Articles of Faith I: The Godhead

Many today still wonder whether or not Mormons are actually Christians. It’s a sad thing, because if any person actually took the time to learn about the LDS church, he or she would know, without a doubt, that we are indeed Christians.

John Wentworth, an editor for the Chicago Democrat, once asked Joseph Smith to write something for the paper describing what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe. He (Joseph Smith) came up with thirteen statements of belief that later became known as the articles of faith. This is the first one:

We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

This statement emphasizes our belief that the three members of the Godhead are three, separate, distinct individuals. They are one in purpose, but not one in any physical way. Some people try to use this to say we are not Christians. The trinity, however, has no support from the Bible, and in no way does it ever suggest that they are all literally one person.

From this single statement, it’s obvious to see that we believe Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God. He is our Savior and Redeemer. The Bible and Book of Mormon both testify of this. We read in the Book of Mormon,

O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world. (Helaman 5:9)

To say that Mormons don’t believe in Christ as their Savior, or that we don’t think His Atonement is necessary, is simply ignorance. We firmly believe that salvation can only come through Jesus Christ. There is no other way. Jesus Christ and His Atonement is at the very center of our religion. If you don’t believe me, read the Book of Mormon.

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S.M.I.L.E.

It’s interesting to catch subtle details when reading the scriptures. They’re full of them, and unfortunately we miss too many of these details, myself included. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi tells us to “feast upon the words of Christ.” You can imagine a large buffet in front of you. There’s food of all kinds. Now what would it mean to feast upon this food? Would you pick up a few pieces of chicken or something and nibble on them? No, you would gather all the different foods and you would enjoy it, savoring all the different flavors and remembering which particular foods you liked the most.

This is how we should feast upon the scriptures. We should get right down to the details, paying attention to the way they make us feel, noting words, phrases, and ideas that stick out to us.

Well, here’s one detail that has left an impression upon me. It’s found in the Book of Mormon, and is also Nephi’s words.

O, my beloved brethren, remember the awfulness in transgressing against that Holy God, and also the awfulness of yielding to the enticings of that cunning one. Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be Spiritually-Minded Is Life Eternal. (2 Nephi 9:39)

I added the bold and capitalized those letters. What do they spell out? SMILE. I do not believe this is any coincidence, but instead is evidence of God’s infinite wisdom. To smile sincerely means we are happy, and we can only achieve true happiness by being spiritually minded. In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin said himself that happiness comes from obeying the commandments of God. This is what spiritual mindedness is all about, putting the things of God before everything else.

So be spiritually minded… and smile!

From the Ground to the Heavens

Pride is said to be the mother of all other sins. It’s true, that pretty much every kind of sin can be traced back to an issue of pride. In the book of Luke, Christ presents a parable to illustrate the seriousness of a prideful mindset.

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

This Pharisee is as prideful as any person can get. One would note that he is not a thief or an adulterer. In fact, apparently he fasts twice a week and even gives tithes of most of his possessions, which are most likely numerous. This man certainly follows the letter of the law, but he completely misses the spirit of the law. Meaning, on the outside all seems to be good. He obeys all the major commandments and makes sure his life is in accordance to the more temporal of God’s laws. However, the underlying reasons behind these commandments he has either ignored or simply missed. God’s commandments bring us closer to Christ. Obviously, this prideful Pharisee is anywhere but close to Christ. In fact, note the wording “prayed thus with himself.” He’s not even praying to God, but instead, he’s offering a narcissistic prayer to feed his ego.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)

Publicans were the tax collectors. Just like today… they were despised. So much, in fact, that they were thrown into the same category as the overall sinners, the thieves and harlots and such. “Publicans and sinners” is a common phrase in the New Testament. Now, tax collecting doesn’t make one a sinner, ’cause we’re all sinners. This humble observation is something the Pharisee missed, but the publican remembered quite well.

He acknowledged the fact that he was a sinner and asked for God’s mercy to be upon him. Although the Pharisee most likely kept the law better than him, this man’s humility and his admittance of sin justified him.

What do we learn from this parable? We are all sinners, and we all rely on God to support us. With Him we are truly nothing, capable of achieving nothing. If we boast of our own strength, we will be left to our own strength (which is nothing). But if we are humble and acknowledge our dependence upon Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, they will lift us up.

