Sunday, July 23, 2017

Life Off "The Old Ship": Year Sojourn Through Mormon Mecca

This document is not like most of my public writing.  This is not a doctrinal dissertation or an in-depth analysis of the Word of God; rather, this is simply an account of the past year of my life and some things I’ve learned from those experiences.  I am writing this not in an attempt to persuade others to adopt my perspective on reality. I am writing this primarily for the benefit of myself and my family to keep in remembrance the path on which God has placed me.  However, some people have asked that in my efforts to find God, if I could share my experiences “outside the boat”. So, this is me writing about the latest chapter of my life. 

This post is rather long, so to make reading easier I have divided it up into 5 sections based on the passing seasons in my spiritual life over this year. Because this is an account of my personal journey, I do write a lot about my life.  I have been very hesitant to share these things on my blog because I worry people will perceive me as conceited for writing this much.  The intent for me sharing this is not to parade myself on the internet, because what I’ve done in my life doesn’t really concern you.  Who God is however has everything to do with you. So the intent for others is that perhaps by reading about these experiences they will seek for a deeper understanding of Christ's character, and more fully recognize God's hand in their own lives. 

The upward path of going up the mountain of the Lord is a trek which will take us through many hills and valleys as we increase in elevation.  The journey will require that we descend into low valleys in order hike up the next hill.  In those valleys, it can be disheartening because our foresight gets shrouded by the thick foliage and intense terrain. Rivers flow through low valleys so that despite our inability to see the big picture of the landscape while in the depths, the living waters serve as a reminder of the source, our ultimate destination.   After our exertion of reaching a summit, we are able to look out in awe upon the horizon over the terrain through which we have previously passed.  We are then able cast our sight above the horizon to that mountain where will meet our Lord, and then evaluate the hills and valleys still needed to pass through in order to get there.    This past year has been full of rivers, valleys, and hills. I’ve now climbed to a hilltop with a scenic lookout, where I can pause for a moment and soak in the view of the terrain I have passed through this past year.

Summer of Preparation

Big changes were happening in my family in May of 2016.  Plans were in motion for my parents and sisters to move to Houston, Texas.  A little over a year had passed since my return home as an LDS missionary, my baptism unto the Lord, and my subsequent departure from my previous church.  It was a beautiful year, and one of the most cherished seasons of my life to that point.  True doctrine transforms behavior better than any behavior modification plan, and in that one year period, we had come to a purer understanding and profound comprehension of the doctrine of Christ as our worship as a family deepened through partaking of the sacrament often.  As the promised Spirit of Christ abided with us, our relationship strengthened tremendously.   God caused the barriers between my parents and I which I had constructed in my youth to come tumbling down. I give all glory and praise to Jesus Christ for giving me such goodly parents, and am forever grateful for that year I had with them.

My plans were to remain in Mesa, Arizona until I had obtained my associates degree at the community college. It was the financially wise decision to do so, but I woke up one morning in May and was given a clear, unmistakable revelation that I would not progress if I were to remain in Arizona, nor would I progress if were to move to Houston.  Despite all the anxiety and concerns I had regarding Utah’s overbearing religious culture, it felt like the right place to go and I was drawn to it.   I straightway began applying for admissions to several schools and put in my resignation notice at work.  I would move to Orem at the end of the summer to begin attending Utah Valley University’s pre-engineering program.

The remainder of that summer was extremely hectic and busy: packing-up the house in Mesa and moving everything into storage, traveling all over the Philippines visiting family and friends, driving across the US to tend to our property in Northern Idaho and then back again to move all my family’s belongings from Arizona to Texas.  The highlight of that summer was the time spent in the Philippines.  I was blessed to be accompanied by my family to visit my old LDS mission area of Tayum, Abra.  Although many of the members there knew I was no longer a member of their church, they welcomed me with cheering and open arms. I loved seeing them again, and I plan on returning to visit them in the future.  

My sister McKhayla wrote a beautiful essay concerning that visit, which I have linked here.

The crowning event that took place while in the Philippines was on the Island of Samal, high in the cavernous mountain springs - the source of water from which my mother’s ancestors drank. This is a special place for my family, and we intended to be baptized again unto the Lord at this location.  Prior to this event I had spent several hours discussing the gospel with my cousin, Ate Krismas, and her newlywed husband, Jodel.  These are people whom I love very much, but they did not live an idealistic “religious” lifestyle as perceived by the LDS church’s paradigm of “righteousness”.  Ate Krismas was previously considered a “black sheep” in her Mormon family, while Jodel was never part of the LDS tradition.  They were with us at the springs while we were discussing the Doctrine of Christ as given by Jesus in 3rd Nephi 11 prior to us going down into the waters.  Without me directly extending an invitation, my cousin and her husband requested that I baptize them right then and there, not into a church organization, but unto the Lord.  I was surprised by the sudden request, but they met Christ’s requirement of repentance and desire and I therefore honored their faithful request, and was humbled and joyful to share that sacred moment with them.  A couple months later after I returned to America, Ate Krismas contacted me describing an experience she just had with God.  Like the Lamenites who were in the prison with Lehi and Nephi in the book of Helaman chapter 5, who experience a baptism of fire but lack the vocabulary to assign the proper title to the experience, my cousin had received a baptism of fire but did not know that what to call it. (3rd Nephi 9:20) The physical symptoms related to fire, the change of heart, a renewed outlook, and speaking the words of Christ, were all present in her experience

Joseph Smith said the following about baptism.
You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half--that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pg. 314)

I was joyful that my cousin made the decision at the spring to be baptized by water, but I was overjoyed when I discovered that she went to the Lord, surrendering herself to God, to receive a baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.

At the mountain spring on Samal, I received further direction.  Upon returning to America I was to downgrade my smartphone to a basic slider phone.  The purpose behind this was so that I could spend more time with God.  We see from the Scriptures that before prophets would receive great visions and visitations they would spend time meditating, pondering, and laboring over the Word of God.  Joseph labored upon James 1:5 before he received the “First Vision”.  Nephi sat pondering the words of his father before he was taken up to an exceedingly high mountain. (1st Nephi 11:1)

One issue we face in our modern society is that we have great access to a vast information source called the Internet.  With our smartphones, we are constantly connected to this information system.  This tool can be a blessing or a stumbling block.  As I have observed others, I have noticed smart phones being used an idol instead of means to draw nearer to God.  Joseph Smith said in a letter he wrote while in Cartridge jail,

“…The things of God are of deep import, and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts that can only find them out.  Thy mind o man, if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of Eternal expanse; he must commune with God.” (Teachings of the Prohpet Joseph Smith pg. 137)

One must expand their mind by tapping into and abiding in the record of heaven. (Moses 6:60) But instead of discovering truth from constantly drawing from the river of life the Lord has provided through His information system, many chose to use their smartphones to continuously slurp up superficial information from a shallow stream through an information system constructed by the arm of flesh.   

At this point in my life, my smartphone had become an idol.  So, in an attempt to obtain a more constant and steady connection with God and the powers of heaven, I severed my constant tethering to the world and Babylon.   Now, when I have an idle moment during the day, I don’t revert to the newsfeed on Facebook.  I spend time with Christ, I observe the world and people around me and contemplate the mysteries of God. I am able to give people my undivided attention when I am with them.  I talk to and appreciate His creations.  I perceive things and am more able to recognize the signs He sends me. I have been humbled as I have been able to recognize God’s constant hand in my life.  

