Monday, November 15, 2010

I'd Really Like to Write More

I'd really like to write more, but family circumstances prohibit me. My wife and children are my priority, and I haven't been able to write. So if you read my blog, you've already figured out that I will not be able to write more. Thus, I bid you adieu.

-Craig

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Prerequisite Three: God Has Established Laws as Part of His Plan (Part Three)

God’s Law Reveals God’s Nature

You may have read this heading and said, “Now, hold on. What does knowing God’s nature have to do with our salvation?” The answer to your question is, “Everything.” Jesus Christ defined eternal life―salvation―just before He suffered in Gethsemane and on Calvary: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3. God has promised eternal life to the faithful. That is, He has promised to reveal them His nature, His attributes, His character, His face, and even Himself. If we don’t know who He is, we will never live forever in His presence. And ultimately, we will never know him until He parts the veil that separates Him from us, shows us His face, and speaks with us as one friend speaks to another.

And God, to a modern prophet, revealed how we can know Him: “This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law.” D&C 132:24. So by receiving God’s law, we will know Him.

How will we know Him? You’ve heard the saying, or something similar, “If you want to know a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” By keeping the Law, we walk in God’s footsteps, we walk in His shoes. That’s because each commandment is an expression of Divine Nature:

And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature [those who disobey the Law], or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; . . .

Alma 41:10-11. Therefore, those who live contrary to the Law live contrary to God’s nature. So God’s nature is the Law. Thus, God doesn’t worship idols. He doesn’t use profanity. He honors the Sabbath day. God does not murder. Nor does He violate the laws of chastity. He doesn’t steal. He doesn’t lie. And He doesn’t covet. He obeys the law of sacrifice. He loves all His children. He is just. And He is merciful. He is Perfect.

And Jesus Christ demonstrated that it is God’s nature to obey the Law. Although He was tempted in all things, Jesus never violated the Law. Hebrews 4:15. He even kept the commandments that would not serve Him. The perfect example of this is Jesus’ decision to be baptized. Baptism is for the remission of sins, and those who are “whole need no physician.” Moroni 8:8. Yet even though He had no sins, the Whole submitted His will to the will of the Father to “fulfill all righteousness.” Matt. 3:15; 2 Ne. 31:5-6. Jesus was baptized because God had commanded that every accountable person must be baptized. That was enough for Him. He didn’t ask, “Why?” He didn’t say, “I don’t need baptism. I’m perfect.” Rather, He said, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” Matt. 3:15.

And Jesus’ righteousness both pleased God and revealed God’s nature to us. In all that He did, Jesus showed us the Father. John 14:9-12. If God the Father had been in Jerusalem and Galilee instead of Jesus Christ, nothing would have changed. He would have healed the sick, raised the dead, caused the lame to walk, given sight to the blind, rebuked sin, forgiven sinners, blessed the children, suffered for our sins, died, and been resurrected. He would have fulfilled all righteousness by observing and obeying the Law.

So if we want to know God―want to have eternal life―we need to obey the Law. All of it! Even the commandments that we don’t like and those we think will not serve us. It’s the only way to know Him.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Prerequisite Three: God Has Established Laws as Part of His Plan (Part Two)

God’s Law and God’s Love

Love is the perfect motivator. Not only does it dictate our ends, it also tempers our means. This was never more evident than it was with our Savior. His constant call was, "Come, follow me. I know the way to joy and peace. Do what I'm doing, and you'll get there." During life's battles, He was always on the front lines. And He never asked anyone to do anything He wasn't willing to do Himself.

And it was love that motivated Jesus' atoning sacrifice. Never had man or woman suffered, nor will man or woman ever suffer pain to the degree that Jesus suffered in Gethsamane and on Golgotha's cross. In an incomprehensible way, Jesus shrunk beneath the aggregate of mankind's sins, but glory be to the Father, Jesus partook of the bitter cup because He so loved the world and His Father, our Father, so loved the world.

How stunning to think that as the Roman soldiers scourged Jesus, spat on Jesus, mocked Jesus, and drove nails through Jesus' hands and feet, He suffered it "because of his loving kindness and his long suffering towards the children of men." 1 Nephi 19:9.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the greatest manifestation of God's love for us and the greatest gift of all the gifts we have received from God. We have received more gifts than we can number from God, and all of them are to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. Moses 1:39.

As hard as we may try, there is no way we will ever be able to repay our Father and Savior for their gifts to us. But what do they ask of us to say thank you? They ask us to keep the commandments. Mosiah 2:22.

"If ye love me, keep my commandments," Jesus pleaded. John 14:15. Additionally, Jesus summed all the commandments into the two Great Commandments: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Matthew 22:37-40. Thus, to love is a commandment.

Like it or not, love and the commandments are inseparable.

And it is precisely because God loves us that He has given us commandments, some of which may seem excessively restrictive. But consider this: If there were no commandments, there would be no sin, and if there were no sin, there would be no condemnation. Without condemnation, there would be no need for a Savior.

Jesus didn't have to go through the agony of Gethsemane or the horrors of Golgotha. The easy way, the painless way, would've been to withhold the law, commandments which God knew we would break anyway.

As evidenced by God's willingness to give us commandments that we would not always follow and His willingness to send His Son to satisfy the demands of the broken commandments, there is more to the commandments that the restriction of our "freedom."

Commandments are an invitation to become like Christ and our Heavenly Father. They possess a fullness of joy. They know true happiness. And obedience to each commandment tempers our characters and natures until we become like Them, "purified as [they] are pure." Moroni 7:48; 1 John 3:3.

What we do not recognize when we sin is that by so doing, we are acting in a manner contrary to the nature of God and contrary to the nature of happiness. Alma 41:11.
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With each commandment, God is pleading with us to be happy!

Additionally illustrative of God's love is His treatment of the sinner. Regardless of our religious denomination, we often receive the counsel to hate the sin but love the sinner. And Jesus showed us how in John 8:1-11:

While at the temple, the Pharisees brought before Him a woman caught in adultery, only murder and denying the Holy Ghost are worse sins. See Alma 39:5. "The law says," they quoted, "such shall be stoned. What sayest thou?"

Jesus, paying little attention to them said, "Let he among you his without sin cast the first stone at her."

Convicted by their consciences, the mob dispersed, and Jesus was alone with the sinner.

"Has no man condemned thee?" Jesus asked.

"No man, Lord."

"Neither do I condemn thee; Go and sin no more."

The time for final judgement was not yet, and there was still hope for this woman, a daughter of God, caught in sin's snare. But her hope and future happiness hinged on sinning no more, for if she continued in sin, Jesus would have no choice but to condemn her on the day of judgment.
But I suspect Christ's love for her in not condemning her while unequivocally condemning her sin wrought so powerfully upon her that she went and sinned no more. And she began living in accord with the nature of happiness.

In the Americas, after Jesus' ascension and resurrection, He commanded the leaders of His Church to forbid the unworthy from participating in the ordinances of the Gospel, but instructed them, "ye shall not cast [the unworthy] out from among you, but ye shall minister unto [them] and shall pray for [them] unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that [they] repent[] and [are] baptized in my name, then shall ye receive [them], and shall minister unto [them the ordinances of my Gospel]." 3 Nephi 18:30.

