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Symbolism in Nephi’s journey to the promised land

The story of Nephi’s journey to the Promised Land is well known and widely told amongst Mormons.  It’s a beautiful and compelling story, rife with principles and drenched in doctrine.   But I sometimes wonder if we overlook many of the most meaningful and marvelous symbolic lessons within it.  Here I’d hope to explore at least a few of these, and invite you to share with us those that I’ve missed by adding your own comments.

If you’re familiar with the story, feel free to skip ahead to the first symbol, otherwise, perhaps you’d enjoy a brief refresher of what happened more than 2600 years ago (view the illustration).

 

Early in The Book of Mormon we find the story of the prophet Lehi, who was commanded to take his family and leave Jerusalem around 600 B.C.

After departing into the wilderness with little more than their tents and a few supplies, and after experiencing untold trials, the family of Lehi eventually made it to the seashore.  There, Nephi, a righteous son of Lehi, was commanded by the Lord to build a ship.  This ship was to carry them across the ocean to a promised land that had been prepared for them, a land where they would enjoy freedom and prosperity.

Nephi, who of course had never built a ship, least of all one that could sail across the ocean, didn’t doubt or complain.  Rather, he simply inquired “Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship…”

The Lord told Nephi where to go, and showed him how to construct the ship, using “curious workmanship”.

Once complete, and likely with much anticipation, Nephi and his family went into the ship, and launched into the sea.  They were carried before the wind for many days, after which many of them began to “rejoice”.  But they got carried away, and Nephi, fearing that the Lord would be angry, tried to persuade them back to humility and righteousness.

His two older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, weren’t keen on their younger brother acting as their ruler, so they took and bound him, and treated him “with much harshness”.  Upon so doing, the Lord, angry at their wickedness, caused the Liahona (a compass he’d provided them in the wilderness, and that worked upon their righteousness) to stop working.  A great storm arose, and they were driven back for four full days.

During all this time, Nephi remained bound, and in much pain.  On that fourth, and final day, when the tempest became “exceedingly sore”, Laman and Lemuel thought they would die, and so released Nephi and begged his forgiveness.  Nephi, in spite of his swollen and sore limbs, forgave them and did not complain about his afflictions, but rather worshiped the Lord and prayed for assistance.

The tempest died, Nephi took the compass, which resumed working, and after “many days” of travel, they landed upon the promised land (the American Continent), where they were blessed in abundance.

 

To Nephi the Lord said “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.”

Always has the Lord blessed the lives of the righteous, and prepared for them a place or circumstance of similar abundance.  As we work to keep the commandments of God, and endeavor to be as obedient, faithful, and enduring as Nephi, so too will the Lord prepare for us a “land of promise”.

 

Nephi’s ship, can appropriately symbolize our own lives.  Just as the Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, strong, and secure enough to carry his family to the Promised Land, so too has he commanded us to build our own lives, and make them strong enough to carry ourselves, and even our families to our own “promised land”.

What’s more, of the ship Nephi observed:  “Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me…” (1 Nephi 18:2).  So too, have we been commanded to live, not as the world liveth, but as God lives, to build our lives not after the manner of men, but after the manner of god.

Only then, will we find our lives a vessel sufficiently capable to weather the storms of life, to provide shelter for those we love, and that will allow us to endure to end.

 

Not after the manner of men

When the Lord told Nephi to build the ship, not only was it after a fashion completely foreign to him, but it was a work that he’d never before done.  But never did he complain, never did he doubt, rather always he simply went forward with faith.

Many times in our lives we may be asked by the Lord to do things that we have not before done, or that may seem impossible.  But our faith should be in God, for with God, all things are possible. 

Of this, Nephi said “If god had commanded me to do all things I could do them.  If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. Now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?”

We must always remember, when seemingly overburdened, or overwhelmed by the requirements set before us, that while relying solely on our own native capacity our task may be impossible, but when we involve the Lord in our lives, we augment our capacity with his, and can do anything.

Seek the Lord often

It is also enlightening that Nephi includes “I did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things”.

How often then do we seek out the Lord, how often do we find ourselves on the “mount”, or in the temple, or seeking the Lord in other holy places?  Doing so is a critical component of receiving the necessary inspiration to guide us as we build our own ships.  It is true, that as we seek the Lord he will show, even unto us, great things.

Line upon line

It should also be noted, that while Nephi knew what he was building, he was not given it all at once.  He said “And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship”. 