Not Welcomed to Utah

So, after I returned to America I downgraded my phone to a prepaid basic phone which required that my number be changed, thus severing many of my prior connections in Arizona.  I arrived in Orem, Utah at the beginning of August.  At this time, I also created a blog where I began to publish more writings that were much more direct in expounding upon the scriptures which testified of the wickedness and apostasy of modern institutional religion, and the need for individuals to come unto Christ to establish their own relationship with Jesus and the powers of heaven.   The devil was angry with me for sharing light and truth and was unwelcoming to me moving to Orem.  One late evening in August, I was preparing to go to sleep, sitting on a bed in a basement room of an extended family member’s home when a dark and malevolent entity from an unseen dimension came to me.  It was terrifying and it sought to intimidate and control me.  However, unlike the previous demonic attack I had experienced just over a year ago during the time I committed to only serve only Christ, where they had been able to physically bind my body and tongue in an effort to prevent me from calling upon Jesus for deliverance, it was unable to touch or restrain me.  It did however possess power in the physical realm and was able control objects in the room- knocking things off the shelves, banging the walls, and getting on the bed, coming very close and surrounding me.  Although I could see the effects of it in the physical world, I was unable to see it’s physical form with my physical eyes, but I was able to perceive its overbearing darkness. 

When I first dealt with a supernatural attack like this in the past, my tongue was bound I wasn’t be able to do anything but cry in my heart to Jesus for deliverance pleading, “Jesus, save me!”  Jesus is awesome and always saves, but this time I had to actually ask the Father in the name of Christ, with all energy of heart, for authority to exercise His power to speak actual words to this evil being in order to cast it out.

I don’t share this experience to boast about how I can battle evil spirits.  I am simply grateful to Christ and His power and seek to give glory to God for delivering me.  I’m extremely ignorant of the other realms, and feel that I would be dead in any circumstance if it weren’t for Him.  I do share this and compare it to the previous experience I had because I find it interesting that although God is all-powerful, He wants us to learn and grow, grace to grace, precept upon precept, faith to faith - until we can one day do the same and greater works as He (John 14:12).  So, as we grow in spirit, He will ever increase the power He bestows unto us according to our capacity and humility.  As we continue to receive training from Christ, He will give us the armor and weapons needed for spiritual warfare.

Evil spirits may seem very terrifying. They will try to intimidate you because whatever fear you give to them, it gives them literal power, (like God and angels, they also work upon the same principles of faith and power) but if you fear not, trust wholly in Jesus, the demonic kingdom will be powerless to you because you will be drawing from the Kingdom of God and the powers of Heaven.  

I also find it interesting that while Moses saw God, Satan appeared to him for a moment (Moses 1); likewise, Lucifer appeared to Adam and Eve before they received the ministration of angels.  Before Joseph received the first vision he experienced an encounter from the adversary, the description of which I found to be very similar to the attack I experienced shortly after coming home from my mission.  There seems to be an opposition in all things before one receives light and truth from God.  In both the circumstances I had, the months that followed in my life were filled with an immense increase of knowledge, transformation, and intimacy with God.  

Autumn Miracles

When I moved to Orem, I had a lot of extended family living in the city, but almost all of them have moved away over the past year.  Although my time with them was short, I am very grateful for the season I had to establish and strengthen my relationships with my grandmother and aunts.  Just before the school year began my grandmother opened-up to me about how sad and depressed she was about her daughter moving out of state.  Then, just the following week, her oldest son, Grant, to whom she was very close, was in a tragic car accident.  I was now very worried about her emotional state.  My uncle, her son, had to be life-flighted to the hospital where he remained in the ICU mostly unconscious and suffering for several weeks.  Looking at the wreckage of his vehicle, it was a miracle that he wasn’t instantly killed.  It was obvious his life was spared, and I had hoped that it would be for his future recovery. As a couple of weeks passed, we honestly believed that he would make it as his condition improved; however, on September 11th, in less than 24 hours of being released from the ICU unit, his heart stopped four times. 

I was in Boise, Idaho attending a Mormon Remnant/Awakening Movement "Doctrine of Christ" conference at the time.  Just as it was wrapping up, I received news of my uncle’s condition and that I needed to get to Salt Lake City immediately because he likely only had a few hours to a couple of days to live.  I knew I was needed, so I hitched the next ride down to Utah.  When I arrived at the hospital room there was a sad and mourning spirit about the atmosphere as family and friends gathered around the bed of my unconscious uncle, cherishing his final moments of this life while confounded by the sudden harsh reality of his impending death. 

What happened next was very strange.  I was moved upon by the spirit and I found myself placing hands on my uncle and quietly uttering a blessing upon him.  I didn’t even give prior thought to my actions.  One moment I was standing there in the room, the next I was by his side giving him a blessing.  Although I was verbally speaking, I was more so communicating to him through the heart and mind.  The blessing did not consist of physical healing, but had to do with spiritual matters.  As I looked up across the bed I observed my grandmother begin to cry out a blessing upon Grant - not of physical healing, but of spiritual matters concerning the transition to the next phase of his existence.  What was spoken was more than just beautiful - it was divine, from heaven. 

Growing up in the LDS paradigm I have witnessed many blessings which usually came from the mouthpiece of the family patriarch or a male priesthood-bearing church leader, and I have been blessed to witness powerful blessings by the words given through those individuals.   We were taught in that religious organization that only men could give blessings because only men hold the priesthood.   Not once in that tradition have I ever witnessed a mother’s blessing.  The power of God manifested through my grandmother to her son was overwhelming and incredible.  Never in my life had I witnessed such powerful and beautiful words being spoken.  The veil became very “thin” and I was overcome.  Now, I’m not a very emotionally sensitive guy (although God has been working on my heart to make me one), I was never one to cry or show intense emotion in front of others. Ever. But that evening I wept by my uncle’s bedside.  I sobbed more than I've ever sobbed in my life, not because of his tragic death, but because of the immense love and powers of heaven that burst forth in that hospital room.  I was moved with compassion, not figuratively, literally, because I felt the emotion and love of every individual in that room as their energy flowed through me and to my uncle. I was connected to them, their love was in me, the pure love of Christ was overpowering me.  I could not control the outpouring of tears because of how beautiful it was.

No mother should ever have to witness the death of her son, but I was humbled by the love I witnessed from my grandmother. Because of her faith and the bonds of charity she had with her son, she was able to call down the powers of heaven.  There is no earthly love more powerful than that of a mother’s love for her child.  The sacrificial relationship a mother has with her child is a type of the suffering Jesus Christ went through to atone for us.  Because of those bonds of love, a mother has a God-given right to bless her child.

The next day I was speaking to my father on the phone about my uncle, my dad’s only and older brother.  My dad, along with the rest of my family, had just moved to Houston the previous month and was in the first weeks of a new position at a new school.  He was feeling very helpless throughout the entire ordeal because of how far he was from his brother.  Both my mother and father were mourning heavily the impending death their brother.  My dad then explained to me an experience he had that previous evening. 

He was feeling a great deal of guilt, regret, and sorrow that he couldn’t be there, and at knowing that even if he were there he wouldn’t be able to have Grant hear him to tell him how he felt.  That night before he went to bed he prayed to God, mourning and expressing his sorrow and guilt.  He prayed to God saying, “Heavenly Father, I know you are a God of miracles; you can raise the dead, so you can heal Grant’s mind.  You can regrow his atrophied muscles.  You can heal his organs.  You can get Grant up and walking out of that hospital right now, so why don’t you?”

