Friday, November 13

Righteousness (Pt. 3)

Baptism is considered the gateway ordinance to the Gospel path: "For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost" (2Nephi 31:17). It is an ordinance that God has designed to help His children start a new life as disciples of Jesus Christ. When a person is baptized, they are expressing their devotion to God and their desire to stand as His witness. When someone is baptized by a priesthood holder commissioned of Jesus Christ, they join the Church of Jesus Christ, receive a remission of their sins, and covenant to sustain His mission of both love and truth.

The purpose of baptism is beautifully explained in Mosiah 18:7-17. Here Alma teaches that when a person is baptized they covenant to "serve [the Lord] and keep his commandments". The Lord reciprocally covenants to "pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon [the person being baptized]". Before Alma baptizes Helam, he takes a moment to pray: "O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart". When we are baptized we covenant to participate in God's work; God then mercifully offers us the gift of the Holy Ghost to help us fulfill that covenant.  To receive the Holy Ghost we must sincerely be willing to serve the Lord and keep His commandments. When we choose to receive the Holy Ghost we are endowed with a greater capacity to act as an instrument in the hands of God to love others and teach them truth.

Why was the Savior baptized?

When Jesus approached John the Baptist to be baptized, "John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt. 3:13-15).

"To fulfill all righteousness." With these four words the Savior explained why even He, the Lamb of God, even Alpha and Omega, needed to be baptized. The Lord didn't need to be cleansed from sin (for He'd never sinned), but He did need to be righteous. He needed to be baptized so that the baptismal ordinance could be sanctified unto Him for righteousness (See Doctrinal Apophenia, Pt. 2).

Joseph Smith taught: "If, then, Abel was a righteous man he had to become so by keeping the commandments; if Enoch was righteous enough to come into the presence of God, and walk with him, he must have become so by keeping his commandments, and so of every righteous person, whether it was Noah, a preacher of righteousness; Abraham, the father of the faithful; Jacob, the prevailer with God; Moses, the man who wrote of Christ, and brought forth the law by commandment, as a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ, or whether it was Jesus Christ himself, who had no need of repentance, having no sin, according to his solemn declaration to John: - now let me be baptized: for no man can enter the kingdom without obeying this ordinance: for thus it becometh us to fulfill ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS. Surely, then, if it became John and Jesus Christ, the Savior, to fulfill all righteousness to be baptized - so surely, then, it will become every other person that seeks the kingdom of heaven to go and do likewise; for he is the door, and if any person climbs up any other way, the same is a thief and a robber!" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith)

When studying the doctrine of baptism, it is essential to carefully consider the words of 2Nephi chapter 31. Here Nephi plainly teaches the doctrine of Christ, specifically focusing on the purpose of baptism. He explains that part of the reason why Jesus was baptized was to set an example for all of us to follow. But he also reveals that the Savior had a personal need to be baptized, too: "And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfill all righteousness, O then, how much  more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water! And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient in keeping his commandments."

The baptismal covenant was the same then as it was when Alma performed baptisms in the waters of Mormon. When Jesus Christ was baptized, He also covenanted to serve God and keep His commandments. Most of these were the same commandments that you and I are asked to obey. But to Him alone was the commandment given to save the world from sin. When Jesus Christ was baptized, He covenanted with the Father to atone for our sins. 

The Savior's baptism was an act of love, a message of promise, and a beautiful symbol of His mission. Similarly, the sacrament serves as a merciful ordinance of renewal for all of us that fall short of Christ's perfect standard. Though the Son of God had a perfect understanding of the doctrine of baptism when He received that ordinance, you and I did not; nor do we now. And so, each sacrament Sunday, we have the opportunity to witness unto the Father that we will be obedient in keeping His commandments according to our developing understanding. We are each a work in progress.

When I take the sacrament this Sunday, I intend to consciously participate in the ordinance with the understanding that I'm renewing my covenant to serve God and keep His commandments. By so doing, the sacrament will help point my soul to Christ. By consciously obeying the Lord's commandment to partake of the sacrament, it will be sanctified unto me for righteousness. As I do this, Satan will have less power over my heart. By aligning my obedience with my faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, I believe that I'll be better equipped to be an instrument in the hands of God to participate in His work of love and truth.

