False Understanding of the Atonement

JesusInGardenI have some special feelings in my heart about the Savior. I have been taught all my life about Jesus Christ and have come to look to Him as one who will save me. From what, you ask? Well, the answers are obvious for those raised in the church – from death and hell. Those are Book of Mormon phrases. I have had some experience with both and frankly, I find them frightening.

I have documented my experience with death in several previous essays, but most clearly in my post on Dealing with Evil and Unclean Spirits written 6 Aug 2012. I suppose that is also the post that most clearly documents my experiences with evil as well. Since that time, I have had more recent experiences that caused me to feel the closeness of death and hell in my life once more.

My point is, like most men as they age, I think more and more about what the next life will be like and if I will enjoy it. My encounters with evil and feelings of death in this life convince me that there are parts of the next life – the spirit world – of which I do not want to be associated. In other words, I am a prime candidate for one of the purposes of religion – to prepare to meet God.

Spiritual Counsel from My Youth

In a recent post here on my blog, I wrote about some advice I was given by my Bishop as a youth nearly thirty-seven years ago as I prepared for my mission. I confessed sins common to many young men and hinted that perhaps the advice given by my bishop may have been unsound, or at least less than perfect. I shared that any mention of this particular sin continues to bother me.

In other words, I was expressing that I was perhaps not yet fully healed from youthful mistakes and wondered if any of my readers might have some advice for me to bring me greater peace. In particular, I discussed the process of being born of the spirit, of a book I had read on the subject that greatly influenced me and then included some troubling quotes from Miracle of Forgiveness.

Frankly, I was both delighted and surprised by the number and type of answers I received, both public and private. Some brethren expressed their gratitude that I had said something publically that they also felt – the ongoing sense of guilt when priesthood leaders mention the need to be free from this common indiscretion of youth, confess the sin to get counsel on how to proceed.

Duty to Call Others to Repent

I’ve never been a Bishop or Stake President, but I know I would say the same thing were I in their position. I’ve worked closely with such men over the past twenty-five years and sat in many disciplinary councils where I have seen the results of sin, especially sexual sin, in the lives of our members. Many of the brethren, and one sister, noted their problems began with pornography.

My point is I’m not finding fault with the over-the-pulpit call from the Stake President to the brethren of the priesthood to free themselves from these sins (pornography and masturbation). The point of my essay was how to deal with the twinge of guilt that one feels if one has been a past participant in such sins but has now repented and should feel clean and forgiven by God.

I’d like to offer some additional thoughts on the subject that I hope will be more uplifting and helpful to those who find themselves in a similar situation. I think I was under the mistaken impression that I was supposed to be perfect in regards to this particular sin once I had taken care of it with the Bishop of my youth. This was confirmed by many of you in the advice you offered.

Best advice – Lighten up

The most common advice I received was “Lighten up. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nobody’s perfect.” Right next to that was the point made that even after being born of the spirit or for that matter, having one’s calling and election sure, man is going to sin, just because he is mortal. I guess I knew that intellectually but I think it has now sunk much deeper into my hard heart.

By hard heart – I mean towards myself. I was being overly tough on myself. I’ve related on this blog how I’ve had some wonderful spiritual experiences. I have felt like Nephi, “Oh wretched man that I am. When I want to rejoice, I remember my sins. (I’m paraphrasing).” The idea that a man can reach spiritual heights then fall back into weakness was a difficult one for me to accept.

Let’s be clear. I’m not advocating that one go indulging in all kinds of lasciviousness, but if one, in a moment of melancholy or loneliness, engages in this sin, the idea is to not beat yourself up about it to the point of becoming discouraged and losing hope. That’s what Satan wants. The idea is to pick yourself up (repent), ask for forgiveness, take the sacrament and try, try again.

Still Seeking Baptism of Fire

I know this is common sense and something I should understand and have dealt with long time ago. After all, I’ve been a member of this church for most of my 56 years, but for some reason, I have been laboring under the impression that one must be perfectly clean and pure in order to feel the spirit of the Lord. No so. One must simply be humble and willing to make greater effort.

Yes, I mean make a greater effort. We grow line upon line. Each time we pick ourselves up from some sin – and we all have sin – we must commit ourselves to dig a little deeper into the gospel, to understand it better. We must be willing to pray with more intensity and heartfelt sincerity, and find the strength the Lord has promised to those who turn unto him in spite of a sinful nature.

I am still on a quest. This blog will continue to document that journey. I intend to either receive the baptism of fire – perhaps I already have and don’t know it – or receive an audience with the Lord. I intend to receive angels, be taught what I must do to prepare for this interview and then to go and do. I readily confess I am deeply influenced by the writings of Denver Snuffer here.

Scholarly Approach to the Gospel

Now I’d like to move on the real point of this post. One good brother who responded to my previous post invited me to engage in a private dialog on the doctrine of the atonement. He indicated that I do not really understand the atonement and because of that, I am laboring under a false impression about the nature of sin, how repentance works and what the atonement is all about.

In order to educate me, he has proposed that I read a private document on the subject authored by Daymon M. Smith. You may be familiar with the man. He self-published a humorous book a few years back about working in the Church Office Building called The Book of Mammon. I thought about purchasing and reading it but reviews indicated my conservative side might not enjoy it.

I’ve read some of Daymon’s blog and frankly, he is way over my head. I like to think of myself as a pretty smart guy, but I’m no PhD. Put me in a room full of Microsoft networking equipment and I’m right at home. Ask me to write a scholarly paper that contributes a greater understanding to the commonly accepted literature on a subject like the atonement and I’m out of my league.

False Understanding of Atonement

However, I promised I would accept his challenge so I have committed to read this 45-page paper and write my response. My point is that the Book of Mormon teaches that God offered His Son as a sacrifice for sin. We call that the atonement. He contends that this is a false teaching called penal substitution that comes from Sidney Rigdon, Alexander Campbell and Calvinites.

He says it is a teaching of the Great and Abominable Church and that it binds men down and brings them into captivity with a yoke of iron. He indicates that this false teaching needs to be purged in order to see clearly and understand the mission of Jesus Christ. I told him I could offer quite a few Book of Mormon scriptures that teach Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son for us.

Perhaps I can share a few of them here as a start to my gospel study this week but it just seems a little ludicrous. I’ve been teaching the doctrine of the Atonement since I was seventeen years old and was first called to teach a Sunday school class. So I’ve been teaching false doctrine for the past forty years? Maybe you can join in and tell me what you think of a few of these scriptures.

A Few Scriptures on Sacrifice

2 Ne 2:7 – “Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” OK, this doesn’t say the Father offered the Son. It says the Son offered Himself. Score one for Daymon and my unnamed friend. This is only the first scripture that came to mine.

Jacob 4:5 – “…it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.” OK, this one to me seems pretty clear. It says Abraham offering Isaac is a similitude of God offering his Son. I believe the point should go to me on that one. What say ye?

Alma 34:10 – “For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.” Score two for Daymon. This scripture does not specifically say that the Father shall offer the son as a sacrifice for sin as I thought.

Alma 34:14 – “And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.” This one is debatable. It refers to the Son of God being the great and last sacrifice, but doesn’t specifically say that it is the Father that sacrifices the son. So I’ll call this one a draw.

Melvin J Ballard on Father’s sacrifice

In the case of our Father, the knife was not stayed, but it fell, and the life’s blood of his Beloved Son went out. His Father looked on with great grief and agony over his Beloved Son, until there seems to have come a moment when even our Savior cried out in despair: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles until even he could not endure it any longer; and, like the mother who bids farewell to her dying child, has to be taken out of the room, so as not to look upon the last struggles, so he bowed his head, and hid in some part of his universe, his great heart almost breaking for the love that he had for his Son.

Oh, in that moment when he might have saved his Son, I thank him and praise him that he did not fail us, for he had not only the love of his Son in mind, but he also had love for us. I rejoice that he did not interfere, and that his love for us made it possible for him to endure to look upon the sufferings of his Son and give him finally to us, our Savior and our Redeemer.

Without him, without his sacrifice, we would have remained, and we would never have come glorified into his presence. And so this is what it cost, in part, for our Father in Heaven to give the gift of his Son unto men.

Source: New Era Jan 76 Classic Discourses, Sacramental Covenant

Penal Substitution is the Difficulty

I’m not quite sure what my friend is trying to teach me or why he wanted to point out that my / our understanding of the atonement is wrong or false doctrine. I will read Daymon’s essay on the atonement and see what points I can derive that will help draw me closer to my Savior. I desire a true understanding of what He has done for me and what exactly it is that He requires of me.