That evening my father said that he awoke in a place, the whereabout he did not know or could not distinguish.  He felt a strong presence behind him – that of his older brother.  He turned, and there was Grant- full of energy and life, joy radiating from his face.  My dad ran to him and they embraced as my dad kissed his cheek and Grant kissed him as they shed tears.  Grant only spoke two words as he whispered into my dad’s ear, but as he spoke them my dad could feel his love and could feel that he was okay.  Those words were, “I know.”
Then Grant was gone, and my dad woke up, this time back in his bed.
My dad was not the only one whom my uncle ministered to and visited while in his unconscious state.

At the funeral, my dad said concerning his experience:
“I cherish that, and I know it was an answer to your faith.  ‘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? 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.’ (Moroni 7:36–37) I have so much gratitude for your faith that allowed Grant to come and minister to me…”

It was our faith indeed, primarily the faith of a mother and her love for her child - charity developed over a lifetime of sacrifice for her child - that opened the windows of heaven that Sunday evening in September for miracles to be wrought in our lives.  All of us were deeply changed through Grant’s death.  My grandmother emerged from that tragedy a much stronger and fortified woman, much more than she would ever acknowledge in herself.  It was a blessing and joy to watch her grow in spirit this past year.  Being able to see the beauty in death profoundly impacted me as my perspective and understanding of life and love deepened and expanded.  Experiences from God are not given just as a novelty to be consumed upon by our lust.  They come after faith and are given to grow our intimacy with Jesus and knowledge of Christ. They are intended to kindle the intensity of our yearning to pursue God. Through all this, my adoration for my Lord Jesus has only deepened as I am humbled by His awesome and abiding love. 

Signs in a Dark Winter

Snow has always excited me.  The idea of playing in it, sledding and building a snowman, pulling doughnuts in a snow-sleek parking lot, and riding in a one-horse open sleigh downtown has always appealed to me.  I did not, however, realize that actually living in such an environment could take a toll on me.  I have discovered from living here in Utah that I may have “seasonal depression”.  When you grow up in a state that has 211 days of clear sunny skies, you take for granted the blessing the constant sunlight offers.  Reflecting on my first winter in Orem, I realize that my lowest moments were always in conjunction with the lack of sunlight. 

The day the snow first fell in Orem was the day I received some very depressing and heart-wrenching news from an old friend.  The news affected me tremendously, it hurt me more than I thought it could, causing me to spiral downward.  This allowed familiar spirits to re-manifest in my life and I became more susceptible to my weaknesses as I struggled against the pressure of the adversary.  Negative energies and improper thoughts such as depression, shame, loneliness, and hopelessness began to enter my mind and soul.  There were a few times I felt so alone, so ostracized, so sad, and so suffocated in the mist of the weight of my weaknesses and peculiar circumstance in religious Mormon-Mecca culture that I had complete mental and emotional breakdowns.  I would lack faith, and in my ingratitude and forgetfulness, I would be frustrated with God for placing me on the path He had put me on. Thankfully, our Lord is a patient and longsuffering God, but He needs to teach his children patience and longsuffering in order for them to become like Him.  He is also a very caring, intimate, and aware God.  He will not forsake you in the lowest of valleys, and He provides those flowing rivers as reminders of His goodness.     

Photo cred: "Even Unto Death" music video
It was December 19th and I was heavy laden under the weight of depression and loneliness.  The fall semester was finally over, and I should have been happy and celebrating, but instead, I was alone and sad.  It had been a very rough month, and I was so lonely and feeling utterly defeated.   It was 1:30 AM and all of my roommates were asleep, but I was still up sitting on the living room couch, mourning over my pathetic state, sorrowing over my failures, and thinking I am nothing but a scared little boy.  I was crying to God when I told Him:

“I just want someone to hold me.  I just wish I had someone.”
Then the voice of the Lord came to me saying, “You have Me.”

At that moment, I looked up and out the window.  Right then a shooting star, bright and golden, sparkling and glistening, showering with magnificence, streaked downward across the cold Utah night sky as it lit my entire view of the western heavens.   Never in my past had I witness such a spectacular celestial event.  It was unlike any ordinary shooting star.  It was the most incredible and beautiful thing I had ever seen in a night sky.

My God, the Lord of heaven and earth, the Almighty who possesses all power and dominions, who creates galaxies that span millions of light-years, is so holy, so magnificent, and so great.  Yet despite His responsibility to run a universe, He still cares for someone as small and as insignificant as me. He is so forgiving and patient to be able to put up with my incessant complaining, stupidity, and ingratitude.  He is always there to comfort and hold me if I will just come unto Him.  Jesus loves me. He is the 'bridegroom' I seek to be one with.  He is such an intimately close God that He will light up the night sky as a personal expression and sign of His love for me.  He is not some untouchable stain-glassed Deity existing beyond human relatability and reach.  He is my Lord, He is my best friend, He is my greatest Love, He is my Jesus.
I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus (2 Nephi 33:6; emphasis mine) 

That evening God used a light in the firmament to serve as a sign of His love and His words of comfort to me. (Gen1:14) Our Lord is constantly using his creations to communicate with us.  It is written that all things are created and made to bear record of Him.

All things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.
(Moses 6:63)

Celestial bodies, nature, and animals are creations that all bear record of Jesus.  Following your belief and faith in Christ, He will use those things as a sign, not to be consumed upon by your lust, but rather as a consequential manifestation of His outstretched arm in your life. (D&C 35:8,63:7-12)   Over these past two years since I began believing and exercising faith in Jesus, I often have various distinct animals, birds, and insects come to me at significant times bearing record of Christ.  I have also received other non-nature signs, such as bumper stickers with just the right phrase from God on a vehicle cutting me off in divine timing while I am praying to Him.  Jesus is really funny like that.  He does have a sense of humor. 
 You just have to get know His comedic side.    I don’t believe signs have to be primarily natural things. God is omnipresent, therefore he can work through anything!  

Often when I receive a revelation or communication from God through the record of heaven (Holy Spirit) it will be in conjunction with something in the natural, bearing His record for me. For example, two years ago in August, I was getting baptized again and two large birds came down and were present.  One was completely black and very dark, the other was completely white and very light.  They both appeared to be of the same breed.  The revelation was that my world was about to become very black and white.  The year following that event I received an increase of light and truth, and just as Moroni promised about the ability to judge under the light of Christ (Moroni 7:12-20), things became perfectly discernable.  

I have witnessed signs immediately following the baptisms of my own and others.  I have witnessed the beautiful white birds and doves that are normally associated with baptism, but I also witnessed other odds creatures in attendance.  Last Spring of 2016 I was present for a beautiful baptism of a married couple at the river.  It was fantastic, but shortly after they emerged, a cow nearby kept mooing, almost obnoxiously.  I had been to that river multiple times before and had never seen or heard a cow, so I was scratching my head wondering, “Why is there a cow at this Arizona river?”  It turned out that cows have personal significance to this couple.  It just shows that God can be very personal, and somewhat humorous, in His signs of affection.  Signs are not just limited to events like baptism, they are present in your day-to-day life if you are meek and have eyes to see. 

Just as signs on a highway let the driver know the speed limits, road conditions, warnings, directions, etc., God will give us signs in life, but to witness them we must first have the faith to pull out of our "safe" garage and drive around His kingdom!  The driver must be alert, watching for every sign and direction.  If he is too occupied with other things, such as texting or DJing the radio, he will miss the signs.  That is why it wasn’t until I severed my constant smart phone tethering to the world that my constant attention was directed upward and was, therefore, able to begin perceiving things and recognizing the signs God sends us.  It requires a heightened level of awareness to recognize God’s constant and outstretched hand.  When you do its humbling and you can’t help but praise the Lord.

