Monday, December 22, 2014

Stewards of Spiritual Learning

The following is an essay adaptation from a talk/sermon I gave in church some time back. I think that it is a good representation of my thoughts on what is means to be a steward over the learning of others. It was written to an LDS audience, but I think if the any readers can look past some of the jargon and audience directed issues you will see how this may apply to you in your own responsibilities as parents, spouses, siblings, and children of God. If you believe yourself to be a disciple of Christ, or just that you have a personal responsibility for the learning and well being of others this can apply to you.

In the The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints each individual or family is given a set of home teachers. These individuals are called by the Bishop, Elders Quorum President, and the High Priest Group Leader to execute the office of teacher and to act as a representative of the Lord in visiting us monthly or as needed. Each family is assigned a companionship of two to come teach them from the scriptures and the words of the prophets. This companionship may come in the form of a young teacher of 14 with his father an elder, two elders of the church, or on occasion as needs dictate a high priest and his wife. Whomever has been assigned to you and your family it has been done through much prayer and thought. These individuals are in your home to bring you the will of the Lord. You ought to recognize it, and hopefully each home teaching companionship recognizes the magnitude of their calling as a home teacher. It is through this pattern of teaching that the Lord has established to help our brothers and sisters have their needs met.

All things in the Church of Jesus Christ are meant to point back to the savior Jesus Christ. Home teaching is no different. Home teaching is meant to allow us opportunities to serve and become more Christlike. One of the defining features of Christ, revealed in the narrative of the New testament, is that of the minister or shepherd. 

As the Shepherd, Christ knows his flock. As a shepherd, he visited individuals. He taught to the masses and performed miracles that thousands saw and experienced, but many of the most intimate and touching experiences revealed about our Savior were the individual ministrations and healings he performed. In reading we learn of Christ speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He taught her of the fountain of life to which all men must turn to drink and thirst no more (John 4:4-42). We learn of his ministration to the man who sat next to the pool who had no man to carry him in and be healed at the troubling of the water (John 5:6-8). He healed a man’s sight by laying his hand on him (Mark 8:22-25). He offered spiritual healing by way of forgiveness just as freely as he offered physical healing. He forgave a paralytic, and then sensing the skepticism of the pharisees he commanded the man to arise so that they would know he had the power to forgive as well as heal (Luke 5:17-26). After saving the adulteress from stoning, he commanded her to go forth and sin no more (John 8:1-11). He not only sought to provide relief, but sought to increase faith. Before providing relief to a father who asked his mercy on his son sick with a palsy, he first inquired regarding the man's faith in his ability to heal. It was through this diligent inquiry into the man's belief, that the savior was able to reveal to the man his own doubts, and create in the man the desire to believe and the faith necessary for his son to be healed, if not for the father's sake, than for his son’s sake (Mark 9: 23-24).

After this account of the many miracles of the Savior’s ministry you may ask yourself how does this apply to my efforts as a home teacher (In my individual ministry). The application is the threefold mission of home teaching. First to feed the people spiritually so as to grow their faith, second to ensure the physical well being of the church and its members (your brothers and sisters), and third to do so in a personal way to ensure that each individual in the Good Shepherd's flock sees the hands of the Savior actively in their life.

In John 21:15-17 we read of an intimate exchange between Simon Peter and Christ after his resurection:
15 ¶So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon,son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, aFeed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him,aFeed my bsheep.

The Savior reiterates three times the importance of caring for the fold, and distinguishes between the sheep and the lambs.  I would submit that the lambs are those weak in the gospel, possibly those who have not yet received  Christ in their lives, and the sheep are those who have been baptized into the fold, but still need the guidance of the Shepherd. Here Christ makes it clear that one of the priorities of a disciple of Christ, is caring for the member both weak and strong. The weak to be strengthened, and the strong to be reinforced in their dedication and testimony of Christ. It is for this reason that each of us and our family is assigned a set of home teachers to individually minister ensuring the spiritual and physical well being of each member.

Furthermore, Christ clarifies this mandate in the Doctrine and Covenants in section  88:81-85
81 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.
82 Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.
83 He that seeketh me early shall find me, and shall not be forsaken.
84 Therefore, tarry ye, and labor diligently, that you may be perfected in your ministry to go forth among the Gentiles for the last time, as many as the mouth of the Lord shall name, to bind up the law and seal up the testimony, and to prepare the saints for the hour of judgment which is to come;
85 That their souls may escape the wrath of God, the desolation of abomination which awaits the wicked, both in this world and in the world to come. Verily, I say unto you, let those who are not the first elders continue in the vineyard until the mouth of the Lord shall call them, for their time is not yet come; their garments are not clean from the blood of this generation.

As is stated here it is the clear duty of each of us as we understand the warning of Christ to share that with the world. This is not only accomplished by sharing with those who have never heard the good news of the gospel, but those who have heard it and now struggle. Those who need strengthening in their resolve to live according to the commandments of God. Those who need help in keeping the covenants that they made with Christ at baptism. By completing your home teaching assignments and by ministering to others you are not only helping others to keep their covenants to keep the commandments of God, but you are keeping the covenants that you have made with the Lord.

