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

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So What’s Your Point?

Dear Will:

Simon was a fisherman. He was in business with a couple of brothers, James and John, somewhere near Capernaum, adjacent to the Sea of Galilee.

At the end of one long, unproductive night on the lake, the three partners toiled at the shoreline, mending and cleaning their nets. One can only imagine the thoughts that went through their heads and the substance of their conversation as they contemplated many hours of hard labor that nevertheless had left them fishless.

Just then, a crowd began to converge on the place. Jesus, a young teacher from nearby Nazareth, had arrived in town, and many had come to hear what he had to say. As the crowd swelled and pressed forward to listen, Jesus climbed into one of Simon’s boats and pushed out a few feet from shore so that everyone could see and hear. No doubt the fishermen set aside their nets and joined the gathering.

We do not know the subject of the lesson that day, but when it ended, Jesus suggested that Simon grab his nets and head back out on the lake to try to catch some fish. Given the previous night’s futility, the suggestion may have seemed a bit imprudent. “Master,” said Simon, “we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”  And so they headed out, Simon and Jesus in one boat, James and John in another.

At a certain place, Jesus gave the signal and Simon let down his net, which immediately bulged with fish. So great was the catch, in fact, that the net began to tear, and Simon was compelled to call for the assistance of those in the other boat in order to secure the catch.

Happenstance? Clearly not. This day on the lake was unlike any before it. Recognizing the source of his good fortune, Simon became overwhelmed by the implications. Why should this man choose him—this boat, this lake, this hour. What could possibly make him worthy of this great bounty? The thought crumbled Simon, and he fell immediately at Jesus’ feet. “Depart from me,” he pled, “for I am a sinful man.”

To which Jesus might well have responded: “Yes. Yes, you are. So what’s your point?”

That is the point, after all. Paul said: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus came for that very reason. His life and ministry were devoted to the sinful.

Of course, you know that Jesus did not depart from Simon, but rather invited him—with all of his so-called unworthiness—to leave his nets and follow him from that day forward. Simon’s life changed that day when he agreed to follow Jesus, even though—and especially because—he was a sinful man.

Do you sometimes feel you have toiled fruitlessly, that in spite of your best efforts your life is little more than a few broken, empty nets? May I suggest that in those moments, you give in to the impulse to set those nets aside and join others who have gathered to hear the words of the Master Teacher, others who, like you, are sinful and unworthy, others who could also use a few more fish in their nets from time to time.

“Come, follow me” said Jesus (Luke 18:22). And when He said it, He was talking to you and me.

PW

Such As I Have

Dear Will:

I think I may have mentioned that I am in my second year of teaching early morning Seminary—the Mormon equivalent of Bible Study. Each school-day morning I gather with 15 or 16 high-schoolers (juniors and seniors this year) for a 50-minute discussion of the New Testament. So here’s a little taste of what I’ve been up to recently while you were at home eating Cocoa Puffs and reading the sports page:

Last week we completed our study of the four gospels. We lingered a bit on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias to consider the Savior’s final recorded conversation with his disciples (John 21). We took interest in the fact that the miracle which took place that day (a prodigious haul of fishes) was essentially identical to the one which occurred the day Jesus called Peter, James, John, and Andrew into the ministry. It was an effective reminder, we thought, that the apostles were supposed to be fishing for men rather than mackerel.

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” Thus began the awkward, perhaps even a little painful, but finally redemptive conversation between Jesus and his senior apostle. We noted how Jesus lovingly gave Peter three opportunities to confess Him—in fitting recompense for his three denials on the night and early morning before Jesus’ crucifixion. Those confessions were each followed by an admonition to feed the lambs and sheep of the Good Shepherd. We discussed how that admonition applies equally to us—after all, ours are His hands. He must rely on us to do the feeding. We talked about what that might mean—and who it is we might try to feed.

So, what if he asked each of us: “Lovest thou me?” How would He have us show our love for Him? The discussion led us to recall a couple of our Scripture Mastery verses for the year: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40); and “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We also recalled a verse made familiar by a Primary song (which I sang briefly for them just to make them squirm): “By this shall men know ye are my disciples: If ye have love one to another.” There really is no other way to show that you are truly a Christian.

This week, we’ll be talking about the first few chapters of Acts, including one of my favorite stories of all-time: the healing of the lame man at the temple gates (Acts 3 and 4). One thing we will discuss for sure is the profound lesson contained within Peter’s simple declaration: “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.” All Jesus asks us to give is “such as we have.” That is enough. His grace is sufficient to make up the rest. That even applies to the groggy and halfhearted who nevertheless find a way to stagger into the room and join me each morning at Seminary. And it applies to you and me as well.

I think of that event, from time to time: Of the two apostles—men of simple means—giving such as they had to bless that man’s life. And at such moments, I recommit to giving such as I have, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Perhaps this is just such an opportunity. And this brief note is such as I have.

PW