Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Purpose of Scripture

I know what you're thinking.  The title of this post coupled with this picture make it look as if the "Purpose of Scripture" is - Ta-Da! - my fabulous birthday cake.  Hahaha. No.  Anyway, I'll get to the "purpose" later in the post.  First things first.

A lot of members wished me a very happy birthday.  Sweet.  Monday, John (future apostle), Susy (investigator), and Riccardo (investigator) all threw me a birthday party.  Isn't the cake fantastic?
Sorella Marsh, Susy, John, Riccardo, Birthday Girl, Sorella Jackson (Mikesell's taking the pic)
It was cute because they tried to make it a surprise. I knew it was happening (Mikesell blabbed - oops!), but I played along with it as they sent me out to run errands and yadda-yadda until they brought me into the room and yelled "SORPRESA!" It was great!

We ate cake, drank Spuma (Sicilian soda kind of like Ginger Ale but spicier).  These guys are the best!  My companion bought me candy for my birthday, and Mikesell bought me a burger and milkshake.

I threw myself an Avenger party at District Meeting from the stuff my family sent from home.  We ate my pink cake - YUM!!! and had fun with my Avenger stuff.  (ASSEMBLE!!)

Don't Put Gloves in the Wash
Mikesell laments the shrinkage

Don't Eat Leftover Lentils
Me and Marsh
Thursday, my poor companion ate some leftover lentils we thought were still good, but apparently weren't because only a few hours later she was really sick.  Food poisoning.  We ended up staying inside and missing a meal appointment with the Simoncinis. The other sisters went, and turns out the family was throwing me a birthday party!  Warms my heart.  So, the sisters brought home the leftover food.  All kinds of Crostate - a type of pizza pie thing.  SO GOOD.
I'm spoiled.

My companion is darling.  She also happens to be the granddaughter of Elder Russell M. Nelson.  Cool, huh?  Anyway, she is really very sweet, and feeling better - no more sickness (though, I don't suppose she will be eating lentils for quite some time).

Band of Brothers (and Sisters)
Even though this week's work was slow, a bunch of potentials miraculously popped up.  New people showing up wanting to meet with the missionaries.  Fantastico!  A few appointments are set for next week.

We watched the Joseph Smith film with investigator, Veronica (who has to wait to be baptized until she is 18 in May).  We figured she could use some reinforcement.  It was really, really good.  I haven't seen the film in a while, but am always inspired by Joseph's life and character.

Susy's baptism is this weekend!  She's quirky, cool, and really loves the missionaries.  Her baptism has caused a bit of a riff with her disapproving family, but she's determined to follow what she believes.  The ward has been terrific in banding around and supporting her.

Best Correlation Meeting Yet
Ward Council Meeting from Hastening of the Work
In fact, things are improving a lot with the ward.  I just had the best Correlation Meeting of my whole mission this last week (the ward Mission Leader AND Ward Missionaries were there, and ideas were flying.  It was great!).

Then this last Sunday, we had a kick-butt Testimony meeting that was super great.  So, our work with involving the members these past months is finally paying off.  They're getting it!

Tanino's Questions
Tanino, our Church Opera Fireside organizer, is a character.  He was given a Book of Mormon as a gift, started reading it, and asked if we could answer his questions, so we set up an appointment.

We planned to teach the Restoration, but threw that out the window when Mr. Inquisitive hammered out a barrage of questions.  They weren't bad questions;  Just about footnotes, references, background info, and if he should read any prologue to the book (like the Bible) - anything that might help him understand.  In essence, he wanted to know everything about the Book of Mormon and he wanted to know it NOW.  So we went with it.

Part of his questioning involved opening the Book of Mormon to a random page, pointing to a verse and saying, "See? How am I supposed to understand that?!  It's talking about Ammonihahites.  Who are they?!"  After more random pages and a few more I-don't-understands, I told him a little history about the book, said he could read the Introduction ("But I already have") and told him it was an historical story and if he wanted to understand the events, it would be best to start at the beginning.

Scripture: Historic Record or Reference Book?
Tanino assumed scripture was like Jesus' Parables (mini lessons), or like Proverbs and Psalms (bites of poetic wisdom) that could be taken out of historic context.  He supposed scripture was a kind of quick reference book.  That's a viable thought.  Is scripture an historic record, or a reference book?  Answer: Yes.  It's both.  But to understand the reference, it helps to know the history.  Puts it into context.  For our next appointment, we will explain the purpose of Scripture.

