The topic that I was given was personal conversion and then last week Brother Nelson and Brother Strommer let me know that because of Easter it was open for what to talk about. After pondering about the topic I decided that personal conversion had everything to do with Easter.
I did a search on lds.org and found several talks to use. The two that impressed me the most are: Eder Bender’s talk from October 2012, Converted to the Lord and Bonnie L. Oscarson’s talk from October 2013, Be Ye Converted.
In Elder Bender’s talk he speaks of the dual relationship of testimony and conversion and how they are related to each other. He said, “Conversion is an enlarging, a deepening, and a broadening of the undergirding base of testimony. It is the result of revelation from God, accompanied by individual repentance, obedience, and diligence. Any honest seeker of truth can become converted by experiencing the mighty change of heart and being spiritually born of God . . . Conversion is an offering of self, of love, and of loyalty we give to God in gratitude for the gift of testimony.”
“Testimony alone is not and will not be enough to protect us in the latter-day storm of darkness and evil in which we are living. Testimony is important and necessary but not sufficient to provide the spiritual strength and protection we need. Some members of the Church with testimonies have wavered and fallen away. Their spiritual knowledge and commitment did not measure up to the challenges they faced.”
I have seen this in my own life as friends and loved ones have fallen away, despite the fact that they had what I thought was a rock solid testimony. I often wonder if I am truly converted to the Lord. I have a very strong testimony of the gospel, but sometimes, sadly, I have to admit that I could do better, be better. That I could work to be more converted to the Lord.
The positive side of this self reflection is the knowledge conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ is a consistent process. It isn’t a check list or destination, but instead it’s a journey. This can be very difficult for me because I live a a very destination oriented life. I love checking things off my to do list and the sense of accomplishment at having arrived somewhere. So this process of constantly working to be converted is a challenge.
Elder Bednar shared an insight about the parable of the ten virgins as related to conversion that helps me understand conversion better. He spoke about how the lamps the ten virgins held were the lamps of testimony. Something that we all can have, but difference between the wise and foolish virgins was the oil. What Elder Bednar referred to as the oil of conversion.
He said: “Were the five wise virgins selfish and unwilling to share, or were they indicating correctly that the oil of conversion cannot be borrowed? Can the spiritual strength that results from consistent obedience to the commandments be given to another person? Can the knowledge obtained through diligent study and pondering of the scriptures be conveyed to one who is in need? Can the peace the gospel brings to a faithful Latter-day Saint be transferred to an individual experiencing adversity or great challenge? The clear answer to each of these questions is no.
“As the wise virgins emphasized properly, each of us must “buy for ourselves.” These inspired women were not describing a business transaction; rather, they were emphasizing our individual responsibility to keep our lamp of testimony burning and to obtain an ample supply of the oil of conversion. This precious oil is acquired one drop at a time—“line upon line [and] precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30), patiently and persistently. No shortcut is available; no last-minute flurry of preparation is possible.”
“For many of us, conversion is an ongoing process and not a onetime event that results from a powerful or dramatic experience. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. Conversion unto the Lord requires both persistence and patience.”
What a wonderful and frustrating revelation. Wonderful because we can understand that the goal of conversion is attainable, even to the weakest and slowest because we can gain it little by little. And it is frustrating because it is a process that we have to constantly work at. It isn’t a destination or something to check off, but hard work.
In his talk Elder Bednar discusses the steps we can take to become converted. He gives us a patter identified by Samuel the Laminate in Helaman 15:7-8. It’s a pattern that we are very familiar with because we are taught it over and over in the scriptures. Faith, repentance, baptism, and endure to the end. These steps are the way to conversion, but we also have to remember what we are being converted to.
Elder Bednar continues: “Note that the Lamanites were not converted to the missionaries who taught them or to the excellent programs of the Church. They were not converted to the personalities of their leaders or to preserving a cultural heritage or the traditions of their fathers. They were converted unto the Lord—to Him as the Savior and to His divinity and doctrine—and they never did fall away.”
In Sister Oscarson’s talk she says: “True conversion is more than merely having a knowledge of gospel principles and implies even more than just having a testimony of those principles. It is possible to have a testimony of the gospel without living it. Being truly converted means we are acting upon what we believe and allowing it to create “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts” . . . You become converted as a result of … righteous efforts to follow the Savior.” It takes time, effort, and work . . . True conversion occurs as you continue to act upon the doctrines you know are true and keep the commandments, day after day, month after month.”
It takes work. “It is well to remember that no matter how inspired your parents and youth leaders may be, “you have [the] primary responsibility for your own conversion. No one can be converted for you, and no one can force you to be converted.” Conversion takes place as we are diligent about saying our prayers, studying our scriptures, attending church, and being worthy to participate in temple ordinances. Conversion comes as we act upon the righteous principles we learn in our homes and in the classroom. Conversion comes as we live pure and virtuous lives and enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Conversion comes as we understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ, acknowledge Him as our Savior and Redeemer, and allow the Atonement to take effect in our lives.”