When we recognize that the commandments are a manifestation of God's love for us and are calculated to bring us joy, it becomes much easier to obey. And it becomes easier for us to follow the example of Jesus as we deal with those who are caught in sin.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Prerequisite Three: God Has Established Laws as Part of His Plan (Part One)

We cannot escape laws. Laws touch every aspect of our lives, from the stars in the heavens to the smallest subatomic particles. The stars obey laws of fusion to shine and produce energy. They obey the law of gravity and exert their influence through it. The planets obey the same law as they orbit the stars. Our own Earth obeys the laws of meteorology, geology, chemistry, physics, biology, and plate tectonics, among others. The electrons, neutrons, and protons forming atoms obey the laws of electromagnetism and the laws governing the strong and weak forces. Traffic laws govern our behavior in our cars. Tax laws dictate how much money we have to pay to the government. Water laws direct the distribution of rain water and spring runoff. And this list can hardly be called a beginning! There are laws upon laws that govern our lives.
I’ve tried to think of any aspect of my life that isn’t affected by some law, and so far I can’t. For example, my decision of what to eat for breakfast implicates laws of nutrition that govern my physical health: If I constantly eat food that is high in calories, I’ll get fat; if I eat food high in cholesterol, I run the risk of stroke or heart attack; if I eat rancid meat, I’ll grow ill and vomit; if I don’t drink enough water, I’ll become dehydrated; if I eat poison, I’ll die. Even what I choose to wear involves law: If I choose to wear shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals without a coat in the middle of a snow storm, I’m ignoring the laws of thermodynamics and will inevitably freeze; if I wear revealing clothing, I’m ignoring the laws of modesty and chastity. The choice to brush our teeth is how we obey dental law. Taking a shower complies with laws that keep us clean and healthy. What time we go to bed is a choice whether or not to obey the laws that govern how our body recuperates and recovers from our daily activities. So laws affect everything we do, whether we like it or not.
Truly, where there is a kingdom, there is a law.
So often, we chafe when someone mentions commandments, laws, or rules. We think they rob us of our freedom. After all, the fastest way for someone to spoil a good time is to tell you that what you’re doing is wrong. Inevitably, we bristle and lash out, “How dare you tell me what I can and can’t do! I’m no robot!”
But if that’s our attitude when we’re reminded of the commandments, laws, and rules―what I’ll call “the Law” from now on―we’ve got a lot to learn. The Law, at least Eternal Law, does not exist to spoil our fun. Belief in God mandates a belief in Divine Purpose. And unless we believe that God exists only to keep us from having a good time, there must be something more to the Law. That is, the Law must form part of God’s Divine Purpose for us, His children.
The Law is perfect, and God expects us to live it perfectly. Thus, we need to study the Law, understand its role in God’s plan, and strive to obey it.
If we don’t, we will never reach our potential. And we will never understand the greatest gift any of us have received or will ever receive: the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Jesus came, after all, to satisfy the demands of the Law. He is the only One who obeyed the Law perfectly. And in His success comes our salvation.
So what is the purpose of the Law? I suppose that an entire book could be written about why God has given us His Law. But I won’t try to do that. Instead, we’ll talk about the Law as it relates to our eventual salvation (being brought back into God’s presence because of the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ) and sanctification (being made holy through the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ) or damnation (being cut off from the presence of God because of our sins).
For the next few weeks, we'll discuss how the Law will lead to salvation and sanctification or to damnation.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part Five)

The Resurrection and Final Judgement

Eventually, every spirit that is in the Spirit World, whether righteous or wicked, will be reunited with its physical body, never more to be separated by death. The resurrection is a free gift made possible through Jesus Christ, and even the most wicked people who ever lived will be resurrected. We’ll talk about why everyone will be resurrected a little later on, but what we need to remember today is that the resurrection is a manifestation of God’s love for us and His desire to bless all of His children.

But even though all will be resurrected, not everyone will receive the same reward. After we are resurrected, we will all stand before the throne of God to be judged (2 Nephi 2:15–22; Helaman 14:17–18). As is common among many religions, there are many Latter-day Saints who feel that God is looking for any excuse to thrust them to Hell. But the opposite is true. Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want to give us everything They possibly can for our final rewards. J. Reuben Clark, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and member of the First Presidency said:

I believe that [God’s] juridical concept of his dealings with his children could be expressed in this way: I believe that in his justice and mercy, he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.



(Quoted by Thomas S. Monson, "Mercy—The Divine Gift," Ensign, May 1995).

Christ will judge us according to what we did with the light and knowledge that we have received and according to the desires of our hearts. Ultimately, He will either reward us with an inheritance in one of three degrees of glory or damn us to an eternity in Outer Darkness (Hell).

The Degrees of Glory and Outer Darkness

The three degrees of glory are The Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, or the Telestial Kingdom. (Consider 1 Corinthians 15:40–41; 2 Corinthians 2:12). And all of them are Heaven, the glory and beauty of each excelling that of the Earth. Outer Darkness is not a degree of glory and is reserved only for the most wicked.

The knowledge of these kingdoms was restored in our day to the prophet Joseph Smith. In 1832, while studying and clarifying certain passages of the Bible, Joseph and his companions read John 5:29. The power of the Holy Ghost descended upon them, and a vision opened before Joseph and his scribe, Sidney Rigdon. The other men in the room did not see the vision but felt the power of God filling the room. Occasionally, Joseph would say, "What do I see?" and then he would describe what he was seeing. Sidney would then reply, "I see it, too." Occasionally, Sidney would say, "What do I see?" and then he would describe what he was seeing. Joseph would then reply, "I see it, too."

After the vision closed, Joseph and Sidney wrote down the vision as best they could, and we have it today as section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The Celestial Kingdom (D&C 76:50–70).

The Celestial Kingdom is the highest degree of glory and the habitation of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. All those who attain this kingdom receive all that Heavenly Father promised He would give us. If we are worthy of the Celestial Kingdom, we will become like our Heavenly Father: perfect, possessing a fullness of joy. And by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, our families during our lives on Earth will be with us eternally; husbands, wives, and children will be united forever!

Those who attain this Kingdom will also experience eternal progression. That is, they will have no end as they participate in the salvation of souls for all eternity.

To attain this Kingdom, we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, have faith in Him, repent of
our sins, be baptized by one having the proper authority of the Priesthood, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and keep the commandments so that Jesus Christ can save us from our sins (see Alma 42:13; Helaman 5:11). Mercifully, those who did not receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ while living on the Earth but who would have received it with all their hearts had they had the opportunity will also be saved in the Celestial Kingdom. For this purpose, Latter-day Saints build temples and perform ordinances for those who have passed away who did not receive the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

And all those who were not accountable for their actions—children who died before they reached the age of accountability and those who are like children—will also receive a place in the Celestial Kingdom (Mosiah 3:16). But because they were never accountable for their sins, they do not need to receive the ordinance of baptism (Moroni 8:10–12).

Terrestrial Kingdom (D&C 76:71–80)

The Terrestrial Kingdom is the second highest Kingdom of Heaven. Those who attain this Kingdom will not live in the presence of Heavenly Father, but Jesus Christ and other who attain the Celestial Kingdom will administer to them throughout eternity. This glory of this Kingdom differs from the glory of the Celestial Kingdom as the glory of the moon differs from the glory of the sun.

