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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
3 Nephi 26:17-21
When I read the Christmas story from Luke 2, I prefer to use the translation of verse 14 that makes a slight change in verbiage from “peace on earth, good will toward men” to “on earth peace to men of good will” (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition). The more I study the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the more I am convinced that lasting peace on earth can only be achieved when every person lives the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is exemplified in The Book of Mormon.
Consider what happened in the Americas following Christ’s ministry among the Nephites and Lamanites. The apostles Jesus ordained traveled around, teaching the people, baptizing them and giving the Gift of the Holy Ghost (v. 17). The Church of Christ was organized (v. 21). The apostles and baptized members of the Church “did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them” (v. 20). The people taught and ministered to each other (v. 19). As a result of the spread of the Gospel, the rise of the Church, the people keeping the commandments and ministering to each other, “they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another” (v. 19).
This sounds like peace to me! People living in harmony, sharing generously with each other, loving each other, being just to each other. Jesus teaches people to love, to give freely, to be kind, to think the best of others, to work on personal imperfections and be generous with the imperfections of others, to care for the needs of others, to be just and merciful, to tell the truth, to have good will. If everyone lived this way all the time, we would have peace on earth.
So, rather than wish for peace on earth this Christmas, I’m going to try a little harder to live after the manner of peace and teach my children to do the same.
Helaman 14:12, 28, 31
I want to connect three separate ideas I came across in Helaman 14. This chapter continues the record of Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching and prophecies to the Nephites. Samuel doesn’t mince words and there are several important truths he proclaims in simple, clarifying terms that come to bear on every person on earth.
The first eternal truth identifies Jesus’ role in the universe. Samuel’s description of the coming Savior as “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things” makes His sacrifice that much more compelling (Helaman 14:12). Our Creator sacrificed HIMSELF for us. He chose to come to earth, live through mortality in extremely humble circumstances, suffer excruciating pain, and endure an ignominious, painful death all for US. I stand all amazed.
A few verses later Samuel reifies this prophetic information by explaining that God will provide sensate proof of its reality and truth. No one has an excuse to not believe because “these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men” (Helaman 14:28).
Finally, Samuel the Lamanite concludes his testimony of the Savior and the need to believe in Jesus Christ by reminding the people that they have the power to choose (Helaman 14:31). Even after the testimonies and the signs are given, each person must choose for him-/herself whether or not to believe and act on that belief. If they choose to believe in Christ, they choose life, eternal life through faith, good works, repentance, and consistent effort to follow Jesus Christ.
The reign of the judges among the Nephites was fraught with dissension and war. In Alma 43 the wicked Zoramites have joined ranks with the Lamanites in anger over the sheltering of converted Zoramites among the people of Ammon. Moroni leads the Nephites in battle, with spiritual guidance from Alma the younger. The scriptures make a point of comparing the Nephites with the Lamanites to demonstrate how and why God blesses and helps one group over the other, and to explain how the Nephites could triumph over an opposing army twice its size.
Both armies expended a great deal of time, energy, and resources to fighting. The Lamanites were especially fierce (v. 44). So how could a smaller army possibly match and defeat them? Alma comes down firmly on the explanation: “Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause…they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church” (Alma 43:45). The “better cause” that imbued the Nephites with greater strength and success in the war centered on God, family, freedom, and religion. Described as a “better cause,” these priorities have eternal significance.
How often do we expend time, energy, and resources on things of little value that don’t matter in the eternal long-run? Sometimes I arrive at the end of a busy day and wonder what I did with my time that really matters. I got lots done according to my to do list but the details fade quickly in the absence of eternally significant work. What would be my “better cause” on which to spend time and energy? Could I have a good conversation with one of my kids? Could I minister to someone in need? Could I grow my testimony during more consistent religious study? What would be your “better cause”? What busy work could you drop from your schedule or what daily tasks could you spend less time on to make space for eternally significant work?
Several years ago I accompanied a set of sister missionaries to a first teaching appointment. The man we were teaching had been referred by a friend of mine. He and his wife had moved from China, earned college degrees in the US, and recently purchased a home. As we made introductions, the man mentioned that he and his wife were still settling into life in America and often felt out of place. I remembered Ammon’s words from Alma 26:36 and felt a kinship with this man––are we not all “wanderers in a strange land?”
Earth is not our first home and it will not be our last. We were spiritual beings first, children of heavenly parents who sent us out from their heavenly home so that we could have the opportunity to become like them. They sent us to earth to provide us with a mortal experience necessary to prepare us for returning to our heavenly home. Earth is not the final destination on our journey: It is a stopping point where we learn how to use our agency, choose to follow Jesus Christ, make mistakes, repent, participate in the saving ordinances, serve others, and develop godly attributes. Only through the Atonement of Christ can we qualify to return to our first and real home.
The kinship I felt that day as a fellow wanderer in this “strange land” we call earth reinforced to me Ammon’s words “that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37). God loves each of His children regardless of the distinctions so peculiar to mortality. Culture, creed, race, education, language, political affiliation, geographic location, nationality are mortal constructs, purely temporary and secondary to our shared eternal identity as children of God. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to all people, for we are each numbered and known to God; He wants each of us to qualify for and receive the greatest gift He can bestow––a place in His house to dwell forever.
O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them!
Yea, they are as a wild flock which fleeth from the shepherd, and scattereth, and are driven, and are devoured by the beasts of the forest.
In my quest to become a disciple of Jesus Christ (to be serviceable and obedient), I have noticed my own predilection for contrariness. A big part of me fights against being obedient, following the promptings of the Spirit, and desiring godly things enough to act. For example, I knew I needed to serve a mission for a long time before I could bring myself to even fill out the paperwork. As I tried to bring myself around to this personal commandment, I began praying for a desire to serve. Like Ammon exclaimed to Limhi in Mosiah 8:20, the Lord suffered long with me: He was patient and kind and helped me prepare to serve well even as I “fled” from Him.
The Prophet Brigham Young taught that sometimes members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “live far beneath [their] privileges” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. by John A. Widtsoe , 32; qtd in New Testament Teacher Manual, Lesson 30). Certainly Ammon thought so of humankind in general! And while God will suffer long with us because He loves us, if we want to learn the mysteries of God, gain wisdom, and achieve our greatest potential, we have to choose to believe, we have to act out of an inner desire to learn and achieve.
I know from experience that the path of discipleship is no cake walk. Maybe you, like me, “tremble inwardly at what may be required” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance”, General Conference [Apr. 2002]). But, whatever you do, don’t run away! Choose to believe, pray for a desire to believe if you need to. The Lord will suffer long with you and He will help you not only become your best self, but He will help you achieve marvelous good in this life and receive eternal life in the next.