Grading on the Curve

POSTED BY: Millet

10/25/10


I was sitting in a Sunday School class once when the teacher began to address the issue of comparing ourselves to one another. He warned of the hazards of doing so and then added, “We should never compare ourselves or our situations in life to others. If you must compare yourself to someone, then compare yourself to Christ, for he is our Exemplar.” I reflected on that comment for quite a while that day and found myself thinking, “Oh, we should compare ourselves with Christ. Well, that certainly makes me feel better! From now on I will lay my deeds and my puny offerings next to his, and then I can really get (and stay) depressed.”

The fact is, comparing just doesn’t work. Period. We will either maintain a constant feeling of inadequacy or cultivate an inappropriate view of our own importance. Neither is healthy. Even some of Jesus’ chosen disciples were tempted to seek for positions of prominence, and the Master chastened them with the words, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26–27; compare Mark 10:28–41). Jesus himself set the standard and abolished all forms of spiritual pecking orders when he, the greatest man to traverse earth’s paths, described his role as follows: “I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:27).

Andy Stanley put this all into perspective when he asked: “When you die, do you get to go to heaven if your good deeds constitute 70 percent of your overall deeds? Or does 51 percent earn you a passing grade? . . . Or what if God’s holiness and perfection outweigh his mercy and he requires that 90 percent of our deeds be good? Or what if God grades on a curve and Mother Teresa skewed the cosmic curve, raising the bar for good deeds beyond what most of us are capable of?” (How Good Is Good Enough? 45–46.) 

While for Latter-day Saints, salvation is a family affair, coming unto Christ by covenant and carrying out the will of God is an individual undertaking. When it comes to standing at the bar of judgment, a summary of our lives (including our good deeds) will not be placed alongside anyone else’s. We are baptized one by one, confirmed one by one, ordained one by one, set apart one by one, and endowed one by one. And even though we kneel in the house of the Lord opposite the love of our life in the highest ordinance this side of heaven, the keeping of temple covenants and ultimately the matter of being conformed to the image of Christ is accomplished one soul at a time. We are all in this together. No one of us is exempt from the examinations of mortality or receives a bye in the game of life. We’re here to do the best we can. The quest for spirituality doesn’t entail our being xeroxed into the image of another human, but rather the quest to have God, through his Holy Spirit, make you and me into all that he desires us to be. Through the years and after the Holy Ghost has fashioned our hearts, after the Lord has educated our consciences, after the Spirit has matured our judgment and enhanced our wisdom, then “when [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (Moroni 7:48; compare 1 John 3:1–2).


In Whom Do We Trust?

POSTED BY: holzapfel

10/05/10


A few years ago, a colleague and I sat at lunch with two prominent theologians. This was not our first visit together because we had met two years earlier and had had a sweet and delightful discussion of Jesus Christ, the centrality of his Atonement, the lifting and liberating powers of his grace, and how our discipleship is and should be lived out day by day. In that initial meeting there was no defensiveness, no pretense, no effort to put the other down or prove him wrong. Instead, there was that simple exchange of views, an acknowledgment of our differences, and a spirit of rejoicing in those central features of the doctrine of Christ about which we were in complete agreement—a sobering spirit of gratitude for the incomparable blessings that flow from the life and death and transforming power of the Redeemer.

Now, two years later, we picked up where we had left off, almost as if no time had passed at all. Many things were said, diagrams were drawn on napkins, and a free flow of ideas took place. Toward the end of our meeting, one of our friends turned to me and said: “Okay Bob, here’s the one thing I would like to ask in order to determine what you really believe.” He continued: “You are standing before the judgment bar of the Almighty, and God turns to you and asks, ‘Robert Millet, what right do you have to enter heaven? Why should I let you in?’” It was not the kind of question I had anticipated. (I had assumed he would be asking something more theoretical. This question was poignant, practical, penetrating, and personal.) For about thirty seconds, I tried my best to envision such a scene, searched my soul, and sought to be as clear and candid as possible. Before I indicate exactly what I said, I want to take us forward twenty-four hours in time.

