Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Returning to the Father

(read the handbook here)

This section of the Church Handbook of Instruction explains the plan of salvation in pretty basic terms. Helping members follow the plan of salvation, plan of happiness, plan of redemption, or one of the other names it has, is the main purpose of Christ’s Church on earth today.

But just like knowing that we want to get from point A to point B is only helpful if we know which roads to take and where to turn, knowing that God’s plan is that we all return to live with Him again is only helpful if we know how to get back to Him.

“We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinance of the gospel.”

That’s a start. So what are the laws and ordinances of the gospel?

“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, repentance; third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

In addition to those first principles and ordinances of the gospel, we must also, “endure to the end by keeping sacred covenants.”

“As we come to understand and believe these truths and gain a firm testimony of Jesus Christ, we strive to obey His commandments and want to share our blessings with our family and others.” As we come to understand, and have a true, pure testimony of the plan of salvation, we will want to participate in the Church organization, because the purpose of the Church organization is to teach each other how to obtain eternal life, and help each other on that path. It’s like we’re all taking a road trip to the same place, and it makes a lot more sense for us to carpool or caravan, rather than all of us just take our own course. If we carpool and caravan, we can make sure we’re staying on the right path, and if someone breaks down, we can give them a lift.

The pioneers did it when they crossed the plains, and they were able to help and succor each other when family members lost loved ones, or when wagons broke or oxen died.

Working together, and helping each other, is definitely the Lord’s way – we will be safer on our journey back to Him.

“Each of us is accountable before God to learn and keep His commandments and to live the gospel. We will be judged according to our actions, the desires of our hearts, and the kind of people we have become.”

I love this part of the gospel plan – that we are each accountable for our own actions, and the desires of our hearts. Unfortunately I often do the complete opposite of what I want to do. I am working each day to be better, but sometimes it is really hard to do what I know is right, even when I really want to do what is right. “The natural man is an enemy to God.” And to us, as His children!

“As we live the gospel of Jesus Christ, we grow line upon line, becoming more like the Savior in loving and serving others.”

It’s also good to remember that learning and growth is a process. Nothing comes lightening fast. Even Alma the younger, who saw an angel, was basically in a coma for two days and two nights. And even after than, I’m sure his process was not finished. He just had a jump start. The distance between his first line and his second line was probably a lot farther apart than most of us, but even after his great conversion, he still grew in the gospel, line upon line, and precept on precept. It’s how the General Authorities learned, and it’s how we learn.

As members of the Church, it is our responsibility to:

“1. Teach and testify of the pure doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. Strengthen individuals and families in their efforts to keep their sacred covenants.

3. Provide counsel, support, and opportunities for service.”

I love the first point – especially that they specifically state “pure doctrines” of the gospel. We are not supposed to add our speculation, our opinions, or our personal issues. We are simply to “testify of the pure doctrines.” Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a wonderful talk on pure testimony several years ago in General Conference entitled just that – “Pure Testimony”.

He said, “Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. We need to replace stories, travelogues, and lectures with pure testimonies. Those who are entrusted to speak and teach in our meetings need to do so with doctrinal power that will be both heard and felt, lifting the spirits and edifying our people.”

Of course, there are times for the personal conversations, the counseling together, the visiting with friends – and these are particularly important, and stated in the last two points.

I think that part of strengthening individuals and families in their efforts to keep their sacred covenants would be encouraging our friends to spend time with their families, attend the temple, and teach their children. We have been encouraging our friends to attend the temple by offering to watch their child while they serve in the temple. Such service blesses our lives, as well as their lives – and strengthens their family, helping them to keep their temple covenants.

What ways do you accomplish the three responsibilities listed here for members in God’s kingdom on earth? Do you feel a desire to share the gospel and your testimony with others when your testimony is strong? How do you support your friends and families in keeping their covenants?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God the Father's Plan for His Eternal Family

(read the Handbook here)

It is not surprising to me that the first chapter in the Church Handbook of Instruction is about the importance of families to the work of God. It has been known (at least since the 90s) that the Church places greatest importance on families.

