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Author: Dan McDonald

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

As I thought I was approaching death, I realized with stunning clarity that there are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men … and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; THEN shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) This comes from a text recorded in 1839.

There are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue.

You are worth loving.

What did the word “virtue” mean at that time? While I am still trying to crystalize its meaning in my mind, one thing of which I am certain is that “virtue” did not have the primary meaning we assign to it today—the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice. That was only a tertiary meaning. “Virtue” meant something quite different. The 1828 Webster’s dictionary entry for virtue gives, as its primary meaning, “1. Strength; that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies.”

The Latin root from which the word derives—virtus—”was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth ….”  As I put these concepts together it seems that in 1839 “virtue” meant something more akin to the modern usage of the word “integrity.”

Your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

Under this view, the meaning of the text is that confidence comes from (1) feeling charity for others (to the extent that it fills our innermost parts) and (2) having integrity, which requires us to be genuine.  Consequenlty, to let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly does not mean to endlessly think about ways to avoid vice. Rather it suggests that your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

That our confidence before God depends upon our ability to love and be genuine makes sense to me because God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8) and truth (John 14:6).  Jesus detested phonies.  He couldn’t stand being around pretentious and pious fakes.  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  (Matthew 23:27-28.)

Jesus detested phonies.

He was more comfortable around “the publican, standing afar off,” in the temple, who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner,” than the temple-attending, tithe-paying church member who “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers ….”  (Luke 18:10-14.)

The self-awareness, confessional honesty and raw unpretentiousness of the publican is much more righteous to God than stodgy observance. Piousness swells the head, shrinks the heart and fosters self-deception and alienation from God. We draw near to him with our actions, but our hearts are far from him. (Matthew 15:8.)

To reject yourself is to reject God.

You must learn to love and accept yourself.

Simply put, resist the temptation to measure your righteousness by conformity, orthodoxy and obedience to the observable and measurable. If you want to be confident in this life and comfortable around God, be a loving and genuine person.  To do that, you must learn to love and accept yourself.

In order to love others, you must esteem and value yourself as much as you are told to esteem and value others.  This “self”-esteem is not grounded in a false, grandiose or unrealistic self-concept.  Instead, it is seeing yourself like God asks you to see others—as his child, of infinite worth and worth dying for.  True self-esteem is not grounded in your own merits.  After all, as Jesus Christ said, “without me ye can do nothing.”  (John 15:5.)  Instead, true self-esteem is grounded in God’s love and mercy toward you, his creation.  God created you.  You are worth loving.  You are worthy of giving love.  You were created in God’s image.  To reject yourself is to reject God.  You must first embrace your weakness before you can embrace God.

This may come as a surprise to you, but God already knows your faults and weaknesses. And chances are everyone around you is already aware of them, as well. There’s no use masking them.  Be more like the publican and less like the Pharisee.  Just be who you are, don’t be fake, acknowledge your faults, and do your best to love.

Letting virtue garnish your thoughts is a call to avoid self-deception.  It’s an invitation to self-awareness, self-acceptance and complete honesty.  Filter everything through that filter and you will become confident in the presence of God.  You will see that God loves you no matter what.  And then, when you are filled with that love and acceptance from God, you will be grounded enough to love as you ought.

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

The greatest of all power is the conscious abdication and relinquishment of it.  The outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross signify that if we are to be like him (Matthew 4:19; 5:48) we must surrender that almost insatiable human appetite to pull things in to ourselves, to hold on to them and to control.  Finding strength and power in helplessness, vulnerability and letting go seems contrary to our nature.  But Jesus demonstrated that accepting our loss of control and power is the gaining of it.  Jesus modeled this as he submitted to church and Roman authority.  Knowing that irony and paradox ignite the human soul like bellows to a flame, Jesus stirred within us a passion for justice by suffering injustice and sparked a spiritual blaze that burns in the hearts of billions to this day.

We too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.

If we are to be powerful, we too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.  If we are to be transformed, we must learn to let go.  If we are to be happy, we must let go.  (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; 2 Corinthians 12:10.)

Jesus promised us peace.  (John 14:27.)  That peace is like a fountain of living water—a river—flowing within and through us.  (John 7:38; John 4:14.)  We must get out of its way and let it flow through us if we are to ever find peace and happiness.

You are out of control if you need to be in control.

We were created to be a part of the divine flow, conduits for the presence of God.  (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; Galatians 1:15-16Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17.)  You, like Jesus, are called to be the revelation of God through the enfleshment of the Word.  (John 1:14.)

Thirst for control dams the beauty of the flow and destroys our peace.

