Monday, November 30, 2009

BUILDING the Kingdom

We're here to BUILD the kingdom of God on the earth.  The word BUILD means "to construct by assembling and joining parts or materials, to establish, increase, or strengthen."  Does this mean that if we're NOT BUILDING, we are "weakening, deconstructing, or diminishing?"  It's very interesting to observe how a little negative can put a significant dent in a lot of positive. Buying a new outfit and receiving multiple compliments on it could boost our spirits!  But one negative criticism about it may dampen our desires to ever wear it again.  Or, we might have given a great talk in sacrament meeting.  But someone may have pointed out that we talked too fast or that we didn't look up enough while speaking.  After hearing that, maybe our talk was just okay, instead of great.

Alma the Younger

In Mosiah 26:1-4, Mosiah 27:1-2 and 8-10, the "rising generation" were among the unbelievers.  They couldn't relate to the words passed down to them from King Benjamin, being that they were small children during his time.  They were disconnected from the teachings of the Church, so they began to tear it down.  The four sons of King Mosiah (Ammon, Aaron, Omner & Himni), and Alma's son, Alma, were among the unbelievers.   Alma the Younger was wicked, idolatrous, articulate and influential.  "And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them.  And now it came to pass that while he was going about to destroy the church of God, for he did go about secretly with the sons of Mosiah seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord, contrary to the commandments of God, or even the king—" (Mosiah 27:8-9)

I brought some snap-together building blocks to seminary and asked a few class members to build me a structure of some kind......a castle, a fortress, a kingdom. I also privately asked one of them to be as annoying as possible (he had fun with that), and tear down what the others were BUILDING while they were working. It was so easy for him to tear down in seconds, what the others took several minutes to BUILD.  What ended up being a small tower, could have been a kingdom.  It only took one person to do the damage.

So what if Alma the Younger could harness his efforts to BUILD, rather than destroy?  What would it take? A change of heart?  What would it take for US TO BUILD, and how could we do it?  I imagine that as we BUILD the kingdom of God here on the earth, a softening of the heart would need to occur to effect a change in us and others.   This is what we considered.

Mosiah 2:17
"And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God."
(The "crown" helps us remember King Mosiah for the book of Mosiah, "two glasses" on his tray helps us remember chapter 2, we decided he looks like he's "17-years-old" to help us remember verse 17, and he's "serving others" which is what the SM is about.)

I kept pondering on how to help our class continually work on keeping our hearts softened, and BUILD the kingdom while doing it.  This Scripture Mastery scripture kept coming to my mind.  This then led me to think of President Monson's birthday request that he mentioned in this past General Conference (Oct. 2009).  The ideal gift that members worldwide could give to him would be to "find someone who is having a hard time or is ill or lonely, and do something for him or her."

President Monson's Jar of "Warm Fuzzies"

President Monson received a large jar containing hundreds of "warm fuzzies" from a group of Primary children.  Each "warm fuzzy" represents an act of service performed during the year by one of the children in Primary.  Our class has adopted this activity in hopes of offering ourselves to the Lord in service by serving others.  Each day we meet for seminary until the end of the school year, we will be logging our service and adding "warm fuzzies" to our jar.  We will present this to "someone special" (to be revealed at a later date) at our seminary graduation in June.  It's not about just filling the jar.  It's about changing ourselves (our hearts) and those we serve.  It's about becoming like Christ, and contributing to BUILDING his kingdom. 

Maybe with a combined positive effort, instead of contructing a small tower, we could BUILD one of these!

Friday, November 20, 2009

They Know What They Need to Know

Today I had some interesting demographics in the classroom.  One girl.  All others were boys.  Why?  Lastnight was the opening night showing at midnight of New Moon.  (Funny.) 

Today we covered Mosiah 23-26.  I decided to ask the class to divide up into four groups.  Each group was assigned a chapter to read.  They were to select two verses from their chapter they felt would be the most important to share with teenagers.  In other words, as a group, they had to choose two that most applied to THEMSELVES.   Once they chose their verses, they had to be able to defend their selection.  I also chose two verses from each of these chapters I felt most applied to them.  I wrote my choices on notecards and taped them to the board, facing away from them so they couldn't be seen.  At the end of class, we would try to see if their selections matched mine, just for fun.

Let me share with you a few of the verses they selected:

  • Mosiah 23:14 "And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments."

