Doctrine: The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty God. The baptism of fire, or the Holy Ghost, is prerequisite to entering God’s celestial kingdom. God’s commandments are how we gain spiritual reception and receive His messages, guidance, correction, and inspiration. When we place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need, the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence. By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him!

If you are Christian, then what you are trying to become is more “like Jesus.” This results in a desire to emulate and to invite others to also emulate Him. However, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you aspire not only to emulate Christ and invite others to do so, but to actually become like Him, which includes inheriting and sharing in His glory (Romans 8:16-17).

When we are baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we covenant to:

  • Take upon us the name of Jesus Christ
  • To keep God’s commandments and progress toward higher covenants
  • To help, serve, bear with, and bless our fellow men
  • To live worthy of the companionship of the Gift of the Holy Ghost

We promise to do all these things in exchange for one major promised blessing: that His Spirit may always be with us (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79; Mosiah 18:8-10).

It may seem like a lot of effort for one primary accompanying gift. But, OH what a gift it is.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11), which Christ, Himself, said was prerequisite to entering His kingdom (John 3:5). The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the gift of eventual sanctification, perfection, and holiness akin to that of Christ. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty as He tells us what we need to do to become like Him and inherit and share all that He has and His glory.

QUESTION: So, how do we get this constant 24/7 communication and instruction from the Holy Spirit that will help us in our goal to become godly?

ANSWER: We place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need so that the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence.

That’s it, huh? Yep. Think about. How hard is it to make/get a phone call or a send/receive a text message with only one bar? How difficult is it to upload or download files with a spotty Wi-fi connection? And these are just worldly metaphors. When it comes to divine communication, the strength of our connection and service provider makes all the difference.human hand using smartphone on white background

If you want to know why it makes a difference whether you go to church or not, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I go to church that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get while sitting at home?

What happens when I accept a calling at church and fulfill it that doesn’t happen when I’m merely a spectator?

Church is one of the places we can increase our number of spiritual service bars or strengthen our spiritual Wi-fi connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to read your scriptures, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I read God’s word that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get by reading other things?

What happens when I study the scriptures looking for answers to a problem that doesn’t happen when I merely sit on my couch and complain that I have a problem?

The shear act of exerting mental and physical effort toward something increases the strength of our spiritual connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to pray even though God already knows your thoughts, feelings, and future, you need only ask yourself the following:

What happens in my mind when I get on my knees and talk to God?

What happens to my logic and reasoning as I try to seek God’s help or explain my troubles to Him?

What happens when I confess my sins to God and ask for Him to forgive me that doesn’t happen when I don’t consciously approach Him?

Now, it’s possible to pray with vain repetitions and not do much to change our spiritual reception. That is akin to uploading your files but not downloading the response. It’s also quite possible to pray and ask God what decision to make and yet be unwilling to accept His answer. In these cases, we may be trying to get a message, but we keep failing to receive it based on our lack of humility and submission to His actual answer. God doesn’t send messages we are not prepared for. Hence, the need for us to do the things He requires so that we are willing and prepared.

Every commandment we have, no matter how small or simple it seems, has the ability (as we keep it) to open our minds and hearts up to communication from the Holy Ghost. When we open up our hearts and minds, the Holy Ghost can tell us the next step we need to take to inherit eternal life. He can tell us what we’re doing right, where we’re close but need to refocus, and what we need to improve upon, change, or forsake. He can help us to forgive. He can grant us peace while we persevere through a trial. He can open our eyes to the struggles of others so that we can help them. Every message we get from Him we get by placing ourselves in circumstances where our thoughts and actions will best open us up to God’s guidance.

By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him! It is the only way to do so. Yet, many Christians (and that includes those who claim to be Mormons) today are happy to settle for a one-sided relationship with God, and only when it suits their needs. Indeed, modern views of God and His commandments are preached by those who are the worst kind of follower—fair weather friends—who abandon God anytime loyalty requires sacrifice, struggle, patience, long-suffering, charity, or effort.

In Alma 37:6 we read:

Mobile Phone Signal Search

And now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

God’s simple requests and commands to get spiritual reception baffle even the most devout when they fail to understand their incredible and necessary purpose—to create opportunities for us to receive heavenly communication and develop a relationship with God.

