Showing posts with label Baptism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baptism. Show all posts

Christian vs. Christ-like: Why I Struggle and Why I Stay in the Church

I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for thirteen years. Lucky thirteen. Ten years... now add three. And I've had a lot of occasion lately to take stock of where I am, and where I'm going. How I got here, and where I want to be. And since these thoughts proven useful to people in the various places I've scattered them on the internet over the years, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share them here.

Why I Joined the Church

When I discovered the Church, I was already actively attending services at another congregation. I was about fifteen years old. A friend of mine had invited me to start attending services at the church where her father was a pastor, and I agreed to go. My mother's family was Catholic, but I wasn't raised in any particular religion. I had made a habit of always accepting these invitations when they were offered to me. As a result, I'd been to congregations that represent many corners of Christendom. Baptist, Wesleyan, Seventh-day Adventist, even an AME church a couple of times. I don't claim to be an expert on any of them, but I've seen the various kinds of welcome wagons that can be led out for a visitor, at least.

My friend's church was "non-denominational." This is a bit of a misnomer. Some might take this to mean a church that is doctrinally neutral and has no allegiance. What this actually means is it will be aligned to whatever the pastor's beliefs are, and that person is choosing not to make it obvious what they are. In this case, it was some flavor of Baptist.

To make a long story short, I wasn't being fed there. I wasn't satisfied with the answers I was getting to my questions. The people were nice, but were all too willing to throw civility and common sense out the window if the Bible (i.e. their interpretation of the Bible) gave them license to do so.

You're divorced? Bless your heart. You had a baby out of wedlock. We'll pray for you. That baby isn't baptized? Well, then it burns in the fiery depths of hell for all eternity.

Now, I've been told by many Baptists this isn't what they all believe. I am certainly willing to acknowledge that. There's diversity in all denominations, and Baptists are no different. But that doesn't change the fact that I was taught this and it was harmful. And it took me a long time to wrap my mind around it and say, "I just don't believe that." It was a skill I had to develop early in my life.

I was deeply unhappy in that church. I had questions they couldn't answer. I didn't feel like I was getting answers to my prayers. For all the services I attended, I didn't feel like I was getting any closer to God. Just spending a lot of time sticking my hands into the air for no reason. I was spiritually hungry and thirsty, and I realized they just didn't have what would fill me.

I met my first Latter-day Saints at that same time. I made some friends my age who were Mormon (yes, I still say Mormon; I earned that label by being bullied for it all through high school and I see no point in giving it up now). These kids were different. I didn't have to go to adults to get my questions answered. My new friends were literate enough in the scriptures to answer my questions for me. And the more they shared with me, the more it resonated with me. Every time I spoke to them, I left with more questions, but it felt like God wasn't just there listening. He was actually going to answer me. And that was all I ever wanted.

The first time I ever attended Sunday services at my friends' branch, I knew my search was over. I was home. I finally had my "burning bush," come to Jesus, personal experience with God. When I had my first sacred experience with the Book of Mormon, I knew I needed to be baptized. No missionaries, because we didn't have any. No pressure from other people to believe what they believedjust to explore it and know it for myself.

That's why I joined the Church. I had my own divine, personal experiencesindependent of anyone else's influencethat assured me it was the right decision.

Why I Struggle

When I was finally baptized (finally being the operative word because it's actually a struggle to get baptized when you don't have access to missionaries), I had another one of those sacred experiences that I didn't fully appreciate at the time. I had been fighting with everyone for so long to let me be baptized and to "just figure it out," I saw the preparation process as a formality. "Whatever, teach me your little lessons. I know I'm supposed to get baptized, so that's what I'm gonna do," was my attitude. The reality of the permanence, the absolute nature of what I was doing didn't hit me until I was standing at the font.

I was making a binding covenant with God not just to join the Church, but to stay in it. Even if people disappoint me. Even if they do something terrible that will hurt my feelings. No matter what. It isn't about them. I'm making this promise between me and God, and it's my choice whether or not to keep that promise.

That knowledge, that interaction with God, lasted less than a second. But time felt like it slowed down, and I thought about it. Was I willing to make that kind of commitment, especially since I had no idea what was ahead of me? It felt like signing a blank check to God, handing it over to him and saying, "Do whatever you want with this." It scared me, but I understood. I understood the nature of the transaction I was about to make.

It has been thirteen years. And God is still collecting off of that blank check. How? Because the amount he filled it in for was "Everything you've got." And I cannot possibly distill thirteen years of struggle into one blog post. I've been hurt and disappointed by members of my church. I've been insulted and ignored. I've been disrespected and disillusioned. I've been lied to. I've been cheated. I've had experiences that are so hurtful and traumatic, they are worth leaving the Church over. I could tell them to you in full, right now, and there is not a single person who would blame me for walking away and never looking back.

If I had to distill all of those experiences into one criticism, it would be this: we set ourselves apart in this church as being distinct and different from other Christian churches. And we do have our differences in beliefs, doctrine, and policy. But for as long as we are human, we have no right to believe we are, or to present ourselves as, perfect fulfillments of who God commands us to be. We are not finished. And in that human condition, we treat each other as poorly and with much carelessness as any other group. We believe we're special, but in many ways that matter we are no different than anyone else.

