NT 1: Drops of Oil

I decided to continue my blog this year with 86 insights gained from implementing the Church’s new home study curriculum. This year we will study the New Testament as a family.

For daily family scripture study, my husband and I decided to pull single verses of scripture from the recommended readings in each week of study. Our children (ages five and under) really don’t get much out of reading whole chapters at a time. By selecting one or two verses to read, then contextualizing and retelling in our own words, we hope to better engage the kids and begin to inspire a life-long love of the scriptures.

Last night I chose Matthew 25:1-13 (NT) to share with the kids before bed. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins provides a terrific lesson about personal spiritual preparation and testimony growth. I grabbed some pompoms and plastic cups for an object lesson/activity. I read the first verse and then gave my kids the rough outline of the story:

There was going to be a wedding but no one knew when it would be. Everyone wanted to attend the wedding. They knew the wedding could be at any time, even at night. But there were no street lamps! What would the people need to get to the wedding safely?

My oldest daughter chimed in with, “a light!”

I handed out the cups and explained that the people needed to buy oil for their special lamps, but they could only buy a little at a time; they had to collect oil over a long time to be ready for the wedding. My older girls walked back and forth across our living room to collect one pompom at a time for their “lamps.” Only one child got enough “oil” to attend the wedding. I explained the relationship to spiritual growth.

Today we reviewed the scripture verses before school. We decided to keep a jar out and add a pompom every time we do something that fills our spiritual lamps. One pompom for every prayer, attending church, sharing, being kind, keeping the commandments, etc.

I hope this visual will help the lesson sink in as well as encourage my kids to think more about and work on their personal relationships with God.

 

Day 66: Gadianton Robbers

3 Nephi 2:11

The Gadianton robbers make a sudden and noteworthy reappearance in 3 Nephi 2. They had disappeared from The Book of Mormon narrative after “entrenching themselves in the land” (Helaman 11:26-33) but then didn’t reappear until 3 Nephi 2. It startled me today while reading to have the Gadianton robbers suddenly pop up as a powerful force that threatens to destroy both the Nephite and Lamanite societies.

[T]he Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them. (3 Nephi 2:11)

Do I have Gadianton robbers in my own life, I wondered? What things (e.g. influences, past misdeeds) lie dormant in my life that could gather strength and then surface when I reach a weak point in my obedience, spirituality, or mental/emotional/physical health? What evil influences have I allowed to infiltrate my life, however subtilely, that could undermine my peace of mind, my standing before God, my parenting and influence with my children, my ability to serve in the Church, my connection to God?

If I don’t tackle those “Gadianton robbers” now, they could become so entrenched in my life that I’ll have to work overtime to eradicate them. But just as The Book of Mormon teaches repeatedly, I don’t have to fight them relying on my strength alone. If I turn to the Lord, He will help me fight these battles, heal through repentance, and restore my personal equilibrium.

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 10: Spiritual Strength

2 Nephi 4:17, 27, 30-35

The other day I had a moment of Nephi-like anguish for my mortal-ness. In 2 Nephi 4:17 Nephi exclaims, “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” Have you ever felt the duality of your existence in this way? We are each of us parts divine and mortal, an eternal spirit in a mortal body. While our mortal bodies are essential to learning, growth, and preparation for eternal life, sometimes I wish it didn’t have to be this way. Sometimes my spirit desires righteousness and goodness beyond what my mortal half is capable of doing, thinking, or being.

I can’t imagine that Nephi was guilty of any really serious iniquities but I do understand that any thought, deed, or behavior in any way remotely contrary to God’s standard would cause discomfort for a sensitive spirit that had been cultivated in obedience, prophecy, visions from God, angelic ministrations, and righteous deeds. Mortal-ness is a powerful component of each individual. When we spend time engaged in mortal and worldly things, we feed this part of ourselves, making it even stronger. The reverse is true, however, that when we spend time engaged in spiritual activities and pursuits, we feed our spirits and make them stronger. Prayer, scripture study, family home evening, ministering, attending church, teaching the Gospel, worshipping in the temple, bearing testimony, and keeping the commandments all cultivate our spirits and strengthen them. Continuing to strengthen our spirits over our lifetimes is critical to developing the spiritual sensitivity Nephi demonstrates, as well as the strength of spiritual desire necessary to choose righteousness over every other option.

But as Nephi reminds us in verses 30-35, we don’t have to labor against mortal weaknesses alone. The Lord is there waiting to help us. Having experienced this same duality of immortal spirit subject to fleshy mortality, He understands our challenges and knows how to help. Like Nephi, we can put our trust in the Lord as He “makes our paths straight,” “clears the way before us,” “delivers us out of the hands of our enemies,” helps us to lose our taste for sin, encircles us “in the robe of [His] righteousness,” and “redeems our souls.”