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?”

img_2551

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.

img_2552

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.

img_2550

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 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.

 

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