A person can’t truly claim to have a relationship with God if they don’t try to communicate with Him (especially receiving communication from Him) in even small ways. Showing up for twice a year holidays is not a relationship. As well, if they keep a selective list of commandments and agree with only some beliefs then they are not the religion they call themselves by, they are their own religion and have created their own god (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16). We can claim to be Christian, but if we don’t attempt to at least emulate Christ and “keep His commandments,” than we aren’t truly His (John 14:15). If we claim to be Mormon and yet make no attempt to become godly and enter into the strait and narrow path that allows us to inherit His glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-25), then we are not keeping our baptismal covenants (priesthood covenants, or temple covenants). We are of those who say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name done many wonderful works” (Matthew 7:22)? God’s answer to this minimal or partial conversion to His plan was this (Matthew 7:2123):

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven… And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

This is also reminiscent of the parable of the ten virgins. Remember the ten virgins were likened unto the Kingdom of God, which is His church (or those who claim to be of His church). The five foolish virgins were rejected because Christ knew them not, meaning also that those foolish virgins didn’t know Him, either (Matthew 25:1-12).

If we don’t live our lives so that we can receive correspondence from the Almighty, how can we say we love Him? We don’t even know Him! It’s like having a thousand celestial text messages sitting out in the limbo of cell phone towers waiting for us to put ourselves in places where we get service. And then, we can still only get one message at a time and respond to it before the next one will come. Meaning, that occasional moments of reception a few times a week simply isn’t going to cut it.

In Mosiah 5:13 it says:

For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?

For this is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent (John 17:3).

To know God is to know His voice, which we can’t know if we purposefully choose to avoid receiving messages from that voice. If we truly love Him we will keep His commandments and follow Him (John 10:14-16). For, the things that He has done we are commanded also to do (3 Nephi 27:21-22).

So, maybe you pray, but you don’t attend church and you knowingly break commandments. Failed connection. You’re missing tons of messages. So, maybe you attend church, but you don’t read or study your scriptures. Failed connection. You’re still missing many messages. So, maybe you attend church but you refuse to accept a calling. Failed connection. I could go on and on with temple attendance and many other things God has asked us to do; and most of them are small and simple things. If you are ignoring one or many of these things, you’re still missing messages. In fact, you are spurning them because of your pride. And, the longer you go without good spiritual reception (on a consistent, constant basis) the longer it will take you to truly come to know God and to understand the path He wishes you to take in order to inherit His glory and to become like Him.

God is the one who established the spiritual reception guidelines (i.e.commands). They include daily prayers with real intent, daily scripture study, daily service to our fellow men, keeping the Sabbath Day holy, attending the temple, and NOT doing many things. He gave us those commandments so that we could get to know Him, correspond with Him, and become like Him. And He gave us those commandments, which if we keep, we will have constant, 24/7 guidance and help from Him. That’s what we covenant to do when we are baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Most of us rarely miss a text message or social media post from mere acquaintances. Indeed, we can hardly set down our electronic devices for fear of missing one of those cursory messages. How sad, then, that we do not treat messages from God with at least the same urgency because we don’t want to do what it takes to “get spiritual reception.”

BT

Doctrine: God’s plan is small, simple, and plain. It is based on small and simple doctrines and principles. Satan can’t frustrate God’s plan and so he focuses on frustrating us by distracting us with complexities that steal away peace and faith. Life is hard. It will always be hard. But, by embracing the small and simple principles, ordinances, and covenants God offers us (Christ’s yoke) it can be easier, more full of peace, and will ultimately lead us where we want to go.

Simple is a word frequently misinterpreted and under-defined.  We often use the terms simple and easy synonymously, but they do not have the same meaning; they are not the same.  The word easy means requiring no great labor or effort.  In other words, if something is easy then it comes to us without doing much of anything.  Many things start out difficult and then as we do them, they become easy.  But easy is not the same as simple.

The word simple means understandable; not complex or elaborate; not compound; free of deceit. Therefore simple does not necessarily mean easy to do because many simple things require great labor and effort.  As well, many things that are easy are not necessarily simple.  Therefore, when something is simple, it means that it is something that is within our ability to comprehend.  Things that are simple are not designed to be above us or to be evasive.  Things that are simple are also not designed to deceive; they are specifically designed to help, teach and support.

The word ‘small’ is often used synonymously with words defining size and importance, such as short, tiny, unimportant, irrelevant, trivial, or minor.  All of these synonyms, while often used interchangeably with the word small, are really very different in definition.  They indicate a lack of substance.  The word, small, however, while referring to a limited size, has greater meaning outside of that context.  It is actually a perfect partner for the word simple, because small means narrow, not great in amount, degree, extent or duration; small means humble, modest and unpretentious.

Small and simple principles are plain. Small and simple principles are within comprehension and are not too large hard for us to understand. Small and simple principles, then, are not principles that are limited in size. They are principles that have been made understandable while still maintaining importance and substance.

