A Teacher Come From God

Recently, I sat in on a high priest group meeting to listen to a lesson basically read from the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. As much as I enjoy hearing/reading the teachings of the prophets, the purpose of our lessons seem to still miss the mark with many of our members – including high priests.

In his memorable April 1998 General Conference talk, “A Teacher Come From God“, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland teaches us some of the key concepts for improving teaching in our classes, homes, and Sacrament meetings.

In recent months President Gordon B. Hinckley has called on us to hold our people close to the Church, especially the newly converted member. In issuing this call President Hinckley has reminded that we all need at least three things to remain firmly in the faith—a friend, a responsibility, and “[nourishing] by the good word of God.”

Elder Holland focuses on our need to “nourish by the good word of God.”  Not only is this necessary for new converts, but for youth and adults.  Our Church is beginning to recognize this with its new youth teaching agenda.  This new agenda of teaching as the Savior taught, works to inspire individuals to seek their own revelatory experiences and to share them with others.

For each of us to “come unto Christ,”  to keep His commandments and follow His example back to the Father is surely the highest and holiest purpose of human existence. To help others do that as well—to teach, persuade, and prayerfully lead them to walk that path of redemption also—surely that must be the second most significant task in our lives

Being of such high priority, why do we feel we can give so little to instruction and think we are doing the Lord’s great work of helping others “come unto Christ”?

Now, at a time when our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition.

In the Lectures on Faith, we learn that Faith is a great power, the power by which God created the heavens and the earth.  It is by this great power that miracles happen, angels visit mankind, and the work of God is manifested in the lives of men and women and children.  Faith is developed through hearing the word of God, taught  in such a way as to  inspire people to believe and repent.  Is such teaching becoming a “lost art”?  Can we bring it back  so that the podium is “set on fire” as in times before, as I once heard Elder Holland encourage us in a stake meeting years ago.

Eternal life,” President Hinckley continued, “will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives. They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means teaching.”

As parents, do we try to coerce our kids into enjoying Family Home Evening? Do we try to force feed the gospel to our youth? Or do we take the time to learn how to teach effectively and with power?

We do have a legitimate worry about the new member, wanting each one to stay with us and enjoy the full blessings of the Church. I am just simple enough to think that if we continue to teach them—with the same Christlike spirit, conviction, doctrine, and personal interest the missionaries have shown them—new converts will not only stay with us but, quite literally, could not be kept away. The need for continuing such solid teaching is obvious. In times like ours we all need what Mormon called “the virtue of the word of God” because, he said, it “had [a] more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them.” 17 When crises come in our lives—and they will—the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching “fried froth,” the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied. 18 During a severe winter several years ago, President Boyd K. Packer noted that a goodly number of deer had died of starvation while their stomachs were full of hay. In an honest effort to assist, agencies had supplied the superficial when the substantial was what had been needed. Regrettably they had fed the deer but they had not nourished them.

By a show of hands, how many of us enjoy spiritual Twinkies? How many of us feed our children and classes tons of calorie-empty theological hay?

We do not have to dilute the gospel. adults and youth are thirsty for it. We can talk about the skeletons in our closets in a faithful manner, and have them accept them.  More over, we can help them seek and find their own testimonies and spiritual witnesses.  We can teach them how to seek their own inspiration, by showing them how inspiring the gospel really is.

This next Sunday School year, we will see adults being taught in the same fashion as the youth have received over the past few years.  They will be taught the key doctrines, invited to ponder and study them over the following week, and then ask them what inspiration, miracles, insights, and blessings they have experienced over the week.  As Saints share their spiritual experiences, they grow spiritually together. Their lessons are filled with fire and excitement, and power from God.

Such is a Teacher Come From God.  Are we seeking to be such a teacher?

Casual about our testimonies

There was a time when many members took most every doctrine or teaching seriously.  Things were pondered and prayed over as individuals and families.  In the past, there were fewer challenges: television and movies were generally family friendly. The biggest problems in school were running in the halls and chewing gum in class. Marriage didn’t have to be defined as traditional or otherwise. Families spent time together, because that was the norm.

Now, we live in a day when the traditional family is in the minority, among divorces, living together and other arrangements. Many choose not to have children, or at least delay until later in life. As we all carry no fault insurance on our cars, we now wink at no fault divorces. Family friendly movies are harder and harder to find.

Worse, our members are succumbing to many of the things of the world, simply because of a casualness that has arisen in our ranks.  Many don’t think twice about watching an “R” rated movie, regardless of the strengths or problems in the movie.  Many do not think twice when their friends divorce, or marry for the nth time.  Temple sealing cancellations are no longer a rare event.

A bishop friend of mine told me that he was having to explain to youth that oral sex is sex. Sexting becomes a norm for many, as does other sexual intimacies.

In our casual view of the world and the gospel, do we spend too much time justifying the time we spend in and of the world?  Is being too casual with spiritual and worldly things causing  spiritual casualties?

When we watch R or PG-13 movies that are very sexual or violent in nature, how are they impacting us and our families spiritually?  When our quality time with our kids does not include quality prayers, scripture study or FHE, how does such casualness impact us?