How often we want to know it all, to see the end from the beginning, but generally it is simply not so.  Instead we are given line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.  We are expected to build our lives step by step, strengthened by the exercise of faith and our ongoing reliance upon continued revelation and intervention from the Lord.

As Nephi, we too must seek the Lord often, and not shun aspects of our lives that push us out of our comfort zone.  For again, we’re building the ship, our lives, after the manner of God, according to his vision, and not our own – a principle so beautifully portrayed in the famous poem “Life Sculptor” by George Washington Doane.

 

The compass provided by the Lord to Lehi and his family clearly represents the spirit of God, the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  It’s profound and vital guidance hinging upon our own righteousness, humility, and willingness to obey.  Often we may find ourselves directionless, wondering which way to turn, with feelings of isolation and helplessness.  But it doesn’t have to be so.

We too have been provided a spiritual compass, but its value is only as good as the heed we give it.  When we attempt to steer our own lives, on our own course, and look not for the directions from the Lord, we too may find ourselves lost, alone, and facing the fierce winds of the world.

But by repenting of our sins, turning back to God, and asking for his help, we’ll find our course correcting itself as the spirit takes hold of the reigns of our life.  The seas of the world seem calmer when we sail with God, in truth, the very wind that so previously tortured our existence, becomes the pushing power that drives us forward.  But only when we remember God, and include him in our lives.

 

At times, we may find ourselves in the position of Nephi, endeavoring to teach, but finding ourselves regularly rejected, or even persecuted.  But as with Nephi, we must never let fear of failure or fear of man, prevent us from proclaiming the gospel, and standing up for that which is right.

And in those times when, alas, even confronted by our fiercest adversaries, may we too be as forgiving as Nephi, too focused on an eternal perspective to let the fleeting actions of others long win our attention.

 

Perhaps even more often we find ourselves in the position of Laman and Lemuel.  There are inspired leaders, such as Nephi, all around us.  These leaders seek to guide us, they care for our souls and seek our welfare.  But often their counsel comes sharply, is unwelcome, or at least unexpected.  Often, just as Laman and Lemuel, we shun that counsel, whether in anger or not, and by so doing, bind those leaders, at least symbolically, from their ability to help us.  Not with physical cords, but with mental, emotional, and spiritual deafness.  By turning a blind eye, and a deaf ear to their inspired guidance, we bind them just as Nephi.

When we do this, we are left unto ourselves, to face the world alone, and we find the wind against us gaining strength, with the seas and troubles of life working against us.

We must not be like Laman and Lemuel of whom Nephi proclaimed “And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts”.

We must elect to be humble, before we’re compelled to be humble.  Life is too good, too sweet, too rich for us to waste our time with the self-inflicted burdens that only come from “going it alone”.  Instead, may we embrace the Lord, and let his strength be our own, that our lives might be lived in righteousness, and that we too, may find ourselves with our families, safe in a Land of Promise.

Rusty

P.S.  To read or listen to the full story of Nephi’s marvelous journey online, click here.

What religion can learn from science

Appetite.  That’s what seems so prevalent in the world of science and so often lacking in religion, the appetite to constantly learn more, to not be satisfied with what we have, to continuously search, ponder, and strive to increase our knowledge and understanding.

It’s clearly not always the case- there are true spiritual giants among us, who set the example for the rest of us.  But by in large, it seems that more often than not, religion is often taken for granted, as though it’s a side-note to our lives.  As though it’s something that we think about on Sunday, or at Christmas and Easter, and not something that constantly occupies our minds, as we yearn for more.

But the world of science is constantly asking questions, trying to understand why, trying to get to the fundamental principles that lie behind the things that they observe.  They experiment, observe, take notes, draw conclusions, and then test those conclusions with more experiments. 

How often do we experiment upon the word of God?  How often do we take those experiments so seriously that we make a study of them?  How often do we strive to test our knowledge, and how unquenchable is our desire to further our understanding?

It’s so easy to let the urgent aspects of our life dominate our thoughts and monopolize our time, as the more important and everlasting side of us, that spiritual side, suffers the pains of disuse and apathy.

But we must learn, we must engage ourselves, we must seek learning, we must grow in knowledge and understanding.  Only then, will we be truly ready for the trials of life, and ready to stand firm amidst the buffetings, and the fiery darts of the adversary.  Only then shall our confidence wax strong in the presence of God, and shall the doctrines of the priesthood distill upon our souls as the dew from heaven.  Only then shall our foundation be so firm as to withstand the cunning craftiness of the adversary as he seeks to shake us from our testimony.