So, how does Satan combat the small and simple principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, his objective is to complicate the simplicity of the gospel and render us miserable in the obsession and distraction of complicated and confusing minutia. He spends all his time trying to get us to complicate what is quite clear and simple and plain.Complicated - Simple signpost with sky background

  • Simple doctrine: The purpose of life is to become like God.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us a perfect plan whereby we can accomplish this.
  • Simple doctrine: He has provided the Atonement by which we access grace to aid us in the godly learning process. We can make mistakes. We can sin. We can learn from these mistakes and sins. Then, we can be made clean again. We can then be sanctified as we meet the conditions for repentance and become godly.
  • Simple doctrine: We have been given agency which means we can hurt and we can be hurt by others. We can get sick. We can get injured. We can even die. But, then, God can give us back our lives, perfect our bodies from any loss or damage, and make us immortal.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us His simple gospel plan, with proper priesthood authority, saving ordinances and covenants, and guidance, comfort and hope through the Gift of the Holy Ghost to aid us in achieving the purpose of the plan—to become like and to live with Him forever (i.e. eternal life).

This is the plan. It is simple. It is small. It is plain. God gives us, in addition to simple doctrines, simple principles with which apply these doctrines. They come in the form of commandments (do’s and do not’s). They are short and sweet. For example: Learn of me. Listen to my words. Walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23). Then, there’s the B-attitudes. There’s the ten, specified, commandments. There’s examples and witnesses in the scriptures for us to apply and learn from. All are given simply and clearly.

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord god doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

So, how does Satan complicate this simple plan, it’s simple doctrines and principles?

Satan encourages us to ignore the Atonement and complain about the unfairness and inconsistencies in life. He tempts us to find happiness in more complex ways that require dishonesty, pride, selfishness, and entitlement. He encourages us to ignore the value and power of faith based on witnesses from the Holy Ghost (a member of the godhead) and instead place our trust in cold hard facts that we can see…though those facts are human-delivered and change from year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and century-to-century. He leads us to believe false, complicated doctrines with a hint of truth. He encourages dissent, contention, nit-picking at the flaws of others, and disbelief. “It can’t be that simple,” he will say. He ever and always leads us down more complex roads with arduous journeys and dead ends.

Satan’s tactics work simply by their ability to distract us from the simple straight and narrow path. They work because we do get tired. We do get offended. We do get discouraged. We desire answers. We want revenge or justice, etc. Satan’s uses our desires to fuel his tactics to distract and complicate our way.

  1. Are there imperfect people in the world and God’s church? Yes.
  2. Does God care? Yes.
  3. Will God force others to be how we want them to be? No. Agency is paramount that personal accountability and justice might be preserved, mercy met, and the plan upheld.
  4. Will God still sanction His gospel, His organized church, and the small and simple plan it preaches and teaches despite the imperfection of its people? Yes. His church is His church because it has the fullness of His plan not because it’s people are perfect. It’s a boat that leads us to a destination. It’s that simple.
  5. Does God expect us to apply simple doctrines and principles in the face of great offenses, deep hurts, unfair treatment, and the like? Yes. (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:8)

There is no path in life that is not hard. But, we can be tossed to and fro on the minutia and struggles of life and the imperfections of people if we focus on those to the loss of the straight and narrow path.

Live. Love. Forgive. Repent. Serve. Be better each day. Keep the commandments as poorly or as well as you can each day and let grace carry what you can’t give, but desire to give. Seek and find. Knock and receive blessings. Get your ordinances. Make your covenants. Pray always. Endure to the end.

I have had my share of trials. I have had my share of offenses. I know more trial and problems will come. Life is guaranteed with nearly constant opposition. These things are not fun. I have struggled to get through most of them. Some, I managed to pass through with a bit more gracefulness. Some, I have eked through by the skin of my teeth. When such issues are present they seem to absorb all of our mental functioning. They make the small and simple truths of the gospel plan seem ineffective and uncomforting, at times. But, when endured, I have looked back and realized that nothing more than the simple instruction I received would have been helpful in enduring and coming out better on the other side. There was never a complicated solution to what was only a need of simple time, faith, and endurance.

I have read my share of excellent arguments against God, His people, His church, and religion in general. Some were quite compelling. Some were ridiculous. Some were well-researched. Some were full of well-hidden fallacies. Some attempted to be unbiased and simply ask questions. Others were horrifically biased. But, they all left my mind spinning with distracting minutia that when placed against the small and simple plan of God were shown to be nothing more than that—a distraction.

And, when I looked at those who were succumbing to such trials and being caught by those excellent arguments I saw them get obsessed with busy, overwhelming, depressing minutia. They focused on some detail or argument to the exclusion of everything small and simple, and true (which is always in greater amounts). And, I have not yet seen these obsessions with minutia bring peace or joy to any who so struggled. Some are doing better than others. But none of them are “settled.” None of them are truly at peace.

Simplicity concept.
Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a simplicity concept. White background.

Life is hard. People can be really messed up sometimes. But there is no substitute for the small, simple, and plain plan God has provided for His children. It makes up for all the weakness, struggle, opposition, unfairness, sickness, loss, and death. It’s all covered.

