Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why I Believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posted by Charlie Brown

Two significant events have played a profound role in my observations about life and learning from the experiences we undergo as human beings.  Adding these to the mix of everyday observation and learning they have been driving factors in my desire to understand life's purposes and perplexities.  

What they have taught me is that you don't have to be a theologian or have a perfect understanding of who God is to get answers to prayer.  Who will ever have such understanding in this life any way?  A sincere desire to know Him however and seeking with real intent will hasten answers to prayer.  

John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

When I was eight years old, my mother died in an automobile crash.  Of course the circumstances were tragic.   My dad was now a widower at 31 with three young boys.  I was the oldest.  We lived about 10 miles from the nearest town in a farming community.   For no particular reason and the only time that I can remember doing so, I stayed home by myself from the weekly 10 mile trip to town to buy groceries.  I was not in the car that windy day when the dust from farm fields filled the air and closed visibility on the highway to practically nothing.

One of our neighbors passed by the crash scene.  They picked up my brothers and brought them home.  The nearest ambulances were 30-60 minutes away and the hospital was an hour or more in Mountain Home, ID.   I happened to see the neighbors arriving in the neighborhood and my brothers still had blood on their faces.  I ran to their home and they told me there was an accident and to run home and get some clean clothes for my brothers.  

What happened next, I can't really explain. Even though we attended a non-denominational Christian church, I had never really offered any kind of personal prayer in my entire life that I can remember up unto that point.   We always followed set prayers and congregational prayers.

As soon as I walked in the door to our home I received a prompting to kneel and pray in the living room by the couch and so I prayed.  I didn't really understand who or what God was.   All I knew was that I called on him as only an eight year old could and asked him to somehow bless my mom and dad.  My life changed that day because I can't remember a day that I did not pray after that.

Why my heart was turned to God and not away I can't explain.  A tragedy often does harden one's heart against God as such losses seem so unfair.  In some ways I don't know that my dad ever got over the death of my mother though.  While he had faith it did not seem to allow for a full healing.  

Years later I would begin to understand the general reason for tragedies, opposition and the purposes of life.  For now though I had opened up a channel of prayer and continued to use it everyday to pray that my family would be protected.

For the next 8 or so years my understanding of God did not change. When I was 12 we moved to Boise.  When I was 16, I started backpacking.  The Boise city recreation department started these summer pack trips programs and I did many trips over the next two summers.  I spent 3-4 weeks hiking in the mountains around McCall, ID and the Sawtooth Mountains with my brothers and some friends.  

I would lay out at night and look at the vast panorama of the heavens and the countless stars.  I could see the infinite nature of space and would think; if I traveled a hundred billion miles to a point and then two hundred billion miles beyond that; where would I be?  I began to wonder how the infinite and the finite fit together. I didn't know any theology but I could feel the logical pull towards faith.

Now with the powerful telescopes that astronomers use we can see some of that wonder with a much closer view.   We can see the endless nature of creation.  I would ponder and ask why was it all there? What was the purpose of life? I would thank God and go to sleep.   At this time I was of the mindset and more certain that I was closer to God in the mountains and ski slopes than in a church building.

As a teenager with the normal challenges of life and some unsettled relationships for my dad, my daily habit of prayer began to change. I started to ask questions.  At this time my friends included many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

As I attended church with my friends, I learned about praying in the name of Jesus Christ.  I learned some teachings that are specific to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such things as the body being a temple. Living prophets and apostles led the church. They did not use coffee, tea, alcohol or tobacco.  They believed that marriage and families are eternal relationships and don't end at death.

These doctrines began to weigh on my mind as I became curious about who I was and what the purpose of life was.  I began to pray about these things.   My intent to know increased and my desire to seek answers was as great as it had ever been.  Something  changed as I prayed to know.  My prayer was answered.   My mind was flooded with light.  My whole being felt a burning of confirmation that what I was learning was true.  While this was my experience there are other ways that the Spirit does witness to our minds and hearts as well.

I knew instantly though that that the church was teaching truth, that God had called prophets and that I was literally a son of God, our Heavenly Father. I understood something of what Christ had done for me.  I knew that I needed to repent and be baptized, and I was two weeks later after meeting with the missionaries to make sure I understood some basic things. I knew that I would become a missionary and I did two years later. I witnessed the pattern of learning and change that I experienced in the lives of many more people as I served and taught them.

The light that came to me that night has never left.  My relationship with my Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ has grown closer and deeper as I continue to learn what their plan for us is.  I have continued to feel the power of the Holy Ghost and know that it is real.  I have witnessed the blessings of the gospel covenants. We are sons and daughters of God, of Heavenly Parents as marriage is ordained by him and the family is of an eternal order where loving relationships are the center of creation.

