To those facing opposition for choosing to follow Christ and his Gospel

I recently read a post asking for advice for a prospective convert hoping to get baptized but fearing the rejection of family. Having gone through the same process myself five years ago, I hope that my words will be meaningful and helpful to her and to those in a similar position.

1) It is worth it!

One of my favorite scriptures as a weighed baptism, and the even more difficult choice to serve a mission is one that is found in three of the four Gospels (not found in John) in slightly different forms. The one in Mark has become my favorite:

29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

The Version in Mark is somewhat unique because it is the only one that promises that we will receive a hundredfold “now in this time” and also in “the world to come.” I have a personal and abounding testimony that this is true. My heart is filled with gratitude when I contemplate all that I have gained as a result of my choice to join the Church of Jesus Christ and embrace the Gospel. Everything dear to me today (my wife, my opportunities at law school and my testimony) are a result of that decision that I made almost five years ago to have faith and to enter the waters of baptism. I promise you and the Lord promises you that any sacrifice you make will be repaid abundantly here and even more so in the eternities.

 2) The Gospel is True – Keep your testimony burning bright

I love the words of another ostracized recent convert to President Hinckley: “It’s True, Isn’t it? Then What Else Matters?” This saying has been my guiding star since I first gained my testimony of the Gospel and the Church.

I am blessed to have gained a powerful testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have written about my experiences extensively and others have commented on my conversion as well. I came away with that experience with a deep and certain witness. However, over the months that I had to wait before baptism and in the trying months immediately after my baptism, I had to keep that testimony current and fresh. My witness was a gift from heavenly father, but I had to treasure and nurture that gift in order to stay strong. I had to make the decision to read the scriptures, pray, visit the temple, and do everything that I could to renew my witness.

With a firm testimony, I could withstand all the trials in the way. When I let my testimony weaken, I could feel Satan making inroads and causing me to doubt and question the witness that I had received. Above all, do whatever you need to keep your testimony firm.

3) Keep an eternal perspective

While on my mission, my father got especially upset about the fact that I had done temple work for my mother. He told me that he would no longer talk to me. It was right around mother’s day and one of the two times of the year when I could actually call him. I felt probably more down and depressed than I had ever felt. Then, I arranged to talk to my sister instead of my father and she spent the whole conversation criticizing me for how upset I had made my father. I fell to my knees and cried out to God, and as I did so I felt the comforting presence of the spirit. It prompted me to open my scriptures and lo and behold I opened to the Psalms (Psalm 27) and read verses that I had never before seen:

 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? theLord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

 For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

 And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord.

 Hear, O Lordwhen I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

 When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

 Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

 10 When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.

 11 Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.

…As I read the tenth verse, I felt filled with an incredible sense of peace and comfort. No matter what happened between my father and myself, things would work out as long as I followed the Lord. I was doing the things necessary to ensure that my family (both present and future) could enjoy eternal happiness. I was preparing the way for my family. One day, either in this life of the next they will come to know the truth. One day, they will remember my example, my testimony, my faith. What mattered was that I continued faithful and didn’t back down. In the eternal scheme of things, having an upset father or sister hurt, but was nothing compared to the bliss I know we will all one day feel.

I was inspired by another prophecy by Isaiah (Isaiah 58):

 12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

Above all, seek the eternal perspective that comes from the temple, from scripture study, from partaking of the sacrament. Remember the long view of things. Don’t lose sight of God’s plan of salvation and his infinite mercy and compassion.

4) Be Optimistic and see the good in those you care about

I can’t promise miraculous instant results. My father and family are not members and still show no interest in learning about the Church. However, I have noticed that over time, there has been a softening and an acceptance of me and my faith. Above all, our families care for us and want us to be happy. They fight against our joining the Church because they believe it is against our interest. Time is the best remedy to show that they are wrong. Live the gospel faithfully and let the light of the spirit shine and they will notice it. They may never be able to put words to it, but they will see the joy that living the gospel brings to you.

I can’t say things between my father and me are perfect, but I am grateful that the Lord has given me a spirit of love and compassion throughout it all. I have learned patience, humility and charity because of my experience. I am grateful that on my mission even as my dad sent angry e-mails, the Lord blessed me with his spirit and helped me respond with positive affirmations of love and affection.

I promise that if you continue faithfully, your love for even those that mock or oppose your choices will grow. You will be filled with the spirit and become more like the savior. It will not be easy, but it will be completely worth it.

From one who has been down this path, I pray that the spirit will be with you and that God will guide your steps. I pray that you will have the faith to follow him even when it is difficult and even when the road ahead seems dark.

I pray that you will embody the words of one of my favorite hymns:

  1. 1. Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
    Lead thou me on!
    The night is dark, and I am far from home;
    Lead thou me on!
    Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
    The distant scene–one step enough for me.

