Sunday, 30 November 2014

Search the Scriptures

Today was Seminary and Institute graduation and I was asked to give a talk on the topic, to share my insights and experiences and to encourage others to participate. I decided on the importance of scripture study, because that is the focus in these courses, something everyone should be doing regardless of age or attendance (which is highly recommended).

Here it is:
“We have a great responsibility ... in the Church to make sure our own members, our own young people, do not fall into that unfortunate category of being blinded, of being good, fine, worthy young men and women who are kept from the truths of the scriptures because they do not know where to find those truths and because they do not possess confidence between the covers of their standard works... We ought to have a Church full of women and men who know the scriptures thoroughly, who cross-reference and mark them, who develop lessons and talks from the Topical Guide, and who have mastered the maps, the Bible Dictionary, and the other helps that are contained in this wonderful set of standard works” (Howard W. Hunter, in his address to CES religious educators, Eternal Investments).

Here, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church leaders have developed a phenomenal set of courses known as the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. For just as Howard W. Hunter said, it is important to know the truths of the scriptures well.
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).

We thus see the objective of these classes as being a guide for youth and young adults to understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, to qualify them for the blessings of the temple, and assist in preparing them, their families, and others for eternal life with our Father in Heaven.

I recall the first time I attended an Institute of Religion class – and I recall the Spirit that filled that room as we enjoyed an evening of interaction and minor competition. In fact, I wasn’t even a member at the time, but as the questions came to our group concerning the Book of Mormon, I witnessed the fulfilment of John 14:26.
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

I don't remember which group answered the most correct questions – but I learnt more in that hour than I did in the previous seven months of investigating the Church.

I learnt that a deseret was a honeybee, that Coriantumr was the last survivor of the Jaredite nation, that the Urim and Thummim (which Joseph Smith used) were used in Old Testament times as well, that it only took sixty five working days for Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon with Oliver Cowdery acting as his scribe, that our testimonies are the most powerful tools in preaching the Gospel to others, that the Lord sometimes expects us to come up with the answers on our own, and that there are a great many things we are expected to learn, to know, and to do as Heavenly Father’s children in these Latter-days. I learnt the surest, fastest way of uncovering Gospel truths; yea, even as the Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine & Covenants 9:8.
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”

Yea, that night I learnt the true power of testimony as adults (young and old, return missionary and prospective missionary, born-in-covenant and convert) bore conviction of what they knew to be true. And the Book of Mormon stood, burning bright, as the Spirit pierced, testifying of both Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Think about it; men and women gathered together, with ONE eternal goal, to learn of their Saviour, draw closer to Him and study out His Atonement so that they may know the best way to apply it in their lives.

I enrolled for the following year’s Institute program that night, the last night of the 2013 Institute program, and was baptised a week later. More comforting, however, was that I only knew two people going in that night (whom I probably spoke to least), and now – well – now we’re constantly on each other’s cases about when we’ll see each other next.
President Thomas S. Monson urged, “If you are a single college student … make participation in institute a priority. Married students and other young adults are also welcome and encouraged to attend. Think of it. Friends will be made, the Spirit will be felt, and faith will be strengthened. I promise you that as you participate in institute and study the scriptures diligently, your power to avoid temptation and to receive direction of the Holy Ghost in all you do will be increased. Divine favor will attend those who humbly seek it. That is a promise which I leave with you.”

And that is a promise I affirm. For there are few moments in life when the Spirit testifies so strongly – and actively studying and applying the scriptures in our lives is one of those moments.
John 5:39 says, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
Yea, even 3 Nephi 23:5, “And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things.”

The scriptures are there for our profit, for our benefit, to teach us the things of the Lord, and to testify of Him.
John 20:31, “But these [things] are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

In every Institute lesson we are urged to read the scriptures, to study them academically and to ponder them with a full purpose of heart, we then need to earnestly pray and, step by step, apply the principles we’ve learnt in our lives. This becomes essential in learning for ourselves if these things be true, but also to show obedience and to prove ourselves worthy before the Lord.
The Saviour counselled, “And now, whoso readeth, let him understand; he that hath the scriptures, let him search them.” (3 Nephi 10:14)
Let us develop a love for the scriptures just as Nephi where he says, “…For my soul delighteth in the scriptures…” (2 Nephi 4:15)
Let's follow the counsel of Howard W. Hunter as he says, “Those who delve into the scriptural library, however, find that to understand requires more than casual reading or perusal - there must be concentrated study” (Howard W. Hunter, Reading the Scriptures, Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).
Therefore, it is essential that we dedicate ourselves to active scripture studies. This means that we need to take time out, for the Lord alone, pray, search, ponder, relate and apply. We learn more doing this than we ever could simply reading. We need to look for specifics, we need seek out answers, we need to be prepared for the Spirit to work in us and reveal to us the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. If we don’t, we won’t recognise the answers when they do come our way.
We learn in Alma 13:20, “Now I need not rehearse the matter; what I have said may suffice. Behold, the scriptures are before you; if ye will wrest them it shall be to your own destruction.”

Take this to heart, I urge you. For, in that day, when the fiery darts of doubt come our way, we’ll have the comforting words of God reassuring us; we will know the truth and shall not be swayed by every wind of doctrine that comes our way.
Nephi says, in 1 Nephi 15:24, “And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.”

I remember my first day at the Bedfordview Institute class, after transferring from the Centurion class, a sister (of the tribe of Judah, nonetheless) spoke to me specifically concerning the importance we, as individuals, have in our own personal salvation. It is our responsibility to do the things we need to do. It is our responsibility hearken unto the words of the Lord, and – in order to do that – we need to study the scriptures. We need to learn for ourselves. We need strive to reach that fourth level of faith (even perfection) through constant effort and improvement. We need to work at it and come to know for ourselves and, thus, do.
Joseph Smith said, “Search the scriptures—search the revelations … and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 11–12.)

Institute has provided the most sound means of understanding the teachings of the prophets (both new and old). It has taught me how seriously we need to take the doctrines and principles of the Gospel. And it has increased my confidence between the standard works.

More so, however, institute has kept me to my covenants, pushed me to do the things prophets have counselled us to do, and drawn me closer to our Heavenly Father and His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. It has kept me up to date with Church affairs and reminded of my responsibility as a young single adult.

Yes, young single adults should be actively searching for an eternal companion, so that they can marry and be sealed in the temple; and, in Institute, they won't let you forget this. So when a Church leader says that he asks his sons every week who they've gone out with, you can be sure that when you rock up for Institute on a Tuesday night your Institute lecturer will ask, "So who have you gone out with this week?"

So parents, I urge you to send your children to seminary. Young adults, I urge that you seriously consider attending Institute. As for everyone else, I sincerely sincerely ask that you earnestly study the scriptures so that when that day comes, of fiery darts and trial, you may know for yourself. So that you may draw closer to your Heavenly Father and know what it is you need to do in your own lives, so that we may know what we need to do to help others when they so need.

This is my testimony which I leave with you in the name of Jesus Christ.


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