And this is what struck me so deeply as I read through these talks. We need to be converted to the Savior Jesus Christ and his gospel. Conversion to anything else will not bring us salvation. This is what Easter is all about. Our Savior atoned for all of us, but if we do not take the time or effort to understand the Atonement and become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are missing the whole point of being members of the church.
It was at this point that I realized what the point Lord wanted to make with me. Perhaps my lack of understanding of the Atonement and how it can work in my life is keeping me from being truly converted to the Lord.
As I pondered this thought I remembered a story I had read many years ago in college. I’m sure many of you have heard the story at some point, but I felt impressed to read it today.
Pushups for Donuts
There was a boy by the name of Steve who was attending Seminary. In this seminary classes are held during school hours. Brother Christianson taught Seminary at this particular school. He had an open-door policy and would take in any student that had been thrown out of another class as long as they would abide by his rules. Steve had been kicked out of his sixth period and no other teacher wanted him, so he went into Brother Christianson’s Seminary class.
Steve was told that he could not be late, so he arrived just seconds before the bell rang and he would sit in the very back of the room. He would also be the first to leave after the class was over. One day, Brother Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him.
After class, Bro. Christianson pulled Steve aside and said, “You think you’re pretty tough, don’t you?” Steve’s answer was, “Yeah, I do.”
Then Brother Christianson asked, “How many push-ups can you do?” Steve said, “I do about 200 every night.” “200? That’s pretty good, Steve,” Brother Christianson said. “Do you think you could do 300?”
Steve replied, “I don’t know… I’ve never done 300 at a time.” “Do you think you could?” Again asked Brother Christianson. “Well, I can try,” said Steve.
“Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I need you to do 300 in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it,” Brother Christianson said.
Steve said, “Well… I think I can… yeah, I can do it.” Brother Christianson said, “Good! I need you to do this on Friday.”
Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, Brother Christianson pulled out a big box of donuts. Now these weren’t the normal kinds of donuts, they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited – it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend.
Bro. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want a donut?” Cynthia said, “Yes.”
Bro. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?” Steve said, “Sure,” and jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk. Bro. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.
Bro. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe do you want a donut?” Joe said, “Yes.” Bro. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut.
And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut. And down the second aisle, till Bro. Christianson came to Scott. Scott was captain of the football team and center of the basketball team. He was very popular. When Bro. Christianson asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was, “Well, can I do my own pushups?” Bro. Christianson said, “No, Steve has to do them.” Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
Bro. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” Steve started to do ten pushups. Scott said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!” Bro. Christianson said, “Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.
Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow. Bro. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry.
Bro. Christianson asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?” Jenny said, “No.” Then Bro. Christianson asked Steve, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten, Jenny got a donut.
By now, the students were beginning to say “No” and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve was also having to really put forth a lot of effort to get these pushups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved.
Bro. Christianson asked Robert to watch Steve to make sure he did ten pushups in a set because he couldn’t bear to watch all of Steve’s work for all of those uneaten donuts. So Robert began to watch Steve closely. Bro. Christianson started down the fourth row.
During his class, however, some students had wandered in and sat along the heaters along the sides of the room. When Bro. Christianson realized this; he did a quick count and saw 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.
Bro. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set.
A few moments later, Jason came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, “No, let him come.” Bro. Christianson said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him.” Steve said, “Yes, let him come in.” Bro. Christianson said, “Okay, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?” “Yes.” “Steve, will you do ten pushups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort.
Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down. Bro. Christianson finished the fourth row, then started on those seated on the heaters. Steve’s arms were now shaking with each pushup in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. Sweat was dropping off of his face and, by this time, there was not a dry eye in the room. The very last two girls in the room were cheerleaders and very popular. Bro. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, “Linda, do you want a doughnut? Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.” Bro. Christianson asked Steve, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?”
Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda. Then Bro. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. “Susan, do you want a donut?” Susan, with tears flowing down her face, asked, “Bro. Christianson , can I help him?”
Bro. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, “No, he has to do it alone, Steve, would you do ten pushups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
Brother Christianson turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, plead to the Father, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, he collapsed on the cross and died. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”
Do we take for granted the Atonement in our lives? Do we really understand the gift that has been given to us? I think if I understood the Atonement even a fraction better than I do now, I would be striving even harder to do all the things I need to do to be converted to the Lord and His gospel. I would be adding the oil of conversion every day to my lamp in all the ways possible.
Easter is a wonderful time of the year to remember our Savior’s Atonement for us, but we should be striving to think of his sacrifice and gift all year long. I have a testimony that my Savior lives, that he suffered in Gethsemane and died on the cross for me so that I can repent and return to him and our Heavenly Father. I know that when we strive to live the gospel to the best of our ability that we add oil to our lamps and climb higher on the path of conversion. Conversion is a journey and the destination is eternal life with our Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ. I am grateful for that knowledge and the knowledge that no matter where I’m at in this journey I can work at being converted. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.