The Conversation of Conversion

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When I was younger I went on a number of Boy Scout campouts. On one of these outings we got to our mountain campsite late in the evening, which meant that we had to set up our tents in the dark. The tent that I was assigned to was old and not in good working condition. While we had set up many tents, the three of us assigned that tent hadn’t set up that particular tent before. Trying to put up a tent in the dark with tent poles that didn’t quite fit together was a challenge. Because we were tired we decided to be content with a tent that wasn’t quite put up right but it was up and we could sleep in it so we decided to leave it as it was. If it had been a typical Arizona night we would have been fine but that night was different.

Elsewhere a storm was brewing. After we settled down and were asleep, it started raining. Soon the rain was coming down in torrents. The three of us woke up as our tent collapsed around us and we found the water level in the tent rising rapidly. Apparently we got the tent with the jacuzzi. Two of us made the best of our soggy situation and had fun with the experience. The other scout in the tent wasn’t thrilled but we all survived the night – if soaked and cold.

We thought we were sufficiently prepared for the night but we were not prepared to weather a storm. Although we tried to make the best with the tent we had, we were not fully prepared.

I will turn to another experience I had as a scout, an experience with a different outcome. On another campout I was not weathering a thunderstorm at night in a collapsing tent, this time it was daytime in the desert. My scout patrol and I found ourselves with a compass and instructions directing us to a destination.

We were part of an orienteering competition. If we wanted to win, my patrol had to try and complete an orienteering course faster and more accurately than the other patrols. Given nothing but bearings and distances, we had to traverse the course, find the waypoints, and then end up at the destination. My patrol and I had spent many hours practicing. We prepared by practicing our pacing of distances and understanding and following compass bearings. Because of our preparation and conscientiousness during the course, our scout patrol won that competition and won every other orienteering competition we were in. We won because we prepared and stayed true to our preparation. We strove to be like the worthy warriors of Helaman’s army who “did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21). We did not just act blindly without preparation; we studied, we planned, and then we acted (see D&C 9:7-8).

In the gospel and in life a key to success is firstly being prepared and then acting with integrity to the capability we have. In the end, integrity to God is what really matters. One measure of our integrity to God is the measure of our conversion. Conversion takes preparation and work; it takes holding to the course and finding and following the guideposts. Conversion comes from striving to act with exactness to the principles we have been taught. It comes through at-one-ment with God.

The word conversion comes from a word meaning “to turn around”. In the gospel setting, it means turning our backs on our previous lives to turn back towards Christ. We turn back to Christ because we knew Him and accepted His plan in the grand council of Heaven. We go through a change – a change of heart, a change of direction, a change of motivation. Conversion is never a single event; it is a process. One way to look at conversion is as a life-long conversation. Conversation, incidentally, comes from the same root words as conversion. While this is not the common use of the word today, conversation means to turn about with, to keep company with, and to live with. This can bring new meaning to the phrase “converse with the Lord”. When we converse with the Lord we follow Him, we keep company with Him, and we live with Him. Conversion brings conversation with the Lord.

This reminds me of a story told about a meeting one of the apostles had with a group of ministers from other churches. During this meeting one of the ministers asked the apostle, perhaps condescendingly, “Would you give your life for Jesus?” After a brief pause, the apostle responded, “I thought that’s what I was doing.” When we are converted we give our lives to the Savior. Not just the breath of life – Jesus gives that to us – but the breadth of our lives.

As we are converted we go through a process of upconversion. The Lord takes what exists and replaces it with a higher quality version. We are upgraded from our base, natural tendencies to be more like the Savior. The apostle Paul spoke of this upconversion when he counseled the Saints to “put off concerning the former conversation [-] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God[,] is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:22-25; emphasis added).

Conversion means throwing off the old man or woman of sin and putting on a new man or woman of Christ. It is not just an inner change, it affects our interactions with others. As we are converted we take upon us a new name and a new persona that is better and brighter than what existed before. Christ made us from the dust of the earth but He wants us to shine like the sun. “From physics we learn that there are set laws that govern the conversion of matter into energy, and the conversion of energy into matter. It is through these laws that the sun and other stars convert matter into energy, thereby giving us our light. In the same way there are laws governing our conversion from a natural man or woman to a son or daughter of God[, a radiant being full of light and the hope of eternal lives].” (Ryan Tanner, personal communication).

What are these set laws that govern our conversion? They are the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in the scriptures and by the living prophets: faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, priesthood, service, charity, prayer, temple worthiness, endurance to the end.

If we do not strive to follow Christ we go through a process of deconversion. In the gospel this means we turn away from Christ. As we become deconverted we turn our backs on the Savior, rejecting Him and His atonement. We change from the new back to the old. Even as we turn away, the Savior reaches out to us, hoping we turn back – convert – to gaze upon His glory and have conversation with Him.

This conversation – this turning around with the Lord, this keeping company with the Lord, occurs as we repent. “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted, and I will heal them.” (D&C 112:13) We are healed spiritually as we convert. The temple is vital for this conversation and conversion to occur: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.” (D&C 124:39; emphasis added). If you have not gone to the temple, now is the time to obtain a recommend and go. For those with recommends, frequent attendance will bring great blessings to our lives. We will feel the Spirit of the Lord more powerfully.

