Sunday, April 28, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #17 The Law of Tithing and The Law of the Fast

D&C 59, 119, 120

Table Display: Little red wagon filled with boxes of food, and an empty dinner place setting.

The Law of Tithing is pretty basic and easy to understand:

1-We’re supposed to pay tithing
2-Tithing is 10% of your increase

This is the minimum law, and hopefully, we are all moving beyond that toward the Law of Consecration, wherein we
1-Pay our tithing
2-Use what we retain for the building up of the kingdom of God, including, first of all, strengthening our marriages and raising our families
3-Give what is left over to bless those in need

This is where the Law of the Fast comes in.

D&C 59:13-14. Fasting is a most joyous opportunity! Do many of us manage to get to adulthood without realizing this? I hope I’m not the only one. But I hope that you will leave this class today with a new excitement about the opportunity to keep the Law of the Fast.

Why is a proper fast joyous? Well, there are two parts to the Law of the Fast, and both contribute to the joy felt by the fasting saint.

Part One: Fasting and Prayer
Look at footnote a to verse 13 which tells us that we can make our physical fast symbolic of a spiritual hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Now where have we heard this phrase before, “hungering and thirsting after righteousness”? Of course, in the Beatitudes! Let’s turn to the Nephite version in 3 Nephi 12:6:

And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.

We’ve discussed this several times before, so here’s a little pop-quiz: When you are filled with the Holy Ghost, what emotions do you experience? Peace and joy!

…I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy. (D&C 11:13)

And D&C 6:23 as well as many other scriptures tell us that the Spirit brings peace.

So fasting in the correct manner, is going to result in peace and joy. It will also give us many other fruits of the Spirit.

(Quotes from Elder Wirthlin come from April 2001 General Conference)

Now, if we are fasting because we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, we will be praying as well. As Elder Wirthlin explains,

"…If we want our fasting to be more than just going without eating, we must lift our hearts, our minds, and our voices in communion with our Heavenly Father. Fasting, coupled with mighty prayer, is powerful. It can fill our minds with the revelations of the Spirit. It can strengthen us against times of temptation.

"Fasting and prayer can help develop within us courage and confidence. It can strengthen our character and build self-restraint and discipline…Each time we fast, we gain a little more control over our worldly appetites and passions."

Further, he says,

"I don’t mean just missing one meal, then eating twice as much the next meal." (All right, confess: How many of us do that?)

Another thing Elder Wirthlin says is that “Often when we fast, our righteous prayers and petitions have greater power.” Our spiritual hunger and thirst is going to be filled to a greater level. Our requests for blessings of other kinds will also have more power.

So what sorts of things might we pray for as we fast?
1-Personal righteousness (as Elder Wirthlin mentioned)
2-Special blessings to help with problems (surgery, job hunt, wayward child...)
3-Increased abilities for our church callings (as the Sons of Mosiah did, see Alma 17:2-3)
4-Gratitude (See Alma 45:1)
5-To align our will with God’s

Elder Wirthlin says that teaching our children to fast will give them increased power to resist temptations along their life’s path.

I love the way one Primary President in our ward taught fasting to the children. She told them that it was great to feel hunger pangs when you fast, because whenever you feel them, you are reminded that you are fasting, and that will remind you to say another little prayer in your heart.

Part Two: Fast Offerings
Sometimes we may feel that the Lord is not answering our prayers despite our faith and request. One reason may be that our desire is not in harmony with his plan. But there may be another reason as well. We may not be keeping the second part of the Law of the Fast. To quote Brother Wirthlin again:

"…Amulek explained that often our prayers have no power because we have turned our backs on the needy (Mosiah 4:26). (See also Isaiah 58:6-11.) If you feel that Heavenly Father is not listening to your petitions, ask yourself if you are listening to the cries of the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the afflicted all around you.

"Some look at the overwhelming need in the world and think, What can I do that could possibly make a difference?

"I will tell you plainly one thing you can do. You can live the law of the fast and contribute a generous fast offering."

Isaiah 58: 6 and 7

My nieces and nephews in Georgia had a youth dinner in their ward. When they arrived at the chapel, they were each given a colored sticker, to divide them randomly into groups. When time came to eat, the first group was seated at tables set beautifully with china and silver and tablecloths, and they were served a four-course dinner with sparkling cider and a luscious dessert. The second group was served a little picnic on blankets with hot dogs and chips and Kool-Aid and paper plates. The third group got to eat on the hard floor in the corner. They were served refried beans and water.

Youth are always so concerned with fairness (and definitely with food), and this activity was so unfair that it well illustrated the unfairness existing among the peoples of the world.