It is promised throughout scriptures that signs follow those that believe, but you don’t seek the signs- you seek the giver of those signs: Jesus.  To prevent us from being tossed to and fro by every whit and whim of superstition that can be attributed to signs, it’s important that the record of heaven (Holy Spirit) abide in us, so that we can comprehend the things that bear record of Christ. (Moses 6:60-63)  Just like spiritual experiences, signs are meant to expand your knowledge and deepen your intimacy with Christ.  That’s why they come after faith, because a sign without an understanding of its origin or meaning is just a novelty to be consumed upon by your lust.

Knowing One's Self Through Spring Cleaning

When the sun breaks through, ushering in the spring warmth and the snow finally melts, the previously covered garbage will be brought to light.  Whether or not you choose to clean it up is up to you  

I mentioned familiar spirits re-manifesting in my life at the start of winter.  I’m learning that casting out flashy, malevolent devils is one thing, but learning how to identify and stomp out the sneaky familiar spirits surrounding one’s self is a whole other endeavor. It is something I am very ignorant about and am struggling in learning to do as I continue to take baby steps in my spiritual walk.   I am learning that familiar spirits are tricky because they are deeply acquainted, intimate, and excessively informal with the individual. (That’s what familiar means).  They latch on and burrow themselves into the deepest dark secret places of the soul.  They can fester there for decades.   They know our sin-cycles and habits and therefore will exploit our weakness in order to live vicariously through our sinful actions.  They know us so well that they can speak to us in our own voice in first-person, influencing us to the point where we will begin to self-identify with them: hopelessness, vain-ambition, pride, shame, self-hate, anxiety, addiction, resentment, rage, ect.. That’s not good because the same spirit you hearken to obey while living in the flesh shall, upon your death, will have the same power to influence you to hearken unto that spirit in the next life. (see Alma 34:34) Our bodies are the tabernacle of God, even temples, and whatsoever temple is defiled, God will destroy. (D&C 93:35) Therefore we cannot be harboring false and familiar spirits, or we will be destroyed.

However, we as humans are too intricate, too complex, and too filthy to ever make ourselves clean and righteous before God. That’s the job of our physician, Jesus.  He does, however, ask that we present ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice (Rom.12:1).  Just as the priests in the Mosaic rituals would dissect a lamb and clean the inwards (Lev 1), we are to allow Christ, our High Priest, to open us up so that He can purify the inner vessel - our hearts.   However, when we get dissected and split apart, the ugliness and darkness will as a result be exposed to the light.  Hence, If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness” (Ether 12:27)

We must not shy away from the exposed darkness and filth within, because denying its existence will only prevent us from ever solving the problem.  Doing that will only allow the familiar spirits places to hide within.  Denying the ugly truth by setting up “perfect” alter- version of ourselves to the world, or even to deceive our own self, will only damn us.  Christ cannot appear to cleanse an alter-ego idol of our making.   He comes to cleanse us.  Which is why we must learn to know and always be our true authentic self; becoming one with ourselves so that we can become one with God.  This means we need to understand what we are, our weaknesses, the components of our soul, the makeup of our spiritual being, our mission, and calling and election.   Fully knowing our self means embracing the inner light and good while recognizing the dark and ugly within, and taking responsibility for it.  If you can, with all your baggage of filth, present yourself to God as a complete, living sacrifice, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before Him, then He will clean you and make you one with Him, and as an extension, one with all that is His.

In the Clone Wars series before Master Yoda could progress further in the force he had to pass a series a tests.  One of them was overcoming his dark side.  Pay attention to the dialogue to see what initally hinders Yoda from succeeding and what it is that finally allows him victory.

But always being our true, authentic self while accepting the ugly within, being that same person we are in the light as we are in the dark, requires that we shatter the idols of our false facades and lower our pride.  I was guilty of self-identifying with my sins and familiar spirits of hopelessness, self-pity, loneliness, and depression.  But instead of continuously hiding my issues, I have begun to accept them as being my own problem needing to be resolved, and its causing me to transform from the inside out.   In the process of confessing my sins to God, Christ has had me go and confess my sins to others, not because forgiveness can be offered through a man, (that only comes from God) but because we sometimes need the help of others to lift us up.  This was in a sense humiliating for me because it meant that I would have to expose my ugliness and be vulnerable to others, but through it I have come to a greater comprehension of what it means to bear one another burdens that they may be light. (Mosiah 18:8)

I am very grateful for this “remnant”/"awakening" movement taking place in modern Mormonism.  All throughout the Mormon corridor faithful seekers of Christ who believe the Book of Mormon and the restoration have been disenfranchising from the correlated, indoctrinated routines of their former, ridged religious practice in the pursuit of seeking to deepen their worship with fellow like-minded believers in independent “fellowships”. Through these fellowships I have been blessed to meet some of the most incredible, humble, Christ-centered families and individuals.  We meet together oft to partake of the bread and wine in remembrance of the Lord Jesus, and our meeting are conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost leads us whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it is done. (Moroni 6:6,9).  These meetings are usually small and much more personal, (they typically take place in homes or parks between multiple families). Because meetings are not dictated by an agenda set by a correlation committee, the spirit is free to move upon the believers.  Worship and sacrament is deeper, preaching is edifying, praying is communing.  I have been able to lean on these wonderful people for support.  They have lent me a hand when in need.  They have prayed with me and stood by my side in spiritual combat.  I have received blessings during which I would continually be speaking to God in my mind about a given issue, and the one giving the blessing would speak God’s immediate response vocally to me, giving me the precise direction I needed, using phrases and vocabulary that was only familiar to me.

Though this Remnant Movement I have been tremendously blessed to meet some of the most magnificent, Christ-center, young men.  They are few, but they are my best friends, and although we are all so spread out across Utah, some even out of state, we make the effort to see each other.  When we are together we spend most of our time in the scriptures talking about Christ, partaking of the sacrament, and worshipping our God.   We pray, and we discuss the welfare of our souls. (Moroni 6:5) They are similar to me in many regards, broken and dealing with their weaknesses while struggling to live in a society that will not accept them, but their desire to know Christ is so very pure and relentless.   We can relate to each other’s struggles and can therefore bear one another’s burdens that they may be light.  Because of that charity between us, I have been strengthened in my personal walk with God.  Having them as my brothers in Christ is one of the greatest blessings I have received through moving to Utah.  Friends come and go in life depending on the hobbies and interest shared, but the relationships founded upon eternal principles produce lasting friendships.  I thank God for putting them in my life.  I cherish their fellowship and I love them dearly.

Guy's Night- some of my best friends in Christ

 I am begining to understand what James meant when he said,

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16)
I would not be where I am now if it were not for the support God has given me through these fellowships.  I do not believe I could have benefited from these sorts of relationships in a ridged religious system - too much correlation for the spirit to thrive, too much pride and stigma and dishonesty and fear for one to be open and vulnerable about their sins and weakness.  I am no longer ashamed to admit that I am needy.  I need others in my life to progress in my relationship with Christ, because although your walk with God is personal, you will not have the strength to stand next to him if you are not found possessed of charity.  And charity is not about what you do - it’s about who you are, on the being level.  And becoming love requires three relationships to transform you: your relationships with God, your relationship with your fellowman (spouse included), and your relationship with yourself.  That is why it says in the Bible:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
(1 John 4:20–21; emphasis mine)

And why Jesus said,
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.(Mark 12:31; emphasis mine)

You can’t have a relationship with God if you don’t love other people, and you can’t have a relationship with other people if you don’t love yourself.  If there is disharmony within one’s self, there will be disharmony with those they associate with, and as a byproduct disharmony with God. This takes us back to the importance of understanding and being your true authentic self. 

