My Heavenly Father

April 5, 2010

Joseph Smith's First Vision

Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ

Since the beginning of time, people have been asking, “Is there a God?” The question that usually follows is, “If there is a God, what is He like?” Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Mormon church, said there are three steps to showing faith in God. First, we must know He exists. Second, we must know what He is like – His form, attributes, characteristics, etc. And, third, we must know that what we are doing are in accordance to His will. (Lectures on Faith)

As a Mormon, I believe in “God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” (Article of Faith 1) Mormon theology states that God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate and individual beings. We refer to this not as the “Holy Trinity” but as the “Godhead.” The concept of the Godhead is one of the main problems some other Christians have with Mormon doctrine. Regardless of others’ doctrinal discord, God’s state of being was answered in a vision Joseph Smith had as a young 14-year old boy.

Joseph Smith was confused about the many different sects of religion during the years of his boyhood. He was a voracious reader of the Bible and he came across a scripture in the Book of James, chapter one, verse five: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…” He determined that the only way for him to get the answer to his question about which church was right, he needed to pray.

Joseph went to pray in a grove of trees near his house in Palmyra, New York. Recounting his experience, he said, “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it rested upon me…When the light rested upon me, I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me calling me by name and said, pointing to the other — This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History 1:16-17)

Joseph Smith’s account of his vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ answers a fundamental question about the nature of God — What is He? We now have a realistic idea of the Being in whom many of us believe. But, it was not always so with me.

I had similar questions as Joseph Smith: Which church is right? Are any of them right? Does God exist? If so, so what? These questions were serious to me and I needed reliable answers. I grew up reading the Bible and knew that my answers were not going to be necessarily empirical or scientific; rather, they were going to be spiritual in nature. Yet I went about trying to find out an answer to my question about the existence of God in the most organized way I knew.

First, I prayed every day with faith that someone was there to hear me. I prayed with a desire to know.

I then thought back on the blessings I had received. I was grateful for them and consequently found a measure of humility. My sense of gratitude prepared me for an answer by making me teachable.

I continued to study the scriptures. I wanted to get to know God if He really did exist.

I did these simple steps for a few weeks. The answers did not come immediately, but gradually. Little whisperings of the Holy Ghost touched my heart here and there. They were in a silent prayer for a friend, a poignant scripture verse, or a thought of how  I’m grateful for the simple things in life. Finally, the big answer came as I was listening to a Church leader speak in a large Sunday meeting. It occurred to me that I had always known that God existed. That remembrance left me with a contented sense of love and appreciation for my Heavenly Father.

My understanding that there is a God is reinforced everyday. Whenever I think about the major and minor blessings in my life, I feel His love for me. Whenever I investigate questions I’ve had about science, I see His handiwork. As the Book of Mormon prophet Alma declared, “All things denote there is a god.”

I know He exists, is loving, and knows me. I know that I am one of His sons and that I share a similar lineage to every person who has ever or will ever live. My faith in Him and His Son continue to grow as I work hard at my relationship with Them. By reading the scriptures, praying always, and showing gratitude for my blessings, I feel that I am nurturing and improving my relationship with the God whom I reverently call “Father.”


Victim or Victor?

February 4, 2010

Decisions make me. They can range from what I choose for lunch to whom I chose to marry. Regardless, I will face the consequences – good, bad, and in-between – of every decision I make.

Also, I am made from the consequences of others’ decisions. I either benefit from a person’s decision or am hurt by it. Someone’s decision to retire early could open up a job for me that would not have otherwise been available. On the other hand, someone’s decision to drive drunk could have a tragic consequence in my lives. How I accept the consequences of our own and others’ decisions reveals my naked personality that can either show it as robust confidence or a withering faithlessness. That is when I find out if I am a victim or a victor.

My wife of nearly five years is my best friend. She loves me and I love her with the kind of love that keeps people together for life and beyond. Even though it has been almost five years, I often find myself thinking that I’m glad we aren’t engaged anymore so we can live together and not have to say goodbye to each other at the end of the day.

