Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Second Witness of Jesus Christ

I am now going to my third trigger point which  I mentioned in my first blog about my conversion to the LDS Faith.  That trigger point was my visit to Machu Picchu while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru.  I mentioned a special feeling I had while visiting this “Lost  City of the Incas”.  As I think back on this, I am reminded of those people I have met in my life that I feel I met before  I like to refer to them as “kindred spirits” because I feel an instant connection. However, as we look back on our lives there is no way we met previously.  Even though this record is not a person, I still felt the same way about it.

In my missionary discussions, I was introduced to a new sacred record referred to as “The Book of Mormon.  This book is referred to as a Second Witness of Christ.  As a matter of fact, we read about the importance of more than one witness in the New Testament in Corinthians.  This law of witnesses made sense to me. There are real life examples of this as we think about a door needing more than one hinge to actually function.  Another example is the idea of to points in space.  Only one straight line can go through those two points.  If you have one point in space (the Bible) there can be an endless  number of straight lines than can go through that one point.

I was intrigued about this book as the missionaries explained its origin and contents.  The fact that it was written by prophets in the Americas made sense to me as I revisited Machu Picchu in my mind and spirit.  Was that ‘Lost City of the Incas” one of the areas where these records were actually written? We are now living in Costa Rica.  I am feeling the same way.  This is truly a paradise.  There are many ancient ruins throughout Mexico and Central America.  I have visited those ruins as well.  

As I began reading this book, I felt a special spirit that was telling me that this was in deed a true record of the inhabitants of the Americas.  I read passage after passage about Jesus Christ that seemed to complement what I had already read in the Bible and give depth to the meaning of those Bible passages.  Many references were being made to His atonement  which helped me to begin to understand for the first time in my life what He really did in Gethsemanee and Calgary.  Yes, it brought to the surface this truth that He really was resurrected and that He lives.

I was amazed at how many references were being made to Christ throughout this sacred record.  I became familiar with some books which talked about the stories of the Incas, Aztecs and others who spoke of this great white god who visited them.  He was given a name: Quetzacoatl which meant this “winged and feathered serpent”. ( “Wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”) In fact, when they were defeated so easily by the Spaniards it was speculated that the reason for this is that they thought this great white god was in deed visiting them again.  Then, I read about the Savior’s visit to the Americas after His resurrection.  Yes, that really did happen.

Over Christmas vacation after I was baptized, I read the entire book.  I could not put it down.  I had already been shown the challenge at the end of the book in Moroni 10:4-5 which challenges us to pray with a sincere heart and real intent and you will get the answer that it is true.  I put that challenge to the test and got my answer.  That has been reconfirmed many times as I reread this sacred record.  I know it truly is a second witness of Christ.
I recently gave a talk on the Book of Mormon and in my research encountered some amazing conversion stories of individuals who read this sacred record.  In one of these, a soldier was guarding an LDS meetinghouse at a time when we were not allowed to use it.  There was a ban that prohibited our use of that chapel for worship.  Among the scattered debris on the floor he saw a copy of the Book of Mormon.  He had already been warned to not pick it up and read it.  However, the impulse was too strong so he picked it up.  He could not put it down.  A year and a half later that ban was lifted and we could again hold worship services.  This soldier knew this was a sacred and true record.  He was baptized along with his entire family.  

So, I have now shared the three trigger points that led to my own conversion.  I challenge those reading this blog to consider how my experience could fill those missing puzzle pieces in your life as I have shared in a previous blog.  I truly do believe that each of you just like myself can make a difference in each others’ lives as we share our unique set of experiences with each other. In that process we each become a better and more complete individual as we go through this mortal journey together.  Such experiences better prepare us for what I believe is a beautiful life after this one.   

