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: Agency and Accountability, A Plea to Take Action Against 24-week-to-Birth Abortion Laws

I have previously written about Latter-day Saint perspectives on abortion here. I tried to expose the hidden (and evil) messages running through the 2017 Teen Vogue article about what to get a friend post-abortion which I found not just horrifying but actually destructive for individuals and society at large.

This new law signed in New York allowing abortion from 24 weeks up to birth reaches a whole new level of evil.

Just the other day I thought, “I know we’re living in the end of times but is the world really bad enough yet for the calamities and destruction foretold by prophets to finally fall?” After this law passed in New York? Yes, yes it is. Sins against children rank up there with murder and denying the Holy Ghost. Jesus said,

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:4-6, NT; emphasis added)

Whether it’s abuse in any form, neglect, or outright murder (and that’s just what this abortion law is), the perpetrators of such sins against children would be better off “drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Pro-choice proponents want to argue that a woman’s right to make choices about her body trumps the right of an unborn child. But if we’re going to talk about choice (or agency as we call it in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we also have to talk about responsibility (aka accountability).

Choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Their consequences ripple across the lives of individuals, families, communities, society, and the world. And we are accountable to God for every choice we make. Society at large has been trying for years to divorce choice from responsibility. Society ignores unseen spiritual consequences though they are just as real and eternally repercussive as any of the obvious consequences of choice we see around us.

This is in part why God has established laws (also known as commandments) governing choice from the beginning of the world. All choices have eternal repercussions and some of those repercussions are so disastrous to eternity that God says, “I will never take away an individual’s agency, but there are some choices no one should ever make.” God’s laws protect us, His children, from making the sorts of choices that prevent us from achieving our eternal destiny (see True to the Faith, “Eternal Life” and “Salvation”).

Earthly laws, those set in place by mankind and their governments, have frequently fallen in line with God’s laws. Societies that have followed God’s laws have enjoyed peace, prosperity, harmony, and happiness. The scriptures indicate, however, that when a society moves away from God’s laws or even enacts laws that run contrary to God’s commandments, calamity and destruction will fall upon the world (see below).

I finally feel sickened and outraged enough about our society enacting a law that condones the murder of babies that I’m going to take action. While I believe that women and girls who are the victims of rape or incest, or whose lives are at risk from continuing a pregnancy should have access to abortion, I believe that even then the choice to abort a pregnancy should be made prayerfully and with the utmost care and consideration. The 24-week-to-birth abortion law exceeds any sort of reasonable “right” to choice. There are some choices so heinous that no one should make them––aborting a baby so close to birth is one of those choices.

If you want to take action too, consider volunteering with a local pro-life organization. You can find a list of local affiliates of the National Right to Life here. These organizations provide educational programs; they collect baby supplies such as diapers, wipes, formula, etc. to donate to at-risk mothers; some have traveling ultrasound machines to provide free ultrasounds for mothers considering an abortion. These organizations function most effectively when they have a large pool of volunteers.

Things have progressed too far in our society at large to remain silent on the issue of abortion any longer.

Further reading:

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints public statement on abortion

True to the Faith, “Abortion”

A selection of prophecies regarding the destruction of societies that turn away from God; many of these prophecies concern the state of the world prior to Christ’s Second Coming: 1 Nephi 14:5-7BoM; Isaiah 24:5OT; Matthew 24NT; D&C 112:23-24.

Gordon B. Hinckley (15th Church President), “Save the Children,” General Conference (October 1994).

Quentin L. Cook (current Apostle), “A Banquet of Consequences: The Cumulative Result of All Choices,” BYU Speeches (7 February 2017).

See my article “An Eternal Identity” for a discussion of how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views human potential and eternal destiny.

See my Book of Mormon post “Day 49: Precious Souls and Redemption” for a little more information about Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beliefs regarding eternity and salvation.

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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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.

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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.

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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.