Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Few Questions for You

I'm still working on how to present my essay about the Priesthood to you, and I should have something to post within the next few weeks about it. But today I wanted to do something different. As you know, this blog is about understanding. And I would like to understand more about your beliefs.

Growing up a Mormon, serving as a Mormon missionary, and studying law at a Baptist university, I have had ample opportunities to explain and defend my faith. I'm sure many of my beliefs seem very different to you. But if you look at things from my perspective, many of your beliefs seem very different to me!
So I have a few questions for you. Be at ease; I'm not trying to corner you. And I will never attack what you say (see the seven rules above). I just want to understand you better.
Here are my questions:
1. Why do most Christian denominations teach that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are Three expressions of the same Entity rather than Three distinct Entities?
2. If God spoke directly to His children through dreams, visions, the ministry of Angels, and by His own voice from the time of Adam, through the ministry, crucifiction and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through the ministry of the Apostles, why did He stop when the Apostles were martyred?
3. Why is the Bible considered by most Christians as the sole repository of God's words? That is, why can there be no other scripture than the Bible?
4. Finally, I have noticed that each Christian sect has its own perspective on Salvation: some say a lip confession is all that is necessary, others say baptism is essential, and some say nothing is necessary because God has already decided who will be saved. My question is do you believe that regardless of sect, will all those who belong to a Christian denomination go to Heaven despite their conflicting views on Salvation, and why?
Feel free to answer all, some, one, but please not none of the questions above. I believe I've already addressed each of these topics. If I haven't please point it out to me, and I will address it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I sometimes wonder why we are so quick to point out how people are different from ourselves. Maybe it's because if we were to take the time to list our similarities, it would take too long. But for centuries, we have used our differences as bricks to build barriers around ourselves to protect "us" from "others." Most of us began constructing our barriers as children. Some of us began building upon the already high barriers of our parents.
I've had my own barriers. But some of the most satisfying experiences I've had were when my barriers tumbled down:
As a citizen of the United States, it was easy for me to separate myself from citizens of other nations. The privileges and opportunities here have provided amazing opportunities for education and economic comfort. And it was easy to consider myself superior to non-Americans.
But in Ecuador, that barrier was quick to fall. After I had served as a missionary for four months in a remote Andean Indian village, my companion and I visited a family which belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to encourage them to share the message of our Church with their friends. Their home was a flat-roofed, cement shack with three rooms. They had an old television and used their bed as a couch from which they could watch it. They were more fortunate than most because their floor was cement and not dirt.
The mother of the family had served as a missionary herself, and she and I began exchanging missionary experiences. It was obvious how deeply she loved Jesus Christ and how important her time as a missionary was to her.
And then it hit me. The only real difference between her and me was that she had been born in Ecuador and I in the United States. And that difference didn't matter at all. If anything, I bore a great responsibility as a United States citizen to extend the privileges and opportunities of our nation to others.
I built another barrier in High School when the Southern Baptist Convention decided to hold its annual convention in Salt Lake City with the express purpose of making all Mormons Christians. It infuriated me. I had grown up singing songs like "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam," "I Feel My Savior's Love," "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus," "I Believe in Christ," "I Know that My Redeemer Lives," "Redeemer of Israel," and "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee." My bedtime stories were about Jesus' ministry in Palestine. And I had studied the New Testament personally, in Sunday School, and in Seminary (a program for high-school-aged students). What was more, I had read the Book of Mormon, which teaches and testifies of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and only means of salvation, many times.
All I could think was, "How dare they tell me I'm not a Christian?" And I dismissed all Baptists as modern-day Pharisees.
Little did I know that I would attend a Baptist-sponsored law school. But even after we decided to come to Baylor, I expected that I would need to shield myself behind the barrier I built in High School.
But during orientation, my barrier began coming down. As I sat in a lecture about how to analyze cases by Professor Osler, a devout Baptist, he asked me to stand. He asked me about a few details of a murder case from Arizona. Then he talked about our legal system. And he asked if Ecuador's legal system functioned like the United States'.
I was immediately impressed that a professor doing an orientation lecture would take the time to read almost one hundred profiles so he could personalize a one-hour lesson. And most of those students wouldn't take one of Professor Osler's classes until they entered practice court.
A little over one year later, I began taking the criminal law classes Professor Osler teaches, and I started getting to know him better. He also made a presentation to the Christian Legal Society about his "faith journey." Even though I'm not a member of the CLS, I attended. He spoke of his childhood and the night while working as an itinerant crop harvester in Washington state when he humbled himself and pleaded for God to guide his life. I left that meeting knowing that Professor Osler loves Jesus Christ.
I've had the privilege to take other classes with Professor Osler, including one which he team taught with two Baptist ministers. As I listened to Professor Osler and those ministers, I often felt as if I were sitting in a Mormon Sunday School class. I recognized that Baptists and Mormons share so much when it comes to devotion to Jesus, loving others, and forgiving others. It was wonderful to be instructed by those three humble followers of Jesus Christ.
And my barrier crumbled.
Now, Professor Osler, someone whom I would have dismissed as a modern day Pharisee, has become my mentor, friend, and brother in the faith of Jesus Christ.
It's true that differences will always distinguish "us" from "others." But we can't let those differences divide us. So let's allow our commonalities to demolish our barriers, or at least bridge them. Otherwise, we will lose countless opportunities to learn and grow. And we will never know how many friends we could have had.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Heaven Wouldn't Be Heaven without My Family

