The Power of the Word

POSTED BY: Devan Jensen

01/21/15


Charles Swift

Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU

heart-ripple

Several years ago, I developed an Honors Program course that I titled “The Book of Mormon as Sacred Literature.” I valued and enjoyed teaching students in that course for many reasons, but certainly one of them was the reward I felt in helping them to discover the importance of seeing the literary qualities of that book in particular, and of the scriptures in general.

Many students came to the Book of Mormon without considering that it had any literary qualities at all, let alone enough to spend an entire semester discussing. Others, however, might admit that there was a literary quality to the book but that such a thing was far down the list of what was important. They could see stories in the book, naturally, and some even found poetry, but the literary aspects of the Book of Mormon were of little concern. If there were any literary components to the book to speak of, they were at best the icing on the cake.

Because I’m the one who created the course, it’s no surprise that I viewed the role of the literary elements of the book quite differently. I would explain to my students that, while there may be moments when the literary parts of speech could be viewed as mere icing, there were many more in which they proved to be intricately tied to the meaning and purpose of the text. I didn’t claim that every page of the book was literary in nature, but there were enough of those pages to make seeing the literary aspects of the book a most worthwhile exercise. In fact, such literary forces in the book could not be removed from the book without doing serious damage to its meaning and its ability to convey that meaning.

One class day each semester I would invite my students to have a particular experience with the text in order to understand the importance of literature in the Book of Mormon. We’d read this verse in class:

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them. (Alma 5:7)

After we read it together, I then assigned them to rewrite that verse, being careful to convey the same meaning while also stripping of it any literary language. I’d give them several minutes to write their version on a piece of paper, and then I’d collect them and read several of them to the class. The class would quickly discover three important facts.

First, almost no one succeeded in not using any literary language. Often the student writer would not recognize that a phrase was indeed metaphorical (e.g., “changed their hearts”). Sometimes the student would replace what he or she saw as a literary word with a different word—but one that was equally literary in nature. They found it extremely difficult to write without using literary devices.

Second, the students realized that what they wrote was not nearly as beautiful or powerful or memorable as the original. I could have given them a week to rewrite that one verse, but they could never have matched it if they had to avoid allowing any literariness to seep in. (Of course, there was the other realization: writing scripture without the mantle of a prophet resulted in little worth cherishing compared to actual scripture.)

Third, and arguably most important for my purposes on that class day, the students came to understand that the literary quality of that verse helped to convey meaning that could not be conveyed without such language. The various metaphors and symbols were helping the students understand doctrine and spiritual truths that could not be accessed through non-literary language. In other words, sometimes the literary devices were an essential ingredient of the cake.

I am the first to admit that the scriptures stand apart from all other writing in their power and importance. They are sacred, holy words unlike any other texts. However, they are not completely unlike other writings of great literature. Understanding their literary nature can help us readers more fully recognize and appreciate the power the scriptures possess as inspired writings.



Stanley A. Johnson

Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU

Nearly twenty years ago Gerald N. Lund, one of our zone administrators, taught us about the importance of background and contextual information when teaching the scriptures. We should know for example, that the word Exodus means “going out,” which helps us to understand the history of Moses and the Israelites leaving Egypt for the promised land. Then he stated that this information is “wonderful but not sufficient.” We then must draw out principles in the story that will help us to understand why this event is important. In Alma 36:2, Alma exhorts his son, Helaman, to remember the captivity and bondage of their fathers, and how Moses and the Israelites were delivered from their captivity. Understanding the background and story line helps us to understand that the Lord will also help His people today to be delivered from bondage and captivity as we put our trust in him. These principles are wonderful to understand but, this is not sufficient in our scriptural search.

dead-see-crossing

The final level of scriptural understanding, according to Brother Lund, was application. Using this Exodus model as an example (which some scholars call the Exodus Pattern), let us make some applications, which Nephi would call likening the scriptures unto us (see 1 Nephi 19:23). The following chart may be helpful in visualizing this pattern. We could diagram the 420-year period of captivity as follows, using three key words from Alma 36:2:

