Thursday, January 28, 2010

Understanding Tragedy

Haiti has been on my mind. I have been reading the news about all the needed help being sent to the Haitians in their time of tragedy after the devastating earthquake on 1/12/10.   There is a great need for food, medical equipment and doctors. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes and loved ones. Our lesson today brought this tragedy to mind. 

Today I asked my class these questions, "What could be the Lord's purposes in allowing this to happen?"  "What good have we seen, or could we possibly see, come out of this tragedy?"

A few things we discussed: The Lord humbles us through trials like these.  When we are humbled our hearts are opened/softened, and we are more receptive to the Spirit.  True service brings more love into the world.  Through Humanitarian Services, the LDS Church collaborates with other organizations to provide "temporal" relief.  Perhaps this may some day open the door for missionaries to assist with "spiritual relief".   Those blessed with an abundance of temporal wealth have an opportunity to open their hearts and share that wealth with those who are in need of it, thus giving up some worldliness.    Nations are working together in service.  

In Alma 14, Alma and Amulek are forced to witness innocent women and children being destroyed by fire. These are people who believed on their words and are being killed because of their belief.  Alma and Amulek are helpless to save them, except for the priesthood power of God which they hold.  Describing Amulek's reaction in Alma 14:10, "And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames."

Unlike the people in Haiti, this tragedy was inflicted upon the believers of Ammonihah by wicked unbelivers. But similarly, there are innocent victims in pain. Through the Spirit, Alma is able to give Amulek a response in verse 11: 

"The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory"  Those responsible for this crime will be held accountable, but those innocent believers were promised exaltation.

President Spencer W. Kimball has stated:  “We find many people critical when a righteous person is killed, a young father or mother is taken from a family, or when violent deaths occur. Some become bitter when oft-repeated prayers seem unanswered. Some lose faith and turn sour when solemn administrations by holy men seem to be ignored. ... But if all the sick were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended.... Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death; and if these were not, there would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood."

Sometimes we don't see or understand the "big picture". Accounts in the scriptures like this one helps us understand that a loving, just, merciful God is in charge, and that brings me peace in my heart.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

God's Power

At first when I began reading Alma 13, I thought that this was a random chapter that Mormon included of the teachings of Alma to Zeezrom and the people of Ammonihah.  Random.  Truthfully, though, there is nothing random about the Book of Mormon.  If I find it random, that means I'm missing the point of why it is there. This is a beautiful chapter on the Melchizedek priesthood.  Alma explains that the purpose of the priesthood is "that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption." (Alma 13:2)  Worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holders are commissioned to act in God's name for the salvation of man.  They become a "type" of Christ.  Their authority comes through ordination, but their POWER comes through obedience and worthiness.  God's POWER, through your faith in HIM.

As a parent, sometimes it is difficult to relinquish control to a son/daughter.  I really struggle with handing over my car keys to my teenage daughters.   Whether they're safe drivers or not, I physically have an "uptight" feeling in my chest until they're home safe, and my undamaged car is back in the garage.   Parents always worry about the safety of their children, other passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, or financial liability associated with driving a car.  Realistically, though, I want my children to grow up being capable, responsible, well-informed, experienced, safe drivers. Someday, I'll be a grandmother and my daughters will be driving my grandchildren from place to place.  I want all of them safe!   I want my daughters to respect the POWER they control behind the wheel of a car.  In order to do this, I must be willing to hand over my keys and let them practice driving.  As they gain more confidence, experience and knowledge, they become capable drivers with control behind the wheel. 

The Melchizedek Priesthood is God's POWER given to men to exercise according to their faith in Him.  The period of time we spend here on earth is when we "practice" using this entrusted priesthood POWER.  We do that by serving others, bringing others to Christ, sharing the gospel and guiding them to the temple.   Through temple ordinances, men and women can receive the blessings of the Melchizedek priesthood and prepare to "enter God's rest".  As we remain worthy, the Spirit sanctifies us through our service.   The more we exercise this POWER, the more we develop a reverence for it.  If we are to become like God, we must receive and exercise his priesthood or POWER as he exercises it.

