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Well, what a joy to be with you. I got here right at the end of Sarah’s presentation, but she just promised me that when she gets that written up into a paper, I’m going to get a copy of it. So I’m grateful for that. I love the comparison she was making and I’m honored to be able to be on a program with her. She says, “Gosh, I heard you speak when I was 14.”
I said, “How come you’ve grown up and I haven’t?” Ha, ha, ha. I also am excited for the presentation that Steve and Garrett are going to be giving after as they talk about the application of grace and the difference that that doctrine actually makes in people’s lives. They’re going to be referring to some research that’s been done by members of the church and by nonmembers of the church among LDS populations and among non-LDS populations that show that as people come to an understanding of grace, that it does make a difference in levels of depression, in levels of anxiety, in levels of perfectionism and scrupulosity, (that feeling that you continually have something to confess) and levels of shame, and so I think you’ll be fascinated to listen to some of the research that is backing up the doctrine. Not that doctrine needs research to back it up, but it is fascinating to see the difference that’s being made in people’s lives as they learn and internalize the doctrine of grace.
Steve, raise your hand. Is Garrett still in here? There’s Garrett. Steve and Garrett are going to be the next presenters and I’m just very excited about what they have to share. Well, as we get started, I was asked once by a primary president to come and talk to her primary about grace. I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s going to be a little tricky.’ So I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’ So finally I passed out hymn books to all the kids and I said, “We’re going to have a little race and I’m going to say one, two, three, go and then you start looking through the hymn book and let’s see who can find the word grace in the hymn book the quickest.” Well, we started the little race and they were all pawing through the books and finally one kid pretty quickly raised his hand and said, “I found it! I found it!” I said, “Oh, wonderful. Which hymn is it in?”
He said, “Called To Serve.”
I said, “You know, I’ve, I’ve sung that hymn a lot and I don’t remember grace being in that hymn.”
He says, “Well, it’s right here,” and he points to the bottom of the page where we all found out that the hymn was written by Sister Grace Gordon. So you can imagine these little kids, you know, thinking Grace Gordon is going to show up in a superhero costume and save the day, ‘cause one of the teachers says, “Well, that puts a whole new twist on being saved by grace.”
But I don’t think little kids are the only ones who don’t quite understand that phrase, who don’t quite understand what it means or what we mean when we say, “Have you been saved by grace?” or “Yes, we have been saved by grace.”
So today let’s talk for just a little bit about what that can mean to us as Latter-day Saints.
Grace, like many English words has multiple meanings. It can mean elegance and beauty. It can mean kindness and courtesy. It can be a title, ‘Your Grace.’ It can be a salutation, “Grace be unto you,” like we read in the in the New Testament, and it can also be a prayer–we’re saying grace. With so many different meanings, no wonder there’s confusion. If we go back to the Hebrew word that was translated as grace, then the word means favor or goodwill given with compassion. No wonder Christians grabbed that word to describe God’s favor, God’s goodwill given with God’s compassion. But Latter-day Saints understand that grace is not just a description of God’s attributes. It is how he engages with us as we strive to attain those very attributes. Listen to what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said:
He says, “Grace is the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into Exalted Beings.”
So grace is the strength He gives us to make us strong. It is the divine help He gives us to make us divine. When I was younger, I always thought that grace was somehow waiting for me at a finish line; that I had to do everything I possibly could to get to the finish line. I had to be down on my hands and knees. I had to be scraping with dirt under my fingernails and then somehow grace would come. But now I understand that grace is not waiting at the finish line. It’s the power that gets me to the finish line. It’s not a light waiting at the end of the tunnel. Rather, it’s the light that surrounds me here and now and moves me to the end of the tunnel.
When I was younger, I kind of felt like grace somehow supplemented my works or that my works somehow supplemented Jesus’s grace as if we had to meet some sort of minimum height requirement to get into heaven. But now I understand that it’s not about height. It’s about growth. So instead of seeing grace as something that supplements or works as something that supplements, I realized we get to heaven, not by supplementing but by covenanting. And the covenant is a warm relationship, a relationship that is greater than the sum of its parts. So instead of speaking about God’s part and my part, now I speak more about God’s heart and my heart, loving each other and being conformed to the same image.