We can claim to be Christian, but we are not always Christ-like. Too often, members of the Church fail to understand the difference. We become experts at identifying the harmful behavior in others that we can't see in ourselves.

Because I refuse to conform to a culture that claims to be Christian, but is not always Christ-like, I don't always fit in. My honesty is not always welcome or well-received. And it leads to experiences I don't deserve to have. And based on the conversations I've had with many people on the outskirts of my faith, I know I'm not alone in that experience.

Why I Stay

So if I've had such a bad time of it over my thirteen years of church membership, why on earth would I stay? Why do I tolerate bad behavior when it's directed at me, at members of my family, and people I love? Who in their right mind would do that?

My answer is an ongoing discovery I'm still making. What I'm realizing is staying in the Church doesn't have to mean tolerating bad behavior. That doesn't mean I buy into the foolhardy assertion that "I can fix things." The Church is a big place, and I don't have the kind of institutional influence I would need to "fix things." Thankfully, I don't think anyone does because I certainly wouldn't want them using it on me. In the words of someone I don't like very much at the moment, I can "push back" against the world. I can recognize all the ways and moments the Church is part of the world, and never stop letting them forget it. I can't affect change without the consent of others. But I can draw strength from the importuning widow who never stopped knocking until she received what she knew she deserved, for as long as it was still owed to her.

I am grateful for every person to cross my path who was undeserving of my time, energy, and trust. They've made me wiser in all my relationships. I find it telling the first lesson Eve learns by her own experience in scripture is to be careful with her trust, because not every person has her best interests at heart.

It's one thing to say these things. It's another to live on them. And for a long time, I stopped actively going to church because I couldn't take in any more disappointment. I needed time to heal, to regroup. Like Christ, I had to go up on the mountain to pray. It has taken more than a year for me to come down, and I do so with an answer (emphasis my answer) that is every bit as real as the one I got when I was baptized.

Why do I stay? Because this is where Jesus Christ is. This is the foundation on which all of my knowledge of him rests. I'm still fed here, even if my fellow Saints in the buffet line need to (in the words of my mother) "straighten up and remember how to act right in public."

My testimony isn't based on the infallibility of prophets and apostles, or adherence to cultural homogeneity in the Church, or political stances based in hate and fear. That may pass for Christian among many, but it is not Christ-like to me. And like everything else that isn't Christ-like from the parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, it will eventually be blown away.

Sometimes, you find yourself in places that change your life, without fully understanding how you got there. That was my experience when I took a trip with my mom to the Florida panhandle, an area still largely in ruins from Hurricane Michael last year. I went to church while I was there, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The pews, the carpet, the ceiling tiles were gone. Panels of drywall were missing. The steeple was on the ground outside. For the first time, I was in a church building that was as battered by life as I felt inside. That sacrament meeting was the best one I had attended in so long. With every other distraction stripped away, their meeting was focused entirely on Jesus Christ and his power to rebuild our lives after devastation. They taught me, in the most literal way, what it means to build your house upon a rock. (Matt. 7:24-27) I left that meeting remembering why I had joined the Church, why it was worth it to me to stay. My foundation is in Christ, and it is strong enough to withstand the storms of life. I saw it in the faith and hearts those people, who helped me to see it again in myself. I was a stranger and a visitor to them, but they were the ward family I needed in that moment. I will always remember them for that. #lds #mormon #850strong #HurricaneMichael #JesusChrist #faith #hope #fixitjesus
A post shared by Heather Collins (@templebdparadox) on

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my home. My messy, imperfect home where stuff isn't clean and I swear sometimes. I am not the be all and end all of Christianity, and neither is anyone else. And that's okay. Letting go of all the pressure to live up to a comfortable lie is probably the most Christ-like thing we can all do for each other right now. And it's a gift I'm going to start extending much more widely than I'm accustomed to doing.

Real Talk from a Convert

Let's talk about being a convert in the Church, because there is a cultural tension between me and a lot of lifelong members to which I'd like to introduce y'all.

Source: (Christ) Rescue of the Lost Lamb, Minerva K. Teichert

The Church (the organization) and the church (the people) love to share what they believe with others. They each sacrifice and give a lot to make that happen. Millions of dollars and years of their time throughout their lives, whether they're full time missionaries or not.

How I came into the Church is a beautiful example of this. My community didn't have missionaries, so the members found me, loved me, taught me, and were there to baptize me when I decided to join. They did everything for me. Everything about my story is a testimony of how genuinely church members just love other people. What I'm about to say is in no way a criticism of them. They did the best with what they had, and what they knew. And I will love them forever because of it.

One of the most important things they did for me was give me space to figure out and adopt what changes I wanted and needed to make in my own life. They didn't treat my conversion like it was their job. They didn't expect my end results to look anything like theirs. I was a very different person from a completely different background, and they understood me being exactly like them was never going to happen, and wasn't the point.

