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.