If your body is a temple and the kingdom of God is within you, (Luke 17:21) then the glory of God that exists must first manifest within your inner-vessel.  That glory must first flow out of your Holy of Holies throughout your holy place, then through the inner courts, and then the outer courts.  When that temple is made holy, only then can that glory flow out of Jerusalem and throughout Judaea, then Samaria, and then utmost parts of the Earth.  God wants to sanctify the whole earth to manifest His abundant love to her inhabitants, which means He is first going to need to transform you from the inside-out. 

Summer of Reflection

It was my plan to remain and attend college classes this summer to get ahead in my secular education, but because of how stressful the school year was, I decided a much-needed break was necessary.  While writing this I have been camping out in the Rocky Mountains of Northern Idaho, just south of the Canadian border, helping in the construction of our family cabin.  I’m isolated enough that it has given me time to reflect on the past year of life.  It’s often in the reflection and pondering of one’s life when they are able to connect the dots between events, count their blessings, and more fully recognize God’s hand in their life.  I am grateful for the time I’ve had to remain on this hilltop (quite literally and figuratively) where I can and pause to soak in the view of the terrain I have passed through this past year. 

“Did You Serve a Mission?”

In the LDS Church, it is the culturally expected thing for every worthy young man to serve an honorable full-time proselyting mission, so it’s common for people in the culture to ask, “Did you serve a mission?” I really dislike that question, not because missionary service has become the easy measuring stick of determining one’s righteousness and worthiness for dating, but because the answer should be, “I’m currently on one.  This whole life is a mission and I was sent down here to discover and fulfill it in this field called Earth”.  A person’s actual mission in life doesn’t start when they enter the Missionary Training Center, nor does it conclude when they return and are released by their home stake president.  Your mission starts and ends on God’s timetable, and only you can discover what those missions are from Christ, who is the record of Truth and the opener of your path (John 14:6).

We have all listened in Sunday school to adults who always seem to revert to talking about experiences and things they learned while on their missions, rehashing the memories as if they were just freshly returned missionaries.  It’s fantastic to have faith promoting experience while we wore a name-badge, and I don’t discredit them at all, but if decades have passed and we aren’t having spiritual encounters on a consistent basis as we did as missionaries, are we truly disciples and followers of Jesus Christ? 

On a related note, many of us have attended some meetings with post-LDS believers where most of the time is spent venting about and discussing the gossip taking place in the institution they left.  While it is true that a profound period of enlightenment and spiritual growth can take place during an individual’s departure from past traditions, does the spiritual progress end there?  Abraham noticed the idolatry in the land of his parents and saw the need for another place of residence, and sought for the blessings of the fathers.  Are we doing the same after our own departure from the land?  Are we truly followers of righteousness? (Abraham 1:1) If not, then stop fussing over the ex-girlfriend and spend time getting to know your new boyfriend, Jesus! 

We can use the seasons of immense spiritual growth and learning as launch pads in our ascent to heaven, but we must keep striving to soar higher, or we will fall as the momentum of that initial launch fades.   I have learned that there is no such thing as static spirituality.  You are either progressing or digressing.  Just as an object that is left alone in a given environment over enough time will lose mass due to vapor pressure, we will lose light and truth if we become complacent in our spirituality and relationship with God.  That complacency comes by pride through carnal security when we are unable to recognize that we are poor in spirit and need constant repentance.  Just like any successful relationship in life, our relationship with God requires constant devotion and diligence in seeking to draw closer to Him.

Since I came home from an LDS mission, I am grateful that the arm of the Lord has not been shortened in my life despite the various claims that I would lose the spirit if I left the Church.  In fact, I have more experiences with God now than I ever did as a LDS Mormon because a connection to heaven has nothing to do with the religious institution of which we claim affiliation; it has everything to do with the God, King, and Lord to whom we are loyal.  You don’t work out your salvation through a church.  You work out your surrender to Christ by becoming a living sacrifice.  He then takes that sacrifice and makes it into something worthy of presenting and testifying of to the Father. That’s why it so important to get to know Jesus on a one-on-one basis.  He is the light, truth, and way that will tell you all things what ye should do. 

My Mission

While in the Philippines as an LDS missionary, I fell in love with Jesus.  The more I learned about Christ, the more I wanted to know Him for myself, to have a deeper relationship with Him.  It became my number one desire to please Him and to know His will for me.  So I surrendered myself to God, offering on the altar of sacrifice the things I held most dear at that time, and told Him “Not my will, but thine be done.” Because I made that offering the Lord has had something to work with in changing me.   When He called me home early from the mission I knew that I had another work to fulfill.  I realized then that by heading the Lord’s voice to leave early and give up the LDS name badge did not mean my service to Him as a full-time missionary was over.  It was just the beginning mark of a lifetime commitment to Christ.  I learned then that although I am just a young na├»ve guy, insignificant to society like the fisherman of Galilee, I can witness all the effects of faith as promised in the 7th Lecture on Faith if I live for Christ. 

I still yet don’t understand or comprehend all that that I need to do with my life because I am still learning line upon line, precept upon precept, grace to grace.   For me to continue to receive that direction, my prayers are requiring that I become much more submissive; instead of always requesting blessings from God, I am having to learn how to go in prayer seeking for intimacy with Christ, asking to understand his laws and his precepts.  I am being taught how to keep the commandants.  Not in the sense of just 10 rules laid out on stone tablets, but to keep the commandments of God as in “standing ready, watching for every form of communication God sends me”.  Only by remaining in a state of constant watching have I been learning how to receive God’s direction. 

I remember last fall I had some questions about the brother of Jared’s experience of “rending the veil of unbelief” and it was something I had been meditating upon since my LDS mission.  I was attending a small fellowship, and after the meeting a woman who I didn’t know too well handed me a 15-20 page document and said something along the lines of, “I feel God wants me to give this to you.”  The document was just a compilation of scriptures and quotes she had put together on the very topic of my meditation, “rending the veil of unbelief”.  God is true to His word when he says, “Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find.”   If we are willing to take the time to seek, our Lord is willing to instruct and willing to guide.  It is written that there are great and marvelous things which the Father hath laid up for us from the foundation of the world if we will call upon Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit. (Ether 4:15) There is so much through this life God wants to teach us, but because of my heard-heartedness and pride, I’ve hardly come to know a thing about what there really is.  However, Christ in His Paraclete role to stand by our side as a mediator, helper, and teacher, is willing to instruct at our pace.  Inch by inch I have been slowly learning greater and deeper things concerning those mysteries of rending the veil as people, experiences, and more material has been placed in my path.  This year my understanding of reality has begun to be completely reshaped as the scripture have been brought under greater light. 

Becoming a Dork for Jesus

Not only have I been blessed to receive answers to prayers through others God sends, I have been humbled to witness God working through me to answer the prayers of others.  On the first week of November I was moved upon by the Spirit that I needed to go and bear testimony of Jesus Christ in an Orem college housing single’s ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I knew the following Monday morning that people from that ward may approach me on campus concerning what I might say.   So, that morning in prayer I gave myself to God to lead me where He would.