I didn't join the Church to be like them. I joined the Church to be like Jesus. To do everything in my power to be changed by him, according to his wisdom, will and timing. They understood that.

The number one praise I heard as a new member was how grateful they were to learn from me and my perspective. They valued me for the unique talents and perspectives I brought with me from outside of the Church. They listened and learned from what I had to say.

That hasn't been my experience in every place I've lived. People I've met in other places have expectations for converts to erase any and all differences in thought and method, to become just like one of them. They couch this in language about "the culture of the gospel."

To them, uniformity and acceptance are totally synonyms with each other. That is their failure, not mine. But they take it upon themselves to punish anyone who is different, anyone who deviates from who they think a church member should be. They do this through gossip behind other people's backs, nasty comments to their face, and a mulish refusal to consider anything else outside of their own worldview and the practices of their own families.

Jesus did not bring me into his church to be someone else. He brought me here to be myself, and to become the best version of that person—with all the gifts, talents, and experiences he gave me before I ever knew the Church existed. He brought me here not just to learn from others, but also so they could learn from me. Growing through our differences is the wisdom of God, and it's only possible if I bring those differences to the table.

I am not okay with being erased and manipulated into being someone I'm not, or being forced to see Jesus as someone I don't recognize. Someone who's love for me is conditional upon conformity and performance, not love and grace.

So the "why don't you just leave?" crowd, the members who just can't metabolize the person I am, who would be happier if I just left, know that I didn't do this to you. You did this to yourself with your own expectations. You don't get to be comfortable in a church that spends all of these resources on bringing in new people, without ever being challenged to learn from them, or (gasp!) be changed by them.

You prayed, fasted, and called down the power of heaven to bring me here. You don't get to choose what my presence means for you now that I'm here.

Becoming the Change as a Temple Ordinance Worker

I'm an ordinance worker in the Boise Idaho temple. I wanted to share part of why I do this ever week. Because just like everything else about being LDS, being an ordinance worker is both difficult and deeply rewarding. It is both. Always. My desire to continue serving from my experience doing my father's temple work in the Mount Timpanogos temple in Utah.

My father and I were estranged. He was abusive and had a Molotov cocktail of addictions that were toxic to every person in his life. I removed him from my life when I was fifteen, before I ever knew about the Church. That did not change before his abrupt death in 2009. Our relationship had no stable ground on which to build a healthy reconciliation. It just wasn't possible.

When it came time to do his temple work, it wasn't an easy step for me to take, in my life or my faith. The heartbreak and anger I felt made forgiveness all but impossible. And the thought of taking his name to the temple was unbearable.

I've spent a lifetime reprogramming myself to understand that I'm not responsible for his actions, that his problems weren't mine to bear. Having to put myself through painful memories and complicated emotions to do temple ordinances just didn't seem fair to me. But I love my Savior, and I believe in his atonement. If anyone can fix my dad, it's Jesus Christ. I believed that with all of my heart and soul.

The cognitive dissonance was still confusing and frustrating. Why couldn't I just do what God wanted me to do? Why wasn't it easier? If God commands you to do something, he's supposed to make a way for you to accomplish it. And as far as I could tell, nothing had changed.

The year anniversary of his death was up in May 2010. I was a student at BYU. I spent several weeks mentally and spiritually preparing myself for what I was about to do. I asked my friends to come with me so I wouldn't be alone. The Provo temple was closed, we piled onto a bus with me and took the long, hot trip to the next closest temple in Mount Timpanogos.

I had hoped it would be a peaceful, meaningful experience for all of us. Instead, all hell broke loose. 

The issues began with my temple recommend. I'd gotten it in January, right as the year changed. The member of the bishopric had written the wrong date on it. Rather than creating a new one, he crossed out the last digit of the year, wrote the correct digit, and initialed it. It had never been an issue at the Provo Temple. But these workers at the Mount Timpanogos temple were not having it.

All of my friends had gone ahead of me and were already in the dressing room. I was stranded at the recommend desk while they called the temple recorder. He was on his way to a meeting, so they originally were going to turn me away and take my recommend away. I didn't know what to d and started to cry. I did the only thing I could do. I started to pray.

"Heavenly Father, I didn't come all this way for this. I can't do this right now!"

I don't know what suddenly changed, if they got my bishop on the phone. They let me in and didn't take my recommend away. I hoped that was going to be the worst of it. But it was only the beginning.

From the moment we walked into the baptistry, those ordinance workers did nothing but follow us around and criticize us. They were mean, unfriendly, and made one of the hardest days of my life that much more unpleasant. By the time we left the locker room, several of the girls that were with me were also in tears. It was the worst experience I've ever had in the temple.

They were so determined to get rid of us, they tried to rush me out of the font at the same time they did my father's baptism. I stood there, sopping wet and cold, and wouldn't budge. 

"That's my father's name," I told them again. They shrugged and proceeded.

In all of the chaos and emotion of that day, time finally stopped and stood still. The heaviest weight had been lifted. I was free.