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 8.28.53 AM

In other words, the Israelites were in captivity in Egypt, in bondage to Pharaoh, and Jehovah delivered them. Now for the application:

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 8.49.08 AM

In other words, we are in captivity to sin, in bondage to Satan and we can be delivered through the Atonement of Jesus Christ—to carry this Exodus Pattern further, let’s look at the following:

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 8.50.41 AM

In other words, God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians by parting the water (baptism) and sending a pillar of fire (Holy Ghost). He also fed them with manna (he’s the Bread of Life) and the Rock that brought forth water (he is the Living Water—both could remind us of the sacrament!), and then Joshua took the Israelites across the River Jordan into the promised land. Of course, the name Joshua is the Hebrew equivalent to the name Jesus in Greek. It really is Jesus Christ that takes us into the promised land, or enables us to gain eternal life. We are helped along the way through the ordinances of baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, and we are reminded of those sacred covenants by partaking of the sacramental bread and water. We really do come to understand the full impact of these stories and others found in the scriptures as they are taught in the historical context from which they evolve. Knowing the background helps us to understand the principles more clearly, and then their application can come alive, and we see more within these teachings than we could have otherwise.


The World Is Changed

POSTED BY: admin

12/11/14


Charles Swift

Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU

As I’ve reflected on what I’d like to write for my post this month of Christmas, I keep coming back to the words of one of my favorite writers, Leslie Norris. Leslie was from Wales and an accomplished teacher and poet. It was BYU’s great fortune to have him come and teach among us for a number of years. Though he was not LDS, he seemed to feel at home here and those of us who knew him certainly felt our home a better place because of him. I did not know Leslie well; I’d only spoken with him a few times. One time stands out, though, when he took the time to speak with me at length about his childhood as we talked in the hall in the English Department. Such a kind man, one who always seemed to have time for you. When he passed away in 2006, what was our great loss at the university was without a doubt Heaven’s gain.

postcard_leslie_norris

Leslie Norris of BYU’s English Department

May the Lord’s choicest blessings be with you at this Christmas time and always. And may this poem by Leslie Norris remind us of the true cause of our celebration this time of year.

Camels of the Kings

The Camels, the Kings’ Camels, Haie-aie!

Saddles of polished leather, stained red and purple,

Pommels inlaid with ivory and beaten gold,

Bridles of silk embroidery, worked with flowers.

The Camels, the Kings’ Camels!

 

We are groomed with silver combs,

We are washed with perfumes.

The grain of richest Africa is fed to us,

Our dishes are silver.

Like cloth-of-gold glisten our sleek pelts.

Of all camels, we alone carry the Kings!

Do you wonder that we are proud?

That our hooded eyes are contemptuous?

 

As we sail past the tented villages

They beat their copper gongs after us.

The windswifts, the desert racers, see them!

Faster than gazelles, faster than hounds,

Haie-aie! The Camels, the Kings’ Camels!

The sand drifts in puffs behind us,

The glinting quartz, the fine, hard grit.

Do you wonder that we look down our noses?

Do you wonder we flare our superior nostrils?

 

All night we have run under the moon,

Without effort, breathing lightly,

Smooth as a breeze over the desert floor,

One white star our compass.

We have come to no palace, no place

Of towers and minarets and the calling of servants,

But a poor stable in a poor town.

So why are we bending our crested necks?

Why are our heads bowed

And our eyes closed meekly?

Why are we outside this hovel,

Humbly and awkwardly kneeling?

How is it that we know the world is changed?