So, we can choose to get caught up in minutia. We can panic, fear, or resent. We can obsess over things we don’t understand or the imperfections of even the supposed elect of God. But, none of that is going to make us happy. None of that is going to get us to our goal of eternal joy. And that’s exactly what Satan wants. It has ever been his design to frustrate the plan of God. But, he can’t frustrate God’s plan which is really frustrating to him. So, at this point, he can only frustrate us.

The UN-MAN

I highly recommend reading C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. It’s not science fiction at all…not really. It’s religious philosophy beautifully couched within a fantasy/science fiction story. In the second book, Perelandra, there is a character called the “un-man.” If you’re brave enough to read this series, you will come to an understanding of how Satan tries to complicate simple, plain truths better than ever before. You will see how he works by studying the “un-man.” I could also recommend the Screwtape Letters.

[note: C.S. Lewis was a truly inspired man. He was raised Catholic. Became an atheist. Then, through pondering, some philosophizing, and other experiences found his way right back to God. He was a man who understood the tactics of Satan.]

Satan will use intellect, education, current scientific facts for as long as we will listen to them. He will use flattery and persuasion as long as we will listen to them. He will mix truths with half-truths for as long as we will entertain them. He will incite selfishness over a slow course of time and convince you that you are always acting for the benefit of others for as long as you will fall for it. And, when at last intellect and reason fail, he will resort to ridiculous, childish tactics that distract and wear us down.

On the other hand, God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness…” (2 Nephi 26:33). God wants us back. He wants to give us all we have. That’s why He keeps it small and simple. We can choose to get distracted…but that choice is ours.

Now, this doesn’t mean that questions or struggles or concerns are bad. But, as we’ve been counseled by God’s servants. We are to doubt our doubts and hold on to the faith and testimony we have (Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord I Believe, April 2013). We are to seek, study, ask, knock, and keep the gospel simple, not getting caught up in unnecessary and ridiculous complexity (Uchtdorf, It Works Wonderfully!, October 2015). We are to endure until the answers come, line upon line, precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenant 50:24). These are simple doctrines and principles that require patience and endurance. Two more simple principles.

Yes, it’s hard to be patient; but seeking out complexities doesn’t ease our anxiety. It only complicates and increases it. So, if we are finding something complicated, distracting, and troublesome and it causes us to fear and doubt, then it doesn’t come from God. That is NOT how He works.

Yet, God certainly doesn’t make everything in life clear. For example, He doesn’t tell you why you get one trial or struggle and someone else doesn’t. He won’t tell you why your child was allowed to die and He decided to save another. He doesn’t step in and explain all of His ways. And, even if He did, we do not have the capacity to understand them all because He is an all-knowing, omniscient being who can see past, present, and future before Him at all times (Isaiah 55:8-9). He knows what is best for each of us whether we understand it or not. We are mortal, finite beings. It is arrogant to think we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge when we can’t handle it all. And, what knowledge He does dispense He gives line upon line, precept upon precept as we are willing to accept it, act on it, and honor it (Alma 12:9-11). His knowledge isn’t for those who doubt, unless they are willing to press forward in faith.

Jacob 4:8 teaches: Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him…

Then, building upon that thought; in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, Aslan (a type of Christ) constantly tells Shasta and Aravis (when they ask questions about the paths and journeys of others; the whys and why nots) that he tells each person their own story and no one else’s. We can easily become distracted by the whys and why nots and minutia of other people’s paths and problems. We can take offense for what we do not understand and what God will not reveal to us since it is not our revelation to get. If we are excited by such troubles of others to serve and strengthen them, this is good. But if we become obsessed with the minutia of other people’s lives, it is a waste. God is not going to tell us about anyone’s path but our own.Keep It Simple

Keep it Simple

So, it’s a hard thing to ask, but I hope all of you will accept the small and simple plan God has given us. I encourage you to focus on the small and simple doctrines it has which explain the majority of the whys and why nots (which I find are “because it helps us become like God,” or “because it doesn’t help us become like God”). Then, use the small and simple gospel commandments and principles to press forward and receive the immortality and eternal life God is spending all His eternity trying to give you (Moses 1:39).

So, I said small and simple. I never said any of this was easy. But God did! (see Matthew 11:30).

How is God’s small and simple plan clear and easy? Life is hard. But, it’s harder without God and without the fullness of Christ’s grace and Atonement. So, God has said His plan, and our life, is easier as we embrace the Atonement and grace Christ offers through His ordinances and covenants (His yoke). His ordinances and covenants are how God dispenses His power and blessings (see previous blog “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). Under His simple yoke, our burdens will indeed become easier and lighter (Matthew 11:30) because we are avoiding distractions and Satan’s tempting complexities and a path of Satan’s that will wind and twist and take us further and further away from what we truly want.

