Quotes and Scriptures on Conversion

True conversion is more than merely having a knowledge of gospel principles and implies even more than just having a testimony of those principles. It is possible to have a testimony of the gospel without living it. Being truly converted means we are acting upon what we believe and allowing it to create “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts.” In the booklet True to the Faith, we learn that “conversion is a process, not an event. You become converted as a result of … righteous efforts to follow the Savior.” It takes time, effort, and work. My great-great-grandmother had a strong conviction that the gospel was more important for her children than all that the world had to offer in the way of wealth and comfort because she had sacrificed, endured, and lived the gospel. Her conversion came through living the principles of the gospel and sacrificing for them.

-Bonnie L. Oscarson, Be Ye Converted

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Little Prayers

Sometimes I am embarrassed about the things I say in my prayers. Sometimes I’m embarrassed while I am still praying. Here I am, getting down on my knees to commune with the Creator of the Universe and the Author of the Plan of Redemption and what do I have on the agenda? Well, dear reader, I’m not going to tell you exactly. See above, re: embarrassment. But you can fill in your own examples: concerns about bills or work, fears about work, little worries about the future. Day-to-day problems that even I won’t remember a week from now.

There are times when shame washes over me, and I apologize for taking my Heavenly Father’s time up with such trivialities. Not that I think He’s really short on time, in a literal sense. If He can field billions of prayers a day, I’m sure He’s got a handle on the logistics. But sometimes when I realize how tiny my concerns are, it makes me feel small.

But I think my shame is misplaced.

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Indicted by Love

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 305th week, and we’re covering the recent October 2021 Semi-Annual General Conference in its entirety.

I was initially a little underwhelmed by the most recent General Conference. There were some standout talks, but there were no surprising new announcements and the heated issues of the day were conspicuous by their absence. Nothing on the Proclamation on the Family or moral issues. Nothing on politics. Vaccines were mentioned, but primarily just in the context of explaining the precautions that let us start taking baby steps towards normal, live conferences again. In short: nobody I wanted to get zinged got zinged.

And when I realized why I was feeling let down–that nobody got called out like I wanted them to–I felt terrible. And I realized how important this General Conference was to me. Because I had some repenting to do.

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Positively Biased for Conference

If you are hitching your happiness to things being a certain way, it’s a setup for suffering.

-Tara Brach

As General Conference approaches, Latter-Day Saints are going to be hearing conflicting messages on social media, and they can generally be grouped into two themes:

  • General Conference is coming, and we get to hear teachings from prophets. Hooray!
  • General Conference is coming, so brace yourself. There will probably be things said that are harmful or insensitive. You need to steel yourself against the possibility of being hurt.

The first theme is one that views Conference as a time of rejoicing. It affirms that Conference speakers are good people and that their messages are inspired. Whatever they say, it will be for our good.

The second theme views Conference as threatening. It is neutral or negative about the motivations and/or divinely-ordained callings of the speakers, and it doubts the capacity of the hearer to process conference messages in a healthy way.

Both themes reflect bias, and bias is not a bad thing. Everyone brings their biases and worldviews to every part of life — including faith — and people who claim to be unbiased are just demonstrating another form of cognitive bias called the Bias Blind Spot. For a lengthy list of cognitive, emotional and other forms of bias, see here.

There is no such thing as an unbiased viewing of General Conference, but it is possible for us to be mindful of what we bring to the Conference experience and respond to our biases (and conference) in ways that lead to our growth.

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3 Nephi and The Revealed Christ

I finished the Book of Mormon again a few weeks ago. This year, I didn’t have a specific theme to focus on, but I knew I wanted to do a writeup of impressions, and I had a thought to focus on 3 Nephi. It’s maybe the spiritual summit of the Book of Mormon text, but to be honest in all my readings of the BoM, I’ve never really applied myself to understand that book like I have others.

Here at the outset, I want to make a claim about the Book of Mormon in general, and 3 Nephi in particular. If you have never heard of Marcion and his heresy, he was a theologian in the early Christian community who developed a strong position that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God who had come in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. In Marcion’s thinking, The Jewish/Hebrew Jehovah was mean-spirited, ruthless, and cruel, while Christian Jesus of Nazareth was completely different: kind, loving, merciful, and so forth. Therefore, they could not be the same entity.

