I’m going to share something that is very hard for me to share. But, it illustrates my experience with this truth better than any other.

I started writing in the year 2000. I felt inspired to start writing. It hit me like a ton of bricks. And so, I began. Primarily with fiction. I started in 2000 what would eventually turn into a 4-book fantasy series. Before finishing that and while writing many other fiction stories, I attended writers conferences. I attended writing groups. I prayed for the gift to write powerfully. I submitted my manuscripts to contests. I pitched before agents. I fasted, I prayed, I researched, I looked for writing niches. I bought every version of The Writers Market that came out for several years. I followed all the advice. I honed and polished countless query letters—trying each time for something new, unique, more honest, more catchy, more blunt, more of whatever would get someone’s attention in the writing world. All, to no avail.

I loved writing. I still love it. But, one day, I came to the conclusion that either it wasn’t God’s will for me to write, or that His plan for me would take a different road than the one I was pursuing. I found this so confusing. Because I felt so strongly the calling to write. And prior to feeling that call to write, it’s important to note that it had never before crossed my mind to try to be an author.

As a kid, I had loved the Scholastic Book Fairs. I loved books that were fun to read. But high school reading and literature nearly killed every ounce of that. I’ve since discovered class literature that isn’t painful, but evidently my high school teachers didn’t know which ones those were. What remained of my love of books and reading was reignited after graduation after taking a job at Scholastic Books. I learned to love reading again, while working there. But that was where it ended…except that from time to time my love of escaping into those fiction worlds tugged at a little part of me. I wanted to have the same impact, somehow. To impact the lives of others the way those books impacted me. But to be an author myself?

So, I knew I had been called to write. But, after nearly 15 years when doors to publication were still being closed in my face no matter what back flips I did or how much I fasted and prayed, I began to wonder where mine and God’s signals had gotten crossed.

I loved writing. I had made it an integral part of my life for over a decade and half. I had even branched into writing religious commentary. But…nothing panned out.

I loved writing. But, one night on my knees, heartbroken (for at least the 1000th time), I told the Lord that I loved Him more. That I would quit writing for Him. That I would do anything else He asked. That I would forget writing forever. Or that I would do it some other way. But that I loved Him more than my writing and I loved His way more than my own.

I can’t explain how hard that was for me. But, in that moment I knew my love for God was more than my love for writing would ever be. My love for God changed my desires, and the application of my desires. My desire to please Him and do His will was far stronger than my desire to write and to be published, because even though I loved writing, I loved Him more.

I’m still not published, officially. I have at least 16 books sitting on my hard drive and some of those sit on my shelf, my own copies, you know. Sometimes I look at them with a little twinge in my heart and some bittersweet feelings. But, most certainly not regret. I don’t regret that I’m trying to do things His way, instead of mine. Because I love Him more and my love of Him has changed my desires. I’d rather do things His way, than mine…even if that means none of those words ever see the light of day.

In the spring of 2016 one of my sisters suggested that I start a blog. My answer? No. To me blogs were journals or recipe-sharing. Some of the blogs I had seen were controversial. I didn’t want any part of that, and I didn’t see how what I could write about would have any place in that world. Then in October of 2016, sitting in General Women’s Conference, I felt prompted to start a blog. My answer to God? What?!

But, here I am…because I love Him and His way more than myself, more than my writing, and more than my way.

What We Love Should Change Us and the Way We Live Our Lives

There is another person’s story that I wish to share to communicate the power of change that love should bring into our lives. And that man’s name is Abraham. Abraham descended from “the Fathers” meaning the patriarchal line of Adam (through Shem). But his own immediate father and grandfather had turned to idolatry. So, their gospel instruction was likely poor and their priesthood authority totally inactive.

Somehow the records which had been handed down from Adam came into Abraham’s hands, and he found out that “there was greater happiness and peace and rest” available to him through God’s highest ordinances and blessings (Abraham 1:1). Note: He was already awesome. But, he found out that God had more for him. That God loved him and, let me say it again, had more in store for him! It is clear that Abraham, through his study of these records developed a love for God that changed his desires. He says:

And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations (i.e. to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant, Doctrine & Covenants 131), a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

Abraham 1:1

Note how Abraham was already righteous and knowledgeable. But, his love for God made him desire to be more righteous and more knowledgeable, to be even like unto Melchizedek and others of “the fathers” before him. His love for God changed him because that love changed his desires. And because of his love for God and an increase, or a change, in his desires, he became more. He entered into those covenants and made himself worthy and became ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and became a High Priest.

There are so many things in our lives that we love. But, which of those loves are powerful enough to change our desires? Which of those loves are powerful enough to motivate us to sacrifice so that we can maintain and even strengthen that love, or pass it on to others?

People who are converted to Christ usually feel so much love for God and for their new faith that they feel the desire, and find the power, to give up education, career paths, fiancés, and more to serve missions or fulfill other calls from God. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables is so affected by the love shown to him by the priest that he desires to be more than he is. Thus, he dedicates his life to showing the same love to others and to become more than he was.

If the love we have felt or the love we have for something isn’t powerful enough to change us, then that means we still love something else more. Real love (shown to us, or that we feel toward someone or something) should change us for the better. If it doesn’t, then we have to ask ourselves, “What do I love more?”

It is Possible to Love Something A Lot, but Not Enough to Change Us

Love is often developed in stages. So, even if we love something, we may not yet love it enough that it has the power to change us. And that’s okay. As long as we know what it is that we love more. If we are struggling to accomplish something in our lives or to progress or to conquer something, and we are continuing to fail at it; it may simply be that we need to keep practicing and trying. But, it may also be that our motivation, our desires, aren’t fulling supporting us. It may be that we love something else more; so much so that loving that (whatever it is) prevents us from forward and upward progression.

Maybe we love French fries more than we love the idea of losing weight. Maybe we love maintaining the idea that we are always right more than we love doing what is right, or best. Maybe we want to stop cussing but we love the idea of looking cool around certain people more than we love being right before God. I could make a very long list, but the principle is the same no matter how it is applied.

Let me give you an example. I have often heard people say to me, “I really wish I could quote scripture like you do.” And, I think that in their minds the idea of being able to do that really appeals to them. But, they haven’t yet begun assimilating scripture into their lives because there are things they love more. I don’t know what those things are, and it’s not my place to judge. But, if they really wanted to be able to quote scripture, then they must first come to love the scriptures more than they love other things. Then the desire to read and study their scriptures (because of their love for them) would naturally result in the scriptures and the words of God becoming part of their daily thought, conversation, and vocabulary.

I certainly don’t claim to be able to quote scripture at every turn. But, I do love the scriptures, the word of God. It is the greatest treasure in my life. I LOVE to read and study the scriptures. I love to go to them to find answers. I love the Spirit I feel teach me when I’m immersed in them. If that results in me often using scriptures in my daily speech and conversation, then that doesn’t make me special. It makes me a lover of God’s word.

Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son through his first wife, Sariah. Isaac, you remember was a miracle baby, born to Sariah long after she should have been able to bear children. To complicate the request further, Abraham’s own father attempted to sacrifice Abraham to idols (Abraham 1). Certainly, Abraham had some emotional and psychological baggage tied to this request from God. First, he was doing very nearly what his own idolatrous father had done to him. Second, Isaac was his birthright son; the one God had promised him, and which who had come through miraculous means. And here God was asking him to basically start all over. Then, to even make the matter more complex, Isaac himself agreed to be the sacrifice (once Abraham filled him in on what God had asked).

The only explanation for any of this was for Abraham to learn, to really learn, just how much he loved God (“Abraham needed to learn about Abraham.” Hugh B. Brown). In the end, both he and Isaac proved that they loved God more by their willingness to sacrifice and to be sacrificed. Foreshadowing, of course, the eventual atonement of Jesus Christ, of whom Isaac was a type, and God, the Father, allowing it, of whom Abraham was a type.

God and Jesus Christ loved all of us more than each other or themselves. Thus, “God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son…” (John 3:16). And Christ (John 10:18) gave His life freely. He was not forced. He loved us more than Himself. He loved God more than His own life. Their love for us was witnessed in their actions.

Had either God, Jesus, Abraham, or Isaac chosen otherwise than they did, it would have been because they loved something else more. If God had loved only one of His children more than all the rest, He wouldn’t have allowed Jesus to perform the atonement. If Jesus had loved Himself more, then He would have saved Himself rather than to accept the bitter cup. What implications His love had!

Thus, we can see that love, true love, should (and can) change us. It can give us power to be something or to do something we might otherwise not do. It has the power, through the grace of God, to change our inherent desires and to aid us in becoming more. And, if we can’t find the power to do something, it may be because we love something else more.

Conclusion

What can love do? What does love do? It changes us—for better or for worse. Better, if that which we love leads us to change our desires and our actions. Worse, if that which we love leads us to hold onto destructive desires and actions, or if it doesn’t lead us to make any progress at all.

What do you love? Who loves you? What change is it creating in you? If you want to create the power to change your desires and your ability to progress, you simply have to change what it is you love.

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BT

Doctrine: God is the exact opposite of casual. If we expect Him to be personal then we cannot expect Him to be casual. If we want a personal relationship with Him then we cannot be casual either.

The origin of the word “friend” has it’s root meaning from Indo-European “to love.” And yet, where once the term friend truly meant someone close to us—whom we knew and loved; in modern times we now use the word friend casually; meaning loosely, without much thought or premeditation, relaxed, indefinite, and in a less meaningful sense. It means everything from acquaintance to someone remotely connected to us through other acquaintances—which person could not truly be categorized as a real friend (by actual definition).

I grew up in a world only barely impacted by the Internet, social media, and texting. Yet, now these three mediums for communication have literally become powerhouses changing the social, emotional, and psychological makeup of the entire world. Indeed, how we find, create, enter, and maintain relationships (whether romantic, family, or friend) has been drastically affected by the way we communicate socially, which is now primarily online, or through an electronic device. The nature of communication and relationships has changed and so also our proper perceptions of them.