The next day I spoke to a large group of Latter-day Saint single adults from throughout New England who had gathered for a conference at MIT in Boston. My topic was “Hope in Christ.” Two-thirds of the way through my address, I felt it would be appropriate to share our experience from the day before. I posed to the young people the same question that had been posed to me. There was a noticeable silence in the room, an evidence of quiet contemplation upon a singularly significant question. I allowed them to think about it for a minute or so and then walked up to one of the young women on the front row and said: “Let’s talk about how we would respond. Perhaps I could say the following to God: ‘Well, I should go to heaven because I was baptized into the Church, served a full-time mission, married in the temple, attend worship services regularly, read my scriptures daily, pray in the morning and at night. . .’” At that point the young woman cut me off with these words: “Wait. . . . Wait. . . . I don’t feel right about your answer. It sounds like you’re reading God your résumé.”

Several hands then went up. One young man blurted out: “How did you answer the question? Tell us what you said!” I thought back upon the previous day, recalled to mind many of the feelings that swirled in my heart at the time, and told the single adults how I had answered. I looked my friend in the eye and replied: I would say to God: I claim the right to enter heaven because of my complete trust in and reliance upon the merits and mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” My questioner stared at me for about ten seconds, smiled gently, and said: “Bob, that’s the correct answer to the question.”

Obviously a person’s good works are necessary in the sense that they indicate what we are becoming through the powers of the gospel of Jesus Christ; they manifest who and what we are. But I also know there will never be enough good deeds on my part—prayers, hymns, charitable acts, financial contributions, or thousands of hours of Church service—to save myself. The work of salvation requires the work of a God. Unaided man is and will forevermore be lost, fallen, and unsaved. It is only in the strength of the Lord that we are able to face life’s challenges, handle life’s dilemmas, engage life’s contradictions, endure life’s trials, and eventually defeat life’s inevitable foe—death.


When We Have Questions . . .

POSTED BY: Millet

09/14/10


We reduce the realm of the unknown, not by wandering in it but rather by delighting in and expanding our knowledge of that which God has already revealed. It is a soul-satisfying experience to be reading topic A and then to have our minds caught away to consider topic B. Indeed, serious, consistent, prayerful consideration and reflection upon the institutional revelations (the standard works and the words of the living oracles) result in individual revelations, including—where the Lord senses it is appropriate and we are ready to receive the same—the answers to our more difficult questions. Those answers may come as a specific response to a specific concern, or they may come in the form of a comforting and peaceful assurance that all is well, that God is in his heaven, that the work in which we are engaged is true, that specifics will be made known in the Lord’s due time. Either way, answers do come. They really do, but only as we go to the right source. 
Some people jump to the false and really rather silly conclusion that because they do not understand, then no one else does either. That’s quite a presumptuous conclusion, but it is, nevertheless, a surprisingly common one. Humility would demand a different stance. Meekness would force us to acknowledge that there just might be someone either brighter or more experienced than ourselves, or maybe even someone who has struggled with this issue before. Common sense would suggest that the odds are against absolute originality in regard to our specific concern. And even if it is possible that we have indeed unearthed something that no other mortal has ever encountered, still there are good and wise people in our midst who have been blessed with the gifts of the Spirit—with discernment, with revelation, with wisdom and judgment—to assist us in putting all things in proper perspective.
A related tendency by some is to parade their doubts, to suppose by “coming out of the closet” with an announcement of all things that trouble them that they shall somehow either feel better about their difficulties or either identify and join hands with others who similarly struggle. To be sure, one need not suffer alone. There is help available, within fairly easy reach. Precious little good comes, however, from “hanging out our dirty wash,” from making public proclamations about one’s inner anxieties, little good to the individual and little good to groups of people. Such things merely feed doubt and perpetuate it. “Why are a few members,” asked Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “who somewhat resemble the ancient Athenians, so eager to hear some new doubt or criticism? (see Acts 17:21). Just as some weak members slip across a state line to gamble, a few go out of their way to have their doubts titillated. Instead of nourishing their faith, they are gambling ‘offshore’ with their fragile faith. To the question ‘Will ye also go away?’ (John 6:67), these few would reply, ‘Oh no, we merely want a weekend pass in order to go to a casino for critics or a clubhouse for cloak holders.’ Such easily diverted members are not disciples but fair-weathered followers. Instead,” Elder Maxwell concluded, “true disciples are rightly described as steadfast and immovable, pressing forward with ‘a perfect brightness of hope’ (2 Nephi 31:20; see also D&C 49:23).” (in Conference Report, October 1988, 40)
And so I suggest, hold on. Hang on to your faith. Answers will come. Resolutions are just beyond the horizon. Perspective and peace are within reach.

