Thursday, March 19, 2009

Enduring "Thorns in the Flesh"

In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he speaks of a "thorn in the flesh," something students of the Bible have wondered about for centuries. As a class we didn't spend too much time speculating about what it might have been. What we did try to figure out was "How did Paul endure?"

The remarkable faith of this ancient apostle is inspiring considering all he suffered for Christ's sake: stripes, prisons, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks ... He dealt with hunger, thirst, frequent fasting, exposure in the cold ... He was robbed; he dealt with dishonest companions and idolatrous societies. (See 2 Corinthians 11:23-27) Wherever he went - from cities to the wilderness - he was in peril - and then there was the ever present "thorn."

As we pondered Paul's ability to endure, we also stopped to reflect on what helps us endure. Students were asked to fill in the blank on the following sentence:

If I ________________________, I will be strong enough to endure any trial, persecution or weakness of the flesh.

Here are a few of their entries:

... pray consistently with a heart full of love for the Lord
Jenna Hamzawi

... remain above, see in the distance, and gain perspective
Dan Moreno

... have faith in Christ
Brandon Stauffer

... keep on keepin' on
Jack D'Ottavio

... have faith and pray to the Lord
Jenn Gibson

... focus on the light at the end of the tunnel rather than becoming listless and depressed or moping about my situation
Kristy Brizee

... pray
Lauren Larson

... keep the commandments
Alyssa McPeak

... become like Christ
Parker Kjar

Like Paul, these students seem to grasp that the Lord's "... grace is sufficient for [them]: for [their] strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly will [they] rather glory in [their] infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon [them]." 2 Corinthians 12:9

I am grateful these students know that consistent prayer, eternal perspective, individual effort, faith in Christ, looking to His light, keeping His commandments and following His example will invite His power into their lives - giving them the strength to be happy, hopeful people - even if, like Paul, they must live with a "thorn in the flesh." May they always remember the crown of thorns Christ wore for their sakes, and the marks He still bears on His hands as an eternal reminder of His love and power to save us all!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Road to Emmaus: Recognizing and Being Fed by the Savior

As we wrap up our study of the four gospels this week, we have had the opportunity to consider the many witnesses of Christ's victory over death. So many testified that He truly lives again!

Two of those witnesses walked with the Savior on the road to Emmaus (See Luke 24). Cleopas and his companion did not initially recognize the risen Lord, but after being fed by Him, both physically and spiritually, they realized that He was, indeed, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. The Spirit confirmed this truth as their "hearts burned within [them]" in His presence.

How does the Savior feed us? How can we recognize Him more clearly in our lives? Students responded to these questions this morning:

Brandon Stauffer:
The Savior gives me knowledge through personal prayer and scripture study. I can become more familiar with his teachings and gospel.

Jennifer Gibson:
The Savior feeds me through the scriptures when I read his words every day.

Courtney Anderson:
The Savior feeds me by blessing my life through the scriptures and the words of the prophets. Every day there are small things that the Savior uses to feed me. I can recognize him more clearly by staying on the path of righteousness and focusing on him.

Kennedy Faulk:
The Savior spiritually feeds me, and I can come to recognize him more clearly by being more faithful and spiritual and becoming a better representative of Christ.

Dan Moreno:
The Savior puts wise people in my path to listen to and for me to seek others.

Alyssa McPeak:
He feeds me with the gospel in my life to keep my sights high. To recognize him more clearly I can pray, read scriptures, keep commandments and have a pure heart.

Kristy Brizee:
Just simply feeling my Savior's love and delighting in the gospel gives me that satisfying feeling and spiritual energy boost.

Christina Wood:
Symbolically the Savior feeds me by giving me spiritual experiences. I can recognize him more clearly by doing things that will allow me to feel the Spirit.

Parker Kjar:
The Savior feeds me through the scriptures. I can recognize him through the Holy Ghost.