I married  an amazing girl who is a wonderful woman.  We have eight children and grandchildren are blessing us continually.   We have a rich family life.  The gospel as taught in the church has been the foundation of our lives. The fellowship of the saints confirms that this is the household of faith that God is inviting all to join. Prophets and apostles are again on the earth to guide us.  Their counsel is from God.  

As I continued with the course of life and its challenges and now with more than 40 years in the church these truths have been confirmed again and again to me in ways I cannot count.  The practical application of Christ's gospel is found in the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the witness I received that night and continue to receive is real.

What ever you know about your Father in Heaven and Savior will be increased as you study the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with an open mind and willingness to learn.  Of these things I do testify and witness, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Fall of Adam-The Garden of Eden

The resurrection would not be much of a miracle if there were no death. But there is death and there must be a reason for it in God's great plan. Did God create a planet and people out of curiosity or for some eternal purpose? What was the reasoning behind the creation and the fall?

Was what happened in the Garden of Eden a creation that went wrong or a creation that has gone right and fulfilling its purpose? Is the resultant suffering and evil necessary or not? Christian philosophers teach that Adam and Eve were supposed to remain in the Garden. They also teach that their partaking of the fruit was some kind of a rebellion.

Good theology would tell us that God set the scene so they would fall to fulfill his eternal purposes. Their dying brought the miracle of the resurrection. The world exists as it does because God wanted it to, not because Adam and Eve wanted it to. He is the one with all knowledge and designs the purpose for which things exist and the condition in which they exist as they pertain to truths about salvation.

Mainstream Christian theologians believe that salvation through Jesus was and is a back up plan. Bible scholars say man was to remain in the garden forever and the reason he fell was because he rebelled. They teach that the fall was a mistake and thus deny that Jesus' atonement was a pre-planned event.

The traditions of orthodox sectarian creeds teach of a self-existing God that acts in a random non-purposeful way. Their stated reason for the creation was so God could have someone to glorify him and this was for his own will and pleasure. Was he not already glorified enough and pleased with his existence?   

Without the fall and therefore death and sin, there would be no Christ, no atonement, and no resurrection? My Christian faith does not concur with those scholars. The Bible teaches that Jesus was foreordained from before the foundation of the world to be our Savior. Even though Adam and Eve introduced death and sin, the consequences of those events were already dealt with.

How long were Adam and Eve in the garden before partaking of the fruit?  It could have been thousands of years or a few months. Either way, it would seem they stayed away from it until Satan was allowed to tempt them.
The tree was in the middle of the garden, not in a remote orchard. It was one tree from which the knowledge of good and evil could be obtained.  It was not two trees, one of good and one of evil. It stood as the bitter fruit of death as opposed to the tree of life.

Traditional theology doesn't recognize that death was the consequence of partaking because God wanted us to have eternal life through his Son. Without birth into mortality, there could be no agency or exaltation. He ordained family life for the fulfilling of his plan.

Eating fruit doesn't on its own do any of the things Satan tempted them with. However, if God establishes the consequence he desires, he will do so to make his purposes come to pass.  Adam and Eve's disobedience was not necessarily sinning. They were innocent in their sensibilities.  There was no evil in their actions.  It was disobedience. They invoked the consequence of the fall based on the word of God that they were given. This introduced sin because man now had knowledge and freedom to choose between good and evil, the precept of moral agency was established by this means.
How could Adam and Eve understand death at the time? There had been none die before them.  This is why they were not able to be tempted by the concept of not dying. The idea of wisdom or pleasantness may have been a curiosity but they were not capable of pride or ambition to be gods as some Bible apologists suggest. They did not know Satan was evil or anything of the concepts he could use to tempt them. Eve was simply beguiled.
Christian philosophers should make no mistake. Adam and Eve were righteous individuals. Adam and Eve did not sin in choosing the fruit. They knew no other law to establish sin. There was no adultery, stealing, bearing false witness etc. They had dominion over all things.  

This was a simple opposition to their innocence so they would have a choice. If it had not been there they would have essentially been in a prison as they would have had no freedom to choose anything. God knew what he was doing and he needed someone to do it of their own free will.

Without opposing choices of some kind they would essentially be forced to remain in a state of neutrality not knowing real happiness because they knew no sadness. They would have been pawns of no consequence living in a state of ignorance.

The tree of death (good and evil) was an innocuous tree.  It stood in opposition to the tree of life.  The tree was not a bad tree.  It was set as an option to invoke a penalty for transgressing a commandment or rule that God placed there for a purpose.   