In Doctrine & Covenants 138:55, we read that “even before [we] were born, [we]… received [our] first lessons in the world of spirits”. The family unit existed before this earth – with God as our Father, and all of the other future inhabitants of this world as sisters and brothers. Even our children were our sisters and brothers in the pre-mortal world. We have all been commanded to serve and love each other, and help each other back to live with Heavenly Father. Before we were born, He even taught us our “first lessons” so that we would be better prepared to help each other in this world.

“The purpose of God’s plan is to lead us to eternal life.” A long time ago I had a small square of green paper in my scriptures on which I listed all the things the were equivalent to eternal life. When I would read something in the scriptures that described eternal life or likened it to something else or described how to obtain eternal life, I would write it down on my little green sheet of paper. I’m not entirely sure where that piece of paper is now, but I remember feeling so blessed to read over and over again all the things that were necessary for obtaining eternal life. That Heavenly Father would make sure it was spelled out clearly for us was a blessing for me. He loves us and wants to make His plan plain and simple for us. I have a testimony that this is why we have the Book of Mormon. The instruction in it is plain and simple.

I love how simple the plan of happiness really is. With the fall of Adam and Eve from the garden, their mortality brought with it two obstacles – death and sin. “Because we cannot overcome either obstacle by ourselves, Heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior and Redeemer.” The Saviors atonement made possible the resurrection from the dead – meaning that the obstacle of physical death had been overcome. And His atonement also made it possible for men to repent and overcome sin through the Savior. We cannot be perfect alone, and we cannot return to live with Heavenly Father on our own – but we can be perfect and return to Him through the atoning sacrifice of the Savior. With all my heart and mind I know this to be true.

“As part of our Heavenly Father’s plan, we were born into families. He established families to bring us happiness, to help us learn correct principles in a loving atmosphere, and to prepare us for eternal life.” (emphasis added) I think that sometimes we miss this part of the purpose for families – the loving atmosphere part. Most of the time I think parents understand their responsibility to teach their children – but I believe most parents misunderstand that to mean that is their responsibility to discipline, lecture, and correct their children. Teaching has an entirely different connotation – one that is more loving, less rebuking; more gentle and understanding, and less criticizing. Maybe it would help to remember that our children are also our brothers and sisters. Our positions could easily be turned around – our children, having been born before us, could be our parents, and we their children. And let us always remember that our children will be parents some day – as the words from a Primary song go, “How will they live when they at last are grown? What will they give to children of their own?”

So if we generally learn what we need to know in our families, what is the purpose of the Church?

“The Church provides the organization and means for teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to all of God’s children. It provides the priesthood authority to administer the ordinances of salvation and exaltation to all who are worthy and willing to accept them.”

I don’t want to say “that’s it” because these things are vital to our eternal progression – but at the same time, that’s it! That’s all the Church is for – it provides the organization and means for teaching the gospel – but we as members of the kingdom, as parents, teachers, brothers and sister – we are the hands. We do the work. The Church is just an organization, which, without the members, would be completely ineffective.

And so, it is important for us to learn about the organization of the Church, and more importantly, to learn about our duties as members of the Lord’s kingdom so that we can be effective members of this great work the Father has for us.

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)

What role do you see for the family in God’s work? How have families and the atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ worked in your life to bring you closer to Heavenly Father? Do you think the organization of the Church helps families accomplish the duties and commandments that God has given us?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Waiting on the Road to Damascus

(find the talk here)

I always love listening to President Dieter F. Uchtdorf speak. I don’t know if it is his German accent which reminds me of my days living in the German house and associating with native German speakers, or if it is his mastery of the English language, or his aviation stories, or his amazing testimony – probably a combination of all of the above.

With my love of listening to President Uchtdorf, you would think that I had heard this talk at General Conference in April. Well, I don’t really remember it. I remember maybe hearing part of it (the part about texting to people that he hadn’t given an aviation analogy in his talk) but other than that I was probably trying to keep the kids from fighting, or drawing on the walls, or spilling their snacks everywhere.

So I am very grateful to Steph at Diapers and Divinity for posting this talk for the General Conference Book Club this week. And I can’t wait to listen to this talk on my run (playlist of choice for my runs? General Conference – of course!)

President Uchtdorf talked about how some of us wait on the road to Damascus for a vision like Paul received, or like Joseph Smith received in the sacred grove. Instead of actively seeking the Lord, we wait for Him to come to us.