BT

Doctrine: 1) We don’t have to be perfect to receive blessings from God and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Our righteous desires and intent validate our imperfect efforts. 2) Guidance from the Holy Spirit will always be recognizable.

So, life’s in general pretty good. But, perhaps today, or the last several days, weeks, or months, you feel as though you are in a spiritual limbo. Or, maybe you’re in the middle of a mentally and emotionally taxing trial, and now it’s getting to you spiritually. Or, maybe you feel like you’re spiritually okay, but you’ve been seeking an answer or guidance in something and it seems to be elusive. You’re not really wondering if there’s an end, but when. You’re not really wondering if God’s going to help you out, but when…and what your role is in getting there.

There are many kinds of spiritual dilemmas, and I can’t list them all here. But, for the anxiously engaged Latter-day Saint, I find there is a common dilemma.

So, what’s this dilemma? It’s placed firmly between the rock of agency and the hard place of God’s grace. It’s the constant struggle to be anxiously engaged in righteousness while still turning our entire life over the will of God. It’s trying to do your part to get blessings without forgetting to submit to God’s plan for you. It’s trying to figure out when to let go and just let God handle it, or when to take more responsibility in the exercise of your agency to arrive at the righteous desires of your heart. It’s the rock and the hard place many good Christians find themselves between when blessings and guidance seem prolonged or well beyond the horizon.

Between a rock and a hard place
A paperclip figure standing between paving stone and a marble stone

We who have slid down into this dilemma often start over-self-examining our lives, our prayers, our Christian service, our past sins, our current weaknesses. Often we ask ourselves ridiculous questions…but they don’t seem ridiculous to us.

  • Have I forgotten to pray for the right thing? Did I get the wording wrong?

  • Have I failed to look in the “right place” for the right job, the needed information, or the answer?

  • Did I stop being anxiously engaged and so the blessing is being withheld?

  • Has God said no, or wait, and I simply missed the signal?

  • Did I respond to my own feelings and not a real prompting, because I thought it was a prompting, but now I’m not seeing any effect?

The list could go on for eternity. I know, I’ve made several such lists.

The problem, however, with such over-zealous self-examination and question lists is that we are ignoring, unaware of, or have forgotten two clear doctrines when it comes to how God works in our lives.

#1: The first doctrine that is misunderstood or misapplied is of our ability to earn blessings and grace. Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 teaches us that there is an eternal law “upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” God has also said, “I the Lord and bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). Again, we also read, “But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned [or stopped in progress]” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:29).

The anxiously engaged Latter-day Saint often takes these scriptures to mean that if a blessing isn’t coming, then they must have failed to cross a “t” or dot an “I” somewhere in their commandment keeping; that somehow they have been “unknowingly” slothful; that their “unintentional” weaknesses are keeping them from God’s grace, answers, peace, comfort, and blessings.

The big deception here is that God expects us to be perfect commandment keepers before we can receive blessings and grace. This, is 100% untrue. We don’t have to be perfect. We only have to try to keep the commandments, and to do it with the right intent. “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (Doctrine and Covenants 137:9).

Note, that God does say that our works matter, but that they are given validity (despite our inability to do them perfect) by the intent and the desire behind it. Our intent is like a seal of approval on a University Diploma or a watermark on a check: it validates that our efforts are not counterfeit or fake. Intent and desire for good validate good actions offered imperfectly. Jeffrey R. Holland said in this year’s April (2016) conference:

“With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed…

I love that doctrine! It says again and again that we are going to be blessed for our desire to be good, even as we actually strive to be so…” (Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You).

In Moroni 7 we learn that if our intent and desire is righteous then we can only give a good gift. On the other hand, we also learn that we can go through motions of goodness, but that if our intent and desire aren’t righteous, then those pretend motions of goodness don’t count in our favor. They’re fake, or counterfeit.

So, here’s the deal. If you are trying God isn’t going to hide some mysterious phrase from you that if you only used in your prayer, He would bless you. God doesn’t have a big labyrinth full of actions that only if you find and complete each and every one, He would bless you. God, our Heavenly Father, “delights to own and bless us, as we strive to do what’s right” (LDS Hymns 96, Dearest Children, God Is Near You).

#2: The second doctrine we often either have not yet come to understand or study is that promptings and inspiration from the Holy Ghost, while still and small, are NOT wisps of smoke that we can easily ignore or miss. They will carry significant emotional, spiritual, and mental weight; for God will tell us in our mind AND our heart—both (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). Inspiration and promptings are not hidden under layers of odd images and symbols. God “doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men” (2 Nephi 2:26). (There are some more references to this “weight” further down.)

