Monday, January 27, 2014

The Difference Between Faith and Belief

I recently started reading the book "Journey to the Veil" by John Pontius. It is a collection of many of his blog posts that his wife has complied and published after his passing in December 2012.  I want to share each one I read with Corey and the kids. Last night we stayed up reading... the kids ask "Is this still the same guy?" cause some of the stories are so amazing, it seems kinda incredible that one man has had so many experiences. More than that though, his gift for words and sharing the insights he's gained from these experiences and from his studying the Word of God and applying the Doctrine of Christ to his experiences... it's just awesome. I love it. Here's one reposted below. So good ~ (comments in brackets are from me as underlining emphasis)

"Faith and Belief":
Faith is a result of exposure to the Spirit of the Lord, and is a gift of God. Faith does not naturally reside in man. When we obey some principle of truth, or a commandment of God, or any whispering of the Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord touches our souls with a tiny increase of faith regarding that principle.
One can only have faith in things that are true. (Alma 32:21) We can't have faith in a falsehood. Only to the extent that a principle contains truth can we exercise faith in it. For this reason, faith is always centered in Christ, because all truth flows from Christ. (And I'm just loving any and all insights about Truth with a capital T!)
Unlike faith, which is always pure, our belief structure includes both pure elements of truth, and impurities of human assumption, tradition, false conclusions, and out-and-out lies. Most of what we believe comes from the experiences of our lifetime, all of which occur in the natural world, and most of which are in some way tainted. Such false beliefs are hostile to our progress unless overridden by revealed truth.
By so noting the difference between faith and belief, we are not assigning belief second-class citizenship. Belief, while very different from faith, is the sum total of what we think, both good and bad, true and false. Belief is extremely powerful, and has a greater pull upon our lives than any other single force, because our belief literally defines our universe. Life is what we believe it to be. (Belief Box!!) People are what we believe them to be. Our perception of our world, our belief structure, imposes so much distortion upon our vision, that it in many ways, it creates the world we view.
Our every act is driven by a belief. Whether that belief is based upon truth, or upon a misconception, determines whether that act is righteous or evil.
Often, our faith can be profound, while our belief about how that faith applies to us can limit, or even eliminate, our enjoyment of the fruits of our faith. Such faith-opposing believing is called "unbelief" in the scriptures. It is not necessarily an absence of faith, and can coexist with faith quite companionably. But, it is nevertheless an effective, and often long-lived, damnation of our faith.
An example of this might be: We may have faith that Heavenly Father loves us, and has the power to heal an illness or disease we may have. But, we may simultaneously believe (or assume because of what others have taught us) that Heavenly Father wants us to learn some lesson through our suffering, or that we must seek a medical solution first, turning only to Him as a last resort. Or, we may conclude that since we haven't personally seen this magnitude of healing with our own eyes, that He may just not be doing healings of this degree nowadays, and thus, we doubt the will of God to heal us—not His power—but His intention to do so. In other words, we have great faith He can, we just don't believe He will, and thus uninspired belief (unbelief) smothers our faith.
Another example may be: We read the scriptures and have complete faith that the Brother of Jared (or any other righteous figure) truly experienced the profound blessings, visions, revelations, and angelic visitations they record. And, even though the same prophet records that God is no respecter of persons, and liberally grants the same blessings to all who righteously seek them, we believe that the scriptures are largely for our education, and not something we can personally seek and obtain. We may conclude that such things do not happen in this day, or if they do, they would happen to someone more highly placed, or more righteous. We thereby doubt—not God's power, which is a byproduct of our faith—but we doubt His will, to grant us a place within His promises. Such doubt is by definition, unbelief.