I don’t want to be waiting. I don’t want to wait for something spectacular to build my testimony – I want to be actively seeking the Lord.

I am reminded of the Primary song

“I’ll seek the Lord early while in my youth
and He will help me to know the truth.
I’ll search the scriptures and find Him there,
then go to our Father in fervent prayer.

I’ll seek the Lord early and I’ll obey
His living prophets in all they say
I’ll keep His commandments; His love will abound
I will seek the Lord early and He will be found.”

President Uchtdorf testified, “The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him.” I am continually impressed with all of the doctrines that are taught in the Primary songs. And I first learned this Primary song when I was very very young – but the words have stuck with me.

I am glad that I was taught to seek the Lord in my youth, but I think that as I have grown, both in age, and in the gospel, I have not been seeking the Lord as diligently as I once was. I go through periods in my life when I am actively seeking the Lord, and then I have other periods in my life where I wait on the road to Damascus. And then I hear a talk like President Uchtdorf’s, and it kicks me in to action, so to speak.

I loved the following analogy by President Uchtdorf, especially because I was blessed to attend the Carl Bloch exhibit at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art last month with my husband.

“[T]hose who diligently seek to learn of Christ … will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.”

Definitely my testimony of the Savior has come to me this way – quietly, gently, almost unnoticed. In fact, sometimes I forget that I even have a testimony of the Savior because it was built so quietly and so gently, and came in such small pieces. And, like a puzzle, sometimes some of the pieces get knocked off the table, or swept under the couch, and my portrait of the Savior has a few holes that I just can’t seem to fill in.

President Uchtdorf mentioned a few things we can do to move forward with faith and seek the Lord diligently. He mentioned that we should hearken and heed, serve, and share.

Among these, the hearken and heed is probably the hardest for me. I feel like I am not very good at understanding or hearing the promptings of the Spirit, and because of that, I don’t feel like I do a very good job heeding those promptings. I want to receive promptings from the Spirit, but sometimes I doubt that I will be able to recognize them, let alone follow the direction I might receive.

Perhaps I would be wise to follow the counsel of President Uchtdorf – “To better hear His voice, it would be wise to turn down the volume control of the worldly noise in our lives.” Anyone with one preschooler, let alone multiple preschoolers, will know that turning down the volume is hard, if not impossible. Of course, President Uchtdorf means more than just physical noise. He is also talking about all of the worldly distractions – books, TV shows, blogs, music, activities, even sometimes our thoughts can be distractions. One of the ways I get around this is by spending some quiet time by myself each morning studying the gospel, praying, and writing down my thoughts. I should incorporate more quiet time throughout the day, though. Too often I have my scripture study at the beginning and end of my day, but rarely do I take a few minutes to check in with Heavenly Father during the day. Mostly that only happens on the most trying days with my children when I am about to lose my temper and I give myself a little “count-to-ten” time out. Most of the time, while I am counting to ten, I am also praying for guidance and patience as a mother. I don’t always feel a strong impression about what to do, but the few moments of prayer always bring a better sense of calm to my spirit, and I am able to think a little more clearly. But I should try to have those quiet moments more than just at the craziest times of my day. I should frequently stop and check in. Perhaps that will help me turn down the volume on the worldly noise, and help me feel those promptings more frequently.

When President Uchtdorf spoke about serving, he quoted President Spencer W. Kimball who said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other.” I love this, because I believe strongly that we are frequently the answers to each others prayers. I have had friends, family members and others be the answer to my prayers, and I have been in the position to be the answer to the prayers of those around me. There is nothing more touching than being the answer to someone’s prayers. We must serve each other and get to know each other and notice when people need helps because “It is usually through another person that [God] meets our needs.”

I loved when President Uchtdorf talked about how his family shared the gospel. He said that when their friends and coworkers would ask about how their weekend was, they would skip the usual details like events, activities, and the weather, and share some spiritual experience instead. They would talk about what a speaker shared in sacrament meeting, or a gospel principle that helped them with a challenge. I love that he added “We tried not to be preachy or overbearing.” I struggle with that a lot. I love to share my testimony and talk about the gospel and its application in my life, but I feel that often I come across as preachy and overbearing. This is another of my goals – to sound less preachy and overbearing.