From our email dialog I think he is trying to say that the Atonement has nothing to do with paying a debt, but that did not enter into the dialog from my side. I wanted to focus on the idea of the Atonement being a sacrifice – both on the part of the Son and from the Father. That’s why I included Elder Ballard’s classic talk on the feelings of the Father as he watched His son’s death.

The paper seems to focus on the idea of penal substitution. Yes, I get that. It seems to be part of our doctrine that Christ paid for our sins. In other words he suffered things such as guilt and shame so we would not have to. For some reason, if I understand the paper correctly from a quick review, this is supposedly a false doctrine. I’ll write my summary when I complete it.

By the way, I’ve been asked if this 45-page PDF draft paper is available for sharing. My source has indicated that it will be published later this year but asked that I not share it for now. Sorry about that..

A Few More Quotes From Denver Snuffer

DenverSnufferGoogleSearchI learn best when I share. That’s one reason why I blog. When I finished reading the first volume of Remembering the Covenant, I thought I would share a few quotes that I found unique and spiritually invigorating. This is the second in a series of quotes from the book and from the blog. I can see that there will be at least four posts on this volume. I am finding too many good quotes.

23 Mar 2010 – page 105: Ordinances are not the real thing

The power of godliness is tied to opening the heavens and receiving assignments, confirming revelation, or blessings from God.  Promises given to others are not promises to you.  Men are rarely reliable sources from which to attain the Word of God.  All power is tied to heaven.  When the powers of heaven are withdrawn from someone, then their authority comes to an end and they have no power. The ordinances as symbols point to the real thing. The real thing is Jesus Christ and His Gospel. If you want to have the power of godliness in your life, it must be gained through Jesus Christ; access to whom is available to all men on equal terms.

23 Mar 2010 – page 106: Our libraries interfere with knowing God

I’ve been marveling at the irrelevance of higher education to the process of receiving light and truth. … a scholar studies philosophy and then everything looks like it can be fit into a paradigm matching their school of thought. It isn’t the volume of the books we possess which helps our search into deep truths.  Indeed, our libraries may well interfere with knowing God.  It is the depth of how we live the basic principles contained in the scriptures which let the light of heaven shine into our lives. A bad education (which is most educations) is worse than no education when it comes to the things of heaven. Heaven is an endless source of surprises.  There’s nothing mundane going on there.

23 Mar 2010 – page 108: We must hear the voice of the Lord first

The ministry of the Second Comforter is to bring those to whom He ministers to the Father, and have them accepted by Him.  This means that the Father accepts them as a member of the Heavenly Family, or in other words, promises them exaltation. Joseph Smith … put the voice declaring a person’s exaltation first, and the visit of Christ and the Father with that person second. … they will take up their abode with him, & the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him & the Lord will teach him face to face & he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God…

24 Mar 2010 – page 112: We must each wage a war against spiritual entropy

…we are always going to learn more.  It is the nature of the Gospel that our light should increase.  Whenever we learn more, we must change to reflect what we have just gained. The Holy Ghost is should be a regular participant in our lives.  Its renewed companionship is also primary.  Its witness to us that we are on the right path is the only way to wage the necessary war against entropy which seeks to take you into darkness.  It is the source of renewed light that always enlightens when it comes. We must do this individually.

25 Mar 2010 – page 117-118: We are required to offend and sound the alarm

Mormonism is either correct, or it has no reason to exist. Jesus Christ did not intend to let those who follow the work He was to commission through Joseph Smith to become popular, successful, or live in peace.  He intended to put them at odds with all the rest of the world. It is an instant challenge to the world. When we shape the message of the Restoration into a vocabulary which does not offend, we miss the point.  We are REQUIRED to offend.  We are REQUIRED to sound the alarm to “Awake! Arise!”  When the message to those who accept the Historic Christian faiths is that “you’re OK” we are contradicting Christ’s opening statement to Joseph Smith. All of this is only true if what we are doing is continuing the work begun by Joseph Smith.  If we have abandoned what he restored, then never mind.

28 Mar 2010 – pages 129-130: Not necessary for apostle to have audience with Christ

When someone in a position of Church leadership has an audience with Christ, we hear about it.  Joseph Smith told us.  Oliver Cowdrey told us.  Sidney Rigdon told us.  So did President John Taylor, President Joseph F. Smith and David B. Haight.  Their calling is to bear a witness of Him.  When they have an actual audience, I believe they tell us. The calling of the Twelve is to “bear witness” of Christ.  (D&C 107: 23.)  Because of that calling, they must proclaim they have a “witness” even if it could be more correctly described as a testimony born of the Spirit.  I accept their “witness” of Christ and believe it is authoritative.  However, I do not read into their testimony what they do not put there themselves. I accept the “witness” of the living Apostles, although it is a rare exception when one has an audience with Christ.  In recent talks Elder Scott has gone to some length to testify and describe his own spiritual experiences.  I trust in them.  I trust him.  I believe him to be an Apostle.  It is not necessary for an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have a personal audience with Christ.

30 Mar 2010 – pages 133-134: We must feast upon the words of angels, not men

Isaiah prophesied about the effect of losing knowledge about God.  He wrote: “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.”  (Isa. 5: 13.) This is an apt description of people when they are not “fed” with truth and light. In contrast, Nephi wanted the Latter-day followers of Christ to have a “feast” to consume while toiling in this fallen, difficult time.  But Nephi notes the “feast” will come to us from hearing the words of “angels” and not from the “arm of flesh.”  Nephi taught us: “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”  (2 Ne. 32: 3.) Whether we are to “feast” or be “famished” is up to us.  Seek, ask, knock: it will be opened.  Stay content, do not ask, seek, or knock: you will remain dried up with thirst.

31 Mar 2010 – pages 136-137: We have polluted the Restored Church

The great latter day “pollutions” referred to by Mormon in Mormon 8: 31 are the behaviors of men; not environmental waste.  Mormon identifies what those “pollutions” are:  “murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations.” Those are harsh indictments.  But it becomes even more harsh when Mormon identifies US as the culprits.  He calls us “pollutions.”  He tells us we have polluted the “holy Church of God.”  That can only mean the Restored Church.  Sobering indeed. “O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?”  (Mormon 8: 38.)  Remember that Mormon saw us.  Jesus Christ showed Mormon US. He was in a unique position to accurately tell us what ails us. (Mormon 8: 35.) So why do we think ourselves in good spiritual condition?  Why are we confident we aren’t condemned by the Lord?  Why do we presume that as Latter-day Saints we are safe?  Why do we think Mormon is talking to all those other churches; churches who will never read his book, and therefore cannot be warned by it?  It defies common sense, really. We are in a lot of trouble.  He’s trying to help us.  How foolish to think we can line up beside him and point the finger away from ourselves.  He won’t let us do that, you know.  He’s pointing the finger right at us.

02 Apr 2010 – page 142: The endowment ceremony misrepresents the creation

There are different versions of the creation.  The Moses, Abraham and Genesis accounts are similar in putting Adam alone at the point when the commandment was given to not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The Temple account does not preserve this. The creation (or transplant of man onto this world) is not really the reason for the various ceremonial accounts of the event.  They are intended to orient us to how we got here (by a deliberate, planned act of God), why were are here (to find our way back to God) and why conditions here are difficult (to gain knowledge of good and evil).  The accounts are really about us.  Each of us was born innocent in the beginning, gradually become accountable, feel ourselves outside the presence of God, and must work to return.

03 Apr 2010 – page 143: Thoughts are the key to come into the presence of God

Ideas are things. Real things. They come into existence as we create them. They will become subject to the judgment of God, because our thoughts are perhaps the most real part of us. (See Alma 12: 14.) We should guard our thoughts as we guard the lives of our children. Our thoughts hold the key to everything else. This is so important a matter that the Lord tied knowledge of priesthood itself to the thoughts we entertain in the privacy of our minds. Only when our thoughts are worthy are we able to bear the presence of God. (D&C 121: 45.) If you study the scriptures and then meditate upon them also. You will only develop power within as you do so.

05 Apr 2010 – page 148: Receiving Second Comforter not valued by this world

I was asked about the meaning of receiving the Second Comforter.  There is a chapter in the book (The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord Through the Veil) titled “What it Means and What it Does Not Mean” that summarizes the matter. The promises of God are helpful in enduring to the end.  But they have no value here apart from peace of mind.  They are not “property” which this world will value highly.  They are for the coming life.

