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Wind hit me and rain pelted down on my frozen skin like a pellet.  Shivering and shaking like a leaf on a tree, I looked up and watched as all of the
people in my heat of the race continued on without me.  My dream of finishing a triathlon seemed to diminish with every gust of wind and drop of rain.  Minutes before, I had made the decision to swim to the side of the shore.  The three foot waves may as well been a tsunami because with every breath I tried to breathe, I swallowed in more water.  As I sat shaking on the rock I pondered 3 questions:

Who am I to think I could finish a triathlon, especially under these circumstances?

I could easily just climb up from the rock and walk back over to my car.  Why am I still sitting here, and why am I even here in the first place?

Finally, questions such as where am I even going and why is it important to me?  Lingered in my mind.

Six months prior to the race, I was a recent college graduate working a part-time job.  I had an extra 20 hours per week on my hands and had started reading about triathlons.  The event seemed like such a monstrous challenge, especially since I had never had swimming lessons and was a very poor swimmer.  Furthermore, I hadn’t really pushed myself to the limits necessary to physically and mentally endure such a race.  The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it, so I set forth a game plan.

First, I purchased “The Triathletes Training Bible” and studied it religiously.  I learned how to track my work-outs and eating.  Part of this included getting rid of foods that were bad for me and wouldn’t give me proper energy like fatty and sugary foods.  I cleared my house of bad foods and started keeping close watch over what I ate.  I learned from expert athletes about how to mentally and physically prepare for the race.  I put up charts to track my progress and stay focused and every day as I read, I would focus on my vision during each stage of the race.  I could see myself confidently swimming gracefully through the water, churning 20 mph on the bike and running like the wind.  Over time, I gained complete confidence that I could not only finish, but do well in the race.

Next, I assessed my weaknesses.  I noticed an obvious flaw in my swimming and cycling abilities.  I had participated in running races previously, and saw some slight areas of improvement there as well.  After analyzing my weaknesses, I decided that I needed more hands-on guidance in swimming and cycling.  I turned to two experts in each area: a girl in my church who was on the BYU swim team, and my roommate, who was on the BYU cycling team.  As I approached them asking for help, they graciously obliged to coach me.

A few times each week, I would meet with my coaches and they would help me with technique and encourage me.  Over time, I became much more efficient in both swimming and cycling.  For example, when I first started swimming, I couldn’t even go for ½ a lap.  By the end, I was swimming laps for 45 minutes without stopping.

Finally, I turned to other experts such as people at the pro-shops who were seasoned racers.  I would ask them questions about the proper equipment, techniques, and strategies.  I learned about how to properly eat before, during and after the race, what swimming, biking, and running gear are essential, and how to mentally prepare.  One word of wisdom that I wished I would have heeded was that I should purchase a wetsuit for the race.  The athlete who told me this strategy said it was helpful for a number of reasons: first, to provide buoyancy, and second to keep me warm in case of inclement weather.

As I sat shivering on the rock with my swim goggles pulled up over my head, watching as countless athletes swam past me with their wetsuits, I realized that I had made a serious mistake.  However, I thought about all of the time and effort I had put into preparing as well as the time and effort my coaches had put into me.  They believed in me, and I also believed in myself.  I also envisioned how dejected I would feel by quitting without reaching my goal of finishing the race.

I realized that over the course of 6 months of training, I had become an athlete as well.  I was in the best shape of my life and I was there to prove to myself and others that I could overcome a challenge and meet a goal I had set for myself.

A picture came to my mind that I had seen nearly every day for 6 months as I had trained.  It was a picture of a strong athlete finishing the race with hands held high in triumph.  As my mind caught hold of the vision of finishing the race, I pulled my goggles back down over my eyes and jumped back into the frigid water.  I didn’t want to let myself down.

When I stumbled out of the water, I had only one focus and that was to get to my bike.  However, I was very, very cold and shivering almost uncontrollably.  My friend, who was waiting for me instantly ran over to me and helped warm me up, gave me some food for energy, and helped me get my shoes on and onto my bike.  He gave me some words of encouragement and a big pat on the back as I started to ride.

I was so far behind that the next heat of racers was already getting onto their bikes.  I was the very last one in my heat.  Competition started to kick in and I pedaled as fast as I could.  Within a few minutes, the blood was circulating and I was thinking clearly.  I could clearly picture in my mind me running across the finish line.  However, that event was another hour or so down the road.  I realized that I needed to focus on a shorter goal.  What I chose was targeting the racer right in front of me and trying to catch up and pass him.  This strategy worked because I ended up gaining ground and finishing about in the middle of the pack once I ran across the finish line.