In other words, we extinguish the fire of faith with the cold rains of unbelief.
The Lord told Moroni:
7 And in that day that they [the latter-day gentiles] shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are. (Ether 4:7, comment added)
This verse contains one of the most incredible pronouncements of promise this dispensation has ever been given. It is saying that when—notice it doesn't say if, it implies when—we rend the veil of unbelief and develop faith like unto the Brother of Jared's, God will unfold unto us all of His revelations, which means that we will know all things, which would enable us to part the veil in many places, and to lay hold upon all promised blessings. This promise isn't being made just to the Quorum of the Twelve. This is a promise that is held out to every person who chooses to seek and obtain it. In other words, we have access to the same gifts in this day, in this priesthood, in this church, as the Brother of Jared used to rend the heavens in his day, which lit up his 16 stones, and his eternity.
So why aren't we doing so? Mormon's analysis of this incredible promise, and why we fail to lay hold upon these vast things, is illuminating:
13 Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief. (Ether 4:13.)
So it is unbelief, not necessarily a lack of faith, but unbelief, which keeps us captive in a state of wickedness. Does it seem harsh to characterize unbelief as wickedness? What is wickedness, if not something that destroys our faith? False beliefs always send us off in pursuit of some path other than one that leads to exaltation. And, pursuing a forbidden path is always the result of failure to heed His voice.
52 And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
53 And by this [that they receive not my voice] you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
(D&C 84:52-54, comment added)
The Lord here defines not receiving (hearing and obeying) His voice, unbelief and wickedness as the same spiritual malady. Furthermore, He accuses that our minds have been darkened because of unbelief, not sin or a lack of faith, but unbelief! Darkened implies a prior, or even continuing, presence of light that is being ignored or dimmed because of unbelief. Our minds are robbed of the light of our own faith through our inability to believe the truths that surround us. Further, we stand in darkness because we have treated lightly the things we have received.
If our goal is to lay hold upon great things in this gospel, then these scriptural accusations of unbelief are profoundly important. If unbelief truly is the obstacle we face, then we have laid hold upon a great tool to change our spiritual lives because we alone can change what we believe. There are two ways to change what you believe, one is to wait until something glorious and profound happens before your eyes, and then believe what you saw, and the other is to let our faith, that this same event happened exactly as recorded in the scripture, reshape our belief to include ourselves in the heavenly gifts.
The first way places us into a holding pattern we can't control. It is somewhat faithless, because we are waiting for signs and evidences. It is almost evidence of a lackluster desire to actually participate in these super-mortal blessings.
But we do have the ability to take those things we know by faith, and simply believe them. The scriptures promise us that these same blessings are ours to claim, so believe in your right to claim them. Tell yourself you believe them. Tell God in prayer that you believe them. Remind yourself hourly if necessary, that you believe these promises apply to you personally. Herein lies a key: If you do this something astonishing will happen – you will find that once you believe, nothing doubting, that the heavens do not have the ability to withhold them from your sight.
Brother John
© March 2012, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved. Non-Commercial reproduction permitted.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Purpose of Problems