Life's Purpose Here And After We Die

Another trigger point from my original blog on my conversion to the LDS Faith.  This has to do with the philosophy class I took at the University of Illinois in the early 1960’s.  i mentioned the “Myth of Sisyphus” and the struggle of this man pushing a boulder up a hill.  It made me start thinking about life in a very deep and meaningful way.  I could not help but feel that there had to be more to life than being born, live a certain number of years and die.  I had this feeling that there had to be a purpose to life much deeper than that.
One of the thoughts that came to me had to do with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  As I understand this, matter is neither created nor destroyed.  It will always exist in some form.  I was somehow thinking that we as human beings have always existed in some form.  For some crazy reason in this class I was getting a very different idea.  Whether the professor or my fellow students were thinking differently I am not sure.  However, I had the distinct impression from this class of this idea of “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we idea.”  I said to myself.  Is that really it?  I could not believe that,  I somehow felt that there had to be a purpose to our life here that neither began nor ended with our time here.

So here I am.  I have had two experiences at this point in my life which caused me to think in a deeper way about religion: The Trinity and The Myth of Sisyphus.  Two very different experiences and yet maybe somehow related.  So I graduate from the University of Illinois and start working for an architectural firm in St. Louis.  I then serve my two years in the Peace Corps and attend the University of Oregon all of which I have already mentioned in previous blogs.  I am going to skip over the third experience with Machu Picchu and come back to it either later in this blog or in a separate one.

As I began the missionary lessons I was introduced to a topic referred to as “The Plan of Salvation” which answers the three questions I had back when I was contemplating this idea of a purpose to life.  Those three questions are: 1. Where did I come from? 2. Why am I here? 3. Where am I going after this life?  As they explained this to me it was like pieces of a puzzle fitting together,  It was one of those “aha” moments for me.  It was like a familiar concept I had heard before.  Could it be that I knew about this before I was even born?  Could this thought of meeting people for the first time and not making the connection could possibly mean that I knew them before I was born?  That I knew them as spirits before being born into mortality?  What a crazy idea and yet it made sense to me.  Just like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Yes, there is a purpose to life.  Yes, there is something i need to do while I am here to prepare me for the time when I leave this mortal life and die.  Death is not the end but a new beginning.  

I remember having a talk with one of my older brothers about this.  We loved engaging in talks from time to time.  He had an idea about what we are supposed to do while we are here in mortality.  If I remember what we talked about it was this idea of coming here to build on what we had before we came here.  Like a series of experiences that we collect in our brain that we learn from and make them part of our memory.  The idea of storing these so we can take them with us.  The idea of making a contribution or somehow improving or making better the ideas or things that we are exposed to.  
Just recently here in Costa Rica we were talking with some dear friends of ours.  She shared a concept that resonated with me.  She referred to it as “puzzle pieces of love”.  The idea that each of us have our unique set of experiences that we need to share with others.  Those unique puzzle pieces are needed by those we meet to fill the gaps in their own “puzzle pieces” to make them better or more complete.

I am absolutely convinced that there is a purpose to life.  We are here to make a contribution.  We are here to have a positive influence on those around us.  We are here to learn from each other and thus make each of us better because of that precious association. …..because of that connection we made. I absolutely cherish these opportunities to share feelings and serve others.  I love the opportunity to lift others and help them feel better about themselves.  Somehow, these good feelings that come as we are engaged in such acts of service seem to confirm the fact that we are doing the right things.  Is not that what love is all about?  This idea of putting the welfare of others ahead of our own desires.  It is interesting to see what happens as we do so.  We feel good.  Whatever was bothering us seems to disappear.

Now moving forward with this idea.  Someday we leave this life.  What we have made of it in a positive way we are taking with us.  We have become better people because of these experiences where we have shared and served others.  What awaits us in the life after this one has much to do with what we did while we were here.  It will become a beautiful experience and only becomes possible because we had a Savior to guide us, pick us up and fill those gaps in our limited capacities.  A Savior who made it possible for us to correct our course and lift us up when we are down and feel defeated.  Yes, “men are that they might have joy”.  ETERNAL JOY  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Gratitude Opens The Door to One's Heart

I have always been impressed with people who have a positive attitude. I sense that it starts with gratitude. People who are grateful for what they have show that in their countenance. You can see that in their face and especially in their eyes.

