NT 11: A Centurion, A Servant, and Humility

Ever since reading the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 last week I have reflected on it over and over again. The centurion’s initial request for help (in person, according to Matthew’s account) precedes what struck me initially as a statement of ego: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Was it really necessary for him to tell Jesus how influential and powerful he is in his sphere? Certainly Jesus understood that the centurion occupied a higher social status. But on the heels of the centurion’s self-identification “Jesus…marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). What about the centurion’s statement expressed such great faith?

Upon rereading the passage I couldn’t help but equally marvel at what I discovered. First, the centurion seems to have been working out his expression of faith, describing that he believes Jesus can just speak and perform a miracle because that is how the centurion operates in his own life. He recognized in Jesus something of a peer, a powerful man whose order would be immediately obeyed, just like him in his own household. The centurion understood the mechanics of directive and obedience, and therefore could believe in the application of the system to his request for help.

Second, I began to recognize in the centurion’s statement a profound humility. The centurion, in describing how he is obeyed in his household, was expressing his willingness to abase himself and become like one of his servants, ready to obey Jesus’ command, do whatever Jesus instructed in order to save his servant.

If only we would voluntarily give up status and accomplishments, the trappings of social position with which we pad our identities, and place them at the feet of the Savior, as readily as the centurion. What miracles could God work in our lives if we in faith expressed our willingness to obey God’s directions with the alacrity of the centurion’s servants?

Last year when my husband didn’t get the job we had been anticipating for six years, we had no backup plan. My husband applied to other academic jobs and began following leads from friends. As the weeks dragged on with no immediate prospects, we began praying to know what commandment we could keep more perfectly in order to qualify for our desired miracle. We focused on spiritual improvement within our family, expressing our willingness in prayer to do whatever God required of us. Within three months my husband had received and accepted an offer for an amazing job.

This lesson came full circle for me this week as another New Testament reading led me to Psalm 55: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (v. 16-17, OT). When we can make such unequivocal statements as “the Lord shall save me” and “he shall hear my voice,” we express our firm belief that doing God’s will results in miracles. Just like the centurion we can acknowledge God’s power, cast aside illusions of personal greatness, willingly perform God’s instructions, and receive the miracles and blessings He waits to bestow.

NT 10: Finding a Way Back

I’ve been absent for a couple of weeks, feeling like I had lost my way in scripture study and the blog. But I’m recommitting to daily study and weekly posting! My family needs this spiritual boost every day, and I need it to stay sane, be a halfway decent parent, and keep myself focused on spiritual things. Sometimes we lose our way and think that’s it, there’s no going back. But the Gospel teaches us that every day––every moment of every day––we can start fresh. Seeking forgiveness and help through the Savior’s Atonement allows us to find our way back to God and the path He wants us to walk.

Last week I intended to post some ideas for teaching children specific principles from the Sermon on the Mount. Here they are:

  1. Matthew 6:6, 17-18     One central idea I took from these verses was the need to not seek recognition for good things we do. We don’t need praise to justify good deeds or righteous choices…we just do/make them. Secret service can be a lot of fun for families to do together. Select one or more individuals or families and identify one way your family could serve each. Perform the service secretly and/or anonymously.
  2. Matthew 6:22-23      “[I]f therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” Make two large eyes, one from dark (opaque) construction paper, one from vellum or another translucent but sturdy paper. On the opaque eye with the help of your children write a list of bad choices within the realm of their understanding. Hold a light behind the opaque eye. Can you see any light? Can that light illuminate anything through the eye? Make a similar list on the translucent eye but of good choices (e.g. praying daily, sharing, attending church as a family). Repeat the exercise with the light. Read the scripture and discuss.
  3. Matthew 7:7    “Ask, and it shall be given you.” Have a child stand on one side of a door and you on the other. Tell your child the goal is to reenter the room where you are but without pushing the door/turning the knob. Once s/he has figured out knocking and asking, invite her/him into the room and share the scripture. My girls did the object lesson at the same time and worked through the dilemma together. I testified that God hears their prayers and will answer them. Understanding that God does hear our prayers and questions, and will provide answers establishes an important foundation for additional Gospel understanding. For example, today we revisited Matthew 7:7 while talking about Joseph Smith and the First Vision.

