NT 4: Casting Out Fear

The other day my kids and I were discussing the angelic visitations recorded in Matthew 1 and Luke 1. We named everyone who received such a visit (Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds) and I asked the kids if they could remember the first thing the angel said to each person or group. My oldest daughter excitedly answered, “Don’t be afraid!” Why would an angel sent from God say “fear not” before anything else?

We could tie a specific expression of fear to each of the New Testament figures who received an angelic visitor. Zacharias may have been afraid of what people would think of a geriatric father. Mary could have feared for her socio-economic future and her life. Joseph was already afraid of society, shame, and (probably) what would happen to Mary if he divorced her. The shepherds may have been completely disoriented by the angel’s sudden brilliant appearance in the dead of night and probably feared for their lives and their sheep. Each group may have also been afraid at the outset of what God might require of them and feared being equal to the task.

Fear seems to be a universal emotion. In my mind it is distinctly tied to mortality. Fear doesn’t exist in the presence of God, in heaven––God is always encouraging us to cast out fear because it is contrary to His nature and what He wants us to experience (see 2 Timothy 1:7, NT).

I readily relate to the fear each group must have experienced. Fear is one of my default emotions: Fear of what people think of me, fear for my children when they’re out of my sight, fear for what my kids will pick up at school, fear of being shot down when I share the Gospel, the list goes on. The angel’s words of Matthew 1 and Luke 1 probably had a calming effect and created a sense of confidence and peace in the listeners. The words of 1 John 4:18 came to my mind as I pondered this theme and they had a similar effect on me: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear….” How does “perfect love” cast out fear, I wondered? What does “perfect love” look like?

If I love my kids perfectly, then I prioritize Gospel learning with them and I have faith in the lessons we learn at home; I have hope in their salvation through Jesus Christ (should anything happen to them while out of my immediate care); I am able to see the bigger picture and don’t get caught up in minutiae. What if I loved God perfectly? If I love God perfectly, then I keep His commandments, I love and serve others willingly; I put God before anything else in my life, I prioritize scripture study and prayer; I turn the other cheek and don’t hold grudges; I trust fully in His power, His plan, and His love.

And then there will be no room for fear.

NT 3: For Those Who Stumble

Last week for our daily scripture study I followed a suggestion to read 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah’s experience is a wonderful parallel to both Elizabeth and Mary. The miraculous births provide a clear picture of God’s power, grace, and love. Hannah’s words of praise for God capture this so beautifully:

My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord…. There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee…. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven…. (1 Samuel 2:1, 2, 4, 5, OT)

I could hear the angel’s words to Mary echoing, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37, NT).

We had already spoken so much about Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, that I wanted to provide a summary lesson for the girls, something that would help them understand an important theme running through our week’s study. My imagination caught hold of verse 4, “they that stumbled.” I wanted to liken the scriptures to my kids and help them understand how God can work in our lives.

As I shared 1 Samuel, chapter 2 with my girls, I began by contextualizing the verses: Hannah was an old woman who had prayed for many years to have a son. I asked the kids, does this remind you of anyone else in the scriptures? They got the answer right away. She promised God that if He would bless her with a son, she would make sure he dedicated his life to serving God. Hannah’s son was born and he became the prophet Samuel. The kids remembered that Samuel was the prophet who anointed David to be king. She expressed her gratitude to God by praising Him and describing how He can do amazing things that seem impossible to the world.

I read verse 4 and suggested that we all stumble. We defined “stumble” and added that we all have weaknesses or difficulties in life that make it hard for us to do some things. But God will help us if we ask Him. I pulled out a 25 pound bag of rice and asked each of my kids in turn to carry it from one end of the kitchen to the other and back in a straight line. My three year old went first but only made it one length. I told her that when we ask God for help, He will answer. I took hold of one of the handles on the bag of rice and helped my daughter carry it back to the starting point.

img_2483img_2487

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scriptures came alive for my kids as we carried the bag of rice together back and forth across the kitchen. They were also able to make connections between different stories in the Bible. Now they have a reference point and beginning comprehension of an important theme that runs through so much of scripture: god can do anything, even the seemingly impossible. He will help us with our challenges if we make an effort and ask for His help.

