Grace To Grace

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I didn’t expect to write this entry today, but I kept feeling nudged to do so while my previous entry “What Is Grace” is still fresh in the minds of those who have read it. More and more Christians are abandoning institutional religion while seeking and embracing Jesus Christ with real intent. While it is imperative to seek the Lord, it is equally important to fellowship with other worshippers. One cannot become a disciple of Jesus without loving and serving as He did. That does not happen as individuals on tops of individual mountains. Zion will be a nation of disciples dwelling together who have learned by grace to get along with each other. We must learn to be refined together in the same way that river rocks are rounded and smoothed together in the same running waters. You have to endure being bumped into each other, rubbed off of each other, and smoothed together by the uncomfortable flow of the rolling waters around you. Similarly does steel sharpen steel.

We must learn to receive “grace from grace” and continue from “grace to grace” as I wrote in my previous entry. When Jesus taught those around him to love God and also to love their neighbors as themselves, He was questioned by undiscerning disciples. “Who is my neighbor” and “how many times shall I forgive my neighbor?” Where they lacked in dos, they well made up for in don’ts. Jesus had to break down the concept of the kind of love He expected them to learn. They already knew it was wrong to steal and to lie and to covet. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus expounded on the concept of the higher law of love or in other words, the law of Christ. For example, he unequivocally declared, “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:30-31).

I still get asked by fellow LDS what about this? Or what about that? Should I just let so and so do this or that? They have not taken the time to study the personal teachings of Jesus Christ. But to answer their particular questions, the Lord covered those questions in fine detail which He declared in its entirety in D&C 98. In short, Jesus Christ declared:

13 And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name’s sake, shall find it again, even life eternal.
14 Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.
15 For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.

But I’m getting off subject there. People tend to want every scenario spelled out for them because they do not believe ALL the things Jesus Christ has already instructed us to do. Thus we have His sermon on the mount as a model for living and for loving. I love what Peter wrote to the blossoming Christians in his second epistle who had obtained that kind of faith. He gave them actionable further light and knowledge so that they might receive even more grace.

2 Peter 1:Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:
11 For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In verses one through four, Peter greets those believers who had grown in faith and thus in grace. In verses five through eight, Peter then teaches them how they can grow from grace to grace. This is what disciples DO. They do these works to BECOME like Jesus Christ and all other heavenly beings who dwell with God. We are doing these things not necessarily in order to be saved, but we are doing them to become like saved beings. We cannot waltz into Zion or into heaven and expect Jesus to sprinkle magical fairy dust or magical grace dust and transform us into brotherly people. It doesn’t work that way. We develop brotherly kindness right now so that by abandoning our undesirable qualities (repentance), His grace covers us. This is why Peter says in verse nine that those religious and dutiful people who call themselves Christians do not do these things, it is as if they chose not to be baptized in the first place to be forgiven of their sins. They continue their journey ignorantly or hypocritically. And so Peter encouraged those Christians to give diligence to make their calling and election sure so that they never fall. They who forgive will be forgiven. They who love will be loved. They who elevate the downtrodden will themselves in the end be elevated. They will be saved in God’s kingdom as one who has received as much grace as he has been given the opportunity to receive while in this mortal life. Thus are we saved by grace. It’s an open book test and we have all the advantages and opportunities in the world to grow right now.

What Is Grace?

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“The only time I had turned to God in the past was to ask for forgiveness, but now I also asked for grace—His ‘enabling power’ [Bible Dictionary, “Grace”]. I had never done that before. These days I spend a lot less time hating myself for what I have done and a lot more time loving Jesus for what He has done.”–Bradley R. Wilcox, Second Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency, October 2021 General Conference.

The LDS Bible Dictionary has a clunky explanation of what grace is and does. It is by Jesus Christ’s grace that we are saved. We are saved because of who He is and not because of who we are or what we can do. But the Greek word χάρις (Charis), or grace, is more than just favor or goodwill, though indeed it is by Jesus’ favor and goodwill that we are saved. Like Nephi in the Book of Mormon, I glory in plainness. I spend years pondering a subject so that I can simplify it in the most fundamental terms so that a child might understand it. After you finish reading this entry, you might understand grace better in your mind, but you must still learn to understand it in your heart and this only happens through a process.