In conjunction with these societal changes, our perception of what our relationship with God should be has also changed. And, in many cases, not for the better. The generation born in the 90s knows no other world than the one before us now. And, to them everyone is a “friend.” And, that casual assignment of such a powerful word has stretched to their expectations of God.

The whole world has become casual about so much, and so people now assume or expect God to be casual. He is NOT.

Young pretty woman using social media on her smartphone

We preach that God is personal. That Christ is our friend. And people today suddenly assume that means He’s on Facebook—spiritually. They assume they can talk to God casually. They assume that He will answer casually. When they say, “God’s my friend,” they literally view Him as a casual FB buddy who follows their timeline and posts emoticons and silly comments.

People seem to believe that God is casual about communication. That He should respond immediately to all “texts,” and post status updates if He’s going to take a while to get back to us. People suddenly expect God to spill His guts “online” for the whole world to see because that’s what “friends” do. They expect God to post selfies and enjoy and repost innocent (if a bit crude) jokes. After all, it’s all in fun, right? God should be able to handle a little humor.

Now, I’m the first to claim God as my truest friend. He has been there for me when no one else could be. He is loyal. He is true. He tells me the truth about myself even when I might rather not hear it. He doesn’t beat around the bush. I know exactly what He expects out of our relationship. He’s never failed me. He hasn’t always explained everything, immediately; but to date, I can say confidently that He’s answered all my sincere, genuine questions. But even though He’s personal with me, I would certainly never label Him my buddy. Such a term is too casual for the kind of relationship, the kind of friendship I enjoy with God. And to label it so would diminish, rather than support, who He is to me.

God is not a casual pal. The word casual means: relaxed, unconcerned, laid back, acting without much thought or premeditation, acting without sufficient care or preparation, not regular or permanent, temporary, happening by chance, accidental, happening without formality of manner, informal…

God is the exact opposite of casual. He is deliberate, concerned, focused, acting only with thought and premeditation, acting with sufficient care and preparation, regular, permanent, fixed, acting by choice, purposeful, acts with formality of manner, formal… It is because He is NOT casual that He is able to be personal. A casual being cannot be personal because the very nature of “personal” is sacred, deep, and attaching. We cannot attach ourselves, ultimately, to people who are casual—they simply can’t be trusted.

If God were casual being then He could not be a personal God, and in fact, He would not be a God at all.

However, it is His lack of casualness and His incredible personal nature that often confuses and discourages the modern world from forging ties with Him. They want Him to care less and expect less. But, unfortunately, He cares perfectly and always has the highest expectations. And so, the modern generation struggles to come to know Him because they are unwilling to bend to His terms for a relationship. They want Him to be deep with them without them having to be deep in return.

Society, for all that it claims, is actually more impersonal than ever before. And God, cannot be impersonal. He is our Father. Thus, He refuses casual and impersonal relationships. For He wants only serious and personal relationships with His children. And, consequently, it is only that type of relationship that will enable us to come to know Him, become like Him, and live in His presence forever (St. John 17:3).

C.S Lewis has a brilliant quote in The Problem of Pain that perfectly describes the world today as regards their desire for a casual relationship with God. He says:

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness—the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception:  I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that, God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.

This year I took time out to watch the Face-to-Face with Elder Holland and President Eyring (which I highly recommend all of you watch by clicking on the link provided). I was merely interested, as any of us should be when two apostles of the Lord, Jesus Christ, take time out to have a candid conversation with the youth of the world, as to what they would talk about. So, I listened to it.

I didn’t realize it was going to last as long as it did. But, once I got rolling I didn’t want it to end. They said so many wonderful things. But, in response to a question from a girl who was struggling with her relationship with God, they said some of the most astounding things.

The girl was struggling to establish a back-and-forth dialogue with God. She was trying to talk to Him in her prayers and get immediate responses back, etc. I remember listening harder, because I was certain these two Christlike men would give us all the answer to this personal dialogue with the Almighty that we all fundamentally desire. And yet, their response was unlike anything I expected. They, instead of giving the recipe for “chatting with God” like we tend to expect these days, they both indicated the exact opposite.

I don’t remember their exact words (you really should go listen to it on your own). I only remember the distinct impression I got when President Eyring talked about when he prays he imagines himself approaching the throne of God. This image, of approaching God on a throne, hit me powerfully: GOD IS PERSONAL, BUT HE IS NOT CASUAL. I was then grateful for the two apostles’ reassurances that in all their experiences, they, neither of them, had ever had the privilege of having God, the Father, carry on a casual back-and-forth conversation with them. They reminded the youth, and me, that God is our Father, but He is also the Almighty God, Creator of worlds without end, and in no uncertain terms, Master of the Universe.

While God is love we must also respect the type of being He is and how He is capable of being Love. One does not become all-loving by being casual in any way. Thus, though God is personal with us, and we should be ourselves when we approach Him, we should not be casual in our conversations with Him nor should we expect Him to be casual with us or to be satisfied with a casual relationship.

After listening to President Eyring’s comments, I remember thinking I almost wanted to laugh. Why had I, or this girl, ever expected God to be casual when His very station requires that He be the exact opposite? Why would any of us imagine that we, in our limited mortal station, could converse—as if with a Facebook friend—with the Almighty God. I hadn’t even realized that I had been harboring that incorrect ideal, and yet after hearing this Face-to-Face, it occurred to me that in many ways I had been attempting to formulate an idea of God and prayer that was far more casual than it should be. It has changed me and my prayers for good. They will never be the same, and I can tell you that they are far better than they have ever been.

Now, lest anyone think I’m trying to present God as a being we can’t approach, let me clarify. God is our Father. He wants us to come before Him and we desire it (whether we recognize it or not). But, how we approach Him and how we expect to converse with Him is not casual, nor should we ever treat it as such. Because if we consider our supplications and applications to Him as casual (relaxed, unconcerned, laid back, acting without much thought or premeditation, acting without sufficient care or preparation, not regular or permanent, temporary, happening by chance, accidental, happening without formality of manner, informal…) then how can we expect Him to take such conversation or applications seriously? Do we take them seriously?

In order for us to have a relationship with God we must take that relationship seriously.

Yes, we can be ourselves. But, we need to be respectful. Yes, we can talk to Him about everything. But, we need to take those conversations seriously. Yes, we can pray anywhere. But, when we pray, we need to focus on that prayer and care about it. It shouldn’t be a passing thought that we toss into the air and hope God catches it.

I don’t take seriously the sentence someone yells to me in the wind as they drive by in a car with their radio blazing and horn honking. Do you? I don’t take seriously a sentence my husband says to me if he’s saying it half-heartedly while he’s surfing the Internet. Would you? Do we expect the God of the Universe, and our Eternal Father, to take seriously casual conversation that neither increases our relationship with Him nor shows a sincere desire to listen to what He might actually have to say to us? Or, do we ask and ask and ask Him for guidance and help, but expect His instructions to allow us to remain casual in our observance of His commandments?

God has everything we want IF we are willing to take Him, His plan, and His communications with us seriously. That means we listen with the intent to obey and we ask with the intent to bend our will to His, not the other way around.

God, our Father, spends every moment of His eternity trying to help us become like Him (Moses 1:39). He has offered up His Only Begotten Son, willingly, that we might each, individually, have the chance to choose to become like Him and spend eternity with Him, working by His side to exalt others. Thus, He takes His relationship with us so seriously that He doesn’t waste time with casual conversation. What good to Him is ‘shooting the breeze?’ What serious love, mercy, grace, repentance, and eternal progression we are willing to receive, He offers to us in whatever doses we are willing to receive them when we approach Him deliberately and purposefully. If we approach Him not at all, He reminds us of His love and expectations through others.Young  girl using smart phone,Social media concept.

So, it does us no good to insist that God get to know us on our casual, relaxed terms. It does us no good to try to force the God of the Universe to “chill out” and simply let us do as we want, and when we feel like it we’ll try to do a few of the things He asks. To do so is to ask Him to love us less, which He cannot do, for His love is perfect. And His perfect love requires that He never desist in offering us all that He has on His terms, which are the only terms upon which His powers and glory can be received.

I have spent years trying to get to know God better. I didn’t always know that I was doing it. I was just trying to keep commandments, get answers to hard questions, and try to understand how He worked. And, in consequence of my deliberate, purposeful, determined efforts, I was surprised to find out that I was getting to know Him. Far be it from me to claim that I understand God. I don’t think that’s possible. But, as much as I am able, I am learning who He is, how He works, and how to learn more and more about Him. It has brought so much light and understanding into my life that I weep to see so many so oblivious to Him and His outstretched hands. They simply mentally bat those eternal hands aside because they don’t want to take seriously the conditions necessary to grab hold.

I cry in my head, “I know Him! He loves you! Please take some time to get to know Him! The answers to everything come in time…I know, I’ve tested it. Please try it! You’ll be so much happier!” Sometimes I cry it in my blogs…like this one…

But, for most, God is still—in their minds—a casual acquaintance; a distant friend on social media connected to them distantly through other family and friends. They ignore most of His “posts.” They view Him as external and unknowable. They have no desire to know Him—yet. And, yet, He waits and waits and waits and waits for them. “Come unto me,” He says in a very personal, deliberate, and loving manner.

So, if you find you are struggling in your relationship and prayers to God, perhaps it may help you to consider that while He is personal, He is not casual. And, perhaps the more seriously you take your relationship with Him the more quickly you’ll find that it blossoms and grows into something not unlike what Christ offered to the woman at the well; the kind of relationship that will sustain you through all others, because it’s the only relationship with the power you need. You can’t get it anywhere else. Not from children, friends, from a romantic relationship, and not even from a treasured spouse. Those relationships generate power only as they are approached through your relationship with God.