It is worth it, and the savior will be with you along the way. He will neither leave nor forsake you.

Grateful for Jesus Christ and his Atonement

Easter is a really wonderful opportunity to reflect on the blessings of Christ and his atonement. I have been a believer in Christ for five and half years now and a member of his church for almost five years. In that time, I have received an incredible outpouring of blessings. Most powerfully of all, I have received a personal witness that my sins are forgiven and that I am right in the eyes of God.

 I often wonder what my life would be like had come to know the savior. In the superficial details, I think that things actually wouldn’t be all that different. My lifestyle and conduct were not that different from that which is expected of a member (although I did listen to Heavy Metal and loved to drink Green Tea Lattes from Starbucks). I am pretty sure I would be finished with law school (since I wouldn’t have served a mission) at the University of Chicago or another school (definitely not BYU),  and maybe working at a law firm or for a judge. Maybe I would be married, but considering the marital status of many of my friends I would probably be single. I certainly wouldn’t have met my wife and would not be expecting a daughter (we are expecting in June!).

In terms of things of the world, many things wouldn’t be all that different. But in terms of things of the spirit, it is hard for me to imagine life without my knowledge of the Christ and his Atonement. Without him, I wouldn’t know that life has a higher purpose. I wouldn’t know my father in heaven and his plan for me. I wouldn’t know that I could see my mother (who died when I was 18) again.

Before my conversion, I was arrogant and proud of my own self-worth and knowledge. I felt entitled to so many things. I wasn’t sufficiently grateful for my life and for my many blessings. I am still deeply flawed. I still am prideful at times. Yet, I feel like I am being slowly transformed by the spirit of God.

            In this Easter time, I invite each of you that read this post to consider all of the blessings that have come into your life thanks to Jesus Christ and thanks to membership in his church. As you do so, I promise you will be filled with greater gratitude for your many blessings and a growing testimony.

I loved what President Uchtdorf said about gratitude in the most recent conference:

“True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.

In any circumstance, our sense of gratitude is nourished by the many and sacred truths we do know: that our Father has given His children the great plan of happiness; that through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, we can live forever with our loved ones; that in the end, we will have glorious, perfect, and immortal bodies, unburdened by sickness or disability; and that our tears of sadness and loss will be replaced with an abundance of happiness and joy, “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”

My Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith

Today in Priesthood we discussed the chapter of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual which speaks about the Joseph Fielding Smith’s testimony of his great uncle the Prophet Joseph Smith. We discussed how powerful it must have been for Joseph Fielding Smith to grow up hearing his father’s testimony of Joseph Smith, and Hyrum Smith.  As we did so, we reached the conclusion that even though Joseph Fielding Smith’s familial connections helped him to have a powerful and deeply personal witness of the inspired call of Joseph Smith, each of us can have an equally powerful personal testimony. 

As a convert to the Church, I hold especially dear my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and my Testimony of Jesus Christ. I want my witness to be unmistakable. I want my ancestors on the other side of the veil to know of my witness and I want my progeny to know as well. I want my witness and testimony to be recorded in the heavens and on earth.

I have written extensively about gaining a testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel. However, even though I knew the Church was true, specific portions of my testimony came over time. A few weeks after I first gained a testimony, I went with the Cambridge University Ward to a camp out up in Sharon Vermont at the Joseph Smith Birthplace. While there, we had a beautiful fast and testimony meeting and also toured the memorial. The spirit there was strong and I got up during the testimony meeting and bore my testimony for the first time. I also talked to my Bishop about baptism for the first time. At the visitors center I watched the Joseph Smith Prophet of the Restoration film and felt my testimony of Joseph Smith grow.

About a month after my baptism, my YSA ward in Philadelphia went on a trip to the Hill Cumorah pageant. As we toured the Joseph Smith home, my testimony was again strengthened and my heart filled. As I knelt down in prayer at the sacred grove, I knew without a doubt that Joseph did in fact see a pillar of light which gradually descended upon him. In that light he did in fact see the Father and the Son and was called as a prophet of God. I knew as surely as I knew that God lived that this was true.

As a missionary, I bore witness of the first vision daily, and I probably watched the restoration film hundreds of times. Each time, as I recited the words of Joseph’s first vision account, or watched them depicted on film I felt the spirit bear witness of the truthfulness of his account. Bearing witness of the first vision never got old. Each time it retained its power and wonder.

 

I love the Prophet Joseph Smith. I am grateful to him because thanks to him I better know my savior Jesus Christ. Because of him I can read the Book of Mormon and other precious revelations from God. Because of him, Christ’s divinely ordained Church is again on the earth. His witness is recorded in the heavens and in my heart.  As those who knew him best recorded, he lived great and died great in the eyes of God and his fellow man. I honor him, and bear my witness that he was who and what he said he was.

I bear this witness in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.