In other words, God doesn’t play games with any part of our life whether small or great. He doesn’t hide messages from us. He sets very basic conditions upon receiving such messages. If there is something important we need to know or do, the Holy Ghost will make sure we “feel” the weight of such a prompting if we are meeting the conditions for the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

Now, if you miss a day of scripture study due to sickness or sheer exhaustion; or if you by accident forget a morning prayer, or you were lax in your visiting or home teaching this month, you have not forfeited your right to guidance from the Spirit. Such thinking is rooted in issues mentioned in the first doctrine. You have to openly rebel against God, on purpose, and with evil intent to completely block your reception to the Holy Ghost.

However, if you want to get detailed, then let’s do so. The scriptures teach us that the mysteries of God are kept hidden and are only revealed unto us according to the heed and diligence we give unto that which is revealed to us (Alma 12:9). So, the more in tune our lives are to the Holy Ghost, then the more delicate promptings we can receive. So, there are differing levels of spiritual reception and guidance, but God has given very clearly such conditions: if we listen to and heed a prompting, we will receive more and more until our knowledge and righteous grow brighter and brighter, until the perfect day (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).

While there are differing levels of spiritual instruction (based upon our heed and diligence) we’ll never be uncertain whether something IS a prompting. It won’t be that elusive. Think about it. We have to know we’ve been prompted or we can’t be accountable for not following the prompting. If we aren’t sure, we can’t be held accountable. Therefore, if you’ve received guidance, you will know.

Now, I don’t know how everyone feels the Spirit. But, most of the scriptural descriptions of the feelings of the Holy Ghost imply a significant “weight of feeling” that is unmistakable. It’s not always a burning in the bosom. Enos said, “…and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, SUNK DEEP INTO MY HEART.” Joseph smith said of James 1:5, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more POWER TO THE HEART of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to ENTER WITH GREAT FORCE into every feeling of my heart.” Joseph F. Smith said of the first epistle of Peter, as he read prior to his vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138, “…and as I read I was GREATLY IMPRESSED, MORE THAN I HAD EVER BEEN BEFORE…”

Sometimes, our natural righteous inclinations lead us to do God’s will without Him having to reinforce it with a big feeling. An idea may just “sit right” with us. God doesn’t have to prompt us to do every good thing (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27).

Recently, of my own accord I felt the desire—based on my knowledge of her situation and struggles—to write a letter to a dear friend. I agonized over the letter for a few days, but worked hard to write it by the Spirit. Then, I put it in an envelope and put it in the mailbox. I certainly felt a little bit of trepidation about what was in the letter, but never at any time did I feel constrained not to send it. It “sat right” with me to send it, like the two opposing ends of magnets snapping together. I didn’t have to force the idea upon myself, or force myself to ignore any feelings of confusion or spiritual discomfort, like forcing the two same poles of two magnets together—without force they will push apart.

I didn’t feel remorse or guilt for writing the letter. And, I knew the testimony I had borne in the letter was true. Two days later, the very day this friend was receiving my letter, I received a letter from her asking the very questions I had answered in the letter I sent. It was then that I felt an immense weight of relief, joy, and confirmation that my righteous actions—taken without a big prompting—were inspired. Not because God had compelled me to send the letter, but because I had been anxiously engaged in doing something I desired which was right; and because I had sought to do it by the Spirit. As well, God didn’t have to compel me to write the letter, because if I hadn’t sent it, I would have received my friend’s letter eventually and been able to respond. So, it wasn’t a one-time-chance pass/fail thing either. God doesn’t work like that.

Consider, if it was so hard to know what God wanted or expected of us, then choice and accountability would be shot, as well as agency. What confidence could we have in the Holy Ghost if we believed He always spoke so small and still that we had to be perfect, and in perfect silence in the middle of a desert to hear him?

Do we need to live in a such a way to be open and receptive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and to receive the blessings we desire? Yes. But, if we’re making a consistent effort, not just token offerings, then we don’t have to destroy ourselves with guilt and misery that somehow we missed a light that flashed while we were accidentally blinking.

So, you don’t have to worry that God is playing games with your blessings, help, or answers. His promptings and guidance are clear and recognizable EVERY TIME. If you want deeper promptings and information, live a little closer to the Spirit and heed whatever guidance you receive. And, sometimes you just have to wait for your blessings and answers a little longer. Usually, when you are patient enough they end up being well worth the wait. At least, that has been my experience.

“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren [and sisters], let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power [with righteous desire and intent]; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

BT

DOCTRINE: This life is about learning and obtaining godly attributes so that in God’s eternal plan (and process) we may become as He is—a god. Therefore, the purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ, which provides forgiveness for sin, the power to change desires and appetites, and a resurrected perfected body (we call it grace), is in place to perfect us (both body and spirit) since it is necessary to become imperfect and mortal in the godly-learning process.

The first topic I’m going to blog about is Grace. However, this topic is going to be broken into multiple parts because Grace is not something any one person can sum up in a few paragraphs.