Those who attain this Kingdom are the just men and women of the Earth who would not receive the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because all religions contain Truth, all those who lived according to the Truth they received will not be thrust down to Hell. Thus, men and women who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not suffer eternal damnation. Rather, they will rejoice with their Savior through all eternity if they live according to their religions while upon the Earth.

The Telestial Kingdom (D&C 76:81–86)

The lowest Kingdom of Heaven is the Telestial Kingdom. Those who attain this Kingdom will be blessed with the visitation of the Holy Ghost. The glory of this Kingdom differs from the glory of the Terrestrial Kingdom as glory of the stars differs from the glory of the moon. This Kingdom’s beauty, although the lowest Kingdom of Heaven, far exceeds the beauty of the Earth. It is a place of rest and peace.

This Kingdom, unlike the Celestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms, is reserved for those who must pay for their own sins because they would not let Jesus pay for them. These are robbers, murderers, thieves, rapists, kidnappers, and all the wicked men and women who lived upon the face of the Earth. Because of their wickedness, they are thrust to Hell (Outer Darkness) prior to being resurrected. While in Hell, they must suffer even as Jesus suffered (D&C 19:4–20). But after their debt is paid, they will be resurrected and will inherit salvation in the Telestial Kingdom.

Outer Darkness/Hell (D&C 76:30–49)

Outer Darkness is the Mormon term for Hell. The torment of those in Hell is "as a lake of fire and brimstone whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. . . ." (Mosiah 3:27). These are they who are cut off from the presence of God. But not all those who go to Hell will remain there forever. Once their debt is paid, they will be released.
But there are those whose debt can never be repaid. These are the devil and his angels and the sons of perdition. To become a son of perdition, a man must first be exceptionally good then turn against Christ "[h]aving denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame" (D&C 76:35). Although there may be more, the scriptures identify only two sons of perdition: Cain and Judas Iscariot.

But even though their debt cannot be repaid, even the sons of perdition will be resurrected. Thus, is the mercy of our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part Four)

The Spirit World

Our life on Earth ends, of course, with death. Sooner or later each of us must let our tabernacle of clay return to the dust. But death is not the end of our existence, just the end of mortality. Our spirits, everything except our physical bodies, will live on in a place of waiting called the Spirit World.


In the Spirit World, the dead await the resurrection, which is possible through Jesus Christ. There are two divisions in the Spirit World: Paradise and Outer Darkness, also called Spirit Prison or Hell. When we die, we will be judged according to what we did with the light and knowledge which we received on the Earth. If we were righteous, we will go to Paradise (Alma 40:11–12). If we were not, we will go to Spirit Prison (1 Peter 3:19). These assignments are temporary and last only until our bodies and spirits reunite in the resurrection. Further, these divisions have more to do with our relationship with God than they do with geographical locations. Everyone who lived a righteous life, even if they did not receive the fullness of the Gospel, are entitled to some portion of God’s Spirit. Those who lived a wicked life are not and will be cut off from His presence. The separation from God’s presence, as we’ll discuss at length later, is truly Hell.

What few recognize, though, is that the Spirit World is really an extension of mortality. Those there have the opportunity to be taught, to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to repent, to be baptized, to receive the remission of their sins, to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to receive Temple Ordinances and Covenants. But even though they can learn of Jesus Christ, exercise faith in Him, and repent in the Spirit World, they cannot receive the Ordinances and Covenants of the Gospel without help.

The Ordinances and Covenants of the Gospel pertain solely to mortality. We cannot receive them unless we have physical bodies. For example, we can’t be baptized without being immersed in water. And that creates a problem for the billions of people who lived on Earth who never had the opportunity to receive the fullness of the Gospel. But God is just and will not punish someone simply because she was born in a place where the fullness of the Gospel was not available. So God allows members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to receive the Covenants and Ordinances of the Gospel for them vicariously in Holy Temples. Members research names of the dead and submit them to Temples. Then they receive the Covenants and Ordinances of the Gospel in their place. The dead then have the choice of whether or not to accept the work that has been done for them.

Lest you wonder how the dead can receive Covenants and Ordinances vicariously, remember that Jesus Christ suffered for our sins vicariously. So if Jesus Christ can suffer in our place, there is no reason to doubt that we can receive Covenants and Ordinances in the place of those who have died.

After everyone in the Spirit World has the opportunity to accept or reject the fullness of the Gospel, everyone will be resurrected. That is, our spirits and our physical bodies will be united, never again to be separated.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part Three)

Enduring well means doing more than walking around and looking like we’re sucking lemons. Now, I know that I’ve just gone on for pages about how hard life is. But, notwithstanding C-3PO’s lament in Star Wars, we were not made to suffer; it is not our lot in life. In fact, “[we] are, that [we] might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). So how can we have joy despite life’s trials?
When I say joy, I'm not talking about the proximate pleasures of the flesh. Rather, I'm talking about the abiding happiness that comes only through the power of God. (See John 15:11; Helaman 5:44).
God is happy. In fact, the nature of God is the nature of happiness. (Alma 41:11). And because He is happy, He knows how to make His children happy. After all, He's already given Jesus the "fullness of joy." (3 Nephi 28:10). The only true way to be happy, therefore, is to partake of the nature of God. But how can we though? The answer is simple: obey.
Jesus was perfectly obedient. And Jesus commands us to be like Him, (3 Nephi 27:27) even to be perfect. (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48). Jesus wasn't taunting us. You see, He wants us to be happy, and the only true way for us to be happy is to be like Him. “Take my yoke upon you,” He pleaded, “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). A yoke is a device people used to harness beasts of burden―horses, oxen, donkeys, and cattle―together. It forced the animals to work together. And by working together, they could pull more weight individually than they could if they were not yoked to other animals. So if two oxen each had an individual-maximum pulling strength of four tons, by yoking them together they could pull nine or ten tons. So when we are yoked with Christ, His yoke is easy and His burden is light because He is pulling so much more than we ever could! Remember that pioneer boy who, when he could go no further, his handcart began pushing him. But if we break the yoke that binds us to Christ, we will be left to pull the weight of life alone.
And we become yoked with Christ when we accept the fullness of His Gospel, are baptized, and commit to live all of the commandment. There are two kinds of commandments: preparatory commandments and what I'll call complete commandments. Complete commandments are harder to keep. Compare the Mosaic injunction against adultery, (Exodus 20:14), to Jesus' prohibition against lusting (Matthew 5:27-28). And to me, it would be much easier to provide the occasional sacrificial lamb instead of offering up my "whole soul" (Omni 1:26) with "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" to God. (See 3 Nephi 9:20). So because of the difficulty of living the complete commandments, we insist on living the preparatory commandments.
But obedience to preparatory commandments can only bring us preparatory joy. And lest we be ever preparing and never coming to the fullness of joy, we must accept and live all of God's complete commandments. Still, living the preparatory commandments is better than not living the commandments at all. For disobedience brings only misery and captivity.
It will take time, however, to live all the complete commandments. Jesus knew we couldn't do it right away. That's why He suffered for us and provided the gift of the Atonement, thus making repentance and forgiveness possible, which, by the way, also bring great joy. (Luke 15:10; D&C 18:10-16). He knows we need help. And He helps in so many ways.
As I said, Jesus performed the matchless Atonement and made it possible to receive forgiveness of our sins. But through His Grace, He also gives us strength to keep the commandments. Moroni, that last Book of Mormon prophet, invited us:
[C]ome unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

(Moroni 10:32-33).