Wednesday, November 4

Righteousness (Pt. 2)

A verse in the book of Jacob has been on my mind for the past several weeks. In Jacob 4:5 the prophet explains: "Behold, they (the prophets) believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and we (the Nephites) also worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son." This verse is loaded with doctrine. By dissecting this single verse of scripture we learn a) how to worship God, b) the purpose of the law of Moses (as well as the purpose of all God's laws and commandments), c) the definition of righteousness, d) why Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, and e) the symbolic significance of Abraham offering up Isaac.

Here Jacob plainly asserts that worshiping God requires faith in Jesus Christ. We are commanded to worship the Father in the name of Christ. The Bible Dictionary explains this concept in relation to prayer: "Christians are taught to pray in Christ's name. We pray in Christ's name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ - when His words abide in us" (Prayer). In order for His words to abide in us, we must know His words. In order for His will to be our will, we must know His will. Some of the most precious gifts we have for this purpose include the scriptures, the words of modern prophets, and (most importantly) the gift of the Holy Ghost.

It's remarkable how clearly the Christians of the Book of Mormon understood the purpose of the law of Moses in relation to the Savior's Atonement. Nephi taught: "And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For, for this end was the law given; wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments" (2Nephi 25:24-25). Abinidi taught: "I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you, that the time shall come when it shall no more be expedient to keep the law of Moses. And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses. And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God; therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him. But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come" (Mosiah 13:27-31).

The verses quoted above provide astounding examples of intelligent faith and obedience. These prophets knew the higher law while obeying the lesser law. Jacob's verse teaches the same concept with fewer words: "For this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to [Christ]; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness". The same approach can be applied to any law or commandment. I believe in Christ and worship the Father in His name. For this intent I keep law of tithing, it pointing my soul to Christ; and for this cause it is sanctified unto me for righteousness. For this intent I partake of the sacrament, it pointing my soul to Christ; and for this cause it is sanctified unto me for righteousness.

To go through the motions and merely obey a commandment because someone said so would be to quench that commandment's sanctifying power. This doesn't mean I shouldn't obey a commandment of God if I don't fully understand it. But it does mean that I should be diligently trying to understand how that commandment points my soul to Christ. Intelligent obedience requires knowledge of the truth, at least to some extent. Blind or casual obedience is like sleeping on a train. Sure, you're moving along quite smoothly like all the other passengers, but you've just missed your stop.  There it goes. You're still moving, but who knows where you'll end up! Intelligent obedience is like driving a car. To drive, you must know how to operate the vehicle, remain alert, follow all traffic laws, and know your directions. You also need to make sure the car has enough fuel to reach your destination.

I don't believe there are very many saints that practice blind obedience in its purity. President Boyd K. Packer taught: "Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient. They are obedient because they know certain spiritual truths and have decided, as an expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God. We are the sons and daughters of God, willing followers, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and under this head are we made free. We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see." (Agency and Control). I believe this is true. Righteous obedience begins when a person simply believes that the commandment they're keeping is from God. But I also believe that Heavenly Father wants us to actively seek further light and knowledge, for "if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:19). The Lord through Joseph Smith emphasized that "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (D&C 131:6).

This brings us to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob taught in Jacob 4:5 that Abraham's obedience in offering up Isaac was sanctified unto him for righteousness. Jacob here implies that Abraham believed that his obedience in this situation would help point his soul to Christ. This is reinforced in the explanation that this act was "a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son". Paul taught that "by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him [Isaac] up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:17-19). President Spencer W. Kimball provided further clarification: "Knowing that God would make no capricious nor unnecessary demands, that the lad could be raised even from death if necessary, Abraham obeyed." (Oct. Conference, 1954). Abraham's obedience was motivated by something more than a basic belief that this commandment was from God; he knew about God's character, trusted Him, and even had faith in the doctrine of resurrection. The same can likely be said of Isaac's obedience.

Joseph Smith taught that "three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Lectures on Faith, 3:2-5).

Abraham believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in His name. For this cause he offered up Isaac, it pointing his soul to Christ; and for this cause it was sanctified unto him for righteousness. (See also: James 2:21-23).

