Part of a talk given Feb 2018
I realize that we all must be converted whether born in the church or not. It is interesting how we talk about converts. Of course, I don’t know a better way of putting it. I am a convert. I was not born or raised in the church. I _was_ fairly active in my United Methodist community when I was a kid, probably up until age 14 or 15. I even went to a methodist university, though religion wasn’t the reason.
It was at that university that I had to take a western humanities course where we read books and plays by people like Hermann Hesse, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Danté Alighieri, lots of different ideas and even thought patterns. Well, I got to thinking about stuff and started studying and learning about philosophies and religions. Through those and other things that I read, I found my way to atheism. Before Sis Hall and I were married we talked about how we might raise our kids with regard to religion. I thought we should teach them about different religions and let them decide when the time came. Not really a good idea, I thought several years later. I _did_ teach them, but as they got older, I began to feel like they needed some sort of formal religious exposure. I know now where that idea came from and the feelings I had that we should change our ways and do it. I’ll skip over the different experiences we had when we went looking for a church except to say that I had a very hard time accepting Christianity, particularly Catholicism. Fast forward several years. We didn’t join any Christian church, though we did find a home for a few years in organized religion.
In 2008 we moved from Illinois to Florida. We had some friends from back home in Illinois who came to visit us. They have been here to Ft Thomas before, too. Maybe you got to meet the Bundys when the were visiting. They are LDS which we didn’t really know, though our boys had gone to church with them many times. While they were visiting us in Orlando, they went to church. I had to invite myself, but Liam and I went, too. Of course, the missionary there asked if he could visit. He and his companion came that Tuesday. For several months as missionary companionships came and went, we were visited 2 and 3 times a week. Tracy and Liam were baptized fairly quickly. About eight months later Cullen was baptized, and Seanin a month later. During all the missionary visits I had been sitting in on the meetings or lessons. I often brought lots of questions. I kept a little notebook that I would whip out when it was time for questions and answers.
During all this time I had made several efforts to pray. I read a bit of the Book of Mormon. Actually I listened to it as I commuted an hour each way to work every day. But it turned out that wasn’t how I should have been reading it at that time. Just this past week in our Pathway religion class we read the last few chapters of Helaman. Samuel the Lamanite talked about the wickedness of the people in the city of Zarahemla. And that in this case, the Lord spared the city because of the few righteous that were there. In the Book of Mormon Student Manual chapter that goes alongside this part of Helaman I read, “How we live really does make a difference. The personal righteousness of a few can become a great blessing to others, especially to those in our own family and local community.”
I was reminded of a time before my conversion. After Tracy, Liam, and Cullen had been baptized. Cullen once asked me when I was going to be baptized. It was at that point that I took a more determined approach toward prayer and finding if God existed. Of course, that was a key moment. It was the righteousness and the simple question from my eleven year old who helped spur that along. I don’t think I have ever mentioned that to him. I should probably tell him, right?
To wrap up the story a bit, I decided to focus more on the process. I worked harder to pray in private and without distractions instead of in the car while driving. One event worth mentioning was when the Elders Quorum President, Scott, and the missionaries, Elder Hyer and Elder Stander, had me over to Scott’s house just to have a chat. It had been months that the missionaries had been working with me. During that time i felt like I had made little progress, I wasn’t converted. Why were they taking so much time with me? I asked them why they were spending so much time talking to me. Scott looked me square in the face and said, “Because we love you.” That was a very powerful moment for me.
During my years of study I had noticed from an author and teacher that I particularly liked that as he traveled the world and studied religion and myth, that he would do the things the religious people were doing. He would do the dances or chants or prayers and such. He would get the experience by participating. As I had been going to church with Tracy and the boys I was not taking sacrament. So at this point I thought I should participate. I began taking Sacrament. This is an ideal time to pray. During my Sacrament prayers I would ask God to show me that he exists. And about the third week of doing this, as I was praying to him to show me that he exists, I heard in my head a voice that said, “I am showing you.”
