First Time I Heard the Word “Mormon”

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As my regular readers may or may not know, I was born and raised as a Catholic. Growing up in Miami while going to Catholic school, you rarely hear rare about other religions. My grandmother’s best friend and her family are Jewish, and growing up I thought you were either Catholic or Jewish. I didn’t know what a protestant was until I was given a copy of the NIV New Testament at the Miami-Dade County Fair. A sticker on the book had the name of a local Baptist church. Is a Baptist church where they baptize people? I didn’t know.

Now that I am a member of a church that isn’t the Catholic Church, and in fact a church that not many people are familiar with, I couldn’t help but think of the first time I became aware of the Mormons. Sure I would go summer camp at the local community college and right across the street was a church building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the same building I’d eventually be baptized in) but I didn’t connect that church with the “Mormons”.

Now that I think of it, the first time I’d heard the word “Mormon” came soon after my first holy communion when I was 8. My godfather had given me a VHS (remember those?) of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice about Joseph of Genesis (the first book in the Bible, not the band). I was watching it for about the tenth time (or was it eleventh?) with my mom and in the middle of Donny Osmond, who played Joseph, singing “Close Every Door to Me” (without a shirt, the reason my mother was watching), I asked her, “Is Donny Osmond Christian?” She responded, “He’s Mormon.” Not knowing what that meant by Mormon, I continued watching the movie.

Twelve years later, not only do I know the word, but embrace it for myself. It is me.

 

If you have never seen the movie, here is the soundtrack to this amazing technicolor musical:

My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

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It’s no secret, I haven’t been reading my scriptures as often as I should be. Mark Twain quipped, “It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle—keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.” And I’m sorry, sometimes I can’t help but think Twain was telling the truth about this. There are times, I’ll admit, that I find the Book of Mormon slow. But then again, the Bible has those parts too (don’t we all feel that way once in a while).

Ezra Taft Benson,a former prophet and president of the Church, gave a popular General Conference talk called The Book of Mormon: Keystone of Our Religion.I’m not going to get into all of Benson’s talk, as I probably wouldn’t be able to do it justice, but there are a few points in there that have helped me gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the Book of Mormon. One point in particular stands out: It was written for our day.

The Book of Mormon, Benson says, was written for us. After all, Mormon, the prophet who put the writings together, lived during the end of the Nephite civilization. The Book of Mormon writers were writing for a future generation. Us. God knew that the book was meant for those living after the Restoration. He knew fully well who would be the audience of this book long before Lehi and his family left the Old World. The Book of Mormon was written with this in mind.

Since it was written for us, we should look to see what it is trying to tell us specifically. For that answer, we don’t need to look any further than the cover:http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/Mormon-book.jpg

You see it? It’s right there!

Mormon-book

That’s it. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. Just like the Bible!

The difference is, that while both sacred texts were written by ancient prophets though revelation, the Book of Mormon was written for us now while the Bible was written for ancient Jews and early Christians as well. But there is something about having a text meant specifically for us.

When I read the Book of Mormon, I’m amazed by how much I learn, how much I am inspired, and how much I grow closer to Christ. It’s hard to put into words, but it has helped me come closer to the Savior and His Church.

Through the Book of Mormon, our Heavenly Father reveals His Son to us. He reveals all that is necessary for our salvation.

You know, there was a time when I wasn’t totally convinced that the Book of Mormon. I would say that I believed it as Scripture, but in my heart, I wasn’t convinced. Then when I went to Salt Lake for the October 2013 General Conference, at the insistence of two sister missionaries (they told me if I had any doubts, any questions, go, like Joseph did, to our own Sacred Grove and ask God), I sat in front of the Christus statue in the North Visitor Center. I prayed, “Let me see the Book of Mormon as scripture.”\

I opened up to Mosiah 2, where I had left off in my reading. All of a sudden, this verse jumped out at me:

And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them

One part of that verse really stood out to me. Can you guess what it is? Here it is: …every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple.

All of a sudden, all the imaginary of having our tent facing the temple and what that means in terms of both literal temples and figurative temples (Jesus). Not to mention, temples lead to Christ. All of this came to me at once. Then the realization (or revelation) came to me: “This book is holy. It wasn’t written by Joseph Smith but by ancient prophets.”

Since that day in Temple Square, I haven’t looked back. My testimony of the Book of Mormon is strong. It was written for me, to draw me to Christ. Why wouldn’t I love that?

Mosiah 2:6 will always have a special place in my heart as the verse that convinced me of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity.

