With Faith and Trepidation

Dear Will:

For the last seven years I have arisen before dawn every day of the school year to teach Seminary, the early morning religion class for somnambulant high school kids. It’s a curiously glorious assignment, one I have performed willingly and gladly since they first asked me to do it in 2007.

Since our church does not have a paid clergy, the whole, elaborate local operation is run by volunteers like me, most of whom do as they’re asked when they’re asked to do it. But we are not given the option of choosing our assignments—we are simply pulled aside and offered the chance to serve. And because we are committed, when we are invited to teach the five-year-olds or lead the choir or clean the chapel, our inclination is generally to say: Sure.

Of course, often we are asked to do things for which we have no true qualifications or training. We simply plunge in with a combination of faith and trepidation, learning as we go—sometimes at the expense of confused five-year-olds or thoroughly bamboozled altos and tenors. That alacrity to both serve and be served in spite of manifest ineptitude is consistent, I think, with the nature of Christ’s early church, which was run by a ragtag bunch of fishermen and tentmakers. They stumbled along, no doubt, but history shows that they were magnified in their task and the world is better for it.

It all brings to mind a favorite story. Peter and John, fairly new to this business of running a church on behalf of the Master, encountered a man who had been unable to walk since birth. Day after day his friends brought him to the temple gates to beg for coins to make his living. When the apostles stopped in front of him, the lame man expected that they would open their purses.

But he was mistaken. “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:6-8).

Peter and John may not have had much. What they did have was a willingness to give—such as they had. To give what they could and let the Savior compensate for that which they lacked. To bless another life—change it even—in spite of the fact that they were mere fishermen.

I bring this up to you now because I have been given a new assignment for which the term inadequate is itself inadequate to express my lack of qualifications. After this week, I will no longer be teaching sleepy teenagers in the morning because I have been called to serve as your new bishop, head of the entire ward congregation.

It’s a terrifying privilege to receive this assignment. I have not been blessed with great executive skills and I have no relevant professional or academic credentials. What I do have is a love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the people in our ward. I don’t expect to be particularly good at this job, but I take comfort in Christ’s ability to help us overcome our weaknesses (see Ether 12:27). If not for that, I wouldn’t have a chance.

It comes to that and little more. I really don’t have much. But such as I have, I’ll gladly give.

PW

Come and See

Dear Will:

When I was in college I had to read The Brothers Karamazov—all 913 pages worth. Because I was taking a full load of classes at the time, I ended up reading the book in daily, 20-page chunks over the course of nine or ten weeks. By the time I got to the end, I could hardly remember how the thing began.

So you can imagine how little I remember today. In fact, the only thing I recall even vaguely is a single chapter—a self-contained short story embedded within the larger narrative—a well-known piece entitled “The Grand Inquisitor.” It’s been 30-some years since I read it (so don’t hold me to this), but as I remember it, the essence of the story is this: Jesus returns to earth during the Inquisition, and in response to his many miracles the religious leaders—get this—sentence him to death. (I know: We’ve heard this before). They don’t really need Jesus anymore, the Inquisitor tells Him. They pretty much prefer life without Him.

Compare that reaction to the one found in the first chapter of the Gospel According to John, wherein we read of how Jesus came to know some of the men who would later become his closest friends and disciples. The passage describes a day on which John the Baptist was talking to a couple of his disciples. As the Lord passed by, the Baptist declared (in reference to Jesus): “Behold the Lamb of God!,” at which point the two disciples left John and went to follow Jesus instead:

Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye?  They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith unto them, Come and see. . . . One of the two . . . was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. (John 1:35-41)

I don’t know about you, but I would hate to be that Inquisitor dude—someone so caught up in life-as-I-know-it that I fail to recognize the best thing that has ever crossed my path. How much better to be Andrew, a man who knows a good thing when he sees it, one who is quick to follow good advice, eager to do what’s right, willing to tell others when he has found something worth sharing. Who wouldn’t rather be like that?

Even so, I find myself wondering: When was the last time I dropped everything to follow good counsel? How often have I overlooked or ignored or flat-out rejected an invitation to “come and see”? And when was the last time I made a point to share something truly meaningful and important with a friend?

Well, today I’d like to try to remedy that. Today I want to get in touch with my Inner Andrew and share with a friend something truly meaningful and important: This coming weekend (October 6 and 7) is the LDS Church’s semi-annual General Conference. During that Conference, you can hear from a living prophet of God and 12 real live apostles. They will speak truth and inspiration, the sorts of words that will help lead you to eternal happiness.  You can watch them from your favorite lounge chair, either on the BYU Channel or via a live online stream.

I can’t think of any better way to spend a few hours on a weekend. Come and see.

PW