Joseph Smith once said “Thy mind, oh man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into, and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanses of eternity.  Thou must commune with God… None but fools will trifle with the souls of man”.

Truth is light, and if it be in you it shall abound, and if your eye be single to the Glory of god your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.  (D&C 88:67)  What a glorious promise. 

As leaders, as parents, as friends, and as individuals, let us all find ourselves a bit more engrossed in the gospel of Christ, and a bit more anxiously engaged in our study.

Rusty

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What do Mormons believe, part 6

(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”.  Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉

We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

6th Article of Faith

The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is organized according to revelation, with leaders that are called of God and not of man and who hold the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and is based on the same structure that Christ established himself on the earth. 

Hebrews 5:4 (and numerous references in the Book of Mormon) help us understand that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.   Throughout life we’re constantly bombarded with the challenge of discerning truth and right.  Those of you who are reading this post who are not Mormon face a similar challenge, to determine for yourself if the teachings of Mormonism are true (which you can know through personal revelation – James 1:5, Moroni 10:4). 

But how refreshing it is when we find instances, such as this, where the establishment of His church today is the same as it was in times past.  Seeing the same template of organization is one of the easiest ways to recognize His church.  For “by their fruits, ye shall know them”.  How is that so?  Because the things that they know, do, and believe, shall be recognizable as what He taught and did on the earth.

And aside from the refreshing sameness of church structure, how invigorating it is to know that at the head of His church today, just as in times of old, we are guided by a holy prophet, called of God, who holds all the necessary keys and authority of the priesthood to officiate in the church of God and all the necessary ordinances required for us to reach our exaltation.

The belief in a true and living prophet is very unique to Mormonism.  For we believe that God truly is the same today as he was yesterday, that today, just as yesterday, he works through prophets.  “Surely the Lord God will do nothing save he reveals his secrets to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).  These prophets play a crucial role today, as they did in times past, in teaching and testifying of the Savior and his gospel, and in warning us of those timely issues that we face, that we might, at all times, be prepared.

How wonderful it is that this prophet, the apostles, and other church leaders were called of God, and did not aspire, nor ever seek for their positions, but rather agreed to give up their lives to serve the Lord, when they were asked.  I find great inspiration in the organization of the church, and enjoy the distinctive flavor of divinity in its structure and workings.

Rusty

See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

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What do Mormons believe about works?

Many have asked me what Mormons believe about “works”, and how we reconcile those beliefs with the notion of being saved by grace, through the mercy of Christ and His atonement.

Indeed, Mormons believe that our salvation is made possible by the mercy of Christ, and were it not for his everlasting Atonement, we could not be saved.  For man is carnal, mortal, and imperfect, and as such, will inevitably sin.  But the atonement of Christ makes it possible for us to be forgiven for our sins by paying the demands of justice if we will repent.

For as the scriptures tell us, God is Just, and it is always required that the laws of justice be satisfied, for there are consequences for sin (as we read throughout the scriptures).  But if man will repent, the Lord will intercede with the demands of justice, having paid the price already himself.  Such is mercy. 

But if man will not repent, he cannot be saved, for no unclean thing can dwell with god.  And not only must we repent of our sins, but we must strive to live the gospel and keep the commandments, and there are certain things we must do in order to earn our salvation.

Baptism, for instance, is required for salvation.  So is obedience.  For why would God give men commandments if he did not expect them to be obeyed?  And why would he require men to repent, or why would his servants, the prophets, so continually preach repentance, if repentance were not necessary for salvation, or if obedience were optional and there were no consequence for disobedience?

Hence we believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel (1st article of faith).

The following are just a very few verses I’ve selected from the Bible that help provide the scriptural basis for these beliefs.  But the burden of proof of this doctrine of works is not upon Mormons, for the scriptures I reference here (among many others) are clear and present.  Rather the burden is upon those who believe contrary to this scripture, to come up with some alternative explanation for these and other verses.

Revelation 20:12-15 “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

Hebrews 5:5-10 “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”

Romans 2:13-16 “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”

2 Thessalonians 1:1-10 “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James 1:22-25 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

Romans 2:5-11 “And revelation of the righteous judgment of God: Who will render to every man according to his deeds…”

Matthew 7:21-23 “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.”

Matthew 16:27 and Revelation 22:12-15 “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father, with His angels, and then He shall reward every man according to his works.”