The Purpose of Scripture
So, what is the purpose of scripture?  One word: Salvation.  God's highest priority is to get His children Home.  The Bible and the Book of Mormon, together, describe His Plan of Salvation.  That's the reason these books have miraculously endured through the centuries.  They tackle the tough questions:
     Where did I come from?
     Is there a God?
     Why am I here?
     What do I do with my fears?
     Where am I going after this life?
The scriptures offer answers to these crucial questions.  Through centuries of people and prophets, the record reveals how God works with and nurtures His people.  And, since the human condition will always be the same (regardless of time, race, culture), we see how their story becomes our story.  And, in their experience (every stumble, fall, success, gambol, heartbreak, and triumph), we find a treasure map that leads us to Heavenly Father's highest treasure - eternal life.

How Do We Use Scripture?
Ask, and it shall be given you;
Seek, and ye shall find;
Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Matthew 7:7
The first step in understanding scripture is asking God to help.  Before reading, pray.  Invite God to speak to you. Don't go to scripture looking for your idea; go searching for His.

Read prayerfully, but also read it carefully.  Seek and ye shall find is the pledge.  Scripture is not a newspaper to skim but a mine to be quarried.
How's About Trying This:
Study scripture a little at a time.  Hunger is not satisfied by bingeing 30 meals in one sitting once a week. The body needs a steady diet to maintain strength.  So does our spirit.  Don't be discouraged if some days you get less inspiration than others.  Some days a little is all that's needed.  What's important is that you seek everyday for that day's message to your heart.  A steady diet of God's Word over a lifetime builds a strong, healthy mind and spirit.

After asking and seeking, comes the knocking.  Knock, and it shall be opened.  To knock is to stand at God's door and make yourself accessible.  To climb the steps, cross the porch, stand on the doorstep, and volunteer.  Knocking goes beyond just thinking and into the mode of acting.  To knock is to ask:  
     Here I am.  What can I do?  
     I'm just me.  How can I obey?  
     I'm lost.  Where can I go?
It's one thing to read what to do. It's another thing, entirely, to do it. But for those who do it, those who act on what they know, a special award awaits.
Whoso looketh into
the perfect law of liberty (scripture),
and continueth therein, 
he being not a forgetful hearer,
but a doer of the work,
this man shall be blessed in his deed.
James 1:25
Blessings await those who read the Word and do it.  Ask.  Seek. Knock.  Simple, isn't it?  Want to give it a try? 

The New Testament, Parable of the Good Shepherd

Speaking of scripture: A good number of the New Testament videos the Church just put out were filmed in Sicily.  Quite a few members from Palermo are character actors and extras in the episodes.  For instance:
     •  The Bishop of Palermo 2 is the Pig Farmer in the Prodigal's Son.
     •  Walter di Salvo is a Party-er in the Prodigal's Son.
     •  Simone Pellegrino listens to Christ preach in one episode in an Olive Vineyard.
     •  Fratello Pulverenti is the dad of James and John when Christ calls them from their fishing careers 
         to be Apostles.
     •  A group of members are in Centurion Cornelius' house when Peter comes to baptize them.
Our Palermo peeps are stars.  Super cool, huh?

Between the Rock and a Hard Place
Apostle Peter by Sir Anthony Van Dyck
While on the subject of Bible characters, lately I've been pondering the life of the Apostle Peter.  I am an enduring fan.  Peter is one of those guys that most of us can relate to.  Impetuous, outspoken, fiery, courageous, and...human.

This is the Peter who left his fishnets to follow Christ, staunchly bore testimony, and defensively chopped a guy's ear off in Gethsemane.  His gutsy faith had him walking on water, casting out devils, healing the sick, and preaching the gospel to his prison guards.  Yes, this is the Peter who was strong in handling persecution, yet, fallible when 3x he denied knowing Christ.  If Peter could have changed anything about his life - that night would have been it, Change the night I turned my back on Christ.

Peter knew what it was like to go through tough times. Taunting.  Imprisonment.  Beatings. False words.  Failure.  Storms.  Satan continually on his heals trying to "sift him as wheat."  Yes, folks, Peter had seen enough to know how to stay strong in tough times.  Staying strong meant staying close to Christ.

And, in his story we find a gem of hope, because after Christ Resurrected, he came to Peter and offered the sweetest, most loving, complete forgiveness.  Despite the denying, Jesus knew Peter's heart enough to trust him with leading the Church after His death - so He entrusted this lead apostle with the keys of the kingdom, and charged him with bringing the gospel to all the world.  After that, Peter never fished for fish again.  He spent the rest of his days telling any and all who would listen, "It's never too late to repent and try again."  Yah, Peter the Rock, I'm a fan.
(Thoughts on Peter inspired an article on family blog Beginning to Sink March 2014)

Scripture, whether it's relatable characters, doctrine, poetry, life-lessons, profound answers, or feeling peace - life just makes more sense when we read God's Word.  That's the purpose of scripture.

Chiedere, Cercano, Bussare (Ask, Seek, Knock.  Oh, and stay away from the leftover Lentils!),
Sorella Ashley Nef

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