Jesus is both the way and the means to eternal joy!

And Jesus often uses others to help us become happy. For example, He used Alma the younger to help Corianton, Alma's youngest son. While serving as a missionary with his father and older brother, Corianton visited a prostitute named Isabel. (Alma 39:1-3). His actions were not only self-destructive but became the excuse for many to disbelieve the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Alma 39:11). Alma sat Corianton down and unequivocally denounced Corianton's sexual promiscuity as an abomination. (Alma 39:5). And for four chapters Alma reproves and counsels his son about eternal justice and the mercy that comes only through Christ. (See Alma 39-42). Finally, Alma said,

O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.

And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words.

(Alma 42:30-31).
Alma's talk with Corianton worked. Corianton repented and, for the rest of his life, taught repentance and the Plan of Happiness through Jesus Christ.
There are times when we will be like Corianton, in need of loving correction. And there are times when we will be like Alma, in need of giving loving correction. Both present dangers. So often, the truth is hard to bear, and when a loved one confronts us and calls us to come to Jesus, we may lash out against them. On the other hand, we must be careful that our attempt to correct doesn't become a stoning. Also, if you know the story of Alma the younger, you'll know that he once sought to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. (Alma 36:6). He was a vile man. And it took the visitation of an angel to get him to repent. (Alma 36:6-24). The danger of being called a hypocrite was there and very real.
Thankfully for Corianton, Alma loved him too much to look away and ignore his bad behavior. Thus, Corianton started walking again along the stepping stones of the Plan of Happiness with the help of his Savior and his father.
So if we want to be happy, we must keep the commandments. All of them. We mustn't lash out against those who deliver them to us. And we shouldn't lash out against those who call our sins to our attention, even if they are hypocrites.
For it is through obedience to the commandments that we learn the nature of happiness. And by learning the nature of happiness we partake of the Nature of God until God gives us eternal joy, even the fullness of joy. And only He can give it.
Let me share with you the great blessings and happiness that I have received because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The greatest joy in my life is my relationship with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I know Them, that They live, that They know me personally, that They love me, and that They want me to return to Them with my family to receive all of the blessings of eternal life. I have not seen Their faces in this life. But that is all that I lack to have perfect knowledge of Their existence and character. I received this knowledge primarily through the Book of Mormon, through obedience to the commandments, and through my service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). It is through Jesus Christ that I have received the remission of my sins, and through Him, I am becoming the man who He needs me to be.
After my relationship with my God and Savior, the greatest blessing in my life is my wife. We met at church. I had just returned home from my service as a missionary Ecuador and was assigned to give a talk during sacrament meeting (the main meeting for Mormons each Sunday). My wife had been home from her mission in Hong Kong for six months and was a member of the same ward (local congregation) my family attended. She had been assigned to speak at a different ward. I saw her in the foyer of the chapel as she waited for her mother so they could go to her assignment. She wore a black silk Chinese dress with red embroidery and caught me as I was looking at her. Five months later, we were married in the Salt Lake Temple and covenanted with God and each that we would be faithful to each other and to Him. We received the promise that we will be together throughout all eternity as husband and wife. My love for her has grown daily. She is amazing. It is because of her that I am who I am. She has been my strength and greatest supporter. I can’t imagine life without her. And had we not been going to church and living the Gospel, we wouldn’t be together.
And my wife has given me three beautiful children. Admittedly, sometimes my kids frustrate me, but I love being a dad. I love snuggling with my kids. I love seeing them accomplish their goals. And I love seeing them develop a relationship with God. They will be my children forever because my wife and I were married in the Temple and have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My children are my joy.
I’m also who I am because of the Gospel. My dad was not born a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But soon after he graduated from High School, he was baptized and yoked himself with Christ. A little while later he was serving as a missionary in the Netherlands. At the same time, my mom, who had been born to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been baptized when she was eight, was struggling as her mother died of cancer. As the oldest daughter, she became the mother to her younger siblings. Her older brother, Jan, was also on a mission in the Netherlands and had been assigned to be the junior companion to my dad. Through Uncle Jan, my parents started writing each other. And after forty-six years of marriage, eleven children, twenty-nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, Mom and Dad are currently serving together as senior missionaries in the Netherlands. If my dad had not joined the Church, I would not be here. I love my parents. They have been a blessing and a source of great joy for me throughout my life.
I could go on, but I don’t have the time right now. Just know that every good thing, every blessing worth having, I have received it through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part Two)

Our Life on Earth

As promised, life is a test. It’s hard, full of horror, pain, sickness, death, sorrow, heartache, and depression. But remember, it was a test we chose to take. Because all of us accepted our Heavenly Father’s plan for us, we are here on the Earth. And life is difficult by design.

Thankfully, we don’t have to face the difficulty of life alone. To help us return home to Him, Heavenly Father has called prophets, apostles, and even His Son to teach us what we must do to live with Him some day. They have taught us that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the mission He was sent to do on the Earth. He has paid for our sins, but our ability to receive the benefit of His sacrifice depends on whether we do all He has asked us to do.
First, we must have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, we must repent of our sins. Third, we must be baptized by one who possesses the authority of the Priesthood, which was restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Baptism is a covenant, a two-way promise, in which we promise to keep the commandments and God promises to give us eternal life. Fourth, we must receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Articles of Faith 1:4). These first principles and ordinances of the gospel place us on the straight and narrow path which leads to our Heavenly Home, but they are not our final destination (2 Nephi 31:19). To make it Home, we must "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ," keeping the commandments of God contained in the scriptures and delivered to us by modern prophets and apostles (2 Nephi 31:20).
None of these works pay for our sins. Jesus did, and it is only by His grace that we are saved. Good works are the means by which we submit our wills to the will of the Father until we are ultimately born again by the grace of Jesus Christ and are worthy to return Home.
Additionally, to become like our Heavenly Father, He has commanded that we make more covenants within Temples. And if we are true and faithful to these covenants, God has promised to give us all He has (Revelation 21:7; D&C 84:36–38).
During our lives on Earth, we are free to choose whether we will follow God’s plan for us or not (2 Nephi 2:27). We are also free to believe what we want to believe. But we will be held accountable for all our actions (Mosiah 4:30). Still, all of us can choose to follow God’s plan and keep His commandments.
And we can choose because God gave us all free will or agency. In fact, we had agency before we came to Earth. During our pre-Earth life, agency was so important to God, that He allowed a third part of the hosts of heaven led by Lucifer to rebel and fight against Him, and because they rebelled, they were cast out of heaven. (Revelation 12:7-11; D&C 29:36). And now, they are here striving to make us miserable by tempting us to choose evil. (2 Ne. 2:27).
Adam and Eve were the first on Earth to exercise their agency when they choice to eat the forbidden fruit or not. Joshua counseled Israel to choose to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15). And the Book of Mormon teaches that we have been instructed to know good from evil and that we are free to choose liberty and eternal life through Jesus Christ or captivity and death through the power of the devil. (2 Nephi 2:5, 27).
But there is a problem with agency: Inevitably someone will choose evil, and we know too well the horrors that mankind has inflicted on others, sometimes in the name of God. Innocent suffer. People starve. Many suffer from diseases.
Mankind is capable of unspeakable atrocity, especially when motivated by the temptations of the devil.
But we can't attribute that evil to God be cause He gave us the right to choose. We can’t say, “Why didn’t God stop this?” The prophet Enoch had a vision that revealed what God thinks about the destruction, evil, and carnage that fills the Earth:

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; . . . [And He said to Enoch:] Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; . . .