05 Apr 2010 – page 148: God may require us to go public as part of a trial

All the prophets can do is offer encouragement to others.  They can affirm that the path back to God exists and can be walked even in a day of sin like today.  They cannot do the walking for anyone other than themselves.  Each person is obligated to walk on the path for him or herself. Examples of others offer encouragement, but can never replace the obligation devolving upon each individual. It would be easier for a person to live in harmony with God in obscurity than with public notice.  Sometimes, however, the Lord requires a person to take a public stand as part of the trial or obligation imposed upon them.  Whether the person complies with that duty is a measure of the person’s sincerity.

07 Apr 2010 – page 153: The church is flawed but necessary and good

I recognize weaknesses [of the church], have no intention of avoiding them, and am not an apologist in the traditional sense.  But I believe in the church, accept its authority, and think its role is necessary and even critical to the work of the Lord. Acknowledging the flaws is admitting the obvious.  But getting those who are discouraged, losing their faith, or have left the church to reconsider that decision is another thing.  They cannot be reached spiritually without some acknowledgment of the problems in the church.  They aren’t going to be deceived by offering a clever polemical argument. Once the varnish comes off the institution of the church, for many, faith dies. But that is not necessary.  Nor is it inevitable.  It is possible to see the frailties of men and still also see the hand of God. … the church may be flawed, but despite that, it is worthy, worthwhile, necessary and good.  I have had some success.

07 Apr 2010 – page 154: We should have faith in an imperfect church anyway

Some of the church’s most effective critics are former members.  Indeed, with the internet, the arguments against the church are multiplying, as are the number of critics. I try not to gloss over the flaws or ignore their existence or to pretend that there aren’t legitimate questions being asked about what has or is happening within the institution of the church. I’m saying that we can and should have faith anyway. The church matters and its mission has always been possible to accomplish. I also want those who sense we’ve retreated from the original scope of doctrine and practice to realize the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains on the earth.  It is as accessible to anyone living today as it was while Joseph was here.  The failure of others does not impose any limitation upon the individual who sincerely seeks, asks and follows. We are not dependent upon others or even the institution itself to receive that fullness.  Although the ordinances offered by the church remain the foundation upon which the fullness must be built.

08 Apr 2010, page 161: Sacrifice is required to produce faith sufficient to save us

…it is quite important to note the necessity of sacrifice to produce the kind of faith which saves.  Joseph’s explanation required us to sacrifice all things to be able to lay hold on saving faith.  Without the knowledge that we would give up everything, even our own lives if necessary, we cannot receive eternal life.  We have to trade this life for the next.  No trade, no exaltation. So when a man or woman reaches the point where she/he can be tested, the Lord will supply a test to them to prove (to themselves) that they will sacrifice all things.  [The Lord already knows, but we don’t.  And it is OUR faith which is required to be tested.]

09 April 2010, page 169: Times of Gentiles ending – no longer a Christian nation

We are witnessing the end of the times of the Gentiles.  There is a worldwide collapse of the Gentile populations.  (Gentiles being the white, European populations.)  Although we have scattered Israelite blood in us, the LDS Church was founded by those who are “identified with the Gentiles” (D&C 109: 60). But their (our) time has run its course. The God of this land (North America) is Jesus Christ.  When people reject Him, they lose their claim on the land and are swept away.  (See 2 Ne. 1: 7-10.) We have now, by the popular vote of the Gentiles who possess this land, chosen a leader who proclaimed on April 6th, 2009 (the Lord’s birth date) that “we are no longer a Christian nation.”

Your can also read part one – A Few Quotes From Denver Snuffer

A Few Quotes from Denver Snuffer

FromTheDeskOfDenverSnufferAs I went through volume one of Remembering the Covenant, I marked passages I thought were interesting, remarkable or controversial. I thought to myself, “I would love to discuss these quotes someday with others who have read Denver’s works.” I realize all the quotes I am about to share can be found on his blog, are all from over three years ago, and have comments there.

However, this is my blog and I wondered what some of my current readers might think of them. I still find it amazing that I did not know about Denver’s writings for so many years. It was only in the last eighteen months that I have enjoyed his books and his blog. I am not introducing these as original thoughts, so it’s not plagiarism. I simply want to see if they elicit intelligent discussion.

The date listed and linked is from his blog. The page listed is from the page in volume one of Remembering the Covenant. I thought I would do this on occasion but after doing this first one, I realized I only got through the first two months. We’ll see. If it proves popular – discussion added beyond the original on his blog – I may continue the series. His stuff is worthy of reconsideration.

12 Feb 2010 – page 7: Church of the Firstborn

The Church of the Firstborn exists on the “other side” so to speak.  You qualify to get there by how you live here.  But you have to be invited into that church by the “angels to whom is given power” to extend that invitation.

16 Feb 2010 – page 11: I am content to let you disbelieve

In response to a critic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, and you do not.  I’m content to let you disbelieve.  Why are you not content to let me believe?  One of us is clearly mistaken, but I am content with both my belief and your disbelief.  Of the two of us, I think your hostility toward my position reveals an underlying insecurity about your confidence in your position.  I am prepared to be everlastingly judged on the basis of my beliefs.  I insist the Lord has every right to hold me accountable for what I believe, do, think, say and how I behave.

20 Feb 2010 – page 16: Their creeds are false

I am a Latter-day Saint because I believe the doctrine. I am not a traditional Christian because I believe their creeds are false and they teach for doctrine the commandments of men. Unless someone comes to believe that, there is no reason to leave a traditional Christian denomination and become a Latter-day Saint.

21 Feb 2010 – pages 17-18: Acceptance of homosexual marriage

…the LDS Church cannot prohibit or limit homosexual marriage practices anywhere.  Not even in their own marriage ceremonies.  For to do so would invade a “fundamental right” of the persons involved. …ultimately the Church’s position on the “fundamental right” of homosexuals to be employed and housed without discrimination, using the coercive force of the government to protect that “right” against employers and property owners, will be the same reason the government will force the LDS Church to be coerced into acceptance of homosexual marriage.

23 Feb 2010 – page 24: Ceremony of Recognition

In the book I refer to the “ceremony of recognition.” This ceremony has a specific order. It begins with an embrace.  The headnote (written by Elder McConkie) says “hands, feet and side” as the order.  The text, however, refers to the side, then the hands and feet.  That ceremony, so far as it is appropriate to do so, is explained in the text of The Second Comforter.

24 Feb 2010 – page 27: Angels…evidence of a firm mind

…a member of the First Presidency … said that if he ever saw an angel he would “jump out the window.” I think there is a tendency to avoid discussing any contemporary occurrence of the miraculous in our individual lives within the Church because of the frequent association of such things with deceivers and the deceived.  In contrast to that fear, Moroni affirms that angels appear only to those with “a firm mind.”  (Moroni 7: 30.)  How odd it is that we have this juxtaposition:  On the one hand, in our day it is viewed as being evidence of a weak mind, or dubious character, and on the other Moroni asserts it is evidence of a “firm mind.”  One or the other has to be incorrect.

24 Feb 2010 – page 28: We prefer our miracles at a distance

Today we prefer our miracles at a distance.  When we do accept the occasional miracle, we want it to be separated by culture, time and reduced to written accounts from the deceased.  We think it’s safer that way.  Society trusts that when the miraculous has been reduced to history alone it can then safely be the stuff from which PhD’s and theologians extract the real meanings.  After all, our scientific society only trusts education, certification and licensing; not revelation, visitation and ministering of angels.

26 Feb 2010 – page 35: Opinion polling and focus groups

I do not challenge the right of the leaders, whom I sustain, to make decisions.  But, if I could make a scourge of ropes and drive the social scientists out of the Church Office Building, I would.  I think opinion polling and focus group results are worse than meaningless, they are misleading.  It is an exercise in followship, not in leadership.  If you see a trend through polling, and jump in front of it, that does not make you a leader.  It makes you a clever follower.

01 Mar 2010 – page 41: Making lists of commandments

It is not possible to list all commandments.  In one sense there are only two:  Love God.  Love you fellow man.  All others are extensions of those.  If you love God you will do what He asks of you.  Whenever something comes to your attention He would have you do, you do it.  Your individual path back to God will begin with following the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  At some point, however, you will find that individual service and obedience to God’s will for you will create disharmony between you and others.