In his closing remarks, President Uchtdorf quotes one of my favorite scriptures, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” I want to believe. I want to seek the Lord, so that I can see Him piece by piece in my life. It won’t come all at once, I know, but if I can remember the words of the Primary song, “I’ll keep His commandments, His love will abound, I will seek the Lord early and He will be found” – I know that I will find him.

Do you seek the Lord? How do you recognize the promptings that you receive? Have you had a prayer answered by the service of others? Have you been the answer to someone’s prayer by your actions? Do you share the gospel with those around you? How do you try not to be preachy and overbearing? Have you found the Lord?

Find more great comments on President Uchtdorf’s talk over at the General Conference Book Club on Diapers and Divinity:

Friday, May 13, 2011

New Testament Lesson 17: “What Shall I do?”

The Young Rich Ruler and the Widow’s Mite

A young rich man came to Christ asking what he should do to obtain eternal life.

At first, Christ told the young man to keep the commandments. After the young man professed his obedience to the commandments, Christ told the young man that he needed to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow Christ. They young man was unwilling to do this because “he had great possessions.” The Lord probably instructed this young man to give up his riches because He knew that the young man had set his heart on his riches – that the young man loved his riches more than he loved the Lord.

For us, perhaps it is not a love of worldly possessions that is keeping us from eternal life. Perhaps it is a love of TV shows, a love of good food, or a love of social media. These things in an of themselves are not particularly negative, but when we are unwilling to give them up (“I can’t go to my Relief Society meeting – I have to watch    (insert TV show)  “ or “I can’t fast today, my friend/family/neighbor is cooking the best Barbeque today!” or “I have to check my Facebook/Twitter/blogs on my smartphone during sacrament meeting – I’ll miss something important if I put it away!”, I’m sure you can think of some other examples) When we are willing to “give away all our sins to know [Him]” we are also willing to give away all worldly things to know Him, and only then will we qualify for eternal life.

In Mark 10, Christ mentions that it is hard for people “who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God.” It wasn’t that this young man had riches. It was that the young man loved his riches more than He loved God.

After this experience with the young rich ruler, Christ witnessed the widow who cast in her two mites at the temple.

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called  his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all  did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, all her living. (Mark 12:41-44)

The poor widow was willing to give all she had to the kingdom of God. This is a stark contrast to the rich young ruler who loved his possessions more than God. The widow was willing to possibly not eat for days by giving all she had in an offering.

We shouldn’t look at the examples of the young ruler and the poor widow and think that Christ wants us to be poor and needy. In fact, in the Book of Mormon, Jacob even says that “after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them”. Of course, Jacob also adds a qualifier to that obtaining and seeking of riches by saying, “ye will seek them for the intent to do good”. Christ simply wants us to be willing to live the law of consecration. I enjoyed President Henry B. Eyring’s talk from General Conference about the Church Welfare program, which I will hopefully write about soon. I think that it really goes well with this topic.

President Joseph F. Smith taught, “God is not a respecter of persons. The rich man may enter into the kingdom of heaven as freely as the poor, if he will bring his heart and affections into subjection to the law of God and to the principle of truth; if he will place his affections upon God, his heart upon the truth, and his soul upon the accomplishment of God’s purposes, and not fix his affections and his hopes upon the things of the world”.

How often to we give all we have, or even part of what we have, to the building up of the kingdom? Are we more like the rich young ruler, or more like the widow? Do we have our heart set upon riches of this world? Or, having obtained a hope in Christ, do we seek riches with the intent to do good?

The Parable of the Rich Fool

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

The thing I found most interesting about this parable was when the rich fool said to himself, “I have no room where to bestow my fruits… [Therefore] I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.” This reminds me of the mentality of those who get a new, better paying job and think that what they should do with their money is go out and get a better, more expensive car, house, stereo system, etc. There is no need for such things, but they think that more money means they should have more stuff. This parable, and the scripture about seeking riches with the intent to do good, makes me think of our family’s goals. We want to adopt and foster as many children as we can. We used to joke that we want to have a hundred children, but as we’ve become aware of the situation in the world around us (the number of children without parents) we are actually serious about it. We want to have a hundred children. Granted, having a hundred children means that we will need to be able to provide for those hundred children, so this means we seek riches. But we have obtained a hope in Christ (it is this hope in Christ that leads us to desire to be parents to a hundred children) so the Lord, I believe, will bless us in those efforts. He has so far, and I know that He will continue to bless us in our righteous desires.