Brother Wirthlin says,

"When we fast, brethren and sisters, we feel hunger. And for a short time, we literally put ourselves in the position of the hungry and the needy. As we do so, we have greater understanding of the deprivations they might feel…

"As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I have traveled the world testifying of Him. I come before you today to bear another witness--a witness to the suffering and need of millions of our Heavenly Father’s children…At this very hour on this very day, some members even in our Church are praying for the miracle that would allow them to surmount the suffering that surrounds them. If, while we have the means to do so, we do not have compassion for them and spring to their aid, we are in danger of being among those the prophet Moroni spoke of when he said, “Behold, ye do love money and your substance, and your fine apparel…more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted” (Mormon 8:37).

Brother Wirthlin told how his father, as the bishop, would send him around to the needy families with his little red wagon filled with food and clothing for them. He encouraged us to all fill up a little red wagon, so to speak, and bless the lives of the less fortunate by paying generous fast offerings. “How much should we pay?” he asked. Answering his own question, he said,

"My brothers and sisters, the measure of our offering to bless the poor is a measure of our gratitude to our Heavenly Father…a measure of our willingness to consecrate ourselves to relieve the suffering of others."

There is an easy formula for figuring out our own financial stewardships here on this earth. We need to use our money to raise our families, to educate ourselves, to prepare for the future, and to build up the kingdom, but oftentimes, we give our kids (or ourselves) more material blessings than what is necessary or even good.  Whenever there is a choice to be made, we can say to ourselves, “Is giving money to the poor more important than (fill in the blank)?” And if the answer is yes, pull out that donation slip and stick the money in the envelope.

As we do so, not only will the poor be blessed, but we will be blessed as well. Elder Marion G. Romney said, “Don’t give just for the benefit of the poor, but give for your own welfare. Give enough so that you can give yourself into the kingdom of God through consecrating of your means and your time.”

We can be excited about Fast Sunday as one more easy way that the Lord has provided for us to be able to use our power, our economic power, to do some real hands-on good in the world. After meeting the minimum standard of paying tithing, then we can meet the next standard of contributing the cost of two meals as a fast offering, and then we can go beyond in our ability to bless and help others—the sky is the limit. Unlike at the youth dinner in Georgia, no one is preventing you from sharing your wonderful blessings with the “refried bean groups,” so to speak, around the world.

Elder Wirthlin said,
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, restored to the earth in these latter days, is centered on those commandments the Savior proclaimed as the greatest: to love our Heavenly Father and to love our fellowmen" (Ensign, May 2011, pg. 73)"

He said that each time we live the Law of the Fast, we fulfill both of those two great commandments. And, of course, we will come out ahead; the Lord will never be in our debt, because he always blesses us for every commandment that we keep. Here are some great blessings that Elder Wirthlin has itemized:

"Fasting in the proper spirit and in the Lord’s way will energize us spiritually, strength our self-discipline, fill our homes with peace, lighten our hearts with joy, fortify us against temptation, prepare us for times of adversity, and open the windows of heaven."

Any reason you wouldn’t that? Just because you’re hungry for another meal or another trinket? When you really think about it, the answer is definitely, no way!

You may want to make cards to help your class members and their families remember and internalize the great Law of the Fast.  We have one in our home that is very handy to place on the kitchen counter Saturday evening so that the early risers on Sunday don’t forget to fast.  You can include scriptures from the lesson, or the points made by Elder Wirthlin.

Postscript:  Here is a cute handout that reader Kathleen Thompson from Washington e-mailed to me.  Right-click on it, save it, print out copies.  Thanks, Kathleen!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #16 "Thou Shalt Offer Up Thy Sacraments Upon My Holy Day"

This lesson may be well-managed as a class discussion.  You may want to put a few of the excellent quotes from the prophets that are in the manual on a handout (and also maybe the one below), followed by the questions, and set one on each chair in the room.  Have pencils available for those who may need them.  Leave a space on the handout after each question for the class members to write in their own ideas or those that they hear.  Have everyone silently fill out their pages for about 5 minutes, then share ideas by randomly asking one of the questions on the page.  (You could cut up one page and put the questions in a container and have a class member pull one out and read it aloud, then let class members respond.)

"Our observance or non-observance of the Sabbath is an unerring measure of our attitude toward the Lord personally and toward his suffering in Gethsemane, his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead.  It is a sign of whether we are Christians in very deed, or whether our conversion is so shallow that commemoration of his atoning sacrifice means little or nothing to us." (Elder Mark E. Petersen, quoted in Arnold K. Garr, et. al, Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, p. 1049)

The Sabbath day is our opportunity to "feel the prints of the nails" in the Savior's hands, as we draw closer to him and as we emulate his love and service.

How have you been blessed in the past by Sabbath observance?

What are some challenges to making the Sabbath day as worshipful as you would like?