Can’t be avoided.  If you’re following Christ, you will find the same things He found.  Helping someone in need will take you away from Church meetings on occasion.  You can’t make a list and keep it, because as soon as you do the list will interfere with loving God and loving your fellow man. So the whole matter can be reduced to this:  Follow Christ, receive the ordinances, accept the Holy Ghost, who will teach you all things you must do.  Any list beyond that will inevitably result in conflicts and contradictions.

02 Mar 2010 – pages 44-45: The word of the lord spoken to you

Salvation consists in getting the word of the Lord spoken to you as a promise of eternal life.  When you obtain that word, it cannot be broken.  It becomes a “commandment” of the Lord’s which cannot fail.  This is the kind of commandment we should seek. Instead of focusing on a list of things to do or not do, I would commend to you the idea of getting from the Lord those words which will assure you eternal life.  Not His words spoken to others found in scripture, but words spoken by Him to you.  If you obtain this from Him, then you have a sure promise, though the heavens and earth pass away.  This more sure word guarantees you, by covenant from Him whose words cannot fail, that you will be granted life with Him.

03 Mar 2010 – page 48: Doctrine books do not sell

…the decline from the time of President Kimball to today is more than significant, it is catastrophic. I believe the only reason to convert to our faith is our doctrine.  Since the Church has de-emphasized doctrine, the trend of lowering missionary success has confirmed my belief in the necessity of teaching doctrine.  Not just in the Teach My Gospel program, but in every aspect of the Church, from Sunday School and Primary to Stake and General Conferences.  Doctrine is what distinguishes us. Deseret Book has actually told me that “doctrine books do not sell.”  They are interested in fiction, which can be read in one or two settings.

05 Mar 2010 – page 53: I didn’t want to be a Mormon

As a convert to the Church I know what attracted me to become a Mormon.  It had nothing to do with the formulaic discussions of the missionaries, slick marketing or good arguments.  It had to do with doctrine.  I DIDN’T WANT to be a Mormon.  Quite the contrary.  But I knew I should become a Mormon because their doctrines came from God and answered questions other faiths could not begin to answer.

06 Mar 2010 – page 56: The Mysteries of Heaven

There is a system by which men learn the mysteries of heaven and are saved.  That system is set out in Alma 12: 29-30:

-First, angels are sent to prepare men/women.
-Second, they are allowed to behold the Lord’s glory.
-Then they converse with the Lord, at which point they are taught the things which have been prepared from the foundation of the earth for their salvation.
-All of which is driven by the man/woman’s faith, repentance and holy works.

This is in keeping with Joseph Smith’s revelation about those chosen to become a member of the Church of the Firstborn.  They are chosen by the holy angels to whom the keys of this power belong.  (D&C 77: 11.) If this isn’t happening, then faith does not exist on the earth any longer.  (Moroni 7: 37.) Ministering angels are an indispensable part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is why those keys were restored so early on in this dispensation, and are so widely disseminated into the Church membership. (See D&C 13 and D&C 107: 20.)

07 Mar 2010 – page 60: The institution (church) is doomed

The scriptures and the Lord do NOT make them omniscient.  As a group the Saints do.  That is the first great error, and it is not the leader’s error but the saints’. I’ve seen many, many mistakes made by the Brethren.  But I loved them and sustained them and have refrained from being overtly critical of them. It is not an institution which will be saved.  Indeed, the institution is doomed to be confined to this world, and not pass into the next.  But, it is the individual who will be saved.  Individuals, however, must receive what the institution offers to obtain salvation.  Therefore respect for the church is necessary.  It’s role is essential.  It’s authority from the Lord.

11 Mar 2010 – page 70-71: It’s YOUR Eternal Salvation

When it comes to the subject of one’s eternal salvation, I can’t understand why someone would simply trust others and leave it to them to tell them what is necessary. I should think everyone would study this matter night and day, and reach their own conclusion about what is important, what is not, what will save, and what is simply foolishness. Joseph said he advised all to go on and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of God. Alma said about the same thing in Alma 12: 9-11. When it comes to sacred knowledge, the absence of curiosity and relentless inquiry is evidence of apathy and indifference.

21 Mar 2010 – page 97-99: On a Scale of 1 to 10

Before a discussion begins about gospel subjects, I think it is always helpful to first find out how important the subject is to the person with whom you are speaking. Oftentimes there is a disconnect between how important the two parties view the subject being discussed. To illustrate the point, I’m proposing a completely arbitrary method of ranking an issue on a 10 point scale of ascending importance as follows:

1. Completely meaningless
2. Trivial
3. Relevant
4. Somewhat significant
5. Significant
6. Very significant
7. Important
8. Very important
9. Critical
10. Essential to salvation

23 Mar 2010 – pages 102-103: Near-Death Experiences

Some have used NDE’s to become guru’s and sell books or give talks.  That may detract from getting more light and truth.  The thing about growing in light and truth is that it is always directly connected with the humility of the person.  Humility or openness to new ideas and greater understanding is required to move from wherever you may be at present to a position of greater truth.  It is that openness to new ideas which is indispensable to gaining knowledge of God.

Closed minds, particularly those that may grow out of religious experiences or beliefs, are not benefited by what great things God has to offer in the continuing education of His children.  Joseph Smith once commented that it will be “a great while after we have left this life before we will have learned” enough to be saved.  It is not all to be understood in this life. Openness to ideas and further instruction is necessary to continue in the path of truth and light.  A NDE may open one’s eyes to some truths, but the fullness of what is to be taught or gained from God is not given in a single experience or in a brief tutelage from missionaries.  It is a lifelong quest.

Continue on with Part Two – A Few More Quotes From Denver Snuffer

Advice for a Repentant Sinner

LDSRepentanceMany years ago, I went through a difficult repentance process. Let me qualify that. I began a difficult repentance process. I am still going through it. In my opinion there are certain people who once they repent of some sin, are able to forget about it and move on. They no longer think about their mistake. It was a one-time problem. They got over it. The effects have been removed.

This has not been the case with me. Now you may say, “Well, it’s because you haven’t repented fully, or you haven’t forgiven yourself. If you have truly followed all the steps of repentance then you are supposed to be able to rejoice and live your life as if nothing ever happened.” I’ll just bet you’ve heard that before, haven’t you? In fact, I think I’ve shared that advice with some people.

A Conversation with My Bishop

Let me tell you about a conversation I had with my bishop as I completed the first phase of my repentance process and he gave me my temple recommend. I was very grateful. I knew my family would be very pleased. A temple recommend meant I could go on a mission. It meant I had met the requirements set by the church to qualify for entrance into the house of the Lord.

After signing the recommend, handing it to me, shaking my hand – in fact, he may have given me a hug – the Bishop asked if I had any questions. I was only nineteen but it had been a long hard process for me to repent and get myself ready for the temple. I had done a lot of reading and a lot of thinking about what it means to repent and what it means to be forgiven. So I asked him:

A Temple Recommend Received

“Bishop, I’m grateful to have this temple recommend. It means a lot to me and to my family. I’m looking forward to being endowed and serving my mission. You know I read the articles and the books you asked, including The Miracle of Forgiveness. That was a pretty difficult book. It had a lot of hard stuff in there. In fact, at one time I thought I could never qualify to go to the temple.

“I read what President Kimball had to say about always having to be wary. In fact, if I remember correctly, I believe he wrote that sexual sin can ‘start a soul on a lifetime of regret and anguish.’ On another page he wrote and I have highlighted that ‘a clearance from the Lord and the leaders of his Church [is required] so that a measure of peace may accompany them through their lives.’

We Must Always Be On Guard

“I don’t remember the exact quote on this one but I seem to recall he wrote a strong warning that we must always be on our guard and always on the lookout for the efforts of the adversary to entice us back into our old sinful ways. In other words, he made it clear that we could never forget that we had sinned. We can never put it out of our mind. The sin will always be with us.”

“Bishop, I’m concerned about statements like those. They make me think there is no way I will ever be able to completely forget about what I have done. They give me the impression that my sin will trouble me all my life. I’ll never be able to forget about it, to let go, to be completely free of the memory of this habit I have worked so hard to overcome. What advice can you give me?”

A Bishop Who Cared Deeply

I’ll never forget his response. He looked tired. I later realized he was serving in the last few months of his five or six years as a bishop. I’ll bet he had held this kind of conversation multiple times with many others before me, most of them young men like me. He took in a deep breath and let it out ever so slowly. He ran his finger along the desk and looked down for a long time.