As C.S. Lewis said (Mere Christianity, Book 2, Chapter 3:

…What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they…could…invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside of God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

The reason why this can never succeed is this.  God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine.  A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else.  Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself.  He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to feed on.  There is no other.  That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion.  God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.

That is the key to history.  Terrific energy is expended—civilizations are built up—excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong.  Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back to misery and ruin.  In fact, the machine conks.  It seems to start up all right and run a few yards, and then it breaks down.  They are trying to run it on the wrong juice.  That is what Satan has done to us humans.

As long as we expect God to be casual we will fail to find a truly satisfying and fulfilling personal relationship with Him. This lack of a personal relationship with God will prevent us from finding ultimate peace and happiness in our lives. We need that personal relationship with Him to thrive, not just survive. But, in order to do that, we have to get out of this casual mind set. We have to become serious about God and choose Him deliberately (as He has chosen and loved us), not casually—as we seem determined to do.

BT

Doctrine: God may know our hearts, but we can’t know our own hearts or the true extent of our spiritual devotion without outward action and ritual. Such ritual creates mental, emotional, and spiritual landmarks, memories, and grooves that change us fundamentally. Passive, inward, devotion alone cannot produce the faith and power necessary for us to lay hold upon the full measure of God’s grace and glory.

We live in a time where people shun organized religion and ritual. To them the ritual of attending meetings and doing prayers and other formal outward acts of devotion are outdated and unnecessary. They may even consider them ridiculous and empty. Their defense against such things is that God (if there is a God) knows their heart and therefore doesn’t need such things. And, I cannot disagree with that.

However, I can promise these people that while God knows their heart, they, themselves do not know it. They think they do. But, they don’t. I can also promise that while God doesn’t need their rituals, they do, and that they cannot be true Christians without it.

Ritual Teaches Us About Us

Those who profess to know God and to follow Him without ritual and organized religion do not know the extent of their devotion to Christ, the depth of their feelings about Him, or the breadth of their capacity to follow Him. To put it bluntly, they don’t know anything about their spiritual power and capability. They don’t really know if they want to live with God forever. They don’t really know if they want to live like God forever. They can’t know these things without such devotion being tested. Ritual illustrates, tests, and teaches us about the level of our spiritual devotion and desires.

My Mother-in-law has what she calls a “God Box.” When she bumps into something in her life that she cannot control or change and she is struggling to let go and give it over to God, she writes it down on a piece of paper and puts it in her God Box.

“What good is that?” a skeptic may ask. She can just tell herself in her head and heart that she will let it go. Why then go through the hassle of writing it down and putting it in some random box?

But let me suggest that by going through the ritual (however small) of putting those things in her God Box, my Mother-in-law has created a spiritual groove in her soul, and also a mental and emotional groove in her heart and mind. The very act of doing something ritualistic and outward creates a powerful memory. It becomes personal evidence. Then, when she is tempted to stress about it, try to control it, or try to carry it, her spirit, mind, and heart trip on those grooves. She is then reminded, and knows for herself, that she has given this burden over to God. It then becomes easier and easier to let it go. Going through the ritual has the power to create unshakable knowledge and thereby unshakable faith.

Note the principle: by ritualistically writing something down and putting it in the box she has a clear memory of giving the burden over to God. She knows, perfectly, without a doubt, that she has given it away to Him. Because of this perfect knowledge because of her ritual, she also knows perfectly that God knows she has given it away. Thus, she can trust Him completely to carry it.

The ritual is an outward signification that marks, and shows to herself, her inner desires to accomplish or do something. It sounds simple, but by going through the ritual, she makes it nearly impossible to go back on her desires and intent.

Let’s now ask, “If she hadn’t gone through the ritual, what would she have lost out on?” She would have lost out on the chance to give meaning to her individual devotion and resolve. She would have lost out on the chance to know the extent of her intent to give such burdens to the Lord. By doing she gained a testimony of her own ability to act on her intent. She would have also lost out on receiving the power that comes from making an outward commitment to herself and God. By making it physical and outward, she made it real. She gave her desire life and to go back on it would be destructive to her spiritually and emotionally. That’s how powerful ritual is.

Ritual is the Evidence of Faith and Gives Our Faith Power

It is one thing to believe in Christ. It is another thing to act on that belief. Without the action, there is no evidence of our belief, it is only potential belief, or dormant belief. We can say we believe in Christ but there is no evidence or proof that we can offer, especially to ourselves. On the other hand, it is possible to go through the motions of belief and not actually believe, but it exceedingly rare and usually temporary. If such a course is pursued in a cursory way, it will in time transform and unbeliever into a true believer if they continue. That is the nature and power of righteous action.

Thus, we cannot say we have faith unless we also have works. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20, 26). Let me explain fully what that means.

Abraham, in the Old Testament, is asked by Jehovah to sacrifice his only covenant son, Isaac. Abraham could have said all day and night in his mind and to his relations, “I will do whatever God asks of me, withholding nothing.” And, God knew that Abraham would do anything he was asked to do. But, saying it was not sufficient for Abraham to know for himself that he really would. It wasn’t until Abraham was about to put a knife to Isaac that the Lord provided a ram in the thicket. It was in that moment, in what was sure to be the most godly trial any mortal man has ever had to carry, that Abraham knew, for himself, the depth of his love of God and his devotion to the Almighty Jehovah (President Hugh B. Brown in Truman G. Madsen, The Highest in Us [1978], 49). And Abraham could not have known it without the physical ritual.

beautiful retro chest with open lid on wooden background with pl

So, why do works? Why get married if it could end in divorce? Why get baptized? Why repent openly and before authorized representatives and judges of God? Why get married or enter into covenants accompanied by outward ritual? Why pray out loud? Why get on your knees? Why pay your tithing and offerings? Why sacrifice the things of the world for the things of a better? Why go to church? Why partake of the sacrament? Why, why, why…

It’s for us. It is all for us. And doing it has everything to do with us and what we know about our own souls. For without doing we can only suppose or guess about our love of God and devotion to Him. But, with the doing we then come to know about our love and devotion to Him.

God doesn’t need our sacrifices (1 Samuel 15:22). We need them. God doesn’t need our prayers. We need them. God doesn’t need our money. We need to offer it for our own knowledge and understanding of our willingness to sacrifice and obey God, no matter the outcome (though God’s blessings are absolutely, universally, and eternally guaranteed for the sacrifices we make to do His will: Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21; 82:10).

The whole Gospel of Jesus Christ is set up for us to learn about the depth of our spiritual commitment, desires, and goals and to grant us power to be saved.

In Lectures on Faith we learn that in order to have faith in God, one of the critical components is a “an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will (Lecture Third).” That means that we know, for ourselves, without a doubt, that the course of our life is as God would have it be. It means we know we are sincerely trying to do what God wants us to do. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect, but it means we know we are sincerely trying and that we never stop trying—even when we continually mess up.

In order to exercise the full power of faith; the kind of faith that precedes miracles; the kind of faith that moves mountains and compels martyrs to die for Christ; the kind of faith that can save us; we must know we are on the right track for ourselves. And, we can’t know that for ourselves without outward ritual and organized religion. We need that outward ritual and devotion as evidence for ourselves—not for God.

Christ said (Matthew 7:21):

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.

Why do we have to DO God’s will in conjunction with our inward devotion?

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life. (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6, italics added)

Our faith in Christ’s grace and offer of salvation is dead without our efforts at the accompanying works. Faith without works cannot save us and it certainly cannot exalt us.

When we KNOW, without a doubt, the extent of our spiritual devotion (and we can know it without a doubt by the evidence we give to ourselves through ritual and outward devotion), we have confidence before God—the kind of confidence that can call down miracles from heaven and bear life-changing testimony to those we meet. And this is because this confidence in our own righteousness (not pride) and heart removes all fear. It creates in us a well of grace that simply cannot go dry (St. John 4:13-15) on our own behalf or others—if we maintain it.

Lack of Ritual Decreases our Spiritual Power

Just as people gain godly power from proper ritual and outward devotion, so also many lose power the moment they cease such efforts. “Well, I got baptized, served a mission, and got married in the temple, so I’m good.” BEEP. Wrong. “I went to Seminary for a couple years, so I’m good.” BEEP. Wrong. Etc. That’s like saying you’ve worked hard for several years to get to the peak of your physical capacity and now that you’ve reached it your body will simply stay at that peak of fitness. BEEP. Wrong.

All of us know that mundane physical exercises and stretches must be performed by even the most fit of individuals, and that those mundane exercises and stretches are the foundation of their fitness. Thus, the same applies spiritually. The small acts of devotion and ritual that we do to become spiritual to begin with are the very things that help us maintain our power to remain so. We may build upon them from time to time, but those minimal acts should never cease if we expect to maintain our knowledge of our faithfulness and our power to continue faithful.

It’s strange, the moment I get out of shape, I suddenly start to believe that I’ll never get in shape again. It happens long before I’m actually totally out of shape. That’s because I’ve lost momentum. And, getting that momentum going again is difficult. We all know what it’s like to “suck air” for a week or so of running until we build up our lungs and muscle endurance again.

The moment we realize we’ve gained some weight, we suddenly start to believe that we’ll be overweight forever. We see others who are in shape and we mourn. Yet, there is no evidence that our silly depressed emotions are true. There is, in fact, only evidence that we have complete power over our ability to lose weight and get fit. So, why do we start believing something so false? Because we have stopped doing, we are no longer certain about ourselves any longer.

Without outward action, devotion, and ritual we can never have any certainty about spiritual selves. And, so it is a lie to think that one can be devoted to God without it.

We all need a God Box. We all need ritual.