We all love to be around such people. What keeps us from being that way? . We live in a world of negativity. It seems like the media thrives on this. Are we going to allow the television, movies and newspapers to control our attitude? I hope not. We control our destiny. Looking back on this recent presidential campaign both parties seemed to thrive on criticizing one another. The more they could dig up “dark secrets” from the past the more influence they could have on the voters. Think back on how you felt listening to what they were saying?

Our minds are a product of what we put into them. Consider some of the following: 1. Read things that lift you up and make you feel good about yourself; 2.Genuinely compliment others; . I love reading biographies of notable people like Lincoln and Churchill.  I have read their biographies  and learned much about why they were life. They both had their share of adversity and trials however they persevered. They did not let those setbacks take control of their thoughts. They believed in themselves

Abraham Lincoln chose some of the members in his cabinet from those who ran against him during the campaign for president.  When asked why he said this country deserves the best minds to represent the country.  He would not deprive us of the gifts they can share in such a capacity.  He was our president at a time when our country was divided.  I am convinced that he was the only one who could have led our country at that time.

My dear friends.  We are each blessed with a unique story. We each have a unique set of experiences that has brought us to this point in our lives.  I love to hear of those defining moments in one’s life. Those “trigger points” like the ones I will be sharing. Share those with your friends. That is why I am so passionate about biographies.

Much has been written on this subject and yet we fall into the same trap. We allow the negativity around us to control our thoughts and our attitude. We are agents to act and not to be acted upon. We are not victims of our circumstances.

I challenge any who might read this blog. Do some serious self reflecting. If you're like me you have read a great deal of material on this subject. I am going to go back to what I started with. Truly be grateful for what you have. Find your ways to express it. One of my ways is through music. I love “You Raise Me Up” and “Climb Every Mountain”. I have created links to these two musical numbers. There are beautiful videos that go with the music that add to the experience. You can move that bar at the bottom of the video to move it to the video portions. Try it before you continue with this blog. See if it motivates you like it does me.

Another is through inspirational talks. One of my favorites involved a man's skiing experience with his grandson. I am going to try to create a link to his talk. He fell, got stuck in the snow and could not get up. His grandson came to him and said: "Oopa get up now." After all his futile efforts, it was those words from his grandson that inspired him and gave him what he needed to get up. Again, before moving on try this link.

Do this every day. Be creative with it. You may want to do it differently every day. I love to paint water colors. You could express your gratitude by painting a beautiful scene. You could do the same with photography of a sunset. Gratitude can be expressed in a smile or letting a person know you love them

I have always been impressed with a quote of JFK: He is famous for his expression in asking not what this country can do for us, but what we can do for this country.  He was the first president I voted for and that thought inspired me to enter the Peace Corps after my graduation from the University of Illinois which I have already shared with you. That experience came in my life just months after he was assassinated.  

Think about what people will say about you at your funeral.  If we truly want to make a difference, find ways such as these or others that may be constructive passions in your life to get you fired up. This will make you more productive and you will be the agent who acts and not the one that is acted upon.  You will be the one others enjoy being around.

We live in a wonderful country . Let us not take for granted the precious freedom we enjoy here.  Many gave their lives for that freedom.  I love the history of our country that led to the formation of our constitution. Do not hesitate to express and show gratitude for this wonderful country and that precious freedom.

It is so interesting to contemplate the dynamics of the world we live in. There are two forces at work: good and bad.  We are either influenced by one or the other.  I remember hearing an analogy of three stick figures running in the same direction. The one in front is the positive force and the one in the middle is us. The one behind is the negative force.  Our objective is to keep up with the positive force. If we fall back the negative force takes charge.  Our ability to stay connected to the positive force becomes easier the more often we keep up and stay connected to it.

If we are serious about living a happy life, let us find a way to stay connected to positive forces.  Those forces start with gratitude and build from there.  These forces are infectious.  They not only become stronger in ourselves but radiate or affect those we associate with. We are creatures of habit and the more this becomes part of our makeup the stronger it gets. “What we will eventually be we are now becoming.”

