big picture
Week 41 is scheduled for study Oct. 2-8, 2023. This is Big Picture week. Paul shows us several ways in which the Lord is preparing us for his return. We also look at marital relationships.

Day 1

Do you see any connections between the messages in general conference and Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians?

Ephesians 1:4-11, 17-19 – God chose, or foreordained, me to fulfill certain responsibilities on earth.

The discussion about predestination and foreordination has been talked about before. The idea that anyone is predestined to do something strips them of their agency, which is something we definitely do not believe to be the case. We do, however believe in the concept of foreordination. God, our Father, determined when and where we would be born, and also how great our sphere of influence would be in this life. We also believe he called people to perform certain tasks while in mortality. He based the calls on the current righteousness of each individual.

Once we arrive in mortality, our calling from premortal life isn’t automatically either fulfilled or negated. Again, the calling is always based on our current righteousness. If we are not worthy or ready for the calling the Lord wanted us to fulfill then that opportunity won’t be extended to us. The difficulty is that we rarely know what the Lord has in mind for us ahead of time. That is both a blessing and a curse. If we knew what He expected from us would we run or work harder? I don’t know. I think of it like someone getting married. If most single people had any idea how difficult marriage and children can be, many would never marry out of fearful anticipation of what might be required of them. In most cases it is just better that we don’t know ahead of time and deal with life as it comes to us.

Our responsibility is to live as worthily as we can, and plead with the Lord to prepare us to be ready for whatever assignment He has in store for us. I had the interesting privilege of being told in my patriarchal blessing what my responsibility was while on earth. I floundered around for 50 years, never knowing if I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do. It wasn’t until I was more than 50 years old that someone helped me set up a website of my own and set me on the path that led to my fulfilling in a better way the assignment I had been given by the Lord. I still don’t know if I am fully living up to what He was thinking I should do, but I’m doing all that I can based on what I know of my calling.

It has been my experience that when I ask the Lord in all honesty to lead me in a particular direction, He does. When I ask for help learning how to do a particular thing, He helps. I just need to try to learn to ask the right questions. That takes faith, trials, and errors to get it right in the end. The whole thing is meant as a growing process.

Day 2

Do you see any connections between the messages in general conference and Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians?

Ephesians 1:10 – God will “gather together in one all things in Christ.”

I will start today with a side note. We tend to look at life and the situations we encounter in mortality as the be all and end all of reality. But in reality what we see and experience each day is just a tiny part of a much larger picture. Imagine a huge panoramic photo of a mountain lake with ranges of mountains all around. There are vistas in the background that stretch as far as the eye can see. On the shore of that lake is a tiny cabin, alone and isolated. Imagine your life in that cabin. All your daily experiences would be in and around that little home, down by the lake, and in the forested area around your home. What we don’t see is that there is life happening, and has been happening, all throughout the vistas we can barely glimpse in the photo. We have no real working knowledge of all that has gone before, or of what is coming. All of our vision is focused on the here and now in our little part of the picture.

This is what mortality is like for us. God sees the whole panorama from the beginning to the end. He has a plan for all who live within this picture, and where it is all going to culminate when He is finished with it. Our job is to try to get our eyes off of today and the here and now, so we can learn from the Spirit to see more of the eternal broad picture God is looking at. Today’s lesson is about that bigger picture – what has happened elsewhere and “elsewhen” (that is my own word) and where everything is going. It is time for Him to gather all the pieces of existence he has played out in other dispensations of time and bring them all together in this one.

End of side note ūüôā

The manual uses Elder Bednar’s talk from General Conference in two places this week. I suggest you watch or listen to his comments (I’ve included the link to it). He is speaking because we were just given ministering and there were lots of questions to be answered. His overall point is that all the changes being made in the Church are not just individual conveniences, but a coming together of many changes needed to prepare us for the Savior’s return. These changes are all incremental steps to help us adjust to the lifestyle and practices the Savior requires of his people.

The scriptures listed in today’s lesson are important for you to read. As you work your way through each scripture, notice that there is a connection between what Joseph Smith received and what was promised by prophets of old. I especially liked some of the phrases and promises like that found in Doctrine and Covenants 110:11-16. Look at the wording of verse 12.