  • Mosiah 24:14 "And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

  • Mosiah 25:18 "Therefore, Alma did go forth into the water and did baptize them; yea, he did baptize them after the manner he did his brethren in the waters of Mormon; yea, and as many as he did baptize did belong to the church of God; and this because of their belief on the words of Alma."

  • Mosiah 26:24 "For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand."

The best part of this activity for me, was hearing them defend their selections.   They felt very sure and confident about what they chose.  What I like about activities like these is that there isn't one right answer.  As long as they could defend their verses, their answers were "right".  They told me that it was important to be led by righteous men of God.  They said that through our belief in the Atonement, the Lord will ease our pains and burdens.   They shared how important it is for us to make covenants with the Lord, such as baptism, and that we receive strength from the Lord through our covenants.   They shared how we belong to Christ as we take upon us his name.   

And there was more.

It just made me leave class today with some "happy" in my heart to know that they are aware of what they need to cling to in these latter-days.  They are so bright and intelligent.   I love that about them.  When I was their age, our leaders told us that we were the strong, rising generation.  I still believe that was true.  But now the people from my generation are the teachers of an even stronger, rising generation.  What a priviledge it is for me to be their teacher.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Indiana Jones & Scripture Mastery

This cute picture (as well as 24 others) was passed along to me by my CES Coordinator.    I don't know who created these, so I can't give him his due credit, but whomever he is, he's got my gratitude and admiration.  My class loves these, and they're very effective for remembering each Scripture Mastery scripture.  This picture helps my class remember the Scripture Mastery verse Alma 32:21.

"And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true."
As a seminary teacher, I'll do anything to get them to remember scriptures like this one.  We play games, we repeat them over and over until we're able to recite them in our sleep, we use object lessons, we sing songs, we highlight them, we chase them, we act them out, we draw them out, we play more games, and on and on. I use this picture as a flashcard.  When they look at it, they're able to tell that:

1.  This scripture is found in "owl"-ma (Alma)
2.  In the 32nd chapter, as indicated by the 32 oz. drink
3.  (somehow we have to remember the "verse 21" part without a visual prompt)
4.  And Indiana Jones helps us understand the two ledges/cliffs, and the meaning behind the scripture.

    I'm constantly reminded that I'm from another generation than my class.  Indiana Jones movies are a part of who I am!  It makes perfect sense to me for the creator of this Alma SM picture to include the two cliffs to teach FAITH.  Well................most of my class hadn't seen this movie clip because they're a lot younger than when Indiana Jones movies were popular.  (Yep, I'm feeling older by the hour.)  And obviously, the person who created this Alma SM picture is close to my age, poor old guy!

    The most important part of learning Scripture Mastery scriptures is the application of them in our lives.  If we can learn them so well (master them) that we can recall their meaning at crucial times in our lives, then it has been all worth the study and work.  Coming to KNOW these scriptures changes who we are.  As the doctrine in these scriptures settle in our minds and seep down into our hearts, we begin living the doctrine because it has become a part of us

    We can't always call on Indiana Jones to help us learn and remember each Scripture Mastery scripture, but aren't we lucky that we had his help with this one?

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Awesome History with Stick Figures

    King Limhi

    Today's blog is about an activity we did in class that I wanted to share with you.   It's hard to understand the Book of Mormon without understanding the history and background information.  In my opinion, this goes for any book of scripture.  A scripture taken out of context is understandable, but when taken in context (knowing who the scripture was directed to and why, the culture, time period, location, etc.) it helps to deepen our understanding of what's being taught and how to apply it.  No, seminary isn't a "history class". But the history is like the "scenery" in a play.  It sets the stage for what's really going on.

    (Sorry; bad lighting in my photo.)  Today we covered a stretch of scripture; Mosiah 19-22, which involves Limhi, his people, and their escape from bondage to the Lamanites.  We have four devotional groups in our class.  I assigned each group one chapter to cover.  Each group received one of the bags pictured above that corresponded to their assigned chapter.


    In each bag are these little cardboard stick figures.  I went through the chapters lastnight and labeled the characters ahead of time.  Each group needed to simply read through their chapter, manipulate the stick figures any way they wanted to bring/act out the storyline, and then teach the rest of us what they found.  This actually made the storyline quite interesting! As each group ended their chapter, the next group would continue where they left off, which made for a nice, continuous story.

    They have an "at-home" assignment tomorrow.  It covers more storyline in Mosiah 23-24 (Alma & his people).  On Thursday, we'll bring it all together, and we'll discuss the notable principles in all of those chapters (Mosiah 19-24).  We'll take a step back and "view the play with the amazing backdrop and scenery".