A week prior to this I was walking down the halls of the science building at UVU when I passed a girl who randomly called out to me, saying, “Hi, I’m ******, I see you all over the place!”  followed by a long pause of cricket-chirping, awkward silence.  I didn’t know how to respond.  I had never seen this girl in my life, so I was completely weirded out by her abrupt disruption to my solitary walk between classes.  Confused and feeling super dorky, I told her my name and then awkwardly walked away.  That was it, but as I got around the corner the voice of the Lord commanded me that I give her a copy of the Lectures on Faith (I usually keep a copy or two in my bag).  So, I went back to where we met and she was no longer there.  For the rest of the week I kept my eyes open looking for her, but had no success.  I decided to put it on the back-burner and figured that if it was truly God’s will, the opportunity would be provided in the proper order and time. 

Then, that Monday when I started the day off by giving myself to God to do with me what he would, my schedule got jumbled up and I was prompted to take a different route to class.  As I rounded the corner in the PE building, I finally saw her sitting at a table talking to a guy.  Although I felt completely stupid, especially since it’s a college atmosphere and all, and it could be perceived that I was attempting to thwart the guy’s attempt to flirt with her, I went up to them and awkwardly handed her a copy of the Lectures on Faith and told her, “I need to give this to you… you need this.”  Once again, I awkwardly walked away.  The guy who was talking to her had to awkwardly chase me down because I accidently left my lunch bag on their table when I had to fumble through my stuff to give her the book.  I felt like a complete dork, but later that day she found me.  She ran up to me and thanked me.  She told me that she had been asking God how can she develop more faith and that that was an answer to her prayers.  A week or two later she again found me, this time in the cafeteria during my lunch break.  I ended up cutting class because we had a fantastic discussion about the gospel that lasted nearly three hours. 

I am learning that you can’t always be smooth and cool when in the service of God because He may put you in awkward circumstance that will expose your dorkiness. 

Standing Ready in the 1st and 2nd Watch

Having discussions about Jesus that go on for hours with strangers and newly made acquaintances has become a regular occurrence over the past year.  These conversations don’t always take place at convenient times.  A couple months ago I woke up feeling sad and dead.  I started thinking about things that make me happy and alive.  I realized that I feel alive when the word of God abides in me and I am speaking those words.  Men shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matt 4:4)  I was in need of an energy boost, so I asked God if I could have His Word flow through me and if I could speak them.  Before I left for work I felt prompted that I needed to bring my over-sized, large-print scriptures. 

I absolutely love my job.  I work in the human resource department for an organization that provides support and job opportunities for adults with disabilities.  I often get to work away from the desk with the clients, and that evening I was assigned to work a swing shift in a client’s home.  At 10PM my shift ended and the graveyard staff came to the jobsite to begin their “sleeping grave”.  I didn’t really know this employee nor did we ever speak much, but within three minutes my replacement and I were talking about science and religion.   Two hours passed, and we were still discussing the gospel of Jesus Christ-neither of us were tired and he was full of questions, not wanting to stop.  It just so happened that I had brought my scriptures with me, so we continued our dialogue for another 2 hours, opening the scriptures and diving into the Word of God.  Both of us were edified and rejoiced together (D&C 50:22).  I didn’t get home till almost 2:30AM, but I felt so alive and great!  It wasn’t until my drive home that I remember my morning prayer and what I had asked for. 

Like this experience of having a graveyard gospel talk, the Lord may have us minister in the dark hours of the early morning.  I was asked to do so again on June 17th.  I wrote about that experience immediately after it happened to share with friends and family and have pasted the email below:

Hi family and friends, 
I want to share an experience I had last night that has helped me realized the importance of obeying the voice of the Lord, I'm sharing this so that perhaps you will think more deeply about the little promptings you may receive on a day-to-day basis.
Before this experience, I had spent a good amount of time driving in my Jeep, praying and singing praises to Jesus.
I was just coming home from a double-date when I was pulling into the parking lot of my apartment complex at about 1AM. I drove past a lady who was walking and something seemed off about her. I was prompted that I needed to help this woman, so I slowed down and checked my wallet to see that I had ten dollars because I figured perhaps this lady needed money. I really didn't want to this because it looked suspicious and felt creepy, but I stopped and waited for her to pass my vehicle to call out to her from my Jeep window. For some reason, the first words that came out of my mouth were, "Hey, do you live here?"
She was an older, hunched-down, petite woman who was crying and appeared to be in disarray. She came to my window and explained that she was lost. She had fallen asleep on the train and didn't know where she was. I could tell from her appearance and from talking with her that she was a beaten and exhausted woman and that life had not been easy for her. She was not intoxicated or on drugs, she was just in panic.
I explained to her that she was in Orem. I looked up the train schedule on the smartphone I bought a few days previous and discovered that the train didn't leave till the morning. In panic, she cried about not having a place to sleep. She begged me for a ride. (I hate using that word to describe what she did, but no other words give it justice)
I gritted my teeth as I looked at the time and thought about my morning shift and the crappy mileage Jeep Wranglers get. I was sort of hoping that giving her ten dollars would be sufficient for her needs. I thought about other possibilities that would not involve me having to drive 40 minutes one way, and I realized, "No. You need to give her a ride." 
So I gave her a ride.
It was difficult to carry on a conversation in my Jeep because I had taken out the rear side windows of the soft-top, making it very noisy on the freeway, but we did talk for a little bit. She started the discussion by saying, 
"I don't know if you believe in God..." 
and I was just thinking, "Oh, Jesus, here we go...." 
It was hard to hear her over the wind, but she expressed that she had some struggles with her belief in God, but that she had been praying to Him for help to get home before I came along. By me coming along it was an answer to her prayer and that she now knows there is a God. She called me an angel. 
The poor woman was so exhausted she could not stay awake, despite how noisy and bumpy the Jeep was. She explained that she had to work a lot of odd hours, and that home life was very stressful.  I had a nice, soft jacket which my friend had loaned me just an hour before on our double-date, and so she used that as a pillow as she rested her head on the center console. 
Because she saw me as an "angel", I took that as an invitation to preach the words of Christ to her. (Angels speak the words of Christ, see 2nd Nephi 32:3) While driving I prayed for the words to say and I was given the scriptures I should quote and the message she needed to hear. When I dropped her off I gave her that message. 
This is a little act which came from a little prompting, but I think this may have had a big impact on her life. I realized that when people are in distress because of an emergency or accident, they will call upon God, even if they aren't too sure about their belief in Him. This is God's opportunity to make his love and presence known in the petitioner's life. Through small and simple means God may send average people, us, as answers to those prayers.  I praise Jesus for allowing me to witness this tender mercy in this woman's life.  God is aware and he cares about all His children. 
 "If you love me, stand ready, watching for every communication I will send you" (John 14:15, Newly Reveleaded Testimony of St. John version)


Jeeping for Jesus

When I returned home from my LDS mission I made a good friend who is passionate about God and His word.  He had a Jeep which he used as a tool to go out in the beautiful Arizona desert to connect with God.  This inspired me.  So when I bought my Jeep, I got it because it I saw it more as a tool than just a souped-up ride.  Because I can no longer find solitude reverence in a temple built my man, I have been learning how to find peace and communion in the temples built by God- the mountains.  The Jeep is the means to get me there.  So, off-roading has become my “Jeeping with Jesus” time.  When I go on adventures, I intend that my time spent in the Jeep will be for God and His purposes.   This last spring break I was able to attend another “Remnant/Awaken Movement” Doctrine of Christ conference in St George.  Because I was already down south I chose to spend the rest of spring break off-roading and camping for 9 days straight in St. George and Moab.   While we were leaving from St. George to Moab I was blessed to witness another tender mercy from the Lord, this time in the life of a hitchhiker.