What can my family do to prepare ourselves for Sunday meetings?
How can I help my children to enjoy and benefit more from the Sabbath?

How can I make partaking of the sacrament a greater blessing in my life?

How can we determine what is appropriate for us to do on the Sabbath? 

What activities seem to take away from the spirit of the Sabbath for you?

If I have to work on Sunday, how can I make my service an experience that brings me closer to Christ?

What is ONE specific way I can make the Sabbath more meaningful for me and/or my family NEXT week?

Here are some of my ideas that you can use as supplements or discussion fillers if necessary:
  • For toddlers: Get an inexpensive purse-sized photo album.  Fill the photo sleeves with pictures you print off the Gospel Art pages at, or pictures you cut out of old church magazines.  This is their special book they ONLY get to look at during the passing of the sacrament.  If you have a smart phone, you can download the Gospel Art Kit onto your phone and view the pictures with your child on your lap.
  • For youth:  Give them a little notebook and challenge them to write the topic of each talk in sacrament meeting, Sunday School, youth or Primary lessons so that they can remember them to share with the family at dinner after church.  Do it yourself and you'll be surprised how much more focused you are during the meeting.
  • At home:  Simply having a list of things NOT to do on the Sabbath leads to bored and irritable kids.  We have chores on other days of the week, so on the Sabbath our kids have "Sunday jobs" they must complete before seeking wholesome entertainment.  These include 1) keeping their room tidy by making their beds and putting away their pajamas in the morning and their Sunday clothes after church, 2) reading an article or two in The Friend, New Era or Ensign, 3) working on their Faith in God, Personal Progress or Duty to God goals, 4) studying the scriptures, and 5) preparing their part for Monday's Family Home Evening.  Later in the day they are expected to contribute to the dinner preparation or clean up.  Of course, as parents, we follow the same list.
  • Entertainment:  We encourage our kids to spend time together on the Sabbath; if they are going to play a game, it should be with another family member, not a single-player game.  Same goes for videos. There are also lots of wonderful church videos available online or through Distribution, and there are even some great commercial ones on Netflix (for those of you in the U.S.).  Here are some of my favorites: "Emma Smith: My Story,"  "American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith," "The Best Two Years," "God's Army," and "The Other Side of Heaven."
  • Fresh Air:  Don't forget that kids go a little nuts if they can't move their bodies.  Going out for a little dog walk, neighbor visit, or just some swinging in the back yard can restore equilibrium.  The same goes for you!  One of my favorite Sabbath activities is reading on the front porch.
  • Most of all, use the Sabbath to shower love on your family!  You want them to remember Sunday as a different but special day--not a holiday, but a day of extra love.  Spend a little one-on-one time, take effort to comment on their positive behaviors, give a few more hugs, make eye contact when they are talking, smile a lot.  Make sitting beside you in church a positive experience.  Don't worry about things that don't matter (for me today that was my deacon son's hair that was sticking up while he passed the sacrament--too late to do anything about it anyway).  Phone family members who live away from you.  Visit grandparents.
  • Of course, remember that everything goes better if you are all prepared and packed Saturday night.  Actually schedule a certain time on Saturday night for this.   
  • Here is something new I am going to try:  Start a prayer journal.  Make a list in your journal of prayers that have been answered for your family (or just for you) recently or over many years.  Add a list of people or circumstances you are still praying for and refer to it before you offer family or personal prayer.  (This would be especially helpful for my kids who "can't remember" anything to say in family prayer except "please bless the food" even when we're not eating!)  Make it a habit to thank the Lord for a blessing LONGER than you prayed FOR the blessing.  (For example: I recently prayed for several months for my friend's daughter's unborn baby.  Now that he is born small but safe, do I just check that one off my list, or will I remember to thank the Lord for him for months to come?)
Please add your ideas on how you have improved your Sabbath observance in the comments below.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #15 "Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts"

I don't have a new full-fledged lesson this week (I really like the one in the manual), but a couple of links and ideas.

This is my favorite lesson on spiritual gifts, including Joseph Smith's gift of translation, an excellent example for the rest of us on how to develop a spiritual gift:  New Testament Lesson 34.

When I taught this lesson years ago, I asked several class members earlier in the week to prepare to share with the class how someone else's spiritual gift had been a blessing to them.  That can end up taking the whole lesson time and being very inspirational.

I really love the talk by Marvin J. Ashton that is referenced in the lesson manual.  Believe it or not, I remember actually listening to that talk at General Conference way back in 1987; it made that great an impression on me.  Here is a link to the complete talk.  You could preface this by asking people to itemize all the spiritual gifts they can think of, and see how many they can mention that Elder Ashton does.

Also, the Church website has a new and beautiful video called about a young blind pianist in Hawaii who shares his talent:  "Extraordinary Gift"