But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

(Moses 7: 28-37).

It is not God's will that motivates the horrors that mankind afflicts on each other.

It seems strange then that God wants to us love and serve one another and that He weeps when He sees what we do to each other but He won't stop us. But we must remember this life is a test to see if we will choose to serve Him. (Abraham 3:24-25). And there will be a final judgment. (See Revelation 14:7).

How could God judge us if He didn't allow us to act? We would all be spotless because He never allowed us to sin. And if He sent us to Hell, it would be unjust because we never did anything wrong.

But I don't think we recognize the gift that God has given us in our agency. None of us like being forced to do something. And that is exactly what He will not do. He loves us enough to let us do what we will. Yet He longs for us to choose Him, to love Him, to serve Him, and that mean loving and serving our fellow man.

That is what life is about: learning to choose God.
And learning to choose God necessitates opposition and adversity. There must be opposition in all things because if we never tasted bitter, we could not taste sweet. If we never experienced sorrow, how could we recognize joy? If we never felt anxiety, we could never know peace. (See 2 Nephi 2:11-13).
Joseph Smith was imprisoned unjustly for several months in Liberty Jail. At the same time, the Mormons in Missouri were driven out under an extermination order. Joseph's jailers were abusive and at one time even tried to feed him human flesh. But God was with Him:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; . . .

And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

(D&C 121:7-8; 122:5-8).

Life is hard. And even harder is that usually the only way through a trial is through it! But there is good in our suffering. And I have learned that during and after a trial I am closer to God than before.
My own ancestors were Mormon pioneers who crossed the American plains pulling handcarts. They started late and were caught in an awful snowstorm on the high plains of Wyoming. Many in their handcart company died. Of those who survived, most lost fingers, toes, feet, hands, legs, etc . . . to frostbite. Years later, members of the Church criticized the leaders of the Church for allowing my ancestors and their company to go through such an awful trial. A man who was in that company stood and rebuked them for speaking about things they did not understand. He acknowledged the unwise decision to leave so late in the season and the extreme suffering he experienced. Then he revealed the miracle of adversity:
I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.

I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.

(Quoted in James E. Faust, "The Refiner’s Fire," Ensign, May 1979, 53).

The price of knowing God is to pass through the trials of life. But know that God is with us. There are unseen forces helping us. And They will continue to help us, if we let them.
Remember also that not even Jesus Christ was exempt from trials. He is the Son of God and the only perfect person to have ever walked the Earth. He went about doing good. He healed the sick, raised the dead, and caused the lame to leap, the blind to see, and the dumb to speak. He forgave sins. And He blessed children.
Yet His own community rejected Him. His brothers and sisters, although they did eventually believe in Him, rejected Him. The ruling classes of the Jews sought to destroy Him. Some tried to stone Him.
In Gethsemane, Jesus' suffering for the sins of the world was so great that He bled from every pore, and one of His best friends, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver. He was taken and judged by the rulers of the Jews. They mocked Him, beat Him, spit on Him, and delivered Him to Pilate to be crucified.
Pilate sent Jesus to be scourged. Chunks of His flesh were torn away by the whip the Roman soldiers used. Then the soldiers made a crown of thorns and forced it onto His head. They mocked Him and eventually laid a cross on His back. The strain was so great that He could not carry it and a spectator was forced to carry the cross for Him.
The Roman soldiers nailed Him to a cross. Passers by continued to mock Him. And in the darkness of Golgotha, God Himself forsook Jesus.
He was alone in His agony.
But He did not suffer in vain. His willing sacrifice saved us. And on the third day, He arose from the tomb, triumphant over suffering, sorrow, death, and hell.
No one was or will be better than Jesus. And no one has or will suffer more than Him. Take comfort in knowing that not even the Best Person who ever lived, even God's own Son, escaped suffering and sorrow.
Yes life is hard, but God has promised that if we endure it well, we will be exalted on high. So endure it well, trusting in God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Better things await us if we will.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Prerequisite Two: God Has a Plan for Us (Part One)

We Learned of God's Plan Before We Came to Earth

God's Plan for us began before He created the world. We are our God’s spirit sons and daughters and lived with Him before we came to Earth. He is our Heavenly Father. And more than anything else, our He wants us to come home to Him

While we lived with our Heavenly Father, life was similar to what we experience here: We had friendships; we learned; we progressed, and, although we cannot remember, we developed a very personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. In fact, Ezra Taft Benson, a Prophet and Apostle of Jesus Christ, said, "Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us" (Ensign, Dec. 1988).

Our proximity to our Heavenly Father also taught us that we were not like Him. He possessed a perfect, immortal, physical body (D&C 130:22), but we were spirits. He had a fulness of joy and glory that we did not. And He was perfect in every way, unlike us.

But as our children have the capacity to become like us, Heavenly Father knew that we had the capacity to become like Him: perfect. (Consider Psalm 82:1,6; Matthew 5:48; Romans 8: 16–17; Doctrine and Covenants 84:36–38). And He wanted us to receive the fulness of joy that He had. So Father called a council and outlined His Plan, the Plan of Salvation, through which we could become like Him. We would come to Earth for a body and to be given agency—the power to choose (see 2 Nephi 2:27; Helaman 14:30)—whereby we would be tested if we would choose to follow God (see Abraham 3:24-26).

The power to choose for ourselves was central to this Plan. We could not become like God at once. We would need to learn from our choices to be obedient (Hebrews 5:8). Only by obeying could we progress until we became who our Father knew we could be. Without agency, no growth or progress would be possible.

Heavenly Father also told us of obstacles that would impede our progress. Although He would create a paradisiacal Earth free of sickness, suffering, sin, and death, He taught that its first inhabitants would be given a choice to either remain in paradise or pass through mortality, and if they chose mortality, mankind would be lost unless He sent a Savior, "[His] Beloved and Chosen from the beginning" (Moses 4:2), Jehovah, who would be known in the flesh as Jesus Christ. Furthermore, because we would have the power to choose, at times we would choose to sin. Our sins would also cut us off forever from the presence of our Heavenly Father. And without Jesus, we had no hope to overcome them.

Our Heavenly Father’s Plan hinged on the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ which would overcome death and sin. Father testified that "there [would] be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation [could] come unto [us], only in and through the name of Christ, . . ." (see Mosiah 3:17).

Heavenly Father gave each of us the choice to accept His plan for us. And to accept the Plan of Salvation required faith in our Father’s promises and in the ability of Jehovah, Jesus Christ, to effect the Atonement.

Lucifer, one of our spirit brothers who was in authority among the hosts of heaven (D&C 76:25), offered a variation to the Plan: He would take away our agency to prevent us from sinning so that none of us would be cut off. But he wasn’t interested in helping us to progress until we became like God with a fulness of joy. In fact, the only one he cared about was himself (see Moses 4:1-3). Lucifer’s plan enticed some to follow him even though it would not allow us to become like our Heavenly Father.

And war erupted, polarizing the hosts of heaven (Revelation 12:7-12).