12 After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed.

I was stopped dead in my tracks when I read “that in us and our seed all generations¬†after us should be blessed” (italics added). After us? This tells me that what he was receiving was different from what other generations may have had, because from this point forward there would be blessings that weren’t then available to the people of the earth. And when you read the other scriptures listed in the manual you see that prophets from every dispensation of time (mortality) appeared to Joseph Smith and gave him keys to do things that they individually had. Now those keys were being gathered into one place, to the prophet of this dispensation. What all of the ancient prophets had in part, our prophet today has in whole. Wow!

I noticed in my reading of these scriptures that they promised that things that have remained hidden from the creation of the world would also be revealed during this dispensation. This gives us so many blessings to live by today, and so many wonders to look forward to in the years to come. As the prophets have repeatedly told us, the restoration is an ongoing process, and it will not stop until the Savior returns and personally takes the reigns to govern the earth. And even then I am pretty confident that there will be many changes, but then we will have been prepared for those changes that will bless the lives of all.

We need to remember that the changes that are taking place now are leading us up to the end of time and the beginning of eternity. When the Savior returns we will no longer be living in time as we know it now. The millennial reign will take place while the earth has been transformed into its original terrestrial form that Adam and Even originally experienced. Time, life and death, our relationship with animals and with the earth itself will all be different in the millennium. Our generation is the last of those living in what we call mortality, so our responsibility to prepare ourselves, as a people, for Christ’s coming, and the accompanying changes his coming will bring, is great.

Day 3

Do you see any connections between the messages in general conference and Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians?

Ephesians 2:19-22; 3:1-7; 4:11-16 – The Church is founded on apostles and prophets, and Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone.

If you spend much time on the Internet, whether on social media, sports, political sites, etc., you may have noticed that you have great difficulty in knowing who to trust, and what source is actually telling the whole truth and not just a version of it that suits their purposes. I have noticed that what doctors describe as the most basic, and the safest medicine for diabetes, others on social media (who are selling something else) decry as a health threat and that you are in imminent danger if you keep taking that medicine. Who is to be believed?

This pattern of speaking is found everywhere, and is in every field of study. Some claim studies show one thing, while others claim the studies show the opposite. There is almost nothing we can all agree upon or depend upon as truth any more. This is the state of confusion Satan has thrown the world into, and it will only get worse, if such a thing is possible.

Now reflect on the General Conference talks you just listened to a few days ago. The messages are clear, backed by scriptures and the words of prophets, both past and present. The things they tell us to do are simple, and often small steps to take to make our lives happier and more wholesome. If there is one thing we can be guaranteed in this life, it is that listening to and following the prophets and apostles will make our thinking more clear and our life more filled with peace. Certainty follows heeding their counsel, like the rising of the sun each day follows the night.

When was the last time you just sat and watched the wind at work in a field or wooded area? When the wind passes through it doesn’t just go in one direction in a steady stream and course. It whips around, changing its course in little ways as it moves through in one big general way. So while the wind may be traveling through from west to east, you have individual currents that form eddies, whirlwinds, and other breezes that go completely counter to the general movement of the rest of the air. You know this is true if you have ever sat near a camp fire. The smoke blows in your face, so you get up and move to another location, only to have the smoke now blow in that direction. No matter where you sit, the smoke seems to follow you. (That was just a bit of levity to lighten the mood.)

This is what Paul is referring to when he talks about being “carried about with every wind of doctrine.” The world is an unpredictable place, except that we know they are on a general downhill course. We cannot count on the world’s advice, counsel, or mandates to save us. Only the apostles and prophets can give us wholesome and absolute truths that produce the results we all crave, which are peace and tranquility in our soul.

And where do our prophets and apostles get all these wonderful bits of counsel that bring us such happiness? They get them from the scriptures and from the Spirit, who teaches them the words of Christ. Jesus is the basis and foundation of all that upholds our lives. This is why we refer to him as the chief cornerstone. It is from the chief cornerstone of a building that all other measurements and load weights are calculated and based. If the cornerstone can’t carry the weight of the required structure above it, or if it is not absolutely square, the whole building will eventually fail. That is why we also refer to Christ as our sure foundation.

Day 4

Do you see any connections between the messages in general conference and Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians?

Ephesians 5:21-6:4 – Following the Savior’s example can strengthen my family relationships.