Listen to what Elder D. Todd Christofferson has said: “We do not need to achieve some minimum level of capacity or goodness before God will help. Divine aid can be ours, every hour of every day, no matter where we are in the path of obedience.”
Now, that said, we have to be a little careful that we don’t let grace become a catchall word for every divine interaction which has happened in a lot of mainstream Christianity. A grace kind of defines everything that God does, everything that He is, every interaction He has in our lives. But we need to keep grace as a word in its place because there’s a whole umbrella that covers the many ways that God interacts with his children. We have answers to prayer. We have tender mercies.
But grace is a little different than that. The reason it’s important to point that out is because we can then recognize grace in our lives even when we don’t see answers to prayer; even when we don’t see tender mercies.
When my son Russell was 16, he always lost the keys to the car. Well, his mom got smart and she made an extra set. So Russell would come home and say, “I lost the keys to the car,” and I’d say, “Mom has an extra set,” and we got through just fine until the day he said, “I lost the keys.” I said, “Mom’s got an extra set.” He said, “Those are the ones I just lost.” And so I said, “Get over here, we’re going to pray.” So we said a prayer and Russell was led to find the keys in a place he’d already looked several times and our family recognized an answer to prayer. Now that kid grew up and became a nurse anesthetist. It’s a little scary if you think about it. “Hey, I know there’s a body around here somewhere. Where did that body go? Oh, mom’s got an extra.” Uh, I mean, it’s a little scary.
He called me when he first graduated and said, “Dad, now we have something in common.”
I said, “What’s that?”
He said, “We both put people to sleep.” I didn’t know how I felt about that one. But when Russell was training, he was assigned to go to a hospital for a rotation that was about five hours from his home in Sacramento and that had them nervous because my little daughter-in-law had two toddlers and a brand new baby. She thought, ‘How am I going to handle this with him gone for days and days at a time?’ The baby wasn’t sleeping well, the baby wasn’t eating well and she thought, ‘I just can’t keep up with this.’ Well, the minute that his rotation started, the baby started sleeping through the night. The minute his rotation started, the baby started eating better and holding down the food and our family recognized a tender mercy. We couldn’t call it an answer to prayer because we weren’t even smart enough to pray for it. God just saw a need and He stepped in and met that need and we recognized a tender mercy.
Now grace is a little different from those blessings because grace or the interactions from heaven that change us; that change us.
It’s the Holy Ghost, acting as the minister of grace, the messenger of grace, who sanctifies us and that’s when we can see God shaping us and transforming us. I know a young man who joined the church in Las Vegas. He was a young teenager when he first started getting interested in religion and he started going from church to church and attending church with a lot of his friends from high school. His stepdad was just furious at him. He said, “You’re young. This is when you’re supposed to be smoking pot and sleeping with girls and drinking.” He says, “Good grief. Why are you going to churches?” But when the kid ended up joining the Mormon Church then his stepdad kicked him out of the house.
A family in the ward took him and helped him get ready for his mission and he was in the MTC preparing to go to Japan. When he wrote me this letter, he was a convert of only a year. He says, ‘Some General Authority just came and told us that we’re supposed to love our parents.’ He says, ‘That’s a hard one for me. How am I supposed to love a man I don’t even like? How am I supposed to love a man that I don’t respect it all? How am I supposed to love a man that I hope I never even see again?’
And then he wrote this, ‘I guess for me right now, love is going to have to mean that I feel sorry for him and that I won’t give up hope that one day maybe he can change.’
That’s grace, when God just reaches into our very hearts and helps us begin to forgive when we think we can’t, helps us begin to open a door to love when we think that door has been slammed shut, when God reaches into our hearts and helps us try once more to break a bad habit that we’ve tried so many times to break before without success. In those moments, we see grace in our lives.
Now, President Nelson has cautioned us to be careful as we use the word atonement because many members of the church say, “Oh, the atonement helped me.” “The atonement comforted me.” “The atonement changed me.” “The atonement blessed me.” And President Nelson reminds us that it’s not the atonement that does that. It’s Christ who does that – through his atonement.
