Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mormons are Saved by Grace Too (Or, The Brad Wilcox Show)

            You know that moment when melted popsicles are stuck to the kitchen floor, you can barely see the carpet through the toys scattered on the ground, dinner is boiling over on the stove, all the kids are whining for your attention, and your husband is working late?  I do.  Or maybe you are a single parent right now and a husband won’t be coming home.  Or maybe you are single and wish you were married and had messy floors and whining kids.  Either way, it is at these stressful, trying moments that our Savior’s grace is appreciated more than ever.  Sometimes I wish I could call upon the powers of heaven to clean my house and calm my children in one big bang!  That would be nice.

             During these moments when I want to retreat to my bedroom and scream into my pillow (and sometimes I do), I pray for grace. The bible dictionary defines grace as “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ” (p. 697).  I need divine help and strength every minute of every day. Through the gift of grace, I receive peace.  I receive patience.  I can accomplish all that is required of me.  When grace is on my side, I am a WAY BETTER mom.

            Brad Wilcox, a member of the Sunday School General Board and an associate professor of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University, has given what I believe is one of the best explanations of grace and works.  (I am proud that I had him for a professor when I was at BYU!  I came away knowing more about children’s literacy in one semester than I had in learned in one year!)  In a speech titled His Grace is Sufficient, Brother Wilcox explained “Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His (BYU Devotional, July 12, 2011).

            Brother Wilcox compared this to a mother who pays for her son to take piano lessons.  Because Mom has paid the teacher, she can ask her son to practice.  Practicing does not repay Mom for paying the piano teacher; rather, it is how the son shows appreciation for the gift.  It is how he takes advantage of the opportunity to play. Mom finds joy in his playing and progressing, so she continues to ask him to practice. In the same way, Jesus has paid the price of justice through the atonement.  He has the right to say “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19) and “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). 

             Sometimes the son may think his Mom’s requirement to practice is too overbearing. “Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”  In the same way, we may sometimes think Christ’s requirements are too much.  “Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”  If this is our attitude, maybe it is because we do not see through Christ’s eyes yet and we have not comprehended what He is trying to make of us.  His atonement is an investment He made in us.  Brother Wilcox explained when people of other faiths ask if we have been saved by grace, we can reply “Yes! Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully – yes!” (Maybe we could throw in a Baptist-preacher type "Hallelujah!" and "Praise the Lord!") And then we can ask, “Have you been changed by grace?”

            Not only does grace sustain us from day to day, it also saves us from hell. “It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus, made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life” (Bible dictionary, p. 697).

            Grace means that all of God’s children will be resurrected, and almost all of God’s children will go to heaven when they die. Hell is reserved for very few individuals: only those who have received all light and truth, and yet deny it. In the belief that all receive salvation through the grace of Jesus, our doctrine as Latter-day Saints seems to align with evangelical churches. However, we differ in the belief that heaven holds differing degrees of glory, and that is where our works come in.  Our works, which reflect our commitment to become like Jesus Christ, determine whether we ultimately make it to the Telestial (glory of the stars), Terrestrial (glory of the moon), or Celestial Kingdom (glory of the sun). These are the kingdoms referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: 40-41

            “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.”

            Brother Wilcox explained it this way, “We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

             Our ultimate goal is to make it to the Celestial Kingdom to dwell with God, Jesus Christ, and our families forever.  We believe that over time, we can eventually become Gods and Goddesses like our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.  This is not something we can earn; it is a gift that we are given as we grow into celestial beings through our works. Brother Wilcox stated, “Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for.”

            The definition of grace continues, “It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (Bible dictionary, p. 697).  This is why “we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne 25:23). 