 

—Leslie Norris

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Alexander L. Baugh

Professor of Church History and Doctrine, BYU

I was a late bloomer when it came to my pursuit of the study of history, and more particularly Mormon history. History was one of my least favorite classes in high school. It might have had something to do with my teachers, but nonetheless, I didn’t have much of an appetite for the subject at the time. However, while serving on my LDS mission in Virginia I began to feel the nudges that put me on the path toward the historical profession. During my mission I took the opportunity on preparation day to go to some of the historic places in or near Virginia—Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, museums, the White House of the Confederacy, Monticello, and Kitty Hawk, to name a few. I learned a great deal and found myself wanting to know more. However, even after my mission, I was not yet converted to the study of history, although one of the first classes that I took at Utah State University after returning home was a Civil War class taught by Clyde Milner, a Yale graduate. Yet I remained content just to dabble in history from time to time while pursuing a degree in marriage and family studies.

I was well on my way toward completing my BS degree when I took a class at the LDS institute building from Kenneth W. Godfrey, Religion 341 (LDS Church History, 1805–1844). Godfrey had a definite flair for teaching the subject and he was well read. To supplement the class, he provided the students with a bibliography containing a number of historical articles published in BYU Studies, the Ensign, Journal of Mormon History, and the Improvement Era, which students could read before each class period. I soon found myself reading all of the articles he recommended on the reading list, and I even outlined the information that I learned. Godfrey’s class got me more and more excited about history in general, but more particularly early Mormon history. I subsequently enrolled in Religion 342 (LDS Church History, 1844–1877), followed by Religion 343 (LDS Church History, 1877–present). However, by the time I had finished taking these courses, I was well on my way toward completing my marriage and family degree; otherwise I might have switched my undergraduate major to history. Instead, I decided to remain in the field of family studies.

I graduated from Utah State in 1981 and moved on to teach in the LDS seminary program. While teaching at Viewmont Seminary in Bountiful, Utah, I learned that the BYU History Department was beginning an MA program in Western American history and I decided to look into the program. I met with Dr. James B. Allen, the department chair and the former assistant Church historian to Leonard Arrington. Professor Allen was reluctant to let me in the program, considering I was a non-history major had taken only a couple of undergraduate history courses. He informed me that before I could be admitted to the MA program I would be required to take several undergraduate classes, after which I would be evaluated. For the next year and a half, I took a number of courses, all with the hope that my performance would lead to my acceptance into the graduate history program. Things eventually worked out, and I was admitted. However, it was still four more years before I got my MA—two years to do the course work, and two years to write the thesis.

After defending my thesis I asked my thesis chair, Dr. Fred R. Gowans, if he felt that I had what it would take to get a PhD. He gave me some wonderful encouragement, and a year later I was admitted into BYU’s doctoral program in American history. It was a rough road, one much harder than I anticipated, but nine years later, at the age of thirty-nine, I received my doctorate. However, through my entire educational training, I felt that I was being led by a very kind and loving Heavenly Father and his Son, who made it all possible. I firmly believe that those who keep the commandments and strive to follow Christ’s example will receive the inspiration necessary to enable them to make the correct decisions that will help them be successful in the path of life that they pursue. President Ezra Taft Benson has written: “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their mind, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace” (“Jesus Christ–Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign,  December 1988, 4). Recognizing the power that is in Christ, the Apostle Paul taught the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

I believe that Joseph Smith was called by God to bring about a restoration of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so for me, the study of Mormon history has been a deeply moving spiritual experience. Furthermore, I consider the history that I teach, research, and write about to be a sacred trust, and in my pursuit of historical truth I have attempted to interpret the history of Mormonism “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) through what could simply be called “Restoration eyes.” And while I believe that non-believing historians have made wonderful contributions in the field of Mormon history, I am of the opinion that the best scholarship in Mormon history has been, and will continue to be produced by believing Latter-day Saint historians and writers—those on the “inside”—who understand the spiritual dimensions and workings of the Church and its leaders and members who possess the gift of the Holy Ghost, which enables them to tap into the higher source of knowledge and truth, the truth that God possesses.

Some time ago, I was discussing with one of my colleagues in Religious Education about the incredible amount of historical scholarship and literature that has been produced about the Latter-day Saints. To this he said something quite profound. “Yes, much has been done,” he remarked. “And yet, with all that has been done, what has been written is only a prelude. There is so much more to do.” Truly there is “much more to do,” much more to research, much more to write about. And the best in Mormon history is yet to be written. And I believe it will be written by scholars who see through the lens of faith the ever-unfolding history of the Latter-day Saints.