When he cautioned us, his talk was called Accessing the Power of Jesus Christ. We have a name for that power. The name is grace. That is the power of Jesus Christ–that, as Sheri Dew says, “…flows from the atonement.” So the atonement was something that people look forward to and now it’s something we look back on. Jesus’s suffering was real, but it was an event. The thing that allows that event to have continuous force both before and after it happened, is the grace that flows from that atonement, the grace that the atonement makes possible in our lives, and that’s why we call the power, the power of the atonement, an enabling power. If you’re ever reading the scriptures and you come to the word grace, try replacing the word with power and see if the scripture makes a little more sense to you. Now we sing a song in the church. We sing a hymn that says, ‘I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.’ When Charles Gabriel wrote that hymn, confused didn’t just mean ‘baffled’ or ‘bewildered’, or ‘I don’t get it’. Confused also could mean ‘standing in awe, standing in reverent awe of the grace, the enabling power, that so fully he proffers me.’ There’s another word we don’t use very often. We use the word ‘offer’. I can ‘offer’ you this clip, but he would have to come forward to get it. If I ‘proffer’ it to him, I’m putting the prefix ‘pro’ onto ‘offer’, making ‘proffer’, meaning I’m pro-actively offering him the gift. That means I’m going to come down. I’m going to literally put it right in his hand. See, I’m going to make it almost impossible for him to refuse it. That’s proffer.
Well, yes, we stand amazed at the grace Jesus proffers us. Think about the emblems of the sacrament. In many churches, those are offered to the congregation. People come forward to receive them, but not in our church. In our church, those are proffered to us. They are literally placed in our hands even when we’re late and in the foyer, and don’t ask me how I know that, but even then, those emblems are proffered to us. They’re placed right before us. It’s a gift that we almost can’t refuse, and yet, just as we stand amazed at Christ’s gift and how freely he proffers it, He must stand a little amazed at how few people there are in this world who are willing to receive the gift, who are willing to pick up those emblems and internalize them.
In Doctrine and Covenants 88, we read: ‘For what does it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him and he receive not the gift. Behold he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him, who is the giver of the gift.’ In my class the other day, I’m teaching the second half of the New Testament. So we’re talking about grace and I said, “How many of you have ever received a Christmas gift from an aunt or a grandmother, a mother, a father, a cousin, something that you’ve said, ‘Oh, thank you. This is wonderful.’ And then you’ve thrown it out, given it to DI or put it in your closet, never to see the light of day again?” Every hand went up. They all know how it feels to get a gift and then not value it because they don’t use it.
So the way they value the gift is demonstrated by how well they receive and utilize the gift. In the same way Christ knows who values his grace, not who’s given his grace, because he gives that so freely, but he sees who values his grace by looking to see who receives it, who receives that grace and who receives it and utilizes it.
I know a sister who went to the temple for the first time and she came out and I said, “How did it go?”
And she said, “Well, I was kinda disappointed that it wasn’t more focused on the atonement.”
I mean, it sounded to me like she just said, ‘I just walked through a forest and I wish I’d seen a tree.’ I mean, how did she miss the atonement in the endowment? But then I realized, ‘Oh, she was expecting to see portrayals of Christ in Gethsemane; portrayals of Christ on the cross; portrayals of Christ rising from the empty tomb. Instead she saw the story of Adam and Eve.’ That’s when I explained to her something that’s been taught by Sister Marie Hafen and her husband, Elder Bruce C. Hafen in their book, ‘The Consecrated Heart’, and they teach that in the temple, we don’t learn how Christ gives us the atonement, we learn how Adam and Eve and all of us receive the atonement. And how do we receive this gift? The same way they did – by covenant, by entering into a covenant relationship with Christ that allows us more and more and more access to His grace.
Grace is not a one-time gift. Rather it’s a gift that we’re given more and more of as we utilize what we’ve been given. When I think about that, I think about reading books to my grandkids. When my little grandkids were born, the first thing I do is read a book to him. Now everybody in the hospital laughs because I’m holding the baby and I’m holding the book and the book is bigger than the baby, but I read that book to those babies and I don’t care how many people laugh. I know I’m being smart because I want that kid surrounded by language and love and books right from day one, so I read books to them. Now some of those kids are old enough that they can read little books to me and the minute they do, I give them another book. See if they read one book, then I give them more books, and that little exchange helps me understand how Christ gives us grace.