We were at the gas station tanking up when a younger man with dark hair and wearing worn-out, dirty clothes approached me.  He didn’t have much, just a small backpack.  He didn’t even own a phone.  He looked like he was homeless and I was expecting him to ask for money, but instead he asked me for a ride.  The way he went about it stunned me.  He seemed very stressed and desperate but was very straight forward in his request.  He asked,

“I just got out of jail, can I get a ride?”

It took me a several moments to process the request.  I was caravanning with a fellow Jeeper, but it was just us two guys with our separate vehicles so I was having to drive in my Jeep alone.  I was very nervous about allowing a "felon" to hitch-hike with me, and I almost said no, but the Spirt worked upon my heart, telling me to give this man a ride.  I knew that I had to.   

So, I allowed him into my Jeep without any idea what he did to land him in jail.  For the first several miles I was very cautious, keeping my guard up.  When we got to talking, he didn’t strike me one bit as being a bad guy.  It just seemed that life had handed him the short-end of the stick of life, and he was just struggling to survive.  It was his first time in jail, and the sentence was only for a few months.    He told me that he was unable to contact any family or friends and that he had been at the gas station for hours asking everyone for a help, but not a single person would even take a moment to consider his plead.

I was thinking in my head, “Well no duhh.  Ya think?  You’re telling people you just got out of jail!”

He then explained to me that he just really wanted to get home to see his one-year-old baby, but was so overwhelmed with discouragement.   He told me that he went to the restroom stall where he fell on his knees and prayed to God, asking for His help. He had given up on asking other people so instead, he waited.  When he saw us two guys pull in with our Jeeps, he felt like we were the ones he needed to approach and talk to.  He then went on for several minutes praising God and declaring how wonderful He is.

We then spoke for the rest of trip about life and Jesus.  He shared with me his beautiful and personal experience of being baptized by immersion a few years prior through a local Christian church.  He explained how since then life had gotten hard for him.   It was apparent that his personal and work life were in shambles, but he expressed to me his intense desire to change and be better.  I could tell from his sincerity how much he loved his family and how he yearned to become a better father through Christ.  We spoke a lot about faith and Jesus’s character and personal role in our lives.   It was a much needed gospel discussion. 

When we dropped him off at his home, I caught a glimpse of his living situation and my heart wept for him.  He was only 24, just two years older than me, yet his life was laden with so many more burdens and trials.  When I saw the “cold welcome” from his relative/roommate, it was obvious that his assimilation back to normal life from jail was not going to be an easy one.  However, I hope that his conviction to change through Christ will overcome his trials and that the hour we spent discussing God’s word and the events leading up to that ride was significant and foundational for a new chapter of his life.  I was happy to witness God answer his plead through us.  Had we done the safe and logical thing by not taking the risk of jeopardizing our safety for a “criminal”, he might not have gotten a ride, he may not have had a "Jesus talk", and we would have failed God by disregarding the prompting in being an instrument in making Christ's love known to him.

Scriptures in One Hand, Coffee in the Other

This man was not the only person we were able to help during critical life crossroads while on Spring break.  We were able to teach a young woman at a scripture study, someone who was scheduled to be baptized the upcoming Saturday.

I was rather impressed with some of the LDS college students at Dixie State University.  They were having weekly group scripture studies at one of the student’s houses.  These studies were not sponsored by the LDS church, but were well-attended.  While we were in St. George for the conference, a couple of my brothers in Christ and I decided to attend one of these studies.  Although I showed up with a Starbucks coffee in hand, they had no clue we were disenfranchised from the LDS church.   I admired their efforts, but noticed that the scripture study seemed lacking because they were only reading and not actually discussing or giving much thought to the Word.  Many of these young adults were hungry for the words of Christ, but just didn’t quite know how to crack open the scripture to feast upon them.    

When it was our turn to read we felt moved upon to dive deeper into the word.  We did speak a lot as we opened the scriptures, expounding many things concerning Christ’s character and our ability to come unto Him - many things these students never considered in their religious paradigm, but needed to hear.  The young man who was hosting the study in his home was initially so bothered with us from breaking the mold of their traditional reading routine that he had to leave the room, but returned later.  At the end of the night, he told the group that at first he didn’t like what we were doing, but after taking a break and praying to God, God told him that he needed to go back and listen.  He was glad he did because he was edified.  He then called the group to repentance and said this how scripture study needs to be every week- fulfilling. 

I found it incredible that we could discuss the gospel and preach from the Book of Mormon without ever talking about “the church”.  As we taught by the Spirit of Truth you could tell that these college students received it by such and we were all edified (D&C 50:21-21).  One of the most fulfilling things you can experience is when you are teaching someone and you see the light bulbs going off in their head as they are filled with light and truth because they are receiving the Spirit of Truth.  The young woman who was scheduled to be baptized the upcoming Saturday was the most ecstatic, bright, and receptive of them all.  I can’t help but believe that what she learned about Christ’s character and coming unto Him that night was critical for her to understand in her journey before being baptized.

Near the end of the study while we were preaching and expounding upon the Word of God one the LDS girls burst with awe, "You make Jesus sound like He is a REAL person!!!!"  When she said “real” she didn’t mean simply to exist all powerful, far away on some distant planet.   It was real as in relatable, full of emotion, affable, approachable, and close.   That was definitely one of the best things I've ever heard in this particular setting.  Although disheartening that these were stalwart Latter-Day Saints who had not ever considered such plain and simple things concerning Christ’s character, it was a rejoiceful night for us to come to a greater understanding of Jesus.  

Not a single one of those students knew or would have evened imagined that we were actually deemed “apostates” by their own church leaders.   I am learning that you can share your passion and love for Jesus without having to initially shatter too many false, religiously-ingrained paradigms.  When teaching, I am discovering that, if possible, it is best to first graft people to the true vine (Christ and His Word) before hacking away the branches of unbelief and false traditions (precepts and traditions of men).

I left that night realizing that this was what "missionary work" actually feels like when it is helping others understand the character, personality, and attributes of God, rather than focusing on the need to become or be a member of an institution- Because our connection to God and the powers of heaven has nothing to do with the religious institution with which we claim affiliation; it has everything to do with the God, King, and Lord to whom we are loyal.  That priesthood, or relationship, cannot be passed down through a church, it can only be obtained directly from God.  (see JST Gen14:27-29) In order for one to have that connection, one must come unto Christ, but in order for one to come unto Christ they must have a correct understanding of His Character.  Joseph Smith said the following concerning the relation between one’s ability to exercise faith and a correct understanding of God’s character. 

“…without correct ideas of his character, the minds of men could not have sufficient power with God to the exercise of faith necessary to the enjoyment of eternal life, and that correct ideas of his character lay a foundation as far as his character is concerned for the exercise of faith, so as to enjoy the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ, even that of eternal glory…”  (Lectures on Faith 4:1; emphasis mine)

More often than not man, religious institutions, perpetuates falsehood concerning God’s character.  These are referred to in scripture as the precepts of men or “unbelief”.  It this unbelief that keeps angels from ministering to us and receiving miracles, (Moroni 7:37) and prevents us from obtaining greater knowledge and ultimately knowing God by entering into his literal presence.(Ether 4:13-15).  Because of unbelief many who are seeking for God but are trapped in the bonds of religious dogma are left hungry and thirsty; starving for truth because they are unable to find it in their inherited, traditional paradigm.  

