And This Is Life Eternal

Many of you know that I am a professional educator. I work in the Freeport School District as the Curriculum Coordinator for 21st Century Teaching and Learning. Whenever I have the opportunity to share this with others upon meeting them for the first time, one of the first questions I get is, “Is that your real hair?” Apparently, there are things people care about more than know what it means to coordinate the teaching and learning efforts of an entire century. (The answer, by the way, is yes, this is my real hair; no, I don’t dye it; yes, it really is this curly; and no, you cannot touch it to see if it is actually a wig.) 

Once I am able to get the discussion about my amazing naturally curly hair out of the way, we get back to the question of what it is I actually do. My favourite way to describe my job is that I am a teacher of teachers and that my main responsibility is to get them to put away the worksheets and step away from the PowerPoint so that they can engage their students in active learning opportunities.

Sometimes this is met with approval. Other times, often when I am talking to other educators, I get a lengthy rebuttal insisting that worksheets are a valuable tool to monitor student learning. While I do not disagree that a worksheet can be useful, I have yet to encounter a student who is excited to go home to tell his or her parents all about the amazing worksheet they did in math class that day.

So what does it mean to engage students in active learning opportunities? While there are literally hundreds of books written on this topic, many of which are weighing down my bookshelves at home and at work, one of the most effective methods that I have found is called project-based learning. This is a framework for organising instruction that is built around one essential question, ideally one that is selected by the students themselves, with a final culminating public product that demonstrates what has been learned.

With all of this as background, I would like to share a little bit about the process that my students have gone through over the past few months as they have been attending early morning seminary in my home.

One component of the seminary program is called Doctrinal Mastery. For those of you who attended seminary back in the 1900s, you may recall something called Scripture Mastery. For each of the four standard works, there were 25 scriptures that you had to memorise. In order to aid in this, your teacher probably had you play innumerable games that helped you turn to these passages as quickly as possible. Scripture chases filled seminary classrooms. Super Saturday events were held on a regular basis so that we could show off our amazing scripture mastery skills with youth from multiple stakes before having a spaghetti dinner with lots of garlic bread and then having a dance during which, thanks to the aforementioned garlic bread, the adults present never had to worry about bodies getting too close to one another.

Today we take a slightly different approach. While there are still 25 scriptures for each of the standard works, Doctrinal Mastery, as opposed to Scripture Mastery, emphasises, well, doctrine. Specifically, seminary students are asked to gain a deeper understanding of the doctrines of the Gospel as they relate to the Godhead, the Plan of Salvation, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the Restoration of the church through Joseph Smith, prophets and revelation, Priesthood and priesthood keys, ordinances and covenants, marriage and family, and the commandments of God. Additionally, students are taught the importance of acquiring spiritual knowledge by learning how to not just read the scriptures, but to study, ponder, and pray about them.

This, in a nutshell, is what my students have been doing each Wednesday morning as we set aside time for doctrinal mastery. However, rather than me presenting lessons and talking with or at them, I decided to draw from my experience as the 21st century coordinator in my district. I asked them to come up with a list of doctrinal questions that they could research throughout the semester. To help generate possible questions, we turned to the Articles of Faith. Just looking at the first four, they generated questions such as “Who is God?” “Why should we worship Him?” “What is faith?” “What is the Atonement?” and “Is baptism truly necessary for salvation?” After researching their chosen question, they were asked to prepare a sacrament meeting talk to share what they had learned. (That is the public product.) I challenged each of them to prepare a 15-minute talk, but explained that I would be speaking afterwards and would be tasked with filling the time remaining.

In thinking about Doctrinal Mastery, perhaps the first question we need to ask is what is meant by “the doctrines of the Gospel” in the first place. According to Joseph Smith, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 121). 

Nephi in The Book of Mormon tells us that his father taught that “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth… Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise” (2 Nephi 2:6, 8).

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah testified of the Christ that should come when he declared, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

And let us not forget the simple yet profound statement made by the Saviour Himself: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Every prophet that has ever lived has testified of Christ and of His atoning sacrifice on behalf of mankind. Why? Because that is what is necessary for eternal life. As Nephi testified, “it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (see 2 Nephi 25:23). 

What does this mean?

It means that there is one thing, and one thing only, that will lead to eternal life: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Saviour said that eternal life is based upon knowing God and Christ, I will point out that there is a difference between knowing about Them and truly knowing Them. Knowing our Father in Heaven means that we understand His plan of salvation. It means that we recognise the importance of the ordinances of the Gospel. It means that we heed to the words of His prophets, both those in ancient days, those of yesterday, and those of today. It means that we read, study, ponder, and pray about the messages we are given. Knowing God is knowing His voice. It is knowing that He speaks to us in our day. It is knowing that when He speaks, we ought to go and do. Knowing Jesus Christ means understanding that while He was an amazing teacher, servant, leader, friend, counselor, and performer of miracles, He was also the divine son of God, and that he was, in very fact, God incarnate, both fully mortal and fully God. It is having absolute trust in Him and in His word. This knowledge not just about but of our Father in Heaven and of our Saviour is why we join our voices together as we sing, “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!”

I wish to close with the words of my favourite Christmas hymn. It was originally written as a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A brief history of this poem is worth noting. Shortly before penning the poem, “Christmas Bells,” his wife died in a tragic fire. Later, his son left home to join the Union Army during the Civil War and was gravely injured. Here are the words Longfellow wrote:

“I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

“I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

“And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.’

“Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

As we enter into the often frenetic busyness of the holidays, I pray that each of us will pause to remember the real business of these holy days. It is my testimony that Jesus is the Christ. God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.

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