, it is being different from the world and even from many within the church who are not willing to pay the price of obedience and sacrifice that inevitably bring the promised blessings. The church is not the same as the gospel and the church is not everything there is to our religion. There is so much more to Mormonism but you have to be willing to be unorthodox to see it.
I wrote an essay several years ago on my old blog that still gets a lot of hits even though I retired that blog and transferred everything over here. I’m glad I kept the old blog up because occasionally I get a comment there that inspires me to write something profound. Well, I think it’s at least inspired and uplifting. I felt impressed to share it here. It starts with the comment from Samantha:
I recently started meeting with my Bishop to repent for other sins that I had committed. I was almost ready to get my Temple Recommend when Satan came at me with full-force. I began to engage in watching pornography and masturbation.
My Bishop is a wonderful man, but I am far too scared to tell him of the addiction that I am faced with. It is not a daily habit, but it is still a problem. I have prayed, and I have come to realize I cannot overcome this on my own.
I feel so awful and depressed after engaging in these behaviors. I want to be clean; I want to go to the temple.
Is there anything else that I can do that would be sufficient for the repentance process? I don’t want to tell my bishop, at all. I do want to overcome this addiction immediately though. Or at least be able to refrain from such atrocities.
And my response:
Much love your way. Thanks for reading and adding your comment. I commend you for your desire to increase your self-mastery. That’s a big deal. Some people are not bothered by viewing porn or masturbating. “It’s normal,” they say. In fact, we’re looked upon as being weird because we want to adhere to a higher moral standard commanded by the Lord and his servants.
I recommend visiting the sites I linked to at the end of the original essay. There is a lot of good advice to be found in those pages. Most of the comments I have added here over the years are intended to give hope and encouragement. I want to continue that in responding to your plea for help. I think I wrote this previously but I’ll share it again. This trial can bring you to the Lord.
I feel impressed to share something that may or may not be applicable to you. Perhaps it will be helpful to future readers. It has to do with responsibility and accountability. Going to the temple is a big deal. The temple is a place of revelation. When I go there I always come away knowing more about myself, what I really want out of life and what I want to do with my free time.
I’ll bet like most people who have written me about this problem, you’re fine as long as you keep yourself busy. If you’ve got a regular schedule of work or school or both, you do well in that structure. The difficulty usually comes when there are no pressing demands on your time and nobody waiting for you to do something for them – a teacher, a co-worker or a family member.
That’s usually when your thoughts turn to yourself and what you want. Those are the defining moments of life. Satan knows that, which is why temptation seems to strike hardest when you are pondering something like going to the temple. We grow and advance in our lives when we go to the temple. We come closer to fulfilling our purpose in life as we attend the temple regularly.
The best advice I can offer is to partake of the sacrament and ponder the promises found in the sacramental prayers. The key phrases are “always remember him” and “have his spirit to be with them.” I know you’ve probably heard this in every public prayer and perhaps you offer it your own private prayers – to have his spirit. But do we focus as much on “always remember him?”
There’s something special and wonderful in the Sacrament that even after more than fifty years I still don’t fully understand. No, it’s not magic. We don’t believe in that. But it is powerful and it is real. I feel hopeful after partaking of the sacrament with real intent. I want it to work in my life and because I want that, believe that it can, it does. My power is strengthened by the Sacrament.
At the end of every Sabbath day I feel empowered, partly through offering service but mostly because I have partaken of the sacrament and have pondered how I can better remember the Savior during the week. I think ahead to the moments when I know I will have down time and think what I can do to show the Lord that I do remember him and want his spirit to be with me.
For me, there is something of a miracle that takes place in those quiet moments. Because I have asked, the Lord reveals to me what I will be doing during those quiet moments during the week. I can see myself working on some writing project or some other activity that will be helpful to me and to others. No, it’s not guaranteed that I will do exactly that, but it’s clear that it can be so.
My desire to do good things and be good is strengthened. I am in a partnership with the Lord to make something special out of my life. It is in the quiet moments that my life really develops. But it doesn’t work unless I make the effort to remember the Lord. Every time I do, he gives me special sacred feelings that encourage me and help me feel like I can do all I’m asked to do.
I hope this helps. There is no easy answer. It’s not like you can turn off a switch. Sorry. You’ve got hormones and that’s a good thing. Without them you’ve have no drive or ambition in life. Well, I’m speaking from a man’s point of view. For a woman I suppose that without hormones you would have no desire to nurture and strengthen relationships. I thank God for the sex drive.