Thursday, October 29

Righteousness (Pt. 1)

As a kid I used to think that during the Millennium the Savior would stuff Satan into a genie lamp and lock him in a cave for a thousand years until (plot twist!) some rascally bad guy decided to break in and summon the father of lies back from his befittingly cramped domain. Let's call this the Aladdin Doctrine.

The Aladdin Doctrine is false.

In 1Nephi 22:24-26 we're taught that the time will come when Christ will be our ruler, the righteous will be gathered, and in Him we will find pasture. This period of peace is referred to as the Millennium. During this time Satan will have no power over the hearts of the children of men. Nephi plainly explains why this is so: "And because of the righteousness of [Christ's] people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth".

The Book of Mormon has a knack for clarifying truth. The Aladdin Doctrine is contrary to the plan of happiness because it disregards our moral agency. Satan's power depends entirely on our consent. The fate of his kingdom on earth will be determined by whether we choose good or evil. This is likewise with Christ's kingdom; the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth cannot occur unless we choose to expel Satan from our hearts. Nephi said we can do this by dwelling in righteousness.

We dwell in righteousness when we consciously choose to do good over evil. God endowed Adam and Eve with the power to choose when He commanded them not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Upon giving them this commandment, He added, "nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee..." (Moses 3:17). By introducing opposition, God gave Adam and Eve their agency.

But the combination of opposition and agency alone cannot produce righteousness. According to Elder D. Todd Christofferson, "...The intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth" (see: Moral Discipline). When we intelligently use our agency and obey God, we are righteous. "It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance" (D&C 131:6). Likewise, it is impossible to be righteous without knowledge of the truth. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God." It's no coincidence that the inauguration of Christ's millennial reign will be accompanied by the revelation of all truth (2Nephi 30:16-18).

However, this doesn't mean that the Lord is going to wait around until everyone is righteous. Nephi taught: "For the time speedily cometh that the Lord God shall cause a great division among the people, and the wicked will he destroy; and he will spare his people, yea, even if it so be that he must destroy the wicked by fire" (2Nephi 30:10-15). Paul taught that "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night... Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober " (1Thes. 5:2,6).

Some elements of the Aladdin Doctrine are true. As the Revelator taught, Satan will be bound "till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season" (Rev. 20:1-3). "And then cometh the battle of the great God; and the devil and his armies shall be cast away to their own place, that they shall not have power over the saints any more at all" (D&C 88:111-115). But to assume that this situation will be forced upon us is inconsistent with the nature of God. Satan will be bound because of the righteousness of the saints.

This is something we must each realize now individually before we can collectively establish millennial peace.

Tuesday, September 1

My work and my glory

My wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world a couple of weeks ago. It was a beautiful experience, and one that I'll never forget. We're very happy that she's here.

Moses 1:39 teaches us that God's work and glory is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man". His divine mission is to help us learn to live like Him and consequently receive a fulness of joy. In 2Nephi 2:25-27, Lehi teaches us that "Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy". Jesus Christ, our Savior, came to "redeem the children of men from the fall", freely granting us immortality and enabling us to choose eternal life through repentance and faith in Him and His Atonement. That's the plan. Because of Adam and Jesus Christ, God's work and glory is a kinetic force, rolling forward worlds without end.

Having been taught this, it would be entirely appropriate to ask - "What is my work? What is my glory?"

My mission president once introduced the question "What is your work?" after quoting Moses 1:39 during a zone conference. He then provided an answer. Turning to D&C 11:20, he read: "Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength".

It was then that I wondered, "What is my glory?" This prompted me to search the scriptures. I found my answer in Alma 29:9, where Alma testifies: "I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy."

My work, my glory, and my joy is to keep God's commandments so that I may be an instrument in His hands to serve others by teaching them the gospel of Jesus Christ. I've been blessed with this knowledge. It's a privilege to know even a portion of God's truth, and also a great responsibility (see D&C 82:3, or the first Spider-Man movie...). Which leads me to this next question:

Why is it that I've been freely given this knowledge when so many billions more have had to live and die without it? It doesn't seem fair, right?