The war that ensued wasn’t fought with sword and shield but with words. And even though Heavenly Father had gathered us together in the Great Pre-mortal Council to present the Plan of Salvation, I do not believe that it was first time that we had heard it; nor do I believe that it was a surprise that He presented His Firstborn, Jehovah, to be our Savior. I am certain that there were those among us who were already exercising great faith in Jesus Christ and who took every opportunity to learn the exalting doctrines of the Plan of Salvation, among whom were you and I. And when we heard Lucifer attack God’s plan and His Anointed, we stood and testified that Jehovah would do the Father’s will as He had promised. We were victorious, and Revelation 12:10-11 teaches that "[we] overcame [Lucifer and his legions] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of [our] testimony [of the Atonement of Jesus Christ]. . . ."

Many feel that those who chose to follow Lucifer did so because they doubted their ability to follow the Plan to become like our Heavenly Father. Certainly, Lucifer must have cited our weakness to discourage us, but I do not believe that it was his most potent weapon. We need to remember that without the Atonement, the "corruption [of mortality brought on by the future fall] could not put on incorruption . . . [and our] flesh must [lie] down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more. . . . And we [would] become devils, . . . to be shut out from the presence of our God, . . . in misery, . . ." (2 Nephi 9:7-9).

If the Savior failed, all would be lost, and Lucifer did everything he could to destroy faith in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, those who had faith in Christ followed God’s Plan, and those who did not were cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12; Revelation 12:7-10).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

There Is a God (Cont)

How Jesus Christ Is Both the Father and the Son

For centuries, Christian theologians debated about the nature of God, whether the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost were three Beings or three expressions of the same Being. The church held several counsels to resolve this dispute but was only able to create the confusing Nicene Creed. And the confusion continued. (See Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent," Ensign, Nov. 2007).
But in the spring of 1820, God settled the dispute. In response to a humble prayer, God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, then merely a fourteen-year-old boy. (Joseph Smith--History 1:11-17). In that moment, the mystery of Deity was resolved: The Father and the Son are two distinct Beings with bodies as tangible as Man's, while the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. (D&C 130:22-23).
Yet Jesus often referred to Himself as the Father and the Son. Thus, confusion is understandable. Still, because God is not a God of confusion, (1 Cor. 14:33), He has revealed how Jesus is both the Father and the Son.
Because Jesus Is the Creator, He Is the Father of Heaven and Earth
Under the direction of His Father, Jesus Christ created the heavens and the Earth and all things which are in them. (John 1:3; Mosiah 3:8; Helaman 14:12). It was Jesus who formed the Earth, caused the Sun and Moon to shine, and populated the Earth with plant and animal life. (3 Nephi 9:15). And in His capacity as Creator, Jesus is, therefore, the Father of Heaven and Earth.
Jesus Is the Father Because He Has Submitted Himself Completely to the Will of Heavenly Father and They Are of One Heart and Mind

Throughout Jesus' earthly ministry, He constantly submitted His will to the will of His Father: "I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent me;" (John 6:38); "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me;" (John 5:30); "When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him." (John 8:28-29).
Then, in the Garden of Gethsemane facing the agonies of the Atonement and Crucifixion, Jesus pleaded that the bitter cup would be taken from Him if it was the Father's will. Yet His submission became perfect when He added, "nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:36-39). Christ partook and drank the dregs of the bitter cup because it was the will of the Father.
Through this sublime act of submission, Jesus' will became the will of the Father. And because of it, Jesus received all power in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:18).
Regardless of situation or circumstance, Jesus acted just like God the Father would have acted:
In that sense Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God and to plead with them to love their Heavenly Father as He has always and will always love them. The plan of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, yes, even the anger and the judgment of God they had occasion to understand. But the love of God, the profound depth of His devotion to His children, they still did not fully know—until Christ came.

So feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father, He who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness.” In His life and especially in His death, Christ was declaring, “This is God’s compassion I am showing you, as well as that of my own.” In the perfect Son’s manifestation of the perfect Father’s care, in Their mutual suffering and shared sorrow for the sins and heartaches of the rest of us, we see ultimate meaning in the declaration: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
(Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Grandeur of God," Ensign, Nov. 2003).

Therefore, Jesus is the Father because His will has been swallowed up in the will of the Father. They possess the same attributes and characteristics perfectly. And the only real difference between Them is that They are separate personages.

Through Jesus Christ's Atoning Sacrifice, He Is the Father of All Those Who Repent and Receive Him

Jesus' transcendent Atonement not only united His will perfectly with the will of the Father, it also made Him the Father of all those who believe. Jesus taught, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3).

No child can be born without a father.
In ancient America, more than a century before Jesus was born, a Prophet-King named Benjamin taught his subjects about Jesus Christ and His Atoning sacrifice. (See Mosiah 3-6). At the end of his sermon, he asked "if thy believed the words which he had spoken unto them." (Mosiah 5:1). They did. And all testified that their hearts had changed so that "[they had] no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2). And they covenanted to keep all of God's commandments. (Mosiah 5:5). They had been born again.
King Benjamin then explained,

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.

And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the name of Christ must be called by some other name; therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.

(Mosiah 5:7-10).

While all men and women are spirit sons and daughters of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ is the spiritual Father only of those who are born again. And unless Christ becomes our Father, we cannot be saved. We must literally take upon ourselves the name of Christ as His spiritually begotten sons and daughters.

Jesus Christ Is the Literal Son of God

Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh. Mary was his earthly mother, but Joseph the Carpenter was not his father. In some miraculous way yet unknown to us, a Virgin conceived and brought forth a Son. (Isaiah 7:14). After all, the angels had good reason to sing that first Christmas night. In a vision explaining his father’s dream of the tree of life, Nephi saw the "most beautiful and fair [of] all virgins" holding the Son of God. (1 Nephi 11:15-22). Instantly, Nephi recognized that the tree of life symbolized Christ and knew that the baby born in Bethlehem was the embodiment of God’s love for His children; "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Prerequisite 1 (Cont.): God's Character

God’s Character

Granted, there are few scriptures that teach of God’s physical appearance, but myriad teach of His character. We learn that He is powerful and created the heavens and the earth. Nature obeys Him. He is loving and happy. He is patient, compassionate, and longsuffering. God is just and merciful. He’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent. He sees and knows the end from the beginning. He’s wise.