NT 2: Turning Our Hearts

The new home study curriculum is amazing! I bore my testimony about it in church yesterday and then again in Sunday School. I can already see positive changes in our home, family, and myself from this program. The hardest part of scripture study for me is deciding what to study. With the curriculum provided, my biggest roadblock is gone! I have been able to pick out one to two verses or a story or a Gospel principle to share with my kids each day and they actually listen!! No more fighting over reverence and sitting still through a 60-verse chapter, no more difficult concepts flying over their heads. I feel so empowered by this curriculum to make the scriptures accessible to my children. If you haven’t already started implementing Come, Follow Me––For Individuals and Families, you need to do it! Don’t spend one more day without the blessings that will come if your family studies the scriptures together.

Getting off my soap box now….

For Family Home Evening tonight I borrowed an idea from this week’s material (Come, Follow Me, “January 7-13,” p. 8) to work from Matthew 1:1-17 and discuss the importance of knowing about our family history. I broke in the topic this morning by reading just Matthew 1:1 with the girls, telling them about Samuel anointing David to be the future king, the prophecy of Christ’s lineage, defining “lineage,” and telling them what we would be doing for FHE. The girls asked if we could play a game. I pondered the request and with the help of the Spirit I came up with an “Ancestor Matching” game.

The Lineage of Jesus

Singing “The Hearts of the Children” from the Children’s Songbook really set a nice tone for our lesson tonight. We reviewed the main points of the morning’s teaser and re-read Matthew 1:1. My oldest daughter helped write out the lineage of Jesus from king David down to Joseph and Jesus. I then wrote my kids’ names on the board and showed them their lineage through of my ancestral lines. The girls asked if we could say the names out loud. As we read the names of our family members, I felt a powerful spiritual witness of my ancestors’ continued life beyond the grave and their awareness and appreciation of us. They care that we know about them.

Malachi prophesied, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:5-6, OT). Elijah restored the sealing power of the Priesthood to Joseph Smith and it is available today in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see D&C 110:13-16). I think one of the essential points of the Gospel is that, through the sealing power of the Priesthood, we unite every generation. This is one of the ways Heavenly Father brings His children back and it is one of the great blessings of eternal life: living with our family members in God’s presence for eternity. But I think part of the blessing is having our hearts knitted together. How can we do this unless we know about ancestors and start cultivating that bond now?

To this end, I told the girls stories about the ancestors we listed on the board. I tried to keep the stories short and centered on topics they could grasp and also easily remember. My oldest is almost six so I told them about my grandpa being given a gun and horse at the same age and sent out to the mountains with his brother overnight to watch the family sheep. I told them about my third-great grandmother who had thirteen children. She raised geese and ducks for various family needs (we are all about livestock and farms). I told them about my grandmother who never learned to swim or ride a bicycle but who built on her strengths to become a talented seamstress, cook, baker, and homemaker.

Then the kids got their wish! We played a game matching information about ancestors to their picture and name.

img_2454

We felt our hearts turn to our ancestors tonight. I hope my kids will remember some of these stories, finding strength and inspiration in them; I hope through the stories they will also build a powerful bond with these family members.

 

NT 1: Drops of Oil

I decided to continue my blog this year with 86 insights gained from implementing the Church’s new home study curriculum. This year we will study the New Testament as a family.

For daily family scripture study, my husband and I decided to pull single verses of scripture from the recommended readings in each week of study. Our children (ages five and under) really don’t get much out of reading whole chapters at a time. By selecting one or two verses to read, then contextualizing and retelling in our own words, we hope to better engage the kids and begin to inspire a life-long love of the scriptures.

Last night I chose Matthew 25:1-13 (NT) to share with the kids before bed. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins provides a terrific lesson about personal spiritual preparation and testimony growth. I grabbed some pompoms and plastic cups for an object lesson/activity. I read the first verse and then gave my kids the rough outline of the story:

There was going to be a wedding but no one knew when it would be. Everyone wanted to attend the wedding. They knew the wedding could be at any time, even at night. But there were no street lamps! What would the people need to get to the wedding safely?

My oldest daughter chimed in with, “a light!”

I handed out the cups and explained that the people needed to buy oil for their special lamps, but they could only buy a little at a time; they had to collect oil over a long time to be ready for the wedding. My older girls walked back and forth across our living room to collect one pompom at a time for their “lamps.” Only one child got enough “oil” to attend the wedding. I explained the relationship to spiritual growth.

Today we reviewed the scripture verses before school. We decided to keep a jar out and add a pompom every time we do something that fills our spiritual lamps. One pompom for every prayer, attending church, sharing, being kind, keeping the commandments, etc.

I hope this visual will help the lesson sink in as well as encourage my kids to think more about and work on their personal relationships with God.

