Talking Teenagers and a Terrific Testimony

Alright, I apologize for the annoying alliteration, but with a name like Mormon in Minnesota, I’m bound to do it occasionally, right? ūüėČ

No big-time chastity questions in my Sunday School class today. Based on how things went, I should have spent more time addressing the topic, Talking out of turn in Sunday School class: What are the limits?

Chatty bunch today! Still, it is good experience to be with them each week. I wish I could think of a better adjective, but I can’t. It is simply good. ūüôā

Another part of church today was also good – in fact it was great. The speakers in Sacrament meeting were terrific. Their messages were uplifting and personal. One of them was a recently divorced Hispanic young mother of two. She very humbly mentioned that several months ago, she felt a desire to improve her life, both spiritually and temporally. She met with her bishop. He counseled her to read her scriptures everyday, so she did. As she got going she felt inspired to read the Book of Mormon within a month. Despite having two young kids and being in school at the time, she read and to her surprise she was able to finish it in less than a month.

From reading the Book of Mormon in so short a time, she said, she gained a stronger testimony of its truthfulness. She was also impressed by how faithful the Lord is in delivering his people. As she spoke and described what she learned, I felt the Holy Ghost through her message. I was strengthened.

This good woman didn’t refer to the following verses from the Book of Mormon, but she may have had them in mind. They sure came to my mind as I listened to her remarks. Mosiah chapter 24, verses 13-16 has been a favorite of mine for a long time. The Lord doesn’t often explain why he does certain things, but in this case he does. He also frequently asks us to believe, but in this case, he wants his people to “know of a surety” just how present he is in our lives, especially in our afflictions.

Mosiah 24 - visit in afflictions

What is faith? Profound Truth from a 16-Year-Old

On Sundays, I have the great honor of co-teaching a group of teenagers, guys and girls, in a little place we like to call Sunday School.¬†Each week I get to experience profound truth coming from the mouths of these ordinary teenagers. Here’s just one example of this type of profound truth, which explains why this Sunday School class is, well, awesome.

The lesson was, “How did the Savior compare gospel truths to familiar objects and experiences?” So we talked about the parables of Jesus and then I divided the class into two and had one group read Luke 15 and the other Matthew 20 – both of which contain pretty familiar parables. Then, after a brief discussion, I had the kids come up with parables of their own. Each group needed to come up with a familiar object or experience to complete the phrases:

A. “The scriptures are like __________.”

B. “Faith is like __________”

For A, the kids came up with: a Map, a Torch in a Dark Cave, and Batteries. All with great, simple explanations why.

For B, the kids came up with: an App. “How is faith like an App?” I asked. And here was the profound truth spoken by a 16-year-old girl from Northeast Minneapolis:

Because you use it and it helps you accomplish stuff, and because it needs to be updated regularly.

There you have it, the profound truth. Faith is like an App.

And here was the spontaneous takeaway from our lesson. All of us need a little update to our faith every once and awhile. So if you haven’t updated yours lately, give it a go. Taking some personal time to consult a good Map usually does the trick.

Guest Post: Why I listen to General Conference

Imagine if you knew God were going to come down and give us a message‚ÄĒthink “Ten Commandments” style, burning bush and all.¬† I would want to see it.¬† If I knew where it was and had the option, I would want to be there.¬† That would be an amazing experience, don‚Äôt you think?¬† This past weekend, millions of Mormons in 197 countries spent 10 hours listening to messages from the Prophet, Apostles, and other leaders of the church translated into 95 different languages.¬† For me, it‚Äôs just as significant as God talking to Moses and then Moses telling me. ¬†That‚Äôs the power of having a living prophet on the earth today‚ÄĒhe speaks the will of God for us in our day.

So what messages did we hear this weekend?¬† Topics included forgiveness, receiving spiritual strength, finding happiness in family life, the power of the Bible and the Book of Mormon to strengthen our families, the blessings of women in our lives, and struggling with depression‚ÄĒmessages that are timely and necessary for us in our day today, messages that are different from the messages Moses had for his people, but all congruent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, told the story of a couple explaining why members would want to spend their entire weekend every 6 months listening to 10 hours of talks–‚ÄúWhy would anyone ever want to join such a church?‚Ä̬† ¬†¬†There are many reasons, but the answer they gave was threefold:

1)      This church was restored by Jesus Christ himself.