A quick glance at the state of the world could easily make you assume that life isn't fair. However, due to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, life is perfectly fair for each and every one of God's children. Everyone has an equal opportunity to receive eternal life. Jesus Christ is a perfect judge and knows how circumstance and knowledge can greatly influence the appearance of one's righteousness. He also knows that knowledge is not distributed equally during mortality. Due to the incomprehensible miracle that occurred in Gethsemane, Jesus Christ is the only one capable of judging anyone. He experienced the life of each individual son and daughter of God, one by one. The Savior knows what we know; He understands our understanding. "O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it." (2Nephi 9:20) With that knowledge, Christ is perfectly merciful and perfectly just. He loves us. He wants us to be successful and receive a fulness of joy. He condescended to lift us all to equal ground. Because of Him, you and I share the opportunity of eternal life with millions that never even had the chance to hear the gospel, "for the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them" (2Nephi 9:26).

Elder Quentin L. Cook explained God's plan this way: "The marvelous doctrine revealed to the Prophet Joseph unveiled to us a plan of salvation that is applicable to all mankind, including those who do not hear of Christ in this life, children who die before the age of accountability, and those who have no understanding" (Our Father's Plan - Big Enough for All His Children).

During a recent Elders Quorum lesson, one of my neighbors mentioned that the temple is a symbol of how the Atonement of Jesus Christ made life fair for everyone. I'm grateful for that observation. It's helped me see Christ everywhere in the House of the Lord while performing work for the dead.

My testimony of the plan of happiness has helped me feel optimistic about the prospect of bringing a new life into this world. It's easy to be negative about life and focus on the awful things that occur here. A few minutes of the news can give you enough information about violence and hatred to make you want to hide under a rock forever. But I know, as Alma the prophet taught, that "whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil" (Alma 5:40). God created this world for us and wants us to experience mortality, so it must be good. I trust Him. There is enough good in the world to overpower the evil. Look for the good. Become the good.

Now that my wife and I have a daughter, it's important for us to remember our roles in relation to God's work and glory. We're united in our efforts to keep God's commandments so that we may have the power to teach our daughter the gospel of Jesus Christ and help her live a happy, fulfilling, and eternal life. We brought her here so that she might have joy.

In closing, I strongly invite you to study the following scripture passage: Moses 6:55-62. "This is the plan of salvation unto all men." It's also sometimes referred to as the doctrine of sanctification. I promise you that these verses will help strengthen your understanding of God's plan if you study them carefully (i.e. prayerfully).

Wednesday, August 12

A rock, small and simple

There's been a lot of hoopla lately about Joseph Smith's seer stone. I'd already known about many of the less-mentioned details surrounding the translation process of the Book of Mormon, but I understand why people would be surprised by the images of the seer stone. After all, it's a rock.

I have to know the purpose behind things. I have to understand the "why" in order for my soul to be at peace: I need to know why it's good to pay tithing; I need to know why I'm asked to avoid coffee and tea; I need to know why (and how) there was death 'before' the Fall of Adam and Eve (btw, feel free to ask me about that one; I have an answer worth considering, and it has nothing to do with aliens). Luckily, I live in a dispensation of abundant revelation, and I have faith that God answers honest questions. With that faith, I've been able to find answers to the questions that are important to me. At the same time, I am human, so I'm also open to correction if my interpreted answers someday prove to be incorrect.


I'm excited about the Church becoming more transparent about its history. This transparency enables us to ask more specific questions and seek revelation. But I'm also wary about the folly of presentism and am hopeful that people won't cave due to biased assumptions. Since I believe the Book of Mormon to be a work of revealed scripture, and since it has made such a positive impact in my life, I'm naturally interested in how it came to be and why. I accept that I'll never get to witness this part of history in person, and therefore will never have the type of answer that appeals best to my skeptical brain, but that's just how history works so let's deal with what we have.


Anyway, here's my take on the seer stone. I've said it once already: I think it's a rock. However, due to Joseph's use of it and the Lord's acceptance of his primitive faith, it should rightfully be considered a ‘seer stone’. It played a sacred role in the process that brought us the Book of Mormon.