I don't remember much of the confirmation or anything else. Just relief. He wasn't my problem anymore. It was all in God's hands now. The rest of that day felt like walking on clouds. I'd kept my promise to the Lord. I did what he asked me to do.


This was what God gave us temples for, to be freed from burden like mine. No one should have to go through anything like this when they go to the temple. I'm a temple worker because I want everyone who goes to the temple to have a good, uplifting experience. I want to give others what I didn't have in the moment when it mattered most to me.

I try to treat every assignment, no matter how small, like it could be the answer to someone's prayer. To show the love I wasn't given. That sad, miserable experience was wrong. But it has become the inspiration for so much good I have tried to do since then. Making good things happen out of inadequate materials has always been my special gift. That's still true in my temple service to this day.

My Baptism: A Decade Later

Today, I've officially been a member of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 10 years!

My baptism was the most important day of my life
because of the way it changed my entire future...

My baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Since then, I've been a member of 17 wards and branches, 
in 2 countries and 5 states.

The Rising Sun Branch
(now the Bayview Ward)

The Newark Ward Building
(where I attended Newark 1st Ward and the Newark 2nd YSA branch)

Ala Santa Tereza, Estaca Parque Pinheiros
São Paulo, Brazil

I've held 17 callings, including as missionary.

The temple has become the center of my life.
I've been to 18 different temples and temple sites, with many more to come!

Washington D.C. Temple 

Provo Utah Temple

And I spent my day in the temple as an ordinance worker with my husband...

Boise Idaho Temple whom I am sealed for time and all eternity. 

 We will never be separated from each other, not even in death.
He fills my life with so much joy,
and I never would have met him had I never been baptized.

I never dared to hope that my life would be so full of happiness, and 
all of the adventures I've had. 

And I owe all of it to that first day...

And everyone who was a part of it, who made it possible, 
thank you for believing in me. 

To my bishops and stake presidents, home and visiting teachers, 
to my friends, and my brothers and sisters in Christ. 

You're too many to number, and you have changed my life. 

Thank you, and I love you all!

Everything you Ever Wanted to Know--or Googled--about John the Baptist

I was asked to speak back in February at the baptism of two girls whose family is returning to Church. We've had them and the missionaries over to our home for many of their discussions, and it was exciting to help them make that step towards a brighter future. This post has been sitting in my drafts since then, I rediscovered it there today.

Baptisms always give me saudades for the mission, and I've reflected often on memories from that season of my life. It brought to my remembrance something I heard one of my companions teach about John the Baptist many times.

Was he the only person at that time with the authority to baptize? Was that part of the reason Jesus went to seek him out specifically? I realized today I didn't know if it was true or not.

So I Googled it... and realized that I wasn't the only one who has questions about John the Baptist.

I think a lot of these are really good questions. So I'm going to answer them, according the principles taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm going to rearrange them a bit to give them continuity and to avoid repeating myself. All Biblical references come from the King James Version.

Was John the Baptist ever baptized? Who baptized John the Baptist? Did Jesus baptize John the Baptist?

We have no record in the New Testament that John the Baptist was ever baptized. The only mention we have on the subject is from John himself, as recorded in Matthew 3: 13-14. When he sees Jesus we know that he instantly recognizes him as the Son of God. When Jesus requests to be baptized, John says "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?"

There are two potential meanings behind John's statement. One possibility is he was never baptized, and is somehow in possession of authority for an ordinance he has never received. This is a plausible scenario, given that John the Baptist was the only person left on earth in possession of legitimate divine authority to baptize. While in Latter-day Saint scripture we can point to the baptism of Joseph Smith and a Book of Mormon prophet, who were able to baptize themselves--we don't know that John the Baptist ever did this. (See Mosiah 18: 12-15 and Joseph Smith--History 1: 70-71)

Another possibility is John the Baptist is questioning the merit of his baptism, perhaps at the hand of his father Zacharias, now that the Son of God is standing before him. Whether he desires to be re-baptized under Christ's authority, or simply questioning how he can cleanse a sinless man when he himself is a sinner, his question and Christ's response to him do not give us any real indication as to whether John the Baptist was baptized or not. 

Why did John the Baptist baptize people?

John the Baptist was preparing people spiritually to receive Jesus Christ, as prophesied in the Book of Isaiah. John was to be "a voice in the wilderness," calling people to repent of their sins and to prepare for the kingdom to come. (Isaiah 40: 3)

Jesus Christ is the kingdom of God, and there is no better way to prepare to meet Christ than to be washed of our sins through baptism. (Matthew 3: 2, Mark 1: 2-4, Luke 3: 3-6, John 1: 23-27)

Where is John the Baptist's baptismal site?

The most specific description we have of where John the Baptist performed baptism is given in John 1: 28, "These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing." 

Who was the first person to be baptized?