2)¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Opportunities for doing good–believing in God is commendable, but most people want to do more.¬† They want to put their faith into practice.

3)      Walking the path of discipleship leads to precious blessings.  Our daily walk of discipleship leads to peace and purpose in this life.

He continues to talk about how to address our questions and doubts‚ÄĒI‚Äôd encourage you to listen to his answer which you can find here.¬† Click next to his name, the last one in the Saturday Morning Session.

For me, these talks which are part of General Conference, are a chance to hear the messages that God has prepared for me.  There are times where I laugh, many times where I’m brought to tears, and times when I’m moved to do better.  But most of all, I listen because I know that I will again feel the witness that I’ve received that God and Jesus Christ are real and that this is their gospel.   And for that witness, I am truly grateful.

Experiment upon the word – explaining fast and testimony meeting

Imagine you are a scientist. You’re in a room full of fellow-scientists holding an important meeting. In this meeting, each scientist stands and shares his or her latest experiments, how he or she applied scientific principles in those experiments, and what each scientist has learned as a result of those experiments. The purpose of the meeting is to share this acquired knowledge and experience with fellow-scientists, so that:

  1. the scientists gain additional insight into how they can further apply reliable scientific principles – perhaps in ways similar to that their peers – or perhaps in new circumstances suited to new phenomena, albeit with familiar principles; and, so that
  2. the scientists build a community with like-minded people working toward the same goal Рto acquire knowledge and experience to better themselves and the world. 

If you can create a fairly clear picture of this type of meeting in your mind, then you’re not too far off from the intent of something called fast and testimony meeting in the Mormon tradition. Basically, fast and testimony meeting is a monthly Sunday service where, after the sacrament (bread and water) has been passed to attendees, members of the congregation can stand and share their testimonies – or, in other words, how they’ve applied gospel principles in their lives and what truths they’ve learned in the process.

Here’s a real life example from my ward’s fast and testimony meeting this last Sunday, 9/29:

  • Our lay bishop stood first and described how, when he first became bishop of our ward last year, he had a very busy work schedule, traveling across the country every week. That cramped little space on the airplane, it turns out, became “sacred ground” for him, because it’s where he opened his scriptures, read, thought about the needs of ward members, and received insights into how to best help certain individuals. As his life became busier, he explained, he grew so tired that he began falling asleep the second his head hit the back of that chair. As a result, he lost that sacred ground that for so long helped strengthen and sustain him. He felt that absence in his life and resolved to do something about it. Knowing he also needed adequate sleep (and that his seat on the airplane provided a pretty good setting for that, too), he created more time each morning and each evening in his hotel room to have that same contemplative, quiet time to study the scriptures and seek a spiritual center. The principle he learned (or relearned) was that we each need “sacred ground” in our lives to pray, read God’s word, and internalize gospel principles. If we make that time and create that sacred ground, we will draw closer to God, have a greater portion of His Spirit, and will not be “tossed, to and fro” with the challenges of life.

Others in the ward shared the joy they’ve felt as they’ve worked and served with one another in their responsibilities, even in the relatively mundane tasks – and especially in the more significant efforts, such as delivering meals to a new mother, preparing for a funeral, or visiting the sick and afflicted.

In this way, our scientists are ordinary people – some of them are well-educated, others dropped out of high school. Some are married and have children. Others are children themselves, while others are single, divorced, or widowed. Some struggle quietly under the weight of tremendous burdens, while others’ lives seem full of joy and relative ease. Their backgrounds, life stories, and current circumstances are all unique, but their principles are gospel principles, and their experiments are their daily lives and interactions with others – full of encounters, observations, and experiences as they strive to apply Christ’s teachings, the words of his prophets, and live the commandments.

This process of “experimenting” is even enshrined within our scriptural canon. The same prophet Alma, whom I wrote about the other day, taught this to a group of people:

if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words (Alma 32:27)

The promise Alma makes is that if I experiment upon the words of the prophets (what he calls “planting the seed”), I will know for myself whether their words are good, because those words will “enlarge my soul…enlighten my understanding…[and become] delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). Based on¬†my experience, I can say that those experiments are worth attempting. As a very ordinary type of scientist, I’ve learned that those experiments yield light, goodness, and yes, a testimony of true principles. A good place to start is to carve out some sacred ground to assimilate those principles and plant the seed.