Listen to what we read in 2 Nephi 28 ‘I will give unto the children of men, line upon line, precept upon precept, and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts and lend an ear to my council for they shall learn wisdom and for unto him that receiveth, I will give more.’
My daughter Whitney called me one day and she said, “Dad, I just read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and I think it’s about grace.”
I said, “No, no honey, that’s about money because talents were money, so it’s talking about money.”
She says, “Dad, read it again.”
So I read it again, and with this lens that my daughter had provided, suddenly I started seeing it a little differently. Unto one servant, he gave five talents, or, we could say, five books. Unto another servant, he gave two books, and unto another servant, he gave one book. Well, the first two read their books. So the Lord said, “Well done. You have been faithful over a few books. I will give you many books. Enter into my library.” Now to the other servant, he takes the book away. Why? Because he’s punishing the very servant who needs it the most? No, it’s because the servant already cast it aside.
What good is a book to someone who refuses to read it? We all know the pain of giving away a copy of the Book of Mormon and then having the person reject it. That choice doesn’t say as much about the missionary and the book as it does about the person who has been given a gift that hasn’t been valued, given a gift that hasn’t been utilized. So even if the Lord said, “Well, gosh, third servant, I love you anyway, and so come on, you can go into my library.” Is the servant even going to want to be there? I mean, until she learns to value what she’s been given, until she learns to love what her father in heaven loves, then more books would be burden rather than blessing. And so, even though initially it may seem unfair that those who got more get even more, when we consider how the gift is utilized, how the gift was used, then we see the fairness in having the book taken away from the very one who rejected it. And we can see that this gift of grace must be used. Sometimes, when I teach young people, I compare grace to a scholarship. I say getting grace is like getting a scholarship. It’s not a student loan. You’re not expected to pay it back. It’s not money you’ve earned in a job and saved up. It’s a gift.
The one giving the gift doesn’t want to get paid back. The one giving the gift wants to see the gift utilized. Because simply getting a scholarship does not guarantee learning and getting a scholarship does not guarantee graduation. It facilitates it, and in that covenant relationship with Christ, then His grace facilitates our growth and our change and our transformation. Making covenants is not a declaration that we need works more than grace. Making covenants is our way of acknowledging God’s grace, accepting God’s grace, appreciating God’s grace and showing him that we are ready for more. So a kid comes into the church at age eight and gets the gift of the Holy Ghost. As he makes more covenants, as he renews that covenant in sacrament meeting at the sacrament table, then he receives more. Then he enters the temple and he makes more covenants and he receives more grace. So our works are not in place of faith. Rather, our works grow out of and are an inevitable consequence of our faith.
So for us, the question, ‘Have you been saved by grace?’ is tricky to answer, but not because of the word grace. When someone says, “Have you been saved by grace?”, Latter-day Saints should answer, “Yes, absolutely. Completely. With total gratitude. Yes, yes, yes, yes.” If we have a discussion with nonmember friends, the word to discuss is not grace. That’s something we have in common. The word to discuss is ‘saved’. That’s where we’re different. What does salvation mean to them versus what does salvation mean to us? Our complete dependence on Jesus Christ is an absolute either way, but what is salvation? For many, Christian salvation is just getting to the other side of the wall of heaven. I know a lady in the South who told me, “I’m going to slip Saint Peter a twenty and slide on through.”
That’s her idea of grace. That’s her idea of being saved. That’s what it is – just getting into heaven. But for Latter-day Saints, that’s a little teeny piece of a salvation that is massive – a salvation that doesn’t just include getting to heaven, but becoming heavenly, not just going back to God, but becoming like him. Our salvation is huge and Jesus’s grace is a large enough gift to be able to help us reach salvation in its fullness. So the question to consider is not just ‘Have we been saved by grace?’ but ‘Have we been changed by grace?’ Not just ‘Are we going to be resurrected? Are we going to go back to God’s presence or Christ presence for the judgment?’ Those things are already answered. The question to consider is, ‘How comfortable will we be on that occasion?’