Because we know baptism is essential to achieving salvation (see John 3: 5), it stands to reason that baptism is one of the oldest ordinances in the world. As Latter-day Saints, we believe Adam and Eve were baptized--the record of which was given to us by the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the Pearl of Great Price, we have Joseph Smith's translation of Genesis, in which he replaces many details which were lost or taken from the Bible. The baptism of Adam and Eve is found in Moses 6: 52-53, 64-65.

Was John the Baptist the first to baptize people?

No. While we can't point to earlier instances of baptism in the Bible, we can infer that the Jews of the day were familiar with the practice. When Christ is teaching the Pharisees and Sadducees, we don't see them questioning him about baptism as a practice. What we do have in three of the Gospels are accounts of them asking Christ from whence he gets his authority to do "these things." By "these things" we can also infer they mean baptism, because that is how Jesus responds to them. Seeing as their main concern is by what authority he baptizes, and not the validity of baptism as a practice, we observe their issue is more one of envy than ignorance. (See Matthew 21: 23-27, Mark 11: 28-31, Luke 20: 1-8)

I will point out that because the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi and his family leave Jerusalem for the Americas around 600 B.C., some of the earliest documented instances of baptism (apart from Adam and Eve) are in the Book of Mormon. 

Lehi sees Jesus Christ being baptized in Bethabara, and recognizes it as a baptism. His vision is recorded in 1 Nephi 10: 9, which dates between 600-592 B.C. His son, Nephi, also sees the baptism of Christ around the same time, detailed in the next chapter (See 1 Nephi 11: 27)

Nephi later on refers to his people as "come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism," as stated in 1 Nephi 20: 1, between 588-570 B.C. Near the end of his ministry, he writes a doctrinal discourse on the baptism of Christ between 559-545 B.C. (See 2 Nephi 31)

But the earliest record we have of a person baptizing before the time of Christ is the prophet Alma at the Waters of Mormon in Mosiah 18: 12-15, dated 147-145 B.C.

How many people did John the Baptist baptize?

There is no record of the number of people who were baptized by John the Baptist. 

How did John the Baptist baptize people? What was John the Baptist's baptism like?

All four Gospels make mention of the baptism of Christ. Matthew and Mark labor the point that Jesus was in the water, and describe how he physically came up out of the water. They do this to emphasize the fact that Jesus was baptized by immersion, being completely submerged in the water. (See Matthew 3: 16-17, Mark 1: 9-11, Luke 3: 21-22)

The gospel of John (written by John the Revelator) labors another significant point about John the Baptist's authority. In John 1: 29-34, John the Baptist's testimony about the baptism of Christ has been recorded. In verse 33 specifically, he talks about how he was sent by the Lord to baptize with water, and that he would recognize the Son of God by the Spirit descending upon him. 

John the Baptist Conferring the Aaronic Priesthood 
(The Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood)
Del Parson
John the Baptist possessed authority--the power and permission of God--to baptize. Without divine authority given through priesthood ordination, the power to perform a binding saving ordinance does not exist. This authority does not come through study, prayer, acts of service, election, appointment, or personal desire. Divine ordination must be given through the "laying on of hands" by one who possesses that authority. (Numbers 27: 18, 22-33, Mark 3: 14Acts 6: 1-6, Doctrine and Covenants 42: 11Doctrine and Covenants 84: 6-16)

We know that John the Baptist was ordained by an angel at eight days old. (See Doctrine & Covenants 84: 28) We also know for certain that Jesus recognized his authority is extended through that ordination. No greater endorsement could ever be given by anyone else on earth. Therefore, anyone who claims to have authority to baptize should be able to demonstrate how they received authority from John the Baptist. The only church I know of that can do this is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (See Doctrine and Covenants 13, Joseph Smith--History 1: 68-72)

Finally, it needs to be emphasized that Jesus was of sufficient age to where he was accountable to God for his own actions. He was not baptized as an infant. In none of the New Testament accounts of baptism do we see the apostles baptizing infants, nor do they ever teach or encourage such a practice. There is no scriptural mandate of any kind to baptize infants and young children--not from any Biblical prophet or apostle, and not from Jesus himself.

If anything, it should be noted that Jesus taught in no uncertain terms that children (and those who become like them) will enter the kingdom of heaven. The only time Jesus pointed to an individual as an example of who would enter heaven without question, he pointed to a child. (Matthew 18: 2-4)

As Latter-day Saints, we do not believe in original sin. We believe people are punished for their own sins, not for Adam's transgression. We believe a child must grow to be accountable--mentally competent and responsible for their own choices and actions--in order to sin and require baptism. We believe that the age at which this happens is at age 8. Anyone who dies before reaching that age, or who was never mentally capable of making their own choices, is saved through the grace of Christ without exception. (D&C 18: 42, D&C 20: 70-71, D&C 68: 25-27, Articles of Faith 1: 2, Moroni 8: 10)

Was John the Baptist the only one in his day with the authority to baptize? Was John the Baptist the only one who could baptize Jesus Christ?