Well, that was quite literally exactly what I needed. I knew that He existed. I was super excited. I am surprised I was able to keep it together for the rest of the meeting. Next hour I went straight to the missionaries and told them. It was amazing. I knew I was in the right place. This was where God talked to me, by way of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized not long after that of course. That was June 26, 2010.
[this next part if from a talk I gave in Sugar Land in Oct of 2012]
It amazes me when I think about the process of conversion and how, when followed faithfully, it always works. When we exercise faith and build our testimony doing the things we are constantly urged to do, we are converted in that process. It is methodical and dependable, almost formulaic, just like you would expect it to be, after all we are human, we are children of our Father in heaven, and this is His method.
In the October 2012 General Conference, Elder Bednar talked about being “Converted Unto the Lord.” He explained the relationship between testimony and conversion. First he defined “testimony.” He said, “Testimony is personal knowledge of spiritual truth obtained by revelation.” If one is seeking to know for example if God exists, he can know that He does by revelation. Elder Bednar explained,
A testimony is a gift from God and is available to all of His children. Any honest seeker of truth can obtain a testimony by exercising the necessary ‘particle of faith’ in Jesus Christ to ‘experiment upon’ (Alma 32:27) and ‘try the virtue of the word’ (Alma 31:5), to yield ‘to the enticings of the Holy Spirit’ (Mosiah 3:19), and to awaken unto God (see Alma 5:7).
The Holy Spirit provides answers in the form of revelation as we seek knowledge of spiritual truth. In the example, the seeker is awakened to the knowledge that God does exist and so the seeker has a testimony, by revelation from the Holy Spirit.
In general we talk a lot about our testimony, and we should share our testimony often. Elder Uchtdorf spoke of testimony saying,
For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term ‘testimony’ is a warm and familiar word in our religious expressions. It is tender and sweet. It has always a certain sacredness about it. When we talk about testimony, we refer to feelings of our heart and mind rather than an accumulation of logical, sterile facts. It is a gift of the Spirit.
Conversion is related though quite different from testimony. Elder Bednar has told us that, “Conversion is an offering of self, of love, and of loyalty we give to God in gratitude for the gift of testimony.” How do we offer ourselves, our love, and our loyalty to God? We live His commandments doing all that He wants us to do and being all that He wants us to be. We do our best always, taking on the name of Christ. In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians in chapter 5 verse 17, Paul wrote, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” When we are converted we are in Christ, we are different. We think, act, and feel different than how we acted, thought and felt before because we are a new person and all things are become new. Elder Bednar said, “True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God and includes a conscious commitment to become a disciple of Christ.”
Many of the converted do not come to this change suddenly. Elder Bednar talked of the process of conversion. He said,
For many of us, conversion is an ongoing process and not a onetime event that results from a powerful or dramatic experience. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words and our deeds become aligned with the will of God.
Conversion is often something that we work for. Quoting Elder Bednar again, “Conversion unto the Lord requires both persistence and patience.” It may take a while asking if God exists, seeking knowledge and confirmation, perseverance in the process will be fruitful. This is the testimony that we must seek and build so that it serves as a foundation of our conversion. Elder Bednar said, “Testimony is the beginning of and a prerequisite to continuing conversion. Testimony is a point of departure; it is not an ultimate destination.” By way of example, Elder Bednar reminded us of the missionary work of the sons of Mosiah. Many were converted by hearing the words of Ammon and the others. The Spirit witnessed to the people and confirmed in them the truthfulness of the shared Gospel. Many of the Lamanites believed in their preaching, were converted unto the Lord and never did fall away. Elder Bednar said, “The powerful combination of both testimony and conversion unto the Lord produced firmness and steadfastness and provided spiritual protection.”
Earlier Elder Bednar said, “For many of us, conversion is … not a onetime event.” This implies that for others that it is a single life-changing event. In his example of the sons of Mosiah and the converted Lamanites we can see that conversion indeed can happen this way. There are numerous stories throughout the history of the church of just this type of conversion experience.