Vanessa Steeves:
The Savior feeds me by giving me scriptures to read so I can gain more knowledge of Him and our Heavenly Father. I can recognize Him more clearly by reading my scriptures.

Jenna Hamzawi:
The Savior feeds me by giving me the desire to read his words. I am actually at the point of being excited to read the words of the New Testament, and I have not skipped a single night of scripture study. He sends me the Holy Ghost to identify my wrong doings of the day so that I can repent.

Jourdan Satterfield:
He gives me his words that I may feast upon them. I can recognize Him more when I truly study the scriptures in hope that I may truly know the Savior.

Jack D'Ottavio:
He feeds me in everything and every aspect of anything good He does for me. I can stay righteous so I can hear that still, small whisper.

Britanie Kersey:
He feeds me with the Spirit so I know what I need to do and what is right. He feeds me when I read the scriptures or listen to testimonies that His church is true. I can recognize Him more clearly by taking time to just listen and let His Spirit teach me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Recent events in California have really shaken the nation and the world. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been at the center of a great deal of controversy. Before the Thanksgiving break, we spent a good deal of time discussing several aspects of the debate over marriage and religious freedom. These discussions coincided with our study of some of the Savior's teachings regarding His Second Coming. We learned that in these last days, many will be shaken in their faith. It was helpful, during this process, to recognize that, while we may still have questions, there are aspects of our faith and testimonies that are unshaken.

"I have an unshaken testimony that Prop 8 (Yes) should have passed. Despite initially being no on 8, I researched it and instead of blindly following what the church told us to support, I learned for myself the pros and cons. I decided, for myself, that yes was correct. I think it's better to doubt at first, and learn for yourself."
Jennie Larson

"I have an unshaken testimony that Christ lives and that He has walked this Earth."
Brandon Stauffer

"I have an unshaken testimony that Jesus Christ died for us."
Amy McGreevy

"I have an unshaken testimony that Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, shall come again."
Jourdan Satterfield

"I have an unshaken testimony that if I prepare myself, the Lord will make it so ends will meet."
Dan Moreno

"I have an unshaken testimony that Christ lives and that He will come again. He will reign over the earth and every knee will bend and we will know that He is the Son of God. He lives!"
Lindsey Kubo

"I have an unshaken testimony that the church is true."
Parker Kjar

"I have an unshaken testimony that Christ will come again. He is the Savior and He died for me that I may live again. I am so grateful for Him."
Britanie Kersey

"I have an unshaken testimony that won't falter no matter who or what comes in my way because I know He [Jesus Christ] is the most important thing in all my life."
Jenna Hamzawi

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Who's teaching who?

I often find the roles of teacher and student are reversed when my students share their thoughts in class or in their journals. Here are a some gems from the last few weeks:

September 16 -

How do I feel when I have been forgiven of the Lord?
I feel peace. There is a moment where I feel everything in the world is at peace and that through Christ our Savior, anything is possible. - Brandon Stauffer

I feel clean, as though I re-entered the waters of baptism and felt the cleansing powers of my Father in Heaven. I feel loved. - Jourdan Satterfield

Whenever I feel that I have been completely forgiven by the Lord, it's a feeling that I could never describe, completely. I feel a happiness that is extraordinary and a warmth that surrounds me. - Christina Wood

When I've been forgiven I feel refreshed and purified. Christ's atoning sacrifice reassures me to drop to my knees and pray. I feel like I can leave my sins at Jesus' feet and He will take care of the rest. - Lindsey Kubo

September 18 -

Sometimes sins we transgress can be heavy burdens. We get tied in the trap they catch us in. Repenting to the Lord or the Bishop is like the Savior lifting our burdens. Christ offers us the yoke of righteousness. - Dan Moreno

The heavy burdens I carry are of every day stresses and preparing for the future. The Savior lifts my burdens by bringing me peace in my heart and soul. He knows my burdens and if I trust in him he will show me how to make them light. Christ offers us His light and easy yoke because He knows us individually and can help us. His atonement is His yoke for us to have an easier life without sin. - Britanie Kersey

