Sunday, September 23, 2012

Christlike Leadership

This semester I have the opportunity to co-teach a class on leadership at one of America's great universities. The class spends most of the time focusing on the works of James Kouzes and Barry Posner, who have published several bestselling books on leadership over the last 25 years.

As I've studied the course materials and interacted with the students in the class, my thoughts turn frequently  to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Jesus Christ is much more than a great philosopher. He is the son of God, the source of light and goodness, and the leader of the cause of righteousness. He stands at the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though the vocabulary may be different in religious versus business or government settings, becoming a great leader requires us to become more like Him.

Kouzes and Posner wrote in their bestseller, The Leadership Challenge, that the first of five attributes all great leaders have is that they 'model the way'. Christ is called 'the Great Exemplar' because his life was the perfect example of what our lives should be (see 1 Nephi 31:9). Though powerful and of noble heritage, he lived a humble life of service to others. Peter taught the ancient church:

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye are healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:21-25).

The second attribute Kouzes and Posner identify is to 'inspire a shared vision'. Christ taught that the faithful would have a 'crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions' of heaven (D&C 81:9). Millions of Christians have taken hold of that vision, unconfirmed by science, and press forward with faith and hope to their common goal.

Attribute number three is to 'challenge the process'. Christ did what was right regardless of tradition or the expectations of those around him. As a twelve year old, he stayed at the temple when his family headed for home because it was where he needed to be. To the surprise of the John the Baptist, Christ was baptized to fulfill all righteousness.

Christ challenged his disciples to have the faith to walk on water, to become great through service to the least, to allow the little children and strive to be more like them, and to believe in the resurrection. He challenged the uninspired laws instituted by the scribes and pharisees and invited them to 'cast the first stone'.

Fourth, great leaders enable others to act. The atonement of Christ gives each of us access to his grace, which the scripture guide defines as the, 'enabling power from God that allows men and women to obtain blessings in this life and to gain eternal life and exaltation'.  He taught that 'all things are possible unto him that believeth' (Mark 9:23).

Finally, Kouzes and Posner round out their list with the note that great leaders encourage the heart. Anyone who has turned to Christ with their burdens has felt the hope and joy of their relief. Christ asks us to 'fear not' but be believing. He comforts the sincere heart with the knowledge that all our trials will be 'but a small moment' and that if we endure well, we will triumph (D&C 121:8).

There are many examples from the life of Christ that show he was a great leader by the standards set by experts among men like Kouzes and Posner. The challenge for us as leaders-- that is, as parents, business managers, volunteer coordinators, teachers, scout or activity day leaders, examples to our neighbors, etc.-- is to live up to the standards set by the example of Christ.

Jesus Christ loves all people. He was never patronizing or hypocritical; he lifted others' burdens and put into action all that he taught. His leadership inspired those around him to rise to new levels and achieve things they had previously never believed were possible.

Do our children feel as uplifted in the way we treat them? Do we motivate our employees through trust and love? Do we respect the agency of others? Do we validate the need our friends and family have to feel valued and important? Do we love others?

Long before there was a bestseller, Christ taught each of us how to lead in this oft-quoted passage:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-- Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou has reproved, lest he esteem the to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and... the Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion (D&C 121:41-46).

Though speaking directly to priesthood leaders, the counsel here is valid for leaders in every setting. As our children know that our love for them is stronger than the cords of death; as those in our stewardship at work and at church see our patience and understanding; as we serve our friends and neighbors with charity and love unfeigned-- then we will be leading as Christ would lead.

As we seek to be better leaders in our homes, our workplaces and our communities, we need only to strive to walk in the footsteps of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is more than a great leader. He is the source of truth, our great Exemplar, and our friend.To be a better leader-- a better parent, disciple, manager or civil servant-- we need only to become more like Him.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grace and Piano Lessons

A lesson on grace from a 2011 BYU Devotional by Brad Wilcox. :

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher... Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being 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!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.

In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“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!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven."
I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”

They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?”

I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!”

Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” 

They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to.