Luke 6:46-49 “And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

John 7:16-17 “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine…”

John 14:15-21 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

Acts 1-:34-36 “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”

Titus 3:8 “That they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.”

1 John 1:6 “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.”

Revelation 22:14-15 “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.”

1 Samuel 15:22 “To obey is better than to sacrifice”

Matthew 7:15-20 “Ye shall no them by their fruits”

Matthew 24:13 “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved”.

Galations 5:20-23 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest…of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

James 2:14-26 “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have no works? Can faith save him?… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

Rusty

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Picking the lock of salvation

For those of you who weren’t aware, last week was the national HOPE conference in New York.  No, this isn’t a self-help conference teaching us how to increase our capacity to hope (I wish it were).  Rather, it’s a gathering of some of the most talented and well-known hackers around the planet.  HOPE stands for “Hackers on Planet Earth”.

At every HOPE conference there’s a popular area called “Lockpicking Village” where they discuss all the latest lock picking techniques. 

Reflecting on the whole thing, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel to those who somehow think they can “slide” into heaven, somehow opening the “doors” of heaven without actually going through the mandatory prerequisite steps. 

A lock is made of tumblers in a tube, each of which must be in the correct place before the lock will turn.  Inserting just the right key will put those tumblers in their required positions, but inserting any other key, or a partial key, will only place a few of the tumblers, if any, in the necessary position, and no matter how hard you twist, or how long you wait, the lock simply won’t turn and the door simply won’t open.

So many religions teach the doctrine that man needs to do little, if anything, for salvation.  In fact, often they teach that it’s as simple as accepting Christ, or being baptized.  But first, baptism must be done by one holding the proper authority, but even then, that is only one of the tumblers in the lock.  There is more we must do.  Baptism and faith alone are insufficient for our exaltation; they’re only part of the lock.  Religions that teach such doctrine, therefore cannot adequately equip you to enter into the kingdom of God. 

The proof is in scripture itself, for we will, as Revelation 20:12-15 states, be “judged… according to their works”.

While the sacrifice of our Savior put the gate on the barrier, making entrance possible, it does not make entrance sure.  The surety of our salvation can only be gained by approaching that day armed with the right key, the one that satisfies the demands of all the tumblers in the gate, baptism by authority being one of them.

While this doctrine is far from traditional, it is prevalently backed by scripture.  And while critics are quick to protest, it is not the burden of Mormonism to back this claim, but the burden of anyone believing contrary to come up with a suitable explanation for each of the scriptures which clearly state otherwise (and which I list in detail here – a post that has gone almost entirely unchallenged).

But the miracle of Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is that through Joseph Smith, the great latter-day prophet, the gospel of Christ was restored to the earth in its fullness along with all the keys, authority, ordinances and covenants necessary for us to do all we must do to enter the kingdom of our Father.

I invite you to learn more about this prophet Joseph Smith (here), partake for yourself in the miracle of Mormonism, and experience the rich blessings that come from understanding and living the fullness of the gospel.

Rusty

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Staying in tune

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/staying-in-tune

Christianity in China – PBS Special

As I explained in my post here, PBS Frontline World had a special on about Christianity in China last night. 

Apparently Christianity isn’t exactly illegal in China.  The government hasn’t taken the hard line they’ve taken in the past with Muslim separatists or the Falun Gong.  Instead, they’re being far more they’re being far more forgiving when it comes to Christianity, simply trying to control the religious teachings.

They’ve established their own version of a Christian church… essentially a government approved church, with doctrine that has been approved by the government and teachers who have been trained and certified by the government.  But while the approved party church hosts about 4,000 members across 6 services on Sunday, Chinese Christians in general far prefer what they call “house churches” (seeking purity and freedom, and not diluted doctrine).

These house churches are underground Christian churches that grew up in the aftermath of Chairman Mao’s revolution, and they’ve really been pushing the limits, becoming increasingly more open.  One church has even sued the local government to stay open.  Pastor Jang, interviewed on the program, said “I believe only Jesus, and not the communist party, can save the Chinese people”.

But the government has tried, unsuccessfully, to incent these house church leaders to discontinue their works by persecuting them.  One particular leader was unavailable for an interview because he had just been arrested, for the fourth time.  The first time he was sentenced to 7 years in prison, the next for 11 months, and the third time was forced to serve in a labor camp. 

They showed one particular underground church that was, literally, underground.  There were these recesses built into the hills in the forest where they’d convene and teach the gospel… until the government found out about it.  Now the place is entirely deserted.

