Imagine that you’re driving down the road of a 2-lane highway. On your left side is a pasture, full of cows. No big deal, right? You pass by them without even giving a second thought. But just as you’re about to pass the pasture, something catches your eye. You look over and there it is; a purple cow!
You stop the car, get out, and just marvel at why this cow is so much different than all the others. You take pictures, you post it all over Facebook, and you tell all your friends about it. “Wow! Look at this odd colored cow that I saw the other day!”
Now, obviously this would never happen. We would never really see a purple cow in a pasture. But in our lives, there are certain “purple cows” that catch our attention. I’d like to talk about the “purple cows” in the Church, why they are so different to that of other religions, and possibly give some personal experiences regarding each.
Families are Forever
Maybe I’m just not too familiar with the doctrine of other religions, but I feel like this is a unique one to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that through being sealed (tied together) in the Holy Temples of God, that after this life, we can be together forever with our families.
This piece of doctrine is particularly close to my heart. When I was about six years old, I had a brother who passed away due to a heart defect. He lived about four months. Within that short time, he had a couple of open-heart surgeries in attempts to repair the defect. But ultimately, it was too difficult on his little body, and he passed away. Because I was so young at the time, I didn’t really understand what was going on. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s difficult to imagine that I should have another brother, only a few years younger than me. Knowing that, as a family, we will one day be able to reunite together with him, it gives me such strength and such joy.
And more than that, having this knowledge gives me more incentive to cultivate the relationships that I have here with my family. There are many who can’t stand their families. But knowing that these same relationships will be carried over into the next life gives me more motivation to do all I can to try and continually generate that love between family members.
The Book of Mormon
Imagine that your Father won the lottery. Before he dies, he decides that he’s going to give you and your brother some of the money. Would it be fair if he gave your brother $2.3 Million, but he only gave you $16,000? No, of course not!
The same goes for the Book of Mormon. The Bible talks about the history of Jesus Christ, along with the miracles he did, and other teachings. So is it only fair that the people in Jerusalem get the teachings of Christ? Of course not.
The Book of Mormon is the history and the dealings with the Native Americans on this American continent. It begins 600 years before Jesus Christ, and then ends about 400 years after his death. Jesus Christ, after his resurrection, truly did come and visit the Americas.
Having this extra book gives me so much more hope! It’s such a testimony strengthener to me, knowing that God loves us each so much that he gives us this knowledge as well. As its “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” it helps to reaffirm my faith in Him. While reading both books, you can compare them side to side and see another angle in which God interacts with His children.
I personally feel like I’m a difficult person to convince. Should I have only the Bible, I don’t know if that would be enough evidence for me. The Book of Mormon is something so precious to me, and I’m so grateful that God has revealed other scripture for the benefit of his children.
Increased Atonement Understanding
The Atonement is a fairly hard concept to grasp. I don’t think we’ll ever truly understand how Christ was able to suffer for our sins. But I feel like my understanding of the Atonement has increased so much within this Gospel, that I wouldn’t be able to find that elsewhere.
Take, for example, this analogy: Think of your dream car. Let’s say it costs…$250,000? If you try to pay that off in five years, that comes out (roughly) to about $4200 a month. That’s a lot of money! But you really love this car, and you decide that it’s worth the money.
So you begin paying off your loan. And for the first couple of months, you love your car, and you don’t mind spending the money. But there comes a point where you’re tapped out and you simply can’t afford it anymore.
The bank wants their money. But at the same time, you want your car. What are you supposed to do? The bank is beginning to jump down your throat sending threatening e-mails and you have phone calls nonstop. You couldn’t possibly give up your car! You love it too much.
So what do you do? You want your car, but the bank wants their money too. You can’t both be happy. Then, walks in a man and says, “Because I love you so much, I’ll pay for your car. I’ll give the bank the money, and you can keep your car.” This man, because he loves you so much, pays off the debt. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do anything else. This man now requires payments to him, but that are much more manageable.
The man in this analogy is obviously Jesus Christ. But within the struggle of good versus evil, the car and the bank represent two difficult things. The car is now Heaven, and the bank is sin. You do all you can to be the best person, but eventually, you just can’t do it. We all fail. And unless we’re perfect, we simply cannot make it to heaven. We cannot be in the presence of God if we’re unclean. In walks Jesus Christ. He walks in between your sins and heaven. He pays for all of your sins in full. And because he’s done that, we promise Him that we’ll make small tokens back to him. He expects us to change. He expects us to try and be better and repent constantly. Even though he suffered for our sins, that’s not it. We have to do our part.
Yet another analogy that I absolutely love is from Brad Wilcox. He gave a speech at BYU, and it absolutely changed my way of thinking about the Atonement. He said:
“Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a Mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I’m talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid, but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with Mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.
In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask, maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.
‘But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.’ Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of the Atonement?”
The Atonement really is something incredible, and I don’t think I’ll ever comprehend how great of a magnitude it covers. But within this Gospel, I’m being to understand it, even if it’s just one piano key at a time.
For a more in-depth explanation on Temples, read my FAQ: Mormon Templesthat I wrote a couple of weeks ago. But basically, what a temple is, is the house of God. While there, we gain other light and knowledge that isn’t readily available to the rest of the world.
Along with that, it’s a place of worship as well as receiving other required ordinances. It’s a very solemn place where you feel the Spirit of the Lord stronger than anywhere else on Earth.
But it truly does bring blessings. Although Temples aren’t limited to just the “Mormon” faith, they are something very sacred. But it’s so incredible to be able to go into these houses of the Lord, put away all the stresses and filth and garbage from the world, receive instruction and revelation from the Lord, and then go back out into the world with a renewed sense of direction and purpose.
Modern Day Prophet
Just like Prophets of old (such as Moses, Noah, Adam, Abraham, Elijah, etc.) we believe that there is a Prophet. A modern-day Prophet living on the Earth, who speaks with God daily and then gives us that instruction.
Whenever I say the word “Prophet”, people get confused and say, “Oh yeah. We have a Prophet, too.” No. This is like…THE man. There is one chosen man to lead and guide Christ’s Church for the entire world at one point, and that man (as of this date) is President Thomas S. Monson. It’s such a blessing to have a man that tells us what we should do straight from God’s mouth.
There are other Churches who believe they have the same. Or what about the Pope in the Catholic Church? Although I believe that the Pope is a very good man, there are a lot of politics involved. Man’s ideas and voting takes place, swaying the true direction that God wants for man. A true Prophet isn’t influenced by man. A true Prophet does what God asks him to do without complaint, however difficult it may be.
Imagine a large white fence. You, are on the one side. God is on the other. You can talk to God through the fence (prayer), but you can’t see Him. You know he’s there, but that’s about it. Now, imagine that there’s a man standing on top of the fence. He can see both you and God. He can speak to both of you face-to-face (Ex. 33:11).
Every six months, in a meeting called “General Conference”, the Prophet and his twelve apostles speak to us and give us specific instruction that they have been inspired to tell. It gives us many things to work on over the course of the next six month period of time.
Stay tuned for next week to read the second half…