Joseph Smith publicly commented on Luke 7: 28, which is where we gain much insight into John the Baptist's unique position in Christ's day. The verse reads as follows:
For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

Joseph Smith commented on the first part of this verse by defining John the Baptist's greatness in three points:
  1. It was his responsibility alone to prepare the way before the Son of God
  2. He was required to baptize the Savior of the world
  3. "John, at that time, was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom there was then on the earth, and holding the keys of power." (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 6)

Because John the Baptist was the only one with priesthood keys, he was the only one in the time of Jesus Christ with the authority to baptize. The Savior sought him out specifically "to fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3: 15, JST Matthew 3: 43)

What is the meaning or significance of the baptism John the Baptist performed?

The best explanation for the significance of baptism is the one given by Jesus Christ to Nicodemus in John 3: 3-5. The purpose of the baptism performed by John the Baptist is to open the door for us, so we can enter into God's presence. Without being born of the water (baptism by immersion) and the Spirit (receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost) we cannot enter the kingdom of God. 

Just as the Holy Ghost descended upon Christ after his baptism, we also need to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost in order for our baptism to be complete. This point was so important that Paul begins re-baptizing people who were baptized without receiving the Holy Ghost. (See Acts 19: 2-6Doctrine and Covenants 22) He also labors the point that the whole point of John's baptism was to point them to him that would follow, namely Jesus Christ. And an essential part of Christ's baptism was receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Notice how Paul confers the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands. This ordinance is performed after baptism, and is part of the Confirmation for Latter-day Saints today. This ordinance can only be performed by those who can trace their authority back to the New Testament apostles. The only church I know of that can present a documented line of ordination back to the Peter, James and John for every man it ordains is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (See Matthew 28: 18-20Doctrine and Covenants 18: 37-42Doctrine and Covenants 27: 12-13

The significance of John the Baptist's baptism was different for Jesus Christ because Jesus lived a sinless life. Seeing as one of the primary purposes of baptism is to wash away our sins, it really doesn't follow that Christ should need baptism. But our Savior asks nothing of us he is not willing to do himself. So to "fulfill all righteousness," Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father and was baptized. Nephi's analysis of the baptism of Christ explains this idea, and even poses the question, "if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water... how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized"? (Matthew 3: 15, 2 Nephi 31: 5-7)

What other questions do you have about John the Baptist? Leave them in comments!

Eight Years

Eight years ago today, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I remember vividly the day I made that decision, because it happened the first time I ever attended Church.

The first time I went to Sacrament Meeting is a day I'll always remember. It was a cold Sunday in January and I had just turned 16. Before the meeting even started, I felt a difference the moment I walked inside the building. The peace I felt was immediate. It sank deep into my heart, and I felt like God was genuinely close to me for the first time in my life.

That feeling continued throughout the rest of the meeting. As the speakers gave their talks and bore their testimonies, I could feel God speaking to me through the words they said. I'd never experienced anything like it before.

I had been searching all my life for the place where God truly was, and I had never been able to find him. I had come home at last, and I didn't want to leave. I didn't want that feeling of closeness to go away, but I didn't know what to do to make it stay. When the meeting ended, I confess I panicked and almost started to cry. I never wanted it to end. I prayed to God and begged him to tell me what I had to do to stay with him.

Sitting in Sunday School with a Book of Mormon in my lap, I flipped open to a random page and read got an immediate answer.

Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
Alma 32: 16
I needed to get baptized. I didn't understand what baptism was, but I knew to the very core of my soul that it was what I needed to do. I wanted to be baptized, but I had no idea how to go about making that happen. I didn't know at the time you needed missionaries in order to be baptized. The branch where I attended Church didn't have missionaries. And even if they did, my mom never would have let me meet with them.

Eventually, I fell through the cracks. For about 2 months I didn't go to Church anymore. When Easter Sunday came around I realized I had made a terrible mistake. I went back to Church and committed myself to staying. I would finish what I started. I would be baptized, and no power in heaven or on earth was going to stop me.

Special arrangements were made with the Philadelphia Mission president at the time for me to be taught by the branch mission leader and his wife. By the end of the summer I was ready to be baptized.

My baptism was on a Saturday morning. I was incredibly nervous. I knew I was prepared. But was I ready? Was I ready to promise God to follow him forever? Was I ready to promise to be like Jesus? Was I ready to live up to what God expected of me? Could I really be what he wanted me to be?

I didn't have perfect certainty when I stepped into the baptismal font. I don't know that anyone who is baptized ever does. But when I went under, all of those doubts stayed in the water. That was what the Lord was telling me in Alma 32: 16. There's no way to know what's going to happen in the future. You can't see all the different ways you could screw up. But you can trust the Lord to help you, and trust that he really will forgive you if you do mess up.

Baptism isn't about knowing everything. It isn't even about knowing enough. It's about trusting, even though you don't know everything, and you can't see the future.

That decision has carried me through the rest of my life. When I decided to stay active in the Church as a new convert, when I moved 2000 miles away to go to BYU, when I left BYU to serve a mission, the entire time I lived in Brazil, when I was sealed to my sweetheart for time and all eternity--that trust is what ties all of these experiences together. In each one, I had to trust God to help me with everything I didn't know, and everything I couldn't see coming. My ability to do that has made all of the difference in my life.