At baptism we each make covenants with Christ. these are outlined in the sacrament prayers and in Mosiah 18. The sacrament prayers speak of taking upon us the name of Christ, remembering him, and keeping the commandments, and in return we are promised that we will have his spirit to be with us. Additionally in Mosiah 18:8-9 it states;  8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye area desirous to come into the bfold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are awilling to mourn with those that bmourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as cwitnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the dfirst resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

We therefore see that home teaching or individual and family level ministry is a covenant of baptism. It is the promise that we will reach out to those who stand in need of comfort and provide for them. This provision includes all that we have to uplift others. If we have nothing else we have time. To many of us our time is the most valuable thing that we have in our busy lives. To give your time to another person or family is a token of love and care. Most of us appreciate when someone demonstrates true love and concern visiting us in our home to teach us of the savior and help us be diligent in the execution of our duties. This is a demonstration of care; responding to the needs of us and our family. Home teaching is an official call to be the hands of the Savior in the lives of others. To be his eyes in providing for the needs of the families under your stewardship. Each month we are to report back to our Quorum leaders the needs of our families and how they are doing. The church has in place a vast network of means to provide for those in need and it is the role of the home teacher to make sure each home has the access they need to those resources, when they need them. Many look to the Elders Quorum President, the Relief Society President, or the Bishop to know the needs of the members, but it is through the home teaching program that these servants know of the individual level needs. Develop a relationship with the families under your stewardship, where they will feel confident telling you about their true struggles and their needs physically and spiritually and you will not only relieve their burden, but the burden of the leaders in the ward. You will be ministers as Christ was, relieving the distress of the poor, cold, and hungry.  In James 1:27 it states “27 Pure areligion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To bvisit the cfatherless and dwidows in their eaffliction, and to keep himself funspotted from gthe hworld.”

The Office of a teacher:
What is the office of a teacher?
In Ephesians 4:11-12 we read
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Here we learn of the office of a teacher. It is to aid in the perfecting of the saints. In the doctrine and covenants this is further clarified in the explanation of Aaronic Priesthood offices. D&C 20:51,53-55
51 And visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties
53 The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;
54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;
55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.

That is quite the list, but it says simply a few things. Love, see that others love, and teach where others fall short in this understanding.  You cannot teach love unless you first feel love. This is where the Atonement of Christ can overcome any hardness that may exist between others and soften hearts. Through a humble approach and a gentle hand we can avoid offenses, heal wounded hearts, and prevent many of the negative attitudes and actions that people come to church to escape from in the world.

President Marion G. Romney, in general conference, declared:
“Home teaching, properly functioning, brings to ‘the house of each member’ two priesthood bearers divinely commissioned and authoritatively called into the service by their priesthood leader and bishop. These Home Teachers—priesthood bearers—carry the heavy and glorious responsibility of representing the Lord Jesus Christ in looking after the welfare of each Church member. They are to encourage and inspire every member to discharge his duty, both family and Church” (address given at general conference home teaching meeting, 8 Apr. 1966, p. 3).

Allowing others to serve:
Up to this point I have focused on the roles and responsibilities of those executing the office of teacher, but now I would like to turn briefly to the responsibility of those who are to be taught, or rather each member as we receive home teachers in our homes. Above all our roles is to be humble, teachable, and open. Each home teacher is sacrificing time with their own family to come to ensure that you and your family have your needs met. This is an act of love that should be accepted with open hands. Do not avoid inviting your home teacher into your home, but rather if you have not heard from them, approach them to ask when they are coming. Do not deny others the opportunity and blessings of service. As a student at BYU I was discussing this very topic with the High Councilor assigned to our ward and he taught that it is often just as hard or harder to allow others to serve us as it is to serve others. We may feel that we are strong and do not need the assistance of others, but I can assure you that we all have our weaknesses and that the program of home teaching is designed to address those weaknesses individually and as families. Do not be afraid to ask your home teachers to bring a specific message to your family. A message tailored to the needs of the family. To do so they will need to know the needs of your family, which they can only know when you open your hearts to them and share your needs with them. It is easiest to serve others when they are not avoiding your help. It is the sin of pride that we are trying to avoid here. The sin that leads us to believe we can accomplish everything ourselves, which when lead to its extreme is a belief that we do not need God or his Son Jesus Christ. I have seen a number of people in my life who have not understood the principle of allowing others to serve, and thereby have denied blessings to others and to themselves that naturally follow from selfless service.

I leave with you my testimony that God lives, Christ is his son and our Savior. Christ’s love extends across all humanity to each of us as individuals. In his love for each of us he suffered for our sins and sorrows and died and was resurrected that we may too obtain eternal life. In his love he again turned his hand to man and restored the entirety of his church in these days through the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the church we have the opportunity, privilege, and obligation to care for each other, to visit each other in our hour of need, and to develop selfless love through individual service.
I leave this my testimony in the name our our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Amen.

By Joshua Kirton

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