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Raising the Bar - Living a Higher and Holier Way. Becoming Capable and Trusted Disciples of Jesus Christ

Sherilynn Skiba
July 11, 2023 11:15 AM

"When we choose to raise the bar, we choose to push ourselves to be better, to do better, and to <b>become</b> better in every aspect of our lives. God wants more than just our obedience. That is not what He is looking for. He wants us to become more like him. He wants our heart, our might, our mind and our soul. You can become who you were meant to be by living a higher and holier way."
Raising the Bar – Living a Higher and Holier Way.  Becoming Capable and Trusted Disciples of Jesus Christ.

Thank you, choir. That is such a beautiful song. It just makes me feel – having all of you here, you raise me up, students, faculty, staff, people that I am able to work with, my friends, and my family, I am excited to be with you today.

I’m going to speak to you about something I am very passionate about. You heard I am the math program chair. Don’t worry. I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about math. What I do want to talk about is, Raising the Bar – Living a Higher and Holier Way. Becoming Capable and Trusted Disciples of Jesus Christ. Notice that it says BECOMING. One of the many things I feel is important in ANY subject you are learning is to understand the WHY. One of the favorite questions, and Sister Lingen can confirm this, that all math students say is: “Why do we have to learn this?” The answer is just so that you can do things in the next math class. But ultimately, there is a BIG picture reason why we need to know and do things, to ultimately become something. Raising the Bar is a common phrase. We hear that often. What does it really mean? To illustrate this, I’m going to go to its origin… The High Jump. The High Jump is an event in track and field where on your own power you run and jump over a bar. They keep raising the bar until no one can go any higher.

This is our second son, Jeff. Jeff was born without a left fibula. This condition caused his leg to be much shorter than the right leg and proportionally would continue to have an even greater discrepancy. The way to treat this was to do a below-the-knee amputation when he was about 11 months old so he could be fitted with a prosthetic, and they would be able to have his leg grow, and he would be able to change that discrepancy. As he grew, they could just make the leg longer. Despite this setback, Jeff refused to let his disability define him. He started walking when he was only 13 months old. This here is his first prosthetic leg. It is tiny, and he started walking when he was really young. 13 months old is kind of a normal age to start walking. This little guy was very determined. He participated in sports at a young age. When he was in high school, he played on the basketball team. One day during his sophomore year, the track coach was in the gym watching him dunk the basketball with his elbows up by the rim and told him he should go out and high jump. He should go on the track team. His first practice he went out and jumped 6 ft. This was higher than anyone could jump. He continued to have success. He eventually won the Washington State High Jump his senior year. This was able-body, not disability.

Sometime during his junior year of high school, he was contacted by the company that manufactured the foot he was using. The type of artificial foot he was using was guaranteed for life and he kept breaking them. The company asked what he was doing to break these feet. She told him he was a high school athlete. They immediately contacted him to participate in Paralympic sports.

His first Paralympic track meet was held in Southern California. He broke the world record for amputee high jump. All the athletes there called him the high school kid because he was by far the youngest there. He went to the World Championship in France when he was 17 years old. He has competed all over the world including Athens, where he won a silver medal in high jump. In Beijing, he won the gold in high and a silver in the pentathlon. He went to London where he again won a silver in the high jump. He went to Rio but didn’t medal. He was considered old at that age. If you are over 30, you are an old athlete. He had all these incredible opportunities to travel all over the world.

With that in mind, I want to talk about what I have learned about raising the bar, living a higher and holier way from my experiences of watching Jeff.

Lesson number 1. - Always have the goal in front of you where you can see it. After competing in Athens, Jeff set a goal to jump 2.15 meters or about 7 ft. That is about the height I can reach with my arm as I extend it as high as I can. extended as high as I can. Jeff put a mark 7ft high on his wall in his bedroom where he saw it every day. If he had the goal in front of him, he would think about it.

To become like our Savior and return to live with Him, we need to have HIM in front of us every day. We need to have a picture of Him, music, scriptures. We need to make Him the focus of our lives that we think about every single day. 

Lesson number 2. - Practice the small and simple things. I thought it would be fun to go watch a high jump practice. I thought they would start out low and just keep jumping until they got very high. But that’s not how practice was. It was working in the weight room. It was strengthening your core and doing plyometrics. It was running sprints, counting the exact number of steps to the bar and the path to the bar over and over and over. Doing two-step jumps. Doing these things changes your body and it becomes automatic. You develop muscle memory.

So, with that in mind, what are the small and simple things we need to do spiritually? It’s the Sunday School answers. Reading scriptures, saying your prayers, doing small acts of kindness and service. It is doing these things over and over and over again. These are the things that change your heart and YOU become like Christ. 

Lesson number 3 - Stand on something that is solid and not after the manner of men.  Jeff jumps off his right leg, not his prosthetic leg. He jumps off his sound leg. Most of the other paralympic athletes jump off their prosthetic leg. He also used a regular street prosthetic, not the fancy blade for running. He had a blade for running because he would do some sprints but he did that. So what we need to do is stand on something solid.