So what exactly is grace if not favor and goodwill? There is more to it than that. Grace is also the condition of possessing light and truth. In the simplest term, it is the condition of being godly.

D&C 93:And John saw and bore record of the fulness of my glory, and the fulness of John’s record is hereafter to be revealed.
And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was;
Therefore, in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger of salvation—
The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.
10 The worlds were made by him; men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and of him.
11 And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
12 And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
13 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
14 And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.

Before Jesus Christ resurrected clothed in glory and power like the Father, he was a mortal man clothed in a tabernacle of clay, subject to all the weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh and subject to mortal death. And before He was born into this mortal world, He was clothed only in spirit and not yet a tabernacle of clay like the rest of us today. But Alma gives us a little clue about our existence before Satan was cast down to the Earth as we read in Isaiah.

Alma 13:1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

It was the Father’s foreknowledge of their individual capacities for good that men were called after the Holy Order of the Son of God. Before we were born to this Earth, some of us had already demonstrated our capacity for good and were called after the order of His Son who had already been ordained as our Great High Priest and Savior because of His great and infinite capacity for good and because of His great and infinite capacity for love and because of His great and infinite capacity to suffer more than all of us put together when that distant future hour would arrive and He would carry His cross and all our sins. Our Father had the foreknowledge of Jesus Christ’s capacity to love the world by being the instrument of our salvation with the capacity of tungsten steel to do what clay never could.

Joseph Smith once said, “Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”–Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp.346-347.

So what does it mean to grow from grace to grace? When we grow from grace to grace, we grow in light and truth by degrees, line upon line and precept upon precept, possessing greater light and truth and that comes from our diligence in obedience to God in this life. This can be likened to making iron into steel through a certain process. We are willing to suffer the trials by fire that our Father sees fit to inflict upon us so that by growing from such trials, we develop the qualities produced by the intense heat and flames. Such qualities are patience, longsuffering, charity, etc. It is a process of growth wherein we change from being less god-like to being more godly. This typically happens through our suffering on behalf of others because of our love for them. The less willing you are to suffer to be a light to your neighbor, the less godly you are or will become (and perhaps the less faithful you were before the foundation of the world). You may possess a much greater capacity to love than you realize if you are willing to experiment and grow. God gives to us family members, neighbors, and various people in our life’s paths to challenge us and to provide us opportunities to express our love in different ways. Too many Christians are willing to do little more than their religious duties or perform rote tasks, but such performances do not make them more godly. It just makes them dutiful and task oriented. Machines and robots can be task oriented. Slaves can be very task oriented. God does not want slaves. He wants a family.

This, then, is grace and to be saved by grace: it is the condition of godliness and also God’s favor and goodwill because of His godliness that we are saved. Growing from grace to grace is a process whereby we change from being less godlike to being more godly. The heed and diligence we give to God’s instructions allows us to accomplish that growth. Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice makes possible the sins that we commit along the way to be forgiven so that we are able to grow without being damned by the errors that we wish to abandon through repentance. And becoming more and more godly also means our capacity to love others increases accordingly. The more godly we become, the more we are willing to suffer to elevate those who cannot elevate themselves, such as the poor and infirm. Jesus Christ, who is more godly than us all, has the greatest love and thus the greatest capacity to suffer all things for all of us with His condescension (1 Nephi 11:16), Latin “con” meaning with, which means the same in Spanish and “descend” which Christ did and does for us, below us, and WITH us all, He being full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Have Miracles Ceased? Part Two

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When I was a young missionary in Kaufbeuren, Germany, I experienced my personal Pentecost. Although I was baptized with water when I was eight years old, I don’t remember experiencing anything special. Sure, it was a momentous occasion and at a young age, I was aware of my desire to serve the Lord, but beside this, it was nothing remarkable. It wasn’t until just over a decade later in a small attic apartment on the other side of the globe when I knelt down in faith with a sincere prayer that I had been visited by the Lord as my answer. The room, although dark at night, seemed to fill with electrifying fire that consumed me. There is nothing on Earth that I can compare this experience with. There was nothing earthly about it. But for five, ten, or maybe fifteen minutes, I felt like every atom of my body was charged with waves of electricity. If I could use any word to describe this, it would be a quickening. I had been baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. Over the course of about thirty years up until today, I have experienced a series of miraculous events that the world would describe as little more than supernatural.