Please don’t be so hard on yourself. I have a theory about why we feel depressed or hopeless when participating in pornography or masturbation. I’ve shared it elsewhere. It has to do with the influence of unclean spirits – those who have no hope or light of Christ in their lives. It’s just a natural result of allowing them to use you, even for just a moment. You feel what they feel.
Of course if you don’t believe in the existence of evil or unclean spirits you’re going to think this is crazy. That’s OK. As I wrote at the beginning of my essay, I’m not writing this to those who are unbelievers. My experience in life has settled the question for me. They are real and I know of their existence through experiences too sacred to share. But let’s not dwell on that aspect.
Focus on the Savior. Focus on building hope. Believe that you can eventually master yourself. Be happy that you even want to. God bless you in your efforts. Nobody can do this for you. In the temple we learn all ordinances are personal, performed one at a time for each individual. No answer fits everyone, but I have found this plan has met with success time after time in others.
Good luck and God bless. You can do it.
About a thousand other people and I enjoyed an evening with Richard Bushman last night. He spoke about Joseph and Emma for about 40 minutes and then entertained questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. While his insights on Joseph and Emma were interesting, I found the questions more fascinating, because they reflected a lot of the issues I blog about.
For those who don’t know, Richard Bushman is the author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith that has become the definitive account of the prophet’s life as told from the viewpoint of a faithful historian. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him autograph my copy and was not the only one in the audience who waited in line to do so.
Open and honest discussion
It was wonderful to see so many people interested in learning more about this great man and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. Every time he finished answering a question a dozen more hands shot up. We could have been there for several more hours. I think that goes to show you how much we as a people appreciate someone who has studied the prophet’s life in such detail.
There were many questions that focused on the process of translating, the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone in the hat, polygamy, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, the martyrdom, succession, Book of Abraham translation, Mountain Meadows massacre and folk magic. He welcomed every question and encouraged us to ask even the most difficult ones.
A well-qualified historian
One of the most refreshing comments I heard was his expression of appreciation to the church, specifically to the church historian’s office, Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley for the recent publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He then said that he hoped that the church would do the same with the issue of polygamy, treating it openly and with historical accuracy.
Burt what impressed me most about the evening was the obvious fact that Richard Bushman is a highly respected historian who probably understands the beginnings of Mormonism as well as or better than anyone else. Besides being the co-general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, he chairs the board of directors of the Mormon Scholars Foundation. He knows early church history.
Serving faithfully in the church
And yet, Richard Bushman has served as a bishop, a stake president, a patriarch and is currently a sealer in the Los Angeles temple. I would say that he is a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint, in spite of everything he knows about early church history. I bring this up specifically to make a point about a common response to my essays and how I can still believe when I know this stuff.
I recently had someone ask me how I was able to do what I do – serve faithfully in the church – in spite of all that I know about, as he called it, “the more disturbing facts of the origins of Mormonism.” I think maybe he might want to redirect that question to someone like Richard Bushman who knows so much more than I do and yet has been a faithful believer all his life.
Believing in spite of knowing
This individual asked, “How do you reconcile your belief and what the church teaches, with the history of things like the origins of the temple ceremony, polygamy, first vision contradictions, development of the story of the restoration of the priesthood, and other issues?” I answered him privately in an email but have been pondering this whole idea of believing in spite of knowing.
Frankly, it perplexes me. I think I have expressed this same sentiment several times in previous essays every time it comes up. What is so hard about studying and understanding our very early church history, warts and all, and then continuing to believe that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the restoration of the gospel and his church in the latter days?
Shocked by our history
Are we supposed to be shocked, dismayed and overwhelmed with doubt every time we discover some new fact about the early days of the church? For example, last night we were reminded that beer and wine were used by the early saints, and sometimes even whiskey. Today, we would be shocked if we learned that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles drank a glass of wine.
Yet in volume IV, page 120 of the History of the Church on the date of April 17 1840 we read, “This day the Twelve blessed and drank a bottle of wine at Penworthan, made by Mother Moon forty years before.” Things were different back then, weren’t they? The Word of Wisdom had been received in 1833 but was not binding upon the saints as a commandment like it is today.
History not being hidden
When Fanny Alger was brought up by Brother Bushman last night as an example of an early failed attempt by Joseph to obey the law of plural marriage, I’ll bet there were a few people in the audience who did not know that Joseph had married this sixteen year old girl in 1833. The revelation on celestial marriage had been received in 1831 but Joseph was hesitant to obey.