It struck me that perhaps this was something that he had struggled with in his own mind. As I waited for his advice I got the distinct impression he wished I hadn’t asked him that question. I suddenly felt a deep love for this man who I had met with so often over the past six months. I wondered what he was going to say and why it seemed there were tears forming in his eyes.

Requirements for Repentance Met

“Brother Malone,” he said after some time, “as far as I can tell, you have met the requirements for repentance. You have confessed your sin, you have put this behind you and you have told me that you have felt the forgiveness of the Lord as you have prayed about it. Isn’t that right?” There was almost a pleading look in his eyes as he confirmed with me that I had done all those things.

“Yes,” I said, “I have done everything you have asked. As far as I know I have repented. And yes, I have felt the love of the Lord as I have prayed about it. I have felt a sense of peace as I have thought about my repentance, as if the Lord is pleased and has accepted my efforts.” I could not think of anything more I could say to convince him that I had done all I knew how to do.

There are no Guarantees

“Then, Brother Malone,” he said slowly, “all I can say is this.” He paused, almost as if it pained him to say what he was about to share. “You simply go about your life, living from day to day, doing all within your power to keep this sin behind you. I can tell you that it will be difficult. All you can do is endure to the end of your life and pray that you are still worthy when you die.”

I sat a little stunned. It was not what I expected to hear. I thought he would say something like, “Well, now you can ask the Lord to take away the memory of your sin. You’ve repented, so you have the right to do that.” Nope. He specifically said I would remember my sin, that it would be something I would have to continue to work on all my life and that there were no guarantees.

A Lifetime of Service

I thanked him. I went to the temple. I served my mission faithfully. I kept free from the habit that had caused me such distress in my youth for many years, but sadly it came back later in life. In fact, it came and it went many times over the years, even after I was married – in the temple. My bishop was right. There were no guarantees. I still struggle to keep myself free from this sin.

Because of constant repentance I have been able to keep my temple recommend all these years. Sometimes I feel more worthy than at other times in my life, especially as I keep busy in actively serving others through teaching the gospel or helping the ward and stake priesthood leadership as a clerk or counselor. But I have always wondered why I could never be truly free of this sin.

In Peril Every Hour

Many of you know that I have been actively reading the works of Denver Snuffer for the last year and a half since I was introduced to his writings. I thought that perhaps I would find in his books something refuting the counsel of this bishop. I thought I would find some statement the Lord had made, or something found in the scriptures that I had missed about being forgiven.

Nope. In fact, Denver makes a statement that as long as we are mortal, as long as we have not come into the presence of the Lord and been ministered to by him, we remain in danger. If I remember correctly, he states that we must have our calling and election made sure in order to have any promise that we will be exalted after this life. And then of course, there are still risks.

The effects of Sexual Sin

The obvious advice to us all is to never get entangled in sin, especially sexual sin, which, in terms of severity, is considered the sin next to murder (see my qualifying note below). Now admittedly, pornography and masturbation are not the same as fornication or adultery, but nevertheless, they are sexual sin. They make one unclean and impure before the Lord. Repentance from such is still a hard process.

I now understand why my good bishop was so tender-hearted when he gave me the advice I asked for at age nineteen. He knew what I was going to have to go though, even though I had repented. He knew I would have to continue to repent all my life. I don’t know how he knew that. Perhaps he knew it from personal experience but I would never assume such a thing.

Say Nothing but Repentance

Joseph was commanded to say nothing but repentance to this generation. I know when my stake presidency is inspired and acting under the spirit of the Lord when they remind the priesthood brethren in our stake that we need to be wary of pornography, keep away from it and confess to our bishops if we are having problems. Pornography saps power from the priesthood of the man.

It hurts when I hear them say that. It reminds me that I am a sinner, an addict and that I must be always on my guard to keep free from this sin. I have to be very careful about what websites I visit and what TV shows I watch. In fact, I try to not watch TV at all. I would rather read. Even though it hurts to hear, I am grateful my stake president warns us to beware of pornography.

Hope for Repentant Sinners

Some have said that if the church would stop talking about pornography, it would cease to be a problem. I’ve never understood that logic. The Lord commanded the leaders of the church to warn the members against sin. If they don’t, they would not be doing their duty. Perhaps what the critics are saying is that the leaders need to be careful to encourage those who have sinned.

Perhaps if there is any advice I could offer anyone in this church who deals with this problem is what the reader of one of my recent posts wrote in a private email dialog: “Stop being so hard on yourself. You have obviously repented. You should celebrate your life and the good things the Lord has done for you.” Good advice. But it’s still hard knowing I must always be on my guard.

The Best Advice I Can Offer

So here’s the best advice I can offer, and it comes from another reader. This is a summary of what Good Will left on my post Born of the Spirit for Addicts. After quoting Moroni 10:32-33, he wrote, “…you do not deny yourself of all ungodliness by your own virtue, grace, power or strength, but by His.” Of course, in order to do that, we must have those attributes from Him.

In other words, you’ll never be able to do it on your own power. You’ll never be enough. You MUST have the strength of the Lord in order to overcome and master the flesh. Because He is virtuous, you will be virtuous. Because He has power over the flesh, you can have power over the flesh. Because He is clean, you can be clean. But you MUST be enveloped in His love.

Faith beyond Intellectual Understanding

I’m not going to say this is a new concept for me, but perhaps it is one that I have somehow limited to an intellectual understanding only.  The objective of the Lord in working with us is to change our hearts, to cause us to be born again, to receive that baptism by fire, to be cleansed from the effects of sin, every whit. But I know it’s simply not something I can do on my own.

I suppose for me, my intellectual strength has become a liability in this area. I just can’t seem to get past the idea that I know it must happen, but I don’t understand how to make it happen. I pray for it, I fast for it, I do all within my power to serve, to bless others, to be kind and unselfish, and in short, to live my life in a way that I think would be pleasing and to invite the Lord’s presence.

I Must be Missing Something

I confess I am still struggling. I guess what I’m saying is that I know the answer to happiness, but even after nearly forty years of repenting, I haven’t quite figured out how to make this a real day to day power that gives me the strength to say that I am redeemed of the Lord and have His strength and power with me. I take the sacrament each week and feel strengthened, but still…

I’ll bet some of you are slapping your hand to your head and saying to yourself, “Tim, you just don’t get it. It’s so easy. Here’s all you have to do…” I would love to hear from you. I’ve been working on this for most of my life and still feel the pains of an anguished soul every time the topic comes up in a priesthood meeting. How can I ensure the Lord is dwelling within me?

The Savior will take Up His Abode

I’m not looking for simple primary answers – pray, read the scriptures, take the sacrament, exercise faith, attend to your duties, give service, magnify callings, etc. I do all that. I’m looking for answers from someone who has gone through this and knows what it takes. Am I looking beyond the mark? Is it really as simple as asking in prayer each day to have the Lord with you?

I guess I’m looking for something more. I pray for the spirit to be with me each day and I do feel the help of the spirit. Is there a difference between having the spirit with you and having the presence of the Lord with you? I am convinced there is. The scripture says the Lord will come and dwell with you. I think I’m missing that step. For those who get it, will you ‘splain it to me?

Invitation to Dialog and Connect

Thanks. I don’t care if you berate me for not understanding. I have been a teacher and leader in this church for all my life and I confess I simply don’t get it. If you do, please be merciful and share with me how you have done it – how you have invited the Lord to dwell with you and KNOW that He has come in to make his home with you. It seems a step above where I am now.

I get that I need the Lord’s virtue and the Lord’s power to give me strength to resist sin and to take away my desire for sin, which seems to hit me every few months whenever something important or stressful comes into my life. Satan knows my old weakness and hits me up every time the Lord wants to give me something more and move me along a step on my progression.

Advice for a Repentant Sinner

I’ll be forever grateful if you get it and will share in the comments or email: tmalonemcse @ gmail.com. God bless you for your kindness and thoughtfulness in sharing your thoughts and ideas. I’m committed to the Lord. I love Him and have experienced marvelous manifestations of His love so many times over the years. I feel his spirit with me almost every day of my life.

What I’m looking for is a way to find some sort of guarantee that temptation will have no more power over me when it comes along. I’m looking for a way to say and know that I have been born of the spirit and have no more desire to sin, as the scripture says. If you’ve achieved this and can say that you are never tempted, talk to me. Or am I simply living in a fantasy world?

Becoming the Pure in Heart

ZionPureInHeartI’m grateful to worship with you in church today. I’m grateful also to remember the Lord through the ordinance of the sacrament. There’s something wonderful that happens when we partake of the sacrament. It’s not magic, but even after all these years, I can’t really explain why it’s so special and sacred. It just is.