September 23 -

After studying several of Christ's parables, I had the students write parables of their own. Among those parables were the "food parable," the "parable of the pizza," the "parable of the magical cheez-its," ... I think the students were extra hungry that morning ... but one of the most inspired was the "parable of the iPod":
The gospel is like unto an iPod. Those with good headphones will hear the music in the iPod. Those with bad headphones can't hear the music. If you download your song/gospel from a bad source like limewire, it won't be as good as if you download from iTunes. - Dan and Brandon

September 24 -

When and how have you felt the Savior's calming influence in your life?
Other people's testimonies always make me feel the Savior's spirit. I love learning through other people's experiences. - Jenn Gibson

I've felt the Savior's calming influence at church, through other people's talks and testimonies. - Alyssa McPeak

I haven't had many storms in my life, but one occurred last summer when my grandpa died. I was devastated because I loved him very much and would miss him. However, one of the dominant characteristics of my grandfather was his love of the gospel. I knew that he was in Paradise having a wonderful time, and the Plan of Salvation helped lessen the pain intensely. I still miss him, but the Lord has helped me accept it and move on, looking forward to the day I will see him again. - Amy McGreevy

I realize that everyone experiences ups and downs, but at this particular time in my life I was feeling low, depressed and simply miserable. It was like being lost in a dark tunnel without seeing any sign of light whatsoever. I thought there was no way to see the light again, until I felt an overwhelming power wash over me - my Savior's love. I realized I didn't have to be alone in my trial. He rescued me when I thought there was no hope left. He stood by my side and never gave up on me.
- Kristy Brizee

October 1 -

Whom say ye that Christ is?
The Savior of the world, a brother, a friend - Kristy Brizee

Christ is my Savior and Redeemer and brother. He has unimaginable knowledge of and faith in the Gospel, and therefore limitless power. - Amy McGreevy

Jesus is not only my rock, my Redeemer, my ultimate example - He is also my brother and my best friend. I am eternally indebted to Him and I can't wait to live with Him forever. Throughout my life He has been giving me "spiritual" hugs and I can't wait to give Him a real hug back. - Jocelyn Matthews

Christ is the rock of my salvation and the foundation for my life. - Courtney Anderson

Christ is my best friend. He is my rock and my Redeemer. He is eternal life and the light of the world. - Lindsey Kubo

Christ is my Savior, my Redeemer. He is my everything because without Him I could not live again, or have a body of flesh and bones. Sometimes I think I can know Him better. I want to know him. - Jourdan Satterfield

Christ is the Son of God. He is our Savior and Redeemer. He died for all of us and He sacrificed His life for His Father. He atoned for all of our sins, so that we can repent and become clean to return to our Heavenly Father again. - Britanie Kersey

Christ is my salvation, my Savior, my Shepherd, my closest friend, my psychologist, my Comforter, the Ultimate Forgiver. - Jenna Hamzawi

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Year, New Students, New Testament

A NEW school year began for our local schools a few weeks ago. With that beginning came the start of a NEW year of early morning Seminary. For me, that means two dozen NEW students and a NEW course of study: the NEW Testament. It has also meant a NEW location – our NEW chapel on Scholar Way in Folsom.

The New Testament’s detailed account of Christ’s life and ministry is a clear call into a newness of life. Questions often serve to amplify that call in our minds and hearts. One such question, as we discussed the Plan of Salvation during our first week of study, was “What has Christ done for me on my path to salvation?”