Like any normal couple, we’ve had our struggles. She’s had to deal with my epic panic attacks and bad habits while I’ve had to reassure her during her insecure days and develop a thick, patient skin with some of her bad habits. (Interestingly, her failings have now become endearing and I would not soon change them. And, although she despises reminding me to flush the toilet, it’s kind of become an inside joke.)

One consequence of my wife’s skin type is that she is prone to skin cancer; not even a decision she made but was made for her by her genetic code. Right after our youngest, Wilbur, was born she was diagnosed with skin cancer. It was located at the top of her chest, right where her left and right clavicles meet. It didn’t take long for her oncologist to tell us that it had to be removed. Thankfully, all she has remaining of that malignant mole is a scar resembling that of a thyroid removal surgery.

Even though I knew the melanoma was treatable, I was worried about the cancer metastasizing and the possibility of losing her. Although that thought was hard and painful for me, I know I would have be able to move on after a long while. What I was especially worried about was how my two young boys could possibly grow up without their mommy. That broke my heart.

For the month before the excission, we were somber. Yet never once did she or I question, “Dear God, Why us?” Instead, we focused on the things that were substantial in our relationship, in our family, and in our faith. We decided to be victors by focusing on the important and looking for the good – and there was a nourishing bounty to be found! We look back on January 2009 as a time of growth and coming together rather than a time of lost faith or separation.

Throughout life, we must decide how we plan to the view and deal with the consequences of the emotional, financial, or spiritual storms before they come. Will we be victims or victors? I choose the latter and pray you do, too.

When I was a kid, I had a pretty good idea what I believed and why I believed it. I believed in God the Eternal Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. The reason I believed was simple – it was what my parents taught me to believe. It wasn’t until I was about 13 when my witness of Jesus Christ became uniquely mine.

I grew up in a traditional Mormon family near the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Church. Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly referred to as the Mormon Church), the youth ministry – Young Mens and Young Women or Mutual – works very hard to keep teenagers interested in the gospel and to build understanding and faith, which leads to personal conviction. My experience in the Young Men’s organization was not unique. I went to the weekly activities, participated in meetings on Sunday, and was a Boy Scout. It was a great way to grow up.

Every year, our youth leaders would put together a scripture Read-a-Thon. The year I turned 13, my leaders decided to study the New Testament and focus on the life and ministry of the Savior. After school on a Friday, all the youth ages 12 through 18 went to a local chapel with our scriptures, our favorite pillows and blankets and an eager stomach ready to munch on a lot of the free goodies that our leaders provided. Little did I know that the nourishment my soul was going to receive would far outweigh the caloric intake of licorice, Sprite, and Capri Sun. It would be the beginnings of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Over the next two days, I listened to my leaders minister about the life, example, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many of the stories of Jesus sunk deep into my soul. One in particular was the story of the Ten Lepers.

Ten leprous men came to Jesus to seek a blessing of healing of their painful and severely unpopular affliction. The Lord did indeed heal all 10, but only one remained behind to show his gratitude to the Master Healer. The Lord asked this grateful man, “Were there not 10, but where are the nine?” Then upon that newly cleansed man the Savior pronounced perhaps the better blessing, the more eternal blessing, that “his faith hath made him whole.” (See Luke 17)

Whole. That word describes how I felt on that weekend finding my Savior for myself. I imagined myself as the lone grateful kneeling at the Lord’s feet thanking Him for his kindness and succor. Even as a young 13-year old boy, I glimpsed for the first time what kind of role the Savior could play in my life.

Now, as a 31-year old husband and father I recognize how important Jesus Christ is and has been in my life. My 20s were filled with joy, blessings, and challenges. Yet, through those challenges I came to a more mature understanding of how real the atonement of Jesus Christ is to me. Repentance, I learned, is not a one-time thing. Rather, it is an attitude of humility and appreciation to the Savior. When I married my sweetheart at age 27 and had my first child at age 28, the Lord took on a more prominent role in my life as my support and anchor.

If I were to sum up my feeling about Jesus Christ it is this: I love Him. Thanks to His sacrifice and resulting comprehension of what I deal with every day, I have the faith to continue following Him. Thanks to His example, I know how to treat my wife, my children, and others. It is because of Jesus that I can forgive myself.

It is my prayer that I serve Him by offering a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.”