The penalty for breaking the rule was mortality and death. Grave yes but they were taught that beforehand.  God chose the penalty to suit his purposes and that was to introduce them to mortality and the experience of learning by choice and consequences through freedom to act on their own will.

Adam must have listened to her confession and realized that he was not supposed to be alone and chose to follow. They had been married in Garden and he was to cleave unto her. Adam had to partake to keep the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.

With the fall they were now capable of exercising faith in their Redeemer and the glorious eternal life he would deliver to them and their posterity.  It would appear that Adam had pretty much decided not to eat the fruit on his own. God allowed Satan to hasten the process needed in order to begin the real salvation of Adam's and Eve's souls.  Their bodies wouldn't be perfected until they were resurrected. Their character would also be perfected through knowledge, choice, repentance, mercy, and grace.

They would now have to learn to seek humility with the existence of pride pushing on them. Their choice to live with good and evil was an opportunity to forsake evil by choice.  The continued existence of mankind with the tempter present would bring sin and sorrow.  Redemption would be wrought by faith in a redeemer, even the Son of God. Adam and Eve were the world's first Christians. God gave them laws applicable to mortality and they taught their children.

Because Adam and Eve were subject to a future fall, their bodies were, in fact, corruptible even though immortal at the time.

Satan induced what Adam and Eve resisted partaking on their own. God knew his evil intent and used it against him. Jesus was the only plan for salvation all along, from before the foundation of the world.
The reason the garden setting existed was so that the sorrow of mortality, it's pain and suffering and ultimate death was chosen voluntarily by Adam and Eve. It was not forced upon them by God. The two choices before them were the limit of their freedom at the time. Their choice brought Jesus Christ to the earth and salvation to the children of the Eternal Father.
Without disease and death, immortality and eternal life without sorrow would no meaning. We might like to think that these concepts could be infused in our minds at creation but it is quite obvious that is not the case or else we would not be here. This experiential knowledge is key for our spiritual development to become like God.  He is the freest of beings. The fall was designed for that purpose.

If the Garden was to be the eternal home of man we would have forgone the wonders of the kingdom of God and his heavens. Remember Satan also came and went from the garden. Would the kingdom of God include a devil roaming in and out of it?  The purpose of the eternal plan is to overcome evil and banish it to its own end, not to put up with it.

The purpose of mortality was to know good and evil and to be free to choose between them.  The Gods, Jesus, and the Father did not say after Adam partook: Look man has become like Satan.  They said behold the man has become as one of us (plural), to know good and evil.  Now the man would no longer live in innocence. He would have choices.

Our purpose here on earth is to gain a physical body and see if we will overcome evil by our own choice and choose to follow Jesus. The war in heaven continues here and now over freedom and choice.

We are given power over Satan and his hosts through faith in Christ.  He will be overcome and cast to his final prison in the end. It will be done in the same manner as the pre-earth war. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony". Revelation 12:11

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Quick Review of Religious History and Philosophy

The great question of religion is whether or not there is a God and thus a heaven and whether or not there is some process of salvation. How did the concepts developed by religious philosophers, Biblical scholars and those that have professed Christianity in some form or another come to be?

The Bible tells us that Christ and his apostles established a church in the earth. This was the authoritative body to establish God's will and proclaim to the people. After Christ and the apostles died men began to formulate their own theology and administer a church after their own methodology.

History tells us that there was much disagreement as Constantine the emperor of Rome sought to unify Christians by formulating foundational creeds for their beliefs. This happened after the apostles died and men were making up their own philosophical theologies. This was 325 years or so after the birth of Christ. The historical and scriptural accounts that were available were canonized and closely held by the church for centuries. The Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed established to oppose Arianism became the the foundation of the Catholic Church's theology.

"Controversy over Arianism arose in the late 3rd century and persisted throughout most of the 4th century. It involved most church members—from simple believers, priests, and monks to bishops, emperors, and members of Rome's imperial family. Two Roman emperors, Constantius II and Valens, became Arians or Semi-Arians, as did prominentGothic, Vandal, and Lombard warlords both before and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Such a deep controversy within the Church during this period of its development could not have materialized without significant historical influences providing a basis for the Arian doctrines.[7] Of the roughly three hundred bishops in attendance at the Council of Nicea, only two bishops did not sign the Nicene Creed, which condemned Arianism.[8] This majority due, at least in part, to a penalty of exile or death for refusal to sign the Nicene Creed having been imposed by Emperor Constantius II." Wikipedia

Certain assumptions later led religious philosophers/apologists to try and convince people to believe that somehow the Scriptures as canonized in the Bible are complete and inerrant. Apologists quickly qualify the concept saying that the men and women that read them and form churches are not.  