The sacrament helps me to feel loved and closer to the Lord. I wish I could keep that feeling with me every day, all week long. I could not speak with you today about Becoming the Pure in Heart without the power of the sacrament and the atonement of Jesus Christ in my life. I am grateful for His gift of forgiveness.

I love the Savior. He has done so much for me and has asked so little in return. Actually, He has probably asked a whole lot more of me but I haven’t been listening. I have been dragging my feet about doing what He has asked. I am not pure in heart, but I want to be. Thus, I’m grateful for this assignment.

Promised Day is Approaching

When President Kimball spoke on this subject in General Conference many years ago (April 1978), he shared a scripture that impressed me. In section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we read:

“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.

For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand. Remember this, which I tell you before, that you may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow.

Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come; And also that you might be honored in laying the foundation, and in bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand;

And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come.”

President Kimball promised, “This day will come. It is our destiny to help bring it about.” He asked, “Doesn’t it motivate you to lengthen your stride and quicken your pace as you do your part in the great sanctifying work of the kingdom? It does me. It causes me to rejoice…”

Something Majestic and Divine

In a more recent General Conference address in Nov 2002, Keith B. McMullin, now an emeritus General Authority tells this story, related to a hymn we sing that pertains to the coming forth of Zion. He said:

“As a young boy growing up in southern Utah, the concepts of Zion were much less clear to me than they are today. We lived in a small town not far from Zion National Park. In church we often sang the familiar words (Hymn #7):

Israel, Israel, God is calling,
Calling thee from lands of woe.
Babylon the great is falling;
God shall all her tow’rs o’erthrow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.

“In my little-boy mind, I saw the magnificent cliffs and towering stone pinnacles of that national park. Meandering through the high-walled canyons flowed a river of water—sometimes placid, sometimes a raging torrent. You can probably imagine the confusion experienced as this little boy tried to put together the words of the hymn with the familiar surroundings of that beautiful park.

Though it was not a perfect fit, lodged in my mind was the impression that Zion was something majestic and divine. Over the years, a grander understanding has emerged. In the scriptures we read,

“Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—the pure in heart; therefore let Zion rejoice…” (D&C 97:21)

We are Favored of God

The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; … they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory.”

As Carol taught, Zion is both a place and a people. The Lord called Enoch’s people Zion “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Although we have certainly not yet achieved that state, we often sing hymn #5 as a reminder:

High on the mountain top
A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations, now look up;
It waves to all the world.
In Deseret’s sweet, peaceful land,
On Zion’s mount behold it stand!
For God remembers still
His promise made of old
That he on Zion’s hill
Truth’s standard would unfold!
Her light should there attract the gaze
Of all the world in latter days.

Zion and the Temple

In the meridian of time, when the sun was setting on the mortal ministry of the Messiah, he departed the temple at Jerusalem for the last time. Climbing atop the Mount of Olives with his disciples, the Savior prophesied the cataclysmic events that would precede the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming. He then issued this portentous admonition to his disciples, ancient and modern: “Then you shall stand in the holy place; whoso readeth let him understand.”

Latter-day revelations provide understanding. They teach that in our day, amidst strife and catastrophe and pestilence, there are two kingdoms locked in grim struggle for the souls of men—Zion and Babylon. More than once they repeat the injunction to “stand in holy places” for a refuge from these storms of latter-day life. Prominent among such holy places, and key to all the others, is the temple of the Lord. The words Zion and temple belong in the same sentence together.

Summer Cottage in Babylon

Much of the work to be done in establishing Zion consists in our individual efforts to become the pure in heart. “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom,” said the Lord; “otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” (D&C 105:5)

The law of the celestial kingdom is, of course, the gospel law and covenants, which include our constant remembrance of the Savior and our pledge of obedience, sacrifice, consecration, and fidelity.

To come to Zion, it is not enough for you or me to be somewhat less wicked than others. We are to become not only good but holy men and women. Recalling Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s phrase, let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon.

The Blessings of Heaven

We must lay on the altar and sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord. We begin by offering a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.” We follow this by giving our best effort in our assigned fields of labor and callings. We learn our duty and execute it fully. Finally we consecrate our time, talents and means as called upon by our file leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit.

In the Church … we can give expression to every ability, every righteous desire, every thoughtful impulse. Whether a volunteer, father, home teacher, bishop, or neighbor, whether a visiting teacher, mother, homemaker, or friend—there is ample opportunity to give our all. And as we give, we find that “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven!” And in the end, we learn it was no sacrifice at all.

We can See the Lord

OK, I’ve finished sharing quotes from the assigned material. I’d like to add a few personal thoughts about my own struggle to become pure in heart. As I said in the beginning, I’m not. But I want to be. Why?

Blessed are the Pure in Heart for They Shall See God (Matthew 5:8)

Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who
1. forsaketh his sins and
2. cometh unto me, and
3. calleth on my name, and
4. obeyeth my voice, and
5. keepeth my commandments,
shall see my face and know that I am;

D&C 93:1

My Personal Witness

I’ve asked the Lord in prayer for permission to share a somewhat sacred experience from my college days. He said yes. In this story I’m going to relate a great effort I made at that time to purify my heart. This is from my journal. It occurred over 35 years ago.

I was 17 years old at the time.  It was in the Fall of 1974.  My family joined the Church in 1962 when I was five. I feel I grew up as a member of the Church. I attended Primary, Sunday school, Mutual and Seminary.  However, during my Senior year of High School, there was about a six to eight month period of time that I hung with the wrong kind of friends and did not attend church.  In short, I had some repenting to do and felt a strong desire to know my standing before the Lord.

Apostolic invitation

Early in the Fall of 1974, I attended an assembly at Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, in which I distinctly remember President Henry B. Eyring introducing Elder LeGrand Richards as our devotional speaker.  I had heard Elder Richards speak in General Conference before but I had never been in the same meeting with him in which I could feel his spirit and sense his enthusiasm for the gospel.  Something in me caused me to sit still and pay careful attention to what he was saying.

As he taught the gospel and bore fervent testimony of the work of the Lord I remember thinking to myself how much I would like to be able to speak with the power, confidence and enthusiasm that he had.  A distinct impression came over me, and I attribute this to the whisperings of the spirit, that I could have that same witness that Elder Richards had and that I could teach like that someday if I would pay the price of study, devotion, obedience and especially of intense prayer.

Led by the Lord

As I left the devotional assembly I pondered long and hard the message I had felt from the spirit.  Like Joseph said, I reflected upon it again and again.  Never had anything penetrated my heart so deeply.  I felt drawn to the possibility that I could know what Elder Richards knew and that I could receive it in the way he testified – through humble prayer and revelation from the Lord.  I wanted to know what the Lord thought of my efforts to repent thus far and my efforts to become pure in heart.

On Friday, I determined I was going to put the promise to the test.  My roommate was gone for the evening to a dance so I knew I would have a few hours alone to talk to the Lord in prayer.  I felt filled with desire as I began my efforts and was impressed that the words flowed so easily.  It was clear to me that the spirit was directing my thoughts and helping me to express myself.  I am confident I went on for a solid hour reviewing my life with the Lord as I prayed aloud.

Painful confession

The second hour was not so easy.  In fact, it became very difficult to confess my sins of the year that had passed and to have revealed to me the effects my actions had upon myself and on others.  Tears flowed as I saw how I had hurt myself and others and again, the spirit impressed me how the Lord felt about my sadness and the misery that I had caused for myself.  I felt no judgment or condemnation, only that the Lord was pained because of my pain and that he wanted to heal me.

Finally, in the third hour, I was in agony as I pled with the Lord to forgive me and to restore to me the innocence and happiness I had once felt before the days of my rebellion.  I asked again and again for relief.  I wanted to know that I had been forgiven and that I would yet be able to make something of my life in spite of the sin and disobedience of earlier days.  I pleaded and begged for a witness or a manifestation of the Lord’s love for me and that I had been forgiven.

Opposition is real

Toward the end of the third hour I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the reality of the existence of unclean and evil spirits.  As I recalled moments of my sinful behavior, the Lord showed to me that I was not alone, that there were beings from the unseen world participating with me in my sin.  I was appalled at the scenes I was recalling and abhorred the fact that the adversary had used me during those moments.  My pain was real and I was suffering terribly.