The Race of Life

When the huge and cold waves of the lake washed over me and I was overcome in the triathlon, I took time to swim over to a rock and re-focus on who I was and why I wanted to finish.

President Monson has said:

In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?… when sickness enters the house of good health, when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Our thoughts become focused, and we are easily able to determine what is really important and what is merely trivial…In our times of deepest reflection or greatest need, the soul of man reaches heavenward, seeking a divine response to life’s greatest questions…

One of the main purposes for our life, if not the main purpose in life is to develop charity, or Christ-like love for ourselves and each other.  In the Book of Mormon Moroni wrote:

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

Clearly developing the gift of love is one of the greatest purposes we have in this life.

Whatever our situation in life is, if we pause to pray and reflect on how we can love more deeply, we will be blessed with a closer relationship with God and our fellow men.  Like a triathlon, it takes patience and preparation and daily focus.  As we read our scriptures, pray, and surround ourselves with things that will bring us closer to God, it is important to realize that we can not endure the journey to the end without the help of Jesus.

Because Jesus Finished, We Can Finish

One thing to keep in mind as we do everything we can to develop the gift of Charity and endure to the end of our “race” is that were it not for Jesus there wouldn’t even be a race for us to run.  If Jesus hadn’t already won the race by suffering for our sins and dying on the cross, we would be hopeless and unable to obtain eternal life.

Not only has Jesus provided us hope through the Atonement, but He is also there to help us in our daily walk with God.  We need to realize that, like me stumbling out of the water, weak and exhausted and needing help to be lifted up onto my bike, we cannot move forward and be lifted up without Jesus.  Daily, we need to call on him and He will provide us with the strength we need to continue on.

Whatever trial we are facing, I hope we can find the energy to reach within ourselves and get back into the race by calling out to our Father in Heaven for help.  I know that if we do this, God will provide us support and strength to continue on and it is my hope that if we do this, we will eventually enter into His presence.

Recently, a Sunday School lesson in our Mormon Church was on a Book of Mormon prophet named Enos.  His account is very short in the Book of Mormon, but it is a very important chapter in the Book.

In short, he describes a long prayer and process he goes through to receive forgiveness from his sins through Jesus Christ.  His description could be described as what is commonly known in Christian circles as a “born again” experience because he prays and confesses Jesus as his Savior and asks Him to take away his sins.  He then is filled with the Holy Spirit and prays for his fellow friends and his enemies alike.

As I reflected on Enos’ experience, it reminded me of my own.

When I was in my early teenage years, I had been already living a pretty devious life and was full of hatred and anger.  Through the grace of God I picked up a Book of Mormon and read it within a few weeks.  At the end of the Book of Mormon, I had a very big desire to pray and know if the concepts in the Book were true.  The concepts in the book include the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes: faith, repentance, baptism, committing our lives to the Lord, and receiving the Holy Spirit.

According to a modern Mormon prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, for every one person who has a “born again experience” such as Enos, there are thousands of people who do not have a huge manifestation of the Holy Spirit all at once.  Rather, it comes gradually as we keep the commandments of God.

I feel fortunate to have had an experience like that of Enos.  Immediately after I prayed, I felt a warmth come all over me and a love and desire to share the Good News with my fellow man.  From the age of 13 (when I had this experience) I had the desire to go on a mission and tell the world about the gospel.  My mission was everything I dreamed it would be.  Although I was in a country (Germany) whose people didn’t accept the gospel with open arms, I still grew to love the Lord and the German people.  If I hadn’t had this born again experience as a younger man, I’m not sure that I would have been able to be so motivated to go on a mission, and the experience is something I reflect on almost daily that sustains my faith now.

I would be curious to see how many people out there have had a “born again” experience.  If you have, please share.  If not, please share how you have experienced receiving the Spirit and a testimony of Jesus.

On Sundays we try and focus more on the Savior than we normally would during the week.  By this I don’t mean that we forget about God during the week and then do a turn-around on the Sabbath, but we try and make Sundays a little more focused on Jesus and His gospel.

One example is that we try not to watch movies or TV shows that aren’t centered around the Savior or the Gospel.

Our little girl, who is 3 1/2 years old, loves her Disney cartoons, but on Sunday we typically have her watch cartoons about Jesus.

Recently, we watched a cartoon about Jesus titled “Jesus the Son of God” that has the story of him as a young boy going to the temple and being left behind by his family.  It shows how his parents, Mary and Joseph searched all through the city and one of the last places they look was in the temple, where they find Jesus teaching the Jewish priests about fulfilling the Law of Moses.