I know that God our Father lives. I know that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death. Jesus gave us the perfect example of what we have to do to live with our Father in Heaven again. An essential part of that example is being baptized. I know that baptism is what we have to do to be saved. I know baptism washes away our sins, and keeping our covenants helps us to become like Jesus. If we remain faithful throughout our lives and repent of our sins always, we will live with our Father and his Son again.

I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's true Church. He restored it to the earth through a living prophet, Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. We have a living prophet on the earth today in Thomas S. Monson. I leave you my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Hastening the Work of Salvation in My Ward

Last week in Church, one of the Sisters serving in our ward made an observation that stuck with me all week. She pointed out how the Church's emphasis on Hastening the Work of Salvation is the Lord raising the bar for us as members. It isn't enough for us to "be good examples," and not open our mouths anymore. We have to actively participate in missionary work by inviting others to come unto Christ.

I've thought about what she said all week long. And it made me ask myself a question that has really opened my eyes to how to be a better member missionary. What relationship does baptism play in the Lord hastening the work of salvation?

As I pondered the answer, I felt inspired to teach my Relief Society lesson today on baptism. That was the most amazing lesson I've ever given. I taught the basic doctrine of baptism, we reviewed the details of the baptism of Jesus Christ from Matthew 3, people shared a few experiences they had with baptism, and I told part of my conversion story to emphasize how member missionaries are the only reason I'm a member of the Church. It was really powerful because the Spirit was so strong.

But that doesn't begin to compare how strong the Spirit was once I invited the Sisters to share their thoughts on the role baptism plays in hastening the work of salvation. They each shared their testimony and their heartfelt commitment to do whatever it took to earn the trust that would inspire members to work together with them. It was a heartfelt declaration.

The investigator who is marked for baptism on December 8th with her three children then shared how her niece's baptism is what has inspired their family to be baptized. She expressed her love and gratitude for how the Lord is saving her family, and how baptism is bringing such wonderful changes into their family.

By the time they finished, our whole Relief Society was filled with tender feelings from the Spirit on the subject of baptism and missionary work. It was the greatest outpouring of the Spirit that I have felt in my ward in a long time.

I then invited the sisters to ponder on how they could each individually help more people to be baptized, and encouraged them to make their own lists of what they had to offer. This was the list I came up with:
  • Praying to find someone for the elders and sisters to teach
  • Inviting friends and neighbors to come to Church, especially to Sacrament Meeting
  • Inviting friends and neighbors to baptismal service
    • If we each invited someone to the baptism on the 8th, and some of them decided to be baptized as well, imagine how much we would grow!
  • Sharing our testimonies of the Book of Mormon with our friends, family, and neighbors
  • Offer our homes as places for the missionaries to teach their investigators
    • How would it be if, when we sign up for a date on the dinner calendar, we make a goal to invite someone else to dinner that the missionaries could teach?
  • Attending lessons with the Sisters and Elders
  • Giving rides to the missionaries’ investigators to come to Church
    • Know their names. Offer to sit by them. Ask them about what they’re learning from the missionaries. Invite them to your home. We are a family here at Church, and when we are warm, friendly, and inviting, people will want to come and they will want to STAY here with us. It takes each of us to do our part in being welcoming and kind, not just the Elders and Sisters.
  • Showing our support to new converts, so they always have a friend
    • Visiting Teaching
It was great to see how their understanding was really being enlarged, and they could see how being a member missionary isn't hard--it's doing simple things in effective ways. But the step we all have to take is to open our mouths and let them be filled!

So what role does baptism play in Hastening the Work of Salvation?

Answer: Everything!

Unbeknownst to me, we had a visitor in our ward, who was an emeritus mission president who served in Houston, Texas. I was thrilled to hear his comments in Sunday School, where the lesson incidentally was also on missionary work. And my husband and I have yet another dose of preparing member missionaries this evening with the Bishop's Youth Discussion. We've been asked to come and speak about preparing to serve a mission. So after that discussion, I will have spoken to most of the ward today about how to be a missionary.

Then to top off the day, I did a long overdue visiting teaching visit, only to discover that a very wonderful young father is looking to take the discussions there because he wants to be baptized. I couldn't be more excited to get to know this family and help them in any way that I can to build their gospel foundation. It's what most brings me joy in life.

I love missionary work, and I love helping others to love it too. I'm contemplating using my teaching calling in Relief Society to focus more on missionary work and implementing more material from Preach My Gospel. I would be excited to see the impact of that guidance and encouragement. Our ward has amazing potential to grow, we just need to catch the vision of it before the Lord can use us to make it happen. And being a big dreamer and helping people catch the vision of the work has always been my greatest strength.

I know that the work in which we're engaged is essential to our own happiness. The experiences I've had today have been the strongest spiritual experiences I've had in months. I feel so happy to be a part of hastening the work of salvation. I know I'm in my ward for this very purpose, and the joy I feel because of that I something I have really needed to find.