Alma is teaching about the priesthood in preface to what is about to happen.  The people in Ammonihah are practicing priestcraft, in contrast to the priesthood which Alma holds.  One is of God, and the other of the devil.  The people of Ammonihah are about to witness the POWER of God through the faith that Alma and Amulek have in Him (Alma 14). There will be no question where this POWER comes from.   What a great chapter!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Subtle Message To The Teacher

Today I put a scale like this one on the board.  (Our CES director is always telling us that this is a good idea.)  I handed out several pieces of paper (about 25) with descriptions of behavior on them.

- Helpful
- Quickly opens scriptures
- Can't help but participate
- Finds teacher boring
- Contributes, supports, builds teacher
- Won't open scriptures
- Volunteers for devotional
- Frustration; Don't want to be there
- Brings friends to church/seminary
- Non-participating
- Contributes to reverence in class
- Inappropriate laughter
- Etc.........

This scale represents our "readiness to receive inspiration and revelation".  I asked my class, on a scale of one to ten, (one being non-receptive, ten being ready to learn by the Spirit), to tape the behaviors by the number on the scale that they felt most closely represented that specific behavior.  No right answers, just opinions and impressions.  We had a good discussion on this after evaluating our scale.

In Alma 12:8-11, Alma teaches Zeezrom about the "mysteries of God", and how we are able to learn them with a softened heart, through living righteously, keeping the commandments, prayer, and by following the counsel of living prophets.   There are indications that we are ready to receive, or not, through the way we behave.  This exercise wasn't about judging others' behavior, but it was more about noticing our own. Spiritual preparation precedes revelation.  In looking at our scale on the board, we could tell that some days we show that we are not ready, yet on other days we may be.  The point is to make a conscious effort to be on the high end of the spiritual preparation scale as much as possible. 

I absolutely love my class.   Everyone contributes to the feeling we have there.   Each personality makes the mix richer. 

While 2 young men were putting their behavior papers on the board, one of them said: 
"Inappropriate Laughter? What does that mean?" 
My answer was, "Well, it refers more to WHEN you laugh than HOW you laugh. In other words, laughing at an inappropriate time."
He said, "When would be an appropriate time to laugh?"
I said, "When your teacher says something funny."
He said, "What if your teacher says something she thinks is funny, but isn't?"
I said, "That's when you laugh!"
The other young man said, "You're supposed to laugh ESPECIALLY when she isn't funny."

Do you think they were trying to tell me something?

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Yippee!" for Scripture Mastery

As I mentioned in a previous post, we do a lot with Scripture Mastery in seminary.  In our stake, we challenge the youth to memorize all 25 Scripture Mastery passages so they can be recited from memory.  It is not required, but the challenge is in place for those who seek to accomplish this.  Many youth have set a goal for themselves to memorize all 100 over the span of the 4 years in seminary.  At the end of each seminary year, any of the youth who have memorized 25 SM scriptures are awarded with a medal signifying their accomplishment.  If any seniors have memorized the 100 over the 4 years, they receive an added medal.

This is the way we have chosen, in our stake, to acknowledge students who have taken the time to put these important scriptures to memory, but we also recognize that not all students have the ability to do this.  It is just as important to be able to find/locate the scripture, understand the principles being taught, and to be able to apply the scripture in our lives.  The medals are nice, but the real reward is what I witnessed yesterday.  (I absolutely love when the work put into an effort produces a fruit that is sweet.)

One student expressed to me that she had amazingly recalled a SM scripture in a conversation to a friend who had asked her questions about the gospel.  Without realizing it, because she had taken the time to memorize it, she could recite it to herself in her head, and then rephrase it in a way that her friend would understand the principle.  Her face was beaming with  pride.