 

Our Father

Let me ask you a question. Do you believe God is your Father? I’m not talking metaphorically here. I’m not asking if God is a father figure, because of course He is. I’m being literal. Do you believe you are a literal child of God, that God is literally the father of your spirit? Your answer can change the entire meaning and nature of your relationship with God.

My companion and I met a man a couple days ago that did not believe he was a child of God, or anyone was, for that matter. Instead, he said, in essence, that we are just creations of God, created for the purpose of worshiping and giving glory to our Creator. Of course, giving glory to God is part of what we do, but it is certainly not the sole reason for our existence! How vain and arrogant such a God would be. I certainly would not want to worship such a being, or even believe in it.

The God I worship is no such person. He is not prideful, vain, egotistical, or selfish. Such are the characteristics of mankind, not the Almighty.The God I worship is a God of love, kindness, selflessness, and mercy. The God I worship is my Father, my ultimate Father, and the Father of my spirit.

Hebrews chapter 12 verse 9 says,

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

Acts 17:28 and 29 states,

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

In John 20:17, Jesus says to Mary,

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

I know that we are children of God. He is indeed our Father. Without this relationship there is no relationship. How do I know? The scriptures testify of it and the Spirit bears witness to me that it is true. I can’t imagine going through life without believing God is our literal father. Such doctrine is empty. Truth is light. It enlightens, empowers, comforts, strengthens, and helps us to endure. God is not our Father? There is no enlightenment or empowering strength with such a thought. None whatsoever.

But there is strength and comfort when we understand that God really is our Father, literally. When no one else is around, we can always count on three people to be with us and stand by us: Our Father in Heaven, our eldest brother Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.

The King, the Heir, and the Called

Why did Jesus walk all the way to John the Baptist to be baptized? What exactly was the power Christ gave His apostles so they could heal and cast out unclean spirits? Why did Peter and John need to lay their hands on the people to give them the gift of the Holy Ghost?

Authority is the answer. Christ went to John because John, through his lineage, held the priesthood authority to baptize Him. Priesthood authority is what Christ gave to the Apostles, allowing them to heal and cast out spirits. This same authority is what Peter and John used to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus Christ’s church is His kingdom. I like to think of this as a literal thing, like a medieval times type of thing. God the Father is the ultimate king over all the land. Jesus Christ, being His Only Begotten Son, is the Prince, the rightful heir to the kingdom. His blood is royal blood, and through it He holds the authority to conduct the affairs of the kingdom. This authority can be passed down to us, but only through the proper way.

And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. (Hebrews 5:4)

No one can just say they have the authority. It must be given to them, and they must be called of God. Christ gave this royal authority to His chosen apostles, allowing them to conduct the affairs of The Church, His kingdom.

The apostles were not received well however, and were eventually disposed of. Because of this corruption, the authority was not passed down in the correct way and was lost. But it was restored. The King (God the Father) and the Heir (Jesus Christ) visited a young boy named Joseph Smith. This young boy was called of God and the priesthood authority was given to him by John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, as resurrected beings.

For centuries, the royal authority was lost, but it has been restored. The Prophet Joseph Smith was called of God, and the authority, the right to officiate in Christ’s church, was restored through him. The Church of Jesus Christ is again on the Earth! The proof is a record known as the Book of Mormon. By reading it, pondering it, and praying about it, you can know if the priesthood authority was restored through Joseph Smith.

God’s Work: Eternal Progression of Man

There are many things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that differ from some of the more mainstream Christian denominations. One of these deals with the details of post-mortal life, and a belief Latter-day Saints hold known as eternal progression.

Let’s start with a scripture. This one’s coming from Corinthians. One thing the Corinthians did not quite understand was the resurrection. Paul goes into a bit of detail explaining this doctrine.

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrialis another.

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption (1 Corinthians 15:40-42)

Here, Paul is talking about the conditions of resurrected bodies. If you’re at all familiar with Mormon doctrine, you may be aware of the fact that we don’t simply believe we’ll all end up in either Heaven or Hell. Indeed, there is a Heaven and there is a Hell. But it goes much deeper than that. Heaven is divided into three kingdoms: the celestial, the terrestrial, and the telestial. For more detailed information on what I’m about to present, go to mormon.org (there’s a link on the right side of the page). All of this information has been given to us through modern revelation, through modern-day prophets.