The last two weeks have made me very grateful to know families are meant to be eternal. When I came back to Waco, my wife and kids stayed in Utah. We decided that, because I would participate in Baylor Law School's rigorous Practice Court program ("P.C.") this Fall, things would be easier if they extended their summer vacation by three weeks. Although P.C. has kept me busy, the absence of my family has given me cause to ponder about the eternal nature of families and heaven.
And I've realized heaven really wouldn't be heaven if my wife and children weren't with me there.
For two weeks, I've yearned to feel my wife's embrace, to see her smile, and to hear her voice free from telephone-line distortion. My arms have ached to hug my daughter. And I've longed to snuggle with my son while he sleeps in my arms. P.C. has been hard, but it doesn't compare to the anguish of loneliness and longing I have felt in my family's absence. I have counted down every moment that brings me closer to their return.
I'm sure in the future, circumstances, such as work, will separate me from them, and during each separation I will not be able to wait until we're reunited. But I'll always come home. And amidst hugs and kisses, we'll be together again.
Eventually, death will separate us. And if death were to work a permanent separation between me and them, I couldn't think of a more perfect definition of hell.
But God never intended death to destroy our families. The first marriage on the earth was eternal. (See Orson Pratt, "Celestial Marriage," Journal of Discourses, 1:58 (1852). God Himself united Adam and Eve while they lived in the Garden of Eden before they became subject to death. (See Genesis 2:21-24). Death could not separate them, nor could could it sever the bonds with which they were bound. (See Pratt, "Celestial Marriage"). Although they fell and all mankind became subject to death, Jesus Christ overcame the effects of the Fall and made it possible to be with our families forever. (Id.).

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, God has restored the truth that a man, a woman, and their children can be united eternally. And in 1836, the Prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and gave them the power to seal families together forever! (D&C 110:13-16).
My wife and I were married by this authority August 23, 2002. And the blessings of our marriage extend to our children. They are ours forever as long as my wife and I live worthily in this life. As more children are born to us, they will also be ours.
Aside from the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His redeeming sacrifice, there is no doctrine which brings me greater joy.
My friends who read this, I want you to know families can be eternal through the atonement of Jesus Christ. I know it. As I write these words, I feel the power of the bonds which bind me to my wife and children and those which bind me to my parents. It is a true power. And I want you to feel that same power binding you to your families.
Because, if we are honest with ourselves, it is impossible to imagine heaven without our families there.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Justice and Mercy

I will defer to another day the discussion I had planned to present today because this week my friend, David Corbett, asked, "What is worse, to be unjust or unmerciful?" Eloquently, he concluded it is worse to be unmerciful.
Since I read his comments, I have thought much about that question. And I feel both are equally devastating.
Justice is a two-edged sword, cutting for and against us. When we obey the law, justice ensures we receive every privilege and blessing we are entitled to under the law: liberty, life, joy, and ultimately salvation. But when we violate the law, justice demands punishment for our actions: captivity, death, misery, and ultimately damnation. And while we receive blessings for obedience, we do not receive any additional merit to satisfy the demands that justice rightly has against us.
By its nature, justice considers all circumstances surrounding our actions. Taking into account all aggravating and mitigating factors, it renders judgement. And if we are honest, the demands of justice are perfectly, well, just.
Without justice, all things would be compound in one. The dichotomy of blessing and punishment creates opposition in all things. We could not know joy if we did not know sorrow. We could not choose good if we could not contrast it with evil. And we could not receive the blessings of obedience without justice. When justice confronts us with our punishment, we will plead for mercy, promising we "will never do it again."
And if there were no justice to demand punishment for our evil deeds, there would be no need for mercy.
Mercy is available only through the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is His desire to save all mankind. To that end, He offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin to answer the demands of justice. He has extended mercy to all of us and will save us if we let Him.
Christ's mercy is the perfect and highest manifestation of pure love the universe has ever known. Thus, the failure to extend mercy is the failure to love. When we are merciful, we are filled with the pure love of Christ, or charity. And as the prophet Mormon taught, if we have not charity, we are nothing.
Therefore, if we fail to be just, we fail to take the time to analyze the individual circumstances of each person. We won't give praise where it is due. We won't correct the mistakes of others. And if we fail to be merciful, we lack charity, the perfect love of Jesus Christ, and we are nothing.