Get out of the way.  You are out of control if you need to be in control.  You are weak if you feel that you must be strong.  Any time you try to cage, capture, contain or control someone or something you are damming and destroying the peace and beauty of the flow.  And then you are damned.

You are dammed and damned if you are preoccupied with trying to receive revelation from God rather than revealing God to others through your goodness.

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you spread your arms and reach to grasp rather than reach to give.

You are dammed and damned when you stretch and strive to pull things and pull others in to you as opposed to projecting and unleashing light, love and encouragement.  (Luke 11:33.)

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly worry about your health instead of healing others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly think about your own appetites and yearnings instead of yearning to feed others who are hungry … and not just for food.

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

You are dammed and damned when you are preoccupied with knowing the right or being right instead of righting what you know to be the wrong within yourself.  (Matthew 7:3-5.)

You are dammed and damned when you care more about how others feel about you than how you feel about others.

You are dammed and damned if you constantly worry about the future or the past instead of doing good in the present.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

You are dammed and damned if you think you can know God through study, prayer and ritual when God says the way to know him is to know your neighbor.  (John 5:37-40; Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you are always looking for God in some holy place when he has said, “I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you think some method, magic or incantation will bring you to God when God has said your neighbor is his incarnation.

Pray we must.

But for what?

Not revelation.  Transformation.

We don’t need much guidance (a guise for control … a wish to make God the genie in our lamp).  This or that?  It matters not.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

What matters is courage, kindness, integrity, compassion.

To see God in another’s face.

“I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)



To see that in another … God in his place!

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

To have the courage and the power to let go, get out of the way, and thus live it … for this I pray.

Do You Know How To Love?

Do You Know How To Love?

Do you really know how to love?  For Jesus, loving others is what it’s all about.  But do we, as a people, really know how to love?  Or are those who profess to be the modern-day followers of Jesus more like the Pharisees, who outwardly drew near to God but had hearts that were far, far away from him?  Are we merely whiting our social media sepulchers when we present an image to the world designed to manipulate how others perceive us?  In our effort to be perceived as good are we really being bad?  In our effort to project and convey righteousness are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Are we really just putting on a bad disguise?

Nothing frustrated Jesus more than people who did the “right” things for the wrong reasons. Jesus abhorred pretense (Matthew 23:14) and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2, 6, 16; 23:13-15).  While piousness and adherence to religious rules was something Jesus did not want to be left “undone,” he placed religious behavior on a hierarchy where there were some matters that were “weightier” than others.  (Matthew 23:23.)  Of course, the weightiest of all matters was to feel and then show love to others.

The path to true discipleship … requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you ….”  (John 13:34.)  Of course, Jesus loves not just in deed.  His very essence is filled with compassion and love for us.  So, to love as Jesus loved requires the right actions and the right motives.  Doing good when you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42) is ultimately unacceptable.  To love others as you were loved by Jesus Christ requires more.

Paul explains it this way:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.

The state of your heart is so important to the Lord that you could give all you have to the poor or die as a martyr, but if you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), it “profiteth you nothing.”  (1 Corinthians 13:3.)  Nothing.  Those are strong words.  The bar is set.  It’s quite high.  Your motives for doing what you do—even if those things are “charitable” and good—matter to the Lord.

Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.  (See Matthew 15:17-20.)  To him, this was the order of priorities: “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”  (Matthew 23:26.)  He wants your heart first.  Then, Jesus taught, “[a] good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.”  (Matthew 12:35.)  Hence, discipleship works from the inside out, forcing you to examine your motives; to examine the state of your heart.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions.

Because this aspect of Christianity is so vital to discipleship I developed a tool that helps me evaluate the state of my heart.  This tool can be used in every single human interaction.  The more you use it, the more your focus will change.  Hopefully, it can help you find the path to true discipleship, which requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.

Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions, which are depicted in the following graphic:

Chambers of the HeartTo give you an example of how the four chambers works, think, for a moment, to the last time you were at a gathering of family or friends.  Most likely there were people there that you love.  And, most likely, there were people there that you struggle with and that you find hard to love.  For those for whom you have deep and genuine feelings of love, expressing that love probably flowed naturally for you.  It was easy to give compliments and hugs.  It was easy for you to listen to them.  Your behavior and your feelings were congruent with the highest in you and would put you in Chamber Four, where you feel love and show love.  This is the ideal.

Every human interaction is an opportunity to express the highest within you.

