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Cover image by Sandy Freckleton Gagon.
There are so many wonderful things happening within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints right now that I feel to express it as Oliver Cowdery did in 1834 when he said, “These are days never to be forgotten . . . and I shall ever look upon [the] expression of the Savior’s goodness with wonder and thanksgiving. ” (see the footnote of Joseph Smith-History 1:71) The work of the Kingdom of God is rolling forward with accelerated majesty. Oliver was involved in the establishment of the Church and the Gospel. Today, we are involved with the gathering and hastening of the work of the Kingdom. There are signs all around us that indicate the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is getting closer. Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?
Our readings this week open with the Pharisees and the Sadducees demanding signs of Jesus. Oh, he must have been frustrated with them. They had enough signs, but they would not see them. Why do you think they couldn’t see them? What blinded them to all the signs and miracles before them? Is there something we can learn from them and their experiences?
Have you ever gone to a Church meeting and come away thinking–’Wow, that was a wonderful meeting, I really felt the Spirit strongly today.’ But when talking to others, they expressed the opposite experience? How can that be? What makes the difference? I think part of it is our personal preparation and another part is our personal willingness to open our hearts.
The disciples’ hearts were open to the Spirit and the Holy Ghost did manifest the truthfulness of Christ’s divinity to them. Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, Peter definitively declared his testimony, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
I have had experiences where I had my eyes open and also times when my eyes did not see. One time my ‘eyes were open’ was when I was in college and 18 years old. I was pondering about my future and what direction I should make plans to go. I received the impression that I should prepare and go on a mission. When I shared this insight with my friends and family, they didn’t believe that I would do it. They all thought that I would be married before I was 21–the required age at that time for sisters. I prepared to be worthy for the day I could serve.
The summer before I was to leave, I attended BYU-Hawaii. While prayerfully deciding which classes to register for, I felt impressed to take a beginning Japanese class. I signed up for it. On my long flight from the East coast over to the island, I rationalized myself out of it. ‘When would I ever use Japanese? There are over 6,000 characters, how could I possibly learn it? It was a ridiculous idea. It was just not a smart thing to do, Spanish would be more useful.” Imagine my surprise when I receive a mission call to Kobe, Japan. My eyes were closed to the Spirit on that occasion, and I suffered for it.
The Lord in his infinite wisdom enlightens our minds with information that might not be useful today, (although it could be), but will be always be helpful at some point. Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear? And I might add, faith to follow?
This month I have been working on my personal study of the Come Follow Me program. In the past, I have read the material and jotted down my thoughts and impressions. I thought I would try something different this month. First, I read through the material and mark a line between ideas, transitions and stories to separate the ideas and concepts. Then I go back and read it more slowly, recording my thoughts, insights, cross-references and questions in a journal. I have found that I see more connections. Sometimes I spend a few minutes on a particular section and other times I spend my entire study time on just a few verses. It has been eye-opening to me. I feel my personal study had been more beneficial for me, and of course, I share some insights and questions with my family.
This is not the only way to study, but I wanted to try it out. If you feel like you are not gleaning as much as you would like, maybe you would like to try it too.
Here are some ideas of activities you can do throughout the week:
—Matthew 16: 13-17; Luke 9: 18-21
*Do a scripture chain or just cross reference the following passages of other people in the New Testament who have shared testimonies similar to Peter’s using language with the same sense and meaning:
Simon & Anna in the temple (Luke 2:25-39)
Wise men from the east (Matt 2: 1-12)
John the Baptist (John 1: 1-36; 3: 22-36; Matt. 3)
Elizabeth (Luke 1: 41-45)
Andrew (John 1: 37-42)
Phillip (John 1: 43-45)
Nathanael (John 1: 46-51)
The Samaritan woman (John 4: 28-29, 39)
The apostles as a group (Matt. 14: 33)
Mortal men possessed with devils (Luke 4: 33-37)
The people generally (Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15: 22)
—Matthew 17: 1-9; Mark 9: 2-10; Luke 9: 28-36
* This is the second time God’s voice declares that he is well-pleased with his Son (Matthew 17: 5)–the first was at his baptism–what is special about this time? You may want to do some research about what happened on the mount of transfiguration. Here is an article, by Larry E. Dahl, associate professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University, that may help to get you started.
* Compare Oliver Cowdery’s feelings and experience of the visitation of heavenly messengers ( Joseph Smith-History 1: 71 footnote) with those of Peter, James and John.
—Matthew 16: 13-19; 17: 1-9
*The keys of the kingdom are the power, right and authority to preside over the kingdom of God on the earth. There were keys given to Peter, James and John on the mount of transfiguration. Can you find a record where the keys were given in our day to Joseph Smith and others? What other information can you discover about the keys of the Priesthood?