Sometimes the government will demolish the very buildings they meet in.  But attempts have largely failed to diminish the faith of the people, and there are now thought to be as many Christians as there are party members.  All over, the Chinese Christians believe this is their time to come out of the shadows. 

It’s marvelous to watch Christianity surge into China, and I find the faith of these Chinese Christians inspiring.  They sacrifice so much, and persevere through threat and trial to pursue and preach their beliefs.

May I do likewise.

Rusty

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Faith Fitness – day 2 (Optimism)

This post is part of a series called Faith Fitness – increasing our capacity to believe.  Don’t forget to see the intro, part 1 (Testimony), part 2 (Optimism), and part 3 (Hope).

Thanks for joining me again.  I hope that your finding yourself invigorated by your newfound appreciation for your divine worth.  You are magnificent, and incomprehensibly capable of achieving anything.

Now you’re ready to move on to step two – building up just a little more momentum.  The second exercise in building your capacity to believe and exercise faith is all about optimism.

First, let’s discuss the principle upon which this exercise is based.

Faith and pessimism are antithetical.  You cannot simultaneously be pessimistic and faithful.  The perniciousness of pessimism cripples your ability to hope (a crucial component for active faith), and fills you with a spirit of negativity.

Many people believe that the optimistic can be too much so, forcing them to be unrealistic.  But we need to watch ourselves, for faith is not based on reality, but our hope for things which are not seen.

When Peter sought to walk on water, as long as his eyes focused on Christ he maintained his belief that what he was doing was possible.  But when he cast his eyes toward the waves and the depth of the ocean beneath him – what he saw was reality.  What we perceive as reality blinds us to what CAN be.  And because reality told him that standing on water was not possible, pessimism and doubt shattered his foothold of faith, and he started sinking.

But optimism forces us to look beyond “reality”, and not in an ignorant, self-disillusioned manner.  While our physical eyes are trained to see “reality”, or what things ARE, optimism is the lens that lets us see what CAN be.

With optimism we see the bright side of things; we see the good in all that surrounds.  I testify that as you begin to perfect the practice of optimistic living, your world will become brighter.  You’ll be lifted up to the view of a vista that is abounding in opportunity, flush with goodness, dripping with wonder, and that perspective will change your life forever.

Optimism is empowering, for it lets you see the world as it could be.  And as the clarity of that vision begins to replace the dull reality that surrounds you, you’ll find yourself capable of believing that you can make a difference.  You’ll start to see the role you can play to connect the realm of reality to the wonder of what could be.

Now, armed with the testimony of who you truly are, and looking through the lens of opportunity, you’ll be prepared to move to the next step… HOPE.  The brilliant and empowering, propelling principle of hope.

So today’s exercise, is to be optimistic.  Focus your mind on forcing out the negative cloud of pessimism, look at the world not at what it is, but what it could be.  See the silver lining.  Enjoy the wonder and glory of a much brighter world.

Rusty

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The underestimated power of faith

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/the-underestimated-power-of-faith

The clensing gift of repentance (ctrl-z, UNDO!)

As an addendum toWhat do Mormons really believe, Part 4

Spending as much time on the computer as we do, there’s a command that we often take for granted.  The wonderful, marvelous, brilliant “ctrl-z” key combo!

I don’t know who originally thought this up, but bless them.

There you are, working away, and suddenly you realize that you’ve made a mistake.  All you have to do is hold down the control key, and hit “z” at the same time, and beautifully, your error disappears as though it never existed, and you can pick up where you last left off, or start from scratch.

A wise and loving Father in Heaven realized that as we progress through life, occasionally we’d make such mistakes.  Some might be inadvertent while others more intentional.  Therefore he gave us the marvelous mechanism of repentance – a process whereby our mistakes in life might be wiped clean from the book of life, allowing us to start over, on a clean slate.

What refreshing doctrine.

This forgiveness is made possible through the everlasting atonement of Christ, who in the Garden of Gethsemane took upon himself the sins of the world, thereby making it possible for us to repent, and invoke the efficacy of his sacrifice.  He paid the price of justice, that we might know mercy.

But how careful we must be to not take repentance flippantly, for an attitude of “sin now, repent later”, is offensive to God.  This is not a “get out of jail free” card that we can just play at will.  Repentance isn’t instantaneous, nor free.