    I'm very proud of my class!  They "get it", and I guarantee you that they'll never forget how they learned their Book of Mormon history from sticks.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    It All Goes Back to the Basics...

    A young man from my ward left on his mission a few months ago.  Before he left, he was assigned to speak in sacrament meeting in various wards throughout our stake.  When he spoke in our ward, his assigned topic was the 4th Article of Faith.  "A very simple topic", I thought.  As he began to speak, I realized how much this young man will need to lean on the truth of these principles and ordinances he's speaking of in the next few years of his life.   He helped me reflect on the importance of revisiting the 4th Article of Faith, even many years after my baptism. After all, we do learn the Articles of Faith in Primary, and we're expected to know that specific Article of Faith by the age of eight in preparation for baptism.  We've heard it over and over again.  But I've come to realize that there are many levels to understanding the 4th Article of Faith.  It reads:

    "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."

    This is what we teach in our Church.  These steps are listed in sequence, as each one builds upon the other. The most elemental, basic principle of the gospel is developing faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. As I was skimming through my November 2009 issue of the Ensign Magazine (the General Conference Issue), I looked to see whether I could find at least one of these four (Faith in Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism/Covenants, or the Holy Ghost) in each talk.  What do you think I found?

    In Mosiah 18, Alma has taken a group of "believers" to the Land of Mormon.  They have physically and spiritually separated themselves from sin and the evil influences in the Land of Lehi-Nephi.  Now they can enter into a covenant with the Lord and be cleansed from their sin as they are baptized in the Waters of Mormon.  Alma taught them the words of Abinadi, "...and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord."  (Mosiah 18:7)  It's very simple and basic, and necessary.  Once we've developed faith in Christ, repented of our sins, and demonstrated our faith by being baptized, we can then be given the gift of the Holy Ghost—referred to in the scriptures as the Comforter—to guide us as we strive to live a Christlike life. We're covenanting to be like Him as we are "...willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;  Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places." (Mosiah 18:8-9) 

    The first principles and ordinances of the gospel take on deeper meanings each week as we partake of the sacrament, and even deeper as we enter into temple covenants.   We understand more as we're ready to receive more, for the Lord teaches us "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little" (2 Ne. 28:30)

    And "thank you" to a young missionary who inspired me with a simple sacrament talk.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009


    Several years ago, I recall hearing President James E. Faust (1920-2007) speak about his mission to Brazil. I researched the year he was called to serve; it was 1939, just prior to WWII.   This is a picture of him around the time he served his mission.  Doesn't he have a resemblance to Harrison Ford?  He mentioned that at times it was discouraging for him and the other missionaries there because of their low baptism rate.  Those were the early days of missionary work in South America.  During one particularly slow year of President Faust's three-year mission, there were only three convert baptisms among the 70 missionaries serving in Brazil. Still, he and his fellow missionaries worked hard.

    According to the LDS Newsroom, these are the current statistics for membership in Brazil today. 

    • Membership 1,060,556
    • Missions 27
    • Temples 5
    • Congregations 1,849
    • Family History Centers 299
    The effects of President Faust's missionary efforts weren't immediate.  He eventually saw the growth of the Church in Brazil as a General Authority of the Church. He shared this experience to teach that we must never give up on building the kingdom of God, and never deny what you know is TRUE.  Continue to share your testimony even when you feel like no one is listening.

    There are many heroes in the Book of Mormon, but Abinadi is one that I have always admired.  He taught the truth, no matter what.  I'm sure he felt like no one was listening to him when he spoke to Noah and his priests.  But he taught what he knew was true about Christ and put his life on the line for it. That's integrity.  If we were faced with giving up our lives to defend our faith, would we?  Could we?   Abinadi's testimony converted at least one person that we know of; Alma.  Abinadi's testimony, through Alma, had an effect on the entire Nephite nation, and continues to do so with us in the Latter-days.  

    When we speak the truths of the gospel, it gives the Spirit the opportunity to teach others by testifying to them that what we are saying is true

    I wrote a little note to myself in my scriptures about Abinadi at the end of Mosiah 17.   Isn't he one of your heroes too?

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...

    I used to sit next to my friend, Kehau, in sacrament meeting when I was a kid. She and I, apparently, were not very attentive to the speakers, because this is where we perfected our craft of making paper "fortune tellers".   Her dad was the usher who handed out the programs to the congregation.  When there were extra, we'd make "fortune tellers" out of the programs, similar to the one pictured above. (True confessions.)  