Leaving Our Labors to Teach and Learn

POSTED BY: admin

11/19/14


Charles Swift

 Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU

So much of what we do in the Church is teach, and I believe that wise teachers turn to the scriptures themselves for insight on being a better teacher. One of my favorite verses for this is from Alma. Though the writer is talking about the priests teaching the people, I think we teachers can learn quite a bit from what he has to say:

And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. (Alma 1:26).

As we analyze this verse, we can see what it has to convey to us about teaching and learning.

And when the priests left their labor

When we teachers enter the classroom—whether it’s in Sunday School, Primary, Relief Society, priesthood, or some other venue for teaching the gospel—we are to leave behind the cares of the world. I’m not going to let myself be distracted in my class with thoughts about my car needing to be repaired, for example. As a teacher, I need to be focused.

to impart the word of God unto the people,

In a gospel classroom, my task is to teach what I am supposed to teach to the students in my classroom. Sometimes that is explicitly the word of God as found in the holy scriptures, and sometimes it may be other, related topics (e.g., history, geography, textual context, etc.). But it isn’t enough to just say what I have to say; I need to impart the teaching unto the students. There needs to be some learning going on along with the teaching, and I need to teach in a way that helps students learn.

the people also left their labor to hear the word of God.

Cell phones are silenced. Private conversations are postponed. The students are to be focused, just as the teacher. They leave their labors behind and come to learn.

And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors;

Leaving the cares of the world behind isn’t supposed to be a permanent state of affairs. The teacher still needs to get that car repaired; the student has other responsibilities throughout the day. Good teachers realize that the students have lives outside the classroom. And these teachers do what they can to help what is taught improve those lives.

and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner;

We teachers need to be fully aware that we are not better than our students. We may know more about certain things, of course, but that fact doesn’t give us license to feel any sense of superiority.

and thus they were all equal,

Nor are the students superior to the teacher. There is no sense of entitlement justified for anyone in the classroom. And, there is no spirit of condescension among some students when others participate who may not be as knowledgeable or as eloquent as others think they themselves are. Students are equal to one another—and to the teacher. We are all equal.

and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.

The verse closes with a powerful concept: everyone labored, but according to his or her strength. Even though they were all equal, they were not equal in their strength. What was important was not whether their strength was equivalent, but that they labored. Our students will not each be equally capable in every area of effort, but we are to see them equal to one another, and to us.

The scriptures have much to offer us teachers. By reading them closely, we can help make the teaching and learning experience be all the more significant in our classrooms.

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New RSC App Available for Apple Devices

POSTED BY: admin

11/14/14


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Brent R. Nordgren

Production Supervisor, Religious Studies Center

The RSC app is now available for free through the Apple app store. To include the app on your Apple device, simply go to the Apple app store and search for “BYU RSC.” If you like it, please give it a positive rating so others will benefit from it. Also, please encourage your students, family, and friends to download the RSC app.

The BYU RSC app gives you thousands of FREE, informative, gospel-centered articles, journals, and books from the Religious Studies Center (RSC) library. These are researched and written by scholars, educators, Church leaders, and historians. This library is exclusive to the RSC and is NOT available on LDS.org. This app will aid scripture study and provide you with a greater understanding of a multitude of gospel topics. It is ideal for your personal gospel study and for preparing talks and lessons. The RSC library is filled with books and journals written by some of the best LDS intellectuals of our day. Besides the published books, below is a sample of what else you will have access to.

Religious Educator Journal

Browse hundreds of articles published in the RSC Religious Educator journal, which were written specifically for teachers of the gospel and generally for all members who wish to achieve a greater understanding of the gospel and its teachings. Enhance your scripture study and analysis. Also, discover the latest information regarding Church history and doctrine. Each Religious Educator journal leads off with one or more articles written by General Authorities and other Church leaders.