How comfortable will we be when we are expected to live as Christ lives and love as He loves and create as He creates and be as He is? For us, grace is not just about salvation at a basic form, but it’s about salvation that is large enough to include exaltation. For us, grace is not just about justification at a basic level, but it’s about sanctification. Do you remember when Elder Holland spoke in general conference and he talked about how we’re all like a big choir? Do you remember that talk? And he mentioned the sopranos, the altos, the baritones and the basses. And I have a friend who’s a tenor in the word choir, and he said, “All the tenors said they were going to resign. They were all going to quit and have a protest because they were offended that Elder Holland did not mention the tenors.” Well, we remember that talk and a phrase from that talk that has always stuck in my mind is this, ‘Come as you are, but don’t expect to stay that way.’ That’s grace. Come as you are, but don’t expect to stay that way. For us, grace is not a get out of jail free card. It’s not permission to procrastinate and sin. Rather grace is how we can begin to emulate our Savior and not just do as He did, but become as he is. Now for Latter-day Saints, we have to remember that that’s a transition that takes time. We all want it to happen quickly. We want it to happen so fast. We want it to happen Harry Potter style – abracadabra – phssht. I think I just killed you. I don’t know. It’s been a while since I read the books, but I think I just used the wrong spell. We want the change to happen quickly and it doesn’t always happen quickly.
A young man wrote me from the MTC and he said, ‘Where’s God? Where’s God when I need him the most? Why has he abandoned me?’ I wrote him back and I went, ‘What the heck? You are in the MTC! God lives there. He has a room right down the hall from you.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Where’s God?’ he says. ‘I have been here for three weeks and I still don’t speak Spanish.’
Now, do you see what he wants? Poof, you speak Español. Poof. Taco, burrito, enchilada, and poof. You know he wants it to happen quickly. I wrote him back and I said, ‘Look, you didn’t learn English in three weeks when you were a baby, so give yourself a little time and keep working at it. You’ll be fine.’ He writes me back and he says, ‘Don’t we believe in the gift of tongues?’ Do you see what he wants? Poof. Gift of tongues. Poof. Instant. I wrote him back and I said, ‘Yes, we believe in the gift of tongues and sometimes in church history that gift has been instantaneous, but usually not. Usually it’s a gift that’s bestowed over time.’
Grace is a gift that is bestowed over time. Time becomes the medium through which the power of Christ’s atonement is made manifest in our lives. Time becomes the medium through which the power of the atonement is made manifest in our lives.
Now, why? Because God can’t change him instantly. Can’t teach him Spanish overnight. Well, I guess God could, but we have to consider what God’s purposes are. He doesn’t just want that kid to look like he knows Spanish. He doesn’t want him to fake it for a few days. He doesn’t want him to be able to get through the airport and go order food in a restaurant. He wants him to teach the gospel in Spanish. He wants him to testify in Spanish. He wants it to be part of him, and so he chooses to change us over time.
Yeah, but Christ changed water to wine in an instant. But water doesn’t have freewill. Water doesn’t have to choose to be changed. Water doesn’t have to want to be changed – but we do. So the change typically happens over time and slowly but surely, week after week and weakness after weakness, we are transformed.
Have you ever gone to a family reunion or come home from a mission and suddenly you see that everybody’s changed? Have you ever seen that? Have you ever seen a brother get home from a mission and go, “Oh, my gosh, my younger brothers have shot up.”
And little kids say, “No, I’m the same as I was yesterday. I haven’t changed.” Because they have seen themselves in the mirror everyday so they don’t notice the change, but when you’re away from it, when you step back, suddenly you see the transformation. There are too many Latter-day Saints who feel like, ‘Gosh, I’m not changing. The change that’s happening to me isn’t happening. When is this change going to happen?’ But if we’ll step back and then we’ll realize ‘I’m doing a little better than I was 20 years ago. I’m doing a little better than I was 10 years ago. I’m certainly doing a little better than I was five years ago. At least. Now I don’t try to pretend like it’s not fast Sunday. I may not like it, but at least I’m done with playing the game of eating my breakfast really quick and then saying, ‘Oh, I forgot it was fast Sunday.’ I mean, at least I’m over that, so I may not be where I want to be, but look how far I’ve come through the grace of Jesus Christ. Look how far I’ve come.’