As I watched the cartoon about Jesus, I thought about my own life and how many times I look for answers in many other places before going straight to a place (such as the scriptures, prayer, church, temple, etc) where I know I can find my answers from God.  Generally, when I do this, I receive answers in the form of peace and guidance.

I also thought of how many people are out there struggling to find peace and light in their lives and they search in all the wrong places.  It is my hope and prayer that I can be an instrument in God’s hand to help some people find Him.  It is also my hope and prayer that all of you can do the same.  I believe that as we do this together, many people will be blessed and find God.

P.S. for those of you with small children, or if you just like cartoons about Jesus, here’s a link to the video:

Last week’s article was about how to develop Charity (which we identified is the pure love of Christ) in one’s life.  This week, I thought it would be appropriate to share how you can measure the extent that you have Christ’s love in your heart.  These suggestions were given by members of our Stake Presidency on how to measure if one has pure love, or charity in their heart:

1. You feel a sincere desire to help others

2. Praying daily for charity

3. Looking for opportunities to serve, first within your own home and then with your neighbors

4. Being kind and patient in word and deed (even when it is hard)

5. Thinking about others’ needs

He had about 4-5 more that he discussed, but he talked so fast I couldn’t write them all down!

Some additional ideas I considered afterwards include:

1. Willingness to forgive

2. Not judging others

What other ways would you suggest as a good way to measure if on has the pure love of Jesus?

Excommunication is defined by the LDS church as “A disciplinary process used only in extreme situations. This includes removal of an individual’s name from the records of the Church“. 

From my experience (which isn’t that extensive) with excommunication, one is removed for serious, repeated sexual sins or by having a very rebellious attitude towards the Church of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the years, I’ve often heard LDS members of the church say that the worst thing you can do is be excommunicated because the gift of the Holy Spirit is removed from you and you’re left to your own devices.

I believe that that statment is a falsehood designed by Satan to put despair into the hearts of those who are excommunicated.

I’ll share a story with you as to why I believe it is false that the Lord removes his Spirit from those who are excommunicated.

We were alone in a room in a church building.  The young man in front of me had just been excommunicated from the church and was sobbing in front of me.  I was the Elders Quorum President (mens group leader) at the time and I didn’t have answers for him that seemed to help.  He asked questions such as: Why did I choose to do the things I did?  How can I gain membership back into the church?  Did God abandon me?  Will I have the Holy Spirit and strength to re-commit myself to the Savior and His gospel?

As he cried and shared his feelings with me, I prayed silently “God help me help him feel your love and give him answers”.  Suddenly I remembered something I had done numerous times on my mission with investigators of the gospel.

I looked at him and told him I didn’t have the answers to his questions, or the ability to heal his heart and offer forgiveness and healing for his sins, but Jesus did. 

We dropped to our knees and I offered the first prayer.  I opened my heart to God thanking Him for the blessing of the gospel and for the Atonement of Jesus.  I asked Him for guidance and direction for this young man and that He would pour His love into the young man’s heart.

Next, the young man prayed.  I have seldom heart a more honest and sincere prayer as I did that day.  As the young man prayed, the Holy Spirit came into both of our hearts and we both knew the young man was forgiven.  We both knew the compassion and mercy God has for us when we are humble and come to Him offering our hearts to Him.

We both cried and were both strengthened in our relationship with the Lord.

One year later, I was able to witness and assist this young man as he was re-baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ.

If this young man had believed the lie that the Spirit couldn’t be with him after he was excommunicated, he would have lost complete faith in God and never experienced the love of Jesus in such an amazing way.  He would have let go and never come back. 

For those of you who know someone who has been excommunicated I encourage you to reach out to them as Jesus would and show an increase in love.  Don’t judge them or look down on them or think they are not capable of feeling the Lord’s Spirit.  If you do judge them, you’re commiting a sin and have need of repentance!

For those who may be excommunicated, I know that God loves you and that you can still feel the Lord’s love and He will increase his love and spiritual protection for you as you open your heart in prayer, read his Holy Word, and remain humble.

I recently read the book “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo.  It is a story of his son, who died as a young boy and went to Heaven then returned and shared his experiences with his family.  One of the questions that was commonly asked for a few years was if he saw Jesus and what Jesus looked like.  For a long while the young boy saw many paintings and depictions of Jesus but said they were not accurate.  That is until he saw the painting by Akaine Kramarik, a young child who had visions of Jesus as well.  The picture is below:

This picture of Jesus was one I had never seen before.  According to this picture, it looks like Jesus has trimmed his hair and is caught up with the modern-day look! 