BYU Conferences and Symposia

Access past Religious Education/RSC conferences and symposia. Watch recorded conferences and symposia or read the presentations you would otherwise find in books published by the RSC. You can also learn about upcoming events.

Review Magazine

Discover all that is happening in Religious Education at BYU by reading the Review magazine. For example, read articles on the BYU Jerusalem Center, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, archaeological discoveries, and the teaching legacies of those who have had an impact on BYU students, administrators, and millions of members around the world.

We hope you enjoy the app!

 


More Than a Way to Cram for Sunday School

POSTED BY: admin

11/03/14


Shanna Clayton

Student Editor, Religious Studies Center

Since Jeffrey R. Holland established the Religious Studies Center in 1975, we have been publishing a variety of works from BYU professors, seminary and institute teachers, General Authorities of the Church, and other religious scholars. Our areas of publication and study include ancient studies, Church history, world religions, and a many others. Through our publications, we hope to encourage members of the Church in all areas to further their religious learning by exploring new ideas both within and without the LDS context. Take a look at our most recent publishing initiatives to find out how we are building our library of study resources.

Religious Educator

The Religious Educator is a scholarly journal published three times a year by the Religious Studies Center. Issues include articles written by General Authorities, BYU professors, and other authors. These articles aim to expand on gospel topics, especially in the context of gospel teaching. The Religious Educator is a great resource for seminary teachers, religion professors, Sunday School teachers, and anyone else looking to expand gospel knowledge.

The most recent Religious Educator features an article by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, entitled “Seeing Beyond the Leaf,” and also includes an article by Elder Neil L. Andersen, “A Classroom of Faith, Hope, and Charity.” To subscribe to the Religious Educator or order a copy of any of our past issues, visit rsc.byu.edu/tre/volumes.

Review Magazine

The Religious Education Review is a twice-yearly magazine that includes updates about BYU Religious Education and the Religious Studies Center. Issues often include a spotlight of one or more Religious Education faculty members; promotions, awards, and retirements within the college; and current research being done on religious topics. The most recent issue (Fall 2014) features an article about Truman G. Madsen, highlighting both his accomplishments during his tenure at BYU and also his love for and devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Interested parties can subscribe to the Review magazine by visiting rsc.byu.edu/review/subscribe. Subscription is free, and each new issue will be mailed directly to the subscriber’s home. Readers can also access past issues of the magazine digitally at rsc.byu.edu/review.

Recent Books

The RSC has been hard at work during 2014, and it has paid off tremendously. We have published seven books this year, the most recent being The Oakland Temple: Portal to Eternity by Richard O. Cowan and Robert G. Larsen. This book discusses in depth the history of the Oakland Temple, including struggles the Saints overcame in order to get a temple in the Bay Area. Other elements are also discussed, including key figures, architecture, and landscaping.

Another recent publication from the RSC is The Ministry of Peter, the Chief Apostle. This book includes essays from the 2014 Brigham Young University Sperry Symposium, including an appendix by President Spencer W. Kimball. Each of these articles explores a different aspect of the Apostle Peter’s ministry. Through this lens, readers are able to relate to Peter and appreciate his faithful, though at times imperfect, devotion to the Savior and his gospel.

Website

On the RSC website readers can find a variety of resources to help them in their gospel study, as well as information about our publications, BYU conferences and symposia, and submission requirements for the RSC. Website visitors can also access any issue of the Review magazine, and other RSC publications that are at least two years old. By visiting our “All Books” page, readers can view a cover image of each book that we have published here at the RSC, and by clicking on individual book covers, readers can access more information about the book, including a summary and purchase link (not available for all books).

The RSC website also includes “My Gospel Study,” a resource that helps users delve into a variety of gospel topics. Whether preparing a talk, studying a Sunday School lesson, or seeking to expand personal gospel knowledge, readers will find a unique collection of talks and articles to enhance gospel study.