For some reason, the idea that Joseph participated in plural marriage is supposed to be shocking to us. This continues to be one of the most common tactics of our critics – to try to shock us with facts that are supposedly being hidden from us by our modern church leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are always being encouraged to study our history and learn the facts.
Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright
Another example that our critics like to throw at us is the failed attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. Until recently, the only source for this event was the memory of David Whitmer who was not present when Joseph sent the brethren on their mission. Joseph never said that it must have been a false revelation as Whitmer claimed he said upon their return.
We’re then supposed to conclude that if we can’t trust a revelation from Joseph then how are we supposed to know what is revelation from God. I’m not an apologist but I’m grateful that there are people who dig into these things to get the facts and present them for our review. Of course, the same facts can be presented in favorable or unfavorable light, depending on where you go.
Consider carefully the source
For example, you can read the story of the copyright mission to Canada on MormonThink as supposed evidence that even Joseph Smith didn’t know when revelations were from God and when they were from the devil. Yet you can read the same account in greater clarity and detail from a more trustworthy and reliable source like FAIR and come away strengthened in faith.
We could go on and on with hundreds of things that are supposed to be shocking to us modern believers of the faith because they seem so out of character with what we’ve been taught about Joseph or other leaders of the early LDS church. If we are bothered by something, then we need to do our homework and get all the facts as part of the process of confirming truth for ourselves.
Get the facts straight
If I were concerned upon reading that Joseph Smith was supposed to have said that even he didn’t know when a prophecy came from the Lord or that he is supposed to have said that a revelation he received must have come from the devil, as David Whitmer said he did, then I would want to read more about this and would be very careful about the source that I study.
Because if I believed that Joseph really said this, then that might lead me to conclude that if even prophets have a hard time understanding revelation, how can I really be expected to understand or know the truth of revelations that come to me, especially revelation that I think is telling me that the church itself is true? Do you see how important it is to get the facts of certain matters?
The Joseph Smith Papers
Of course Joseph never said that he must have received a false revelation. In fact, according to more recent information discovered, the brethren who went on the mission to Canada in an attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon felt that they were successful on their mission and that the Lord was pleased with their efforts. The promised sale was conditional.
I’m grateful for brethren like Richard Bushman, who are helping to bring us the Joseph Smith papers. In volume 1 of the Manuscript Revelation Books, we have the full copy of the mission to Canada revelation. It can be read there. The criticism that Joseph later claimed that the revelation had not come from God is in all likelihood the product of a false memory by David Whitmer.
We can believe the prophet
As I wrote in a previous essay, I believe it is our lifelong pursuit to understand revelation and to come to know how the Lord communicates with each of us. We can rely on the promises of the Lord to lead us, guide us and walk beside us because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I hope we cherish this gift and live worthy of the constant companionship of this promised revelator.
Joseph Smith knew when the Lord was inspiring him and so did most of the brethren who were with him at the time when he received revelation. We can trust that the Lord will help us to have the assurances we need to believe in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith. Someday, we will meet Brother Joseph and if we still have questions about his life we can ask them to him directly.
One of the greatest blessings of membership in the LDS Church is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Of course we are not the only people in the world with whom the Lord works through his spirit. But we are the only people who have claim upon the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. That is a very unique and special claim.
When asked by a President of the United States, “How is your religion different from all the other religions of the day?” The Prophet Joseph Smith answered, “We are different from all other religions in the mode of baptism (immersion) and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (by those who have authority).”
God inspires all
In section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants we read, “A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.” All honest seekers of the truth can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, leading them to Jesus Christ and His gospel. People everywhere can be inspired by the Holy Ghost.
However, the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is available only to those who receive the gift through the laying on of hands by one who is authorized and then remain worthy of that gift. This basic doctrine is taught and emphasized often from the pulpit and in the classrooms of our church each week.
One of the most important duties we have in this life is to learn how to interpret the impressions of the Holy Ghost that we receive though this gift. Sometimes they come unbidden but most of the time we need to prepare for and ask for spiritual guidance. With this sacred gift, we can be confident that the Lord will respond.
God will guide us
This gift contains an inherent covenant promise that the Lord will respond to our requests for guidance. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” As long as we do our part in striving to keep his commandments, repent and seek his spirit, we can rely on his promise.
However, the gift needs to be exercised and developed until we can go before the Lord with confidence and ask in faith for what we want. We need to learn what specific things we need to do to achieve the results we desire. “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
We know we must study things out and come to an understanding or a decision on a subject before we approach the Lord for a confirmation of our decision or course of action. Sometimes it can take years to fully consider and achieve a mastery of a subject before we can approach the Lord and ask to guide us to further knowledge.
