If you look to the right, you'll see that I'm now affiliated with other LDS blogs. There are two new links "Mormon Blog List" and "A Soft Answer." Feel free to check them out. Remember, however, that even though all of these blogs are written by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, none of us speak for the Church in any official capacity.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
While serving as a missionary in Cayambe, Ecuador, my companion---Elder Flavio Ortiz, a native of Guayaquil, Ecuador---and I were knocking doors one day in the early afternoon. It was rare for us to find someone at home at that hour and even more rare to be invited in.
We came to a modest home. Like most homes in Ecuador, it was a one-story, flat-roofed, cement home. This home had a small yard with a few patches of grass mixed in with dirt. A metal gate separated us from the home, and so my companion used a coin to knock on the gate.
After a few moments, a man in his late thirties came toward us. We introduced ourselves as representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and asked him his name.
"William," he answered.
Recognizing he didn't look or act like the typical Cayambeño, I asked, "Where are you from?"
"Guayaquil," William answered.
"So's my companion," I said. "What do you do for work?"
"I'm a missionary," he answered.
"So are we," I said. "We have a message we'd like to share with you, may we come in?"
To our surprise, William opened his gate and let us in. William's home was comfortable, for an Ecuadorian home. He had a couch or two and a few chairs. Instead of dirt, he had cement floors. He lived there with his spouse and their daughter.
We taught William the message of the Restoration of the Gospel Jesus Christ through the prophet Joseph Smith. The power of the Holy Ghost was there while we shared our conviction with William, and as he shared his ample knowledge with us.
William impressed me as a man who loved Jesus and who was completely devoted to Him. During our visit, over and over, I thought how wonderful it would be if William would accept our message and join the Church. The branch in Cayambe was struggling and needed strong leadership, and I could see a time when William would serve as the Branch President.
At the end of our discussion, Elder Ortiz and I offered William a copy of the Book of Mormon and invited him to read the account of Jesus Christ's visit to the American Continent after He had been resurrected. He took the Book and promised to read it. We also invited him to pray to discover for himself that the Book of Mormon is a True book. He said he would.
Because of conflicts with his schedule, we were not able to see William again for several weeks. When we finally caught up with him, he invited us into his home again. We sat down and we asked how he had enjoyed the Book of Mormon.
Trying to hide his disgust, he opened the Book of Mormon to Alma 46. In this chapter, those who believed in Jesus Christ called themselves Christians. But the events of Alma 46 occurred 72 years before the birth of Christ.
"This book can't be True," William said. "The followers of Christ were called Christians first in Antioch after Jesus had finished His ministry."
My heart sunk. William had dismissed the powerful message of Jesus Christ's divinity contained in the Book of Mormon just because there was a group of people on the American continent who called themselves Christians before those who followed Christ in the Middle East.
I often wondered why William, after having such a powerful meeting with him, rejected the Book of Mormon. And I wondered how something so trivial would be enough for William to deny the veracity of the Book of Mormon.
Then it hit me: William didn't start reading to know whether or not the Book of Mormon is True; rather, he already decided it was wrong and was determined to find out why. He read the entire Book of Mormon from cover to cover with the sole purpose of disproving it.
We continued to meet with William from time to time. But with each visit he became less and less willing to listen to what we had to say. Yet I will always be grateful to William for one thing: It was because of him that I became a more serious student of the Bible.
Up to the time I met with William, I had read the New Testament several times, and I had studied passages from the Old Testament. But I had never read the Bible from cover to cover. During our visits with William, he would encourage us to search the Bible, often implying that we were wrong. He also implied that if we would just read the Bible, we would realize how wrong the Book of Mormon is.
I took William up on his challenge, and I began reading the Bible trying to discover if William was right. After all, he had devoted his life to the Bible and to teaching it. As I studied the Bible, the depth and beauty of the Gospel deepened for me. And so did my testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through His prophet, Joseph Smith.
The Bible outlines the pattern of God's dealings with His children. Throughout the Bible, God constantly revealed Himself to inspired men, the prophets. The prophets received glorious visitations, ministrations, and visions. They also received Divine commissions to share what they had received. Even after Christ came, fulfilled His ministry, was crucified, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven, His servants, the apostles, continued receiving visitations, ministrations, and visions.
I learned from the Bible that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet knowing the history of mankind, I realized that the glorious visitations, ministrations, and visions ceased. So what changed? The Bible teaches that before the second coming of Jesus Christ, there would be a falling away. That the children of men would fall away from the fulness of the Gospel. But in time, God would send another angel to declare the fulness of the Gospel to the inhabitants of the Earth.
My understanding of the doctrines of repentance, the Atonement, the fall of man, fasting, and prayer expanded, and my love for Jesus did too. I found parallels between ancient temple worship and the modern practices of Latter-day Saints in our temples (I can't talk in detail about these practices other than that we don't practice animal sacrifice).
And I could go on and on. I love the Bible. But I never would have learned what I know had I not accepted William's challenge. Really, I'm indebted to him. I am grateful that I didn't dismiss his words. I'm grateful that I was willing to use the Bible to investigate my own beliefs critically.