Here’s another Brad Wilcox goodie – this time learned from his book The Continuous Atonement.  This scripture is sometimes misinterpreted to mean that we should try to accomplish all we can without Christ, and then when we decide we need help we should call upon Him.  This is not how it is supposed to work!  We never have to try alone.  When the scripture says, “after all we can do”, the “we” should be interpreted as Jesus and us together – we are a team. I like to apply the scripture this way: “I know it is by grace that I am saved, after all Christ and I can do”.  Me and grace, side by side, every day.  Thank you, Jesus.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sacrifice Brings Forth the Blessings of Heaven

          We make many promises as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We covenant to consecrate our lives to Jesus Christ.  We are asked to pay tithes and offerings, attend church every week, serve in the temple, devote time to daily prayer and scripture study, go home teaching and visiting teaching, refrain from gossip, keep the Word of Wisdom, write in our journals, serve missions if we can, and more.  Above all, the Savior has asked us to offer Him “a broken heart and contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20). It may seem extreme to some to sacrifice so much. It would be too much to ask if the church was not true, but the church is true. And for each commandment Heavenly Father gives us, more blessings are poured out upon us as we keep it. “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven, before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130: 21,22).     UAdd a Note 
Our loving Father has a purpose behind everything he asks of us, and everything he requires of us is for our good, now and into eternity. “For behold, this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). We pay our tithing, yet there is still sufficient money for our needs.  We read our scriptures and the Spirit stays close to us, making it easier to handle the challenges of the day.  We avoid drugs and alcohol and our bodies stay healthy.  We attend the temple and our eternal perspective is broadened and families are bound together forever.  I labor every day as a wife and mother serving my husband and my children, but my joy in doing so is too great to be measured.  If the blessings that come from sacrificing our time and talents are so great that we are blessed by them, is anything really a sacrifice at all?
My husband and I gave up watching a television show that we both found humorous.  We realized that the values it portrayed did not align with the values we live.  I thought it would be a sacrifice, but it was not.  Now there is more room for the Spirit to dwell in our home.  The early members of the church were persecuted and driven from their homes by mobs. They crossed the plains, lost limbs to frostbite, buried their loved ones, and even gave their lives to build up Zion.  A television show is nothing.
In the Old Testament we learn about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  The land was cursed with famine and Elijah was hiding for his life from wicked King Ahab.  The Lord directed him to the destitute widow to ask for a loaf of bread.  The bread was her and her son’s last meal before they died.  Elijah promised her that if she fed him, her barrel of meal and cruse of oil would never run out until the famine ended. What a difficult sacrifice to make! Did she know he was a prophet? In an act of great faith, she gave the bread to Elijah and witnessed the fulfillment of his blessing.  Later, her son died of a sickness and Elijah brought him back to life (1 Kings 17: 8-24). None of these blessings would have been given had she not sacrificed that loaf of bread.
Some sacrifices are more difficult than others. When I was seventeen years old, my fifteen year old brother died.  His loss has been the hardest sacrifice I have yet to endure. I believe that in the pre-existence I agreed to sacrifice my earthly time with him because I trusted in a loving Heavenly Father’s plan for our lives. I ache every day to hear my brother’s laugh and feel his warm bear hugs. As difficult as it was and is for me, it has been much harder for my parents.  They have felt some of what Heavenly Father must have felt when he sacrificed His Son. Yet, even as Heavenly Father took my brother home eight years ago, He has given him back many times since.  He guided our family to adopt my youngest sister after his death.  My siblings have felt his presence protect them in accidents.  His spirit has been with me at times too sacred to share. One day, our family will be together again never to be separated.
Joseph Smith taught, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; …When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain” (Lectures of Faith, [1985], 69).  To sacrifice is to know God.  
All that we have is a gift from God.  He has given us everything, even His only Begotten son, whose grace we are sustained by from day to day. Is it a sacrifice to give up or give back that which we never earned in the first place? No. Even when he does ask everything of us, as he did of Job, he gives it all back and more into the eternities.  “And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:38).  Elder Ballard has taught, “Sacrifice is a demonstration of pure love.  The degree of our love for the Lord, for the gospel, and for our fellowman can be measured by what we are willing to sacrifice for them” ("The Blessings of Sacrifice", Ensign, May 1992, 75). The less living the gospel seems like a sacrifice, the nearer we are to becoming like our Savior Jesus Christ.  Nothing is truly a sacrifice if it brings us closer to eternal life.