The Sermon of a Lifetime

I had a dream wherein my wife and I were attending another church at the request of a friend. The first recollection I have of the dream is hearing the pastor teaching this small group that we were in that Mormons are not Christians. I looked at my wife with the “did he just say that?!” look. Then, without any further thought, I raised my hand to speak.

“I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” I said. Immediately, the pastor and everyone else in the room had an indescribable look on their faces. My statement created a bit of tension in the room, and I soon stood up in front of everyone to resolve the matter.

For some, my dream is reality. I’m sure many other Christian churches and people who practice Christianity may feel similar feelings towards the Latter-day Saint community as did those in my dream. I personally, am not offended by it. My perspective on the matter is that it’s purely a lack of understanding. The message I wish to convey here is one for the world, especially the Christian world. If I ever had the chance to give the following as a sermon to an enormous group of Christian believers, I would consider it the sermon of a lifetime.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as “Mormons,” are Christian people. We believe in Jesus Christ. It is His church, hence the name. We believe in the same Jesus found in Bibles the world over. His birth, life, and death were the fulfillment of prophecy. Through Him we are cleansed of all of our sins and wrongdoings. As we strive to live His gospel teachings, we prepare ourselves for the life to come hereafter.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” -2 Nephi 25:26 (Book of Mormon)

There is no doubt that Jesus had organized a church during his mortal ministry. There was order among his followers. He chose and ordained common men to be Apostles, they chose another seventy (Luke 10:1) to assist with the ministry. Their following Jesus had eternal significance and purpose.

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13

The commission of the Apostles was to take the gospel to all the world (Matthew 28:19-20). They were ordained personally by the Savior with his divine authority. After the Savior’s crucifixion and subsequent resurrection and ascension, it was the Apostles who were left in charge of the Church, hence Paul’s letters to Rome, Corinth, the Hebrews, etc. Eventually, these men were sought after, persecuted, and killed, discontinuing the divine authority granted to them by the Savior. This lack of authority created a need for restoration.

For nearly two thousand years the people of the world worshipped God according to the dictates of their own conscience. Beliefs changed. Doctrines and ordinances forgotten and lost. This is where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had it’s beginnings.

As a young boy, Joseph Smith was living in a time of early American history. He was born in 1805, only about 30 years after America declared independence. People were free, and began using that freedom, particularly their religious freedom to share and spread their interpretations of the word of God. Joseph described it like this:

“…there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion…Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people.

“…but so great were the confusion and strife among the difference denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

“In the midst of this war of words and…opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” -Joseph Smith History 1:5, 8, 10

The spark of Joseph’s desire soon became enflamed when he discovered the advice of James in the Bible.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” -James 1:5

“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did: for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” -Joseph Smith – History 1:12

This passage of scripture led Joseph to a grove of trees near his home, where he offered the desires of his heart of God in prayer.

A pivotal part of this story that is often left unmentioned is worth consideration.  Joseph described it in these words:

“After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.” -Joseph Smith – History 1:15

When the work of God moves forward, it is never left without opposition. Since the beginning, there has been an adversary working to thwart the Father’s plan, and this moment in history brought no exception. However, light always trumps darkness.

“But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me…I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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!”

This moment marked the beginnings of a new era. Over the next twenty years, Joseph would, in the words of John Taylor, “…[do] more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought for the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth…revelations and commandments…and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.” -Doctrine and Covenants 135:3

“For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength while the testator liveth.”     -Hebrews 9:16-17

The history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my history. It’s message is my message. It lives within me. It has shaped my life and the life of my family for generations to come. As Brigham Young once said,

“ ‘Mormonism’ has made me all I am, and the grace, the power and the wisdom of God will make me all that I ever will be.”

As a member of the Church, I believe in Jesus. My King James Bible tells me the stories of my Savior and Redeemer. The Book of Mormon increases my faith in Christ, and solidifies my choice to continue my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of hope. It’s a message of happiness. It’s a message that is meant not to cause contention, but unity. May we all as Christians and followers of Christ remember that, and seek to strengthen one another, rather than to condemn or attempt to falsify. Let us live our lives as Jesus taught us to live them.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” -John 13:34-35

 

For more information on my faith and beliefs, visit the Church’s website or feel free to ask me a question.

To read my story, and learn how I joined the Church, click here.

The Experience of a Lifetime

There are moments that define our lives, who we are, and what we stand for. Moments that, no matter where we end up or how old we are, we just can’t forget.

I experienced such a defining moment in my youth, during my high school years. Two of my best friends stopped me after class, knowing that I had an interest in attending church, and gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon. One of them had written his personal testimony inside the front cover. His message was full of conviction and dedication, feelings I desired to possess for my own faith.