What was church like yesterday?

Dear Friend,

Since you couldn’t make it to church yesterday, I thought I’d give you a little update on what it was like. You may remember that our church service is made up of three different meetings or classes – each approximately one hour.

  • The main worship service is called Sacrament Meeting (70 minutes).
  • The second hour is Sunday School (50 minutes).
  • The final hour is additional small group instruction time for women (Relief Society); men and boys (Priesthood meeting); and young women (teenage girls). (50 minutes)
  • Kids between¬†18 months – 11 years old participate in¬†Nursery and Primary¬†during the 2nd & 3rd hours.

Let me tell you about Sacrament Meeting in our ward today.

The opening hymn sung by the congregation was hymn #277 As I Search the Holy Scriptures. Click on the link to hear the tune and follow along with the words. For me, the song captures some of the longing and the fulfillment I have felt in my life as I try to regularly study and learn from the scriptures, so it’s a personal favorite of mine.

The sacramental hymn, also sung by the congregation, was hymn #181 Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King.

The prayer over the sacramental bread was then offered, and some young men walked the trays of broken bread from row to row. The prayer over the sacramental water was offered next, followed by the young men passing the trays which hold little individual cups of water.

With this contemplative period coming to a close, the young men sat down and the sacrament program began. As usual, some preassigned members of the congregation stood to give some prepared remarks:

  • Speaker #1: A twenty-something year old woman from Orange County. Not a lifelong church member – not even a lifelong believer in God. Three years ago she said she had a wonderful life – she had a job, was going to school, and lived with a dog who loved her. One day she walked passed two women wearing black name tags. She politely smiled and said hello as she walked on, but said she felt immediate regret for not stopping to speak with them. Through several more serendipitous encounters with these women, she began meeting with them and eventually, after several months, she was baptized a member of the LDS Church. She compared her life before baptism to someone who’s color-blind but doesn’t know it – they can still have a good life, even if they don’t recognize or appreciate the richness of different colors in the world. But internalizing the principles of the gospel cured her color blindness and now she appreciates and values the things in life that she did not know were there.
  • Speaker #2: A mother of two young kids, also a registered¬†dietitian, originally¬†from Finland. Spoke about the importance of education – not just formal academic achievement, but of maintaining a love of learning throughout one’s life. She shared from her own experiences in college and graduate school that she felt more productive in her studies and learning when she first spent some time reading from and studying the scriptures. She retold a story from the Book of Mormon about two brothers who complain to their younger brother that they just don’t understand what their father recently taught them. The younger brother asks them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”¬†She used this to teach that God can help us understand and learn what we need to learn, whether that has to do with the gospel of Christ, or our physics lesson.
  • Speaker #3: the husband of speaker #2 – an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor).¬†Time was running out, so he gave a very condensed version of his prepared message. But he continued along the same message of the importance of seeking to learn from the best books. He shared his testimony that learning and experiencing is one of the main reasons God put us on earth.¬†¬†

The closing congregational hymn was hymn #304 Teach Me to Walk in the Light¬†– a simple yet pleasant song whose message provided an additional reminder to seek learning and “loving guidance to show us the way.”

In another letter on another week, I’ll talk about the 2nd and 3rd hours. But hopefully this gives you at least a taste of what happened at church yesterday.

A Concluding Thought

The experience of being a Latter-day Saint is, of course, grounded in participatory learning and serving. The end goal is not just to assimilate knowledge and information – even scriptural knowledge, as helpful as it is. The ultimate objective is to internalize the principles of love, service, and Christlike compassion so that they actually change our natures, desires, and behaviors.

Dallin Oaks, an LDS leader, once said: In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.

The regular activity of church involvement – teaching, learning from, and working alongside others across the socioeconomic and ethnicity spectrums – help us internalize these truths and become something more than what we currently are. Our choices to exercise faith in the Savior and participate in such ordinances and service enable the grace of Christ to bring about this gradual transformation in our desires and character.

I hope next week you’ll “come and see” for yourself. Meetinghouse locator here, for wherever you are in the world.