BYU Education Week

POSTED BY: holzapfel

08/13/09


Guest blog by Brent L. Top, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

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A miracle occurs every August in Provo. I have seen it with my own eyes. In fact, I have been not only an observer but also a participant. The miracle is Campus Education Week. Brigham Young University is transformed almost overnight. For one week each year, classrooms usually filled with young adults are suddenly filled with gray-haired grandmas and grandpas, worn-out moms thrilled to have time for themselves, excited teenagers looking to meet new friends, and dads with wallets full of cash and cards to ensure that everyone has a good time. RVs fill the parking lots, and area hotels are full of families having a vacation, attending classes, concerts, plays, and activities. The class offerings vary as much as the age-groups, body shapes, and circumstances in life. For every student—whether a wide-eyed fourteen-year-old who has never been on a college campus before or a ninety-year-old who has never missed an Education Week (and usually doesn’t even stop for lunch)—there is something that can enlarge the intellect, strengthen the spirit, and comfort the soul.

This miracle is a reflection of Latter-day Saints’ deep commitment to continuing education—a commitment founded on the revelations of the Restoration and teachings of latter-day prophets. Continuing education has both temporal and spiritual benefits—benefits that enrich our lives on earth and bless us throughout all eternity. We are commanded to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118) and to seek learning “in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God” (D&C 88:78). In addition, we are to learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations . . . ; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:79). Our continuing education should be as much a spiritual quest as it is an intellectual or vocational one. The Lord has taught us that learning will prepare us in all things to magnify our foreordained callings (see D&C 88:80) and will rise with us in the resurrection and be to our advantage in the eternal worlds (see D&C 130:18—19).

In light of these scriptures, it is no wonder that education—formal as well as informal—plays such an important role in the lives of faithful Latter-day Saints. Our faith should propel us forward in the quest for truth and knowledge of God. “When all is said and done, we are all students,” President Gordon B. Hinckley taught. “If the day comes when we quit learning, look out. We will just atrophy and die.”

There is great potential within each of to go on learning. Regardless of our age, unless there be serious illness, we can read, study drink in the writings of wonderful men and women. . . .

We must go on growing. We must continually learn. It is a divinely given mandate that we go on adding to our knowledge.

We have access to institute classes, extension courses, education weeks, and many other opportunities where, as we study and match our minds with others, we will discover a tremendous reservoir of capacity within ourselves. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 302–3.)

Over the past twenty years, I have been one of many teachers at Campus Education Week. It is always a privilege to participate because I always gain more than I give. It makes me want to be better. My faith in the Lord and love for the gospel are always strengthened as I witness the August miracle—thousands and thousands of Saints from every part of the world who literally “enter to learn” and then “go forth to serve” as better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons and daughters, and fellow servants in God’s kingdom. Because their lives have been enriched, they are better able to serve those around them for weeks and years to come. That is indeed a miracle.


Hosanna!

POSTED BY: holzapfel

03/26/09


Kirtland Temple

Recently, many Saints attended one of twelve dedication services for the Draper Utah Temple, the one hundred twenty-ninth operating temple, held March 20–22. Additionally, tens of thousands participated in the Sunday afternoon session through a satellite broadcast to meetinghouses and stake centers throughout Utah. For many, it was a red-letter day full of excitement, gratitude, and great spiritual renewal.

An important feature of temple dedications is the sacred Hosanna Shout, first given at the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836 (tomorrow is the anniversary of it’s dedication). This powerful expression of praise and worship has been repeated at all temple dedications, including the Draper temple.

Some years ago I did some research on the history the Salt Lake Temple. I discovered that the sacred Hosanna Shout was given first on April 6, 1892, at the capstone-laying ceremony, and second, at the many formal dedication services beginning on April 6, 1893.

At the capstone ceremony, President George Q. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency, said “that there may be no misunderstanding about the manner in which the shout of Hosanna should be given when the capstone should be laid, Pres. Lorenzo Snow would drill the congregation in the shout.” Then President Snow said, “This is no ordinary order, but is—and we wish it to be distinctly understood—a sacred shout, and employed only on extraordinary occasions like the one now before us.” He urged them with these words: “We wish the Saints to feel when they pronounce this shout that it comes from their hearts. Let your hearts be filled with thanksgiving,” adding, “Now when we go before the temple and this shout goes forth, we want every man and every woman to shout these words to the very extent of their voice, so that every house in this city may tremble, the people in every portion of this city hear it and it may reach to the eternal worlds.” He finally told the congregation that the sacred shout “was given in the heavens when ‘all the sons of God shouted for joy’ [Job 38:7].”