As I was cleaning up the seminary room yesterday, one young man stayed behind to mark off some SM scriptures he had memorized on a chart I keep in my closet.  As we were chatting, he mentioned how he first thought that memorizing scriptures from seminary was hard and that he never thought he'd ever use them. (He's a senior this year.) But lately he noticed that "they stick in your head" and he is able to recall them as he reads his scriptures.  He finds himself thinking about them and without knowing it, he's been able to understand the doctrine more fully.

As he's saying this, I'm thinking in my head, "YIPPEEEEEEEE"!   This is why we spend so much time on these scriptures.  This is the sweet and  delicious "fruit"! 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Changing Before Our Eyes

Change is good, right?  Apparently, according to this cartoon, change can sometimes occur in us unexpectedly!  

Today in seminary, we covered Alma 11, where Amulek stands forth to condend with a lawyer in Ammonihah by the name of Zeezrom.  Zeezrom knows knows there is a God (Alma 11:24), but he tries to twist Amulek's words to make him contradict himself. In fact, he is attempting to lure Amulek to misspeak about the gospel in front of the crowd so he and Alma will stand condemned as liars. 

Amulek teaches of Jesus Christ, the Godhead, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and of eternal life.

A change is occuring in Zeezrom "before our eyes"; unexpectedly as he listens to Amulek!  Zeezrom cannot deny what he now feels and knows through the Spirit. "Now, when Amulek had finished these words the people began again to be astonished, and also Zeezrom began to tremble." (Alma 11:46) It's a remarkable, physical change which continues in Zeezrom as Alma then to "establish the words of Amulek". (Alma 12:1)

The reason for this change in Zeezrom..........
"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel." (Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1986)

UNDERSTANDING the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ brings us peace.  It softens the heart, and we behave differently because of what we know.  President Packer's quote has been one I have embraced over the years.  I have come to realize just how true it is through testing it.  UNDERSTANDING true doctrine lays a solid foundation for a testimony, and it helps to change us from worldly beings to spiritual beings.
Yep, change is good.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Becoming A "Member" Again

Today we started class by listing as many words as we could with the prefix "RE-".  The rest of the word must be able to stand on its own.  (For example, "re-new" as opposed to "re-spect".)   Re-pair, re-breather, re-turn, re-mind, re-start, re-use, re-cycle, etc..................we found more than several!  We determined that the prefix "RE-" prepares you to repeat or go back to the second part of the word.  I then wrote a word on the board. Using the activity we just did, I wanted to see if they could interpret this word differently than they are used to reading it, and by using our rule of the prefix "RE-".


We usually think of reaching back into our memory when we read "remember".      In Alma 9, while the prophet Alma is speaking to the apostate Ammonihahites, he is definitely asking them to "remember" how the Lord has been merciful in bringing their ancestors to the promised land and brought them out of bondage many times; all due to their faithfulness.  He wants them to "remember" how they felt when they, at one time, had the Spirit and were blessed with many gifts of the Spirit, light, and knowledge.  Their hardened hearts have moved them away from the Lord and from "remembering" to keep his commandments.

But Alma also wants the Nephites in Ammonihah to "RE-MEMBER" themselves to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In other words, become members again.  He begins to teach them in verse 27, "And behold, he cometh to redeem those who will be baptized unto repentance, through faith on his name."  Faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism. Rather than requiring them to be baptized again, he wants them to recall what they covenanted to do at their baptisms. He wants them to reflect on how they felt when they were converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and took upon them his name.