John 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

For years and years I did not understand this passage. Yes, I understood it in my brain, but not in my heart. To illustrate this, I will share one experience. In this same town of Kaufbeuren, my companion and I had bought train tickets to another town. As we approached the large and long platform, I received a very distinct and powerful prompting to go and stand on a very specific spot on the platform just an arm’s length from the edge, which dropped off onto the train tracks below. I remember very clearly planting my feet firmly as if this decision was the most important decision of that day. My companion followed behind and then stood on my right side and there we waited shoulder to shoulder for the train to arrive. Then as the train arrived with all its loud mechanical sounds, a girl behind me lost consciousness and she slumped forward, falling down directly between my companion and me. Had we not been standing at that very spot when she fell, she would have fallen farther forward without anything or anyone to break her fall, and she would have been pummeled by the train.

God does not always explain things when He requires something of us. Like the wind that blows where it pleases, so is the Spirit. You cannot predict where the next breeze will come from or when or why, but it’s not until you see its effects around you that you discern its presence, such as when it caresses your face or some leaves blow in the air. Likewise, you don’t know when the Lord will next need to work through you for His purposes, but the difference between feeling a random breeze and the Holy Spirit working in you is the love that you are filled with when it works in you. You also have to be willing to be led without always knowing why, even if it’s somewhere you would rather not go. But if you choose not to be led in small, mundane ways, God will not work His miracles through you, particularly when He needs to accomplish great miracles.

Have Miracles Ceased? Part One

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I have witnessed too many people ask this question lately. My answer to this question is no. That’s the easy answer. Miracles abound in my life. I am not sharing this to boast of my own strength because I am nothing. I am less than dirt and less than rocks. Dirt and rocks are greater than me because even dirt and rocks obey God. When God says to the mountain move, it moves. Whenever God tells me to do something, I don’t always listen or I don’t always hear, though I am sincerely endeavoring every day to become better and to become complete. But in Christ, I know I can do all things. I have seen too much to doubt and to doubt it all would be to look straight up toward the sun at noon day and declare in defiance that there is no light. But that isn’t so much denial as it is blatant rejection. Through Jesus, I have caused the lame to walk, I have healed the sick, I have escaped death, I have been God’s instrument in preventing the death of another, and I have been given a vision, just to name a few examples. And I acknowledge that it is only through Jesus that I have been able to partake in such events because of a genuine and sincere desire to be obedient to Him in all things and at all costs. That is a scary notion!

I have spent a lot of time sharing the teachings that Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount. They are not only teachings, but commandments. Jesus summarized his teachings by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect.” That wasn’t a suggestion. It was a commandment. “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Our love for Him is measured by our willingness to obey Him and our obedience to Him is measured by the things we suffer for His sake. The Greek word for perfect, τέλειος or Teleios, means complete. Jesus desires us to be complete in Him. Jesus obeyed His Father perfectly, or in other words, completely, by all the things He suffered for us.

Hebrews 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; 
9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him…

If you’ve read this far, then maybe you really are interested. Now I’m going to throw you into the deep end. Too much is at stake in the world right now.

Moroni 7:27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?
28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.
29 And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
30 For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness…
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.