BT

Doctrine: We have a perfect Father in Heaven, whom we can honor on Father’s Day, even if our earthly father is difficult to honor.

Father’s Day… It’s a tough day for many and not a holiday at all. Why? Because despite the pictures painted by advertisements and even our imaginations, many people’s earthly fathers were not so great. Maybe they were absent during those important growing up years. Maybe they were semi-present but unkind, abusive, alcoholics, rag-aholics, neglectful, or even workaholics: in other words, something in their lives always came before fatherhood—or us. And, today, fatherhood is quickly becoming something that is unappreciated and even dismissed as unimportant and unnecessary by jaded men, women, and children.

So, is there any father we can celebrate on Father’s Day? Yes.

The father I’m referring to is Heavenly Father—God, the Father. If your earthly father fell/falls far short of perfection, you and I, all of us, have a father to honor on Father’s Day. He is the Father of us all and unlike the frail and faulty versions (of Him) we have on this earth, He is perfect.

Heavenly Father is the perfect father. And, He is the God of the whole universe. What does that make you? It makes you galactic royalty. Your spirit (that deep part of your soul that often gets bogged down under mortal life and sometimes knows there has to be more) knows Him. And, though mortal life makes your vision of the eternal and the memory of your pre-earth life nearly impossible to process or imagine, yet somehow you do feel Him. Not all the time. But, you have felt His love and His hand in your life and you know it was Him even if you try to deny He exists; even if you are mad at Him; even if you go years without remembering those moments. You can’t pretend away your connection to Him anymore than you can pretend that the sun doesn’t exist.

So, what makes God, the Father, so perfect?firstvision

He loves you perfectly (1 John 4:8, 16).

God’s love is so perfect that it hurts. But, it is perfect love because it is true love. His perfect love is evidenced by His plan for us to become like Him. As part of that plan, He willingly offered His Only Begotten Son to right all the wrongs we would ever suffer, to heal all mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical injury and infirmity, and to pay justice for all the wrongs we commit as we learn godliness (St. John 3:16). Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of choosing whatever we wish. And, if we don’t choose to become like God, our Father; He loves us so much that He has provided kingdoms of glory equal to the laws of righteousness and perfection we are willing to adhere to (Doctrine and Covenants 88:22-40). There is no eternal loss by taking part in God’s eternal plan, unless we choose it.

God’s love is so perfect that He allows us to have completely moral agency, to act and not to be acted upon (or compelled in any way to choose right; 2 Nephi 3:26). We can be influenced by others—sure—but we cannot be forced to choose anything we do not wish to choose. Even our lives can be restored to us—if threatened—because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Therefore, though it is the primary power of mortality, even free will (or moral agency), that we have a paramount example of God’s love. He will not make us choose Him, His life, or His ways. We are free to choose His way for ourselves IF we want them. So, you could say He loved us enough that He was willing to let us choose to not be with Him forever. It’s sad, but it’s perfect love.

God is perfectly just (Alma 42:15).

If we do anything wrong, even a hint of something wrong, we incur a debt to justice. And God never waives the reality of our choice. Whatever impact our wrong choice (or thought) has on us or others becomes a debt that must be repaid to Justice. Thus, there are also prescribed consequences accompanying the reality of our choice. We, and others, suffer the consequences of our wrong choices. This part of justice is no fun. But, because of that justice we have the ability to learn from our wrong choices, and others have the ability to learn from suffering the consequences as well. Justice, is actually a gift from God making this life matter. If God let anything slip by, no matter how small, then He (our Father in Heaven) could not be trusted to be fair. Thus, He would become a partial God, a changeable God, and then would cease to be God (Alma 42:13).

But, because our ability to learn and grow is paramount to our eternal progression, God is perfectly just and He will never stop being perfectly just. Thus, we can trust Him—perfectly. He loves us enough to be and remain perfectly just.

God is perfectly merciful (Alma 42:15).

Because of the Atonement performed by Jesus Christ, God can be perfectly just and also perfectly merciful. However, mercy can only be offered to those who meet the conditions to receive it. For example, if we commit sin, we are doomed by eternal consequences (not just earthly ones). Mercy can remove those eternal consequences if we are willing to learn from the sin, have the desire to become better, and repent. When we repent, then, justice is paid by the Atonement and while we may suffer earthly consequences, the eternal consequences have been stemmed on our behalf. We can transcend our sins and be “saved.”

Father and daughter outside house

Grace and mercy are extended to each of us in varying degrees. And, the only thing that creates those degrees is the differing levels of our willingness to become like Christ. So, we have control over what we receive—God has put that control in our hands. The more Christlike we become, the more mercy and grace we receive until we are eventually changed, grace by grace, into a being that is perfect (Doctrine and Covenants 93:19-20).

God’s mercies are over all His children in differing amounts. And, He doesn’t love any child more than another. But, His mercy and grace are extended by these conditions (1 Nephi 17:35). He could give grace and mercy to those who don’t repent or try to become like Him, but if He did so, not only would they not care or appreciate it, it would render moral agency (or free will) null and void. And, God loves us too much to give us something we are incapable of understanding or being accountable for. To do so would not be just or fair. Thus, God is perfectly merciful by placing conditions on the receipt of grace and mercy.

God never gives up on us (Jacob 6:5; Revelation 3:19; Helaman 15:3).

This is something that if you think about it may surprise you. But, consider: God knows the beginning from the end. He knows if we are going to sin in two minutes or twenty years. He knows, ultimately, what eternal end we will all come to. And yet, He still exerts all His universal and galactic resources to persuade, encourage, plead, chasten/reprove, and ask us to follow Him, become like Him, and live so that we can return home to Him…whether we will eventually do so or not.

When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (our Mediator between us and God, the Father), we will stand in awe that God knew all the wrong we would do, and even if we would ultimately eternally spurn His offer of godhood. Yet, He used His resources to encourage us anyway, despite His knowledge of the future. What a show of perfect love!

To an earthly CEO or perhaps even an earthly father, such resources might have been withheld “if she/he is going to waste them and not use them to accomplish this or that.” But, when we stand before God we will know with certainty that He tried to give us everything that He has despite knowing we would waste the effort/resources. Because, to God, such an allotment of resources could never be wasted on showing His love and desire for us to choose Him and His godly life.

When I was younger, I admit to sneaking out one night. The moment my earthly father knew what I was up to He was upset. But, He didn’t write me off. He sought me out, drove me home, patiently reproved me, and encouraged me to be better.

This is what God does for us. Even if we choose wrong, He comes after us, invites us to “come home.” He reproves us, asks us to repent, and encourages us to be better. And, whether we like that constant barrage of “come unto Me,” or not, His perfect love requires that He offer it until the end.

God is perfectly sympathetic and empathetic (Alma 7:11-13).

Not only does God understand everything we will ever feel or think, He also knows it by experience. We know that Christ suffered both body and spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19) and “according to the flesh” that He might know and understand all of human suffering and sin (Alma 7:11-13). But, God, the Father, understands all and knows all because He was once as we are.

Newborn baby in Hispanic dad's arms

Lorenzo Snow taught: As man now is, God once was, as God now is, man may be.

Though it is difficult to comprehend, there is nothing about our human experience that God, our Heavenly Father doesn’t understand, comprehend, feel, know, or that He hasn’t experienced. Thus, He truly weeps with us and for us (Moses 7:29-40), though ultimately He must (because of His perfect love) stay His hand for the majority of this life’s struggles.

God gives us eternal gifts (Doctrine and Covenants 46:11; Moroni 10:8; Mosiah 2:20-21).

Nothing that we have is truly our own except our agency, and that too is a gift from God. This earth, God’s plan, our bodies, you name it—it belongs to God. Yet, He gives it all freely to us that we may become as He is. He even goes above and beyond our lives and our breath and day-to-day strengths and gives us unique talents, spiritual abilities, and gifts.

Not one of God’s children is identical to the other. Each prophet has different talents and strengths than another. Each mother has different strengths in mothering than another, and so forth. Even if two of God’s children appear to have similar talents, when you sit them down and compare how they apply them based on their own personalities and personal inspiration, they come up completely different. And those differences impact the world in important and necessary ways.

So, our commandments may be the same, but that is not the same as God treating us all the same. He treats us all the same inasmuch as He treats us all as individuals. The commandments of God are all the same because despite our unique differences, the path to Godhood is certain and sure. Just as no two doctors are alike, so also no two of us who seek to become godly are alike. The gifts God has bestowed upon us make each of us unique both now and in eternity.

God has a perfect sense of humor (Alma 55:32; St. John 20:4) and likes to have a righteously good time (Doctrine and Covenants 136:28; 25:12).

God does not trifle (make light of) with sacred things and He condemns irreverence, loud laughter (or rude laughter), and evil speaking (i.e. dirty jokes, demeaning sarcasm, etc). But, He does know how to have a good time in a way that uplifts all (never at the expense of any of His creations).

I remember, as a young teenager, hearing a talk by my elder sister when she talked about discovering God has a sense of humor. I remember listening intently as she read St. John 20:4 where a disciple takes the time to point out that he ran faster than Peter to the sepulcher. There was no derogatory statement about Peter’s “being out of shape” or “the slow one.” Yet, there in the NT is the personality of the disciple taking a brief moment to point out (like a little boy) that “he won.”

Then, reading in the Book of Mormon, it’s so funny to hear  in your head the words, “And they were thus cautious that no poison should be administered among them; for if their wine would poison a Lamanite it would also poison a Nehite…” (Alma 55:32). I mean, think about it: the Lord helped Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon. He could have easily told Joseph to bypass this statement, or translate it differently. Yet, it remains an innocent bit of humor—for us.