What verse did it for you?

Why I Do Family History

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800px-LDS_genealogy_library_slc_utah-1One of the great curiosities about Mormonism is their fascination with family history. Genealogy is the one area where the Church is almost universally known as a leader in. They even run a genealogy site, FamilySearch. When I went to Salt Lake for my first ever General Conference as a member, I made a visit to the Church’s Family History Library where anyone, member and non-member alike, could go and do research to discover their ancestors.

This praise does come with criticism. The claim is made that all this family history work is done only so that we can bring these names to the temple and that they are nothing more than just names. This isn’t the post to discuss or defend temple ordinances which I do believe are holy. I just wanted to point out that there is this criticism.

To be honest, when I first started doing family history work, I just wanted to bring names to the temple. It was a pride thing: Look how many names I got! Now I do recognize that that is the totally wrong way to go about both family history work and temple work. It diminishes the value of both these noble and beautiful things.

Since all my ancestors came to the United States from Cuba in the 1960′s, there aren’t a lot of US records for my ancestors. The ones that there are records for, I already know about (though finding their records give a good indication of when they passed away or when they were born which is interesting). There aren’t any online sources to go to to find the parents of my great-grandfather, for example. That I all have to do manually. So right now, I’m sort of stuck in my the family history search.

The other day while I was on FamilySearch stuck in my “investigation”, I couldn’t help but think of how great genealogy is. It must be great to be able to pull out a map and say this is my history. This is where I came from. Really, that’s all it is. Family history work is a way of exploring who we are and how we got here.

Mormons place such a high priority on families because we believe that families continue on in the next life. We will be with our family, our loved ones, in eternity. Searching for your family history is one of the ways we prepare for that. It’s essentially us discovering who we will be with for all eternity.

Unfortunately, right now they may only be a name. There may not be a lot of information about them. Though that may be true now, we can only hope that some day, if not now then in the next life, be able to discover who they were and hear their own journey.

Every person has a story. Family history work is our way of finding the stories of our ancestors and revealing in some way a little of our own.

 

photo of the Family History Library in Salt Lake courtesy of Ricardo630, Wikimedia Commons

Why the Scriptures Matter

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Two of the standard works of the LDS Church are the Bible and the Book of Mormon that tell how God worked through His people in the Middle East and in the Americas.
photo courtesy of the More Good Fuondation

What book more so than any other book has had the greatest impact on world history?

What book has been called “the most correct of any book on Earth” and would get a man nearer to God than by any other book?

If for question number one you answered The Bible, you would be correct.

If for the second question you said the Book of Mormon,you would be correct again.

So we have these two influential books that continue to be important around the world. The Bible is the best selling book of all time. According to the CIA World Factbook, 31.59% of the world’s population is Christian and adheres the teachings of the Bible. That’s 2.2 billion Christians.And President Thomas S. Monson announced at the 2013 October General Conference that the membership of the Church has reached 15 million members (I’m proud to be part of that growth since the last announcement). This means that 15 million people worldwide consider the Bible and the Book of Mormon scripture and central to their lives.

These are no small numbers.

Despite the fact that so many find these books influential (or perhaps, because they do) we ask ourselves: Why are books that were written centuries ago in ancient civilizations in languages we don’t speak (and in the case of the Book of Mormon, a language that is no longer spoken) important to us today?

(Ahh, yes, my favorite argument…It’s old!!! It has no use for us today! We’ve progressed! We’re much more civilized and much smarter than those old uneducated religious cooks!)

Unfortunately, I have heard a Latter-day Saint (ok, it’s only one person, but it still troubled me when I heard it) make the argument that besides telling us to come unto Christ, these books written in ancient languages have no purpose for us today and instead we should concentrate on modern revelation through our modern prophets.

First off lets get this straight, I agree that the words of modern prophets are important. All you have to do is look up their Conference talks on YouTube if you don’t believe me. Their words are inspiring and are a blessing to those of us listening.

However, there is something special about the Bible and the Book of Mormon. These books do testify of Jesus Christ and tell us to come unto him, but they also do something more. In these books of scripture God reveals Himself to us. I’m one of those people who believe that we can’t know God entirely but we can know at least some things about Him.We cannot grasp God in His entirety but what we can grasp, we should seek for.

How do we do this?

The Scriptures.

The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants all reveal God to us. These four sets of scriptures (known as the standard works) combined reveal to us the fullness of the Restored Godspell (Sorry, I mean Gospel, though technically, godspell is correct in an Anglo-Saxon way). Through reading the Scriptures, we find the fullness of the Gospel. We also find God.

God reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures. In these texts He is waiting to tell us about Himself. All we need to do is open us the Scriptures and read. By doing this He will make Himself known to us.

I love having the standard works because if we read them carefully, keeping in mind there is one God, one Savior, and one Gospel, we can and will get the most complete understanding of our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures are God’s gift to His children, inviting us to communio with Him.

Take Him up on it.

Mosiah 12: We Stubborn Creatures

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“When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:8

It happens to all of us. We sin. It’s natural. The problem comes when we become prisoners to our sin, when we no longer see sin as sin. Instead, we see it as something good (After all, C.S. Lewis described sin as spoiled goodness). That is when we need to watch out because that is when (as we naturally do as humans) begin to reject anyone who tells us we’re wrong (we’re stubborn creatures).

This why we have a prophet in the first place! (To guide us in these latter-days) We stray and God calls us back to him. But do we listen? Or instead are we like the people of Lehi-Nephi who rejected the prophet Abinadi and turned him over to the king while declaring their own sinlessness?

“O king, behold,
we are guiltless,
and thou, O king,
hast not sinned.”
Really?

Mosiah 11: Harden Not Your Hearts

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The Psalms say, “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart.” Sadly, in today’s world, we see so many people with hardened hearts. We see people who listen to living prophets, who read the Bible or the Book of Mormon and just reject what they say.

We see this in Mosiah 11 when Noah becomes king. The author of the book tells us that the king rejected the faith of his father and of his people. He heard and decided to follow his own desires even if they went against the words of the prophets. His disobedience and corruption led to the corruption and disobedience of the entire culture. Eventually, this led to a loss of faith in the people. In following the king, they rejected the Word of God. They rejected that which their civilization was based on.

But in the midst of all this, God called the prophet Abinadi to preach to the people of Lehi-Nephi. He reminded them of the God who has done so much and has given so many blessings to His people and warned of the consequences of not following God’s commands.

Did they listen? No.

Unfortunately, we are living in a culture that is starting to mirror that of King Noah’s time where we are rejecting God and pushing religion under the rug as something not to be talked about, and if you do, you are seen as a bigot and hateful (doesn’t this sound familiar?).

Though there is good news. God sends us His prophets to guide us. He gives us the Scriptures to help us in our journey to Him. What wonderful road maps!

No matter how wicked our King Benjamin may be, God still blesses us with His prophets and His Word and if we listen, if we harden not our hearts, we will find blessings.

On Blogs and Resolutions (Oh, and the Book of Mormon!)

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One regrettable thing that I have done since my conversion was almost ignore the Book of Mormon. While I had a testimony of the book as scripture, I just couldn’t see it as anything other than a 19th century document. So while I tried to read it, I wouldn’t. It didn’t interest me. Cut to now where I do see the Book of Mormon for what it is, a text of ancient scripture written by prophets. I still don’t have the discipline to read it! But I realize that I need to. The Book of Mormon is a beautiful gift that is unique to our faith, so why wouldn’t I want to read it?

Honestly, I think it’s just the discipline of sitting down and reading, just like sitting down and writing each day. For someone who sometimes struggles with “feeling Mormon” because his social circle is pretty much non-Mormons, the Book of Mormon should be something I would want to do to help with that. But alas, I don’t have the discipline.

That is until I came across this picture on my Facebook:

Without thinking, the date came into my head: August 18th, the day of my baptism.

I realized that I am a member of the Church, but have not read the Book of Mormon in its entirety. Granted, I decided to be baptized a month into investigating and have only been a member five months, but it still bugs me that I’m still halfway through Mosiah five months after my baptism.I have to get serious about reading.

The problem becomes: how do I stay disciplined?

The answer: When I was investigating had getting stuck in my reading the Book of Mormon, the missionaries would make me send them one verse a day from what I read. That made me not only read, but also made me pay attention to what I was reading.

So I have decided to do something similar (that’ll also help with keeping a blog). I will read the Book of Mormon daily and after my reading (ideally daily, but if not, every couple days or so) I’ll post some thoughts or reflections on here (don’t worry, I’ll try to be concise). That way I will be accountable for both reading the Book of Mormon and updating this blog, which I have been meaning to update more regularly (and have made a resolution to do).

So how about it? Join me as I go out to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety by the one year anniversary of my baptism!

(Don’t worry, I’ll be writing about more things than just the Book of Mormon on here)