Much already revealed
That’s why the Lord and his prophets counsel us to study the scriptures and the words of the living prophets and apostles. When we ask the Lord for help in some area of our lives, we can expect him to answer through both the promptings of the spirit and very often by directing us to what he has already revealed on the subject.
It is amazing to me the number of times I feel impressed to look to the scriptures or a recent conference talk for the answer I am seeking. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” It is while I am reading the scriptures or conference talks that I feel the impressions of the spirit.
I think it is in the process of reading revealed words that we become most familiar with the mind and will of the Lord for us. We begin to think like the Lord and develop a greater understanding of how he speaks. The mind of the natural man is not attuned to God’s way of thinking so it takes effort to understand revelation.
Revelation requires humility
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” Even our natural reasoning processes, if they are not directed by the spirit of the Lord, can lead us to false conclusions. “For the natural man is an enemy to God … and will be forever … unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.”
The rest of the verse (Mosiah 3:19) emphasizes being submissive. I guess if there is nothing else I have learned about receiving revelation, it is the idea that in order to receive it, I must be in a submissive state of mind and willing to do whatever it is that the Lord reveals to me. Indeed, I must strive to become like a little child.
Of course, I know that the Lord will not tell me to do something that is contrary to what he has already revealed. For example, if I ask the Lord for help in knowing the best way to get out of debt, I am confident that he will not direct me to play the lottery, nor respond to email invitations to send money to Nigerian scammers.
Revelation is real
That is why I am confident that the Lord is sincere in his promise to reveal the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The key phrase there is “with real intent.” Like you, I have witnessed this promise fulfilled over and over again throughout my life. I have seen it happen for young and old when they ask with real intent.
I do not doubt the revelatory process. It is real. I have witnessed it in action throughout my life in Bishopric meetings, High Council meetings, in disciplinary councils and in preparing and presenting talks and lessons over the years. It seems to flow easiest for me when the revelation being requested is meant to help others.
But the Lord never reveals things that are outside the stewardship of my family, my own life or my specific callings in the church. While I may feel a desire to help another, if I do not have a direct responsibility for them, then I need to be very careful about what I feel impressed to tell them the Lord would have them do.
Revelation for others
I had a recent experience with this that confirmed to me how easy it is to step over the line into imposing my will on another. The Lord will never direct us to do that. In counseling with a fellow church member about a difficult situation in their life I shared some personal observations about what I thought got them into trouble.
Since I was not this individual’s priesthood leader, I was not entitled to know the whole story and made a judgment based only on what I saw. My counsel to this individual was flawed and was offensive because it was lacking in understanding. Gratefully, they were forgiving when I apologized after the error became apparent.
My point is that the Lord will never reveal something to me that another person should do unless I am responsible for that person as a husband, father or priesthood leader. That can even be applied to prospective marriage partners. The Lord will not tell us that another person should marry us. It should not be phrased that way.
Revelation to marry
When I asked my wife to marry me, I felt the Lord whisper to me that we could be happy together. Of course Carol had her agency and could have said no. It was an act of faith on her part to accept my marriage proposal. The Lord knew I needed that revelation to prompt me to propose, but it was intended for me and not Carol.
I knew the Lord wanted me to marry. I had been praying about it for some time and was actively seeking a marriage partner. I knew that the Lord had revealed through his prophet that “soul mates are fiction and an illusion.” So I wasn’t looking for that one special person, just someone with whom I could be happy.
I know that’s not very romantic but what made it special for me was the intensely strong and powerful impression that flowed into my heart and mind as I pondered asking Carol to marry me. In my mind’s eye, I saw us many years down the road, even in these years today, enjoying each other’s company, growing old together.
What I have learned
In conclusion, I guess there are two things I have learned about revelation. First, we must be humble and submissive to receive it and second, we can never receive revelation for anyone else’s life outside our own immediate family. It just doesn’t work that way unless the Lord puts us in a priesthood position that requires it.
Impressions of the spirit are very private and should be kept so. They are personal and unless you are the prophet of the Lord or have a direct priesthood stewardship for someone else, are meant specifically for one individual – you. They are not to be shared with others unless you feel prompted to do so and then only carefully.
I have been blessed throughout my life with impressions from the Holy Ghost. It is specifically because of the Gift of the Holy Ghost that they seem so abundant. Receiving revelation can be almost a daily occurrence, but usually it comes in the form of very quiet, subtle impressions that are sometimes almost imperceptible.