Grace means many things to many people. From covering sins to helping us live a good life, grace is ultimately the power that most of us feel gets us back to God’s presence. But, I have to ask, why do we even need grace in the first place? Why did God place us here on earth in such a manner, or with a plan, that required grace at all? Isn’t that a bit unfair?

So, there has to be a purpose to grace. It can only be this generic, in-explainable, thing that we accept on blind faith for so long. At some point our faith has to be fed by understanding. By doctrine.

In Romans 8:15-17 we learn that God’s intention for us is to be led by His Holy Spirit to live in such a way that we can—through grace—become joint heirs with Christ and partake of the same glory IF we “suffer with Him”. It teaches us that we are the spirit-children of God. Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe that as children of God each of us has the potential to become as God is, or indeed, joint-heirs, at some future point IF we learn to be like Christ.

However, this is often all people hear about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they write it off thinking we are nuts. I mean, after all, who can truly become a God? That’s for mythology and movies, right? Didn’t we see Bruce Almighty? Doesn’t absolute power corrupt absolutely? Has our religion paid attention to world history, even a current look at humanity? Sure, there are some good people. Sure, there have been some “saints.” But, are we really crazy enough to believe that all of us could really become a god?

Yet, I repeat, what’s the purpose of grace? Why put us here on a planet in the middle of an infinite universe, out of His presence, and then tell us to be good if being good has no purpose but to simply bring us back home again. I mean, what then was the purpose of leaving His presence to begin with? For example, this is what the current accepted purpose of grace is across the world and across many religions, “Hey kids, go outside and play in this big ol’ universe and if you are mean to each other I can’t let you come back inside the house. You’ll have to live forever in the basement. Oh, but if you are really sorry, then in order to get back in I’ll have to send my Only Begotten to suffer horrifically for your mistakes and then, if you believe in Him I’ll let you back in the house.”

Why not just keep us inside the house to begin with? Why would God send us outside at all if He knew one step onto the porch would make it so we couldn’t come back inside? Why purposefully create a need for something like the atonement, where His son would have to undergo some incomprehensible suffering to get us all fixed back up and back in the house?

This scenario only becomes more silly when we consider the vast, incalculable amount of human suffering that comes from being “set loose outside God’s house.” Injustice practically rules human life. And to what point? Depending on where you’re born and into what situation, you are either forever in bondage to poverty, starvation, political injustice, etc. or you are born into a situation where you can attain great wealth and power and use your free will to your own whim, damn the consequences to others. The rest fit somewhere in the middle of these two extremes enjoying some peace and happiness, but at best still spend most of their lives in difficult situations. Even the best people ever born on this earth made mistakes, offended others, and caused suffering in some shape or form.

Grace covers injustices, we may answer, but why should it have to? That’s the question.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, section 122 verse 7 we read:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

I didn’t include the list of things in the verses prior. But, how can so much pain and suffering be for “our good?” As well, any of us could plug any number of less poetic injustices and horrific circumstances into this verse and by doing so the statement “that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good,” almost sounds ridiculous and totally unfeeling and un-godlike. Why would God say something like that?

So many times in our lives we ponder the question, “Why does God let happen?” In fact, it is often the reason people choose to no longer believe in God, or any kind of deity. They choose to abandon the idea of a higher being because this life and all its issues and problems seems to have little purpose especially when we get phrases from God like, “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

I have pondered this question for years based in part on the horrific scenes I have heard about in the news or witnessed and also in part from my own suffering. Why have the atonement of Christ at all? Why allow all this pain and suffering to happen? Why do we need grace?

But, when you place all this “experience” within the doctrine of Latter-day Saint belief, that we are in training to become like God, suddenly, there seems to be a bit of sense in all of this. For example, consider this thought. Who wants a God that doesn’t know what it’s like to have trials, pain, and suffering? To be all-knowing mustn’t one suffer—at least to a certain extent?

Now, I can say that I haven’t suffered all the things the people around me in life have suffered—yet—the things I have suffered have granted me insight into all kinds of terrible suffering: physical and emotional/psychological. I’m not saying I know it all, but I certainly know that having gone through some of the things I’ve gone through has taught me to have a lot more compassion on others who are going through similar, related, and sometimes unrelated issues. Because I know how hard it was to pass through my own trials, I can look at others and be impressed that they are getting out of bed when I believe they have every right to stay in bed and curse the world.

Who wants a God who hasn’t needed mercy and forgiveness and so consequently doesn’t understand the terrific need for mercy and forgiveness? Who wants a God who can’t control himself or herself physically or mentally? Who wants a God who can’t prioritize or who has an incorrect view of justice? Who wants a God who doesn’t have the wisdom to see beyond momentary pleasures into the life principles that bring consistent peace and happiness. I mean, I could make a list that could span thousands of pages. A whole lot of things, commandments especially, begin to make a lot more sense if we place them in the context of learning to become like God. Even LDS food storage is no longer about saving for a rainy day or some natural disaster that hasn’t happened yet. It becomes about learning to wisely manage earthly resources so that we have enough for ourselves, enough to share, enough to bless, and enough to fix problems–that’s what God does.