To fully repent, we must confess and forsake of our sins.  Seek restitution from those we have wronged, and promise not to do it again.  That process can be difficult, but it is sure.  And when complete, our sins are forgiven, we are washed clean through blood of our Savior, and made whole – again worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  It’s an incomparable feeling of relief, as though a huge burden has been lifted from your shoulders.  It freshens your vision, fills you with enthusiasm, energizes your soul, and spurs you to do better, and be more.

Every one of us can be free from the shackles of the sins by which we are beset, freed from the burdens that weigh us down and hamper our enjoyment of life.

May each one of us find the strength to repent of our sins, and make that enriching process a never-ending aspect of our daily lives.

Rusty

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Faith fitness – day 1 (Testimony)

This post is part of a series called Faith Fitness – increasing our capacity to believe.  Don’t forget to see the intro, part 1 (Testimony), part 2 (Optimism), and part 3 (Hope).

Fantastic.  You’ve all joined me again.  That must mean you’re ready to improve the fitness of your faith and increase your capacity to believe.

From now on, let us refer to ourselves as FAITH CADETS.  Oh, okay, so that’s a bit much…

Still, I want to emphasize the importance of becoming lifelong students of faith.  Faith is a foundational principle.  Our ability to understand, accept, and live accountably for the deeper principles of exaltation is directly proportional to the soundness of our faith.

Like a muscle, your faith will either grow, or atrophy depending on how much you exercise it.  When our faith falls into disuse, it too grows weaker.  That’s the unavoidable law of entropy.  Those of the strongest faith are those who use it regularly, those who make it a part of their daily lives, and not just some vague principle taught in Sunday school.   

It is up to us to take faith from principle… to practice.

Before we begin today’s exercise, we need understand an important part of faith – that faith is founded upon testimony of truth.  Faith not founded on pure doctrine is merely self-disillusionment.

So what pure doctrine must we know to exercise faith?  I propose at LEAST the following.

1. Believe in God

In order for you to exercise faith, and believe in anything (to the point where you can actually affect change, simply through belief), you must first believe in God. 

I’m not talking about a flippant “yeah, I think God is real, and I accept it because it’s been told to me so many times”.  I’m talking about a pure and solid testimony that God lives.  You have to know that at the core of your being.  You have to have sought Him out and felt His love.  You need to accept unequivocally that HE IS REAL.

This is the first and foremost step in building your capacity to believe.  No other step can be achieved successfully without this.  Even if your personal relationship with him is still young and underdeveloped, that’s okay; it will grow as you complete these exercises.

2. Believe that you are a child of God

As a child of God, He loves you.  He is interested in your success, he is omnicaring as much as he is omniscient and omnipotent, and He is anxious to help you.

It means you are of royal birth… divinity is your heritage.  It’s your nature.  You are of infinite worth.  Once you realize that you are an actual son or daughter of God, your whole bodies shall be filled with a natural self-confidence, and you’ll have a sure acceptance that you can do or be anything.  For with God, nothing is impossible.  So too with you, in partnership with Him as your Father, is nothing impossible.

You have to believe that with His help, you are capable of works far beyond that of your native capacity.

3. Perspective on weakness

For you to exercise faith fully, you must understand your own limitations, and their perspective.  Our weaknesses are not some symbolic representation of our own ineptitude.  They’re gifts from God.  God said “I give unto men weakness that they might learn to know me”.  We’ve each been given our own set of “building blocks“, and it’s up to use to learn to use (and overcome) what we’ve been given.

But we should not fall victim to the belief that we are failures, just because we have weaknesses.  We have to abandon our self-imposed limitations, those beliefs we harbor against ourselves that obstruct our progress in life. 

This perspective is crucial feeling the full effects of the testimony of God, and our relationship to Him.

As these basic beliefs become indelibly imprinted in the foundation of your soul, they will begin to pervade your subconsciousness.  Hope will flow through you and optimism will envelope you.  Faith will naturally follow.

Today’s exercise…. Make sure you have a testimony of these three core things.  A solid testimony.  And don’t forget to stretch.  For afterall, can any of us really say that we cannot better understand our relationship with god?  We must stretch ourselves, push your capacity, and build this foundation.

That will prepare you for tomorrow.

Rusty

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There must be opposition in all things.

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Recognizing the spirit in our lives

Have you ever just divorced yourself from being a consumer, and sort of stepped back and objectively observed the behavior of a typical cell phone user?

It’s quite entertaining, cell phones are just funny.  Everybody’s got to have one (I’ve got 5).  And you take it with you wherever you go, because, well, someone might have to talk to you. 