Best of luck this week as you work on Matthew 8-9 and Mark 2-5!

NT 9: Spiritual Goals and Becoming

On Monday I introduced my kids to the Beatitudes. We talked about the linguistic origins of the word and explored Jesus’ teachings with the aim of identifying the characteristics and behavior that bring lasting, eternal happiness to people.

We listed on our easel all of the qualities described in Matthew 5:1-12.

We were eating dinner at the time which provided a natural object lesson in what it means to hunger and thirst after righteousness. We defined unfamiliar terms, discussing in turns what it means to be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. The kids were especially interested in the concept of mercy so we spent a little extra time on that topic.

I discovered several weeks ago that the Come, Follow Me curriculum really lends itself to goal setting which can create an opportunity for daily reflection as well as identifiable growth markers.

As part of this lesson we chose one of the attributes Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount and set a goal to work on developing that attribute this week. The kids now have a frame of reference for one aspect of their spiritual growth and we are all holding each other accountable for our behavior and efforts to become peacemakers.

NT 8: Marriage Feast at Cana Object Lesson

Through Jesus Christ we can be transformed.

Change and transformation are two of my favorite Gospel topics. I find it so compelling that a person can identify character traits, desires, behaviors and more that they want to refine or change and become a new, better person. The source of the power that effects those changes? Jesus Christ.

This morning I retold the story of the marriage feast at Cana (John 2:1-11, NT). My kids could understand how special the occasion was and that running out of wine was a big problem. Thinking ahead, I had poured a glass of apple cider and hidden it on my counter. As I told my kids how Jesus’ mother instructed the servant to “do whatever he tells you,” I pulled a matching glass out of my cupboard and filled it with water to illustrate Jesus’ instructions. I turned my back to the kids while describing the instructions to fill a cup and take it to the governor of the feast. I poured some of the water into my pre-filled glass of cider. Swapping the glasses, I handed the apple cider to one of my kids and asked her what her drink tasted like. Apple cider!

We talked about Jesus’ divinity and how he could transform water into the best wine. The kids had good thoughts to share about Jesus’ power to create, change things, and transform them. I testified of His power to transform us if we will identify those parts of our lives we want to change and seek His help.

NT 7: Temptation, Mortality, and Hope

img_2650I made bread today. This is my late grandma’s recipe and every bite brings a wave of nostalgia. And it’s just really, really delicious bread.

Today I studied the temptation of Christ following His forty-day fast in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11, NT and Luke 4:1-13, NT). The temptations Jesus experienced seem to reveal a pattern of human frailty: physical hunger, desire for control over life and death, and lust for power over external things and people. If we have Christ’s perspective of the reality of earth life and eternity, that perspective quickly exposes Satan’s lies about the supposed importance of satiating physical hunger at the expense of more important things, his lies about mortal ability to control anything, and his lies about the need for “power.” Satan knows mortal weakness, though, and knows just how to get us.

Like today. Some of the “magic” I have felt the last few weeks has rubbed off and I’m left to my own strength again; left to fight those temptations that are uniquely mine. But are those temptations only mine? Going on the strength of 1 Corinthians 10:13, maybe our temptations and sufferings really aren’t that unique. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NT). If temptations fall into a pattern of human frailty, maybe our temptations and sufferings aren’t that different from people around us.

We sometimes wonder if Christ really did experience every pain, affliction, sorrow that every person on earth has ever or will ever experience. The conceit of suffering suggests that no one can know, no one can possibly fathom just how difficult this temptation or challenge really is. The conceit of suffering also convinces us that if no one has experienced exactly what we’re going through, then no one can possibly help. And we effectively cut off the only real source of comfort, help, and healing that exists: Jesus.