We, like the people of Ammonihah, need to be reminded of our covenants.  We are reminded of our baptismal covenants each week when we "RE-MEMBER" ourselves to the Lord in sacrament meeting. We do this by humbling ourselves to bring a broken heart and a contrite spirit to sacrament meeting.  We also promise to keep his commandments and keep Christ at the forefront of our minds, always. Alma speaks to us as he did to the people in Ammonihah. To heed his words would help us avoid the fate of these people.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Our Preparation

It's interesting to assess where we are in life in contrast to where we used to be.  It's important to take the time to recognize the "journey" as well as the destination.  I think of life like a treasure map.  Each of us has our own unique map; none is like another. We all have the same destination but we have different routes.   There is a worthwhile treasure at the end (eternal life with Heavenly Father). We are going to come across many obstacles/distractions (temptations/worldliness) along the way and meander around with our compass (Holy Ghost) in hand.  Sometimes the compass works and sometimes it doesn't (depending on our faithfulness).  We are bound to get lost (wrong choices) several times.  With our treasure map (scriptures, prophet, commandments, standards) in hand we can eventually get to our destination.  Oh yes, and we must trust the provider of the map (Jesus Christ).

Our compass must be functioning properly, and we must follow the map, no matter what.  To question the course route only slows us down.

Alma meets Amulek

In Alma 8, Alma goes to the city of Ammonihah.  He is rejected by the hard-hearted people there who mistreat him and cast him out of their city.  As he leaves, his discouragement leads him to earnestly pray for the Lord's help. He is visited by an angel who commands him to return to Ammonihah and call them to repentance.  The Lord provides a way for Alma to accomplish his mission (1 Ne. 3:7) by sending him a man named Amulek.

Two Converging Paths

These two men were called by the Lord and prepared to do a great work.  Each had his own treasure map to follow prior to meeting each other. Each had to accept their call in order for their paths to cross.  Their converging paths created a powerful missionary companionship where they could teach by the Spirit.  I'm pretty sure Alma and Amulek didn't know what was ahead of them.  The Lord didn't tell them how their service to Him would affect so many souls.  But they didn't need to know that in order to do the work.  They simply needed to be worthy and willing.

None of us really knows what's ahead of us on our treasure maps.  We, like Alma and Amulek, must be worthy and prepared to trust the Lord as He calls us on the many missions we have in life.  We must trust his timetable and allow him to qualify us for the work.  The course he sets for us will shape us into being souls who are prepared to receive the treasure!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"The Good News"

Life's not fair.

Things don't always work out the way we want them to.  Just when we think we're getting ahead, something makes us fall behind. Sometimes our weaknesses get the better of us, pull us down and discourage us. Growing up in the Church, I was taught that through the Atonement of Christ,  I can be forgiven of my sins if I sincerely repent of them. The Atonement can cover my sins.  Later I grew to understand that the Atonement also covers my stresses and troubles which were not brought on by myself.  Through Christ, my pains can be healed.  Heartache, sorrows, worries, sickness, my inadequacies, weaknesses that I can't help, or in other words, my infirmities.

in·fir·mi·ty (n. pl. in·fir·mi·ties)
1. A bodily ailment or weakness, especially one brought on by old age.
2. Frailty; feebleness.
3. A condition or disease producing weakness.
4. A failing or defect in a person's character.

This is the gospel! (Gospel means GOOD NEWS!)

Because of my understanding of the Atonement of Christ, I feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude and love for Him.  This is why we need Him.  We're not alone. Through our covenants and our undivided devotion to Him, we are "yoked" to Him, and he provides the added strength we need to "endure to the end".  He will make up the difference for what we are lacking. We must come to Him seeking his healing power through our faith in Him. Knowing this makes us want to live better, work harder, and appreciate Him more.

In Alma 6-7, Alma travels to the valley of Gideon. He is going from city to city in the land of Zarahemla, teaching the "GOOD NEWS" by the Spirit. He is "cleansing" each city as he establishes the Church, ordains priesthood holders, and teaches them about Faith in Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism in his name, to remember him and to keep his commandments.  Alma tells the people of Gideon that there is one thing he wants to share with them which is of MORE IMPORTANCE THAN ANYTHING; "...the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people."  Alma then teaches them about the Atonement and how the Savior will take upon him THEIR infirmities.   By entering into baptism, they become "his people".

Knowing this, changes them from the inside out.

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” (President Ezra Taft Benson, Oct. 1985)

Life is fair. Our Savior makes it more than fair.