Do you seek riches for the intent to do good? What do you plan on doing with your riches as you receive them? Do you intend to “pull down” your current house, cars, possessions to “build greater”? Or are you going to give away that excess, taking care of those who need your help? Are you going to consecrate your worldly possession and materials to the Lord? Or are you going to set your heart upon them?

The Parable of the Great Supper

16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: 17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. 18 And they all with one  began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. 19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. 20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. 21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. 23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel to come in, that my house may be filled. (Luke 14:16-23)

This parable is really interesting to me, too, because I know that I have made excuses to get myself out of doing something I didn’t really want to do. But I hope none of those things were as important as being a follower of Christ. Christ teaches us over and over again that we must forsake everything to obtain eternal life. Not just money and wealth – we have to forsake our land, our animals, our spouses, even! The Lord goes on to say “If any  come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Now, I think that we can be smart enough to understand the Christ does not mean that we need to hate our family. In fact, those may or may not have been the exact words He used. In Matthew, the wording is, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Either way – the point here is that we need to love Christ more than anything else in our lives, and that we need to be willing to give up everything – relationships, possessions, activities, habits, sins – to know Christ.

Do you make excuses for neglecting your devotion to the Lord? Do you make excuses for not studying the scriptures, not attending the temple, not accepting callings, not going to church…?

The Parable of the Unjust Steward

I won’t quote this parable, because it is a little awkward for me, and will probably be better read on your own. You can find it here.

The point of this parable is to show us that we should seek for spiritual wealth with as much determination and craftiness as the servant sought after material wealth.

We often spend a lot of time in the pursuit of material wealth. For example, job interviews (and preparing for said interviews), doing a “good job” at work, selling stuff, working extra jobs, etc. Maybe we don’t spend quite as much time on interviews with our Heavenly Father, or with our Priesthood leaders – and preparing for said interviews. Do we sometimes spend more time on our resume for work than we spend on our “spiritual resume”?

How much time, thought, and energy do you spend in the pursuit of material wealth? Is it more time, thought, and energy than you spend on the pursuit of spiritual wealth? What things do you do to pursue spiritual wealth?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

GCBC and other plans

I think I will be joining Stephanie (of Diapers & Divinity) in her General Conference Book Club (GCBC).

I studied almost all of the talks from October 2010 General Conference, and I am looking forward to studying the talks from April Conference, but I haven’t actually started yet. I have been a little preoccupied with some other topics, and I have switched a little of my personal plans lately (with the exception of today – but I had to buy plane tickets, and then I got distracted…)

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have decided that I will study my paper scriptures (gasp!) and write in my paper, metal spiral bound scripture journal. It’s really just a little green notebook that fits in my scripture case, but I use it to write basically what I write on this blog. Maybe I’ll start transcribing the entries in that little book onto this blog so when I print out the blog those posts will also be here.

Since I will be studying my paper scriptures on Tuesday and Thursday, I figured that would be a perfect start to a computerless day. I know, impossible, right? Well, I did it last Thursday (failed miserably today – but, I like I said, I had to get on to buy plan tickets, and then… it just sucked me in!)

Since on Sundays I post our Companionship Study, that gives me four other days of the week on which to study. Since I talked about studying the Church Handbook of Instructions, that will take up one day, then General Conference Book Club will be another day. My new schedule will look something like this:

Sunday: Companionship Study
Monday: General Conference Book Club (get me ready for FHE!)
Tuesday: paper scriptures
Wednesday: Church Handbook of Instructions
Thursday: paper scriptures
Friday: Gospel Doctrine Lesson for Sunday
Saturday: Relief Society Lesson for Sunday

For Friday and Saturday, I’ll probably just have to follow my own schedule, because I don’t go to Sunday School or Relief Society due to my Primary calling.

I’m excited to do the GCBC, and I think I may even follow Jocelyn’s example over at We Talk of Christ and start a book club in our ward!

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