I haven’t known any great prophets or leaders of our church (both male and female) who haven’t had a great sense of humor. They present all sorts of mortal ironies and understand how to couch real mortal suffering in proper context. They do it in a way that hits home with us, often teaches an important doctrine, and yet still allows us to laugh. It seems clear to me that God appreciates a good clean joke, and often, when we are exhausted and stressed beyond measure, it is a laugh that comes to our lips (instead of tears or anger) when we come upon something else that burns up our last nerve. This is because for a moment we see the futility of our mortal predicament in an eternal sense and we are led (by the Spirit, in my opinion) to laugh.

God wants us to sing and dance and show gratitude—all forms of good music and body movement. He even goes so far as to say that He loves music, it is a “prayer unto Him” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12)fatherhood3

Conclusion

Well, I could go on and on with all of our Heavenly Father’s perfect traits. But, in conclusion I wish to pay a short tribute to my earthly father. I have been blessed beyond measure to have a father who though imperfect was still wonderful enough that he made it easy for me to trust in and follow my Heavenly Father. I know my Dad didn’t start out flawless. But he was the type to embrace truth the moment he became aware of it. He was the type who when he saw right, adopted it and pressed onward without looking back and without any thought of loss or sacrifice to himself. He has never seemed to have any particularly earthly selfish agenda. He is, like Nathan of old, without guile.

My Dad always lived according to what he believed was right, the opinion of others meant nothing. He never seemed to ultimately care what others thought, but only what God thought. And, to my blessing, such goodness just seems to be a natural part of him. He is full of light. If you stand in his presence or sit by his side for enough minutes (it doesn’t take long), you can simply feel the love rolling off him in waves.

My Dad blessed me, coached me, cried with me, held me; picked me up off the floor of our home, a basketball court, the airport, and has moved heaven and earth to pick me up off the side of roads and countless other broken parts of my life. My Dad has always made his most important “work and glory” our family. He loves nothing more than to be with us and all of his many talents and joys seem to derive from that center. Which…seems to be the same as God, the Father (Moses 1:39).

My Dad doesn’t overlook sins, but he invites us to choose the right and “go and sin no more” with a kindness I can only describe as Christlike. His disciplines were always tears of disappointment, which had a more powerful effect upon me than “the sword.” I never could bare to see my Dad cry.

My Dad has been a father to countless “children” both inside and outside our family. And, if you don’t have a father like him on earth, I assure you that you have a Father even greater than the one I described, “in heaven.”

I testify that Fatherhood is real. “Our Father by whose name, all Fatherhood is known…” is God, the Eternal Father of heaven and earth, and you and me. He alone proves that being a father, and fatherhood, is important, necessary, and worth honoring. And, if on this holiday you struggle to honor your earthly father, then you most certainly have a Father in Heaven who is worthy of a prayer of gratitude and love—a spiritual Father’s Day card—for His perfect love for you.

BT

I’ve been given a lengthy question/comment to “respond to” with doctrine. Below is not the whole question, but it is the major portion.

Why would a loving God want any of His spirit children to go to a family that doesn’t want them? Why force a child to be born to a single mom, or a rape victim, or even force a family into adoption? If the spirit has always been around there should be nothing that can change God’s plan.

There is more than this question/comment to respond to. But, this blog will focus on the doctrine of agency as it pertains to the pre-earth life (scripturally referred to as “the foundations of the earth”).

Doctrine: There is no doctrine more paramount in God’s own eternal laws and plan than the doctrine of agency (i.e. free will). In the pre-earth life we CHOSE to enter God’s plan, to receive a body, and to come to earth. We are not forced to be born against our own will. Those who rejected God’s plan did not receive a body and were cast out (e.g. Satan and his followers).  To not get a body means an eternal spirit cannot progress. Therefore, a body, however it comes is far better than not ever receiving a body. By getting body, the possibilities for how a spirit may spend their eternity are expanded.

mastermind, chakra power, inspiration abstract thought together, watercolor painting

Though we often use the terms interchangeably (and in certain contexts it may work), a spirit and a soul are not the same thing. A spirit is a spirit. A body is a body. A soul is a spirit and a body—together. Spirits are eternal, but one cannot become an eternal soul without receiving a body. So, while God is the Father of our spirits, He is an eternal, perfected, and resurrected soul. Therefore, part of His plan for our eternal progression in becoming like Him is for us to also receive a body. Yet, once we receive our mortal body it eventually dies. So, why get a body? Well, mortal birth appears to be as much of an ordinance as baptism, the sacrament, and marriage, if not more so (I could say the same of death). Christ, Himself, had to be born physically and to die physically before being resurrected. So, even a God was subject to the same eternal law/terms when it came to getting a body.

So, even though the mortal body will die, the ordinance of birth has been accomplished and God, through the atonement and resurrection can bring the eternal spirit and the body (the soul) back together in a glorified, perfected, and resurrected form.

In Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-16 we read:

And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.

And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.

Note here that a soul is defined before it is also made clear that resurrection from the dead is for “the soul.” Not just the spirit.

Being born is not only getting a body that one has been waiting around for eons to get. It is taking part in an eternal ordinance that creates a soul! As well, a body is not what makes a spirit eternal. But, a body is what makes a spirit more than spirit. Giving an eternal spirit a body makes a soul with a particular purpose and grand potential which the spirit by itself could not attain. The potential to become like God and live in His presence.

Here is where we start talking about “the foundations of the earth.” A lot of people don’t ever think about who we were before being born because they can’t strictly remember it. Religions usually stay away from the concept and leave the speculation to poets. What a lot of pastors teach is their own opinion about what little the scriptures say.

All this is quite sad, because modern prophets and revelation have given quite a clear picture of the pre-earth life. We can’t ever know everything. That is not God’s way (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33). But, whether people want to believe it or not, there is a lot of logical, correct information to be had.

Details about “the Foundations of the Earth”

plan1We are the literal spirit-children of God (Romans 8:16). We were spiritually conceived and organized from the matter and intelligence already eternally (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29) existing within the universe (Abraham 3:22-28).

As God’s spirit-children (like all children) we had the capability to become like God (Romans 8:17).

God had a glorified, perfected, and resurrected body/soul (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23). He had perfected godly attributes and characteristics. He was omniscient and omnipotent. He had eternal family, including an eternal wife…who is undoubtedly the mother of our spirits (Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4).

God, because He loves us so much, wanted to give each of His children (us) the opportunity to become as He is: a glorified, perfected, and resurrected soul with perfected godly attributes, with omniscience and omnipotence (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48). He wants us to not only live in His presence forever, but like Him forever, meaning with eternal family and the capability to produce spirit children of our own.

However, to become God means to be bound by covenant and law (Doctrine and Covenants 132:20-22), by justice and truth. It means eternal and universal self-sacrifice and love. It means receiving all power but only being able to use that power to save and exalt others. So, each of us had to have the opportunity to “try out” these godly conditions for ourselves to see if ultimately, being like our Heavenly Father was what we really wanted. We had to have the opportunity to “prove ourselves” to ourselves that the level of godliness God had was the level we wanted too. Minimally, we would all at least want a body. This “try out” time is called mortality and was the whole purpose of the creation of the earth (Abraham 3:22-28).

Satan didn’t fall because He wanted to become like God (which many Christian religions teach). Satan, or Lucifer as he was called before he fell, was cast out of heaven for wanting to get God’s power and glory without all the red-tape, mortal hoopla, and eternal restrictions (Isaiah 14:12-14; D&C 29:36-39; Abraham 3:27-28; Moses 4:1-4). Satan wanted absolute power. He wanted power not tempered or controlled by pure love. He wanted to remove our agency/free will—which clearly existed in heaven or he wouldn’t have wanted to get rid of it—so that he could rule absolutely. He was not about sharing power. The wicked never are.

So, while this mortal life was being set up for us (which includes the creation and designating a Redeemer and Savior), Christ volunteered to be our Redeemer. Why the need for a Redeemer? Well, part of the plan of learning to become godly is to experience the entire spectrum of good and evil and learning to desire and to choose the good over the evil. Part of the plan is experiencing this spectrum out of the immediate presence of God so that we can have a full use of our agency. It even required a veil to be drawn over our memories so that we could “start fresh.” No heavenly conditioning or overt godly influence. Just the Holy Spirit and the seeds of who we were and what we chose before we came to earth that could be awakened and re-ignited, through faith, if we so desired.

But, this absence of memory and this massive spectrum of good and evil would leave us all vulnerable to making poor decisions, sinning, hurting others, and experiencing a great deal of misery and pain. Even if we learned to gain the godly attributes and characteristics needed for eventual godhood, all of the mess we made while learning to be such would keep us from ever arriving at our goal. Not to mention that our physical body would also eventually die and leave us as just spirits again. What could be done? Well, God established that we would need a Redeemer and Savior to pay justice on our behalf so that we could learn to become godly without being condemned by the godly learning process. We would also need someone to overcome the death that would be brought about by a necessary fall into mortality.

Then, God asked for a volunteer. God did not force Christ to be the Redeemer. Christ volunteered. Lucifer tried to volunteer, too, but then asked if he could alter God’s plan, force us all to be good (remove agency/free will), and avoid actually have to do anything remotely close to redeeming us…and for his brilliance he wanted God to give him His power and glory without all the godly righteousness required to wield it. This plan sounded nice, but it was not loving and we would only get a body. We would not be able to progress, get better, etc., because such improvement requires free will. In other words…it wouldn’t work. It never could have.

So, then God’s plan was presented to all of God’s spirit children. Christ, Himself, was the gospel and the word that was preached (JST, John 1:1). Then, we had the choice. Come to earth and get a body and see if we want to become like God, ultimately. Or, do not come to earth and never get a body and never progress and never figure out if this whole “godly-thing” is for us.

Satan chose to not take part in the true plan. A lot of spirits followed him (Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-39). These spirits were cast out and will never receive a body or progress any further. Sure, they are eternal, but they are eternal spirits, NOT eternal souls. They cannot inherit any more glory than that which they had prior to being cast out (Abraham 3:26). They will never have eternal families. They will be separate, single, bodiless, and unperfected for all time (Isaiah 14:15-20).