 

Day 86: The truth of all things

Moroni 10:1-7

I finished reading The Book of Mormon! I love Moroni’s promise that if we ask God, He will confirm the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon to us.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)

I have felt the Holy Ghost testify to me consistently throughout my reading these past few months. I know The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It stands hand in hand with the Bible to witness that Jesus is the Christ, that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are real, that they have a plan for us, that salvation is available through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.

If you want to learn for yourself if The Book of Mormon is true, read it. The Holy Ghost, the third member of the Godhead, will testify to you in a way you will understand that it is the word of God. Remember that Jesus promised the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit of truth,” “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13, NT). You can recognize the presence of Holy Ghost by its fruits. The Holy Ghost brings feelings of and inspires “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, [m]eekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23, NT). Sometimes when the Spirit testifies of truth it clashes with preconceived notions and contradicts previously held beliefs. This can be jarring, uncomfortable, and off-putting. I invite you to push through those initial feelings to draw nearer to God, to discover God’s plan for you, to find greater happiness, to strengthen your family, to receive the promise of eternal life.

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him. (Moroni 10:32)

Day 85: These Three

Ether 12:4-9 and Moroni 7:38-48

I have been waiting since October to write about faith, hope, and charity. They are one of my all-time favorite Gospel topics to ponder and talk about. I don’t think it’s an accident that of all the Jaredite writings he abridged, Moroni chose to summarize Ether’s teachings on faith, hope, and charity; and then use some of his precious time and energy to copy in a letter from his father on the same topic. We should pay close attention to these verses!

Moroni boils down the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these three foundational principles: faith, hope, and charity. They describe a process we must all go through, developing, first, faith in Jesus Christ. We start by believing that He is real, that He is God, that He came to earth, suffered, bled, and died on our behalf. We exercise faith in His ability to forgive sin by repenting. We exercise faith in Him when we keep His commandments. Moroni says that hope follows faith. Hope is a specific belief, hope “for a better world,” the belief that we will receive Christ’s promised gift of eternal life (Ether 12:4; Moroni 7:41). Building on the stepping stones of faith, then hope, we develop charity, “the pure love of Christ,” the love that compelled Him to sacrifice Himself for us (Moroni 7:47). Christ loved us enough to lay down His life. We need to love others enough to share the Gospel, serve, and help them on their path to eternal life.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:48)

Faith, Hope, and Charity

 

Day 84: The Nature of Good and Evil

Moroni 7:12-17

I remember one day on my mission my companion and I decided to go finding in a large city park near our apartment. We took a baseball and bat thinking we could start a game and meet new people who might be interested in learning more about Jesus Christ. On the way to the park we stopped to talk to a couple on the sidewalk. We introduced ourselves, extending a simple invitation to listen to our message. The woman looked at our baseball and bat and said something to the effect of, “with all the terrible things in the world, I can’t believe there’s a God. You would be better off playing baseball in the park than trying to teaching people about something that doesn’t exist.” The woman’s attitude might sound familiar to many of you. Lots of people argue that the plethora of “bad things” in the world is definitive proof God doesn’t exist. They argue that “god” would never let so many terrible things happen.

The prophet Mormon’s discourse from Moroni 7 clarifies the nature of good and evil. “[All] things which are good cometh of God” (Moroni 7:12). Kindness, charity, love, happiness, joy, good works, all come from God because He inspires them (Moroni 7:13). He is the definition of good. Satan also exists and he is the exact opposite of God (Moroni 7:12, 17). Satan inspires wickedness, anger, breaking God’s commandments, being unkind, cheating, lying, stealing.

For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. (Moroni 7:16)

Every person on earth has agency, the ability to reason, make choices, and act. We, every individual on earth, must choose between good (God) and evil (Satan). Many of the “bad things” that happen on earth are the result of individual choices. God will never take away nor compel a person’s agency. Individuals are responsible for their choices, not God. God’s commandments teach us responsible ways to use our agency; they are designed to maximize the good in our lives as well as bring eternal happiness and joy.

In addition, many “bad things” that happen on earth, like natural disasters, come as the result of natural laws. God sometimes steps in to protect individuals, families, and groups that are living righteously and have sought His help. He often won’t change circumstances or take away “bad things,” but He can strengthen us to endure and overcome, and He does make amazing blessings available to those who trust in Him.

If we want to see more good in the world, it’s up to us to choose good and do good. It’s our responsibility to seek out God and supplicate His help for increased strength and ability to become a force for good in our families, our communities, and our world.