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The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser

POSTED BY: admin

10/20/14


Devan Jensen

Executive Editor, Religious Studies Center

After a long hiatus, the RSC blog has resumed in earnest. Our goal is to provide weekly updates about news such as recent books, material on the RSC website, happenings in Religious Education, and topics of general interest in academia, ancient scripture, or Church history.

Readers in general, and teachers in particular, will enjoy a masterful new book that is drawing praise from reviewers, including Elder Dallin H. Oaks, President Kevin J Worthen, and BYU faculty and staff. The book is titled Called to Teach. The book’s subtitle is The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser, and the book focuses mainly on the educational philosophies that shaped his career and influenced not only BYU but also the Church Educational System.

The RSC’s publishing team thoroughly enjoyed working with the author, A. LeGrand “Buddy” Richards, an associate professor in Educational Leadership and Foundations at BYU. As an educator with extensive experience teaching at the University of Würzburg in Germany, Dr. Richards was uniquely qualified to write this book. In fact, as reviewer Heather Seferovich acknowledges, Buddy’s “great-great-grandfather is Franklin D. Richards, the European Mission president who baptized Maeser; these two families have been intertwined for generations.” She adds that “writing this biography of Maeser was a labor of love for Richards, who spent about a decade finding everything he could on Maeser, and much of this thorough, painstaking research has resulted in new information, especially in the years prior to Maeser’s baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Less well known is the fact that Maeser translated twenty-nine hymns and about a third of the Doctrine and Covenants into German and founded Der Stern, the Church’s German magazine (now called the Liahona).

Early in his teaching career, Maeser embraced the philosophy of Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who believed “that each person has unlimited potential.” Pestalozzi believed “that a whole education required the proper development of the head (rational power), the hand (physical capacities), and the heart (moral dispositions)” (23–24). Maeser shared these Pestalozzian principles with students and teachers he supervised. As the first superintendent of Church Education, Maeser helped found and maintain over fifty academies and schools from Canada to Mexico. He helped develop the public education system in Utah and helped establish the Utah Teachers Association. The students he taught personally included future United States senators and members of the House of Representatives, a United States Supreme Court justice, university presidents, and many General Authorities.

In May 2014, Dr. Richards received a warm letter regarding this book from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and past BYU president: “I was thrilled to learn so many things I had not known about a man I have often called ‘the founding genius of Brigham Young University.’”

At meetings that launched the 2014–15 school year, Elder Oaks took time to share quotes and insights from the book with new university president Kevin J Worthen and with deans and directors. In turn, President Worthen shared several Maeser quotes from the book with faculty and staff in his remarks to them. One of those statements is preserved on a blackboard in Maeser’s own handwriting: “This life is one great object lesson to practice on the principles of immortality and eternal life.” These quotes and stories are just a few examples of how the legacy of Karl G. Maeser continues to shape BYU today.

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Unprofitable Servants

POSTED BY: Millet

10/11/10


For many years I wrestled with how to take a compliment. I don’t know how many hundreds of talks or lessons I’ve given over the last thirty years, but it’s been a lot. And more than once people have come to the front of the room to thank me afterward. Those compliments have been as varied as the personalities of the people themselves. Some simply say, “Good job” or “Great talk” or “I really enjoyed your message.” The more thoughtful compliments take the form of follow-up questions, requested clarifications, or an eagerness to get a reference or source of a thought or quotation. As a speaker or teacher, I appreciate the fact that they would make the effort to provide feedback.

For the longest time, however, I just didn’t handle such compliments properly. I would often say something like, “Well, not really; I thought it was sort of mediocre” or “Thanks, but I only got through half of my material.” My wife, Shauna, noticed my discomfort and suggested that I might take a different approach: I might try saying, “Thank you.” It actually works quite well.

