Laying the foundation of your faith- Talk on my Conversion

Laying the foundation of your faith, piece by piece and experience by experience”

Daniel Ortner
Sacrament Talk
7-12-09

Brothers and sisters, I was asked to speak to you about the story of my conversion. I approach this talk with much eagerness but also with a degree of trepidation. When one is asked to speak about himself, the potential for egotism and self indulgence is quite great. I have prayed while contemplating this topic, that I may be filled with humility and that the lessons I draw from my life may be relevant and useful to you rather than merely a case of psychoanalysis. I hope that through my story the Holy Ghost will be able to impart something meaningful and valuable

I’d like to begin by saying that even though I stand here today as a member in good standing and have been attending church now for the past 10 months, that my being here was an improbable uphill climb. It represents for me the beautiful triumph of the seeds of faith that were planted deep in by breast long ago but required the nurturing of this church and gospel to truly flower.

Growing up I flirted with many different directions of faith. I was the co-founder of my high school Jewish Student Union club at one point even though i throughly enjoyed such non kosher foods as lobster and pork chops, but came close to converting to protestant Christianity at another point. My mothers sickness and the pain that my search for truth inflicted on her caused me to hold back from my search. Eventually, my mother’s death from Ovarian Cancer. when I was 18 years old drove me away from God altogether and towards atheism. I was a devout non-believer for two years. I read Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and argued with my religious friends feverishly. I used to call myself a ‘deconverted’ jew.

In many ways, my conversion to the gospel was a strange and miraculous experience. I went from arguing that there was nothing greater than human existence, to believing in the Book Of Mormon and the church within the span of about a month. I had one of those conversion experiences similar to that experienced by the Apostle Paul or Alma the Younger. One evening, after I’d been looking into the church for about two weeks, I got this intense desire to go to the grounds of the Boston temple. I had never stopped near the temple though I drove by it on a regular basis. I went to the grounds with my good friend whom first introduced me to the church and I was filled with the presence of god in a way that I had never experienced before. I felt as if I was being communicated to directly by my Heavenly Father. Still being somewhat cynical of the experience, I tested it by visiting a nearby Catholic and Protestant church to see if they gave me a similar spiritual feeling They didn’t—far from it. I came back to the temple and was overwhelmed with such a feeling of peace and tranquility. I got on my knees and prayed and was filled with such an incredible transforming spirit. In many ways my conversion was dramatic and sudden. It is the memory of that momment and the feeling of the spirit that kept me going until I finally reached the waters of baptism. It was a cross in the sky I could not lose sight of.

Yet, in many ways more significantly, as I looked back on my experience I realized quite how much of the foundation for my conversion was laid down by the masterful handiwork of my heavenly father even as I was completely unaware

James Faust in a 2000 talk entitled “A Growing Testimony” spoke about this process of the development of faith

“My faith continued to grow as building blocks were added to the cornerstone, line upon line and precept upon precept. There are far too many of these to be chronicled individually; some are too sacred to utter….”

Since my conversion, reflecting on my life is almost like being a child and playing connect the dots. I was never especially good at that game and so finding the hidden connections between events in my life has been a bit of a work in progress, but so far I have found that each of the spiritually significant moments in my life ultimately lead me to where I am. Every time I reflect, I find new reason to be in awe. New insight into why certain events happened in my life.

For me, the chain of events begins when I was eight years old and inexplicably became obsessed with the idea that I was possessed by some evil spirit and that a dip in a pool of water was the only thing that could heal me.

That chain continued when due to the promptings of what I later realized to be the Holy Ghost, I was narrowly successful in delaying my parents from going to lunch at a Jersualem Market at which there was one of the deadliest suicide bombings in Israeli history that very afternoon. I would likely not be here were it not for that prompting and that presence.

Piece by piece the fragments of what now form the mosaic of my testimony slid into place: Inexplicable dreams of Jesus Christ a figure that I knew almost nothing about at the age of 14; small glimpses at the glory of heaven even in my darkest moment immediately after my mother’s death. These tiny experiences shaped the growth of my faith in so many ways.

So too, did the people that God placed in my life. One of my lifelong best friends prayed a prayer for me at the age of 13 that I would constantly be surrounded by strong Christian voices that would influence me and direct me to Christ. I am thankful to report that her prayer came true. Every time I stood ready to give up on my quest for god and truth, someone would come and bear a powerful and pure testimony that would put me right back on the straight and narrow path.. Everywhere I went, I could not escape the deluge of strong voices. On a family vacation cruise to Alaska for instance, I managed to make a friend that would engage me in intensive scripture study and prod me for many years towards faith in Jesus Christ as my savior. Even As an atheist, I could not escape the poignant message of the gospel. Last summer, while studying abroad in China, I happened to have a Chinese instructor whom was a recently converted Christian that utterly shook my worldview and pushed me to rediscover my spiritual side. I frustrated them all endless with my stubborness and unwillingness to listen, and I am amazed that they had the strength to put up with my nagging doubts, but somehow they did.

Thinking about the powerful role that the words and prayers of others have had on me, I am reminded of the words of the Angel to Alma the Younger in Mosiah 27

“ 14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.”

Brothers and sisters, I bear my solemn witness to you that you are called to play that role in the lives of those around you. Whether that person is right at the cusp of faith or in the deepest depth of disbelief and despair, you are in that person’s life for a reason. Your prayer and your words can and will change lives. But, those opportunities will not come to you unless you pray for them and keep an eye out for them. Those like me that try to seek truth but stand frustrated and ready to surrender, depend on those prayers and few small words. Try not to get frustrated by the seeming lack of progress. Your work pays off even if the results are not immediate.

