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 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.

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 51: Building Your Spiritual Defenses

Alma 50:1-6

Yesterday I was reading another blogger’s reflections on putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:14-17, NT). Putting on the armor of God isn’t a new concept to Christians and the need to take defensive spiritual measures is increasingly important in today’s world. It reminded me of a direct corollary in Alma 50, where Captain Moroni carefully fortifies not just the Nephites’ weakest or most strategically prone cities but “every city in all the land” (Alma 50:6).

Moroni’s vision for city defenses expanded well beyond increasing the size of a city guard or building taller walls. First, the army built earth works around every city upon which they constructed “works of timbers built up to the height of a man” (v. 2). Then they built “a frame of pickets” that was “strong and high” (v. 3). Finally, they built secure towers that could serve as protection as well as provide strategic positioning for armed response (v. 4-5). In several instances, the Lamanites were so taken aback by the fortitude of Moroni’s defenses that they ran away rather than risk sure defeat (Alma 49:4-11).

Just as we can put on “the breastplate of righteousness,” gird our loins about with truth, dress our feet with the Gospel, shield ourselves with faith, wear the helmet of salvation, and wield “the sword of the Spirit,” we can build significant spiritual defenses for ourselves and our families. If we (and our families) are the city, what initial activities build our spiritual life and foundation? What daily, weekly, and monthly practices can act like the earthworks, timbers, and pickets to strengthen our testimonies and conversion to Christ? Who can provide additional defense and act as resources to help us on our journey through life?

In one area on my mission we found and used a handy visual aid for teaching the principle of personal spiritual defenses. (NB. I can’t take credit for this visual aid; another missionary had left it behind.)

Alma 50 Visual Aid

Our initial spiritual defenses include Baptism by Immersion by proper authority, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, temple ordinances, and access to priesthood. We fortify ourselves with daily prayer, scripture study, repentance, and the exercise of faith. Consistent obedience to the commandments, regular fasting, participation in missionary work, and service to others increase spiritual strength and resistance to temptation. The support of parents (family), teachers, Bishops (local Church leaders), and the guidance of living prophets and apostles provide additional critical defense in the form of warnings, counsel, and encouragement.

To parody Alma 50:6, “Thus [we can] prepare strongholds against the coming of [our] enemies.” Whether we’re shoring up against a known personal weakness or fortifying ourselves against Satan’s standard but relentless attacks, we can apply Moroni’s example of thorough defense to ourselves and our families.

 

Day 47: Live in Thanksgiving Daily

Alma 34

Celebrating Thanksgiving today put me in mind of gratitude and its supreme importance to this life. When a person is grateful, s/he humbly acknowledges the contributions others make and genuinely appreciates them. King Benjamin taught his people that gratitude constitutes one of the most important ways we can try to repay God for everything He does for us. As I read through verse 38 in Alma 34, I realized that Amulek shaped much of this sermon to the Zoramites around being thankful––why we should be grateful to God and ways we can appropriately show our gratitude.

First, why should we be grateful to God? King Benjamin instilled in his people a sense of their indebtedness to God. At the heart of our debt to God is the willing sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son to “atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:8). Jesus’ earthly ministry and “great and last sacrifice” give our lives meaning and preserve the purpose for which we were created: we cannot reach our divine potential and inherit God’s kingdom without access to repentance and forgiveness (v. 16). The Great Plan of Redemption comes as a gift from Christ, for “he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name” (v. 15). Jesus encircles us “in the arms of safety” through His Atonement, saving us from the harsh demands of justice by satisfying them Himself (v. 16). God pours out “mercies and blessings” upon us (v. 38).

We are truly indebted to our Heavenly Father and Jesus for everything they do for us! Our existence is only made possible through them. Rightly did Amulek counsel the Zoramites to “live in thanksgiving daily.” He provides specific instructions for how we can appropriately show our gratitude. We need to believe in Jesus Christ for starters and “exercise [our] faith unto repentance” (v. 15, 17). We need to call on God in prayer everywhere, all the time, every day for mercy, for protection, for strength (v. 17-26). We need to pray for others and deliberately and compassionately serve the poor and needy (v. 27-28). We need to soften our hearts and “prepare to meet God” (v. 31-32). We need to repent, cleanse our souls, and fear God (v. 35-37). We need to be patient and develop “a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions” (v. 41).