The celestial kingdom is reserved for the valiant souls of men. Those that obeyed Christ’s gospel, were baptized and received other necessary ordinances (which everyone will get a chance to receive, whether in this life or the next), and repented of their sins while enduring to the end. Husband and wife, and their families, can remain together for eternity in the presence of God and Jesus Christ. Eternal happiness and progression are their rewards.

The terrestrial is for those who lived good lives, but rejected Christ. And also those that did accept Christ, but were not valiant. They did not strive to obey Christ’s gospel, they were not sincere in their repentance, etc. They will receive Christ’s glory, but not God the Father’s. It will be a wonderful place, full of goodness, but they will be lacking the full happiness that comes from eternal families, remaining married to their spouse, and living with God. It will be like having to settle with a B on a test when they could’ve achieved an A.

The telestial kingdom is for the wicked souls of men. Murderers, thieves and robbers, adulterers, liars, etc. These are the ones who continued in their sins without repentance. They will be shut out from God and Jesus Christ’s presence and glory forever. It will be a good place though. Satan will be bound, and they will have peace and rest. But they will never be in God’s presence. It’ll be like the world is now, only without temptation, illness, war, etc. It’s like settling for a C or a D on the test when they could’ve had an A or even a B.

Hell, or Outer Darkness, as many members of The Church call it, is reserved for Satan and his fallen angels, and all those that lived too wickedly to even abide a telestial glory. Cain and Judas Iscariot are two that we know of. They will be cast out to a place that no mortal mind can comprehend.

If all this seems crazy… that’s okay. It’s certainly very different than what mainstream Christianity professes today. But it is true doctrine. It was preached in Christ’s primitive church. It is nothing new. It is simply doctrine that was lost that has been restored

Think of the traditional view of heaven. Great billowy clouds in the middle of… somewhere. People in white robes playing harps and singing and… playing more harps and singing… on clouds… or something. It all seems rather stagnant, plain, and without growth. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that God is a progressive God. He wants us to learn and grow and actually achieve something great. Just as a father (as He is to us) wants his children to grow up and be like him, God wants us to be like Him. And He has given us a way!

Only in the celestial kingdom is continued progression possible, where we can grow to be like our Father in Heaven. Such is His purpose, to have us progress and grow and learn. I make the point again; isn’t that what any loving father would want for his children? Of course! God’s work and His glory is the immortality and eternal life of man. I know this to be true. If you still have not looked at mormon.org, I again invite you to do so.

Reaching Perfection

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

This is the Savior’s admonition to us. It’s a rather difficult accomplishment. In fact, it’s actually quite impossible, and naturally Jesus Christ was well aware of this fact. So why did He tell us to be perfect if we simply cannot do so?

Well, there are two basic reasons. One, because it is possible, and two, because we might as well try anyway.

1. In this life, we will never be perfect as God is perfect, but we can be perfect in our own state. James E. Talmage, in his book Jesus the Christ, once used an analogy with college students. A freshman or sophomore may be perfect as freshmen or sophomores. They may get a 4.0 and do everything they can to be perfect in their class, but they still can’t enjoy some of the benefits of an upperclassman until they progress to the next level.

The same goes for us. We can be perfect in certain aspects of our lives. We can be perfect at always attending church every Sunday. We can be perfect at reading our scriptures or praying each day. In these small things, perfection isn’t as far from reality as we think.

2. We might as well try. We’ll never be a perfect person overall, and God understands that. But He knows our potential and what we are capable of, and He knows if we’re trying our hardest or not. Failure is okay. God understands that it’s going to happen, but that doesn’t excuse us from doing what we can.

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. (Mosiah 4:27)

We each have our own level of strength, and God does not ask us to exceed that level. That would make Him unfair! And He most definitely is a fair God.

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)

So in this life we do our best and live up to our individual potential. Jesus Christ will cover the rest, but only if we do our part as well. In this way we can be on the path to perfection.

You Are Free

Free agency. It’s a phrase that most do not hear or read about and many do not understand. Yet it’s one of, if not the most important gift that God has given us. It is our freedom to choose, to act and not be acted upon. So when something goes wrong… and we get ticked off… who is to blame?

We can only blame ourselves, because we’ve been given the ability to choose how we feel and act. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi tells us this about agency,

Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. (2 Nephi 2:27)

We are free to choose. We can choose happiness or misery, life or death, God or Satan. Satan wants us to be miserable and unhappy just like he is. God and Jesus Christ want us to be filled with joy, just as They have. And God has given us the ability to decide what we want.