So, does God force us to get bodies to make us eternal souls? No. He gave us the choice to choose to get bodies to grant us the opportunity to change the nature of our eternal existence. For, even if we don’t want to actually become like God, for even having tried we will still receive kingdoms of glory equivalent to the level of goodness and righteousness we were willing to receive and act upon (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15-24, 28-39).

Now, as to what conditions we are born into in this mortal life, it is not my place to indicate just how much say we got in the pre-earth life. But the scriptures are replete with references to foreordination, predestination, and the like. Some foreordinations are called elect-ions. However, as God was willing to part with a third of His spirit children rather than sacrifice our agency/free will, it is my belief that foreordination and/or predestination has more in common with chosen occupations, volunteer positions, and accepted assignments—all which require personal ambition, volition, or acceptance based on the use of agency—than with any type of force or coercion.

We can ask a person to run for public office, but ultimately they must accept the request and put forth the effort to run. We can choose an occupation, but ultimately we still have to go and get the skills, then apply and get hired. God clearly asked some of His spirit children to serve as prophets and leaders before they were born (Job 38:4, 7; Jeremiah 1:5; Abraham 3:22-23). But, once they were born they would have forgotten and would still have to be reminded, called, and to still accept. That is fairly obvious.

There is no scriptural proof on what the rest of us did, and even current prophets and apostles do not speculate on this. I claim no authority to state what the rest of us did during “the foundations of the earth.” But, I do know that if you’re here you chose to be born. I do know that some people are born into this world into the worst of situations and yet somehow they rise above it. I know that some people are born into privilege and turn out the worst sort of people. I also know people who are born simply knowing from a young age what they want to be and they change their community, state, country, or the world with their talents. Some are born prodigies.

It seems unlikely to me that these are rare, genetic coincidences. To me, they are evidence that each of us, to some extent, whether great or small, chose, volunteered, or accepted assignments to be born under certain circumstances and to perform certain roles or missions. It seems apparent that some of us even came to this earth bursting with talents that simply could not be submerged.

So, I don’t think anyone can try to assume that God forced any person to be born under any unfavorable circumstances. As well, it seems quite clear that due to the atonement’s power to right all wrongs, heal all suffering, and provide salvation and exaltation to the repentant and faithful (at many degrees), that getting a body at all is quite an accomplishment and never a mere formality or tactic for coercion.

Agency was as paramount in the pre-earth life as it is now.

BT

Stay-tuned. There is more to this question/comment that was given to me. Doctrine on its way!

Doctrine: If you are Christian, than the witness of God’s Holy Spirit should carry more weight than the witness of “flesh and blood.” The Book of Mormon supports and validates the witness of the Bible. To disprove the Book of Mormon is also to disprove the Bible. Bible Prophets have the same human characteristics and weaknesses of Joseph Smith. To discount Joseph Smith as a prophet because of His humanity is to discount all prophets. The wisdom and witness of men is the god of atheists. The wisdom and witness of God and His Holy Spirit is the god of Christians.

If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and your testimony is struggling in the current societal environment, buckling under growing church transparency, and stifling under a list of ordinances, covenants and commandments: what are your options?

You basically have only three options.

  1. You can hang on to what you believe even though it’s a struggle. You can trust the spiritual experiences you’ve had. You can turn to God with your questions and to His word for your answers. You can keep trying to come unto Christ as you wait to see more clearly through the all the worldly fuzz and your own personal confusion, struggles, and issues.
  2. You can leave the Church. You can decide that God isn’t real. You can become an atheist.
  3. You can pretend that the only things about God and religion that bug you are inside the Mormon Faith. You can try to join another Christian faith (with all its accompanying issues). You can try, for a while, to hold onto the logic you used to leave the LDS church until you realize it applies to all Christian faiths. Then, you either have to stick to your decision in pride to prove a point and avoid embarrassment, or you have to become agnostic or atheist (option 2), or you have to come back to your original faith and embrace option one.

If you are considering option one, then hopefully this blog will help you hold strong. If you are considering option two, then hopefully this blog will help you find belief in God again. If you are considering option three, then I hope this blog will encourage you to put your trust in the witnesses and information you have received “from God” through the Holy Spirit over the witnesses that come from “flesh and blood.”

The Book of Mormon

A lot of people leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because they become convinced that the Book of Mormon has some inconsistencies. From a misspelled word to some minute perceived educational or historical discrepancy touted by some anti-Mormon religionist (i.e. a person whose religion is to prove Mormonism wrong). These inconsistencies overwhelm any spiritual experiences or witnesses they have received of the book and cause them to fear. After all, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and our witness of Christ. If it’s got issues, then the whole Church must be wrong, right?

First, let me take the apologetic argumentative approach to this. If you are discounting the Book of Mormon because of an inconsistency, then you must also discount the Bible for the same reasons. Or perhaps you feel you can safely discount the Book of Mormon because only 15 million+ people believe in it while 2.2 billion+ hold some respect for the Bible. But, if your comfort level believing in the Bible is only due to the number of people who accept its validity, then that’s not really a very good reason to believe in it at all.

Man under threat of failure

Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth and that a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book (Introduction to the Book of Mormon). When Joseph Smith said “most correct,” I don’t think he meant without flaws or issues. I think he meant that it is the “most correct” in its witness of Christ and Christ’s doctrines. The fact that its authors in their individual records may have written in a way that is contrary to what our modern society recognizes as historically accurate for that time, or that there are simple or minor errors in the translation from Joseph who translated it by the gift and power of God and those who were scribes for him is not surprising. If that is the case, we could discount any book on earth that contains any human error whatsoever–especially the Bible.

For the modern Christian, or for any Christian, the Bible is so full of perceived and real inconsistencies. And if we are to base its usefulness in leading us to Christ on its lack of inconsistencies, then we might rather be atheist.

Here is one, and only one example (or I would spend the whole blog on simply the Bible’s inconsistencies, or any religious text’s inconsistencies). The Bible says that God is the same (Ps. 102:27) and that He changes not (Mal. 3:6). If that’s true, then when God says in Amos 3:7 that He doesn’t do anything “except He reveals His secrets  to His servants the prophets,” then, it stands to reason that God should always have prophets on the earth to whom He can reveal His will. But, all modern Christian religions believe that “God has done His work,” that “there are no prophets today.”

Now, Catholicism adheres to the idea that the Pope communes with God to an extent, but aside from that, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church that believes in modern prophets, apostles, the church organization instituted by God, and constant, on-going revelation. So, people who believe the Bible are saying that God is the same…but He’s not? Or, they are saying that simply because we are such an enlightened world we don’t need God’s dedicated guidance through a prophet anymore? That’s hardly possible. Or, that God doesn’t love us as much as the people in the past and so He doesn’t have prophets for us? But, wait. Doesn’t the Bible say that God loves all His children the same? Hence, I could as easily disprove the Bible the same way people try to disprove the Book of Mormon.

Now, let me be quite clear. I believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. I believe it leads people to Christ as much as it is capable of doing, despite human meddling, human interpretation, and human deletions. As well, I’ve studied the Bible and I know what the God of the OT and the NT was like and it’s the same God that is preached in the Book of Mormon. As well, I have prayed about both books and the Holy Spirit has confirmed to me that they are God’s words.

The Book of Mormon is called “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” So, to discount the Book of Mormon is to say that you “have a Bible and there can’t be any more Bible” (2 Nephi  29:3-8). Except, the Bible you have came from the Jews, who aren’t even Christians (that they are aware of). But, whether you understand the origin of the Bible or not, what you’re saying is that you don’t want another witness—to the whole world—that the God you believe in is real? Or, you don’t want a witness of Christ that is not perfect…even though the Bible isn’t perfect? Or, you don’t believe that God spoke to any of His other children…and only the Jews?

Does not the Bible say:

Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and I will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. (Ezekiel 37:19)

Now, IF you believe the Bible is true I’m not saying you have to believe the Book of Mormon is the stick of Joseph. But, all “flesh and blood” logic aside, then where is the other stick/record? Is God a liar? Or, perhaps He hasn’t brought forth the stick of Joseph yet. But, either way, when it comes to light (if you don’t believe it’s the Book of Mormon), how will you know if it is indeed the word of God? Because some slick-tonged, educated, anti-Mormon religionist tells you it’s true? A man/woman who is no more than flesh and blood whose breath is in his nostrils (Isaiah 2:22) is going to control how you define where God’s word is?

In Matthew 16:13-18 Christ has a discussion about the authority of the voice of flesh and blood over that of God.

Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias or one of the prophets.

He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

Here the entire world said Christ was something else than He was. And I have no doubt that they were convincing. At that time monotheism was a joke (except for the Jewish religion and even they struggled with reverting to idol worship). 2.2 billion+ were polytheists with idols and the like. Yet, Peter had a witness from God that Christ was the Son of the only true and living God. That was how he knew the truth. There were not even a few thousand, that actually believed Christ was the actual Son of God.

If the Bible is true in any sense, the only way to know it—despite its perceived or real contradictions and flaws—is by a witness from God. There is no greater witness. Not from “flesh and blood.” It is the same with the Book of Mormon. For those things that are spiritual are only comprehended by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:11, 14). Not by fact, not by science, not by educated men and women giving their thumbs up.symbol of the house at sunset on the seashore

But, let me continue on with a less apologetic rant (2 Nephi 29:7-8 [3-8]).

Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea: and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

So, if you want to discount the Book or Mormon—another witness of Jesus Christ, the God to whom you so desperately cling—then you must also, at some point, discount the Bible. Because the Book of Mormon testifies of the Bible and Christ.