I spoke at a young single adult conference one time in Kirtland, Ohio, and what an experience that was. The young people had their workshops and their food and their dances, but they also got to go to the historic sites. They got to hear these wonderful missionaries testify and teach in these historic sites. It was great. The final day we had a sacrament service right in the Kirtland temple. Now we don’t own that building, so I don’t know who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, but we ended up with permission to have a sacrament service. There we sang, “The spirit of God like a fire is burning” in the very place that it burned. I mean, we renewed our covenant with Christ by taking the sacrament in the very place where he renewed his covenant with us in this dispensation. I mean, it was just thrilling and when I stood up to speak, I said, “Notice the woodwork. Notice the woodwork around the windows. Notice the woodwork on the pillars. Notice the woodwork on the pulpits. See how intricate and how carefully, how beautiful it is, and how carefully it was done.” Well, then I pointed out that these early saints, they were very careful. They gave it their all, but they were volunteers. They weren’t professional craftsman, they weren’t professional builders and they were poor. They were stretching their resources.
Now, the reason I pointed that out is because earlier in the day they had taken me down into the basement of the temple and I got to see the original support beams underneath the Kirtland Temple. They were laid incorrectly. Not only were they laid horizontally rather than vertically – see a vertical beam can support more than a horizontally placed beam. Not only was that a problem, but they had stretched their resources so thin that they had placed the support beams too far apart from each other and under the heaviest part of the building where the pulpits were-no support beams, none. Now they have them. Now they’ve got steel reinforced things and all this stuff, but not back then. There were no support beams. They’re lucky they didn’t sing, ‘The Spirit of God like a’- whoosh -and just fall right through the floor. Think of how many people crammed into that building during the dedication, not to mention the angels that were on the roof. That building should have collapsed, but the flaws did not keep Jesus from coming and the flaws did not keep Jesus from accepting that building as His. And where there was weakness, He gave strength and He turned that flawed building into a holy temple and that’s what He is doing with us. We just have to be patient. We just have to be patient with ourselves. We just have to be patient with each other as we go through this transformation process that takes a lifetime and more. We just need to be patient.
Brethren, how many of you have ever blessed the sacrament? How many have you ever blown it, said the wrong words? Yeah, girls. You just have no idea how hard it is to read a paragraph. I mean, you just have no idea. So what happens when the little 16 year old is blessing the sacrament? He blows it. He’s blessing the water. It should be the bread. What happens in a moment like that?
He turns to the bishop. Bishop nods his head and the bishop says, “Go one more time.” Well, now he’s really nervous because no one ever listens to the sacrament prayers ever until the priest blows it, and then everybody’s like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t even know there was a problem,’ and so then suddenly everybody’s listening. Well then the nervous little priest blows it again. Well, what happens then? Does the bishop have a trap door? I mean, can he push a button, open the trap door and suck illiterate priests into the basement of the church? No, there is no trap door. The bishop can raise and lower the podium. That is the extent of his power. There’s no trap door. The bishop just nods. The kid starts one more time. Well, what if he blows it again? I mean by now all the teachers are like, ‘Gosh, you’re taking my whole lesson time.’ I don’t know – if he blows it again, he starts again. The bishop cannot excuse the mistake. The bishop can’t pretend it didn’t happen. The bishop has to verify that those words are spoken perfectly. Did you catch that? Perfectly. ‘Oh, the Mormons have such high expectations. They expect perfection.’
Yeah, but not immediately–eventually—and not alone, but with the help, the grace of Jesus Christ. So the bishop nods, the priest starts once more and this is the point when he finally gets it right, it’s counted as perfect for him and for the entire congregation. Let’s remember that lesson and when we slip up, when those we love slip up, when a young kid comes home early from a mission, let’s remember that lesson because we have many, many opportunities to turn to the bishop and to start one more time and one more time after that and one more time after that. When I was in high school, I was on the debate team and it wasn’t because I was any good. Debbie Peterson knows, she was one of my teachers when I was in high school and she knows dang well. She was a student teacher, but she knows dang well I wasn’t very good at debate, but some girls talked me into joining. You know sisters, you have no idea the power that you have in your lives. Some girls say, “Hey, we want you to join the debate team and come be with us,” and I’m like, “Okay,” and I joined the debate team.