Parts of the Marcion heresy are still alive and well today, even among wonderful Christians around the world. But Latter-day Saints bring to our understanding a Book of Mormon witness that Jehovah and Jesus are one and the same. And 3 Nephi is the book where this reality is shown with the most clarity. 3 Nephi thoroughly destroys the Marcion heresy.

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How to be a Man

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 300th week, and we’re covering the Priesthood session of the April 1994 General Conference.

“We must be there with the lambs when we are needed.” That’s what Elder Lindsay learned in relating one of the most poignant stories I’ve read in General Conference. One morning his 6-year old son called Elder Lindsay at work to excitedly say that the ewe he was in charge of caring for had had her lambs. “Please come home and help me take care of them,” his little boy said, but Elder Lindsay was busy. He stayed at work, telling his son everything would be fine.

Two hours later his son called back. “Daddy, these lambs aren’t doing very well. They haven’t been able to get milk from the mother, and they are very cold. Please come home.” Again, Elder Lindsay refused. 

Then a third phone call. ““Daddy, you’ve got to come home now. Those lambs are lying down, and one of them looks very cold.” Elder Lindsay gave his son advice on how to take care of the lambs, but he stayed at work, not getting home until two hours later.

I drove into the driveway of our home and was met by a boy with tear-stained eyes, carrying a dead lamb in his arms. His grief was overwhelming. Now I tried to make amends by quickly milking the mother sheep and trying to force the milk from a bottle down the throat of the now weak, surviving lamb. At this point, Gordon walked out of the room and came back with a hopeful look in his eyes. He said, “Daddy, I’ve prayed that we will be able to save this lamb, and I feel it will be all right.”

The sad note to this story, brethren, is that within a few minutes the second lamb was dead. Then with a look that I will remember forever, this little six-year-old boy who had lost both of his lambs looked up into his father’s face and with tears running down his cheeks said, “Daddy, if you had come home when I first called you, we could have saved them both.”

The name of Elder Lindsays’ talks is “Feed My Sheep,” and as you can see he does not pull any punches with his own poor decisions.

“Dear brethren of the priesthood,” he concludes: 

Those who are entrusted as keepers of the Lord’s precious flock—we must be there with the lambs when we are needed. We must teach with love, principles of faith, and goodness and be righteous examples to the lambs of our Heavenly Father.

This sacred duty is a defining attribute of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint man and especially a Latter-day Saint father. We are to feed the sheep, and we are to do so with love.

Elder Wirthlin, in his talk Live in Obedience, described how young horses were taught to be obedient and related:

When I asked how the gauchos taught the horses to be so obedient, I was informed that their training started when the horses were colts. Each one learned from its caring mother and from other mature horses. The gauchos began training the colts when they were young, with kindness, never using force of a lasso or a whip.

Elder Didier taught in Remember Your Covenants that:

As a husband and father and later as a grandfather, I was and still am responsible for the development, temporal support, protection, and salvation of my family.

And:

The husband and wife serve as partners in governing their family, and both act in joint leadership and depend on each other. They are united in the vision of their eternal salvation, one holding the priesthood, the other honoring and enjoying the blessings of it. One is not superior or inferior to the other. Each one carries his or her respective responsibilities and acts in his or her respective role.

The were some stern aspects of the talk but–like Elder Lindsay’s self-effacing story–they were directed towards the audience of men. Elder Monson, in The Priesthood – A Sacred Trust, cited President John Taylor: “If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty.” As Elder Lindsay’s little boy said, “if you had come home… we could have saved them both.”

Even on the topic of brethren who are falling short in their duty, however, the sternness is tempered with love:

Brethren, there are tens of thousands of priesthood holders scattered among you who, through indifference, hurt feelings, shyness, or weakness, cannot bless to the fullest extent their wives and children—without considering the lives of others they could lift and bless. Ours is the solemn duty to bring about a change, to take such an individual by the hand and help him arise and be well spiritually. As we do so, sweet wives will call our names blessed, and grateful children will marvel at the change in Daddy as lives are altered and souls are saved.