Looking back, I also realize that every step I took backwards away from God was ultimately two steps forward. There is ultimately no running away from the plan God has for each of us. Just as Adam’s fall led to the glorious opportunity for redemption and growth in the plan of salvation, so to did my moments of rebellion bring me to where I am today. It took me a while to appreciate that I would not be a part of this particular church had I never lost my faith in God in the first place for instance. Growing up with a modern Jewish background may have made the acceptance of certain gospel truths far too difficult. Likewise, a few months before my discovering the church, I did something very foolish that negatively impacted me at the time but took away my arrogance and allowed me to seriously contemplate regaining my faith in God. I don’t think I could have been where I am today without that experience.

In the same talk, President Faust stated

“At times I have stumbled and been less than I should have been. All of us experience those wrenching, defining, difficult decisions that move us to a higher level of spirituality. They are the Gethsemanes of our lives that bring with them great pain and anguish. Sometimes they are too sacred to be shared publicly. They are the watershed experiences that help purge us of our unrighteous desires for the things of the world. As the scales of worldliness are taken from our eyes, we see more clearly who we are and what our responsibilities are concerning our divine destiny.”

Brothers and Sisters Those painful and uncertain moments of doubt and agony help make us whom we are. They are part of the sure foundation within which we can imbed our testimony and knowledge of Christ. I know that we could all develop a deeper appreciation for the role our heavenly father has played in our lives if we contemplated how all of the minute and seemingly inconsequential experiences in our lives ultimately brought us to where we are today. How much stronger will we be in dealing with our daily challenges and temptation when we realized how those challenges are crafted to give us unique and personalized growth. Even our failures provide us with needed lessons and experience. Just as the Law of Moses was a schoolmaster to bring the children of Israel to Jesus Christ, so to our experiences impart lessons that direct us towards Christ that we may not fully appreciate until months or years or our lives have passed

JEFFREY R. HOLLAND in his talk entitled Cast Not Away
Therefore Your Confidence stated:

“I believe that in our own individual ways, God takes us to the grove or the mountain or the temple and there shows us the wonder of what his plan is for us. We may not see it as fully as Moses or Nephi or the brother of Jared did, but we see as much as we need to see in order to know the Lord’s will for us and to know that he loves us beyond mortal comprehension.”

I truly feel that it is this perspective that allowed me to withstand the difficult last ten months of my life. As soon as I made the decision to join the church, I knew that I would face opposition from my father. Even though my father is an atheist, to him Judaism is very important as a culture, ethnicity, history and tradition. Moreover, when I previously had looked into Christianity it was something that had devastated my mother. I knew that my father would feel that he had to speak out in her name. I knew that I could face disownment and loose my father as a figure in my life for good. After much prayer and reflection, I made the difficult decision to keep my father fully informed about my desire for baptism and also to work to try to appease and accommodate his anger. I agreed to wait six long months for baptism. Over that time, I weathered constant insults and guilt trips. I constantly had the spirit of my mother used against me as a weapon. When six months had passed, I still found my father’s heart unchanged and unwilling to listen to my pleas. I agonized over the difficult choices that I faced and was in many ways paralyzed. My prayers and my words seemed ineffective and futile. At the time I was studying abroad in London and I had a baptismal date set up there that I had to cancel with much disappointment. I flew back to the United States uncertain as to when I would be baptized. A little over a month ago, his heart miraculously softened and he permitted me to be baptized.

I still don’t know if I acted with cowardice or prudence in waiting as long as I did. I certainly know that I was far from perfect in responding to the promptings of God. Yet, what kept me strong throughout the whole process was the knowledge that all of my trials would ultimately build my testimony. Having such a long period as an investigator was just as vital for me to grow a truly rock solid faith as any of the experiences in my adolescence. As an outsider I was able to develop a greater appreciation for so many things about the church that I may have instead taken for granted. I also was forced to spend time reconciling and coming to terms with what my Jewish identity would continue to mean to me once I became a member of this church.

And again, just as with the start of my journey, I could not have made it to the waters of baptism without the prayers and influence of so many members of this church. The friendships I formed and the prayers and priesthood blessings they uttered made all of the difference. So to, did the valiant efforts and prayers of the 7 different missionaries that I took lessons from over the past 10 months. Your kind words, your smiles and your encouragement do not go unnoticed. They are a glowing testimony of the truth of this church. The message and the spirit of Jesus Christ is alive in each and everyone of you. It is a powerful and potent force that can change lives as it most fully has changed mine

The words of the Prophet Joseph Smith as he struggled with the pain and agony of imprisonment in Liberty Jail stand out as especially profound.

“if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. “

For those of you here today that are looking into the church for the first time or members that have doubts that god is playing an active role in directing your life, I testify that god is laying down the foundation to make you whole and complete in Christ. Just as a doctor perscribes medicine that seems painful and sometimes make us worse for a brief time, so to is the cure to our spiritual sickness and weakness. Your story of your true conversion and your struggles may look a lot like mine or nothing at all but I testify that if you keep searching god will never ever let you down. He knows you and he is sanctifying the temple of your soul bit by bit and experience by experience.

I say these things in the name of our lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Amen

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2 thoughts on “Laying the foundation of your faith- Talk on my Conversion

  1. Pingback: LDS Living Free Subscription Giveaway | Symphonyofdissent

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