So we’d go around the state and we’d do these debate competitions and then at the end of the competition we’d drive back here to Provo, which was my home, on a school bus, but we’d get bored so we’d play a little game. The game was called Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some of you might remember this game. You clap your hands on your legs, you clap your hands, you click your fingers and you get a little rhythm going, and then when you click your fingers, you’re supposed to say somebody else’s name or somebody else’s number. How many know what I’m talking about? Yeah. I tried to explain this to some BYU students the other day and some girl says, “Oh, that’s Big Booty.”
I said, “We called it Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We are obviously more righteous than you.” But whatever you call the game, I think you know how it’s played and when you make a mistake then you had to go to the back of the bus. The goal was to get up to the front. Well, I’d be moving along and people would make mistakes, so I’d start moving up and I think, ‘Wow, this is great. I’m going to win this thing. I’m going to be right up there at the front. I’m going to win this thing.’ And then somebody would call my name or my number and then my brain would freeze. Now it’s not that hard. I mean all you have to do is say three or five or seven. I mean, that’s all you have to do, but my brain would freeze. Then everybody would laugh and they’d send me to the back of the bus and then I’d spend about five minutes saying, “This game is stupid and anybody who likes this game is stupid.”
I’d sing that song for a while and then I’d start moving up again and I’d think, ‘Okay, this time. Last time I blew it, but this time I’m going to do this thing.’ And we’d get all excited and I’d get moving up and then somebody called me again and I’d end up blowing it and being sent to the back of the bus. Now, what I realize now that I didn’t realize then is that wherever I sat on that bus, the bus was still taking me home. Even when I blew it. Even when I got sent to the back of the bus, the bus was still moving me forward. So when you say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then you do it and then you say, “No, I swear I’ll never do it again,” and then you’d do it, we don’t have to look down in shame and we don’t have to look sideways for excuses. “Well, I read on the Internet that Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet. Well, I read on the Internet that the church isn’t even true and so I don’t have to break my bad habits.” We’ve got plenty of people playing that game.
We don’t have to look down or sideways. “Well, he does it too. Well, she does it too. The church is wrong to have such high expectations.” We don’t have to play that game. Instead we can look up, we can look up for the help that Christ is so willing to proffer us. We can look up for his grace and we can be changed. When we say, “I’ll never do it again,” and we break that promise, even a pinky promise. (you know, I saw a deacon and a beehive fighting the other day and they were fighting over which is stronger – pinky promise or scout’s honor, and I said, “It doesn’t matter because you’re going to break both of them,”) so when you break pinky promise and when you break scout’s honor, and when we struggle with promises made before God, angels and witnesses, we stay on the bus. We don’t get off the bus; we stay on the bus; we stay in the church; we stay in our covenant relationship with Christ and he will get us home. He will get us there.
Grace is not a prize for the perfect. It is the power to help us through the perfecting process. Grace is not a reward for the righteous. It is the source of righteousness. Grace is not a prize, a trophy for the worthy. It is the source of worthiness and it’s real. It’s a real force and that makes a real difference. It’s not Mulan’s lucky cricket, it’s not self-fulfilled prophecy. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not luck or coincidence. It’s a real force. I’ve seen it change so many and I see it changing me. I bear testimony of the reality of Christ’s existence, the reality of his atonement and the reality of His grace, and I thank all of you for caring in a world that’s giving up religion, in a world of Latter-day Saints that are caving in to any argument that flits across the computer screen. I’m grateful for those who are working to present Mormonism fairly, to present our faith fairly, for we do not simply believe because we are mindless sheep. We believe because we are making an intelligent choice. We don’t believe we’re earning our way to heaven with our works. We believe that we’re learning to be heavenly with the help of Christ’s grace.
And, as we stay in that covenant relationship, we don’t depend on his part and our part. It’s not a ratio. It’s a relationship and within that loving relationship, we are tutored, we are educated, we are blessed, and we are given grace to be changed. Thank heaven, literally, for the atonement that allows us, instead of being condemned by our mistakes, to be educated and uplifted and made better because of our mistakes. I bear this testimony and all of my gratitude for those who work toward this end in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Q1. Do you think there’s a conflict in the New Testament between the Savior’s teachings that we must do things such as helping the less fortunate per Matthew 25 (sheep and goats) and Paul’s teachings, Romans 10:9-10, that if we can just come to Christ?