So choose to be happy! There is nothing stopping us from being positive except ourselves. God has given us everything we need to see the good from the evil, as daylight is contrasted against the night. Remember that you can choose to be miserable… or you can choose to be happy. Remember that you are free.

Bible + Book of Mormon = Prophecy

There are multiple prophecies in the Bible concerning the Book of Mormon. One such is a prophecy concerning Joseph, the son of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Each of Israel’s sons receives a prophecy. Joseph’s is this,

Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall. (Genesis 49:22)

The beginning of the Book of Mormon follows a family that leaves Jerusalem (about 600 B.C.) and sails across the ocean to the American continents. The patriarch of this family is Lehi, who is a descendant of Joseph. Truly, this prophecy is more literal than it seems. Joseph’s descendants, his branches, most definitely ran over the wall. In fact, they ran over the ocean and into a new land.

Other Biblical prophecies about the Book of Mormon can be found, such as the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph becoming one (Ezekiel 37), or the sealed book that is delivered to the unlearned man (Isaiah 29).

The truth of the matter is that the Bible and the Book of Mormon support each other. They both testify that Jesus is the Christ. I’ve met many people that say the Book of Mormon is false, and that it contradicts the Bible. If I was more bold I’d call them fools, for it is foolish to think such things. Many of them have never read the Book of Mormon… many of them haven’t even read much of the Bible.

Well, I’m here to tell you that these two books go hand in hand. They support each other, not contradict. If you don’t believe me, read the Book of Mormon. If you’ve already read it and still disagree, then you did not understand what you read, and you did not search it diligently. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ. I am a witness of that. But don’t take my word for it. Read the Book of Mormon and listen to the Spirit of God.

The Giant and the Underdog

Everyone loves a good underdog story, and of the best anyone could ever read or hear comes from the Bible. It’s the story of David and Goliath. If you aren’t familiar with this story, just crack open your nearest Bible to the first book of Samuel, chapter seventeen. Or, if you just want to read it right now, click on this link.

To be brief, the Philistines were at war with Israel. One Philistine in particular was creating quite a stir. His name was Goliath. He was huge, perhaps about nine feet tall, and he would present himself to the Israelite army and tell them to bring him a champion to fight. But No one in the Israelite army was brave enough.

David heard about Goliath, he said to everyone, “Who’s this guy think he is? Why doesn’t someone beat him?”

Well, Saul, the Israelite king,  heard about the things David was saying and sent for him. David came to him and said, “I’ll go and fight this battle.”

“You can’t fight him,” Saul told him. “You’re just a child, and Goliath has been raised in the ways of war since he was a child.”

“I killed a lion and a bear once!” David exclaimed. “And I’ll do the same to this Philistine, ’cause he’s defying God! If God can deliver me from the attacks of a lion and a bear, He’ll do the same for me when I face up to this Philistine”

“Alright,” Saul gave in. “Go, fight him, and God be with you…”

So David went and grabbed his sling and five smooth stones to face Goliath. When he approached Goliath, the Philistine laughed because he was just a scruffy little boy. “Once I kill you,” Goliath yelled, “I’ll feed your dead body to the birds and the beasts!”

“You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a shield,” David then said, “But I come to you in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, who you’ve mocked. Today God will deliver you into my hands. I’ll kill you and cut off your head, and I’ll feed your dead body to the birds and the beasts! And everyone will know that our God is real!”

Furious, Goliath charged. David did the same, taking out a stone from his bag. He put it into his sling and slung the stone right into Goliath’s forehead, killing him. Needless to say, the Philistines ran, scared out of their minds.

Just like David, we all have Goliaths we face in life. They’re giant, they’re intimidating, they’re in our face. It can be spiritual or temporal. A sin, an honest mistake, bills, debt, school and tests, a job, an attack on our faith, etc. These things may seem enormous, and at times we may feel like David standing in front of Goliath. But like David, we can turn to the Lord and rely on Him! David wasn’t afraid, because he knew that it didn’t matter how big Goliath was. He could’ve been one hundred feet tall and David would’ve acted the same way.

Like David, we also need to do our own part and prepare ourselves to face our Goliaths. David was prepared with five stones and a sling. He had a plan in mind and he trusted that God would support him with his plan. We too need to prepare and plan to face life’s challenges, all the while seeking the Lord’s help and inspiration.

If we do so, we too will find ourselves conquering our Goliaths.