I know a young man who just got out of prison—again. Each time two roads diverge in a yellow wood, he takes the wrong one—every time. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, “We need to get him to EFY.” I have worked with that program since 1985. I know the good it can do.

His dad said, “I can’t afford that.”

I said, “I can’t afford it either, but you put some in, and I’ll put some in, and then we’ll go to my mom, because she is a real softy.”

We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and said, “Get me out of here!” Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly.

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.

Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”

Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.

But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.

(Click here for the rest of the talk.)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

An Insight on Holiness

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we talk a lot about things that are holy. Our doctrine includes extensive discussion of the Holy Ghost, holy temples, holy scriptures, holy priesthoods and the Holy One of Israel. We dedicate each building on our university campuses, every one of the thousands of meetinghouses around the world and even our homes as holy places. We talk about it 528 times in scripture and 89 times in the hymns of the Church. Though perhaps not frequently addressed directly, holy people, places and objects are a big deal to us.

That may seem very natural for a religion to talk so much about holy things. In at least one context, after all, 'holy' can simply indicate the person, place or thing has some association with divinity. As many religions strive to build an association with divinity in the lives of its members, it would make sense that they would integrate holy things, including people, to help pave the way.

Yet, in a subtle way, holiness in the LDS Church can take on a slightly different connotation than outside the Church. Where most other faiths talk about holiness as an inherent trait given to a person, place or thing, we refer to holiness more as a developed or earned capacity. It is one thing to have divine potential, but something else entirely to be developed into something that is actually like God.

Dozens of temples around the world are not holy because of the materials with which they are built or the spot of ground upon which they're constructed. Nor are they holy simply because they are a temple, though temples are generally considered holy places. Temples are holy because of the presence of the spirit of the Lord and the sacred ordinances that are performed inside.

This view of holiness is unique in the world. It means that temples can stop being holy if no longer used for their intended purposes. The temple in Kirtland, Ohio, is an example of exactly that. As early members of the Church were driven from the state, the Kirtland temple, despite the sacred and miraculous events that had occurred there, became just another building. It is frequently toured today as a historic site of the town.

The same is true of all other things considered holy in the Church. If the Holy Ghost were to give up his divine mission; if the testimony of Christ were removed from scripture; if the priesthood were removed of its efficacy; if the Lord were to withdraw his influence from any of these things due to unworthiness or apostasy, they would no longer be holy.

Followers of Christ are invited to 'stand in holy places'. The Church handbook instructs that 'these holy places include temples, homes, and chapels. The presence of the Spirit and the behavior of those within these physical structures are what make them 'holy places'' (Handbook 2, 1.4.1; D&C 45:32; 87:8; 101:22; 2 Chronicles 35:5; Matthew 24:15).

Consider for a moment how you act at home, in a chapel or at the temple. If it is the behavior of those inside these buildings that make them holy places, are we contributors or detractors? Do our actions on Sunday contribute to a holy day? Do we, as the handbook directs, 'invite the Spirit into [our] homes through simple means such as wholesome entertainment, good music, and inspiring artwork'?

Likewise, each of us can become holy as we invite the Spirit into our lives and through individual righteousness. Even in the appropriate context, that comes off as a little strange. World religions have historically saved that title for prophets, popes, rabbis, apostles, monks, saints and various spiritual leaders. There seems to come a certain prestige or aura when something or someone is referred to as being holy.

King Benjamin explained in 124 B.C. that being holy is nothing to be patronizing or stuck up about. In fact, those are good clues we're not quite there yet. He explained how we can all be saints-- that is, how we can all be holy-- in this favorite verse of scripture:

The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19).

Being holy is simply a part of becoming a saint and a disciple of Christ. Through seeking the Spirit and righteous action, our lives may become holy as we allow the Lord to shape us into the people he intends for us to be. As I have sought more holiness in my own life, I have often echoed the prayer of Philip Paul Bliss. Perhaps it will inspire in you the courage to endure and to continue striving that it inspires from time to time in me:

More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff'ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.

More purity give me,
More strength to o'ercome,
More freedom from earthstains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy
More, Savior, like thee.