“If it were not for Christ there would be no Plan of Salvation, so when He came to earth and died for us, He made it possible for me to go back to heaven again. He also helps us every day with the little things. I pray like 24/7 and He always is there for me.”
Ashlee Northrop

“He died for my sins. He’s also put obstacles in my life to help me grow and become stronger and want to be more like Him.”
Alyssa McPeak

“Christ has done everything for me by giving me the ultimate gift: the Atonement.”
Kenny Faulk

The first chapter of John includes several powerful images that represent the Savior and His role in our lives. From John 1:5 comes this thought provoking statement: “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Students recorded their thoughts on these questions: “How does the world get in the way of my comprehension of the light? How can I move the world out of the way?”

“The world gets in the way of my comprehension of the light because we live in the world. The things of the world are all around us and they sometimes get in the way of our Savior and His light. It only is covered because I accept the things of the world into my life. I can move the world out of the way by not doing the things of the world, but by doing spiritual things that will let the light of Christ shine in my life. Be in the world, but not of the world.”
Britanie Kersey

“Sometimes the world seems to fog my vision of the light in the way that the media portrays the ideal woman and makes me feel inferior rather than realize I’m a divine daughter of God. The influence that the media has blocks my remembrance to turn to the Savior. In this case, it’s not really a matter of moving the world, but moving myself and stepping into the Light.”
Kristy Brizee

Today we studied John 4 and 5. In chapter 5 Jesus heals a man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. The Jews, unimpressed by the miracle, persecuted Jesus for violating their rules for Sabbath day observance. Christ was undaunted and boldly shared the good news with them, in spite of their criticism. A member of our class wrote, “What are some ways I can share the gospel outside my comfort zone?” And here are several answers:

“Plant little seeds. You don’t have to give every detail of the gospel to your friends right away. Take time to share certain key principles of the gospel until they are ready to hear everything. Be an example.”
Courtney Anderson

“Talk to your friends about it if you feel ready. It’s good to exercise your testimony by strongly expressing your standards. It also may help your friend’s life later down the road.”
Jenna Hamzawi

“Become more comfortable with the gospel. Learn of Him, draw closer to Him.”
Jourdan Satterfield

“Invite people to church and activities.”
Jenn Gibson

“I think that a lot of times we feel uncomfortable sharing the gospel because either we are afraid of others’ reaction or we don’t have confidence in ourselves. I think the best way to overcome this fear is to put our trust in God and turn to Him. He can give you that confidence to step out of your comfort zone and He will bless you for your diligence and willingness.”
Kristy Brizee

After studying Jesus’ experience with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), and noting the woman’s initial confusion about receiving the “living water” Christ had to offer, another class member asked:
“How can I prepare myself to receive a gift from God?”

A few students were thinking along the same lines when they answered:
“You make yourself spiritually clean through righteous doing.”
Brandon Stauffer

“We wonder why we sometimes don’t receive gifts. It’s because we aren’t worthy, or deserving of gifts because of the lifestyles we lead.”
Dan Moreno

“Pray, read scriptures and keep the commandments.”
Alyssa McPeak

It’s true that our works are often evidence of our faith or lack thereof (see James 2:17-18). But sometimes our hearts are ready for change, in spite of current behavior. The Lord knew the Samaritan woman was living in sin – and He still offered her living water. Clearly He could see that her questions were sincere – that she was willing to believe and really wanted to receive what He offered her.

“I can prepare to receive a gift from God by praying and drawing closer to my Savior.”
Lindsey Kubo

“I can be worthy to do things like go to the temple and receive my endowments and blessings. I can also be humble and grateful for all I have so I don’t miss any of the blessings I might receive. I can also do service for others.”
Jocelyn Matthews

One brutally honest student expressed his desires a little differently this morning.

“I don’t wanna go to school or work today. I just wanna sleep and eat because I’m hungry. I want Denny’s and I want to go to Disneyland because it’s the happiest place on earth.”
Trenton Jones

I think Trent may have articulated our common ground with the woman of Samaria pretty well. We are tired of our routines. We yearn for rest, nourishment and happiness. Christ offered her all of that. And He offers us the same!