This philosophy was developed because people wanted to be able to say that somehow there is absolute certainty in what the book says. This is a necessary approach because they themselves did not have authority to teach the word of God or administer the church. Likewise it was necessary to develop a teaching this says that anyone that follows the Bible is part of some universal brotherhood or invisible body of believers that represents the body of Christ.

We understand from the Old Testament the tendency of  Israel, God's chosen people to wander from the words of the prophet. The prophets were the watchmen constantly seeking to keep them aligned with God. The same was true in the New Testament as the apostles called the members to repentance.

How is it that man made the assumption that they knew exactly what God was speaking in the Bible when they no longer believed that prophets or authority were necessary?  The fact is they didn't and they admit it as they observe their own lack of unity in the religious communities of the modern era. The mantra of many is that the Bible is inerrant but people aren't.  Without a central authority in the church. individual opinion and scholarship will take that position and make itself the authority. Such is the case with the development of Christian theology in the mainstream churches.

After ruling for more than a millennium the church established in Rome by Constantine came under sufficient scrutiny to inspire the Protestant movement, a reformation of the universal church at the time. Certain things were identified according to different scholars did not align with their interpretation of the Bible.  Are not Baptists, Methodists and all protestants are essentially just Catholics with a twist.  After all they do profess the same trinity as their deity.  

What we see since the time of Christ's death is a constant state of confusion and disagreement over religious concepts.   Even though there was no authoritative body of the church on the earth we can see that through the word that was available God was able to preserve faith in Christ in the earth.  So if these churches were not authorized to perform acts that lead to salvation even though professing such;  what happens to all of these people? 

We see doctrines developed in the universal Church that taught such things as baptism of infants and charged money for it and sold other indulgences.  There were many other teachings that didn't reconcile with scripture.  The new order of religion sells grace without effort.  The churches of our day have strong disagreements over such topics as free will, salvation by grace, pre-determinism and others.  The teachings in the churches and congregations follow the dictates of the individual leaders.

While the real ordinances of salvation were not in the earth, it doesn't mean that God didn't have a plan consistent with scripture and his methods of salvation to carry them out in the earth. While we see thousands of years of religious apostasy we must remember that there is no real time in God's methodology. Whether the apostasy lasted one day or 2000 years it doesn't really matter.  He is however a God of order and established procedures, a being of law and eternal truth.

The overall purpose of a religion should be to fulfill that purpose which is to save all of God's children and help them live happy lives in mortality. This would require some action on the part of the individuals to be saved.  

The teachings developed by religious scholars and philosophers condemn all human souls that don't measure up to their concept of salvation of accepting Christ even if they never knew of him.   For man to assume that he had authority to do so and not really have it did not thwart God's plan.  Just as Christ's Atonement, which is his sacrifice for sin and his resurrection were foreordained before the earth was created, so to was the restoration of his gospel.  He will bring all things together in one under Christ in the latter days, which is now.

This is being done by the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  In it is found all of the authority and ordinances necessary for the salvation of God's children.   

God is not a respecter of persons therefore all men and women must receive the same message and the same ordinances pertaining to salvation by someone with authority to perform them.  Joseph Smith went to God in prayer and He came to Joseph in person and sent messengers to authorize him.  In the religions of men, they chose themselves and authorized themselves using the Bible as a basis for their justifications.

For theological discussion we talk about heaven as a place where people go to live forever. Traditional teachings have said that only certain people go there and that everyone else goes to hell. Some churches and religious organizations teach that those that don't accept God simply go back to the nothingness from which they were created.

Latter Day Saint theology teaches that we are truly immortal souls. This means that our eternal identity did not have a beginning and that we were not created out of nothing.  Eternal spiritual intelligence is the substance from which all people gain their personality and identity. We are begotten sons and daughters into God with this eternal substance.

Because we are eternal we cannot be sent back into nothingness because there is no such thing as nothingness.  God's power is to give to us through creation the moral agency by which we act and make choices. Scriptures are clear that there is a final judgment. Through the gospel we receive instruction from our Savior and about his divine mission and how he offers grace to us through his atonement which includes the resurrection.

Religious philosophers have failed to realize that God's powers and directives can only be carried out by his representatives.   His prophets and apostles act today just as they did when Jesus and his original apostles were on the earth.

All of the people that have ever lived on the earth still live. They as their eternal spiritual creation, they live in a place where they can communicate and where God's work is still carried out.  They will receive the same message and the same opportunities. Contrary to what some have said, no person is denied heaven because they weren't a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  The church would not teach such a doctrine as salvation after death if that were true.  We wouldn't have temples where we perform ordinances for ancestors who live in the spirit world and weren't members of the church.