—Matthew 17: 14-21; Mark 9: 14-29
*How can we increase our faith when we are struggling? Check out this talk by Jeffrey R. Holland called ‘Lord, I Believe’ from 2013.
* In this section of the reading, a man asks the disciples to heal his son and then beseeches Jesus because they cannot help him. He is referred to as “a certain man”. Linda K. Burton gave a talk in 2017 entitled ‘Certain Women”. This man could see, and he knew his son could be healed. How did he show he had faith? How can you act in faith when facing your challenges?
—Matthew 17: 14-21; Luke 9: 1-6
* When thinking about the disciples inability to perform, why couldn’t they cast out the devil? Didn’t Christ send them out to do such things? They had been given the power and the permission, so why couldn’t they cast out the devil? Well, Jesus answered the questions for us. This kind cometh out only by prayer and fasting.
Ponder what you are trying to do in your life that may need prayer and fasting to be successful. Is there something in your life that you need to turn over to God? Something that can only be dealt with through prayer and fasting? Remember that God loves you–more than you can understand. So let him know that you need Him and let Him help you.
Here is a link to quotes from Church leaders about fasting. Find one that inspires you and add it as a glue-in to your scriptures.
Also here is a link to a talk by Marion G. Romney entitled ‘The blessings of the fast’. This is a great talk that reminds us of not only our duty to fast, but the benefits and blessings that can come because of our sacrifice.
* If you have young children–or just have children who love to eat bread, you can do a lesson on Leaven. As Jesus left the Pharisees and Sadducees, he warns his disciples to “beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees”, which they didn’t fully understand at the time.
This is a good time to make some bread with your family to explain how ‘leaven’ or yeast works. Leaven is a substance that produces fermentation, like yeast does when it causes bread to rise. According to Bruce R. McConkie, in the Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Volume 1 page 379),
“Figuratively, leaven is any element which, by its fermenting, spreading influence, affects …people so that they believe and act in particularly ways. Thus to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is to shun their false doctrines, their concept that the Messiah must prove his claim to divinity by signs, for instance. Similarly, today, the warning is to beware of the leaven of a group whose false doctrines and antichrist philosophies work to keep men from accepting the truths of the restored gospel.”
What are some leavening philosophies in our world today? What can you do to guard yourselves against them?
—Mark 9: 49- 50
* What does it mean to be ‘the salt of the earth”? In 2014, there was an article in the New Era about salt that was informative. Check it out here. You may want to do some experiments with salt. You can google for ideas, there are tons of them.
Thou Art the Christ, The Son of God:
Apostles Testimony Montage–just under 2 minutes:
He Lives–another short video with Apostles’ testimonies:
Words of the Prophets–this one has the prophet’s own voices when possible. It is very timely and applies to us today:
An excellent video called ‘House on Rock and Sand’ for children about building upon the “rock”:
You can either watch the video or actually re-enact the process and then have a discussion about what “rock” we can build our home on.
—Matthew 17: 24-27 Christ pays tribute with coin from fish. This is a fun video for children.
Bible Theatre: Matthew-Money from a Fish’s Mouth:
—Matthew 17: 22-23; Mark 9: 33-37; Luke 9: 46-48 The disciples are sent to spread the good news of the gospel for and upside down kingdom–This is a great video for children and for adults.
The Bible Project presents: Gospel of the kingdom:
—Mark 9: 33-37; Luke 9: 46-68 Who is the greatest in the kingdom?
Jesus teaches that We must Become as Little Children:
—Madilyn Paige Sings her own song Irreplaceable, shares some thoughts and then sings Nearer My God to Thee.
—Nadia Khristean sings her song Broken, shares some thoughts and sings Where Can I Turn for Peace.
So, now what? Now that you have studied these things what are you going to do differently? In a talk by Shirley R. Klein, (Protect Our Homes, Renew Our Powers), she shares the phrase “intentional family”, developed by a noted family scholar, William Doherty.
She says we can “extend this idea to an “intentional home”. The opposite of an ‘intentional home’ is the ‘entropic home’. Entropy is the tendency of a physical system to lose energy and coherence over time. Think about your daily life. What happens when you don’t plan and prepare? It quickly descends into chaos. Will you drift and experience entropy or will you steer as you establish intentional daily life? Whether you drift or steer, you will create daily life in your home. I challenge you today. . . to do all in your power to protect your home from [things] that will rob you of the sacred time, space, and activities within your home.”
I second that challenge. What will you do differently because of what you have learned this week? What will you do to protect your home from outside leaven, so that you can serve those who need you, and so you can glean more from your scripture study. What can you do to open your eyes and ears to the messages the Lord would like to share with you? What will you do today?