Anyway, I had an amazing experience today that I wanted to share. Our son Sport is preparing to serve his mission. As we were discussing some of the things he will be doing as a missionary, I asked him if I had taught him about doctrinal building blocks (see this post for details). He said, "Ya, the doctrines build upon one another right?"
Article of Faith, which he did. Then I had him turn to where Ammon is teaching King Lamoni, and Aaron is teaching King Lamoni's father. Then Sport and I discussed what exactly each of these missionaries asked their investigators first. What was their first question? Do you believe in God? From there, they assessed what their investigator knew. In any teaching, it is important to understand where your people are in order to know what they need next. For instance, we have a young man who has been attending church with us for a year. He enjoys coming and rarely misses a week. He has even taught a few of his primary lessons with supervision, of course. This last week in our discussion with him, I asked him if he believed in God. He does. Then I asked him if he believes God will answer his prayers. When I asked the question, I could tell by his fidgeting and shifting eyes that he did not agree with the question. He doesn't believe God will answer his prayers. If he doesn't believe that, why will he ever ask? Until he knows and believes that God will answer his prayers, there is no reason for him to ask. Here is another example. A young woman who was taking the missionary lessons with her family had been meeting with the missionaries for six months. They didn't feel like she was progressing so they dropped her. I saw her periodically and would talk with her. She would tell me that when she read the Book of Mormon she felt better and thought her day went better. She prayed and fasted for her sick father and when she wasn't working, she attended church. I couldn't figure out why they dropped her. So I invited her family over for dinner. As dinner wound down, I asked her how she felt about the missionaries visiting with her. She explained that it was always awkward because they always asked her how she felt about Jesus Christ and what He had done for her and she didn't really understand who He was. I asked her what her religious background was. She came from an Asian religion and didn't have any idea who God was or who Jesus Christ was. We started from the beginning and taught her about God, gave her a superficial overview of the Plan of Salvation and the need for Jesus Christ. Once those building blocks were in place, she flew. She was baptized fairly soon after we put those things in place for her. She is struggling now, but that is because she has quit doing the things the missionaries taught her about---she has quit practicing the basic behaviors (going to church, repenting, reading scriptures, etc..) and as such her testimony plant is withering.
I think that is one thing we don't often realize. Our testimony, or lack thereof, is a living thing. It is either growing or dying. There are no stagnant testimonies. We are either feeding them and they are growing, or they are in a state of decay. It is easy enough to remedy. Once we start to water the plant, it starts to grow again. But it cannot be neglected over long periods of time and then be expected to thrive because one day we threw a three hour bucket of water on it by attending our meetings that day, or a marathon night of prayer, or a week's worth of effort at scripture reading. Testimonies grow best with little bits of attention through out the day---day after day, week after week, year after year--continuous attention over all of our life time.
Anyway, as Sport and I were talking, all of this doctrinal knowledge just kind of flew out of my mouth and I started connecting scriptures in my head like I never have before.
For instance, with our testimony plants (Alma 32), we have to realize that any thing we are trying to gain a testimony of begins with a desire. If we don't want to do it (whatever it is), we will never make the effort to try. If we know we need to do the behavior we don't want to, what can we do? We can pray for desire---desire to be obedient, desire to try, desire see how it fits together. We can see the process of that desire in the book of Enos. He 'hungered' to know his standing before God. He wanted to know badly enough that while he was out doing his duties (hunting beasts in the forest), he took time out spiritually to make time to commune with God. He didn't say, 'forgive me Father for I have sinned' and move on, but he prayed all day and when the night came he did still raise his voice high that is did reach the heavens. He prayed until he knew his sins were forgiven. Once he had received confirmation from God that he had been forgiven, then he wanted to share that news with everyone else. He wanted others to have those same feelings and relief from knowing that their sins were forgiven. His heart opened to the people and the world around him, enough that a few verses later he begins to pray for his enemies. But none of that would have happened if he hadn't desired to know for himself.....
Enos understood how the Atonement applied to him and affected him. He used it and received some of its blessings.
Then we went back to the Articles of Faith----
#2--We are responsible for our own sins, Adam (the creation and the fall)
#3--the Atonement of Jesus Chirst
#4--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, and fourth laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
In Moroni 8:25, Mormon teaches that the 'first fruits of repentance are baptism'. When a person begins to exercise their faith unto repentance, the first step is to get baptized. And why is baptism so essential? Because the ordinance of baptism is connected to the ordinance of the Holy Ghost. You get baptized and you also receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Who tells us when we need to repent? The Holy Ghost. How does He do that?
14 And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and commanded them that they should repent;
It is that still small voice in our head or our heart that says, "You know, you really should do this, or not do that....." How do we judge if those thoughts come from God?
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
If it brings you closer to Christ, good. If it takes you away from Christ, bad.
Also, in 1st Corinthians 12 , where it speaks of the Gifts of the Spirit--I think I was reading Elder Callister's book, The Infinite Atonement, where he expresses that without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, you cannot exercise the gifts of the Spirit unto exaltation, because they are only available in their fullness through the gift of the Holy Ghost. The ordinance of baptism then is of eternal importance and significance, which we knew. But it also essential unto our ability to receive eternal life.
Therefore, we exercise our faith unto repentance, through obedience as is laid out in the formula from Mormon in Moroni 8: 25-26:
25 And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;
26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.
When we do so, we open the way for the Holy Ghost to testify to us of those principles and of our behavior that is in obedience to those principles. The Holy Ghost is also a revelator, which means, He will give us further light and knowledge, instructing us in more ways that we can then change or repent. When we increase our faith and then exercise it unto repentance by being obedient to those revelations, those things increase our faith and our access to the Spirit and our love (or charity) for our fellow men. The entire cycle is kept in place by diligence unto prayer, until we become like God, which happens to be His purpose---to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39).
And John 7:16-17, says--
16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
If we are obedient, we shall know of the doctrine. We will have knowledge and testimony.
I tell you, my head was spinning and it all came out in half an hour! It is still kind of swirling. I know there are more connections than I am seeing. My developmentally prepared brain which studies the behavior and dispositions of people is eating this up! I love knowing what makes people tick--especially if you can put it all in to a nice neat little formula! But of course, this only works if the person wants to. If they choose to use their agency in a different direction, well then, the results wouldn't quite be the same. Would they?
Anyway, have a great weekend!!! Hopefully we will finish off my quilt, and I have a funeral on Saturday.