In 5th Grade I took violin lessons. My instrument was a beautiful wooden violin stained a dark cherry-chocolate color that had belonged to my grandmother (who passed away when I was 5), so it held sentimental value.
I can still remember the smell of rubbing resin along the bow's horsehair.
I stored the violin in an old alligator-skin carrying case, unlike anything the other students with their thermoplastic-shell cases had seen. Who knows: maybe as a young fiery red-head, my grandmother had wrestled the rascal in the bayou. "For Stradivari!" (There's an Antiques Roadshow episode where an alligator case appraised for about $350; so not something worth risking your life for in my opinion.)
Anyway, I never got "good" at playing the violin and I soon gave up. Like I had with the trumpet in 4th Grade. And the piano lessons when I was 12; and my short-lived, home-taught harmonica stint.
And let's not forget the guitar lessons when I was 13 (the dream instrument of every adolescent boy hoping to be cool). No matter what song I tried strumming ― be it Down in the Valley or Saints Go Marching― they all sounded the same, like the blades of a Huey helicopter conducting an air raid during Vietnam.
Pretty much my entire childhood was a long stretch of musical failure.
What Kind of Instrument Are We? Now consider this: we are instruments in God's hands.
The Lord . . . has made me an instrument in his hands in bringing so many of you to a knowledge of his truth.
Those words were spoken by Alma the Elder; notice he says the Lord "made me an instrument." So God doesn't drive to the local shopping mall on Kolob Boulevard and pick us up from the music shop; none of us are store-bought; we were not mass-produced, off-the-rack.
Is heaven the Lord's workshop, or is hell? He crafts us into an instrument that fits His hands; He engraves His mark into our hearts (Isaiah 49:16) so everyone will know whose work we are.
His mark, of course, is love.
But remember: we are not passive pieces of wood being "acted upon" by the Carpenter; God doesn't chisel us into some preconceived notion of what we should be. No, the fascinating thing about the way our instrument takes shape is the fact it is a joint-labor, a collaboration. We have as much say about it as He does.
And because we're all handmade, no two instruments are alike.
One more point I'd like to make with this analogy. I'm sure we're all familiar with the poem, "The Touch of the Master's Hands," about a man who plays a battered violin and produces such beautiful music from the old instrument, the audience marvels and weeps.
Well, sorry to say, the Master doesn't play us like an instrument; He never takes over our bodily functions and minds, as if He were a body snatcher. No, we won't find God performing a one-man show on stage using us as props.
The music we hear? It contains more than melody, more than God's singular will: it has harmony!
And harmony can only come from multiple voices, or strings.
Have you heard someone use the phrase, "We need to be in-tune with the Spirit"?
What does that mean? How do we "tune" to the Spirit?
If any of you have children who learned to play the violin, you know it's not the most pleasant instrument to listen to in a beginner's hands.
At first, nothing resembling "music" comes from the instrument; expect endless hours of out-of-tune screeching.
(But at least it's not the tuba.)
An instrument is of little use to a musician until it is tuned — otherwise, no matter how skillfully they play the strings, the sound will be off.
Mormon did not mince words when he declared, “[I]f ye have not charity, ye are nothing” (Moroni 7:46). What if "instruments in the hands of God" referred to those whose hearts are tuned to the pure love of Christ?
The missionary Ammon rejoiced:
We have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.
As a finely-turned instrument (see Alma 27:17-18), see how Ammon connected "love" with the power of God's word:
They are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore, have we not great reason to rejoice?
The sound of the gospel is harmony; the melody is love; and the music is joyful.
They are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.
I didn't expect to find the phrase "great and marvelous work" here, of all places, to describe the 14 year mission to the Lamanites. Maybe it prefigures the latter-day 'great and marvelous' work. But it seems the greatest and most marvelous work we will ever do is to become acquainted with God's love and help others do the same.
But isn't it interesting how this work of love, as Ammon mentions, can only be done through the "power of his word"?
That means there's something more than just quoting scriptures and speaking the right words, here. What's the secret ingredient? Ammon says the words are only "powerful" because, and when, they are found "in us."
Before we leave Ammon, look at what he defines as the fruit of their labor:
See the fruits of our labors . . . and we can witness of their sincerity, because of their love towards their brethren and also towards us.
So the true sign of conversion is not baptism, but of loving one another.
What about the Anti-Nephi-Lehites who believed in God and died instead of taking up arms against their unrepentant brethren? Were they saved because of their covenants? Because of the ordinances they had received?
No, Ammon tells us the sign of their fate:
We know that they have gone to their God, because of their love.
Hmmm. Seems like we need to preach more about Christ's love! Where are all the instruments who should be playing the song of redeeming love? Why are we more committed to the "Covenant Path" than to the "Loving Path"?
Consider: a person can be saved without receiving any ordinances at all in this life.
Exhibit "A" = Alvin Smith.
"And I marveled how it was that [Alvin] had obtained an inheritance in that [celestial] kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins. Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God" (D&C 137:6-7).
See? But we can't be saved without charity.
Over the weekend I read a lot of back-and-forth between evangelical Christians and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Instead of locking arms in support of God's love (I am sure we can all agree on that), there is endless debate over certain points of doctrine.
I wasn't participating in the online discussions, but it dawned on me there are two main areas where mainstream Christians get hot-and-bothered with members of the LDS Church. Why do we let doctrinal differences destroy fellowship and goodwill, I wondered?
The two pressure points are usually:
1. The role of "works" in our salvation; and
2. The notions of the Godhead/Trinity.
One Christian (I presume Calvinist) became extremely belligerent while defending the doctrine of grace. But at what cost? How could he feel like he was championing Christ's "true" gospel when he was animated by a spirit of contention?
My servants sinned a very grievous sin; [oh, did they commit adultery? murder?] [for] contentions arose [that's all? Contentions?] in the school of the prophets; which was very grievous unto me, saith your Lord . . . .
If you keep not my commandments, [which ones? How about we start with "love one another as I have loved you." the love of the Father shall not continue with you, [why? Does He stop loving us?] therefore you shall walk in darkness [why does the absence of love create darkness?].
(D&C 95:10, 12)
So today in modern Christendom, in all the Churches, we have an orchestra comprised of instruments that are out-of-tune; who are playing different songs, who treasure different sheet music and composers.
It is jarring; it creates noise pollution. Nephi warned us, telling us to "not contend one with another" (2 Nephi 26:32). But what will shock you is the other sins that Nephi pairs contention with. We're talking the Big Ones.
- Murder - Lying - Stealing - Taking the name of God in vain - Envy - Malice - Contention - Whoredoms
(2 Nephi 26:32)
Can you believe "contention" made the list of the Nephi's Top Sins? I mean, he put contention before whoredoms!
So the next time we listen to those playing in the Religious Superbowl Half-Time show, billed as God's instruments, listen. Listen to their music; can you hear the song of redeeming love?
Or do we mainly hear the static beat of contention? Of pride dressed finely in religious garb, stroking the chords of carnal security?
The Restoration was supposed to resolve the war of words, not add to it; the Book of Mormon was meant to bring us into a unity of faith, not divide us.
Unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.