I’m grateful for new students and for the fresh perspective they bring as we strive together to understand and accept all the Lord has to offer us.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Messages from Malachi

Our final week of Seminary seems a distant memory... but it was only two weeks ago we concluded our two semester study of the Old Testament. The final book in this volume of scripture contains the writings of the prophet Malachi. He taught of tithing, the Lord's Second Coming and of the linking of eternal families, among other things. Below are samples of the students' responses to my questions/instructions regarding these messages from Malachi:

Give an example of the Lord blessing you and/or your family temporally or spiritually. How is this blessing connected to the payment of tithing?

The Lord has blessed my family in time of financial hardship; even though paying tithing seems unreasonable, it ends up helping us out. Tyler Kroff

We have a house and food and clothing because we are granted life's necessities as a blessing of tithing. Ryan Palmer

Yesterday I had to pick up a prescription because you're not supposed to miss a day of meds or it'll mess up your body. So I went, not knowing how much money it would be and I had the exact amount of cash in my wallet. No more, no less. Deanna Newell

Tell something you've done to prepare for the Lord's Second Coming that has minimized your fears and increased your faith & sense of peace.

I've tried to surround myself with friends that have a good influence on me. I always know that I can count on them for good advice. Tyler Kroff

I have sought the wisdom of the Lord and I have immersed myself in His spirit through daily prayer, through righteous acts and through exemplification of a charitable being. I have gained my faith. I know that He will come. I will be ready. Ryan Palmer

I try very hard to read my scriptures and have personal prayer almost every night. Tyler Robinson

I have gained a testimony of Jesus Christ, His life and His sacrifice for all of us. Deanna Newell

Write a short letter to your parents and ancestors expressing your love and gratitude to them.

Dear Mom and Dad,
Thank you so much for always being there for me when I need you, and for helping me through the rough times. Tyler Kroff

Thank you for preparing the way for me and others who may not have otherwise found the gospel. We have been blessed beyond measure because of the choices that you have made. You have set the example and created the traditions that are sacred and eternal. Ryan Palmer

Dear Mom and Dad and old people,
You guys are great. Thanks Mom for birthing me because without you I wouldn't be here. I'm so glad I was put into your family. You guys are so great. Tyler Robinson

Dear Momma and Dad,
Words can't express how grateful I am for you and your love. You are always there for me with support. Recently I finally realized that you truly do your best to support me in all that I do, but certain things have skewed my vision and all I saw was my mistakes. I'm working on that. Thank you. Thank you for never giving up on me. I realize that I was a difficult child to raise, especially as a teenager. You did your best. You taught me a lot. Deanna Newell

I hope I can make you proud. Thanks for watching over me. Anonymous

Write a short letter to your future children and posterity, sharing with them one or two things you want them to know about their Savior.

Dear children,
I want you to know that the Savior will always be there for you. If you need anything, pray and ask for it sincerely. Don't let the Savior down. Do good and choose the right. Tyler Kroff

Dear Posterity,
You guys are going to be very cute and talented and, by the way, Jesus is really cool. He saved us and He made it so we can repent. Tyler Robinson

To Future Posterity,
Believe in the Savior. Anonymous

I want you all to know that you are all loved unconditionally by the Savior and me. He died so that we might live again; but not only that we might live, but that we might live eternally in the presence of God. The Atonement opens the door to our eternal family. Through our repentance and His sacrifice we may create powerful covenants and attachments that can never be broken against our will. Be worthy, and repent, for I do not want to lose any one of you. We will live together forever, the fulfillment of eternal joy. Ryan Palmer

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Picture This

I took several pictures during this past year of Seminary and also had students' families send me pictures to use for a few projects. Here are some of those pictures, in random order:

This last one of Ryan is representative of the extra sleep we're all getting, now that our alarm clocks can be set later than 5 a.m. It wasn't easy to drag ourselves out of bed that early several times a week but, speaking for myself, it was definitely worth it!