Had I merely dismissed William's challenges because I didn't agree with him, I wouldn't know now what I do.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Throughout life, all of us will have problems. It's inevitable. Job did: He lost his family, his riches, and his health. Joseph of Egypt did: His brothers sold him into slavery and was imprisoned on false charges. Jesus did: He suffered persecution and hatred, was abused, and was crucified. Joseph Smith did: He was driven from place to place simply because he believed differently than others; he was beaten and tarred and feathered; he spent a winter in Liberty Jail even though he had never been tried or convicted of anything.
Problems happen to the best of us.
Some of us will experience great prosperity. We will have beautiful homes, cars, and clothes. We will have food and to spare. We will have summer homes, winter homes, boats, etc. . . . Of course, prosperity doesn't always come to the best of us.
But problems and prosperity share something: They can become our excuse to turn away from God. Some who suffer problems, like Job's wife (remember, they were her children, too) curse God and long to die. Some of the prosperous will believe that by the strength of their own arm they became prosperous, that God had nothing to do with their prosperity. Thus, they can turn their back on the poor as they pursue greater wealth. And those suffering problems and prosperity may lose their faith in God and cease serving Him.
Yet problems and prosperity need not destroy our faith. God has tried to teach us how to prevent losing our faith for a long time. One of the most important things we can do is to remember.
Foreseeing forty years in the wilderness, wars, captivity in Babylon, and the other problems the children of Israel would have, God instituted the feast of unleavened bread and the feast of the passover so they would remember what God did for them in bringing them out of Egypt. (See Exodus chapters 12-13). Jesus, the night before His crucifixion, instituted the sacrament so that we would remember what He did for us as we partake of the emblems representing His flesh and blood. (See Luke 22:15-20).
Remembering will preserve our faith in God.
Now, none of us were in Egypt as the destroying angel passed over those who had marked their doors with the blood of the lamb or as Pharaoh thrust them out of Egypt. None of us were in the upper room when Jesus instituted the sacrament of communion, nor were we there to witness His sacrifice and resurrection.
But God has given us our own Passovers and upper rooms which we can remember when things get too hard, or too good, for that matter. With little thought, we can remember the times when we felt God reaching out to us. When we realize the destroying angel has just passed without harming us or when we realize we have just communed with Deity.
I remember on my mission when I had received a new assignment. Prior to the assignment, I had been working in two branches of the Church. All of our investigators and work were in one branch. The new assignment took the branch with all our work and gave it to another pair of missionaries. So my companion and I began knocking doors and speaking with people in the street. During the first week of our companionship, we spent hours in the streets with little success, but we did succeed in setting about seven appointments for Saturday. One of the appointments was with a young family. We had spoken to the mother of the family and shared with her a brief message that through the ordinances of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, she could be with her family forever. She was interested, and we were excited to teach her and her husband together. They were our last appointment for Saturday. That was the appointment that we were sure would make our long week of hard work worth it.
Saturday came, and more than half our appointments fell through. We were struggling to stay positive, but at least we would soon be teaching that young family. The time came for our appointment with them. We knocked on their door. The mother answered, but she wasn't excited to see us. "My husband doesn't want to listen to you. You need to go."
We were crushed. And we still had more than an hour before we could go home. My companion and I talked about what we should do. It was dark. We were tired of knocking doors. And there was no one on the street to talk to. But we decided to pray. So my companion and I found a secluded place, knelt in the dirt, and asked God to guide us. When we finished, we stood and brushed off our suits.
"Let's knock on one more door," my companion said.
"O.K." I replied.
We walked to the first door we saw, knocked, and no one answered.
"Alright, one more, and if no one answers, we're going to the apartment," my companion said.
"Sounds good to me," I said.
We walked to the next house down and knocked on the door. An older woman answered the door.
"We're messengers of Jesus Christ, and we have a message for you," I said.
"We're members of another Church," she said.
Just then, I saw a light across the path from her home. I felt impressed to point to that light and say, "Would you say that's a good light?"
She looked puzzled, but answered, "Yes."
"Could you read by it?"
"In fact, that light will keep us from tripping as we walk by it, right?"
"But the strength of that light is limited to just the area around it. Is there a greater light?" I asked.
"Yes, the sun," she said.
"We're not here to take away the light you already have. It's a good light. A light that has guided your life for years, that has kept you from stumbling in darkness. But we've brought you the light of the sun."
She paused for a moment. Opened the door, and asked us to come teach her, her husband, and her two sons. The meeting we had with them that night was one of the most powerful and spiritual discussions I had with anyone during my mission.
They were all later baptised, all because God heard the prayers of two young men trying to serve Him, inspired them to knock on one more door, and gave them the words to speak which would touch the heart of one of His daughters.
I remember that story any time I wonder if God actually hears and answers prayers.
I've had many other experiences which when problems or prosperity attack my faith in God that I can remember to turn my heart to God. And I'm sure you have, too.
So when we find ourselves in problems or in prosperous circumstances, we need to pause and remember the great things God has done for us. If we are in problems, we will know that we can move forward, relying on God to strengthen us and help us through them. And if we are in prosperous circumstances, remembering will inspire us to thank God for our blessings and to share our blessing with those who have found themselves in problems.
(Feel free to share in the comments the things that God has done for you that you remember to preserve your faith in Him).