Monday, October 24, 2011

New Testament Lesson #43 "A Chosen Generation"

1 and 2 Peter; Jude

A ROYAL GENERATION

In the beloved children's book, A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the principal character, Sara Crewe, is the rich, pampered, only child of her adoring father, left at a boarding school when he goes abroad.  She is the favorite of the director, Miss Minchin, and receives special treatment, although she notices Miss Minchin does not treat all the children fairly.  When news arrives that she is now orphaned and penniless, Miss Minchin takes away all her privileges, abuses her, and relegates to her the position of a slave. 

But Sara, whether she is rich and favored or destitute and despised, teaches the others, even the servant child, that every girl is a princess.  "I am a princess," she says. "All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren't pretty, or smart, or young. They're still princesses. All of us." 

She behaves as a princess herself--not a princess who expects to be waited upon, but a princess who knows she is of value, and who serves others with kindness.  "'Whatever comes,' she said, 'cannot alter one thing. If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.'"


Our then-3-year-old daughter Camille
wore this hot pink tiara every day for months.


Write "Royalty in Any Situation" on the board.

In earthly terms, what makes a prince or princess?  Inheritance. 

Write "Through the Merits of Our Father" on the board.

We also are royalty, through the merits of our Fathers:  God the Father, and Jesus Christ.  But, as in the story of Sara Crewe, that doesn't mean we get a trouble-free life of luxury.  Often our royalty is disguised behind trials, problems, weaknesses, mistreatment.  Like Sara Crewe, however, we must learn to act as royalty no matter what happens to us or how we are treated.

ANY SITUATION

"Simon Peter...was the chief apostle and equivalent of the prophet-president of the Church of Jesus Christ, though he is never called that in the New Testament...The Prophet Joseph Smith said of his predecessor, 'Peter penned the most sublime language of any of the apostles' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 301)" (D. Kelly Ogden & Andrew C. Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ, p. 277). 

There is a great deal of divine doctrine in the two small epistles of Peter; unfortunately, we will only touch upon part of it here.

The first letter of Peter's was written from Rome before the persecutions intensified there.  It is centered on how saints might endure trials and suffering, a warning and preparation for the tough times ahead.  "[Peter] was a man who had grown perfect through his own trials, suffering, and experiences.  Tradition has it that Peter and Paul were both executed in Rome at a time of intense persecution and paranoia in Rome owing to Nero" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 277).  (See also the Bible Dictionary.)

"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your [conduct] honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation...

"For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.  For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently?  but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God" (1 Peter 2:11-12, 19-20).

Being called upon to suffer when we haven't done wrong is so unfair!  But it is following in the footsteps of Christ.  How else can we learn to act as royalty in any situation?

"For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.  For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (1 Peter 2:21-25).

"Jesus is our exemplar in all things.  His crown of thorns came first and then his crown of glory" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 278).


"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

As we learned in the lesson on Hebrews, the blessings God gives us are not always want we want and do not always come easily, but they always exceed our greatest imagining.  Eventually.

The great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, fell in love with an American divorcee, Joy Gresham, just as she was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer.  They were married anyway in her hospital room in March of 1957, the ceremony being performed by the Reverend Peter Bide.  She lived just three years more.  Before she died, Lewis wrote in a letter to Father Bide, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us: we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be" (C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Father Peter Bide, April 29, 1959, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible, p. 1406).

As Elder Boyd K. Packer said, "Life will teach us some things we didn't want to know" (Boyd K. Packer, 1999 BYU Education Week Devotional).

"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.  Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour...But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you" (1 Peter 5:6-10).