I have learned not to get all caught up in worrying about how Paul’s society lived, as opposed to how life is today in our societies. Today we consider ourselves all as equals, though some of us are still learning the truth of that lesson. Some in each of the sexes still believe they are better and more privileged than those of the other sex. We need to look to Christ to see the perfect example of how we should all learn to see and treat each other.

I am falling in love with the example of each of us being part of the “body of Christ.” Jesus “is the saviour of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). He gave himself for the whole body, not just preferred members of the body, but for all of the body. This gives a new meaning or perspective on the statement that he is no respecter of persons. He truly views us all with equal love and respect. We all have dignity in his eyes. Do we have equal dignity for all we come in contact with?

25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

Verse 25 is the first part of the sentence, but can be considered by itself. Do we each, men and women, love our spouse such that we are willing to give our self to them with the same complete abandonment of self that Christ gave himself for the Church and for all mankind? Do we hold back and keep secrets, or do we not give our full love and devotion to our spouse, for whatever reason? This is a difficult challenge, for many of us don’t feel safe in being that vulnerable. Yet Christ was that vulnerable, knowing full well that most of us would betray him at one point or another. There really is power in fully loving someone.

Parents learn this lesson when they love their wayward child. Often that child betrays that love, abuses the parents who are sacrificing so much for their benefit, and often lies, steals, or does things deliberately to hurt them. Yet those parents who have invested all their love for that child could not do otherwise. Their love would not permit them to walk away from that child who seems bent on hurting them. Love has a way of crossing boundaries that no other emotion can. Love lifts, carries, cleanses, empowers, and supports. It is the nature of love to build, not tear down. This is why we are all safe in our Savior’s embrace.

Day 5

Do you see any connections between the messages in general conference and Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians?

Ephesians 6:10-18 – The armor of God will help protect me from evil.

To be honest with you, this whole business of putting on the separate pieces of armor never really made sense to me. It was only this time, as I sat seeking understanding that I began to see some of the connections I have always missed in the past.

We too often take Paul’s comparison of our defenses against the evils of Satan and the world literally, so we dress up our children in fake suits of armor and parade them around, but are no closer to really understanding what Paul is talking about. Please forgive me if I give offense. None is intended. The following is just how I am coming to understand his words. Please bear with me. Hopefully, some of what I say will help you like I feel I have been helped.

11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Note that the purpose of the armor of God is that we can stand up against the wiles, machinations, and cunning of the devil.

12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The attacks against us are not physical, but spiritual and emotion in nature. There are people who have influence in the world and who are fully indoctrinated in the ways of the world, and who want to teach us to be like them. They want control of our lives and to have our complete loyalty to their causes. What they espouse and promote are against the teachings of Christ, but they have the money and power to plaster the airwaves with their ads, their philosophies, their wants, and they stand unopposed, because they rule while in this life. Only God and His apostles teach the truth that comes from Christ. These are the powers, “the spiritual wickedness in high places” we are dealing with in mortality. If we consider each of the pieces of protection Paul talks about we will find the ability to withstand the onslaught of the teachings of the world and stand strong in the defense of truth.

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

It took me a few reads of this verse to realize that the purpose of putting on the whole armor of God is so that we can stand and not fall to the teachings of the world. The protections offered by these pieces of spiritual armor will allow us to stand strong in the face of the spiritual attacks of our common adversaries.

14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

To gird one’s loins is to take the tunic that hangs down around your legs and pull it up and wrap your hips and waist area such that you are free to move without restriction. At the same time you add a little protection to that area of your body. When we wrap ourselves with truth and protect our most vital parts with righteousness, it is much more difficult to injure us in a permanent way. Righteousness is not just a concept, but an action. It is doing good in a deliberate way. When we make doing good a permanent part of our life, it is like putting on a breastplate that covers us from our heart to our bowels, and our girding of our loins helps to protect the rest of our vital parts. This makes goodness a powerful piece of our way of living.

15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

The Greek word for preparation used by Paul is found only in this one place in all the scriptures. There is a lot of debate as to what Paul was intending to say by using this word. Several of the explanations sound useful when you look up this verse in I am partial to the explanation that indicates that the word refers to equipment put on the bottom of a shoe that makes the wearer better able to stand firm in battle without slipping or sliding. The gospel of Christ is the message of peace, and those who declare that message need to be able to stand firm against the arguments and persuasions of the world when they teach the gospel, even as they teach and preach peace to the adversaries of peace.