I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. He set the example that we all must follow as missionaries--he was always inviting others to come closer to Him, regardless of whether they would reject Him or not. He baptized thousands, and helped his disciples to baptize thousands more. May we always strive to stand within our place as member missionaries, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Gospel in My Life

Studying the scriptures through Preach My Gospel has been one of the most powerful transformations to my testimony I have ever experienced. I love Preach My Gospel, and I love the changes it has brought to me. I never realized that all the "dailies" and all the commandments we keep are functions of the gospel, and that the gospel is what brings Christ into our lives.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the message of salvation we, as members of the Church, are under covenant to share with the world. That message includes 5 fundamentals:
  1. Faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord, the only one who has/will ever atone for all of the sins of mankind
  2. Repentance to be reconciled with Jesus Christ for all of the sins we have ever personally committed
  3. Baptism under restored priesthood authority, as existed in Christ's church anciently
  4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, a confirming ordinance of that same authority
  5. Enduring to the End--to become continually converted to Jesus Christ by remaining true to the gospel

That's it. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those five things are the root of true conversion. And, as I recently learned, that gospel is not just a preliminary set of steps for new members to go through. Once the first four are finished, a person does not stay permanently at step five, in a vague state of generally doing what we know we should.

No, the gospel is a repeating cycle. To endure to the end means to repeat the cycle continually. The Sacrament becomes the symbolic representation of baptism and confirmation after someone has already been baptized and confirmed. The commandments we follow are then supposed to work together as functions of that gospel, to bless our lives for good and help us grow spiritually.

I attended this talk by Elder Ballard on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I came into it hoping to gain much-needed insight on time management.

Afterwards, I realized that if I would strive to make a schedule that is based on the gospel itself, I would feel the Holy Ghost's influence more abundantly in my life. So I sat down and categorized how all the things I have to do fit into the gospel itself.

For example, I was reminded that scripture study is inseparably tied to faith in Jesus Christ. It has been my experience that faith in Jesus Christ is almost impossible to maintain unless you consistently read the scriptures--especially the Book of Mormon. Personally, that's also where I chose to classify my studies and college classes because in order for them to be worth my time and money, they need to be building my faith in Jesus Christ. I've found that when I put forth the effort to find Christ in even my most secular subjects, He makes it possible for me to understand many lessons that only He can teach me.

Repentance, for me, is largely grounded in prayer. Once I understood that a crucial part of my prayers needed to be daily repentance, it became a lot easier for me to remember to pray every day, and for my prayers to be more than 30 seconds long. When prayers are a constant vehicle for repentance, they become the conversational prayers I have heard so many teachers strongly recommend, but never instruct anyone on how to begin. For someone who is trying to have more conversational prayers with the Lord, I would recommend starting with adding repentance to them each and every day.

Baptism by immersion was an interesting one. I associated that with temple worship because I'm still in the baptism-by-proxy phase of my temple experience. But this could also apply to the Sacrament, and thereby Church attendance. Because baptisms performed outside the temple are almost identical to the ones performed inside, the jump from the first to the second is not hard to make. But how often do we think of Church meetings as being a place to be immersed in the goodness of God? That's what Zion and the Church are supposed to be like--and whether they are or not depends entirely on what we personally put into them, i.e. all of ourselves. If we continually plop ourselves down in a chair and expect to be spiritually fed without putting any effort into it, we will continue to be disappointed when that feeling of immersion does not come.

The one that jumped out to me the strongest, however, was receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands. This made me think of the priesthood, and the question I had to ask myself was "How can I get the priesthood to be more of an active force in my life?" The answer that came to me immediately was the Relief Society, and thereby Visiting Teaching. (If you're curious as to how I made that jump, read this and this.) FHE also came to mind, which actually surprised me way more than Relief Society and Visiting Teaching did. I never thought of FHE as being a means of having the priesthood in my life. As I continued to ponder, I realized that service opportunities fit well under this one because the Holy Ghost inspires people to serve. The laying on of hands in itself is a giving act--one we are commanded to extend to anyone who will receive it.

I have a white board I use to do my planning and time management, and I decided to color code each of the four principles with its own color. I plan to continue doing so as I implement this plan, in order to track the gospel's presence in my life. Once I can build the habits of following through with my plans, and assessing my performance, I can more easily identify how to add things to my life when I feel I need extra help in an area. By being a careful steward over the gospel's influence in my life, I can fortify myself against temptation and the attempts of the adversary to lead me astray.

From this I have learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a catch-all phrase to describe every good thing. The gospel is how every good thing--every commandment, every truth, every principle--is tied to Jesus Christ. When we see those connections as they really are, and keep them unimpeded in our lives, we magnify the ability of God to bless us and endow us with great faith and power. We become more true to what we know, disciples of Jesus Christ. Our light is more able to shine because it is more easily magnified through our righteous actions, and I know that as I strive to lay that gospel foundation in my life, that gospel will lay a foundation in me for greater things to come.

I testify of this in the holy name of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, whose gospel this is. Even so, Amen.

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