I am so grateful for what I was taught growing up in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. I learned from an early age what being a good man looked like. I learned that it meant the strength to be gentle, the humility to ask the Lord’s assistance to provide for my children, the compassion to recognize need, and the selflessness to give of myself.

I am far from perfect, but I thank God that at least I got the instructions, and I’ve had the chance to work to bend my stubborn, prideful, selfish nature to the beautiful, fulfilling work of service. The mistakes have all been mine–and so many remain–but for what good I’ve been able to offer my sweet children and my wife, the love of my life, I offer thanks to God for showing me the way.

We Love Best by Telling the WHOLE Truth

My friend and co-blogger Dan Ellsworth’s article in Public Square Magazine was prescient, given that just a few hours later Elder Holland’s address to BYU faculty and staff was published. Dan’s description of our tendency to hear what we want to hear as a form of idolatry is bracing but needed. “Ironically, one of our most persistent idolatries is the refashioning of the divinely revealed Christ into a sentimentally-appealing false Christ named ‘Jesus,’ who exists to make us all feel loved and happy,” he writes. I thought I would provide three examples of this trend I have noticed that buttress his point.

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Doctrine Hidden by Culture

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 299th week, and we’re covering the Saturday Afternoon session of the April 1994 General Conference.

One of the recurring surprises (how many times does it have to happen before I stop being surprised) is the consistency of the General Conference talks from decades past with the tone and concerns of our most recent addresses. Yes, there a handful of notable changes, but there are more examples where the stereotype of an austere, misogynistic is confounded than anything else. Consider Elder Ballard’s talk on councils, where he stressed that for bishops to be effective leaders of councils they needed to listen more, and especially to women:

Eventually I asked the bishop to try again, only this time to solicit ideas and recommendations from his council members before making any assignments. I especially encouraged him to ask the sisters for their ideas.

The problem Elder Ballard encountered was that leaders in the church were too much like leaders in the ward: eager to delegate and direct. They weren’t enough like Christ: eager to listen and understand. It was also a little depressing just how dysfunctional the councils were–although he didn’t use the word–in operating far, far below the optimum. 

Once the appropriate councils are organized and the brethren and the sisters have full opportunity to contribute, ward and stake leaders can move beyond just maintaining organizations. They can focus their efforts on finding ways to make their world a better place to live. Certainly ward councils can consider such subjects as gang violence, child safety, urban blight, or community cleanup campaigns. Bishops could ask ward councils, “How can we make a difference in our community?” Such broad thinking and participation in community improvement are the right things for Latter-day Saints to do.

The baseline–“just maintaining organizations”–is not where we want to be. To be a light that isn’t hidden and a salt that hasn’t lost its savor, Latter-day Saints ought to be engaged in “broad thinking and participation in community improvement.” 

I’ve never been in a ward or stake council. I have no idea how far we’ve come since the mid-1990s, but I hope we’ve made progress.

Another stereotype I often hear attributed to the Church–or, at least, to its members–is the prosperity gospel. I’ve certainly seen this one with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears, but only at the local level. 

We often act as though we’ve heard it all before when it comes to General Conference, but if we would actually listen maybe we’d be able to move on from the basics, But as long as people are still emphasizing the way you can exchange obedience for material prosperity as though God were a cosmic vending machine, we’re not understanding what we’re being taught. Elder Lloyd P. George–in a talk about gratitude–provided just another in a countless litany of example from over the pulpit at General Conference about how just wrong this paradigm is:

I am grateful for the things which I have suffered in the flesh, which have been blessings in my life that have taught me patience, long-suffering, faith, and a sensitivity to those who are less fortunate.

Obedience does bring about blessings, but those blessings can include trials. Suffering is part of the plan, and it’s part of the plan for everyone. Sometimes suffering comes about because of our own choices or because we are victims of the bad choices of other people. Not every instance of suffering is heaven-sent or approved by God. There is more suffering in the world than there should be, and it’s our sacred duty to alleviate it wherever we find it.