Just as I was about to give up in despair that I would receive no relief from my torment, just as I had about decided that my emotional outpouring of grief and misery were in vain, I realized that something unusual was happening about and within me.  I began to sit very still and to pay close attention to what I was feeling or rather sensing.  A tangible feeling of peace descended upon me. A feeling of happiness entered into my heart and mind. It was powerful, almost a sense of euphoria.

Revelatory experience

Warmth filled my being from head to toe.  I sensed light all around and within me.  This is the most difficult and personal part to describe of what I experienced.  I did not see anything with my eyes.  I did not hear anything with my ears.  But I knew that I was not alone at that moment.  I sensed the presence of my Savior. I felt His love. I basked in it for a moment before I realized I was hearing words, even full sentences in my mind. I saw myself at some future time in my life, participating in sacred and powerful events related to the gospel.

I can’t adequately describe what I saw in my mind’s eye and felt in my heart, but I can tell you I sat transfixed for what seemed like another hour as scene after potential scene of my life was revealed to me.  I both saw and heard myself speaking and teaching the gospel with that same kind of confidence I had seen in Elder Richards earlier in that week.  I knew as I was seeing this that it was not guaranteed, but was conditional upon my willingness to prepare for it.

Everything changed

From then on, everything changed.  I knew I would soon be going on a mission.  I knew I would marry in the temple.  I knew I would accept and serve faithfully in many callings over the years.  I knew I would serve in leadership positions in my wards and stakes.  I saw myself doing all these things. I especially saw myself teaching and speaking from the pulpit, hearing specific things that I would be saying and teaching.  It was amazing to me.

Now, as I said this was a personal and sacred experience. I share it with you because I felt prompted by the Lord to do so. If you are not familiar with the revelatory process you could describe this as the frenzies of a deranged mind, brought on by emotional distress over the imagined need to repent for what I considered sins. Anyone can say what they like, but to me it was real. Nobody will ever be able to take away this experience that I still hold sacred.  The feelings that accompanied this revelation are indescribable but filled me with joy.

Conclusion and Invitation

At that time in my life, I knew I had been made whole. The healing came from being in the presence of the Lord. I knew He was there. I felt His presence. I was healed but I was not as pure as I should have been. He ministered unto me and showed me things about my life that allowed me to progress and grow. The pure in heart shall see God. I long for the day when I can return to the kind of faith I had back then and come back into the Lord’s presence. Perhaps then I will see Him. May we each seek to be pure in heart as we prepare to dwell in Zion.

Born of the Spirit for Addicts

BornOfTheSpirit_ERichardPackhamOne of the promises of being born of the spirit is that of a mighty change of heart (Mosiah 5:2). This mighty change is supposed to take away any disposition to do evil and replace it with a desire to do good continually. Of all the dialogs I have with addicts, this is the most difficult verse to confront. It is at the same time, the most hopeful and the most damning of scriptures.

I’d like to share a story of how I came to understand the power of this verse and how it changed my life forever. Some people teach that being born again is a one-time experience and I suppose for them it is. For me, it is a weekly experience. Perhaps that’s an incorrect explanation of this verse and doctrine but by the time I complete my story maybe my interpretation will make sense.

A Happy Returned Missionary

I returned from my mission in 1978 and immediately enrolled in college. The first year was a joy because I was pursuing my dream of becoming a computer technician. I immersed myself so much in school that I got a two year degree in a little over a year and was employed in not one but two computer jobs before the end of the decade. Microcomputers were the hot new thing.

Not only did I plunge myself into school after my mission, but I also did everything I could to be active in church. After all, I was a recently returned missionary. I had all the energy in the world because I had the Lord on my side, right? I taught the Elder’s quorum. I accepted leadership positions in the young single adults and in the LDS student association on campus. I kept busy.

Teaching Seminary in California

I wasn’t really surprised when they asked me to teach seminary but in hindsight, I should have said no. I have never turned down a calling, but this one was too much for me at that time in my life. Within six weeks I was overwhelmed. I was praying with all my might every night as I tried to find time and energy to prepare lessons that would keep thirty high school freshmen engaged.

Something in me snapped one Friday after the kids, full of energy that all high school kids enjoy, pushed back a little too hard and totally destroyed the spiritual experience I thought we were going to have that morning. For those of you who have taught seminary, I know you can relate. Well, I was only 22, just a few years older than these kids, and decided I had enough that day.

How Quickly Life Changes

I told the seminary principal he would need to find a substitute for the next week while I thought about all the things I had going on in my life. It didn’t take a week to decide. I told him that very Monday that teaching seminary was too much for me at that time in my life. They put my class in with another more experienced teacher while they found a replacement. I felt bad. I still do.

My life went on. I moved away from home. I continued to immerse myself in the exciting world of microcomputers and tried to forget about my failure at teaching seminary. I took yet another computer job that required me to work on the weekends. I don’t think I did it on purpose, but subconsciously I used that weekend job to drop out of church for a while. I just felt burned out.

An Inactive Church Member

Thus I found myself an inactive member of the church in less than a year and a half after a very successful mission to Central America. I was busy but I was miserable. I couldn’t make it to church because of my weekend job. I found myself drifting away from scripture reading, gospel study and even association with my friends from church. Gratefully, they didn’t forget about me.

One thing I’m glad I didn’t lose is my love of books and reading, especially church books. I know that sounds strange, but I loved my experiences in the church growing up, especially as a missionary and in the years surrounding my mission. I prepared well to serve and I loved the doctrine, something that still gets me excited. The social aspects of the church are hard for me.

I Still Loved the Gospel

I had attended Rick’s College before my mission and enjoyed a Book of Mormon class from Keith Sellers. He got me excited about the Book of Mormon. George Pace, my LTM branch president, influenced my love of the Savior. My Mission President was a former Institute Director who loved to teach. President Muren made teaching the gospel come alive for me.

I have always been impressed by books and classes from those employed by the church who teach full time in the CES program. I have heard some of them say that we shouldn’t be so impressed. After all, they get paid to study the gospel all day. Nevertheless, I continued to keep up with new publications from CES folks even when I was not active in church those few years.

The Power of True Doctrine

One Saturday afternoon, when I had a few moments between jobs, I went to the nearest LDS book store in California, which for me at that time was Deseret Book in Orange County. I saw a little book that caught my eye entitled, Born of the Spirit by E. Richard Packham. I’m convinced the Lord led me to it. It was just what I needed at that time in my life to get turned around again.

I marvel as I look back through my copy of the book and see the highlights and study notes in the margins. The excitement I felt as I read the book comes back to me each time I see those notes and re-read the high-lighted sections. I remember the feeling of becoming spiritually alive again. I found hope that I could overcome feelings of unworthiness from sin that had crept into my life.

I Sin Differently Than You

I’ve publically confessed that I have struggled with an addiction to pornography since I was eight years old. It was a habit in my youth that got out of control and became embedded in my personality. This habit caused me to return to the sin again and again anytime I was confronted with failure or when challenged in a way that I felt overwhelmed or not immediately successful.

I’ve also shared that the addiction is under control but only because I have learned to apply the principles I discovered in Richard Packham’s book. Well, technically, it is simply by fully living the gospel of Jesus Christ that the problem is under control. But what I learned in Born of the Spirit helped me understand the process and how it really can work, especially for an addict.

The Problem for Addicts

I know I’m not the first person in the world to discuss this difficulty. The problem is how can someone who is an addict lose all desire for that addiction? In other words, how can Mosiah 5:2 possibly apply to a person addicted to a behavior or substance? In fact, the church has a program dedicated specifically to addiction recovery that covers this concept of overcoming the flesh.

When addicts hear someone in church bear testimony that they know they can be forgiven, they readily shake their head and say to themselves, “Yes, I know that too. But what about the next time the temptation comes along? How many times will the Lord forgive someone who commits the same sin over and over again?” If you’re an addict I know you’ve thought about this before.

Addiction Recovery Program

Did you know that Mosiah 5:2 is not found within the church’s Addiction Recovery Program? That problem came about because the church took the existing AA 12-step program and adapted it instead of writing a program designed completely from the restored gospel. I know many people love the program but some have told me it doesn’t explain how to be born of the spirit.

It comes close. Trust me. I have read and studied this wonderful program over and over. I have helped people step through it online. But I remain convinced that it falls short in this one very important area. The closest it comes is a reference to Moroni 6:8 – “As oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.” Close, but not quite the same concept.

Lose the Desire to Sin

The bottom line for me is do we believe we can be born of the spirit and lose all desire for sin or don’t we? Is this a true doctrine of Christ or isn’t it? Can an addict truly be healed and have self-control in their lives again? Can they be baptized by fire and become pure in heart? Maybe this only applies to regular members of the church. What about someone who keeps repeating a sin?