B. H. Roberts wrote concerning this shout, “When voiced by thousands and sometimes tens of thousands in unison, and at their utmost strength, it is most impressive and inspiring. It is impossible to stand unmoved on such an occasion. It seems to fill [the site] with mighty waves of sound; and the shout of men going into battle cannot be more stirring. It gives wonderful vent to religious emotions, and is followed by a feeling of reverential awe—a sense of oneness with God.”

Some fifty thousand people were reportedly in attendance at this special occasion on the Temple Block, with thousands more watching from adjoining rooftops, windows, and even power poles. The streets near the temple were filled with those seeking to witness the exercises of that day. “There was such a jam of humanity, however, that everyone was nearly crushed,” Joseph Dean noted. “The whole block was one mass of humanity. After the people had gotten in place as well as they could the ceremonies began.” It was the largest gathering in Utah history, a record unchallenged for several decades.

When this highest granite block of the temple was in place, President Snow led the Saints in shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! to God and the Lamb! Amen! Amen! Amen!” This heartfelt thanksgiving praise was repeated three times with increasing force as the participants waved white handkerchiefs. “The spectacle and effect of this united demonstration,” wrote one witness, “was grand beyond description, the emotions of the multitude being stirred up by it to the greatest intensity of devotion and enthusiasm.”

John Lingren, a visitor from Idaho Falls, recalled, “The scene . . . [was] beyond the power of language to describe. . . . The eyes of thousands were moistened with tears in the fullness of their joy. The ground seemed to tremble with the volume of the sound which sent forth its echoes to the surrounding hills.” Another eyewitness wrote, “Everyone shouted as loud as they possibly could waving their handkerchiefs, the effect was indescribable.”

A year later, on April 6, 1893, the Church held the first of the formal dedication services. “When the great song, ‘The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning’ was sung by the united audience,” well-known Utah photographer and Tabernacle Choir member Charles R. Savage wrote, “a different feeling thrilled through me from any one I have ever experienced. The hosanna shout was something long to be remembered and one I never expect to hear again during my life.”

The service included the dedicatory prayer offered by President Woodruff, talks by the First Presidency, and the rendering of the awe-inspiring sacred Hosanna Shout with “the entire audience standing upon their feet and waving white handkerchiefs in concert,” Francis Hammond wrote. For Brother Hammond, “it seemed the heavenly host had come down to mingle with us.” Emmeline B. Wells noted: “This shout of Hosanna thrilled the hearts of the vast multitude, and echoed grandly through the magnificent building; so exultant and enraptured were the saints in their rejoicing that their faces beamed with gladness, and the whole place seemed glorified and sanctified in recognition of the consecration made on that momentous and never-to-be forgotten occasion.”

L. John Nuttal wrote that the shout was “rendered with a hearty good will, my heart and soul were so full of the spirit of the Lord, that I could scarcely contain myself.” At the conclusion of the soul-stirring shout, the choir immediately began singing a specially composed hymn. Choir member Thomas Griggs wrote, “Choir sang Brother Evan Stephen’s ‘Hosannah Chorus,’ the congregation joining in the latter part with the ‘Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning.’”

We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of heaven,

Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb!

Let glory to them in the highest be given,

Henceforth and forever, Amen and amen!

The combined effect of some twenty-five hundred people standing together in the upper assembly room of the temple, all joining together in the sacred shout and singing the dedication hymn, was overpowering. Many participants wept uncontrollably; others could not finish the hymn as they were so overcome by the spirit of the occasion.

James Bunting said, “It would be in vain for me to attempt a description of the interior of the Temple or to describe the heavenly feeling that pervaded all the exercises.” One account simply stated, “Each must see and hear and feel for himself.”

President Woodruff later told a congregation of Saints that “the Heavenly Host were in attendance at the [first] dedication [service] . . . and if the eyes of the congregation could be opened they would [have] seen Joseph and Hyrum [Smith], Brigham Young, John Taylor and all the good men who had lived in this dispensation assembled with us, as also Esaias, Jeremiah, and all the Holy Prophets and Apostles who had prophesied of the latter day work.” President Woodruff continued, “They were rejoicing with us in this building which had been accepted of the Lord and [when] the [Hosanna] shout had reached the throne of the Almighty,” they too had joined in the joyous shout.

As new temples are built, more and more Latter-day Saints will be in a position to participate in a temple dedication service, allowing them to shout praise to the Lord!