But the amount of suffering that a righteous person should–and will–encounter in this life even when they are being obedient is not zero. The fact that we inhabit a world where suffering exists and even many specific instances of suffering are intended parts of the plans, and obedience is no shield from this fact. The General Authorities know this. They–and the scriptures–teach this. 

And yet somehow I feel we still have not learned the lesson, as a people.

Then again, I suppose I should concede that the message is a little paradoxical. I confess I was a little uncomfortable with (then) Elder Oaks’ talk on tithing in the same session where he emphasized the material blessings that come from paying tithes with stories that–I confess–I really dislike. Elder Oaks said:

During the Great Depression, President Grant continued to remind the Saints that the payment of tithing would open the windows of heaven for blessings needed by the faithful. In that stressful period, some of our bishops observed that members who paid their tithing were able to support their families more effectively than those who did not. The tithe payers tended to keep their employment, enjoy good health, and be free from the most devastating effects of economic and spiritual depression. (emphasis added)

He also cited President Joseph F. Smith, “By keeping this and other laws, I expect to prosper and to be able to provide for my family.” A basic aspect of the pride cycle in the Book of Mormon also involves the people being blessed with prosperity and material wealth whenever they are righteous. So it’s not as though the whole prosperity gospel heresy comes out of nowhere.

But that’s how heresies work, right? They don’t come out of nowhere. They are generally true and good principles that are ripped out of their proper context and/or pushed out of balance with other principles.

The prosperity that people experience collectively when they follow the commandments is just that: collective. It does not prevent individual people from suffering misfortune and tragedy. In fact, one of the major problems with the Nephites in the Book of Mormon is that when they prospered, they often grew in inequality. That tells you that the prosperity was not evenly distributed. Many people grew wealthy and the people overall prospered, but many individuals were left behind and faced hardship and want and this was not a result of individual disobedience

We know that because the Lord was often angry with the rich and the wealthy for setting themselves apart and refusing to help those who were being left behind. We also know that because it was often the poor people who were the more righteous. 

This collective / individual distinction is really important. Yeah, if people are obedient overall they will prosper overall, but this is much less about God handing out wealth like tossing candy individually into the bags of trick-or-treaters and much more about the fact that the Gospel is pro-social. When you have people who generally eschew war and contention and are basically honest, then society will grow wealthier as a natural consequence. This is less about divine favor and more about basic cause-and-effect. And it means that the distribution of wealth to individual people within an overall prosperous society will not systematically reflect their righteousness. Some of the rich will be good and decent and others liars and thieves. And the same goes for the poor.

It’s also worth noting that tithing is an exceptional case. Because tithing specifically asks us to give up our material possessions, it is not surprising that–more so than other commandments–the blessings it brings often tend to have a material component. 

The point is that the prosperity gospel didn’t come out of nowhere. The reason people keep falling for it is that there’s a kernel of truth to it. But there’s also a lot of lies. They include:

  • Following commandments will insulate you from suffering
  • God’s blessings always have a temporal component
  • A person’s material wealth is a proxy for their spiritual righteousness

The really dangerous thing about these lies is that when they become expectations they lead to really bad behavior. If you think God always blesses righteous people with money, then why should you help someone who is poor? You’d just be interfering with God’s system. And, after all, they deserve their poverty since it resulted from their disobedience.

And if God’s blessings always have a material component, how can you possibly lay up for yourself treasures in heaven? You will be so focused on the earthly treasures that you will miss out on the much, much more important treasures that God wants you to receive.

And perhaps most tragically, if you think that following commandments will insulate you from suffering then when you come to our own personal Gethsemane–and everyone must, to some degree or other, as part of the proces of learning and growing here on Earth–what will you think? Will you blame yourself and let a toxic, unhealthy shame eat away at your self-worth and your relationship to God? Will you grow bitter towards the Church or God Himself for deceiving you, misunderstanding your own warped expectations for what the scriptures and prophets teach?

I can tell you this from sad experience: I have seen too many otherwise good and obedient Saints founder on the rocks of suffering not so much because of the suffering itself, but because the suffering felt like a betrayal. Their false expectations created a trap within their own hearts, just waiting for the right moment to spring.