During the 19th century, the Church was run by converts – people with a colorful variety of backgrounds and beliefs. Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young – they each came with a mixed bag of faith and traditions. Yet they each moved forward to gain greater light, contributing what they could to the development of Christ’s kingdom on earth. I remember my mission president once counselled the missionaries not to get on people's cases about their idols and old traditions when they converted from Catholicism to Mormonism.  Candles, saints, memorized prayers - those things represented the initial faith of those converts and would still hold spiritual significance for them even after baptism. But as they would immerse themselves further into Christ's restored gospel they'd learn to discern the differences between pure doctrine, false doctrine, and mere tradition, and would govern themselves according to their evolving understanding. I have a very similar view in regards to Joseph Smith's use of seer stones. He came to the Lord with what faith and knowledge he had, and the Lord accepted him and led him to greater things. When Joseph Smith stopped using the Urim and Thummim later on in life, he told Elder Orson Pratt that "the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the Spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operations of that Spirit, and did not need the assistance of that instrument."


Let's go to the scriptures now: Ether 2:22-25 and Ether 3:1-6. The Lord instructed the brother of Jared to lead his people across the ocean in a bunch of vessels. Fair enough, but soon the brother of Jared ran into a couple of setbacks: the vessels were built in a manner that would quickly asphyxiate humans, and there was no obvious way to produce light inside of them. But instead of despairing, the brother of Jared decided to take these issues to the Lord in prayer. The Lord promptly answered his question about not being able to breathe, revealing a logical solution involving holes. However, the Lord didn't immediately resolve the light dilemma, testing the asker's faith. So the brother of Jared prayed again, saying "O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?" The Lord then responded with another question: "What will ye that I shall do that ye may have light in your vessels?" The Lord put it back into the asker's hands, letting the brother of Jared try to work out his own solution. After visiting the mount Shelem, the brother of Jared returned to the Lord with sixteen small stones, saying "I know, O Lord, that thou  hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men." And the Lord "stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger", causing them to illuminate. The brother of Jared probably could have brought the Lord anything, but the best he could come up with were a bunch of rocks. And the Lord accepted this. 


When Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon he still believed in using seer stones. Naturally, he decided to use his own seer stone as an aid in the translation process. The Lord didn’t reject him – He was willing to work with what Joseph had at the time. I think this reflects how God works with us – He’s willing to take imperfect, limited people and work with whatever talent or knowledge they have. He understands how difficult it is to "walk by faith" (2Cor. 5:7). He won’t reject us for our imperfections. Rather, He'll help us develop our weaknesses into strengths (Ether 12:27). 

When the Church released images of Joseph Smith's seer stone, I responded by going home and finding an old river rock I'd kept in my closet since I was a kid. I took that rock and put it in my backpack to carry around as a reminder that the Lord can use me as an instrument for good despite my limitations. After all, Jesus Christ used a 'rock', even Peter, to help establish the primitive Church. 

"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6).

I’m open to more miraculous revelations about the seer stone, but for now I’ve got what’s been written in church history and a couple pictures of a rock. So I think it’s a rock. A rock that helped prompt Joseph Smith to seek the Lord’s guidance to translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.


Joseph the Seer - this is a great article if you're interested in learning more about Joseph Smith's role as a Seer.

Wednesday, August 5

Found in space

A profound and poetic doctrine that was clarified with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ involved a few verses written by Paul the Apostle:

"There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terristrial is 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." 1 Cor. 15:40-41

In Corinthians chapter 15, Paul was trying to explain the doctrine of immortality. This doctrine is hard for our mortal brains to comprehend, much like the concept of having a physical body was probably difficult for us to understand in the premortal life. As Paul explains, our natural, "earthy" bodies will be changed when resurrected into something "heavenly"; the spirit and the body will no longer be distinguishable, but will become one - a "spiritual body". There has been much debate among Christians about the nature of God in relation to whether or not He has a body. Paul clarifies that the Lord does indeed have a body, for lack of a better word, but goes on to explain that it's something transcending our current understanding. When resurrected, Jesus Christ made a point to show His disciples that He had indeed overcome death, emphasizing that He wasn't merely a spirit by letting them touch His hands and feet. He then reinforced His physicality by eating fish and honeycomb (Luke 24:36-48). He was showing the disciples that He had completely overcome death, both physically and spiritually, as He stood before them as a perfected Being. All that is good about having a mortal body will be restored and perfected when we are resurrected.