In the Book of Revelation 3:15-16, the Lord spoke out against those who are lukewarm:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Laodicea was a city without a source of water.  In the distance was Hieropolis, where hot springs bubbled forth, making the place a resort for aching bones.  On the other side of Laodicea was the city of Colosse, known for its refreshing cold springs.  Waters from both Hierapolis and Colosse were sent to Laodicea by a series of acqueducts, providing the city with water to drink.  However, by the time the water reached the city, it was neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm.

When we are casual about our lives and our spirituality, we are like Laodicea – lukewarm, because we have no internal source of life giving water.  We tend to lean on others’ testimonies and works.  Others do the hometeaching and visit teaching. Others, who are a source of hot or cold water, become bishops and Relief Society presidents and nursery leaders.  Casual people allow others to prepare their kids for missions, the temple, take them to seminary, and gain a testimony.

Why? Because their own source of living waters is dried up. The world fills them with worldly interests and awe, while they die of spiritual thirst.  There is no refreshment, when they must borrow from others’ testimonies.  Second hand spiritual strength is lukewarm at best, especially when delivered over long distances and with no inner source to strengthen it.

Sadly, this also holds true with our Sunday meetings.  Too many of them are filled with talks that have no spiritual resonance.  They are lukewarm, casual in nature, because the correct preparation was not made.  They may be filled with good humor and interesting facts, but be bereft of the spirit. How often do the hot and cold waters evoke a refreshing of spirit in our meetings?  How are our children to learn to receive revelation, if we cannot provide them with a source within ourselves?  And how will they recognize or hear the whispering of the Holy Ghost, if all our efforts are casual ones?

FairMormon Conf: Bob Rees – Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book

Bob Rees: Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book

Earl Wunderli wrote “An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us About Itself” (2013).  Bob Rees discusses Wunderli and his book in his FairMormon Conference presentation.

Rees begins his review by showing a video (available on Youtube) by Richard Wiseman, entitled “Color Changing Card Trick”.  In the video, two people are shown, with one performing a card trick for the other.  Once done, the video is shown again, but this time pulled back to show the entire scene. Instead of focusing on the cards, one sees the two performers changing their shirt colors, the background color and the table cloth colors, things not noticed when the camera and our focus were on the cards.

Rees notes that while the card trick is an interesting one, it is only a small part of the whole picture.  We see the same thing occurring with the Book of Mormon and Wunderli’s depiction of it.  While Wunderli focuses on the minutiae, he completely misses what is going on in the big picture.

Rees notes that Wunderli seems to have made a “sincere attempt” at researching the Book of Mormon.  As a lawyer, Wunderli attempts to place the Book of Mormon on trial in a court of law.  And as its prosecutor, he is selective in his use of witnesses, making his case seem convincing that the Book of Mormon is a piece of 19th century fiction.

Wunderli brings up several issues that are very familiar to FairMormon audiences: the use of the KJV Bible, anachronisms, internal inconsistencies, geography, mythology, etc.  Rees quotes Wunderli, “critics prefer evidence and reason over faith and prayer in finding truth.”

Here in lies one of the weaknesses of Wunderli’s book, according to Rees.

While using reasoning and the scientific method is valid in studying the Book of Mormon and its claims, so too is using spiritual methods.  We are encouraged to use both heart and head in finding the truths and evidences of the gospel.  Those who use both approaches see things differently than a person who uses just one or the other.

Rees explains that it is similar to how we view a poem.  We can hold it up to the light, read it silently and then aloud, listen, ponder, and see it from many angles.  Wunderli’s methodology would be to tie the poem to a chair and intensely interrogate it.  You do get information from the interrogation, but miss the most important concepts regarding the poem.  In some ways, this is not really being rational, but is substituting one flawed method for another.

Wunderli goes shallow in his research and methods.  For instance, on inconsistencies in geography, he notes two verses in the Book of Mormon.  Two inconsistencies, according to him, show that the Book of Mormon is seriously flawed.  Looked at another way, however, and we see how incredibly consistent the Book of Mormon is on its geography.  Rees notes that the two inconsistencies in geography are in sections compiled by Mormon, centuries after the actual events, and more likely to be in error than something written originally by Nephi.

Rees notes (as did Kerry Muehstein earlier) that we all need to challenge our assumptions.  If we start from a certain perspective and then just look for those things that support our view, we miss out on the bigger picture.  Worse, we end up with a twisted world view.

He notes that Wunderli dismisses chiasmus as common place and found everywhere. Rees contends that this is not as apparent as Wunderli believes. Rees compared Joseph Smith’s writings with many of his contemporaries: Emerson, Whitman, and several others.  He noted that these others spent years preparing to be the great writers they became.  Meanwhile, Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon in 90 days, while having mobs harass him and being forced to move on several occasions.  While an Emerson may be able to compose a a classic writing over a period of months in his quiet writing room, Joseph had no such luxury.

When one begins from a doubting world view and then seeks only those evidences that will support that limited world view, you end up with a book like Wunderli’s Imperfect Book.

FairMormon Conf – Barry Bickmore: Joseph Smith among the early Christians

Barry Bickmore: Joseph Smith Among the Early Christians

For those who haven’t read his book, in 1999 Barry Bickmore published an awesome book entitled, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity.  The second edition has just been released, and nicely updated.

Bickmore’s presentation covers a few points that you will find in his book.  He begins by discussing “mainstream” Christianity’s views Continue reading