A Misunderstood View of Jesus Christ

I am now continuing on the subject of "the Trinity" from my last blog, In the eyes of many Christians, the perception seems to be that we have "humanized" Our Savior.  That we have taken away his divine status.  Throughout this blog, I will be referring to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In the eyes of the world it has been given a nickname, "Mormon Church".   I hope to share some of my personal thoughts on this.  Christ is the center of our worship.  As members of the LDS Church, we pray to Our Father (God) in the name of His Son (Jesus Christ).  Every talk we give ends with the expression; "in the name of Jesus Christ".  Our journey through this life has as its objective to get to know Him.  He died for us.  He went through a degree of pain before and during His crucifixion we will spend a lifetime trying to grasp.

When I made the comment in my blog on "The Trinity" about the scripture in John 17:3  and that our eternal life has much to do with our knowledge of Him, I began a journey to do exactly that.  I feel closer to Him than I have ever felt in my life.  My respect for Him grows as I strive each day to live what He has taught.  I serve in His name.  We sing about Him.  We take the sacrament (communion) every Sunday with the sole purpose of remembering Him, taking upon ourselves His name and being absolutely obedient to His commandments.  Once a month we have the opportunity to testify of His divinity and express our gratitude for what He has done for us.  " is by grace that we are saved after all we can do."  Yes, only Our Savior makes that possible. We avoid using His name in vain.

We believe in an open canon of scripture which includes a second witness of Him in the Book of Mormon.  There are references to Him throughout that sacred record.  On January 1, 2000 a document titled:"The Living Christ" was published which declares an affirmation of Him that He truly was resurrected, died for us, his miraculous birth and His mission,  This was signed by His living apostles at the time. As I went to the church's website on just now to find that document, I saw a beautiful video on the Savior using Mark 12:28-34 where He talks about "The Greatest Commandment" to love God with all thy heart and to love thy neighbor as thyself.  On that same page is a talk by one of the apostles, Elder Christofferson titled "Abide In My Love".

We are continually wanting to share our testimonies of Christ with our friends, neighbors and the whole world through our missionaries.  We have a missionary force of some 70,000 young men and women throughout the world and baptize some 250,000 annually into our church.  Every single convert to our church goes through a process of a series of lessons, scripture study, heartfelt prayer and a commitment to baptism after receiving a spiritual witness through those prayers of the truthfulness of what they have been taught.  They have an interview with a leader in the mission to confirm the fact that they truly do believe what they have been taught.  They then enter the waters of baptism and are later confirmed members of the church by the laying on of hands. I had this same experience and received that spiritual witness.

I have the highest regard for the divinity of Jesus Christ.  This is very, very sacred to me.  When I partake of the bread and water each Sunday in remembrance of Him, I am recommiting myself to live as He has taught me to live.  These are not idle statements I am making.  I feel His love as I serve in His name.  I strive every day to be better.  I am a human being and make my share of mistakes, but I also know I can repent of those mistakes because of His atonement.  I am now beginning to understand His atonement as I go through this process.  I do not want His suffering to go in vain.  I want to embrace it by making Him proud of me.  Yes, He truly does live and He lives in my heart.

I hope with all my heart through what I have shared here that I have dispelled some of those mis-perceptions that exist about "these Mormon".  However, I realize in saying this that just reading this blog will not be enough.  There is an analogy I heard a long time ago that relates to this.  One of our apostles was on a plane trying to have a religious conversation with the man sitting next to him.  He was not having any success so he asked the man if he could describe what salt tastes like.  After many attempts to do so, this man was unable to describe the taste of salt.  Our apostle responded by saying just as you have been unable to describe the taste of salt to me I have been unable to share with you my witness.  You have to taste the salt to know what it tastes like.  That is the only way.  So my challenge to any reading this blog is to do the same.  Read about us.  Read the Book of Mormon which is a second witness of Jesus Christ.  Read the many scriptures in this record which testify of Christ and His atoning sacrifice.  These scriptures complement the Bible and add depth to its many passages about Christ and His apostles.  Go on to or and watch the videos.  Taste of the fruit and you too will feel its truthfulness.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Eternal Quest to Know God


As cited in my first blog, John 17:3 reads:. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” As I grew up in a family that very faithfully attended the Methodist Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois I had the utmost respect for our pastor and our many dear friends who attended with us. Although as children we may have complained about arriving early, I have fond memories of those who sang solos and our pastor’s sermons, to name a couple of the many cherished experiences I witnessed. We were early because our father was an usher and needed to be early to greet fellow members & give them a program.