My friend challenged me to read a passage from the book—

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” -Moroni 10:4-5

I took the challenge seriously. Each night I had my routine. I would read a chapter each from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, pray, and then go to bed. This became a habit as I searched for my answer.

My answer did not come right away, but over time as I studied it out and received affirmation through the power of the Holy Ghost.

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I’ve learned that when we show God that we are serious about something, He seems to answer more directly and clearly — my particular case being the desire to know about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and the reality of the restoration of Christ’s ancient church through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

To this day I still possess that very copy of the Book of Mormon. It provides both reminiscence and motivation for me as I strive to share my conversion experience with others. My experience has defined my faith, and set the foundation for the way that I will strive to live the rest of my life, how I handle my marriage, and how I raise my children.

Every one deserves such an experience with the Book of Mormon. Its powerful and personal message brings us closer to Jesus Christ. If we have already had such an experience, there is great value in renewal, and in seeking opportunities to provide others with the experience of their lifetime.

Cause and Effect

My wife shared an interesting thought with me this week. Heavenly Father loves ALL His children and yet He was willing to give up one-third of the children He loved just as much as the other two-thirds because He wanted us to have agency (freedom of choice). To bring her point home, she asked me to imagine us having three children, and that I had to give up our son Jackson so that the other two could have their freedom to choose.

My mind can’t even weigh the option! The love I have for my son is deeper than words or emotions can express. How can I possibly begin to comprehend, let alone understand the love that God has for all of HIs children, and the pain He felt the day Lucifer took a third of His posterity away forever.

There are two extremely important doctrines here — A cause and effect if you will.

The Cause — Sacrifice

The words of a popular LDS hymn set the stage. “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” God has been sacrificing for us since the beginning. As stated before, He sacrificed a third of His children so that we could freely choose forever. He sacrificed His Son to pay the price for our sins. Sacrifice is an eternal principle that instinctively lives within us. We sacrifice for others, for our children, for God. When members of the Church attend the temple, they make solemn promises to sacrifice all that they can for the kingdom of God. There are deep and eternal blessings that come from sacrificing our lives for the service and purposes of God.

The Effect – Agency

Freedom. It’s what we all enjoy as God’s children. We are free to choose. God will not force anything on us. He will always give us a choice. Though one option might prove to be better than the other, the option to choose is a gift never to be taken away from us. Consequently we learn from the choices we make, whether they be good or bad, allowing us to ultimately become closer to our Father in Heaven.

But such a gift didn’t come easy. As is often said, “Freedom isn’t free.” In fact, nothing is really free. We must be willing to sacrifice.

Being a father helps me better understand who God is. I would do anything for my son to have everything he needs. Never will that little boy go without. He will always have food to eat, clothes, diapers, etc. because my wife and I love him so deeply that we would sacrifice anything for his needs to be fulfilled.

God loves us in a similar, but a far more deeper way. What more reason do we need to love Him?

My choice to serve God is a choice I make daily, and I’ve never regretted it.

“…choose you this day whom ye will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” -Joshua 24:15

Hastening the Work – Preparing to Serve

Following is the text from my recent talk given in Church.

Many are familiar with the dramatic conversion of Alma and the other sons of Mosiah. These young boys were known to be rebellious, as they persecuted and lead church members astray. They didn’t understand the importance of God. They saw things through the eyes of the world, and not through the eyes of faith.

However, God had a plan for these boys, and it was His will that it be fulfilled. But in order for it to be fulfilled, their situation required divine intervention.

“…as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake…saying: Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people.” (Mosiah 27:11,13)

This experience changed Alma and the other sons of Mosiah for life. Their hearts had been turned, and these boys became powerful teachers and enjoyed great success as missionaries.

This is a monumental time in the history of the Church. The number of missionaries currently serving has increased exponentially in the last decade. Temples continue to be built and dedicated at a steady rate. The beliefs of the Church are not as unknown and misunderstood as they previously have been. It is clearly evident that the Lord has and continues to establish His Church, and as His prophet, Joseph Smith, declared. “…no unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, and calumny may defame. But the work of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent until it has penetrated every continent, visited every climb, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, ‘till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the great Jehovah shall say, “The work is done.””

We are constantly reminded that we are a choice generation. Like the sons of Mosiah, God has a plan for us to participate both individually and collectively in building up His kingdom.

However, in order for us to join in, we need to be prepared, and the time to prepare is now.

When I began my mission, I had been a member of the Church for 13 months. The majority of the other missionaries around me grew up in the Church. Some of them had been attending all of their lives, some off and on.

One very important thing I noticed and learned early on as a missionary was that many of the other missionaries who had grown up in the Church had regrets. No, they didn’t regret serving. Not one bit. They regretted the mistake they had made in the lack of preparation for their missions. They wished they had paid more attention in Sunday School and seminary. They wished that they had attended mission preparation classes, or gone to the temple more often.