I'd now like to explore what Paul touches upon in verses 40-41. Here Paul introduces us to the logical truth that there are different glories. There are varying degrees of faith, valiance, and understanding for each son and daughter of God. Likewise, there will be different degrees of glory assigned when we meet with the Lord on Judgment Day. This assignment will be merciful and just, reflecting our true desires; having a perfect understanding of ourselves we will be our own judges.

Paul mentions the celestial and terrestrial glories. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord expanded our understanding about this doctrine and introduced a third glory to match Paul's "sun, moon, and stars" metaphor: the telestial glory (D&C 76:50-113, D&C 88:20-32). I've pondered this doctrine quite a bit and have gained somewhat of an understanding about what these symbols and metaphors may mean.

Celestial - (Latin: caelestis) "heavenly, pertaining to the sky"
The celestial glory/kingdom is represented by the sun. The sun is the brightest object most people can relate to, and is an appropriate metaphor to use when trying to explain the glory of God the Father. The sun is our source of light and life. Without it there would be no possibility to sustain life on earth. Jesus Christ, the Son, is the source of light and life for our eternal souls. Our solar system revolves around the sun, which I like to think parallels how our lives should be centered around God and His truth. When we keep the first and great commandment (Matt 22:36-38) everything else will work together for our good. All else will fall into the right order when God is our first priority. One way to appropriately show our devotion to God is by setting apart the first day of the week as a day of concentrated worship. Though I don't think Sunday's name was dedicated specifically to express this (the word Sunday derives either from Egyptian astronomy or Roman paganism), I like it anyway. The Latin word caelestis is also used in reference to the sky (consider the Spanish word cielo, also meaning "heaven" or "sky"), placing celestial things symbolically above the earth. Likewise, to obtain a celestial glory we must consciously let our souls be converted to a state that ascends above our natural state of worldliness.

Terrestrial - (Latin: terrestris) "earthly"
The terrestrial glory/kingdom is represented by the moon. It might at first seem incongruous that the "earthly" glory has the moon as its symbol, but the meaning works out brilliantly when considered carefully. First of all, Paul mentioned the moon to introduce a body of light that's less glorious than the sun. The moon produces none of its own light; it is a reflector, gathering all of its light from the sun. The moon orbits around the earth, waning and waxing in its shadow. "Behold, many are called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world..." (D&C 121:34-35). In contrast, the earth orbits around the sun. Per D&C 88:25-26, "the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law - wherefore, it shall be sanctified". Another interesting scripture to consider is Helaman 12:15: "...it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun". Worldliness and the natural man cause us to move away from God. Sometimes prophets tend to say that when we sin the Spirit withdraws itself. I think it makes more sense the way King Benjamin described it in Mosiah 2:36 when he said that when we sin we withdraw ourselves from the Spirit. We have the gift of moral agency; we are endowed to decide where to go and what to become. We can move away from God or towards Him. Heavenly Father won't force us to participate if we do not desire eternal life. But He'll always be there for us, constant as the sun, no matter what we decide.

Telestial - (Greek root: tele) "far, far off, at or to a distance"
The telestial glory/kingdom is represented by the stars. The word "telestial" is unique to Mormonism. If you Google the word you'll be taken to a bunch of resources referring to the LDS Church. Joseph Smith was inspired to associate this word with "the glory of the stars". Paul chose stars to symbolize the least degree of glory because they appear (from our distant perspective) to have even less light than the moon. The word telestial denotes an element of distance. Think telescope, telephone, telegram, teleport - all of these things involve being able to do something from a distance. Those whose hearts are distant from God will receive a telestial glory, "for how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?" (Mosiah 5:13).

I think the Lord's prophets often receive revelation by studying patterns in the physical world. Like them, we can receive new revelation when we remember that "all things denote there is a God" (Alma 30:44).

Friday, July 31

A casual evil

"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man..." (Matt. 15:19-20)

Coming home from my mission, I had an awakening. I served in Long Beach, California, where I was exposed to a wide variety of lifestyles and beliefs. There are so many good people in that area who make real efforts to love their neighbors and make a positive impact. I learned quite a bit from my brothers and sisters there. Unfortunately, the area's also one of the many parts of the world plagued with frequent acts of violence. I wasn't much of a victim to the gang violence throughout the area; the worst I'd experienced was a (less-than) friendly "hello" in the form of a sucker-punch to my right ear that nearly left me unconscious (see: "Knockout"). But I met people that had been shot, stabbed, and paralyzed by various acts of cruelty. Likewise, I met people that had contributed to the cruelty. All people can repent, and I'm happy to say that I also met many people that had changed and sought forgiveness through their Savior.