If the whole point of this life is to learn the traits and characteristics that will allow each of us the opportunity to—over a course of eons—become godly (if we choose to try), then suddenly, there seems to be a bit of sense to the statement, “that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good [as you learn to become like Me].”

So, if God put us on this earth to suffer and make mistakes in a long, eternal process that helps us develop godly attributes; (a process which really sucks at times) then it makes sense, at least to me, that grace now has a purpose.

What is that purpose? Well, if we have to become imperfect to learn to be perfect and godly, like God, then we have to have a spiritual and physical restoration to perfection after we’ve gained the experience we need to be, and remain, perfect.

The purpose of grace is not as cursory as we might all have often believed. It’s not just so we can come back inside God’s house and strum harps and flap around with white, fluffy wings. Grace, bought by the blood, death, and resurrection of God’s Only Begotten Son, was necessary and put in place so that we could learn to be like God (to eventually have our own eternal houses with spirit kids to raise and help become godly) without being condemned by the godly-learning process.

Grace = learn to become like God without being condemned by the godly learning process.

Christ’s atonement overcomes the weaknesses of those who bend their will to God’s will (Alma 5:21; Alma 11:37; 3 Nephi 27:19). It allows people to change, over time, a characteristic or personality trait that must be honed to a godly level (See quote by C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 4, paragraph 8). It allows people to learn about themselves and what they need to improve upon. It allows the wicked to improve, repent, and become holy; and it allows the righteous to become sanctified and godly. It provides a million+ do-overs as we wander around figuring out what this life is all about and if we want to use it to become like God—because it takes all of us differing amounts of time to encounter this decision and decide what we will do.

So, grace helps us become like God. It allows us to aspire to a level of power that can only be offered to those who have learned to become selfless enough to use it (and to be bound by the righteous laws of self-control and goodness that protect such power). I mean godhood, not everyone wants it. However, it is offered to all and everyone can choose it, if they want. Certainly, a heavenly father wants us to come back inside the house and grow up to become like Him. But, if we really don’t want to, we don’t have to. But, all His efforts are going to be to encourage us to try. And, why wouldn’t He?

This sort of makes me laugh because people think Mormonism is rigid and bigoted and behind the times. People think we lack mercy and grace. Yet, they want mercy and grace—indeed godly attributes—without law. To be a God, does there not have to be an ability developed, indeed a willingness, to follow law with perfection and to delight in that which perpetuates the proper use of godly power? Mercy and grace are nice, but what about other aspects of God’s power, like the ability to create worlds and manage universal forces? What about His justice, honor, and love?

It doesn’t so much matter what God commands but that we learn to do it with exactness and honor, partaking of grace when we need to improve, and granting grace to others without reserve as they also learn to be godly. But grace, as Christ showed in His mortal ministry, was never about condoning sin or tolerance, as we might label it today. Christ’s grace was about not condemning, or casting final judgment, on those who had sinned…until they had been given the opportunity to repent. He always recognized the sin but because of His love and mercy for the sinner He encouraged them to “go and sin no more.” He encouraged righteous, godly behavior with love and mercy and discouraged unrighteous behavior with strict teachings and promises of the consequences of sin.

I think I’ve made my point, but, if you’re still reading, then let me give an example of grace and how it applies to everyday LDS living. Or, how it should apply.

First, I’m convinced that whether or not I drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes matters little to God in the short-term. However, I believe that He commands such restrictions that I may learn to stand apart from “the norm”, that I learn to understand the importance of keeping my mind clear in the long-term. I mean, who wants a God ruling the universe while he’s drunk or hyped up on caffeine, nicotine, or any other drug? Or, even worse, who wants a God whose rule of the universe is put in jeopardy when he’s run out of his latest fix, or who places hot-fudge pudding cake or hard liquor over answering our prayers? Is it really that hard to understand why Latter-day Saints adhere to such restrictions? Health, yes, but far more important is the ability to control our physical appetites and keep our mind clear.

Yet, none of us is born with perfect control over our physical appetites. We need grace as we learn to control ourselves. Some of us Christians smoke, drink, take drugs, struggle with obesity, and all other issues. Yet, little-by-little, because we are commanded and we keep trying, we learn to gain control and understand the importance of the principles behind the commandments. Grace allows us to mess up and yet still change, or improve, and work toward godly attributes.

The purpose of grace isn’t just about being basically good. The purpose of grace is to help us become like God.

BT