HOW TO BE ROYAL IN ANY SITUATION

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a [purchased, preserved] people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

"Deep down all of us know our mortal limitations.  We know we aren't wonderful--our enormous, eternal potential notwithstanding.  Inadequacy is the human condition, and unless we tap into the adequacy of our Father in Heaven, we live in a somewhat fearful state: fearful that our inadequcy will cause us to fail and will stand in the way of our being loved and valued.  Society, trying to rid us of that fear, tells us that we must feel adequate in ourselves...The belief that we must have self-esteem exacerbates the very problem it's supposed to combat: our search for self-esteem is a depressant, an anxiety producer, and a dreadful pressure" (Ester Rasband, Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem, p. 1-2).

"There comes a still, small voice telling us that there is something we must do to relieve that anxiety.  Because we do not have a clear identification of our need, we think that we must do something to shore up our image of ourselves...That golden grain of divine discontent is not telling us that we must do something so that we can feel great about ourselves...It is there to remind us that we must do something to show our humility to our Father in Heaven, so that we can feel great about him" (Rasband, p. 17).

"You might ask...'But isn't some self-esteem necessary to achieve, to accomplish things?  Isn't self-esteem the means?' 'Not self-esteem,' I answer.  'Just love.  Love brings peace, and peace leads to confidence" (Rasband, p. 2).

"The real need of our heart is to be close to our Father in Heaven" (Rasband, p. 18).

Nephi, of all people, should have had a great self-esteem.  His father continually and publicly praised him for his righteousness, he had built a ship entirely by revelation from God which had carried his whole family safely across a huge ocean, he had a group of people calling themselves by his name--he was the prophet, for crying out loud!  And yet, it wasn't enough.  It is never enough.

"Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am!  Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.  I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.  And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins;

"Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.  My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.  He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh" (2 Nephi 4:17-21)



"That which we call self-esteem is a high-maintenance condition, and therefore a barrier to peace...

"All of us are familiar with stories of movie stars and other celebrities who outlive their spot in the public eye and turn to alcoholism or other forms of private agony.  Whatever good feelings they had about themselves...It left them with greater  needs than they would have had had they never achieved such self-gratification" (Rasband, p. 32-33). 

"For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.  The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever..." (1 Peter 1:24-25).  "With the heavy rains of wintertime, grass can flourish and even spread over the barren wilderness [of the Holy Land], but it is gone with a wisp of the transitional khamsin (an Arabic word for a devastating east wind).  The blades are vivacious and vigorous one day--and vanished the next" (Ogden/Skinner, p. 279).  So it is with earthly honor and happiness.

But despite our inadequacies and the transitory nature of our existence, "we can have peace...It comes through identifying that the need of our heart is grace, and that grace comes when the motivation for our unmeasured doing is founded in love" (Rasband, p. 30).

PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE NATURE


"Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust [in other words, having repented].  And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:4-8).  (Remember that "knowledge" in the Bible implies an intimate relationship, not just a theoretical understanding.)  This divine nature is not something we do or develop ourselves--we are "partakers:" we get it from elsewhere, we get it from our Fathers.

Write "divine nature" in parentheses underneath "royalty" on the board.  Then add the list:  1) faith, 2) diligence, 3) virtue, 4) knowledge, 5) temperance, 6) patience, 7) godliness, 8) brotherly kindness, 9) charity. 

Sister Camille Fronk Olson gave an excellent talk at a BYU Women's Conference on Peter's admonition to partake of the divine nature in which she illustrated how it could be viewed as steps along a pathway to perfection.  (I highly recommend listening to this 30-minute talk, which you can do by clicking on this
link, although I have given an outline here.  Unless otherwise noted, all of the following quotes in blue come from this talk.)


The first epistle of Peter warned the saints of trials to come, and instructed them in how to endure. "Therefore, recipients of [Peter's] second epistle would have been well-acquainted with trials of their faith and, having withstood the attacks, would have developed a steadfast trust in Christ."

"With faith as a foundation and diligence as our sustaining effort, divine attributes will gradually develop.  Peter taught that, 'while giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue.'  Virtue is the natural fruit of faith and diligence."  Virtue is the opposite of "the new apostacy" A. Lynn Scoresby identified.  (See a previous post.)  It is the opposite of hypocrisy.  It is knowing the truth and living it. 