Upon returning from my mission, I had nothing to do for a while. I struggled to find work. I'm not much of a gamer, but lots of my friends invited me to play Call of Duty with them, and I regret to admit that I participated. However, it didn't take long for my conscience to take effect, and I allowed it to teach me how backwards it is that anyone claiming to be a Christian could shamelessly enjoy an activity that simulates acts of gruesome violence. I wasn't following Christ when I played that game. In fact, I was a detriment to His work. I'm happy to say that I've repented, and I haven't played a violent videogame like Call of Duty for several years. I don't intend to ever again.

I realize people tend to roll their eyes and dismiss articles that condemn violent media with a carefully prepared rebuttal of cowardly excuses, but I must argue: Why do some people jump to condemn pornography and shrug at violent videogames? Don't both classify as immorality? And who honestly believes that a simulation of sex is worse than a simulation of murder?

I know the opposing opinions: "It's a war game and war's sometimes necessary; they're just killing the bad guys; it's not real..." These are predictable responses, though I feel that such a casual attitude disrespects those that have sacrificed their mental health while defending our freedoms. There really should be no need for counter-argument, but sometimes the ability to be honest with ourselves is inhibited by pride. You and I live in a society of gross desensitization, where the lines between good and evil often appear to bleed together when in reality they do not.

Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon chose to lead the Nephites in war against the Lamanites, with the Nephites acting in a defensive role as the other party was the agitator. Under Moroni's leadership, the Nephites participated in several violent battles with their enemies in defense of their families, religion, and freedoms. An important message regarding these circumstances involved Moroni's attitude about these battles. We learn in Alma 48:11 that Moroni "did not delight in bloodshed" and that he was "a man who did joy in the liberty and the freedoms of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery". Again in Alma 55:19 we're told that Moroni "did not delight in murder or bloodshed, but he delighted in the saving of his people from destruction". The Nephites he led "were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood" (Alma 48:23). Contrarily, the Lamanites "delighted in murdering the Nephites" (Alma 17:14) and "delight[ed] in the shedding of blood" (Alma 26:24).

What more prevalent modern example do we have of delighting in bloodshed than playing violent videogames? It's dishonest to deny that this is an inherently evil problem, not only throughout the world but within the Christian community - even among those of my own faith.

We have a modern group of Lamanites in the Middle East proclaiming themselves as an Islamic State. This army of bigots and antichrists openly delight in real bloodshed. The difference of attitudes between what they do and what the kid with a controller does is remote.

But the conversation goes beyond videogames. Violence permeates all modern media - film, music, and literature. Sometimes I'm guilty of taking too long before deciding whether or not something damages my soul. Whenever I'm watching a movie or reading a book, I try to ask myself: "Does this glorify violence?" There's a big difference between glorifying violence and teaching a lesson about violence, but sometimes it's hard to tell which is happening. However, when I remember to be honest with myself the distinction becomes clear.

I'm not perfect at this, but I have made some real progress with resisting violent media. My strategies include avoiding all R-rated movies and never playing "shoot 'em up" videogames.

No one is too far away from Christ's outstretched arms to return and repent. His good news is that we can be forgiven of our sins and transformed by His grace if we choose to invite Him into our lives. I wanted to open up about this topic today because it has become a casual evil, an obvious sin our society views with remarkable indifference. It will be a huge victory for Christians when we truly begin talking about violence with at least the same gravity we tend to express when talking about sexual misconduct.

In conclusion I'd like to invite you to consider the scripture we were asked to study during the Primary class I had the joy of attending last Sunday. We discussed Christ's "new" commandment to "love one another" (John 13:34-35). Consider what a child's response would be to the following question:

Do we keep this commandment when we pretend to kill people? 

The answer's obvious, isn't it?