At the final judgment we will essentially be standing before God and and judging our own life as the spirit opens our mind to remembrance of all things. Did we try to follow the commandments did we serve him and our fellow man or did we pursue our own agenda. He will judge us perfectly according to every deficiency that may have been a part of our life and we will only be held accountable for that over which we have control and the knowledge we had. No person will be condemned in ignorance.

Whatever we lack will be taught to us in the spirit world before the final judgment. The fact is we already know in our own minds what we think we want to accomplish in our life on earth and whether or not we are following God.

The kingdoms of glory are eternal realms where like-minded people will live together forever.  God lives in the family unit. That is the eternal order of godliness and holiness when individuals become perfected by the Savior and his Gospel.  His church is the school where we learn these things.  If we decide we don't want to learn the we he still allows us to live forever in a state of peace essentially carrying on with similar activities of life with perfect bodies though not glorified to a state of continued creation.  There is peace and no sickness and many of the joys of this life but not family life.

Traditional theology about heaven cannot even begin to explain what such a place is or tell us what we might be doing. Theologians, philosophers and Bible scholars don't have enough information and they profess no revelation to receive the mysteries of God.  Their canon of Scripture is closed and they are left to speculate and preach what they think people want to hear.  That is why so many churches exist and so many differing ideas of what heaven is are told from the pulpits and schools of religious philosophy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

We Are All Creators If We Choose To Be

We each create a world in a world. Think of the earth as a universe and each person as a creator with all of the resources of the earth as opportunities and materials to use. Each person is pretty much free, albeit with some exceptions. With these resources and the economy that exists, each creator can act with faith to make something of their existence. Many do end up supporting others in various ways. No person is an island.  Not only in families as parents and children but many enterprises interacting with each other to facilitate, provide or to teach. Some creators choose to do very little with their existence or even nothing positive in some cases.

Rules exist that we have joined together to create so as to govern and punish those among us that would steal our creations or infringe on our right to create. Some rules or laws exist all by themselves as natural facts that govern our existence. Sometimes we join together to create worlds (lives) that are closely tied together. Most men and women have a power within themselves that when joined with another person of the other gender can actually create new life. Family bonds are especially unifying when founded upon true and correct principles which for me is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We then nurture and help others create their worlds.

It is possible to be part of one world and leave it. You may be part of a world for a time and never enter it again but it does not cease to exist. The powers that created it still go on. You too go on in your world. Such is our existence on earth. There is only about 6000 years of this history that we can document in some manner and we can observe these interactions.

There are intellectuals that in the wisdom of this world think they are perhaps the most intelligent life to emerge in billions or trillions or years, indeed a timeless state. How is it that some people think that their opinions and theories in science, philosophy and other fields have any bearing on anything. If their opinions have no bearing in the next life then what is their value?

Many claim some expertise that is founded in their own wisdom and the assignment of titles by their contemporaries.  How they think that they are somehow the smartest to come along in an infinite universe and did so on this planet in that last 6000 years is about as limited and vain of an imagination as one can get.  They often speak as though their theories are truth and they are not.

When we consider the state of science and understand what it is, we would realize that it is really just revealed theology. We would also realize that all truth is scientific. We only separate the two because theology has been hijacked by unauthorized teachers and labeled as a subjective instrument for gaining accurate knowledge.

God is after all the author of all truth which includes all science. He just doesn't need the theories that he allows us to work with in our learning process. True theology can cross certain bounds and help us achieve happiness that the facts of science won't. In spiritual growth, theology is the constant and science is just an added benefit. He also doesn't change the rules (laws) just because someone doesn't like them.

Now carry the concept of creation as outlined to real universes and galaxies and endless planets and stars. Try to comprehend eternal truth and laws which govern those the vast expanses. Try to understand precepts of eternal and perfect justice along with a plan of mercy. 

Think of an eternal family headed by God the Father. There you will find the true nature of love, eternal marriage and endless creation.  Here is the covenant God made with Abraham that his seed would be numberless as the stars or the grains of sand on the shores.   

There is no scarcity of resources and no end to the power of our Heavenly Father. We are after all created in his image and likeness and that of his Son, Jesus Christ.  We can receive as joint heirs with Christ of all that the Father hath which includes powers and blessings of infinite creation.

Perspective on Evil, Suffering and Injustice in the World- How Moral Agency, Free Will and Christianity Integrate

One of the perplexing questions about life that philosophers, theologians and thinking people, in general, have considered in all ages, ha...