16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

Faith is created by the action we put into our proclaimed belief. Only when we act on what we say we believe in does that belief turn into a power-generating force. By acting on our beliefs we create a barrier of protection, a shield, against doubt, disbelief, sarcasm, incredulity, and all argumentation. Each of these negative reactions to our belief can act like a fiery dart, a burning arrow that can consume our whole spiritual house. Belief without action cannot protect us from the aggressions of the evil one.

17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

In my mind the teachings of eternal salvation act like a protective helmet. God’s salvation gives us confidence to go out against our enemies with peace in our heart and strong belief that we are protected by the truths of God. And the Spirit acts like the sword, in that the word of God has always been called a two-edged sword. It cuts both directions. The word of God, the scriptures justifies the righteous at the same time it condemns the sinner. The word of God doesn’t protect the members of the Church if they do wrong. They always condemn the sinner, whether in or out of the Church. Right is right and wrong is wrong, and the scriptures never change their position on those things.

18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

Paul gives us the key to our own protection here. We are to pray to God and supplicate Him in the Spirit (I am guessing in the spirit of humility), and look to the welfare of all our fellow Saints. We should be praying for each other. It is important that we seek the Spirit in all that we do, for His responsibility is to teach us to become like Christ.

Okay, that is my take on the armor of God. I am confident that you have additional or even contradicting opinions that you should consider this week. As we all seek to come to an understanding of the word of God, the Spirit will lead us step by step to the full truth, and in that we can all agree.

FHE/Personal Study

Improving Personal Study

Let the Spirit guide your study

Some of us are easily distracted. In many instances this can be a very counter productive thing. But in other situations, being able to be distracted can be the best thing ever! When studying the gospel, being distracted is one way the Spirit can guide us to learn what we, personally, need to learn. Have you ever heard the Brethren in Conference tell us to write down what the Spirit whispers to us as they talk? They don’t expect what you write down to have anything to do with their talk, but what you need to remember for your own benefit.

The speaker may be talking about something basic, like Tithing or fasting, but suddenly you remember something that exists in your life that is only remotely connected to what is being spoken about. Immediately that thought is followed up by something just as tangentially related. Before you realize what is happening you are thinking of your relationship with some person who injured you in some way. Where did that come from? Those distractions were given to you by the Spirit to lead you to the place you most need to be right now. You have unfinished business in this part of your life that you probably need help resolving, and because you were watching Conference, the Spirit was able to help you make the leap to the topic you needed the most.

This is just one example of how the Spirit can help guide you in your gospel studies. When it comes to the Spirit, we are regularly distracted with something that we didn’t mean to be thinking about, but it is what He needs to us think about for the welfare of either our self or someone else. Being willing to follow His train of thinking is a skill that most of us take years to learn how to do, for often we don’t figure out where those thoughts came from until much later. It takes real skill to recognize them for what they are when they first come to us. We just need to be willing to be led to unknown places in our thinking. If we fight Him when he tries to steer us in another direction, chances are He will back off and leave us to ourselves. It is only when we give ourselves up to Him that He becomes truly free to direct our thoughts and feelings.

Finally, it is important that we understand that the Spirit’s “voice” to us may come in many ways. We might be suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling from the past, a feeling to do something now, or an emotion of gratitude or even a memory from the distant past. Words may come into our mind reminding us of something. Promptings to do something, or scripture references may enter our thinking. No matter what happens, it is most important that we understand that this is how the Spirit speaks to us. The visually minded might tend to “see” something. The verbally oriented could think of passages of scripture or references from a book they read. Those inclined to physical activity may suddenly desire to do something that a moment ago hadn’t entered their mind.

There are as many ways for the Spirit to speak to God’s children as there are God’s children to speak to. The important thing for each of us is to acknowledge that He does speak to us in various ways and times. How we react to His intervention in our life determines how often He will do it in the future. He is faithful in His duty to be there to instruct us, but it is our commandment to receive Him. The first step is to learn to recognize when He is there for us to receive Him. Only then can we become faithful followers of His instructions.

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NT41-2023 – For the Perfecting of the Saints