    It's been decades, but do kids still make these?  This is how you play: one person (the operator) holds the "fortune teller" and asks the other person (the client) to make choices.  With each choice the client makes, the operator opens and closes the device one time for each letter in the word, or number, the client chooses.   The last step is to pick a number that will correspond with "your future".  When we were making these, we'd write only "futures that had happy endings" on the inside.  (Maybe we'd put one in there that was disasterous just to make us giggle.)  But if you played this enough times, you could guarantee your "future" by making the appropriate choices from former trial and error.  "Yellow, 4, 7, and I was going to marry the cutest boy in the ward!"  Easy. 

    Real life is definitely more complicated, and we don't get to "redo" some of the choices we make. We can't keep playing the game of life and go back when we don't like where we're going, or can we? 

    In Mosiah 11-12, we're introduced to King Noah, and the TURN in lifestyle the people have made as they follow this worldly king.  Abinadi, a brave prophet of the Lord, calls them to repentance and tries to warn them of what the consequences will be if they don't TURN back to Him.  Most of the Nephites living with King Noah couldn't/didn't see the path of bondage and destruction they were on.  They were distracted and were enjoying too much of what they viewed as pleasure and happiness. In Mosiah 11:29 it tells us that "...the eyes of the people were blinded; therefore they hardened their hearts against the words of Abinadi..."  Hard hearts keep us from hearkening and learning. Perhaps they didn't realize that the Lord keeps His word, and their destiny, as outlined by Abinadi, was SURE if they chose not to listen.

    The beautiful part about the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that if our choices send us down the wrong path, we can receive forgiveness from the Lord through our sincere repentance and, thereby, alter our future.   There is a way to TURN BACK to Him.

    We make choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice after choice every day.  If we can combine our string of choices to fall in line with God's commandments, then He promises us "futures with happy endings."  

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Book of Mormon "Journey Dolls"

    This is the part in the Book of Mormon where you need a chart in one hand and your scriptures in the other in order to keep track of time, people, and places. 

    Thanks to a dear former seminary teacher who shares, I have temporarily adopted several Book of Mormon "Journey Dolls" to use in class for us to keep track of "who's who".  They're faceless, they have raggedy hair, and they need a seamstress (or a hot glue gun), but they are AWESOME figures to help us re-enact the storyline in the book of Mosiah.  (There are several more Journey Dolls than pictured. These are just the ones we used today.)

    Let me introduce to you today's characters:  from left to right,  King Laman (he's a little on the short, pudgy side), Zeniff in the back, Lamanite warrior (likes bright colors), King Limhi, and Ammon.  As you can see, all of them were in the Land of Nephi (Lehi-Nephi) for this lesson.  The actors have rehearsed their lines, they're standing on their marks, and they're ready for "showtime".

    King Mosiah waits patiently in Zarahemla for a report from Ammon.

    The only way that it made sense to me to do this was to roll out a round table at the church, designate North and South, set out cards with names of the significant places mentioned in the scriptures, and move the dolls to where they need to be.  Each day we have the dolls out, we review from the beginning "who goes where", "how who got where", and "why who got where".  I'll be inviting class members to re-tell the history in the Book of Mormon using the dolls to get us to where we are in the scriptures.

    Our next lesson will involve King Noah, Abinadi, and Noah's priests.  Here they are rehearsing for their part of the re-enactment.  If you couldn't guess, Noah is the one with the ostentatious pink and purple clothing, and the gold crown with pink sparkler-looking pompoms on top. 

    Stay tuned for more episode updates on the "Journey Dolls". And yes, I do actually squeeze in a lesson as we move the dolls around, but it's tempting not to.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Connecting Then to Now

    It's apparent that the Book of Mormon was written for us.  There are situations in the Book of Mormon that reflect our society today.  What I love about teaching seminary is helping our class make the connection between what's in this book and how it sooooooo relates to them!  We have living prophets today whose counsel is consistent with the teachings of Book of Mormon times.

    One topic that is mentioned repeatedly in the book of Mosiah is "bondage". As we read about the people of Limhi, we learn how to get out and stay out of bondage, how to avoid bondage, how the Lord will deliver us from bondage, the cause of falling into bondage, and the result of bondage.   What is happening temporally to them is a result of their spiritual commitment to the Lord, or the lack thereof.

