Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Two Strangers in Detroit, Many Friends in Asia

Back in February, I was passing through the Detroit airport when I walked past a Chinese couple struggling to get some information from a United Airlines agent. I could tell there was a language problem and that they were worried. I wasn't in a hurry and for some reason felt that maybe I could help, so with my poor Chinese I stuck my nose into the conversation. I eventually figured out that they were confused about their luggage because when they came through Detroit from China, they had to pick it up and take it through customs to get it checked onto their next flight, and now they worried that something had gone wrong since they weren't doing the same again with the luggage they had checked at another city. I explained that the luggage would be put on their plane to China and that they didn't need to do anything else or worry about their luggage (fingers crossed). That solved the problem. Like many Chinese people, they were extremely gracious. We exchanged cards and they told me that if I ever come to Shanghai, please look them up. That was before I had any idea that I was going to Shanghai. We stayed in touch and my wife and I did take them up on the offer.

That little encounter led not only to only of the best dinners ever with the couple and their friend a couple weeks ago, but led to a marvelous day yesterday where I had the privilege of speaking to a group of about 60 engineering students and professors in a seminar in intellectual property on the beautiful campus of the Shanghai University of Engineering Science, where one of those two strangers in Detroit is a professor. And that speaking engagement led to a dinner invitation with another group of people, a wonderful Taiwanese family, some of whom are living in Shanghai. The dinner, once again, was one of the best ever. Chinese food is terrific, but especially when a) there is a large group of people so many dishes can be ordered and sampled, and b) a Chinese person does the ordering and selects the restaurant.

So many blessings came from a few minutes of trying to help a couple of strangers in Detroit. It's a terribly selfish thought, but I have to wonder how many other wonderful experiences I've missed by walking past people who could have used a hand for a minute or two? The bigger question is how much more good might I have done if I had just paid attention or had the courage or compassion to stop and help? Sometimes all that is needed is a few words of guidance, not hours or resources we don't have. Some of my most frustrating moments were or could have been resolved with a touch of kindness from a passing stranger.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Faith Alone? Paul's Reminder on the Need for Charity

To those who insist that faith alone is the key to salvation, I'd like to gently point to the beautiful words of Paul regarding charity in the opening lines of First Corinthians 13:

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
Even with great faith, Paul would be nothing if he did not have charity.

I've always been puzzled over the insistence by some folks that "faith alone" is the key to salvation. It puzzles me because the only time that phrase or anything close to it occurs in the Bible is when the Good Word warns us that justification is NOT by faith only: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." (James 2:24)

Yes, yes, yes, I understand that true faith leads us to Christ and to become more like Him in having charity, and that it leads to the works that are emphasized in so many parts of the Bible. But Paul is not writing to believers on autopilot who have nothing to worry abut once they believe. He is writing to believers who need to grow and repent and seek after the best gifts, such as charity, as part of their personal development in the journey through mortality. It is a journey where we can go forward or, if we choose to, regress and fall from grace. Paul just finished warning the Corinthian Christians about the danger of complacency in 1 Cor. 10 ("Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall"), and now reminds us that seeking charity is part of our journey. An essential part.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Paranoid Paul?

Ever notice how many times Paul expresses concern about maintaining the blessings of grace that are offered by Christ? Have you noticed all the passages where he worries that he or other Christians might fall if they aren't careful? Overly worried? Paranoid? If so, it's healthy paranoia--the kind that helps people face the brutal realities of their current situation in order to avoid real disaster. In multiple passages of the New Testament, Paul pleads with us to be cautious and avoid the many ways to fall from grace--and with good reason.

Here's one example from 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul expresses concern about maintaining self-control over his own body, recognizing that even though he is a preacher and an apostle, he could become a spiritual castaway if he neglects the Gospel and its teachings.
24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
May we too seek to keep the lusts and desires of our bodies under control lest we fall into serious sin that pulls us away from Christ. It's a jungle out there and we need a little healthy paranoia about the dangers we face and healthy self-imposed restraints to keep us out of danger.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Do You Know Who You Are?

One reason I love being in Shanghai is that there are so many people here. It's the world's biggest city (based on the population within the official city limits) and I've been surprised at how much I enjoy that. Shopping tonight at E-Mart, just below our 18th-floor apartment with its beautiful view of the world's greatest skyline, I was surrounded with a sea of people it seemed as I waited in line to check out. I normally dislike lines and crowds, but my attitudes are different here, sometimes.

To comply with the rules we must keep in exchange for the privilege of running our own church services and religious assemblies, we don't proselyte and even quickly shift gears when Chinese citizens ask about our religion. But as I look over the sea of people here, including many noble souls who have experienced and overcome much, there's one thing I wish I could teach them: who they are. So often I look into their faces and find these words echoing in my mind: "Do you know who you are? Do you know that you are sons and daughters of God with a divine purpose here? Do you know that you vast potential now and unlimited potential after this life, through God's merciful plan of happiness?"

Do you know who you are?

That question, though, quickly leads to bigger questions: "Do you know who God is? Do you know how much He loves you? Do you know His Son and what He has done for you?" To know God truly is to know who you are and why you are here.

I wish they knew. I wish all of us knew.