There may have been those that you genuinely love and care for but, for some reason, you found it difficult to express your love.  You didn’t know what to say to express your true feelings.  You didn’t know what you could do to express your love in a way that would be understood (or not misunderstood).  Or, for some reason (perhaps unknown to you), you just held back.  You didn’t express your love.  Maybe you were too tired.  Maybe you just didn’t have it in you.  This is Chamber Three, where you genuinely feel love but don’t show it.  In Chamber Three, your capacity to feel love exceeds your ability to express it.

We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day.

At this gathering there were undoubtedly those that you found difficult to have feelings of love for.  Seeing these people may have triggered anger, frustration, or dislike.  Whatever it was that you felt, it was not love.  As you felt these things, you had two choices.  You could either show love or not show love.  If you chose to show love, this was a Chamber Two behavior.  You did not genuinely feel love for this person but you acted as if you did.  If you chose not to show love, this was a Chamber One behavior where you neither felt nor showed love.  In Chamber One you probably avoided this person or perhaps you may have confronted or slighted this person in some way.  Whatever you did, you didn’t feel love or show love.

Is our love authentic or are we merely acting?

Most of us toggle through each of the Four Chambers throughout various social interactions.  However, over time, patterns emerge and through honest self-evaluation and introspection you will notice within yourself the chamber within which most of your behavior patterns occur.  There are, for example, people who are almost always in Chamber Two.  People who care more about how others feel about them than how they feel towards others are classic Chamber Two people.  They act nice and kind but do it for all the wrong reasons, such as wanting to be accepted, wanting to be valued, or wanting to be esteemed.  Like actors, they are constantly playing to an audience and have an insatiable longing and yearning for the approval of the crowd.  They value themselves when they are valued by others, failing to realize that valuing others is what actually helps us discover our true identity and our true worth.

I’m convinced that practicing Christianity is just that–practice.  We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day, which means not just doing the right things but also doing them for the right reason.  Chamber Two behavior doesn’t cut it.  We must evolve into Third and Fourth Chamber beings, who are filled with love and have the ability to express it.  The Four Chambers is a practice tool that will help free you from the prison-like atmosphere of the First and Second Chambers.

Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Why do I say these lower chambers are prison-like?  Because for those stuck in Chamber Two behavior patterns, where they care more about being seen in the best possible light rather than seeing others in the best possible light, life is a living hell.  Those stuck in Chamber Two are constantly trying to control how others feel about them, which, of course, is totally out of their control.  And trying to control things that are out of your control is the definition of suffering.  Being manipulative and acting with ulterior motives does not bring happiness.  It’s a prison from which many people don’t ever escape.  Those stuck in Chamber One simply don’t have the love of God in them and, since God is love, they live their lives without God, which is a prison.  Both First and Second Chamber people find it hard to look inward because they are always looking “out there” and trying to control or blame what is “out there” instead of fixing themselves and looking at their own hearts.  In short, they cannot repent.  They are damned.  Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.

Let your light shine.

What chamber are you in?  Do you really know how to love?  Are you honest with yourself?  Do you regularly and routinely work on how you feel about others?  Do you regularly and routinely evaluate your motives?

I would invite you to apply the Four Chambers paradigm for a week.  In every interaction that you have, label what you do and why you do it with one of the Four Chambers.  As you do this, you will start to think from the inside out rather than from the outside in.  You will begin to feel lighter as you shed the burden of worrying what others think about you and focus on how you feel about others.  You will begin to see every human interaction as an opportunity to express the highest within you, which is the light of Christ that is in us all.  And, most of all, as that light of Christ glows within you, you will be filled with his presence and his love, which will bring you happiness, joy and peace.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

I Am Here

I Am Here

I distinctly recall taking what I thought would be my last mortal breath.  Life and circumstance had beaten me down and whittled me away to a mere shadow of my former self.  I was rapidly wasting away.  At 90 pounds less than what I weighed just a few months before, my active heart rate was 32-33 beats per minute.  My digestive system was paralyzed.  I couldn’t eat.  I was on a feeding tube.  And, as much as I wanted to live, I was so weak that I remember consciously choosing to take my last breath.

Breathing had become a chore.  Even blinking my eyelids felt like it exhausted me, at times.  I was ready to let go.  I’d had enough.  So in the deep of the night, I closed my eyes.  I inhaled one last time as a voice deep within me said “let go.”  And then I let go, sure that this was it.

Do you really choose your next breath?

But then, somehow, somewhere; somewhere from beyond me but within me I found my next breath.  In fact, it wasn’t really “me” that took that next breath at all.  At least it didn’t feel that way.  My chest rose.  My lungs filled with air.  It was not by my own doing.  And as I felt this strange invader fill my chest with air, I heard an instinct that sounded like the quiet, thunderous, soothing voice of a thousand rumbling whispers declare from a place deep within the universe of my soul, “I am.”  It then rushed out of me, echoing, “here.”