But, if your doubts about issues with the Book of Mormon is still strong. I have a few final things to share.

Here is the first. These are scriptures from writers of the Book of Mormon where they are concerned about their human mistakes in writing the record. They are worried that future generations will see these weaknesses and discount the record.

2 Nephi 33:10-11:

And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words (meaning the Book of Mormon) and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good.

And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.

Ether 12:23-41:

And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things (meaning the records within the Book of Mormon) because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou has made us mighty in word by faith, but thou has not made us mighty in writing; for thou has made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou has given them;

Thou has also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.

And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness…

Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness…

And I Moroni, after having heard these words was comforted, and said…Wherefore, I know by this thing which thou has said, that if the Gentiles have no charity, because of our weakness, that thou wilt prove them, and take away their talent, yea, even that which they have received, and give unto them who shall have more abundantly.

And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity…

And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood.

And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things: And only a few have I written, because of my weakness in writing.

Here is my second.

One of my biggest complaints about people that try to discount the Book of Mormon after having once testified of its truth or believing in it is that they never comment about whether or not it is bringing them to Christ or not. That never factors into why they stop disbelieving it or why they leave the Church.

Does reading the Book of Mormon make you better? More Christlike? Or, if you haven’t studied it in a long time (which is often the case), are you discounting it based on a vague memory of what you read? If it’s not true, don’t turn only to the few issues people point out. Read it from cover to cover. Find out if it leads you to Christ or not despite its weaknesses. Isn’t that the true test?

However, if your issue is that it was translated by Joseph Smith through the Urim and Thummim or a seer stone or a rock he found on the ground or through a stained glass window, then again, what really matters is “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-20), if you believe the Bible. What is the fruit of the Book of Mormon? Whether it has a million typos or a historical or other discrepancy on every page, what are its fruits?

Young businessman hiding head in the sand

If the Book of Mormon is flawed even though it testifies of Christ then so is the Bible. If you once accepted the Book of Mormon; either it’s from God and so is the Bible, or its not from God and neither is the Bible. It’s impossible to dismiss the Book of Mormon without also dismissing the Bible. If your issue is with how it was translated instead of what its fruits are, then you’re straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). If your issue is with Joseph Smith, then continue on…

Prophets, Apostles, and Church Leadership

The world and members of the Church have begged for the Church of Jesus Christ to be transparent. So, the Church has worked hard to become more transparent. They have produced as much honest fact and material as they can. And, some of this information doesn’t answer all the questions and issues people have. And, they are upset that there are still some things God hasn’t revealed to “their” pleasure. And, it suddenly becomes the Church’s fault.

As well, people who have only ever studied about Joseph Smith enough to gain a testimony of him and the Book of Mormon are now taking the time to look into the history of the Church, it’s past, and the humanity of its prophets and leadership. What they find shocks them. Joseph was a pretty regular human guy. He was subject to the culture of his time. He was poor with finances and most administrative concepts.

Of course, this delving into the Church’s history and the weaknesses of its leadership leads to all sorts of concerns and questions. Could this man really have been a prophet?

I’m not sure if the issues people have with past and present Church leadership is more a question of their unrealistic expectations versus reality. But, a lot of them seem to have this idea that God calls only perfect people to do His work. Some of them seem to think that once a person is called to God’s service that they won’t make any mistakes or that God will keep them from making certain mistakes and that all will be easy and well.

Just as so many religions claim “God has done His work,” we modern Latter-day Saints seem to also believe that God somehow was only meant to ask hard and difficult things of past people, not us present ones. Heaven forbid we are ever asked to do anything that teaches us the depth of our own faith. God is too nice for that now… He won’t ask me to do anything as difficult as Abraham” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4).

I honestly haven’t been able to figure out what the real basis is of people’s complaint against Joseph Smith, but it boils down to a lack of faith. It has nothing to do with Joseph Smith—not really

But, I have found that most people who leave the church still like to fall back on Christianity (in a general sense) and therefore the Bible. They think there, in the Bible, they will find prophets who are “true prophets.”

So, let’s make a comparison of Bible prophets and Joseph Smith. For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to quote every scriptural reference that validates these lists. If you don’t believe the lists then I put it to you to search the Bible, both OT and NT, and prove my list wrong. It’s not hard, but it will take time. But, I had to put in the time, so it’s clearly possible.

Bible Prophets and Leadership Joseph Smith
·         Were previous sinners who reformed

·         Were doubted and betrayed by family and close associates

·         Became stronger, better, and more refined in God’s service

·         Lost privileges when they forgot to put God first

·         Regained privileges when they repented

·         Were often the “least” of their brethren and associates

·         Often had weaknesses that would have made them a surprise pick for prophet

·         Received a mission and commandments from God

·         Commanded to dispense God’s plan, ordinances, commands, and covenants

·         Saw the Lord Jesus Christ

·         Accepted their prophetic call despite their self-doubts

·         Were asked to do things by God that the rest of the world (at the time) didn’t understand

·         Were prone to the superstitions and culture of their day

·         Were often poor administrators or parents

·         Doubted the Lord’s requests and commands

·         Allowed others to lead them astray for a time

·         Made mistakes

·         Sometimes got direct instructions and revelations, and other times the Lord didn’t give the information freely and so they had to seek the Lord for guidance and information

·         Had annoying human personality traits

·         Had marriages that were disliked or questioned

·         Had multiple wives as commanded by God

·         Was a previous sinner in some normal human aspects and reformed

·         Was doubted and betrayed by close associates and friends

·         Became stronger, better, and more refined in God’s service

·         Lost privileges when he forgot to put God first

·         Was the “least” of the people of his time

·         Had weaknesses that made people doubt God would call him as a prophet

·         Received a mission and commandments from God

·         Was commanded to restore God’s church (dispense His full plan), ordinances, commands, and covenants

·         Saw the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father

·         Accepted his prophetic call despite his doubts

·         Was asked to do things by God that the rest of the world (then and now) often don’t understand

·         Was prone to superstitions and culture of his day

·         Was well known to be a poor administrator as well as poor at most organization and finances

·         Struggled with some of the Lord’s requests and commands

·         Allowed Martin Harris, and others, to lead him astray on some issues

·         Made mistakes day to day like all humans do

·         Sometimes got direct instructions and revelations, and other times the Lord didn’t give the information freely and so he had to seek the Lord for guidance and information

·         Had a natural playfulness that many people of his time thought was unbefitting a prophet, and irreverent of a holy man

·         Had marriages that were disliked or questioned

·         Had multiple wives as commanded by God

I’m sure there are more things to list on both sides. I’m not trying to present a comprehensive list. I’m merely trying to point out that Joseph Smith was no different than any other prophet called by God. In fact, most of the prophets had some or most of the items on the list, but not all. Joseph was proven and tried with everything past prophets had been tried with. What a burden! And people don’t even give him any credit.

So, Joseph Smith is Joseph Smith. A good man, not a perfect man, who became a great man, but who nonetheless was human. Was he a prophet? That’s for you to decide. But, it’s very senseless to take any part of his humanity and use it as a data point to say he couldn’t have been a prophet. God can and will use whomever He wishes to fulfill His work. If we want to sit around and entertain and hiccup over complexities and doubts based on a person’s imperfections and humanity rather than to trust the fruits of the person’s labors, that’s our business. But, it will never bring us peace.

If we are willing to serve God and we love Him, it matters not how imperfect or weird we are. God can use us to do His work. And, He will. The only time God can’t use someone to do His work is if that person isn’t willing, and doesn’t love God. It has nothing to do with perfection or talents or charisma or experience. If God chooses someone, then they are chosen until they become unwilling to do God’s will. End of story. That’s GRACE! Grace is about doing God’s will imperfectly and still being accepted because we are trying. I know we like to put people on pedestals, but it applies as much to prophets and apostles as it does to us.

So, on a final note, people like to pick and pry and complain about all of Joseph Smith’s (and other Church leaders issues, policies, etc.). And, yet, they can solve all of the little doubts and complexities with sincere prayer (2 Nephi 32:8) offered with real intent to follow the answer: “God, was Joseph Smith a prophet despite his humanity?” Or, if you’re issue is with modern prophets and leadership: “God, is <current prophet> your chosen vessel for dispensing revelation and guidance today?”

We can pray about individual policies too, but in reality, it’s much simpler than that. If Joseph Smith was a prophet then the Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth and will bring us closer to God than any other book. If <current prophet> is God’s current chosen vessel for dispensing revelation and guidance, then God is behind whatever he is doing whether we understand it or not. Don’t trust man! Ask God!

Indeed the Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). The Book of Mormon says, “Ask God if these things are true and the Holy Ghost will reveal the truth of it unto you” (Moroni 10:3-5).

“Flesh and blood” is no good for a foundation of faith. If you want to believe in God and not be an atheist, then you must place the witness of the Holy Ghost above the witness of men. Men’s wisdom is the god of the atheist. Godly wisdom is the god of the Christian. If you claim to trust God’s word then you must study it and “by its fruits” and a witness of the Holy Ghost know if it is true.

Close up on hands holding Home made from sand. House on seashore. Summer holiday, vacation, postcard, background.  Real estate investment concept

Most of the time, in my life, I have found that seasons of doubt—which are often fueled by the doubts of others—are most often caused by a shock to our religious expectations. The only way to overcome this romantic, incorrect view of God and His plan is to study His word, listen to His prophets, and seek the witness of His Holy Spirit—not the factual, data-driven witness of men. We must come to know Him, not our version of Him. Then, we can stand with surety in our faith. Until then, we have merely built our spiritual house (testimony) on sand.

BT

Doctrine: We can worship anywhere. We don’t need organized religion to be good. But, God’s power is not absolute: it is bound by covenant. So, if we want to attain unto His power, glory, and attributes, we must also submit to be bound by covenant. Such covenants are accompanied by ordinances, commandments, and personal sacrifice, which bring about the “full” power of grace on our account.