I love this quote (and this whole article!) by President Howard W. Hunter ~

“Every generation since time began has had things to overcome and problems to work out. Furthermore, every individual person has a set of challenges which sometimes seem to be earmarked for him individually. We understood that in our premortal existence.

“When these experiences humble, refine, and teach us, they make us better people, more grateful, loving, and considerate of other people in their own times of difficulty.

“Even in the most severe of times, problems and prophecies were never intended to do anything but bless the righteous and help those who are less righteous move toward repentance” ("Why Try?" New Era, Jan. 94, p. 6).

Isn't that great?!?!? If we are righteous and striving, we have every reason to rejoice and to be happy! The Lord is blessing us! Do we have eyes to see the blessings? They are everywhere in all the world around us, this world of unnecessary beauty. This beauty (which is everywhere!) is given by God to gladden our hearts and lift our spirits. He is telling us he loves us.

That is the Truth! Cling to Truth, cling to Christ and his Word right now, and we will enjoy right now the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) - peace, joy, love, happiness, and everything else that is good and wonderful!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Humble Followers of Christ

This is one of John Pontius' blog posts that I always have such a hard time finding when I refer to it, so I'm reposting it here. Great stuff:

Raising the Daughter of Jarius
2 Nephi 28 is a blistering commentary on the latter days. Reading it with the Holy Spirit convicts the humble soul that it is speaking of our times, of our day, of our situation. We live in a wicked world, one ruled by those who are corrupt (v 19) in the most vile ways. They have killed the innocent (v 10) become fully lifted up in pride such that they rob the poor to building fine buildings and to array themselves in fine clothing. They persecute the meek and poor in heart. (V 13) by outlawing that which is good, making war on religious freedom, mocking moral values and making it politically incorrect to be a Christian.
They are swilling in pride, wickedness, abominations and whoredoms. According to the holy word, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the “humble followers of Christ”. (v14)
It is tempting to step into the self-adulation of pride ourselves and point out that “they” whose crimes are listed above, is everybody else, and “we” are the humble followers of Christ. To think such a simplistic thing is surely part of what the divine word means when it accuses: “Others he will pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (v21).
I believe there are three great indicators of someone who is a “humble follower of Christ”.
First, Jesus Christ is their shepherd. He leads them. They follow Him. They hear His voice and are counted among His sheep. (Mosiah 26:21, Alma 5:37-38, Alma 5:57, Helaman 7:18). They have taken Him and His voice as their guide and have dedicated themselves to obedience. They will do anything for Him – anything.
Secondarily, they have received the truth. “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 . . . shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.” (D&C 45:56-57)
Lest we prematurely pat ourselves on the back, one must continually remind ourselves that truth is eternal, and the Lord reveals truth to mankind as He deems necessary to the completion of their life’s work. The truth the Founding Fathers knew was different from you and I, but it was ordained to their mission, and they received it and gave their lives for it, and accomplished their mortal journey. Many people, millions of people, live in the light they are given. Many more live in darkness. The point isn’t that they have received “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” but that they have received (embraced, loved and lived) that which they have been given.
Third, they have not been deceived. The full quote of D&C 45:56-57 is: “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.”
Since we are speaking of humble followers of Christ both in and outside of the church, it is probable that the range of possible deceptions is vast. But, they can be summarized into a single sentence. A deception is when you persist in believing something after the Holy Spirit has taught you otherwise.
A common deception outside of the church is that Mormons are not Christians. When our Christian brethren take the Holy Spirit to be their guide, and they do, many of them are marvelously dedicated to Christ, and their discipleship exceeds our own in many cases. But, when the Holy Spirit whispers to them the truth about Mormon Christianity, they will either embrace and believe that truth, or they will endure in a deception.
A common deception inside the church is that being an active member alone will save and exalt you. Why will it not? Because the formula is: Take Christ as your shepherd, Take the Holy Spirit as your guide, receive the truth, and do not be deceived.
Membership alone doesn’t make you a disciple of Christ, nor does it compel us to take Him as our shepherd. Discipleship is a personal quest and personal relationship with Jesus Christ developed through desire, obedience and hungering and thirsting after Him. Membership surrounds us with truths, but doesn’t make us receive them, or even believe every truth we possess. To “receive the truth” we must seek out the truth through study, prayer and obedience.
Membership doesn’t mean we have not been deceived as well. The greatest evidence of this is the verse noted above: “Others he will pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (v21).
But, membership does spread all these things as a banquet before us. It gives us the greatest opportunity the world has ever known to become a “humble follower of Christ”. We have the fullness of the gospel, living prophets, the priesthood, temples and the privilege of seeking and building Zion. All of these things empower us, but they also have the potential to condemn us if we fail to live up to our privileges.
Brother John

Monday, January 6, 2014

Taking His Yoke

Taking the yoke of Christ upon us has been on my mind for a while ~ it sounded confusing to me... How could Christ, who bore such burdens in his life and death, say that his burdens were easy and light? They sounded impossibly hard! They ARE impossibly hard for us! How could we possibly take his yoke and burdens upon us? Why would we want to? (well...other than because He has asked us to...) Well, today the light bulb turned on as I read President Howard W. Hunters 1990 General Conference talk - it's not that his yoke is easy for us, but it is for Him, He's the strongest and greatest of all. A yoke ties a weaker animal to a strong one.
We are the weak ones and Christ carries our burdens as we meekly agree to walk with Him and let Him lead. But really He's doing it all. He makes all the difference. He knows how to do it all, He can do it all, He has done it all. He did it for us. I will do it for Him, I will do anything for Him. And what does He ask of me? To trust Him and follow Him. The BYU Devotional that was rebroadcast today by Erin D. Maughan titled "Be Still and Know that I Am God" ~ ended with a poem that sums up beautifully what he asks.

A Tandem Ride With God

I used to think of God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a president. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I didn't really know Him.

But later on, when I met Jesus, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Jesus was in the back helping me pedal. I didn't know just when it was He suggested we change, but life has not been the same since I took the back-seat to Jesus, my Lord. He makes life exciting. When I had control, I thought I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places and at break-through speeds; it was all I could do to hang on! Even though it often looked like madness, He said, "Pedal!" I was worried and anxious and asked, "Where are you taking me?" He laughed and didn't answer and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into adventure. And when I'd say, "I'm scared", He'd lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord's and mine. And we were off again. He said, "Give the gifts away; they're extra baggage, too much weight." So I did, to the people we met, and I found in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life. I thought He'd wreck it, but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I'm beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus.

And when I'm sure I just can't do any more, He just smiles and says... "Pedal."
(Author unknown)
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