As we become conversant with the Spirit, we are converted. When we are converted we are counseled to “strengthen [our] brethren [and sisters].” (Luke 22:32). This strengthening comes from the conversation of our lives and in our invitations to those around us to come unto Christ and be purified in Him.

I knew a man named Bill who was invited and then taught the gospel by friends. Bill was a contractor and an ex-Marine with a soft heart. After being taught the fundamentals of the gospel, Bill was baptized at age 50. Three weeks later he baptized his son. He quickly became immersed in the church, serving as ward executive secretary and then going to the temple to make sacred covenants a year after his baptism. Shortly after he joined the Church I overheard him talking to a ward member. He was happy to have the gospel and to be baptized but he expressed regret at having not been taught years before. Bill used to play basketball with LDS friends at the local church building. Although he was around them weekly, not once did they offer to share the gospel with him by inviting him to meet with the missionaries. Over the years Bill kept in touch with those friends but it took 20 years for them to finally offer to share the gospel with him. Although they had taught him in the conversations of the actions of their lives, they finally taught him the principles of the gospel through the conversation of missionary discussions; he rejoiced, he accepted, and he was baptized. His regret was that if his friends had simply started that conversation years ago, he would have joined the church as a younger man and been able to experience the blessings that come from it for those 20 years. He thought that perhaps if he had the church earlier he could have saved his marriage and been saved from some heartache over the years. Bill was happy to have the gospel but hurt that it took so long for that conversation and invitation to happen.

How many Bills are there in our lives – individuals just waiting for us to open our hearts and mouths in invitation? Is Bill your neighbor or good friend? Is he your co-worker or your brother? Just as we should not delay the day of our repentance, we should not delay our sharing with others the conversation of conversion.

President Monson has charged us as members of Christ’s church to participate in hastening the work of salvation. This requires us to be become conversant with others about the church and be bold in invitation.

The Lord has blessed us with a large increase in full-time missionaries. Since President Monson’s announcement that lowered the age at which missionaries could serve, we’ve had a 55% increase in the number of missionaries. What we have not yet seen is a similar increase in member referrals to missionaries. How many of us have friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7) because we never extend the hand in invitation? Brothers and Sisters, the Lord has asked us to lengthen our strides and get to work by participating in the hastening of the work of salvation. “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4). The field is white when we as members do our part in preparing, teaching, and then inviting those around us to meet with the missionaries. We help the Lord of the Harvest by planting and nurturing seeds and working along side the missionaries in the field.

The prophet Zenos delivered a great allegory pertaining to the work of the Lord in the latter days.

“And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said. And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire. And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil. And because that I have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit; and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit—Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit. Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.” (Jacob 5:57-62).

We are not alone in this work. “And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few…. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.” (Jacob 5:70,72). The Lord is out there too; He not only directs the work, He performs it. We are called to participate with the Lord in this great work of salvation.

Another way we can hasten the work is in our own homes as we strive to raise our children in such a manner that they are firm and steadfast, abounding in good works. Preparation for full-time missionary service needs to occur in our homes. Going on a mission is like jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. We can soften the shock by teaching our children to be missionaries all the time. We need to prepare our children by acting as missionaries to all those around us. Then, when they enter the mission field they will already be comfortable with the work. They will still be in over their heads but that’s where growth occurs. Just as do the rest of us, missionaries have to rely on the Spirit to buoy them up. Learning to recognize the Spirit and act on those promptings happens most powerfully in the home. This means that parents have to be more conscientious about teaching their children and helping their children learn to recognize the Spirit. Youth preparing to serve missions need to know doctrine, understand the scriptures, recognize the Spirit, and live the gospel. As our youth are filled with “faith, hope, charity and love, [and have eyes] single to the glory of God” (D&C 4:5) they are qualified for the work. It is our responsibility to be filled with those attributes and encourage those around us to likewise be filled.

As we are converted, we will strive to participate with the prophet in rescuing those who are lost. A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescue.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. (Fischer, David H. 2004. Washington’s crossing. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, p. 228). This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.

This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers where in our conversations we strive to strengthen conversion – that of others and our own. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Let us be proactive so that we do not need to spend time helping others become re-active. Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?

It is our covenant duty as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate with Pres. Monson in rescuing those who are lost by acting with diligence to our covenant responsibilities that come with our conversion to the gospel. As we do so, we and they can converse with our Heavenly Father along the path to exaltation.

The prophet king Benjamin taught his people a powerful sermon. “And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them. And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which 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. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days.” (Mosiah 5:1-5).

King Benjamin’s people experienced a mighty change of heart. They were converted and healed. Are we converted? In the words of Alma: “I ask of you…have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? And now behold…if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:14,26).

As we prepare and are converted, conversing with the Lord, we should work with the Lord in rescuing those who are lost and in hastening the work of salvation. May we seek out to rescue the John Greenwoods around us or invite and teach the Bills in our lives! May we be prepared for whatever paths or storms come our way. May we be healed through our conversions and conversations with God. This I so pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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