See also: It's "Only" Violence by Brad J. Bushman

Thursday, July 30

Fish

Years ago I dreamed that I was fishing in a river. The water was clear yet colorful, the sun was shining; everything was vivid and easy to remember. It didn't take long to get a bite. Determined, I started reeling in this huge fish that wasn't going to give up without a fight. Suddenly the fish managed one particularly aggressive tug and my line snapped. At this point the dream switched perspectives and I became the fish. I swam away with the hook caught in my mouth and the line trailing behind me. I remember thinking, "I don't have hands. How am I going to get this hook out?" Upon asking this question I felt the presence of the Savior immediately above the water. Then I woke up.

Reflecting upon the dream-parable, I quickly realized that I was being taught that we can't take care of our own sins alone. We need Christ's hands and often the hands of His servants to catch us and help extract our "hooks".


Sometimes our "hooks" aren't sins. Uninvited trials negatively affect our souls when we respond with despair. As with sin, we need hands other than our own to help us when unfortunate events threaten to crush us. The Savior offers healing and refuge for all of God's children. He also employs his servants and angels to help carry His work of love forward. 


Service is a vital force in our spiritually-thirsty world. Without it there would be no hope, healing, or true happiness. There would be no real purpose for our existence. Christ's ultimate act of service is the source of healing for all spiritual wounds. He's ready to run to our aid. We need only to have the faith to call for His saving hands when, as Peter, we begin to drown in our struggles.



Scripture study:


Matt. 14:22-33


Ether 2:24-25

3 Nephi 9:14

Alma 7:11-13

Saturday, July 18

One among them

The Book of Mormon has been a nutrient for my soul. It is a springboard for revelation. That's one of its main purposes: to help us learn how to receive revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. Anything that invites the Spirit is worth pursuing.

Some of my favorite scriptures include Mosiah 11:20Mosiah 17:2, Alma 19:16, and Helaman 5:35. These verses introduced me to four missionaries, all from different circumstances, that share a common thread (besides the fact that all their names start with the letter "A"). Abinadi, Alma, Abish, and Aminadab were courageous individuals that helped others come unto Christ. They were each alone in an opposing crowd; they were each "one among them". But despite their circumstances they chose to become instruments in the hands of God. Abinadi was a righteous prophet whose death helped save one wicked priest. Alma was that wicked priest, and he left that experience to become a righteous prophet who established an entire church. Abish was a silent believer* that became a zealous missionary; once she found her courage she ran from house to house, energized by the opportunity to share God's word. Aminadab was a dissenter from the church who had his faith restored and was able to teach his friends how to repent.

There's hardly any background to Abinadi's story. We know nothing about who he was before being introduced as "a man among them" who preached the truth and started a chain of events that led to the salvation of countless souls. Who was he before? Was he a sinner? Was he silent? Did he have doubts? Had he ever fallen from church activity, whether publicly or privately?

Have you ever struggled with sin, inactivity, or disbelief? Have you ever been an Alma, Abish, or Aminadab? I have, so you're not alone. Is their past your present? Again, you're not alone.

All people that feel alone in their spiritual battles could benefit from remembering that the Savior came to this world as "One among them" (Abr. 3:24) to save us from being alone. He provided a way for us to become clean from our sins so we can receive guidance from the Comforter. He taught us that everyone has the capacity to do good, even when they feel outnumbered.

This blog is one way I'm choosing to share my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I've found that it's hard to find effective ways to share my beliefs . But whenever I prepare a lesson or a talk for others, my dormant spirit awakens. Those preparations tend to be the most helpful study experiences for me. Now, with this site, I can prepare lessons and talks whenever I'd like. I want to try to share something valuable for other people that thirst for spiritual knowledge and conversations. I hope that together we can engage in meaningful study that will invite the Spirit into our lives.

This is my way of being "one among them".



*Note: Abish's silence before Ammon's visit may not have been a sin of omission. Her story reminds me of Mormon's unfortunate reality when he was commanded to "stand as an idle witness" (Mormon 3:16) because his people weren't even remotely receptive to the gospel (but even he found a way to share his beliefs with millions of people several centuries later through the Book of Mormon). Abish may likewise have received a prompting to withhold her testimony for a period of time until the right opportunity came. Regardless, resisting the urge to share the gospel can be depressing, whether it's by choice or constraint of the Spirit.