Helaman 5:12 says, “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the Rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation.”

We need to make sure that EVERYthing we do is built upon the rock of Jesus Christ.  He needs to become the foundation.  Built upon the gospel.  

Lesson number 4 - The higher the bar, the harder it is to clear.

Elder Paul Jarvis taught, “Jesus taught a higher law that not only elevates our actions but also the thoughts and feelings that inspire them. This higher law required much more: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

What I would like to do now is I would like to go to the scriptures to talk a bit about Jesus taught. If you have your scriptures, I am going to be in Matthew 5 where it talks about the Sermon on the Mount. This has been in Come Follow Me so we are going to talk about some of the things you have studied this year. I want to start in verse 21 and it says,

21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 

It is interesting that if you go to Third Nephi, these same scriptures are there. An interesting thing to note in Third Nephi, there is one slight change. If I was in a class, I would have you all get this out and look for it and see if you could find it. Since we don’t have that option to do that here, I’m going to talk to you about it. In 3 Nephi 12:22, it says, “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment.” I’m going to stop there. The difference here is that in the first one, it says “without a cause.” So what Christ is asking us to not be angry even when we have a cause. We need to not be angry with our brethren. 

So we are going to go back now to Matthew 5, verse 27. 

27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already in his heart. 

And then we jump down to verse 43. 

43 ¶ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour , and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies , bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 

If we go back to Chapter 12 in 3rd Nephi, there is a verse that I think kind of summarizes this for us. It says in verse 29. “Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart.”

So when you think about all of these scriptures that I have just read, this is the higher and holier law. The original law was, “don’t do this.” It was what was legally required. Now we are talking about what is in our heart and that is what Heavenly Father wants us to do. If anger and lust never enter your heart, the actions are never going to follow. The Savior wants our hearts to change for us to become something different.

Finally, the last scripture there in Matthew 5 says,

48 Be ye therefore perfect , even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect .

And in 3 Nephi 12, it just adds “as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” We could have a whole lesson talking about what that means. I believe this is where we start to change our heart.

For over 50 years, For the Strength of Youth has been a guide for Latter-day Saints. In October 2020, the Church introduced an updated version. For this version of For the Strength of Youth is subtitled "a Guide for Making Choices."

One thing I want to talk about here is some of the changes. I know when it first came out, I work with young men and young women a lot. A lot of them are like, “sweet, we have no rules.” The book doesn’t have a list of rules. Even some of the parents were saying, “what are we going to do. We have no rules.” But it is exactly the opposite of that. It is a higher and holier way to think about our behavior.

On page 4 in the FSOY pamphlet, I am going to go there and read it to you. it says “Make Jesus Christ your standard, your rock solid foundation. Build your life on HIS teachings, and measure your choices by them.”

So that is what we are going to do. Instead of having a list of things, we are going to measure up our choices. This pamphlet is awesome. It talks about doctrine and principals. It starts with love God and love people and it goes from there. It has in the back if you want the list if you go to the index, you can find the list of things to do. It references us back to the doctrine that we should be following.

Elder Uchtdorf stated when this first came out: “To be very clear, the best guide you can possibly have for making choices is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the strength of youth. So the purpose of For the Strength of Youth is to point you to Him. It teaches you eternal truths of His restored gospel—truths about who you are, who He is, and what you can accomplish with His strength. It teaches you how to make righteous choices based on those eternal truths.” [i] He does on to say, “Is it wrong to have rules? Of course not. We all need them every day. But it is wrong to focus only on rules instead of focusing on the Savior. You need to know the whys and the hows and then consider the consequences of your choices. You need to put your trust in Jesus Christ. He will lead you the right way. He is your strength.”

I love this. The new guidelines focus on values, principles, and doctrine instead of every specific behavior.

In a similar way, the CES Honor Code encourages us to live according to a higher and holier law. The CES Honor Code is a tangible expression of that commitment. The Honor Code is not simply a set of rules that we must follow, but rather it is a manifestation of a higher and holier law. It is a reflection of the covenants we make with our Heavenly Father at baptism and in the temple. It is an expression of our commitment to follow the Savior and to become more like Him. We can ask ourselves, “What is the Doctrine?” As we strive to live according to the Honor Code, whatever it is that you are struggling with, what is the doctrine, just like the new For the Strength of Youth program, we are not just following rules. We are seeking to become more like our Savior. We are striving to live a higher and holier law that brings us closer to Him and ultimately helps us to become more like Him.

One last lesson that I learned from high jump.

Lesson number 5 - You’re going to knock the bar off sometimes. I don’t know if you know this but each jumper gets three attempts at each height. You can knock the bar off twice. As they raise the bar, you continue to get three attempts. If you knock it off three times, you are done for that meet. There are more meets every single year than just one. There is actually a lot of years that you could be participating.

