Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Moral Courage

I have had the opportunity of teaching the Gospel Doctrine Sunday school class in our Ward for 20 consecutive years. I have taught now through the administration of six different bishops. I don't report this in a bragging way at all, but out of a deep sense of gratitude for the blessing six bishops have given me to allow me to continue to teach. You may question their inspiration or sanity, but never their kindness or charity. Certainly the members of our Ward haven't needed me as a teacher all of these years, but I have needed and benefited greatly from the assignment. Not being able to do anything physically, what a blessing it is to be able to still use my mind, spirit, and voice to teach that which I feel so strongly about. It also gives me something to focus on each week and motivates me to immerse myself in the Scriptures. I do believe the members of our Ward will be exalted because they have put up with me, the most laid-back teacher in the Church, for so many years.

Thankfully I am always discovering and learning new things from the Scriptures; new to me, anyway. Whenever I am finished teaching a lesson, I immediately delete it from my computer so I will not be tempted to repeat it again. By doing so I force myself to constantly look for new insights and eternal truths I can apply to my own life and that will hopefully be meaningful to others as well.

A few weeks ago in teaching the Book of Joshua, I discovered a new insight that was most meaningful to me. I'm sure that most of you are already aware of it. Actually, I must give credit to the curriculum writers for the insight I may have missed without their help.
As you know, Moses was not permitted to enter into the Promised Land with the children of Israel. Joshua was ordained to take his place and to lead the people across the Jordan River and conquer the various kingdoms living in the land of Canaan. Not only was it a daunting task to succeed Moses, but then to make war with, and conquer the Canaanites. In speaking to Joshua as he began his important mission the Lord counseled him as follows: "... be thou strong and very courageous... [Joshua 1:7] At first glance, I thought it was good advice Joshua was receiving, because it would take great physical strength and courage to gird on his armor and lead the armies of Israel against the Canaanites. However, I discovered as I read more carefully that the Lord wasn't telling Joshua he must have great physical courage, but a far more important brand of courage: "... [be strong and courageous] That thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest." [Joshua 1:7] The great challenge Joshua would have would be to be strong and courageous in keeping the Commandments contained in the law given to Moses by Jehovah. If he was morally strong and courageous and would not deviate from keeping the Commandments, the physical battle of confronting and conquering the Canaanites would take care of itself, because Jehovah would fight the future battles for them.

I have been able to apply this teaching to my own physical condition of paralysis. It takes no great physical strength or courage to deal with most physical challenges that come our way. The great test is to have the spiritual strength and courage to never deviate from living the law and trusting completely in God and in his power to deliver us from our own brand of "Canaanites."

Jehovah then gave Joshua the key to having the courage and strength to keep the Commandments: "This book of the law [the Scriptures] shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." [Joshua 1:8]

To me this is a lesson for the ages. It takes strength and courage to keep the Commandments, and to be true to God and to ourselves. However, as we meditate and ponder day and night the great truths contained in the Scriptures we can gain the faith necessary to know that as we do the will of the Lord we will "prosper and have good success." There really is no other way!

Moral courage, the kind the Lord counseled Joshua to have, seems to be in short supply these days. We see famous athletes breaking God's laws and also the hearts of young people who have looked at them as role models. How refreshing is the story of Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian, who in the 1924 summer Olympics held in Paris, refused to run in the 100 m race because it was to be held on Sunday? In taking this stand he felt in his heart that he had forfeited any chance of receiving a gold medal. The movie version, Chariots of Fire, is worthy of being viewed time and time again. Although receiving immense pressure from his government he did not succumb and ended up receiving a gold medal by winning the 400 m. Had he not won a gold medal however, it still would be such an important story.

While serving as a bishop many years ago, a wonderful young man joined the church at about age 17. When it was time to go to college, he received a generous scholarship from Fluor Corp. to attend the University of his choice. He chose to go to UCI, which was near his home. At age 19 he wanted to serve a mission but his parents basically told him that if he did so and lost the scholarship, they would withhold all financial support from him. He arranged for both of us to meet with the scholarship Board to present his case. The night before we went before the board he was nervous and upset and simply did not know what he would do if the board declined his request to defer his scholarship for two years. When he picked me up the next morning I immediately sensed something had happened to him during the night. He was smiling, enthusiastic, and very much at peace. He told me that last night he had decided to serve a mission, come what may -- scholarship or no scholarship. He beautifully presented his case to the board and I added a few comments as well. They had us wait outside the room and in just a few minutes the head of the scholarship Board came out and told us they would gladly defer the scholarship and that they were proud to have given a scholarship to such a fine young man.

These two examples have happy endings, but even though the gold medal and the scholarship may have been lost, I am convinced that the peace and spiritual strength received from "choosing the right" would have been reward enough in the lives of these two young men.

My greatest heroes are those who are true to themselves and to the Lord. They inspire me to never give up or give in to the world and its "values."

I recently read a wonderful book about moral courage. It is a little known, and yet an incredibly important episode in how the Western world was ultimately saved from Hitler and his Nazi regime.
The book, Troublesome Young Men (the rebels who brought Winston Churchill to power and helped save England) -- by Lynne Olson, is well worth reading if you enjoy history. "Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy [regarding Hitler and the Nazis] looks like willful self-delusion indulged to an insane, criminal degree. At the time, however, opponents of Chamberlain were regarded as hysterical warmongers bent on pulling Britain into a conflict that could be avoided by diplomacy and negotiation... Ms. Olson vividly recreates the climate of suspicion and hostility that surrounded the troublesome young men, a tiny minority with a seemingly hopeless cause." [William Grimes, literary critic, New York Times]

These young men eventually put everything on the line, their political futures, their standing in society, and their reputations to do what they knew in their heart they must do, come what may.

In our own lives nothing so dramatic as I have described above may ever come into our lives. I do believe; however, that on a daily basis we have decisions to make that require us to be strong and courageous in keeping all "the law." As we do so the Lord will fight our battles and we will be able to ultimately triumph over seemingly impossible odds. Each day we are tempted to do it the world's way or the Lord's way. How foolish it would be to think anyway but the Lord's way will bring us ultimate peace and joy.