Reflecting On His Name

Over all, this past year has been difficult for me, but it’s been good because through the hardships I have obtained a deeper understanding of Christ character, his personality, and his attributes.  I’ve learned that a name in the Hebrew language more fully means characteristic or attribute and is used as a title or description, not simply an identifier.  So to understand God’s name is to understand who he is.  When we understand who He is, then we are we able to actually do as the sacrament prayer says in taking His name upon us,

“…that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him…”(Moroni 4:3; emphasis mine)

Because name more fully means attributes, taking upon yourself the name of Christ means a whole lot more than just self-identifying as a Christian.  Perhaps this why before Christ instituted the sacrament to the Nephites in America He spent a whole day giving a discourse very similar to the “Sermon on the Mount”(Beatitudes) – a discourse that expounds upon His name.  Perhaps this is why before communion was instituted to the apostles at the last supper God needed to send His son, Jesus Christ, down to earth to show the world who God is- to show the world all of what the Father’s name consists of, manifested in the perfect son.  Perhaps that is what John meant when he said concerning Christ role,

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”(John 1:14; emphasis mine)          

This one who was Spokesman from the Heavenly Council was made flesh, and He temporarily cast His tent among us, and we could see His knowledge of the path to ascend in light and truth, he was a member of the Family of God, full of the power to ascend and able to display truth to others.” (John 1:14; TSJ version)

I want to share a quote by Denver Snuffer about Christ’s character which has stuck with me. The knowledge Denver has opened from the scriptures has been tremendously helpful in my spiritual walk over these last two years: 

Our Lord was and is, affable, but He is not gregarious. He was approachable, and He is approachable and  is not aloof. He is patient. He is willing to guide and He is willing to teach. He is intelligent but He not overbearing. He is humble in His demeanor, even though His power is undeniable. He is therefore, both a Lamb and a Lion. I want you to keep three truths about Him in your mind as we begin today. Those truths are:
‎-He is quick to forgive sin,-He allows all to come unto Him,-and He is no respecter of persons. 
In most cases it is our disrespect for ourselves that impedes coming to Him. We tend to think we aren't good enough. However, because He is quick to forgive sins, it really doesn't matter if you are not good enough. One of the first orders of business when you come into His presence is that He forgives you. He cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, but He has the capacity and the ability to forgive sin. Therefore although your sins may be as scarlet, He can, He will and He does, make you white as snow, no longer accountable for your limitations. Therefore you needn't fear, but you can approach boldly, our Lord.
-Denver Snuffer, Ephraim, Utah 6-28-14 - Christ, the Prototype of a Saved Man

I am a nobody, just a kid struggling to figure out things out in life.  Often it is the thought of my own filth and disrespect for myself that impedes me from coming unto to Christ and receiving His love.  But as I have been learning more about Christ’s character, I’m learning to fear not as I strive to boldly approach our Lord.  Despite our sins and weaknesses, He is quick to forgive and stays patiently by our side.  Christ is willing to instruct and is willing to guide.  He has done so in my life, even when I have veered off course.  

When I first headed the revelation that "I would not progress if I were to remain in Arizona, nor would I progress if were to move to Houston, and that instead I needed to move to Utah, I had many misconceptions about what I needed to do in Orem.  Because of my LDS upbringing, I automatically associated “progression” with “marriage”.  So, following my belief system I tried to pursue dating.  When things were not working out, it brought me to my knees in humility.  I remember waking up one morning in September crying to God for guidance.  Although I had already showered and was preparing for the day, I was overcome by sleep.  I was given a dream - well more like a nightmare - which caused me to reawaken with such emotional distraught and anger.  Because it was such horrid dream, I brushed it off as nonsense.  However, later that day during my lunch break I had planned to do physics homework but forgot my textbook.  The one book I did have in my bag was “The Second Comforter” by Denver Snuffer.  Bored at lunch, I open to a random chapter and began reading.  The chapter just so happened to talk about dreams and how, although they are insubstantial to our sophisticated society, they are the stuff in which great messages have come from God throughout scriptures.  They were the means in which Joseph (husband of Mary) received a warning to flee from Judah to protect the Baby Jesus from King Herod.

If dreams were a sufficient and reliable way for God the Father to protect the very life of His Only Begotten Son, then dreams should be sufficient for God to speak to you. When they come from God you should revere and respect them as you would any Divine communication found in scripture.  (The Second Comforter pg. 72-73)

When I recognized my dream that morning was from God I immediately received the interpretation.  Without going into detail, the dream revealed where I was at “emotionally” and the destructive potential that would unfold if I pursued a girlfriend amiss.  In that nightmare, God showed me some ugly but truthful things about myself.  Hence, if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.(Ether 12:27)  God is brutally honest when we ask, but at the same time, He is willing to instruct when we seek His guidance.  I knew that I was nowhere near ready and that I need to become something different if I desire a relationship that is the image of God, which means learning to surrender my vain ambitions to allow God to purify my heart and sanctify my soul.  Overall, I was humbled and full of gratitude that the God of the universe would actually care about something as insignificant as my petty dating issues.    

This last year, instead of “progressing” as perceived by the LDS tradition (return home from your mission, date, and get married for time and eternity), I have been learning how to love through the different roles I hold in people’s lives.  Whether that be a son, a grandson, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, a friend, a CNA, a mentor, a teacher, a preacher, or a stranger.  Although I still struggle in fulfilling these positions I hold in other lives, these relationships have broadened my perspective on charity.  I believe the pure love of Christ is not reserved exclusively for your soulmate.  God expects us to have true love for every individual we come into contact with by serving them to the fullest potential based on the role we hold in their life.  This also means respecting agency and not overstepping the bounds another has placed on our role in their life.   It's been through the various relationships I have had in my life where I have learned the most about God's love and character. 

Christ loves us the same way, whatever postion we allow Him to hold in our life (he respects agency above all), He fulfills it to perfection.   He can be our God, our King, our Lord, our advocate, our teacher, our friend, our first love, etc… The list goes on because God’s words and work are without end (Moses 1:4).  In the scriptures, God has so many different names, all of which reveal different things about his character, attributes, and relation to us. The more time we spend with God, the more of His name we discover and as a result, we can allow Him to hold deeper and greater roles in our life.  The closer we draw to Christ, the more fascinating, loving, and awesome we realize He is.  

Through the rocky hills and valleys I have passed since stepping off the "Old Ship,," I have been able to learn more of God's endless name.  Although I've learned so little in comparison to all there is to know about Christ, what I have learned through this journey has only deepened my desire and yearning to know Him.   Our walk with God will have many ups and downs.  Although it's our experiences in the high places of the summits that empower us to go down and walk through the valleys,  it's by trekking through the valleys that prepare us for the responsibilities of the mountain top.  My summer away from Orem is coming to a close and I will be returning to Mormon-Mecca soon.  I'm not sure what Utah Valley will hold for me this year because a lot of changes have taken place in my life.   It is time once again to part ways for a season with many of fellow sojourners, but I anxiously await for whenever our paths will cross, and I look forward to the other travelers I will meet along the way.  When the path become rough and I notice that the mountain I seek to ascend has become shrouded by the foliage and terrain, I will be standing ready, watching for those rivers that will give me the light and life to continue onward.