Paul or Saul came to know about this in his own experience. Probably the best known conversion story of the New Testament. Paul wrote frequently of it. We can point to the single life-changing event in Paul’s life when on the road to Damascus he was changed forever. But I wonder if this was not a culmination of things Paul had learned along the way. Paul says that he was a Pharisee. He was a persecutor of the early Christians as he was given the task of eradicating the religion from the region. He had worked diligently and without mercy to that end. In fact it was in the line of this duty when he had his experience on the road. Was he was converted when he heard the question, “Why persecutest thou me?” Or was it a little later when he was made to see again? Could this have been the first time that spiritual truth had been revealed to him? One could imagine that as Saul had been about his work and throughout his career he would have been exposed to great Christians; those who had strong testimonies and powerful conversion stories of their own. Saul had to have seen the resolve and faith of the people he persecuted and that must have touched his heart whether he knew it or not. Saul was a religious man. His work was a religious work. Faith was not unknown to him. He had a foundation at least somewhere in him. So that when the Lord spoke to him on the road, Saul must have been ready.
I was the atheist seeking an answer to the question in the example, seeking to know if God exists. Our family joined the church piecemeal over the course of nearly a year. I was the last to be moved. For over 20 years I had been an atheist. I knew that there was no God. I spent much of my time reading comparative religion and mythology. Studying the nature of human beings and their struggle with the larger questions of existence. In my studies I found that people throughout time and in all places answered these questions much the same way. There is a creator of all things. That was the basic answer to the most basic question. To me that was the nature of humanity, to have the same curiosity, the same questions, and even the same answers, but that did not mean God existed. In fact to me that suggested that people actually created God.
One time while the missionaries were in our house teaching one of the kids I think. I raised this point (the question of existence) and as I was speaking it hit me that maybe it is God who has made us inquisitive and has directed our questions and of course then the answers that point to Him. But was I listening? No. I was arguing. I encouraged my children and Tracy to seek answers however. I was no hater of faith. In fact I wanted it for myself. But I didn’t know how to get it. The missionaries and all the brethren who came with them from time to time knew. And the showed me.
I had a testimony and by it I was converted. In Mosiah 27 we read,
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
I was a different person. I was changed. I was awakened unto God. I was converted. But conversion is not the end. It is just the beginning. King Benjamin’s people said, “The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
Conversion is not just for those of us born outside the covenant. We are not just converted from non-member to member. We are converted to Christ, to the Gospel. All of us must be converted.
For some time I have felt that when given this pulpit I should share my story of conversion. Instead I listened to another voice telling me that the times I am asked to speak are to be about Christ and the Gospel, but certainly not about me. But my conversion story (all conversion stories) ARE about Jesus Christ and the Gospel. What else could it be?
I can point to the defining event and say that this is when I knew that God exists. However, while the event was sudden and definitive, it didn’t just happen on its own. I had been asking for days for Him to show me that he exists. And after I had the testimony, after I was converted I can look back and see so many missed opportunities when Heavenly Father was trying to show me. In fact, I had spent years denying His existence. Truly knowing that God is man-made not the other way around. I was convinced, through so-called reason and logic. But through the love of others including missionaries, other members of the church and my family I was able to seek in some sort of faith for an answer. I was able to give it a shot. To pray and to ask and eventually to recognize the answers to my prayers. Sometimes there is a single event that can change someone in an instant. But, the majority of the time conversion occurs steadily over time. Even with the single event, a person’s past has led to the conversion whether the process was undertaken consciously or otherwise. So many have had such love for me.
Elder Bednar said,
A testimony is spiritual knowledge of truth obtained by the power of the Holy Ghost. Conversion is constant devotion to the revealed truth we have received—with a heart that is willing and for righteous reasons. Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion. We should know the gospel is true and be true to the gospel.
I have talked about my conversion as if it was a private thing or something only about me and our Savior and Heavenly Father, but so many more are affected by it. We have baptized many of our family members who came before us. Our boys served missions and this will change the lives of countless people down the road. One person, one family coming to the gospel will change the lives of so many people forever.