Compare that picture with the picture below:

This picture is one of the most famous LDS paintings out there, by Del Parsons.  According to Mormon folklore, a prophet told him this was the most accurate depiction of Jesus and was therefore approved for world-wide distribution.

However, there is another Jesus painting by Heinrich Hoffman that, according to this blogger, is the current LDS prophet, Thomas S Monson’s favorite picture of Jesus as shown below:

I’ve never seen Jesus or had a vision of Jesus, so I really can’t judge which one is more accurate than the other.  I’m sure Jesus could really make himself look however he wanted himself to look, really.  I guess sooner or later all of us will find out though!

Just for fun, I’ll add a little poll.  Which Jesus do you think is the most accurate?

In one of my most recent posts, there was mention of Glenn Beck and how he has helped bridge the gap between Christians and Mormons.  Just days after I wrote that post, an evangelical member of my family contacted me about something Beck had shown the other day on end times from both a Christian and Muslim perspective.  Her exact words were “God sure is using Glenn Beck to wake up the American people”.  I decided to check out what she was referring to.

In this particular broadcast, Beck lays out end times from a Christian perspective and a Muslim perspective.  He basically points out that the individual Christians refer to as the Anti-Christ is praised by the Muslims as a prophet.  The mark of the beast Christians are warned to stay away from, is something that is welcomed by the Muslims and receiving the mark is an honor. 

To me, this is interesting but didn’t see a reason to get frantic or distressed over anything.   My perspective is that if I live my life in line with the gospel I shouldn’t worry.

It seems to me that most evangelical Christians are very well-versed in end-times prophesies and dedicate ministries to end times.  I was referred to the Olive Tree Ministries by my family member as well as Understanding the Times.  Both of these sites dedicate everything to current events and things happening that prove the end is near. 

I found it interesting that within myself I do not feel a strong sense of urgency or distress.  I wondered if that was me just being careless or if that is how it should be so I decided to look into what LDS prophets have said about the end times.  I found a great video entitled “Be not Troubled”  that is part of the lesson material from the Doctrine and Covenants manual entitled “Looking Forth for the Great Day of the Lord to Come“.  I found comfort in the scriptures and the video knowing that if I’m prepared I have no need to worry.

What are your thoughts?  Should we worry about the Anti-Christ and the end of the world?  What is your take on preparing for the Second Coming?

As we were getting ready to celebrate the new year this evening, my wife showed me a story from her cousin’s roomate that touched me and I thought it was appropriate to share.  It is a story of a young couple who chose to get married despite the fact the young bride is struggling with stage 4 cancer.  I found it amazing how they have chosen to pull closer together and towards God as they fight this battle together.  May we all set the goal to do the same this year.

Here is an interview with the couple on Mormon Times:

http://www.mormontimes.com/tv/segment/17853/Episode-3-A-lesson-in-hope-and-happiness

I wish you all the best this New Year.  Thank you for your great energy and contribution to this site.  Your testimonies have helped many people this year.  I look forward to the coming year.

God bless!

While traveling down to Portland for a business trip yesterday, I came across a good Christian radio station called Casting Crowns Radio.  The topic of discussion was ways to bring Christ back into Christmas and the traditions people and churches have in making sure Christ is the center of Christmas.

Last night was our churches Christmas party and the words of the pastor and the people who called in were fresh on my mind.  Therefore, I was particurlarly wary of if the party would center around Jesus or not.  I’m sorry to say that while the party was fun and a good social event and Santa Claus came and the food was good, etc., Jesus was an afterthought.  The only reference to Christ was one verse of Silent Night at the end of the party.

I thought about my own life and asked myself in all the hustle and bustle around Christmas time, what am I doing to ensure it is centered around Jesus and the purpose of Christmas? 

I like the idea of having a set tradition.  As the oldest of 8 children, while growing up we would usually re-enact the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth on Christmas eve.  One of the younger kids would be the baby and others would be shepherds and we would re-enact the story of Christmas to a recorded version of my dear Grandma Anderson’s reading from the Bible.  It brought the focus of Christmas on Jesus and as we did this it also strengthened our family.

My wife’s family has a fun tradition of getting together Christmas eve and having a talent show.  People will play Christmas songs on the guitar, piano, or share a little treat or do a Christmas reading.

I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions of what you do to bring Jesus into the Christmas season.  Feel free to share what you do or what you’ve seen others do.

Merry Christmas!