    In class today, we talked about ways we could fall into bondage in today's world (Satan's way of grabbing  hold of us). Peer pressure, monetary debt, and addictions were some of the things that were brought up. In the dictionary, bondage is described as "Involuntary Servitude", in other words when you give up your agency and begin serving someone/something other than the Lord.   Bondage comes when the worldly and physical take over the spiritual.

    Elder Robert D. Hales counsels from his General Conference talk in April 2009"In seeking to overcome debt and addictive behaviors, we should remember that addiction is the craving of the natural man, and it can never be satisfied. It is an insatiable appetite. When we are addicted, we seek those worldly possessions or physical pleasures that seem to entice us......Our success is never measured by how strongly we are tempted but by how faithfully we respond. We must ask for help from our Heavenly Father and seek strength through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ."

    In Mosiah 7, the people of Limhi are in bondage to, and being controlled by, the Lamanites in the city of Lehi-Nephi. They have been put in this position by former leaders who have made bad choices in the past, "were slow to remember the Lord", and who were manipulated and deceived. Now the consequences for bad choices are being felt by the people of Limhi. They have given up their agency and they serve the enemy.  King Limhi, knowing what would get them out of their bondage teaches in verse 33, "But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage." 

    Turning whole-heartedly to the Lord, applying the Atonement, asking for His help and trusting Him, is the key to avoid falling into spiritual bondage.  It applied then as it applies now.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    4 Brave Souls & 1 Shaky Teacher

    Last week our class discussed testifying by the Spirit of what we know to be true.  (See "Keep It Simple" ) We're trying to articulate what's in our hearts and minds, as revealed to us by the Holy Ghost.   It's helpful for us to remember to focus on those we're testifying to.  If we truly bear pure testimony in hopes of being instruments in the hand of the Lord, then we would not be worried/fearful about how we appear/sound in front of others.  Some of our classmates might say, "Easier said than done."  I have to admit; I agree. But that's our challenge and one we must overcome. Our intent is to allow the Spirit to teach others through our words.  We simply need to get up and open our mouths.  The Spirit is the teacher.  We offer ourselves as the conduits.

    We have some very brave youth among us.   4 members of our class (that I know of) stood to bear their testimony on Sunday and I was able to hear 3 of them.  Oh, and one young man bears his testimony every month in sacrament meeting.  (Yep, I know; amazing.)  Hearing them makes me stronger; makes my testimony more solid.  There is something very powerful about listening to youth testify of what they know to be true!

    Perhaps we can influence a different group of youth in our class to stand and bear pure testimony next month, or the month after, or the month after?  I bore my testimony this past month with some of our classmates.  Knees knocking a little, but the gospel is true, whether I shake or not!

    Monday, November 2, 2009


    Recently, I was sitting in the back row of a church sacrament meeting, watching the other members of the congregation sit together with their heads bowed. (My head eventually went down too.) This was a sacred meeting. It was made sacred by the ordinance being performed, and because of the reverence of those in attendance.  As we said "amen" in unison, I felt like I belonged to this group of people.  I didn't even know everyone in the room, but I belonged.  Even if we didn't know each other, we were similar.   Our common beliefs bring us together. For those in the room who were baptized, we were renewing those covenants we made at baptism. We were promising what was expressed in the sacrament prayers.  We were making an offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, in hopes that the Lord would accept our offering and bless us with his Spirit. I was making a personal offering, but as a group, we were making an even greater offering. There is power in the strength of many prayers made in faith.  There must be power in the strength of many saints covenanting in sacrament meeting together. Could this be similar to what the Nephites felt like as they covenanted together with the Lord at the time of King Benjamin?

    In Mosiah 1-5, King Benjamin had the Nephites gathered together at the temple to give them a name to distinguish them as a group of righteous saints. They were willing to do what was required to be a part of this group; they were willing to enter into a covenant with the Lord.  The Nephites experienced a mighty change of heart, where they had no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. Their hearts were changed through faith in his name. They were now called "children of Christ". 

    It must have been exciting to have been there!!! They took upon them the name of Christ as we do in our day.  The strength of belonging to each other and belonging to Christ would have been powerful!  Our sacred sacrament meetings give us the opportunity to continually re-commit to the Lord, his commandments and to always remember Him. By taking on us his sacred name We are His; we belong!

    My family likes to sit towards the front on Sundays. I used to like that too.  But now I think the view from the back is pretty awesome.