We addicts understand and recognize we can be forgiven. We have experienced it over and over again. But it gets tiring after a while. It gets harder with each failure. The Lord taught that when the evil spirits who afflicted us the first time come back, they bring reinforcements. Any addict can testify to the truthfulness of this doctrine. It gets harder and harder to repent as time passes.

A Process or an Event

You can’t imagine how many times I have said to myself, “Can’t I be rid of this temptation once and for all? Can’t this evil desire be rooted out of my breast never to return again? How did King Lamoni do it? Why hasn’t it happened to me? I hear stories from other church members who say they repented and were forgiven as if it were a one-time event. Why isn’t it like that with me?”

I’ve come to the conclusion that for me, being born again is a process, not an event. But it is a process that works. It may be different for you, meaning you have only needed to repent once of a sin and it’s gone forever from your life. I am happy for you. I thank God there are people like you. Please continue to bear your testimony and tell us how blessed and forgiven you feel now.

Helping Others Repent

I have served in twelve different Bishoprics and Stake Leadership positions for over twenty-five years. I only share this because I want you to know I have sat on disciplinary councils dozens of times. I have watched the repentance process from the point of view of an advisor to a Bishop or Stake President. I have noticed something about those who successfully come back to activity.

They seem to understand that repentance is a process. They don’t talk about a one-time glorious event that changed their life forever. They humbly express gratitude for the tender mercies of the Lord in helping them get back up each time they fall. They tell us they have learned to rely on the Lord for inspiration in their daily walk in life in a way that they never before understood.

Returning to the Same Sin

For those who came to the end of the first half of a disciplinary council, we used to assign them to read The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball. It’s a hard book to read, not because it’s poorly written, because it’s not, but because of what it can do to your soul if you let it. It can make you feel less than the scum of the earth if you stop reading after the first half of the book.

I don’t know if the book is still regularly assigned for those who are working with bishops or stake presidents to regain their membership or full fellowship again. From the book I seem to recall some especially harsh words reserved for the repeat offender who sins again and again. In effect, President Kimball taught that forgiveness is cancelled when one returns to the same sin.

The Simplicity of the Gospel

It wasn’t until I read Brother Packham’s book that I began to understand the full power of the gospel of Jesus Christ when correctly understood and applied. Remember, the gospel is simple. There are only a few parts – to believe in Christ as our Savior, to turn from our sins, to accept baptism by immersion and then the part most people forget – to receive the baptism of fire.

There’s a whole lot more we teach in our church but that’s the gospel in a nutshell. You can find it outlined clearly in 2 Nephi 31-32, the second half of 3 Nephi 11 and 3 Nephi 12:1-2. One of my favorite verses is 2 Nephi 32:6, which is a promise of a personal visit from the Savior to give us the rest of His doctrine, but that’s a subject for another post – the need for a personal visit.

Born of the Spirit is Not Optional

Joseph taught that being born of the Spirit is not an optional part of our commitment to the Lord when we accepted baptism. “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”

“Though his sins may have been cleansed away, yet so great is the force of habit that he would, without being renewed by the Holy Ghost, be easily overcome and contaminated again by sin. Hence, it is infinitely important that the affections and desires should be, in a measure, changed and renewed, so as to cause him to hate that which he before loved, and to love that which he before hated.” – Orson Pratt

Requirement of Time and Sacrifice

It takes time to be born of the spirit. It simply takes time. For some it’s not as long as it is for others. I guess for me, I’m one of the slow learners. I’m still asking for the miracle of having the spirit purge the dross and wickedness out of my heart. I ask each night for the Lord to take away my desire for the things of the world, to cause me to sacrifice or give up Babylon and love Zion.

For me, I must constantly work on a replacement. Sacrifice means giving up something good for something better. The natural man likes pleasure. That’s good I suppose, for the natural man. But the spiritual man in me loves the Lord and wants to please Him. That’s why I work so hard every day to study the gospel, to learn the doctrine, to understand how to teach it better and to live it.

No Other Online Review

Brother Packham’s book is still available from Cedar Fort and from Amazon. He has published a more recent book, Enabled by the Power of Christ (2008) but I haven’t read it yet. I am amazed that there are no reviews of the book on Goodreads or on Amazon. That makes mine the first. How’s that possible for such a wonderful book published so long ago? I highly recommend it.

I have read that books on doctrine don’t sell any more. I wonder why that is. Brother Packham’s book makes what to me is one of the most important parts of the gospel come alive – being born of the spirit. If you have read the book or would like to discuss some of the wonderful quotes or comments found within its pages, leave a comment or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

In the Tops of the Mountains

IndependenceTempleSignAs I was preparing my talk for sacrament meeting next week I thought I would look up and see what Denver Snuffer had to say on the subject. Oh boy. There’s no way I could share some of that stuff from the pulpit. It simply goes against what prophets and apostles have taught over the years on the same subject. Yet, as I read it, the majority of it made sense. See if you agree.

The subject is Becoming the Pure in Heart. Of course, that has to do with preparing for Zion. I suppose it doesn’t really matter where Zion is to be located. That’s not the essential point of the talk. But it is a matter of history that we believe Zion is to be located in Independence, Missouri. In fact, we have it in the scriptures. In the heading to section 57, we read that Joseph asked:

Independence Missouri is Zion

“When will the wilderness blossom as the rose? When will Zion be built up in her glory, and where will Thy temple stand, unto which all nations shall come in the last days?” The Lord’s response in verses 1-3 was “…the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.

“Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.”

Zion Shall Not Be Moved

After the saints were expelled from Jackson county, the Lord revealed in section 101:17-19: “Zion shall not be moved out of her place, notwithstanding her children are scattered. They that remain, and are pure in heart, shall return, and come to their inheritances, they and their children, with songs of everlasting joy, to build up the waste places of Zion — And all these things that the prophets might be fulfilled.”

And yet from Denver (23 Feb 2012) we read: “I do not think Zion will initially be where people think it will. I do not think Zion will be at all what people think it will be. … I do not think Zion will be an institutional enterprise. …there is reason to suspect that our presumption that the New Jerusalem will be in Independence Missouri is somewhat misplaced.

A Preliminary Gathering Place

“I am persuaded it will not be there until after the Lord’s return. There will be a location elsewhere, in the Rocky Mountains, where the preliminary gathering to a Holy City to be built will occur before the Lord’s return. Then, following His return, activities will also involve Jackson County. … The initial gathering before the Lord’s return will be in the Rocky Mountains.”

And from an entry dated 12 Sep 2010, we read: “…when it [Zion] is built, it will be at the place always prophesied for its construction. Zion was to be located on the top of the high mountains.  (Isa. 40: 9.) Jackson County has no mountains, no mountain range, no possibility of fulfilling the promised environs for establishing Zion. (Isa. 2: 3.)

Fulfillment of Ancient Scripture

“Make the descriptions ‘spiritual’ if you want, but a mountain setting is clearly required for the prophesied Zion. … Zion was always intended to be built upon the mountain top. (Isa. 30: 17.) Even a valley location in Salt Lake cannot answer to the description given in prophecy. A valley floor is not the “top of the mountain” upon which the beacon will be set. Zion has never been moved. Nor will it.”

Continuing a little in that entry: “There is no doubt a glorious future for Jackson County. But that will be by and by. There is a gathering in the tops of the mountains which must precede that. If there is not a gathering in the mountains first, then ancient and modern prophecy will fail. There is to be a gathering within the boundaries of the everlasting hills. (D&C 133: 31-32.) Zion will flourish upon the mountains. (D&C 49:25.) There aren’t any places in Missouri that qualify for this preliminary gathering.”

What do you Think?

I think Denver is right. The initial gathering of Zion will be somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Which makes me wonder about the visions of Spencer in Visions of Glory who wrote very specifically about being involved in the building of the temples in Independence and his activities there as a “base of operations” so to speak. Will there be a temple in the tops of the mountains or is that reserved for Missouri? What are your thoughts?

By the way, here are the talks I was given as resources, and from which I will quote from the pulpit (only):

Come to Zion! Come to Zion!” (Keith B. McMullin, Ensign, November 2002)
Come to Zion” (D. Todd Christofferson, Ensign, November 2008)
Becoming the Pure in Heart” (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, May 1978)
Stand Ye in Holy Places” (Lance B. Wickman, Ensign, November 1994)