Good people literally cover the face of the planet earth. Sure, we all have some flaws and weaknesses, but in general, with a few exceptions, most people are basically good.

So, if most people are basically good, then what’s the purpose of religion? Why get baptized into any church? Why conform to any commandments? Religious people can sometimes be the most unforgiving, unkind, bigoted, prejudiced, and judgmental people. They have all these rules and if you don’t keep them, then you are suddenly a bad person. Right?

I hear people say all the time that religion doesn’t have to be in a church. And, they’re right. It doesn’t. Religion is: the belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God (or gods).

We can believe in and worship God anywhere. This is a fundamental truth that God Himself preaches. In Alma 32:10-11 we read:

Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only?

And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?

As well, much (though certainly not all) of our Christlike service and prayers are to be personal, and in secret…or in other words, not publicly broadcast or touted (Alma 33:7; 1 Nephi 13:6; Matthew 6:6).

So, if God Himself is okay with worship outside a church, why then do we go to church? Why do we get baptized, partake of the sacrament (communion), and receive temple ordinances and covenants? Is it just to get some perceived blessing of eternal families? Is that all ordinances, covenants, and Sabbath worship are for?

I could say, “Yes,” and for some, that would be enough. But, let me get to the doctrine.

People outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints get antsy and uncomfortable when we talk about our beliefs of “becoming like God.” When they think of God, they think of absolute power. And, in the hands of a man, we are all fairly certain that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It does.

Idea of Earth creation
Human hand touching with finger Earth planet. Elements of this image are furnished by NASA

But, what if I said that God’s power is not absolute? Yes, God’s power is not absolute. Why? Because God can’t do whatever He wants with His power. His power cannot be used for selfish gain, to gratify His pride, to exercise compulsion or unrighteous dominion… (Doctrine and Covenants 121:37). God’s power is protected and preserved by His own covenants and eternal law (Doctrine and Covenants 88:34).

Does not God say to us, “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say…”? (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). That means if we keep God’s commandments He HAS TO bless us. He can’t not bless us…or He would lose His power. He can’t wield His power without law and covenant. Indeed, His work and His glory is to use His power to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39).

God Himself said, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). Then, He calls Himself “the greatest of all” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18; 29:1; 38:1, 39:1; Exodus 3:14).

So, why get baptized? Why partake of the sacrament? Why receive temple covenants?

Covenants are how God dispenses His power. We don’t go to church just to be good. We are, most of us, basically good. So, going to church is not only about being good, it’s about making and keeping covenants that we might progress in our journey to become like God.

What is God like?

  • God is immortal = He has a perfected, glorified, resurrected body and so He can’t die, or get sick…
  • God has eternal family = God has an eternal wife and children who are bound to Him for eternity. Plus, He has begotten us spiritually and so we are His literal spirit children.
  • God is perfectly loving, just, merciful, etc…
  • God has a perfect knowledge of everything…there is not anything save He knows it.

God became God, and achieved these perfections, by binding Himself to covenants!

So, we can become better a little at a time and remain basically good by worshipping anywhere—at home or in our hearts. We can serve and love and give of ourselves. And, we will be blessed by God for so doing. But, if we want to become godly. If we want to remove every mote and beam in our lives. If we want power to become greater for eternity, then we need godly power.

To access godly power, we must make and keep covenants.

The baptismal covenant includes the ordinance (or sacrament) of baptism. A physical rite that we go through, symbolic of the death and resurrection of Christ. We emulate Him by so doing and symbolically give ourselves to Him and to His service by letting the “old us,” which was not bound by covenant, go, and coming forth a “new us,” bound by covenant.

For binding ourselves in this way, both publicly and personally, God grants unto us not only forgiveness of sin which cleanses us, and a new beginning, but a gift of the companionship of a member of the godhead: the Holy Ghost. This constant trickle of truth and power refines us in a godly way. It gives us the capability—if we honor the conditions for having His presence—to not only be good, but to change our very natures—over time—into something godly: perfectly loving, just merciful, etc…

We can be good without covenants. But, we can’t become godly without the gift of the Holy Ghost. He is the baptism of fire which can purify and remove all dross from us. He is the great sanctifier—and can make us holy—in time—whether now or in the eternities. This is something we can’t achieve without making a covenant.

The sacrament is a weekly covenant which helps us to remember and renew our baptismal covenant. It helps us to review our lives and see what we’ve done better and what we need to do better. It helps us weekly to report and be re-cleansed. To renew our relationship with the Holy Ghost. To renew our access to this godly power.

Temple covenants, like baptism, help us bind ourselves closer to God and to His will. Thus, enabling Him to grant us more of His power.

When we enter the sealing covenant, we are granted access to the godly powers of procreation both now and in eternity. We can exercise these powers outside of covenant. But, when we do so without God’s sanction, no matter how good our intentions, our power is limited to mortality only. It cannot last forever (Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-18).

The power of eternal family is God’s power. It comes with covenant and responsibility. Those who do not enter this covenant cannot have this power to remain united or to continue to procreate after this life has ended; “till death do they part…”

So, God’s power is “all-powerful.” But, it is not absolute. He cannot wield it outside of covenant or He would “cease to be god” (Mormon 9:19; Alma 42:13, 22, 25).

So, also, we cannot become godly without binding ourselves to ordinances and covenants. We cannot reach beyond a certain level of goodness without it. We can worship God without brick or mortar. We can do good and serve and be blessed without organized religion. But, we can’t attain unto perfection and godhood without ordinance and without covenant.five fingers tied together as a team holding the weight of the globe. Isolated on white.

Going to church isn’t about the perfection of the people in the building. It isn’t about perfect sermons. It isn’t about perfect leadership and administration. It is about ordinances and covenants. It is about becoming “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

So, if you are cool with being pretty good. Then that is well. You can do that without organized religion. But, if you want to be godly, then the ordinances and covenants of God are necessary to the dispensing of His power and grace that you might become as He is.

BT

Doctrine: #5) We have to understand and know God from personal study and faith in order to be able to withstand and reason through struggles, issues, and doubts.

This is continued from PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

Not the last reason I don’t leave the church, but the final one I will share, and that reason is “I know the God whom I worship” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:19). I don’t mean to laugh, because I do care, but sometimes I shake my head or laugh when people I know and people I don’t know get caught up in church policy and the actions (past and present) of church leaders, local leadership, or indeed even of church organization and many other things they don’t take the time to understand.

Why do I laugh? Because these people get all in an uproar about how “God wouldn’t do this,” or “God wouldn’t do that,” and I’m incredulous because I know, for a fact, they haven’t studied the scriptures. Not really. They haven’t gone to the Bible or other Standard Works to research what God would really do! Because He would do exactly what they’re saying He wouldn’t… He has done it before in many different ways and for very specific reasons.

Who God is and how He deals with His people is wide open for all to see in every page of scripture available—for those who study them. A knowledge of God and a close relationship with Him is the most important things each of us can ever gain from a study of the scriptures. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who led Moses and the Israelites, the God who came down to earth and gave His life as a ransom for ours; the God who organized His church with Peter, James, and John; the God who appeared to Joseph Smith and restored His gospel and church back to the earth, is a god who:

  • Upholds justice and law

  • Allows all His children to learn and seek for answers whether they are in leadership positions, politics, the middle class, living on the streets, or not. He gives out freebie revelations in rare instances.

  • Offers mercy and salvation in exchange for repentance and a change in who we are becoming

  • Asks His people to do things that do not always make sense, but that do make sense in principle for those who seek to understand it (Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened…)

  • Wants His people to be different from the rest of the world

  • Requires sacrifice of personal possessions, beliefs, traditions, time, goals, professions, and even family and friends (in some circumstances), and seeks to help us accomplish this with commandments we do not always like or want

  • Blesses us all in many ways even though we don’t deserve it but is bound to bless us when we keep His commandments and He takes joy in being free to do so

  • Reveals much to us concerning His will but only line upon line as we are able to accept it or live it by faith

  • Is capable of doing what is best for all mankind and for each individual at the same time

  • Will command us to do things that previously He has forbidden if it serves His current perfectly-intentioned purposes

  • Is long-suffering and will continue to offer blessings and repentance to us until our last mortal breath no matter who we are or what we’ve done

  • Can heal any injury or suffering whether spiritual, psychological, emotional, or physical in this life or in the resurrection

  • Will give us exactly what we want if we are determined to have it whether to our glory or condemnation

I could go on. But, put simply, I don’t leave the church because I have worked long and hard to know who God is (and I continue to do so) and I trust Him. I know how He works and so many of the things that throw other people off their groove I find I can easily take in stride because I have seen the precedence of it in the scriptures, in my life, in the lives of others, and I recognize it in its modern version. I know that He truly is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

In the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel murmured, “because they knew NOT the dealings of that God who created them” (1 Nephi 2:12). As well, in the Joseph Smith Translation of Mathew 24 found in The Pearl of Great Price we read, “And whoso treasureth up my word shall not be deceived…” (JST-Matthew 1:37). In the parable of the ten virgins Christ doesn’t keep them out of the feast because they’re bad people. They were obviously fairly decent. They knew about Him and they believed in Him or they wouldn’t have tried to attend the wedding feast. But, what He clearly says is, “I know you not,” meaning, in other words, you don’t know me. (John 17:3) Ouch!

So for those whose path to joy takes them away from the church, I know it is a path they must take. I hope they will find their joy. And, I know that ultimately they will find where they are meant to go, who they are meant to be, and will be able to accomplish what they need to accomplish. This is one of the blessings of the grace of Christ. However, for myself, the reasons I have shared in these blogs are why I stay. And, if others are uncertain about whether to stay or go, or even to come back, I hope this blog is helpful.

BT

Return to PART ONE