A1. I think there’s a conflict if you’re thinking about earning heaven, ticking off things on a list, but there’s absolutely no conflict when you think about becoming, when you think about what we are to become, then there’s no earning. Not what we know, not what we do, but what we can become through the grace of Christ. I think then there’s no conflict. We don’t have to apologize for Paul. We don’t have to hide Paul. Paul taught grace within the context of the plan of salvation and temple ordinances. Christians don’t have either of those contexts, so mainstream Christians often misinterpret grace, but we have a fullness of understanding that gives us a fullness of understanding of grace and Paul’s teachings that they don’t have.
Q2. Since we’re talking about misinterpreting, do we misinterpret 2 Nephi 25:23? Is it possible to do all that we can do?
A2. Again, if you look at the context in which we read that scripture, you’re talking about grace. We’re talking a few verses later about buying milk and honey without money, without price. So when I think of ‘after all we can do’, I don’t emphasize the words ‘after’ or ‘all’ or ‘can’ or ‘do’. I emphasize the word ‘we’ – after all ‘we’ can do, not ‘we’ as in you and me, but ‘we’ as in Christ and me working together in a covenant relationship which is described in the context around that verse that’s so often quoted.
Q3. What do I say to my Baptist friend who says, “Mormons have to earn their way in heaven.”?
A3. Say, I’d like to invite you over for a barbecue. No, say, “Mormons aren’t earning heaven. We are learning heaven.” And in that context then we start seeing earth as a school, which is what is meant to be, not as a perpetual garden of Eden, where we were meant to run around naked, frolicking with animals–although some of my students kind of wish that were still happening. I think if we can understand that earth life was meant to be a school, then we can understand that the atonement and the grace that flows from the atonement is not just about getting us home when the school bell rings. It’s about helping us learn our lessons. It’s about helping us during trials. See, without an understanding of what earth life is for then why do we need to go through the trials? But once we understand that that school is to help us become better and that the atonement is there to help us become better, then we realize that’s why we left.
Gosh, if the atonement is just about getting us back to God, why did we leave? We were already with God. The point that we weren’t like God, and so the atonement isn’t just about getting us home, earning our way into heaven, but it’s about getting us home better than we were when we came.
Q4. Can you repeat for us the three phrases you said? Grace is the power to get us through that. You said it near the end of your talk.
A4. Oh, heavens. I don’t even remember what I said, but I think I was saying grace is not a reward for the righteous; it’s the source of righteousness. And grace isn’t a trophy for the worthy; it’s the source of worthiness. And it’s not a prize for the perfect; it’s the help for those who are willing to be perfected.
Q5. Good, this is the last one. I’m sorry if I didn’t get to all of them, but this one is a whole other talk, I think. Some people reject the possibility of grace and tender mercies because of the suffering that exists in the world and mock those that testify of small miracles like finding lost car keys and prayers. How do we best help them understand that tender mercies and grace can abound in spite of the tragedies and disasters that will occur?
A5. Again, I think as we enjoy the broader perspective that we enjoy as Latter-day saints (and aren’t we grateful for it?) then we can deal with the tragedies and the death and we can see Christ’s grace, his answers to prayer even amid those tragedies. I mean, my prayers changed for my dad, when he had his stroke that left him unable to speak or eat or move. My prayers changed that quick. The whole way to the hospital, I was praying, “Please, please help him. Please save him. Please take care of him. Please heal him.” Then, immediately my prayers changed to “Please take him. Please take him.” And so I think if we can see tender mercies and answers to prayer, not as little merit badges that God is giving out to his obedient children; instead, if we can see that it’s the help and blessings that He’s giving us as we go through this earth life that is meant to be hard. Christ didn’t suffer for us so that we wouldn’t have to suffer. He suffered for us so that He could be with us in our suffering. How can we expect to become like him if we ask him to take away from us anything that makes us suffer or be uncomfortable? The atonement is not about being comfortable. The atonement is about being comforted amid the very lessons that we need to learn. Thank you. It’s been great. Thank you. Love being with you. Love being with you.