He really did experience EVERY pain, sorrow, affliction, sickness, disappointment, temptation (Alma 7:11-12, BoM). He KNOWS. He understands what we’re going through. He wants to help. If we acknowledge His prior experience and accept His knowledge, we can open ourselves to help, healing, and change.

As for my temptations today, I don’t know if Jesus had any of His own kids to yell at, but He did experience mortality and I believe that He understands (at the very least) the weakness at the heart of my temptation to yell. He provided “an escape” for me several weeks ago (when I didn’t yell at my kids for a whole week!) and He can help me learn how to overcome my weakness, stop giving into temptation, and change my behavior to something more godly.

NT 6: The light that shines in darkness

(My post on Abortion has been moved to a new essays page, available here. The light that shines in darkness was written at the same time but I neglected to publish it. It is dated to reflect my original publishing intent.)

Early last week my husband introduced the Book of John to our kids. He talked about how Jesus has many different titles including “the word.” I built on this foundation later in the week when we talked about Christ being “the light that shines in darkness” (John 1:5, 9, NT).

We were gathered in the kitchen for dinner when I decided to share the scripture and talk about how Jesus is “the true light.” I had already turned off most of the lights in that part of the house and it was dark outside. I recapped my husband’s lesson from a few days before to ready their minds. All of the girls screamed and the baby started to cry when I turned off the rest of the lights! It was pitch dark. I talked to the kids about light and it’s importance to our lives. They told me how difficult it was to see or do anything in the darkness.

Then I twisted the bulb on one of my window candles; the light was small but it penetrated the darkness. We talked about how Christ’s light shines in the darkness, how that light can spread from one person to those around them. I turned on more lights as I talked.

This visual created a memorable experience for my kids to which we referred in subsequent days. It also sparked my memory as I mourned the loss of a dear but geographically distant friend last week.

Ten years ago this month I found myself in a really dark point in my life. My environment was dark and cold (winter in Northern Europe), I felt alone and isolated, I was still experiencing some culture shock, and I was very, very unhappy. I walked into a mid-week Ward Council meeting for my new ward and saw her. Jenn was nursing her baby, an American in a foreign land, speaking her second language beautifully and contributing to this council meeting. A light sparked in my life. I came to admire Jenn for the goodness and light she exuded. Her delightful family, her spirit-filled household, her model discipleship filled me with hope for my own future. The light of Christ shone out of her and provided warmth as well as an objective for my lonely path. There was light even in the midst of my dark night.

The light that Jenn provided for me shone out from her quiet but compelling belief in Jesus Christ. Her discipleship continues to inspire me and impel me to share that same light with others.

NT 5: Increasing in Wisdom and Stature

Sharing Luke 2:52 with my kids seemed very natural and easily relatable. It served as the topic for Family Home Evening last week and I kept it in mind for my primary class that Sunday.

Even though the scripture contains some big words, once I provided definitions and helped the kids understand that Jesus was once a child like them, they latched onto the idea of growth and development very quickly.

For my primary class, I decided to use an object lesson to help the kids visualize “increasing in wisdom and stature.” Before church I wrote out ideas for personal growth (mind, body, spirit) on separate sheets of paper that I was pretty certain they would come up with on their own (and with prompts). In class we read Luke 2:52 and talked about Jesus being a little child and growing up just like they are. I taped the prompt to the top of the door: “How can I grow in wisdom and stature?”

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Each child took a turn standing against the door underneath the prompt. They all tried to look up to see how far they needed to grow. All the other children enjoyed watching their peers.

We discussed what we could do every day to learn about our world, make our bodies healthy and strong, and draw closer to God and become more like Jesus. As the children supplied answers, we stacked the possibilities above the head of a child standing against the door.

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We eventually reached the prompt! the kids supplied great ideas for playing, eating healthy, studying the scriptures, getting baptized, and more. We memorized Luke 2:52 as a class. Each child took home an index card with one goal they set for something they would do that week to grow in wisdom and stature.

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