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a 2000 Brigham Young University devotional, “Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent. It forges bonds of love and fosters loyalty and admiration” (Wirthlin, “Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU Speeches [Oct 2000]). As we follow Amulek’s counsel to continually demonstrate our gratitude to God, the quality of our lives will improve, our spirits will be strengthened, and our love for God and His children will grow immeasurably.

 

Day 41: Silver Linings

Alma 20:29

In Alma 20:29 we learn of the intense suffering of Ammon’s brother Aaron and some of his mission companions. After trying to teach different communities of Lamanites and being harshly rejected, the group ended up in prison where they experienced “hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions.” “All kinds of afflictions.” We each know what it is like to suffer. Whether disappointment, chronic pain, abuse, uncertainty, fear, afflictions hound our mortal lives.

The circumstances of Aaron’s imprisonment and release put me in mind of a phrase from the Doctrine and Covenants: “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). The Lord turned a terrible experience for Aaron and his companions to great good for King Lamoni and his father. Lamoni became an independent ruler and was able to proclaim religious freedom in his land. Aaron and his companions were able to teach King Lamoni’s father, help him repent, and then aid him in establishing Christ’s church among his people. Aaron and his brethren eventually “brought many to the knowledge of the truth” (Alma 21:17). If you look at the sequence of events in Alma 19-20, you can see the Lord’s hand.

I don’t want to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do want infuse hope into your experience. The Lord promises that if you “[s]earch diligently, pray always, and be believing…[and] walk uprightly and remember” your covenants, “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). Remember that the Lord is bound by His promises. When we keep the commandments and fulfill our covenants, the Lord can open the windows of heaven. If we will be “patient in all [our] sufferings” like Aaron and his brethren, we can move forward with our lives, trusting in the Lord to turn even the worst suffering into great good. No experience will be wasted. He is a God of miracles who will transform all suffering, all sorrow, ALL afflictions into something of great worth that will be for your good.

Day 21: A Personal Relationship with God

Enos 1

The Book of Enos has so much to offer, even in its brevity it is chock full of Gospel insights, not to mention the implicit example of Enos living the Gospel. This time around, I really honed in on Enos’ personal relationship with God, which provides a striking example of the relationship we could each individually foster.

The first part of the Book of Enos records his conversion and calling as a prophet. In this experience Enos prays for his own salvation, the salvation of his people the Nephites, and the salvation of his enemies the Lamanites. It is in the process of seeking for a confirmation from God that He will do everything possible to redeem the Lamanites that we see a pattern for our own relationships with God.

In verse 15 Enos states that he has an initial knowledge on which to act, born of faith in God. He knows that, “Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive it in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.” He knows this because the Lord told him directly: “for he had said unto me…” (emphasis added). Enos did NOT write “the Lord said” or “he had said,” but rather “he had said unto me.” And because Enos had this direct knowledge from the Lord––that if he exercised faith in Jesus Christ and believed that he could receive from God what he asked for, then he would get it––he acted on this knowledge to ask for something specific: “I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records” (v. 16). Enos fostered his relationship with God by praying “continually,” he acted on the knowledge he had already received, and he communed with God directly: “and he covenanted with me that he would bring them [the records] forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time” (v. 16).

Enos had developed his knowledge of and relationship with God so thoroughly that his “faith began to be unshaken in the Lord” (v. 11). So much so that by verse 17 Enos KNOWS beyond a shadow of a doubt that God does everything He says He will. “And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant with he had made….” What a powerful testimony from Enos that we can trust in the Lord because He will fulfill all His words and promises. In a way, Enos’ pattern of faith, knowledge, ask for more was a way of “proving” the Lord, or creating the opportunity for Him to demonstrate His existence, power, and integrity.

Following Enos’ example, we, too, can develop unshaken faith in God and have a personal relationship with Him. Like Enos, we can use our faith and knowledge to partner with God in serving His children and helping them gain salvation.