"Virtue produces pure motives which, in turn, educate our actions...

"A remarkable phenomenon occurs when we make following Christ a natural part of life.  We begin to understand and make connections with gospel principles that previously seemed unrelated.  Paul identified knowledge as the addition to virtue.  When we sincerely obey the Lord, our knowledge about him and his doctrine deepens exponentially."

The next aspect of the divine nature is temperance:  self-control, the proper management of temporal things such as our time, our physical bodies, our appetites, our finances.  "When temperance is born of faith, virtue, and gospel knowledge, our ability to keep the first commandment preeminent is bolstered and enlivened...President Ezra Taft Benson taught, 'When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.  Our love of the Lord will govern our claims of affection, the demands of our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.'"

Temperance helps us develop patience.  True patience runs much deeper than gritting our teeth or counting to ten while we wait for a problem to pass.  With godly patience, "we forget about checking our preconceived agenda for life while losing ourselves in helping others progress along the trail.  This patient response grows out of a willingness to have patience first with God...We don't know all that he has in store for us, but we are at peace knowing that it will be vastly superior to our myopically designed plan.  Such patience ripens into eternal perspective."

"We do not recognize others with divine natures by their outward appearance, but by how we feel when we are around them...The Greek word for 'godliness' suggests 'reverence' as a related term."  The godly value holy things; temple worship and sacrament service are significant to them.  They respect others and desire to forgive, seeing the royalty that is in them, just as Sara Crewe saw a princess in her fellow slave girl.

At this point, we can develop brotherly kindness.  The needs of others become apparent to us, and we desire to meet them.  We follow promptings of the Spirit to bless others without a second thought."The progression from brotherly kindness to charity is not a giant leap...[But] Peter teaches us that we cannot simply jump to charity.  Charity is given only after we receive the perfecting influence from all the other virtues...Paul taught that without charity any of the other attributes can become self-serving or self-lauditory, 'as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.'  With God's gift of charity, the Lord stretches, strengthens and solidifies all the other virtues he has given to us."

"And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves:for charity preventeth a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8 JST)

"The Christian paradox is true.  Only when we lose ourselves will we find ourselves."  (Rasband, p. 37). "When we partake of the divine nature, our trust in the Lord becomes unshakeable.  We find no reason to question him, but only ways to better serve him" (Olson).  When we humble ourselves and give our whole selves to Christ, drawing his divine nature to ourselves amidst our trials, we will find that we are indeed royalty, through the merits of our Father. 

CONCLUSION

"Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God" (D&C 121:45).  We do not have to be great to be confident of success in our mortal probation; we just have to be "in the presence of God," relying on his merits, living by the Spirit, driven by charity.
We can be like the prophets of old, having peace and confidence despite our trials (and often because of them) if we strive to develop the divine nature in ourselves.

Here is a link to a really sweet and simple song written and sung by an 8-year-old girl who obviously has "confidence strong in the presence of God."  Despite of (or because of) the trial of losing her mother to death, she shows the depth of her relationship with God:  "I Thank God."

6 comments:

Sunnie said...

Beautiful illustrations of important truths. Not skilled at this comment business but appreciate being able to tell you thank you.

Janae said...

I am interested in the Rasband quotes...can you give me the reference? Thanks!

Nancy W. Jensen said...

They are from her paradigm-shifting book, "Confronting the Myth of Self-Esteem: Twelve Keys to Finding Peace," published by Deseret Book. She spent a lot of time working with youth, particularly as a mission matron in the field and at the MTC, and also as a gospel study teacher at the MTC, and that is where she sought the understanding she gained and shared in the book.

janel said...

I got a call yesterday to teach gospel doctrine today...this outline of yours saved me! Your insights are so great. Thanks for all the work you've done. My whole class thanks you!

SharE said...

Small but important correction to 1 Peter 2:
25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now (not "not") returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Thank you SharE!