In recent years, I have discovered another way to handle compliments, even gushy ones about how wonderful and inspiring I am. I find myself saying things like, “Thank you. It was a great evening, wasn’t it? The Lord was good to us” or “There was a sweet Spirit in our midst. I’m grateful I was here.” Those aren’t just handy homilies to me, nor are they insincere. The longer I live and the more I experience, the more clearly I perceive the workings of the Lord; if we have an inspiring experience together, all the glory and honor and thanks ought to go to God.

I can still remember very distinctly the words of President Joseph Fielding Smith at the April 1970 conference, in which he was sustained as the tenth President of the Church. “I desire to say that no man of himself can lead this church,” President Smith affirmed. “It is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ; he is at the head. The Church bears his name, has his priesthood, administers his gospel, preaches his doctrine, and does his work.

“He chooses men and calls them to be instruments in his hands to accomplish his purposes, and he guides and directs them in their labors. But men are only instruments in the Lord’s hands, and the honor and glory for all his servants accomplish is and should be ascribed unto him forever” (in Conference Report, April 1970, 113).

Such words should create feelings of profound humility, feelings of gratitude, of reverence, of resounding praise to Him who holds all things in his power and is the Source of our strength and very being. Elder Gerald N. Lund pointed out that “focusing on the word profit will help us better understand the concept of unprofitable servants. The word implies personal gain or benefit. Profit means an increase in assets or status or benefits.

“That is the crux of the concept of man being an unprofitable servant. God is perfect—in knowledge, power, influence, and attributes. He is the Creator of all things! What could any person—or all people together for that matter—do to bring profit (that is, an increase in assets, status, or benefits) to God? . . .

“That we are his children and he loves us is undeniable, and that situation puts us in a status far above any of his other creations. But we must somehow disabuse ourselves of any notion that we can bring personal profit to God by our actions. That would make God indebted to men, which is unthinkable” (Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation, 120–21; emphasis added).

To the extent that we realize who we are, Whose we are, what we can do, and what we can never do for ourselves, our Heavenly Father and his Beloved Son will do everything in their power to forgive us, equip us, empower us, transform us, and ultimately glorify us. We may not have “arrived” yet, but we’re well on the way when we begin to acknowledge our limitations, confess his goodness and mercy and strength, and learn to embody an attitude of gratitude. In the language of the revelation, we are to “thank the Lord [our] God in all things” (D&C 59:7; see also v. 21). In weakness there is strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; Ether 12:27). In submission and surrender, there is power and victory. Thanks be to God, who grants us that victory through the mediation of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:57).


Hanukkah and Christmas

POSTED BY: holzapfel

12/10/09


hanukiah32Guest blog by Jeffrey R. Chadwick, Jerusalem Center Professor of Archaeology and Near Eastern Studies.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Dedication, begins this Friday night at sundown. The Hebrew word Hanukkah actually means “dedication.” The eight-day festival in 2009 runs from Saturday, December 12, to Saturday, December 19. It is a holiday period of considerable significance, both religiously and historically, to Jews the world over. But it should also be of some importance to Christians, including Latter-day Saints, for without the events celebrated in Hanukkah there would have been no Christmas.
Here’s the story: The ancient Jewish people in the land of Israel faced a grave threat when the Greco-Syrian despot Antiochus IV became king of the Seleucid empire in 175 BC. Syria controlled Judea at the time, but the Jews had been treated with tolerance by previous Syrian rulers. Antiochus IV, however, saw himself as a Greek deity in human form (he even adopted the name Epiphanes), and he set a goal to convert all the peoples of his realm to the worship of the Greek pantheon.

Seeking this goal with the Jews, Antiochus had his troops occupy Jerusalem and its Jewish temple, replacing the ceremonies that honored the God of Israel with pagan rites, and converting the edifice into a shrine for Zeus. The temple was defiled. Pigs were slaughtered on its altar by false priests in acts of disdain for the law of Moses and Jewish values.