I’m convinced there’s some chemical reaction that happens in our brains when a cell phone rings.  People can recognize a cell phone ringing from a mile away. You can be in the middle of grand central station, someone’s cell phone will go off and immediately everyone’s heads will turn, and everybody thinks the same thought…”somebody better get that”.  And you can’t think of anything else till it’s answered, all ears are collectively riveted to that ring till it stops.  It’s like some neurotransmitter is blocking all other synapses till that ringing stops.

All you hear about these days are cell phones; plans, rates, minutes, coverage, new phones, etc.  A new phone will come out, and I’ll literally think “I’ve got to go get it!  I could get better reception!  I could get better battery life!  People will be able to get a hold of me better!”  It’s insanity, I have 5 cell phones with 3 providers.

And it’s all about reception these days, reception and coverage.  Have you ever been driving down the road when someone calls you?  First, you really feel important because hey, someone is calling you!  And if you have a flip phone you feel extra cool as you open it crisply with the practiced flip of your thumb. 

But have you ever picked up the phone and realized you can only hear two or three words a sentence?  You’ve got a bad reception!  There goes that brain chemical…

I don’t know about you, but in instances like that, I’ve actually panicked.  So what’s the first thing that you do?  You take your eyes off the road to check your reception.  You’ve got to see how many “bars” you have.  Now this is a scary moment.  Not because you’re concerned you might crash as the world flies by you on the road, no, it’s because you’ve removed the phone from your ear and in that critical 2-3 seconds the person on the other end just might say something that you’ll miss.  You end up doing this funny little jerk-motion to see how quickly you can look, then get the phone back to your ear.

So you take the risk and look at your phone, and realize you’ve only got one bar.  There’s something strange that takes place when you realize you only have one bar.  It’s like an autoimmune response of the body.  Immediately those chemicals flow from your brain and you begin frantically searching for any way possible to improve reception!

In times like this I’ve found myself suddenly accelerating, somehow trying to get out of this “dead zone” as fast as possible.  I’ve even found myself changing lanes!  Somehow thinking “you know, maybe if I move 10 feet in THIS direction suddenly it’ll get better”!  Insanity.

But even if you’re not in your car, you still find this autoimmune response active.  You see people ducking and weaving their heads, hurrying out into the open, all the time shouting “can you hear me now!?!”

The bottom line is this…we spend a lot of time worrying about our cell phones, worrying about coverage and reception, wondering how many bars we have.  But how often are we even considering our spiritual reception?  We’ve got these finely tuned autoimmune responses that detect and react when our phones go choppy, but we’re not nearly as sensitive and quick to react when we lose connection with the Holy Ghost.

Otherwise we’d hear people walking around saying “can you feel me now?”

With a cell phone, there are simply places where the signal from the towers just won’t penetrate.  Similarly with the spirit we go places, or find ourselves in situations or conversations all the time where our spiritual reception drops, or where the spirit just can’t get through.  How crucial it is to be as sensitive to that dropped connection with the spirit, but it’s just not something we’ve “dialed” in to.  It’s somehow less real.

I hear people asking each other strange questions like “how many bars do you get in the delta center?”, like it’s some sort of universally understood trivia game, and people will know.  “How many bars do you get in up at Snowbird?” or even more specific, “You know that stretch of freeway on I-215 East side southbound, by the airport?  How many bars do you get there?”  People can answer that.

We need to be equally adept at knowing and recognizing the instances of the spirit in our lives; equally concerned when those instances become infrequent; and equally sensitive to feeling when that spiritual reception drops.  We need to ask ourselves, with much more regularity with regards to our spiritual sensitivity…”how many ‘bars’ do I have right now?”

So how DO you acquire this spiritual sensitivity?  How do you increase your familiarity with the spirit, and become agile in getting it back when it leaves?

Frequent Use

One method, I’d say, has a lot to do with frequency.

I travel a bit, and it never ceases to humor me, how often people will talk on their cell phones.  It’s not uncommon when I’ll hear people walking into the airport on their phones saying “Okay, I just got to the airport, I’m ‘gonna go get checked in”.  Then, moments later, they’re back on the phone “okay, I just got through security”. Then later “my plane just arrived, we’re boarding now”.  Then “Okay, we just landed, I’m going to go get my luggage”, and then yet again when they finally get out to passenger pickup.