He’s our Heavenly Father. Romans 8:16
In fact, throughout the history of the world, those who worshipped Him called Him Father. See Isa. 63:16; Isa. 64:8. And Jesus taught that God is “[His] Father, and [our] Father; and . . . [His] God, and [our] God.” John 20:17. Notice the placement of the titles. Father comes first, God second. That’s deliberate. Of all His titles, God, Almighty, All Knowing, Omnipresent, Creator, Endless, Eternal etc . . . He prefers the title of Father.
God’s choice of titles tells us much about who He is. Consider an experience that Moses had, as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. Moses was on a mountain, and God appeared to him. God showed Moses the Earth and everyone who had ever lived on it. Moses 1:1-8. After the vision, God withdrew from Moses, and Moses, marveling at the glory of God and His creations exclaimed, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” Moses 1:10.
A short time later, God reappeared to Moses and showed him every particle of the Earth and the innumerable creations of His hands. Moses 1:27-29. Moses marveled again and asked, “Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?” Moses 1:30. God answered that He made them for His own purpose through Jesus Christ. Moses 1:33. He also told Moses that His works will never end. Moses 1:33. And as one earth passes into eternity, another is born. Moses 1:38. That is, God has worlds inhabited by His children throughout the universe, and He will continue to create earth after earth into eternity. And then He told Moses why: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Moses 1:39.
By way of clarification, to be immortal is to live forever, and to have eternal life is to live forever in the presence of God, with the potential to receive all that He has. Luke 15:31; D&C 84:38 All are immortal, as we’ll discuss later, because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But only some, as you’ll soon see, will receive eternal life through the Redemption of Jesus Christ. Eternal life is the greatest of all of God’s gifts. D&C 14:7. And He wants us all to have it.
Think about it then. The vast universe, the billions upon billions of galaxies, the stars in the heavens without number, the sun, the moon, this earth that we live on, the glory of nature, everything, it was all created for us. In essence, by showing Moses the vastness of creation and by telling him that all was created for His children, God told Moses, “While compared to Me, mankind is nothing, to Me, mankind is everything.”
Because we mean everything to Him, God knows us, and He wants us to know Him. John 17:3. To reveal His nature and His love, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ. Everything Jesus did revealed an attribute of His Father―our Father―because He only did those things that He saw His Father do. John 5:19. So as He blessed children, healed the sick, raised the dead, caused the lame to walk, cast out devils, restored sight to the blind, healed deaf ears, condemned sin, reprimanded hypocrisy, and forgave repentant sinners, Jesus was only doing what the Father would have done.
So the life of Jesus Christ is the ultimate manifestation of God’s nature. Had He been in the Holy Land instead of Jesus, He would have done exactly what Jesus did. He would have performed miracles. He would have taught true doctrine. He would have gone to Gethsemane. He would have been humiliated, been judged of the world, been scourged, and gone to Golgotha. He would have sacrificed everything for us. Thus, as we study the life of Christ, His teachings, and His we also study the character of God.
And we recognize how devoted to us, His children, God is.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Prerequisite 1: How You Can Know There Is A God

How You Can Know There Is A God

You can know that there is a God. The Bible teaches that from the time of Adam and Eve, there has been a True and Living God who communes with the children of man, His children. And we learn that this God loved us so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son to save us from our sins. (John 3:16).
But how can we know for certain that such a God exists? And how can we know that Jesus really is His Son?
Jesus provided the answer in an oft-overlooked scripture in the Bible: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17). That is the great key. If you want to know whether there is a God and the Christian God is that God, do His will.
Of course, before we do His will, we have to know what it is. And God hasn’t left us to grope in the dark. He has revealed His will from the beginning of time, and His faithful servants, the Prophets, have recorded His words. We can find those records in the scriptures.
There are several books of scriptures that we can read to know God’s will. First is the Bible. In the Old Testament, we read about the creation of the Earth and of God’s dealings with ancient mankind. We learn that God sent His angels to reveal His will to ancient prophets and that He appeared to some. We learn that He covenanted with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, and many others. We read that because the nation of Israel was hard-hearted and stubborn, they received the Law of Moses, which was a law of outward ordinances that continued until the time of Christ. And the New Testament contains the life of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Apostles. We learn the Higher Law of Christ superseded the Law of Moses. And we learn of the great love that Jesus Christ, and His Father have for all of us.
And God did not stop talking to His servants after the Bible was written! There are other books of scripture which have been revealed through modern prophets. The Book of Mormon teaches about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent. Their ancestors lived in ancient Israel and the Middle-east, crossed the ocean, and settled in the Americas by the power and gift of God. Here, they worshipped God and His Son, Jesus Christ. And after Jesus' death and resurrection, He appeared to those who lived on the American continent. The Book of Mormon is a second witness of the Divinity of Jesus Christ and proves that the Bible is truly the word of God.
The Doctrine and Covenants contains revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith and some of his successors. It outlines the proper organization of Christ’s Church. Throughout it, we hear the voice of Jesus Christ directing His servants and His Church. It proves that God continues to speak to His children.
The Pearl of Great Price contains revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith as he studied the Bible. It also contains a translation of papyrus scrolls which contain the writings of Abraham. And in the Articles of Faith, it outlines the basic beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Finally, God has a prophet today who speaks for Him. His name is Thomas S. Monson. He is the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He holds the same keys that were given to Peter, the ancient Apostle. He is God’s mouthpiece, and when he speaks, he speaks for the Lord. So his words are also scripture.
If we live according to these scriptures, we will know that there is a God, that He loves us, and that He speaks today!

And, as I said before, there is a way that we can test whether or not the scriptures truly teach the will of God. An ancient Book of Mormon prophet named Alma proposed an experiment to a group of people who wanted to know whether there is a God. He likened the word of God to a seed. And if the people had merely a desire to believe, they should plant that seed in their heart and nourish it. That is, they should begin living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it was a good seed, it would begin to grow:

Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

(Alma 32:28).
Alma also counseled that even after the seed begins to grow we can't neglect it, our the tree of our faith will die. So we need to continue living the Gospel all our lives. (See Alma 32 to read more about the experiment).
I have done as Alma counseled. The seed of my faith has been growing for many years. And I can testify that there is God. He is our Eternal Father. His Son is Jesus Christ.
You may be wondering how you’ll know that God is speaking to you as you live His commandments. It's hard to describe the manifestations that I know come from God. But I can tell you how God has spoken to me. When He speaks to me, I don’t hear a voice. Instead, I feel peace, joy, and love. My chest feels warm, almost on fire, and sometimes I tingle all over. Often, I get ideas I never would have come up with on my own. Other times, I feel as if I have Someone place His arm around me. And on occasion, words enter my mind, revealing God’s mind and will. But I have never had one of those manifestations when I was living contrary to God’s teachings. When I am doing good, serving others, studying His words in the scriptures, keeping the commandments, that is when He manifests Himself.

And God will manifest Himself to you, but you have to plant the seed. You have to keep the commandments. It’s only after you’ve planted the seed and nourished it through obedience that it will begin to grow. But it will grow.
And you will know that there is a God.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Prerequisite 1: There Is a God (continued)

As I was writing this week, I decided that I should have posted this before I started with the doctrinal discussion about God's nature.
How I Know that There Is a God

There has never been a time in my life that I didn't believe in God. Among my greatest blessings is the fact that both my parents are devout Christians and that from the cradle they taught me about God, the Eternal Father, and His Son Jesus Christ. Mom used to sing me to sleep with children's hymns. And my bedtime stories came from the scriptures. My favorite stories were "Daniel and the Lion's Den" and "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and the Fiery Furnace."

But as a child, I didn't act like someone who had been taught about God. I was mean and grumpy all the time. I used to scream at my Mom and Dad that I hated them. I threatened to run away at least every day. I strangled my younger brother whenever he made me mad. I used foul language, which prompted my mom to give me doses of Tabasco sauce and cayenne pepper.
I drove my parents crazy.
They wanted to help me, but nothing seemed to work until they bought me a copy of The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. I loved to read, and so I started reading it. And I started changing.

If you don’t know what The Book of Mormon is, it teaches about the ancient inhabitants of the American continent. Their ancestors lived in ancient Israel and the Middle-east, crossed the ocean, and settled in the Americas by the power and gift of God. Here, they worshipped God and His Son, Jesus Christ. And after Jesus' death and resurrection, He appeared to those who lived on the American continent. The Book of Mormon is a second witness of the Divinity of Jesus Christ and proves that the Bible is truly the word of God.