There was a pattern or order to our weekly worship service which included a responsive reading, the collective reciting of our affirmation of faith, singing hymns, musical numbers by one of the designated soloists and, of course, a sermon by the pastor. Again, I cherished my association with those who attended with us. I truly felt their love. I was younger than 8 during these years in Glen Ellyn which bordered Wheaton where we lived.

Even though I did not understand the affirmation we recited, the spirit I felt in the worship service seemed to satisfy me. I kept my questions to myself out of respect for those people. After all, I was only 6 or 7 years old. What could I possibly know at such a young age? Once, I had the courage to ask a youth pastor about the trinity and he responded that we need to accept it on faith. I really looked forward to Sundays and I so much appreciated the faithfulness of my parents that I brushed aside trying to understand this affirmation of faith.

However, the feeling did not go away.  As I grew older and became more knowledgeable of the scriptures, several passages seemed to conflict with this idea of God being three in one.  Some of those scriptures are:(!.) The baptism of Jesus Christ by John The Baptist; (2.) The vision Stephen had of God and Jesus Christ when he was stoned to death; (3.) The Garden of Gethsemanee experience; just to name a few.  All three of those scriptures seemed to point to the idea of distinct personages rather than three in one.  Also, in John we read of the Savior praying to His Father in Heaven.  How can He be praying to himself? And if our life eternal depends on this, why am I accepting the Idea of “Three in One” on faith?  Independent of these three passages, the whole idea of his physical birth, his resurrection and his death on the cross point to a physical being.  We read in Genesis that we were created in the image of God.  

So let me bring you up to the year 1966 in Eugene, Oregon.  I started meeting with the missionaries as i have already explained.  They were teaching me about a God who does have a body of flesh and bones.  Yes, I am really praying to someone in whose image I was created.  There is no longer a mystery about who I am praying to.  He loves me and knows who I am.  He loves us so much that He made the great sacrifice of allowing His Son to come to this world and die for us.  He and His Son went through an incomprehensible amount of pain out of their love for us.  Yes, the pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together.  I now began to understand that gaining a knowledge of God and Jesus Christ is a lifetime quest or journey.

As we offer heartfelt prayers, we get closer to understand who God, Our Father In Heaven is and who is Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  As we pour our heart out to Him, that knowledge begins to grow.  Yes, we slip from time to time and can come back to correct our course from those unwise choices we make. Through Our Savior’s atonement we have the opportunity to repent.  

I come back to the scripture at the beginning in John.  Through our experiences in this mortal journey, we learn from our mistakes as well as those moments of ecstasy.  We learn which is the better road to take.  Is it the one that makes us sad or happy?  What is interesting about this is the happy moments seem to bring us closer to God and His Son thus we are getting to know them a little better.  The more good choices we make the more we get to know Him.  It is as if He is saying: “I know I could trust you”.or, “ Thank you for making the right choice.”

This knowledge of God and Jesus Christ opened my spiritual eyes to the fact that I am a winner as well as a sinner.  Yes, I make mistakes and am far from perfect, but I truly have been created in the image of God.  He is there everyday to tutor me if I will listen to what He is telling me.  Those whispers, those “aha” moments and feelings of peace will come as I pray in faith.  They may not come all at once but they will come. Our pleadings for answers may take some time but we are on His timetable not ours. We are getting answers to our prayers according to His will not ours. Little by little I am being tutored and am beginning to feel the joy He feels when one of His children finally catches on to what true joy is all about.  That true joy comes as we lift others, as we show we care, as we live what Our Savior has so beautifully taught us in His sacred scriptures.  Yes, it is true: And this is life eternal to know God and Jesus Christ

I will continue on this topic on the next blog focusing on a great misunderstanding of the LDS faith among many Christians dealing specifically with Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Religious Conversion - My Story About Becoming a Mormon