Is an airport experience really so entertaining that people WANT a blow by blow report?  I don’t think so, I’ve BEEN to the airport.  I think it’s simply because we can.  You know, in the “good ‘ol days” you used to simply send your itinerary to whoever was going to pick you up, they’d check to see if your flight was on time, and somehow, magically, when you walked out of the airport there they were!  How in the world did they do that?

You see people in meetings, in school, on vacations, everywhere on their cell phones, and when they’re not talking on it they’re “text messaging”. 

Have you ever tried text messaging, it’s one of the most inefficient methods of communication, and designed terribly.  We took a 12 button phone keypad and turned it into a 62 button keyboard.  It takes 5 minutes to write one sentence, and yet we do it!  We’ll undergo tremendous pain just to make sure we’re communicating.

How has this happened?  Somehow the cell phone has made communication real, tangible, immediate, and convenient. 

I actually think that if Heavenly Father got a cell phone, we’d talk to him more.

I can just see kids in school, with their cell phones out text messaging….”H-e-a-v-e-n-l-y  F-a-t-h-e-r,…t-a-k-i-n-g    t-e-s-t…  d-i-d-n-‘-t   s-t-u-d-y …..NEED HELP!

Of course he could set us all up on the “Family Plan”, there’d be no such thing as “weekend” or “rollover” minutes.  I can see the ad now…

Heavenly Mobile
Best coverage available
Pray as you go

With heavenly mobile you get more spirit in more places.

But why does it take a cell phone?  Does it somehow become more “real” for us to have an actual device in our hands…”This is how I talk to my Father.”  Why doesn’t prayer suffice?

It does, the only thing a cell phone has going for it, is that we use it all the time.  I guarantee that if you begin to pray with as much regularity as you talk on the phone, you’ll find yourself much more capable at discerning the spirit.  Its companionship will much more constant and durable.  And its departure will become much more easily recognizable. This is the key.  If you want to boost your ability to recognize the departure of the spirit, increase the regularity of when you feel it, so that when it leaves, you can literally feel it leave. 

Keeping your phone charged

Certainly we can increase the regularity with which we do the big things, like attend the temple, but what’s most important is the day to day things, reading scriptures, saying prayers, having family night (our kids are RELYING on us to make sure they feel the spirit), and other more common, but daily events that keep us spiritually charged (which I talk more about here, and here).

If you want to use your cell phone, you have to keep it charged.  You plug it in.  I’ve seen the terrified look on people’s faces when they go to use their cell phone, because they need it, and they find they forgot to charge it.

We’ve all been there, we go scrambling to find someone with a similar phone who may have a charger.  They’ve built these little “charger stations” in airports and other places now where those who forgot to charge their phone can pay to get a quick boost.  You can buy all kinds of “charger accessories” now, where you can charge it in your car, on the go, you can buy extra batteries, and so forth.

How much more terrifying is it to find ourselves in a situation where we desperately need the guidance of the spirit, but we find that because we’ve not invested the small daily time to pray and study the scriptures, we’ve lost its companionship?  We were not spiritually charged.

Reception – based on location.

One more way to help ensure your ability to recognize the spirit, and be sensitive to its presence, is by focusing on your location.

We’ve talked about cell phone users walking around trying to find somewhere with better reception, rushing into open areas, ducking around corners, trying to find someplace with a clear reception.

In the church we have a phrase for that…”Stand ye in holy places”. 

Certainly it’s not always feasible to literally stand in holy places, but we can also make our own holy places by sanctifying where we are with righteous works.  You can make your bedroom a holy place by making it a sanctuary of the spirit.  A place where you study and pray:  a place where you listen and learn.

By standing in Holy Places, you’re guaranteed a powerful reception, and the more regularity with which you put yourself in places like this, the more stark the difference will be when you suddenly find yourself without.  What’s more, by knowing the moment of it’s departure, you can more quickly identify what caused it to leave, and it’s far easier to retrieve right then, than hours later, days later, weeks later, or years later.

No busy signal

God lives, our Savior lives, the Holy Ghost is real, and the three of them work constantly for our benefit.  They’re always available.  You’ll never get a busy signal if you reach out to them.  We’ve been given the gift of the spirit and the companionship of the Holy Ghost as a solid testimony of the love of God and his never ending interest in our eternal welfare.

It’s crucial for us learn to recognize the spirit, to understand the way it works, and to give adequate urgency to maintaining his companionship.  Our capacity to recognize the spirit and tune ourselves to its promptings is one of the most important keys to spiritual success in this life.

Rusty

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Placebo – the power of belief

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

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Don’t stare in your rear-view mirror

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

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