Now, as I read The Book of Mormon, I didn't turn into an angelic child, far from it, and I’m still far from perfect. But over time, I became less grumpy and less mean (even though these are two things I still struggle with); I stopped telling people that I hated them; I stopped threatening to run away; I stopped strangling my little brother, and I didn't have to eat Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper as often.

And I continue to read The Book of Mormon and the Bible and other scriptures every day. And I feel the same influence changing me and helping me become a better person.

I know that God lives because He has changed my heart as I’ve learned about Him and Jesus Christ through The Book of Mormon and the other Scriptures.

I have also had other experiences which confirmed to me that there is a God. For example, while I served as a missionary in Ecuador, things were hard. Few were willing to listen to what I had to share. People would lie to me all the time about where they lived. Others would tell us to come to their home on a certain day and then would not be there, or would not come to the door when we came. I was called a child of Satan.

One afternoon when my missionary companion and I came in for lunch after a particularly discouraging morning. I went to the bedroom, fell on my knees at the foot of the bed, and said, "Heavenly Father." No sooner had I done so, than I felt the words, "I am here. . . . How I love you. How I love you. How I love you." I say felt because I didn't hear a voice. But those words entered my mind and were accompanied by a feeling of peace and love independent of my mind and emotions. Perhaps you're feeling a "burning" in your bosom or a peace as you read about this experience. If you are, those feelings are from God. He is telling you that He is there and that He loves you.
During my mission, I had several other experiences like that day, but they were often preceded by great difficulty.

Today, I continue to pray to God. And I frequently feel that He hears me and that He loves me. I feel it now as I write this to you.

When I look at the stars in the heavens and the beauty of nature I know that there is a God. Indeed, I see "God moving in His majesty and power" through them. (D&C 88:47).
And being a husband and father have let me experience the most powerful love imaginable. After my family and I moved to Waco, Texas for law school, I was stressed. During the first quarter, I almost quit. But one day, my wife and daughter were in the computer room playing a game. Leaning against the door frame and looking at my family, I felt as if God wrapped His arm around me and said, "Life's good, isn't it?"

I could go on and on listing experiences that have shown me that there is a God. And I can tell you that as sure as I know the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, I know that there is a loving God. He is our Heavenly Father. And His Son is Jesus Christ.

And I testify that all of us can know that there is a God.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prerequisites: Part One

I recognize that many of you do not share my beliefs. You may be a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an Atheist, an Agnostic, or an adherent to one of the many other religious traditions throughout the world. I’d ask you not to reject my message simply because I’m a Mormon. I understand that you may not believe as I do. But I’d ask you to suspend your unbelief during our discussions and wait to decide whether I am right or wrong after we are done talking. And it might take a long time before I finish what I hope to write!

Because we come from such varying backgrounds, I’ll assume that you and I have no common beliefs (I’m sure we do, but we won’t know until we get going.). So let’s get going!

Before we begin our discussion about the Redemption and Resurrection made possible through Jesus Christ, there are a few things we need to talk about as prerequisites. Just as a building needs a solid foundation to stand, the doctrine of the Redemption and Resurrection cannot be understood fully unless we first lay a strong groundwork of foundational doctrine.

As I’ve thought about it, I recognized that there are five foundational doctrines underlying the doctrine of the Redemption and the Resurrection: (1) There is a God. (2) He has a plan for us. (3) He has established laws as part of his plan. (4) He has granted us our free will―what I’ll call agency. And (5) He covenants with those who accept Him as their God.

The house that I hope to build as I write will collapse if I don’t first sink these footings. For some of you, these discussions will be review, for others, introductory. But I hope that they’ll sink deep into your heart and that they’ll edify all of us.

Throughout our discussion, I’ll refer to various books and writings including, The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, (the links will take you to a brief description of each book) and the teachings of men whom I accept as living Prophets and Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.

PREREQUISITE 1: THERE IS A GOD

God’s Physical Nature

Millions have debated the physical nature of God. Counsels have formed. Faithful have fought. And it seems that we’re farther than ever from reaching a consensus. This, despite one of the first passages in the Bible: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Gen. 1:27. So if we want to know what God looks like, we need only look in the mirror.
God has a face. He speaks with a mouth. He has arms to hold, hands to heal, a heart that feels. His eyes can pierce us through to the soul. His mind knows all things. Yet the misconception that He is without body parts and passions has persisted for almost two millennia.
But in 1820, as if to end the controversy, God revealed himself to a boy who wanted nothing more than to follow Him. His name was Joseph Smith. Joseph lived in upstate New York near the town of Palmyra. When he was fourteen years old, there was a great religious fervor. Preachers of different faiths proselytized the community, urging all to accept Jesus. They said it didn’t matter which church you joined, as long as you accepted Jesus. But Joseph soon recognized that as soon as people joined one church, they would begin fighting with members of the other churches about the meaning of the Bible, how to be saved, and the nature of God.
It was a confusing time for Joseph. He often wondered, “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” Joseph Smith-History 1:10.
Knowing that God is not the author of confusion, Joseph turned to God’s word, The Holy Bible. He studied daily and mediated on the meaning of the scriptures he was reading. One day, he read James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Because his words are better than I could ever write, I quote Joseph’s account of the impact that this verse had on him:
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to "ask of God," concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

Joseph Smith-History 1:12-13.
On the morning of a spring day, Joseph tested James’ promise in a grove of trees near his home.
Again, Joseph’s words:
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Joseph Smith-History 1:15-17.
Joseph Smith saw God and His Son, Jesus Christ. He saw their faces. Their eyes pierced him. He heard their words. He saw that they had bodies of flesh and bone, just like we have. But he saw that their bodies were perfected and glorified, not subject to illness or death. And he saw that Jesus was in the express image of His Father.
God clarified the confusion of ages about His physical attributes to a mere boy.
Yet this theopany merely confirmed what the Bible taught. As I said, we are taught that we were created in God’s image. The Bible also teaches that God spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” Exodus 33:11. Jesus testified that He looked just like His Father when one of His apostles asked him to show them the Father: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; . . .” John 14:9.
I conclude this discussion about God’s physical attributes by quoting three more passages of scripture. During Joseph’s life, he had the privilege of seeing Jesus Christ many times. One time was after Joseph and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had built their first temple. Joseph said:
[I] saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before [me]; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.

His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, . . .

D&C 110:2-3. But Joseph was not the only Prophet who was permitted to see Jesus. Daniel of the Old Testament also saw him:
Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz:

His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.

Daniel 10:5-6. So did John the Revelator:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: . . .

And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; . . .”


John 1:10-18.

So to really know God’s physical nature, all we need to do is read the Scriptures. He has revealed it and restored our knowledge of it many times. Because we know the Jesus is in the express likeness of the Father, we know what both of them look like. And one day, all of us will stand before God, and we will see His face and, hopefully, feel His arms clasp us in His loving embrace.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Surprise!

Well, after a lot of thought and the encouragement of a very intelligent middle-schooler, I've decided to "resurrect" my blog. My purpose has changed. The Spirit has been weighing heavily on me that I need to write about the Redemption and Resurrection made possible through Jesus Christ. Nothing has worked for me to write consistently. So I've decided to impose deadlines on myself through this blog. Every Sunday I will post something. The posts will be rough drafts of essays that I hope to compile, revise, perfect, and maybe publish.