Author’s note on January 1, 2011:

I just came across a great article on the LDS church website that shares Christtmas traditions of the LDS leaders.  View it on this link: http://lds.org/liahona/2010/12/christmas-traditions-of-the-seventy?lang=eng

Over a year ago, I wrote a post called “Why do People Leave the LDS Church?”  It has since become one of my most frequented posts and recently received a comment from a sincere seeker of Jesus who has just left the LDS church.  She has started a blog called Musings on Mormonism that shows her sincerety as a seeker of Jesus and her story of being a Mormon and chosing to leave the LDS church, yet devoting herself to following Jesus.  I respect her choice and also commend her for following her heart and pray that she brings people closer to Jesus.

Her experience was very similar to the experience the experience of Shawn McCraney’s.  Recently I read his book called “I was a Born Again Mormon.”  In this book, he describes his experience as an LDS elder and missionary and also is conversion to Christianity and leaving the LDS church.  I didn’t agree with a lot of what he wrote, but one thing I did agree with was that it is important to be born again.  His definition of what a born again Mormon is and mine are drastically different, but I do agree with him in the fact that we as Mormons (and everyone for that matter) need to be born again.

I feel that it is unfortunate that many of our fellow Christians feel that we are not truly born again and believers in Jesus.  No one is perfect, but if we are not doing things out of the love we have for Jesus, then we need to repent and become truly born again. 

In John, chapter 3,  Jesus tells Nicodemus one must be born again to see the kingdom of God.  In the Book of Mormon in Alma, chapter 7 it states we need to be born again through repentance and baptism as well.  There are many other scriptures in the Book of Mormon and Bible for those who want to study being born again.  Clearly it is something necessary and something that we as LDS should be talking about and thinking about.

In 2007, Elder Bednar, one of the Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ, gave a great sermon called “Ye Must be Born Again.”  In this sermon, he discusses the importance in being born again and accepting Jesus:

We are instructed to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness” (Moroni 10:32), to become “new creature[s]” in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), to put off “the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19), and to experience “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Please note that the conversion described in these verses is mighty, not minor—a spiritual rebirth and fundamental change of what we feel and desire, what we think and do, and what we are. Indeed, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through our reliance upon “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). As we choose to follow the Master, we choose to be changed—to be spiritually reborn.

I would like to share with you when I experienced a “mighty change in heart” and was born again as a new creature in Jesus.

During a proselyting mission in Frankfurt, Germany I had had many discussions with non-believers and people who challenged my faith of if there was a God and if Jesus was real.  I struggled with my faith for awhile and questioned if there was a God and if Jesus was really the Savior.

During this time, I would sometimes feel angry with myself for feeling this way and viewed myself as a hypocrite.  I concluded that if I really wanted to know Jesus I would need to immerse myself in His word and pray, which is exactly what I did.  In order to know Jesus, I decided I would read the book Jesus the Christ, by James Talmage along with the New Testament.  I studied and prayed for over 8 months and learned a lot, but never did receive a “born again” experience.  I actually wasn’t really looking for a sign and had the faith that God would reveal truth to me in His own time and way.

One morning, it happened.  As I was praying, I felt completely overcome with a love and joy for Jesus that I had never felt before.  Words to a poem, which I may share at some later point entitled “I’m With You ’til the End” came to mind and I dictated as the Spirit of God spoke to me through my writing.  As I watched the words fall onto the paper describing who Jesus is and what His mission in life was and how He’s always there to help me, I felt my heart change and my love and desire to share the good news of the gospel overcome me.  I wept in gratitude as God had answered my prayers.

That experience was more than 12 years ago now, but it is etched into my heart.  I’ve made many mistakes since then, but I am a drastically different person since becoming a new creature in Jesus than I was before.  I know that I have the opportunity to daily give my heart to Jesus and that He’ll lead me in all I do.  As I try daily to give my heart to Jesus then I notice that I gradually become more like Him in my desires to serve others and to love as He did.  Life, relationships, and everything becomes more meaningful. 

Those of us who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ should always remember that in all we do nothing matters unless we do it unto the Lord.  Our fellow Christian brothers and sisters should never feel that we as Mormons are not born again and new creatures in Jesus, for without Him, nothing else matters.

If you are a Mormon, how would you describe your “born again” experience?

Also, if you are a fellow non-LDS Christian, feel free to share your born again experience as well.

For more good posts on Mormons being born again visit:

Begging for a Remission of Sins

LDS Alive in Christ (this one is a beautifully written testimony by the author of the site of how he became born again.  Highly Recommended)

Cleanse your Soul with Grace for Grace “Spiritual SOAP”

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