Jewish religion in general was outlawed. The scriptures (books of what we call the Old Testament) were confiscated and burned. Jewish ordinances and practices, such as circumcision and prayer to the Lord, became capital crimes. The historical book of 1 Maccabees reports that “the women who had circumcised their children they (the Syrians) put to death under the decree, hanging the babies around their necks, and destroying their families and the men who had circumcised them” (1 Maccabees 1:60). Had not something happened to change the course of Antiochus’ program of cultural genocide against the Jews, their religion and identity would have been obliterated within a few generations.

But something did happen. In 167 BC, inspired by an Aaronic priestly family known as the Hasmoneans, the people of Judea revolted against the Syrian occupiers. Their war of independence was led by a Hasmonean priest known as Judah Maccabee. Often called the Hasomonean Revolt, or alternatively the Maccabean Revolt, the insurrection gained strength and was ultimately successful in repulsing the Syrian forces. By the winter month of Kislev (around our December) in 164 BC, the Jewish freedom fighters had recaptured Jerusalem’s temple mount, and liberated the temple from the pagan Syrians. As the war continued, the Maccabean forces eventually drove the Syrians out of the land of Israel.

Having freed Jerusalem, the Jews undertook to cleanse and rededicate their holy temple. According to rabbinic tradition recorded in the Talmud (TB Shabbat 21:b), when the Hasmonean priests entered the temple they found only one jar of consecrated olive oil to light the great seven-branched lamp (menorah) in the temple holy place for a single day. But anxious to rededicate the edifice, the high priest poured the oil into the seven cups on the menorah branches, and lit the lamp. The oil that was only enough for one day burned for eight whole days, enough time for new oil to be pressed and consecrated. This was seen as a miracle and a sign that God had been with the Jews in establishing their freedom and saving their religion and identity. The eight-day dedication period was celebrated by the Jews in Israel, and eventually throughout the world, each winter from that very year until the present, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, and has always been known as festival of Hanukkah, the “feast of dedication.”

Modern Jews do a number of things in their Hanukkah celebrations. The first, and most important, is the lighting of Hanukkah lights. A nine-branched Hanukkah menorah (known in Hebrew as a Hanukiah) is the main instrument of the lighting. Small candles or vials of olive oil are placed in the arms of the menorah, one of which is elevated above the other eight. On the first night of Hanukkah, the elevated candle (known as the Shamash) is lit, followed by one other candle which represents the first day of Hanukkah. On the second night of Hanukkah, the Shamash and two candles are lit, on the third night three, and so forth until the eighth night of Hanukkah, when the Shamash and all eight candles are lit. The lit Hanukiah is placed in a windowsill each night so that all in the community can see that the Jewish family is celebrating the festival.

Other Hanukkah activities include the preparation and eating of foods fried in oil, such as potato latkes (spicey, fried potato pancakes) and donuts known as sufganiot. The frying in oil is a reminder of the miracle of the oil. The old practice of giving children coins to spend at Hanukkah has evolved into a gift-giving tradition for the holiday season. And children often play a game with a small, four-sided top called a dreidel. Sometimes Hanukkah is called a minor festival, but this is only because it is not mandated in the Torah (the scriptural law of Moses). In practice it is a major Jewish holiday period, widely celebrated and loved.

Those who celebrate Christmas each December may find it of interest to know that Jesus, who was genuinely Jewish, traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah. The Gospel of John reports, “It was . . . the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22–23). Jesus honored the Hanukkah festival the same way he honored the Passover and other feasts: he taught the people of his own divine identity and mission.

Christians also ought to consider this: If there had been no Hasmonean revolt, and if Jerusalem and the temple had not been liberated and rededicated—if Antiochus and the Syrians had succeeded in obliterating Jewish religion and identity—then there would not have been a Jewish village called Nazareth, nor would there have been a Davidic Jewish village called Bethlehem. There would have been no Jewish nation awaiting the coming of that Redeemer. The entire setting for the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth would not have existed!

But, thanks be to heaven, there was a revolt, and the Jewish nation not only survived but thrived. And because of these events, the way was prepared for the first Christmas. It seems entirely appropriate at this season that we join in wishing each other “Happy Holidays.” Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all!

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