And so, while I confess I don’t love Elder Oaks’ talk, everything he taught was true. The danger is not in his talk. The danger is in taking his talk out of context.

This post is already a bit long, so let me just mention that Elder Johnson’s talk We All Have a Father in Whom We Can Trust, was also great. There were two parts of it that I liked.

First–going back to my theme that the Church’s teachings have been remarkably consistent–he said that he and his wife decided that “it was our responsibility to teach the gospel to our son and that Church programs would reinforce the teaching in the home.” Sound like home-centered church anyone? From back in 1994. I remember–a few years before this stuff became super-prominent in General Conference–trying to explain that it was my belief that the Church was for the family and not the other way around, and some (faithful, active) Latter-day Saints pushed back with, essentially, “That’d be great if it were true, but I just don’t think it’s what we’re actually taught.”

Yes, it is. Now and in the past as well. But–like the prosperity gospel heresy–you’ve got to get past some cultural chafe to find it. It’s there, though, I promise. And it always has been.

Second, I really love the mileage you can get out keeping in mind that we are children of God and comparing that to how earthly parents relate to their children. Elder Johsnson reflect on the time he spent helping his father build things as a child and noted:

As I look back and reflect upon those wonderful memories, I realize that my contribution was not necessary for my father to complete the work he was engaged in. I was the beneficiary, as through these experiences I came to know him and to love him.

How like the association we have with our Heavenly Father, believing at times that the service we engage in is for his benefit, when in reality it is comparable with my handing tools to my father. It is the relationship that develops that is of greater significance more than the contribution we make…

Just as I was not able to fully comprehend what my earthly father was building until he completed his work, so it is with our Heavenly Father. When his kingdom is established and the work is complete, we will recognize our home and shout for joy.

We are children of God. It’s not just the lyrics to a song. It’s a lens that can help to make so much sense of our often bewildering and frustrating experiences in this mortal life.

Where the Family is Safe

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 298th week, and we’re covering the Saturday Morning session of the April 1994 General Conference.

Several themes stood out to me from this session, and a couple of them line up with thoughts I’ve been having in my own scripture study. First, I liked what Elder Faust taught about those of us who aren’t especially talented being able to contribute to the Church in his talke Five Loaves and Two Fishes.Although some of us have been “given minds and talents equal to fifteen loaves and ten fishes,” he taught that “if God has a work for those with many talents, I believe he also has an important work for those of us who have few.”

I had similar thoughts reading Helaman Helaman 5, which I posted publicly on Facebook.You can read the whole thing, but what struck me was how God used both spiritual giants from the Book of Mormon’s most elite spiritual dynasty (Nephi and Lehi, descended from Alma the Elder) and some random apostates to do his work. If you’re trying to feed 5,000 people, does it actually matter if you start out with 10 loaves or with 15? Individual differences in talent and ability don’t matter without God, because we are all unprofitable servants, and they don’t really matter with God, either, because as long as he’s multiplying the loaves and fishes there will always be enough.

I was also struck–one again, this is probably the single most consistently surprising thing since I started the General Conference Odyssey–by how consistent the teachings of the General Authorities are. There’s a kind of folk history of the Church that says in the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s the Church was much more austere and punitive and that only in the very recent years has the Church softened its positions. 

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Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice

This week, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement regarding facemasks and vaccines, that reads as follows:

 Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic. We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.

To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.

We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders. Please know of our sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children.

The First Presidency

Russell M. Nelson

Dallin H. Oaks

Henry B. Eyring

I’m writing for two reasons today.

The first is to congratulate the number of my friends who have strong reasons for opposing the vaccine, and have changed their tack in view of the prophet’s call. This letter is making a difference for folks, and I appreciate them for it. It takes faith and humility, and they will be better for it.

When I went to church today, I saw a great number wearing masks. The bishop addressed the issue directly, and kindly. He said “the overriding two concerns of the ward council are to follow the prophet, and to ensure that every member of this ward is treated like a member of our family.” There was kindness, there was following the prophet, and there was a special sort of camaraderie. I’m grateful to all who listen when the time comes to listen.

But that’s not the only reason I write.