Allow me to introduce myself.  My wife and I have been serving a mission for our church in San Jose, Costa Rica since December 2016.  I have been retired since 2007 and to keep myself out of mischief I substitute taught in high schools for several years.  I loved the interaction with young people who can often present challenges.  We are the parents of eight children and 31 grandchildren. Our home has been mostly in Utah since 1972.  I was employed with my church as an architect and facility manager for 32 years supervising the design and construction of chapels in Canada, the United States and Central America.  Some of my passions include: painting watercolors, singing and reading about the history of the United States and the biographies of notable individuals like Churchill and Lincoln.

I am a member of the LDS Church or what is commonly referred to as the Mormon Church.  Prior to my conversion, I thought the "Mormon Church"  and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were two distinct churches.  I found out differently when I became acquainted with the church in Eugene, Oregon in the fall of 1966.

My neighbors who were members of the LDS Church and managed the apartment I was living in became instant friends.  Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone that you felt that you had met before but could not figure out where? That is how I felt.  I was eventually put in contact with the missionaries and started hearing the lessons they taught.  On their first visit I was wearing a T shirt, bermuda shorts and was in my bare feet.  They wore suits and mentioned that they were bringing me a message from Jesus Christ which  I literally felt was true.

This started me on my journey toward baptism some three months later.  I knew they were telling me the truth and that was confirmed through my personal prayers.  However, during that journey my fellow graduate students knew I was in contact with those "Mormon Missionaries" and gave me a hard time.  Through those graduate student chats I would usually have some questions for the missionaries.  Interestingly many of those questions were answered spiritually without my even bringing them up to the missionaries. One interesting note on my baptism day was when I was informed that I would be baptized in a stake center.  I thought a stake center was a restaurant that served steaks.  I soon discovered that this was a chapel and not a restaurant.

I was born in Chicago and lived my first eight years in Wheaton, Illinois which is approximately 20 miles west of Chicago.  We then moved to Denver, Colorado and lived in East Denver which was near the old airport called Stapleton.   My dad worked for United Air Lines which led to our move not only to Denver but then to Massapequa Park, New York.  We then came back to Glen Ellyn, Illinois for my senior year.  I then attended the University of Illinois where I graduated with a Bachelor of  Architecture Degree in 1963.

 Following graduation, I was employed with an architectural firm in St. Louis and went through Basic Training for the Army Reserves in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. During this time, our drill sergeant informed us of the assassination of President Kennedy while we were in formation in pouring rain.  After completing my 90 days, I returned to the firm.  During this time I became involved with a young adult group which helped troubled teens in a halfway house.  I gained an interest in the Peace Corps through one of these young adults and ended up serving a two year assignment as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chimbote, Peru which counted as two of my six year commitment with the Army Reserves. Upon completing this assignment I was awarded a Ford Foundation Fellowship to the University of Oregon.

During the time prior to my conversion, there were three trigger points that caused me to reflect on religion and my purpose in life.  These three trigger points were: 1. My dilemma about the trinity; 2. A philosophy class at the University of Illinois; 3. My visit to Machu Picchu.  I will now briefly discuss each of these trigger points.
I had read in John 17:3 that eternal life meant knowing God and Jesus Christ.  I was very confused with how the "trinity" was being described to me and asked questions about this.  I was told that one must accept this on faith.  However, the scripture says that it is so important to know God and Jesus Christ that our eternal life depends on it.
We were being taught about "The Myth of Sisyphus" in my philosophy class at the University of  Illinois.  This story describes a man struggling to push a boulder up a hill. I interpreted our class discussion as the endless struggles in life that end with death so why try? I kept saying to myself that there had to be more to life than that.  I was holding on to the idea of a life after this one.   I had always felt there was a purpose to life and life did not end upon our death.
In my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer I had the opportunity to visit "The Lost City of the Incas" in southern Peru.  I had the opportunity of staying there overnight and felt something that stayed with me.  It was like there was something very special about this place but I did not know what it was.

In forthcoming articles I will elaborate on these three trigger points as well as my conversion.