Getting a silver medal, I actually have it here. This is the silver medal that Jeff got in Athens. He was so disappointed that he got the silver medal. He was the world record holder and thought that he should get the gold. So he left it with me. That is really a bummer that I get to keep his silver medal, right? That was a subpar act for him. He went home and he set new goals.

Stephen Owen, former Young Men General President, said. “Too often we think of repentance as something miserable and depressing. But God’s plan is the plan of happiness, not the plan of misery! Repentance is uplifting and ennobling. It’s sin that brings unhappiness. 2 Repentance is our escape route!”

President Nelson has said. “When we choose to repent, we choose to change! We allow the Savior to transform us into the best version of ourselves. We choose to grow spiritually and receive joy—the joy of redemption in Him. 8 When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ!”

That is a real cool thought when you think about it. As in the high jump when you get multiple attempts, we will need those multiple attempts. We are going to knock the bar off. We are going to make mistakes. We need to be able to go back.

Another thing to keep in mind is Once you reach a high level you don’t go back down and start at the lower level. When Jeff would compete in high school, he wouldn’t take his first jump until the bar was at 6 ft. (1.8 meters) The bar usually started at about 4 ½ feet. (1.4 meters) He would come in at about 1.8 meters. He would be sitting there with his sweats on, just waiting. The other guys would be jumping thinking they were winning. He would come in and jump over 6 feet and continue on. Each jump takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of energy. He wanted to save his energy for the higher heights.

We also need to be careful not to choose to go back down to lower levels of obedience. Yet you hear people say, “I can just repent.” It is much much harder. The is much easier to stay at a high level of commitment and obedience.

Becoming like Jesus Christ and returning to live with Him is the why of living a higher and holier way.
  • Always have the goal in front of you where you can see it.
  • Remember we need to practice the small and simple things.
  • Stand on something that is solid and not after the manner of men. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is where we need to stand.
  • The higher the bar, the harder it is to clear. To do that, we need to think about living by Doctrine and Principles as we make choices and as we go through that.
  • You’re going to knock the bar off sometimes. Repentance is our escape route.
So….. 7 ft. Did it happen? Let’s take a look.

This was at a really small track meet at a community college in Southern California. Very few people attended. It wasn’t on the big stage. There wasn’t a gold medal. In fact, it was an able-body track meet, not a paralympic track meet so it didn’t count as an amputee record. That is the way it is for our lives. We are not doing it for the show. We are not doing it to get recognition. As we attempt to reach our goal of becoming more like Christ, it is going to be a quiet thing that happens. You saw his excitement as he did that. That was a big thing for him to reach that 7-foot record as an amputee. I tried to look and see if there is anyone else who has broken that record as an amputee and I couldn’t find anything so I can’t say for sure that he is the only one. He might be but there might be others like him who are doing it quietly on their own.

I want us to think about this today. When we choose to raise the bar, we choose to push ourselves to be better, to do better, and to become better in every aspect of our lives. God wants more than just our obedience. That is not what He is looking for. He wants us to become more like him. He wants our heart, our might, our mind, and our soul. You can become who you were meant to be by living a higher and holier way. By making choices based on Doctrine and Principles. By doing this, you will get up and over the bar. You will become like Him and you can return to live with Him again. Jesus Christ is the answer for EVERYTHING. I am so grateful for this opportunity that I have had today to discuss with you how to become more like Jesus Christ.

This is kind of a stressful thing to speak to all of you because so many of you have so much more talent and they are great speakers and so many more opportunities. I am so grateful for this. A friend of mine told me that you should take every opportunity you can to testify of Jesus Christ. I appreciate this opportunity because I do want to testify of Jesus Christ. I know He is the way. He is the why. That is what I like to do when I am teaching, the why of what we do. Jesus Christ is the why because he loves you, he loves each one of you and he wants us to live with Him. The rules that we follow, the commandments, those are to bless our lives and to bring us joy in our lives. I am so grateful that we have the opportunity to have challenges as Jeff did. His life wasn’t easy. We could tell all kinds of stories of things that were hard for him. He was able to have great joy by making decisions and reaching and getting up over that bar and we can too in our lives. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[i] Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 2022 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

About the Speaker

Sherilynn Skiba

Sheri Skiba currently serves at Ensign College as the Math Program Chair. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from San Jose State University. She earned her master’s degree in Education from the University of Washington. She is a National Board-Certified teacher. Before coming to Ensign College, Sheri taught for the Lake Washington School District and was a concurrent enrollment faculty member for the University of Washington. 

Sheri has had many great opportunities serving in church calling including early morning seminary teacher, Relief Society President, Young Women President, and in Stake Young Women’s organizations. Sheri and her husband Mark first came to Ensign College as missionaries. She enjoys traveling and spending time with her family, which includes her husband Mark, their four children, and twelve grandchildren.
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