I am here!

It happened again. Inhale.  “I am.”

Exhale.  “Here.” Again.

Inhale.  “I am.”

Exhale.  “Here.”



As my mortality persisted one breath at a time, I was deduced to the cosmic realization of my own nothingness, which revealed the mystery of my existence—that my existence had always been breath-to-breath and, so long as I had mortal breath, the great “I AM” of scripture (Exodus 3:14) and the little “I am” of “me” existed and spoke with a univocity I’d never realized.  God was in there somewhere inside of me.  And I was part of him.

The breath of life is more than a mere instinct.  It is God in us.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) meant something entirely new to me.  My existence was proof of God’s existence.  He was right there, in me, all along, breath by breath.  I now realize what an illusion it is to think that we somehow control our own mortality and live apart from God.  Do you really choose your next breath?

“God the Lord, he … created the heavens, and stretched them out; he … spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he … giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.”  (Isaiah 42:5.)

The breath of life is more than a mere instinct.  It is God in us.  The very breath of life in us is Existence itself captured and condensed in broken, frail and feeble mortality.  Our Existence means God wills and purposes us to live.  Therefore, so long as you are breathing, there is beauty, meaning and purpose to your existence, whether you see it or not.

So I took another breath.  And another.  And another, each breath a reminder of God’s loving presence inside of me.  And then I was filled with God’s overwhelming love.  Actually, “filled” is a bad way to describe it.  Yes, it was in me.  But I was also surrounded and immersed in this atmosphere of love, as if in a womb or cocoon.  And yet even that is an inaccurate description.  It was more like the realization that in my nothingness love was reality.  It was the atmosphere I breathed.  Love was the foundation of reality.

You’ve never been in control and you never will be.

It is true that “in him we live and move and have our being.”  (Acts 17:28.)  It is true that God is love.  (1 John 4:8.)  And having been reduced to my essence, my wonderful nothingness, I wanted nothing more than to share God’s love and to be the embodiment of love.  I realized that I was part of God, that God is love and that I was built to love.  This purpose is what sustained me through years of living without food, subsisting on a feeding tube.

Our fears are like imaginary pirate ships on the sea of consciousness.

When you are so broken and so weak that you can no longer hold on, you have no choice but to let go.  When you let go, you look upon the fears and worries that tormented you and, suddenly, they are no longer a part of you.  Instead, they’re like pirate ships drifting away on the sea of consciousness … and you just let them float off to the horizon because they are no longer a part of you.  They are “out there.”  In fact, they were never real to begin with.  They were mere illusions, created by my refusal to embrace my innate worthiness and godliness, byproducts of my lustful pursuit of the illusory oasis of control and perfection.

Truth is, you’ve never been in control and you never will be.  You’re never “perfect” in the way you think of perfection.  If you give up, fail, lose, or whatever else you fear, you’ll keep breathing.  So surrender the imaginary battle.  Stop trying and repent.   After all, repentance is nothing more than an awakening to your innate lovability and worthiness.  It is re-discovering that lovable, innocent child of God you once were, filled with love, filled with a sense of wonder, filled with light and innocence, ignorant to fear and avarice.  That child of God is still there inside of you and a new and hopeful world awaits you.  But you must let go and die to discover that.

Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”

Now, like a newborn child, I sometimes feel a bit alien in this confusing world.  I miss the cocoon.  I miss the womb.  It’s when I’m fighting the evil pirates out there, labeling who the bad guys are, and judging and assessing that I feel this way.  That’s when I feel lost.   But when I get back to my core purpose, when I put the things I’m trying to control out of reach and then reach out and love another person with real intent, I find God again.  I feel that connection and closeness once more.  I see the enemy pirate ships float away and then evaporate on the horizon once again and say to myself, “Why was I so worried?”  “Home” really is where your heart is.  Living love is living with God.  It’s heaven on earth.

It’s the little things that keep me grounded in true reality.  Buy lemonade from a kid at the lemonade stand.  Compliment someone.  Write a nice email or text to encourage someone.  Give hugs.  Pat someone on the back.  Be courteous in traffic.  Buy someone lunch.  Just little stuff like that can keep you grounded in the reality of your existence and purpose.  These things create atonement and connection.

You were built to love.  That is your purpose.  And living your purpose brings peace and happiness.  That is why the breath of life persists inside of you.  Each breath witnesses that you are an extension of the great “I AM.”