I am going to give you an example of true discipleship. His name is Liu Zhenying and is known as Brother Yun. He learned obedience by the things he suffered in China and through him, Jesus Christ worked marvelous works. But does God expect all of us to suffer as brother Yun did? Probably not, but we should be willing to suffer whatever God requires of us in our individual lives to bring to pass the salvation of others, whether they are your neighbors, total strangers, or even your worst enemies. The Bible is filled with examples of people working mighty miracles by the things they suffered because of their obedience to God’s commandments. But this is Brother Yun’s story. I hope his experiences encourage you to seek Jesus Christ with the same zeal that Brother Yun sought Him until he found Jesus. Did Brother Yun embody Christ’s teachings in the sermon on the mount? Absolutely!

Discernment

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“And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.

But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die…

Heed the Lord’s counsel to the Saints of this dispensation:

Prepare yourselves for the great day of the Lord. [D&C 133:10]

This preparation must consist of more than just casual membership in the Church. You must learn to be guided by personal revelation and the counsel of the living prophet so you will not be deceived. Our Lord has indicated who, among Church members, will stand when he appears:

And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.

For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.

And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation.

For the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver. [D&C 45:56–59; emphasis added]–Ezra Taft Benson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young University fireside, 14 April 1981. (Click for full talk).

It is important to carefully listen to the counsel of those who preside over us who receive revelation for the entire church. More important, however, is to take the Holy Spirit for our guide because those who preside over the church are not infallible.

“You must work through the Spirit. If that leads you into conflict with the program of the Church, you follow the voice of the Spirit.” (Elder S. Dilworth Young, First Council of the Seventy, 1945; quoted here, p. 17)

“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves…” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 237-38).

Perhaps the most compelling words come to us from ancient scripture:

“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 28:31)

Nephi cried unto the Lord before his heart was softened sufficiently to believe his father’s revelations, but Nephi went to the Lord to receive his own revelation directly from God that his father’s revelations were, in fact, from the Lord. Laman and Lemuel, unlike Nephi, did not bother to seek the Lord and became lost.

It is incumbent upon us to seek the Lord ourselves to verify revelations from those who preside over us, even when their counsel is to trust in the expertise of secular or worldly men. Nephi warned about this.

“O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi 9:28-29)

Are the learned men who are being trusted in their areas of expertise hearkening to the counsel of God or do these experts think they are wise? Who is trusting who? It is imperative to take the Holy Ghost for our guide above all else when seeking God’s own counsel.

“Because when we seek to hear—truly hear—His Son, we will be guided to know what to do in any circumstance.

The very first word in the Doctrine and Covenants is hearken. It means “to listen with the intent to obey.” To hearken means to “hear Him”—to hear what the Savior says and then to heed His counsel. In those two words—“Hear Him”—God gives us the pattern for success, happiness, and joy in this life. We are to hear the words of the Lord, hearken to them, and heed what He has told us!

As we seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ, our efforts to hear Him need to be ever more intentional. It takes conscious and consistent effort to fill our daily lives with His words, His teachings, His truths…

We also hear Him more clearly as we refine our ability to recognize the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. It has never been more imperative to know how the Spirit speaks to you than right now. In the Godhead, the Holy Ghost is the messenger. He will bring thoughts to your mind which the Father and Son want you to receive. He is the Comforter. He will bring a feeling of peace to your heart. He testifies of truth and will confirm what is true as you hear and read the word of the Lord.

I renew my plea for you to do whatever it takes to increase your spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation.

Doing so will help you know how to move ahead with your life, what to do during times of crisis, and how to discern and avoid the temptations and the deceptions of the adversary.”–President Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning session of general conference, April 2020.

Even when a prophet speaks truth, you may fall. Lehi was a true prophet, yet Laman and Lemuel fell because they did not “inquire of the Lord” as Nephi did. Nephi did not take for granted that his father was truthful. Nephi went and inquired of the Lord and received greater revelations.

In the final analysis, we should hearken to all counsel given to us by those who preside over us and then inquire of the Lord, as Nephi admonished, in order to know whether the counsels given to us align with God’s will in each of our individual lives. If you do not take the Holy Ghost for your guide, you will stumble and fall. “For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.” (D&C 45:57).