So far throughout my life I have learned to learn from the mistakes of others. Young men and young women who desire to one day serve a mission, or even just thinking about it and haven’t officially decided, start preparing now. The sooner you begin your preparation the more prepared you will feel, and you will enter the mission field with no regrets.

Whether you are preparing to serve, never had the opportunity to serve, or have been home for a few years, there are many options available to participate in hastening the work.

Regular scripture study is the foundational practice for anyone who desires to share the gospel. When we study the scriptures, we become closer to God. We can feel His influence more naturally in our lives.

The Internet has become a major catalyst and outlet for sharing the message of the restored gospel. Church leaders have made it clear that we should seek opportunities to share the gospel message online with our friends and family members.

About a year and a half ago I was invited to read The Power of Everyday Missionaries by Clayton Christensen. The book is a fantastic resource for members of the Church who are unsure of how they can be sharing the gospel. One of the points made in the book is to share the gospel online through blogs and social media outlets. He promises that, “If you write online through the power of the Spirit and love of the Lord, the new friends that you’ll meet will be able to feel that Spirit and that love—as if they were speaking with you face-to-face.”

I took that promise to heart, and created [this] website with the intention of sharing the gospel. It has become a very rewarding and gratifying hobby for me. At the end of the year I received statistics for my site, indicating that my posts had been viewed in over 80 countries over the past year. It’s humbling to know that as I share my views, opinions, and life from a gospel perspective, I can do missionary work literally across the world.

Most of us feel more comfortable conveying our thoughts and feelings online in comparison to face to face communication. Youth preparing to serve missions should seek opportunities to share the gospel online by means of blogs and social media. There is a great community of people online that do amazing work sharing the gospel and their sites can be used as a resource and example to help you get started.

Of course, the purpose of these online outlets is not necessarily to defend the Church, but to provide a glimpse into your life so people around the world can understand the joy that the gospel brings into the lives of active and faithful saints. As Clayton Christensen said, “We don’t need to ‘defend’ the gospel in a military sense. Rather, we should do with religion as we do with music, not defend it but simply render it. It needs no defense.”

Finally, the best way to share the gospel is to live it. The Savior said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14,16)

We are to be “an example to the believers [and non-believers], in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” As the Church continues to grow and becomes more visible in the public eye, it is our covenanted responsibility “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death, that [we] may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that [we] may have eternal life.”

We are always on a mission, even if we don’t have a black name tag on our chest. The Lords name doesn’t have to be inscribed on a name tag for us to preach the gospel, it just has to be written on our hearts. Each of us are capable of being great missionaries, and the more we strive to share the gospel, the more God will bless of with such opportunities, knowing that we are capable of being His witnesses. We have no need to fear.

I witness of Jesus Christ. The restoration of His Church is a life-changing reality. God has prophets on the earth today. The Book of Mormon is an essential witness of the truthfulness of the Bible, and the reality of the restoration. May we all seek to do our part in hastening this work so that it can bless the lives of others as it has blessed ours.

Seeing and Believing

When we go to Church, when we read the scriptures, we are exposed to the idea of heaven and visions of heaven. But can people see heavenly visions in our time? And if they can, what does it mean for the rest of us?

Twice now I have seen the movie Heaven is For Real. The movie is based on a book that tells the story of a boy, the son of a preacher, who visited heaven during a life-saving operation. The story eventually goes public, and causes quite a stir throughout the community.

What I found to be most interesting was the disbelief of the church members. Christian people who believe in Jesus and miracles, but extremely closed off to the boy’s experience of visiting heaven and seeing Jesus.

I believe Jesus is a real Being. I believe that He has a perfectly resurrected body of tangible flesh and bone, as does His Father. I believe people in the Old Testament saw visions of God and Jesus, and that people in the New Testament walked and talked with him during his mortal life, and saw and touched, and ate with Him after his resurrection.

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“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” -Isaiah 9:6

 

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“Then saith he [Jesus] to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.” -John 20:27-28

 

 

As a Latter-day Saint (Mormon), I believe in both ancient and modern day visions. I believe the Father and the Son appeared to a young boy and called him by name, and that through him, restored the order and purpose of Jesus’ earthly Church and ministry.

“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell 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

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When someone claims to see a vision, does it make them a prophet? Not necessarily. Each of us are God’s children and are all equally entitled to have special experiences to build our faith in His existence, and to use those experiences to lift others, as depicted in Heaven is For Real.

So anytime you hear of someone who experiences a vision of God or heaven or something of the like, don’t discount it right away. It could be an opportunity to build your faith.

“Jesus saith unto him…because thou hast seen me, blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” -John 20:29