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Cover image: “Woman at the Well” by Dan Burr.
How is studying going for all of you? I hope it is turning out to be a blessing for each of you and your families. Doug and I have tackled three family lessons so far. I love the studying part. I love being in Jesus’ life and in His words. I love keeping Him on my mind more often. As for the teaching part, I thought I’d share with you my observations:
- I prepare a lot. And… we get to some of it. But that’s ok. I think Saydi’s thoughts on how to assess your family’s needs then teach to those needs is brilliant. We can prayerfully select discussion items we think our children will respond well to. Read more here. I’ve also been reminded (rather painfully) that teacher and student both have responsibilities. We can be ready and spiritually in a good place before we start teaching and still have things “flop” per say, if our kids aren’t open, listening, or one of our twin boys continues to run his “I’m awesome! Look at Me! Sideshow.” But however it goes, it goes. And as a parent, it’s important that we go gently into that living room. In time, I believe we will settle into these study sessions, expectations will be better met, truths will filter in, and bottom line: we will be blessed for trying.
- Shaking it up Helps. We’ve been doing our study in the living room, but this week we will try sitting at the dining room table. Changing locations, changing approaches (or tools – as Saydi calls them), keeps things fresh and helps kids stay engaged. On Sunday, one of my friends played some music that related to the lesson themes and listened to the talk Saydi had linked to in her article. That was it. Our youngest two have been drawing pictures of what we are talking about and our oldest have been bringing study journals so they can write down impressions they have. When Elder Cook spoke in conference, he warned us to not look past the mark and become regimented. Flexibility is good and shaking it up can help.
- I trust the words of our Prophet. In his last talk during October General Conference, President Nelson said:
“You have the potential to unleash the power of families. As you work to remodel your home into a center of gospel learning, your sabbath days will be a delight, your children will be excited to live and learn the savior’s teachings, and the influence of the adversary in your life and your home will decrease. Changes will be dramatic and sustaining.”
- I like context, history, and modern revelation. When preparing to teach, I find a lot of joy and satisfaction in understanding the historical context of what I am teaching. It helps me to better explain things to my children on weekdays and when we have our lesson time. So here are some study guides and helps I’ve been using that I thought you might appreciate.
1. First, if you haven’t discovered Scot and Maurine’s weekly podcast about the current Come Follow Me lesson, you’ve got to listen! It’s like attending a good institute class once a week. They’ve spent so much time in the Holy Land, studied the history of the meridian church and the life of the Savior so deeply, you don’t want to miss what they have to say. You can find them on iTunes if you search Meridian Magazine. Or you can listen on the website. Just click on the nav bar where it says “Come Follow Me.”
2. My favorite New Testament commentaries are The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ by Richard Hozapfel and Thomas Wayment. We are currently using Volume One – From Bethlehem through the Sermon on the Mount. Each book contains chapters written by a number of LDS scholars that include information about the historical setting, and how ancient scripture has been illuminated by modern revelation and research.
3. I’ve also liked using Verse by Verse – The Four Gospels by Kelly Ogden and Andrew Skinner. It’s very comprehensive and gives insight to the interpretation of certain verses via maps, photos, drawings, charts, commentary, and other study helps. It is an easy, quick reference.
4. I just purchased The New Testament Study Guide by Thomas Valetta. It was published this year. It is also slick to use and includes the original gospel texts in the middle of the page, with blue columns of information on the periphery of the pages that answer specific questions about different passages of scripture. I had to laugh that the front of the book advertises it as “portable.” It’s over 1000 pages, very substantial and quite heavy. These days, “portable” means on your kindle or ipad, right? But! You can find it at Deseret Book or on Amazon.
5. Lastly, my friend bought this book and is loving it. A New Approach to Studying The Gospel of Jesus Christ by the Rosenvalls. It has harmonized the four gospels by topic and event (which is how Come Follow Me is also organized.) She particularly loves it because it tells you who is speaking or writing each verse, and it has lots of large margins for marking and writing notes. There is no commentary, just extra scriptures at the bottom of the page for reference and further study. It is available at Deseret Book and on Amazon.
Ok! On to the lesson for this week.
These chapters have such marvelous, beautiful moments, as the Savior begins his public ministry. His first miracle in Cana; His teachings while speaking with Nicodemus; His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
Here are some scripture phrases you could post around your house, for your children to consider during the week:
“Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” – John 2:5
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” – John 3:16
“He must increase and I must decrease.” – John 3:30
“Whosever drinketh of the water the I give him shall never thirst.” – John 4:14
The Readheaded Hostess, a former seminary teacher, has some gorgeous scripture printables you can buy if you click on her link for Weekly Scripture Kits. Her cost is $10 per month. Her kits are pretty amazing and fun, especially for younger children. You can also follow her for other ideas on Instagram @readheadedhostess.
John 2: 1-11 – The First Miracle
These verses contain what we often call the Savior’s First Miracle. But I think it’s important to realize it wasn’t His first miracle. The first was His creation of the earth. How fitting that this first miracle attests to His role as Creator as He commands the elements and changes water into wine.
It is possible that this could have been a marriage feast for one of Jesus’ siblings, since the issue of not having enough wine was brought to Jesus’ mother. We do not know for sure, but it is most likely that Jesus himself would have been married at this point. Only because marriage was such an important part of Jewish custom and culture. By his thirties, Jesus would have been long past the traditional age of marriage.
In the Chapters of the Fathers, Jewish ethical literature composed of rabbinical teachings passed down from the time of Moses, we find this statement about Jewish culture:
“At five years old one is ready for the scripture, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for the commandments, at fifteen for Talmud, at eighteen for marriage, at twenty for pursuit of righteousness, at thirty for full strength” (Pirke Aboth, V:24).
That phrase “full strength” is also interesting as we see Jesus, a Rabbi, the Master Teacher formally beginning the strength of His ministry in these verses.
Question for Discussion: If Christ can change water to wine, how can He change you?
Read Alma 5: 7 (“HE changed their hearts. “ You could continue through chapter 5 if you wish to point out other verses from Alma’s sermon about a mighty change of heart.)
I think it’s also helpful to note that miracles are to manifest divine power, to manifest the glory of God, as Jesus said when raising Lazarus (John 11). Miracles do not create faith, but they can help to increase it.
Share: Tell the story of a miracle you witnessed or invite your children to retell a miracle they know of in your own family.
It is our responsibility as humans, to always do everything that we can to make something work and be successful. Once we have done all we can, we can have faith that God will step in to assist us. But it’s important earlier in the process to ask and petition for His help, to call on Him, and even suggest a solution when we see a problem arising.
Read DC 9:8 for a cross reference.
Video: Jesus Turns Water into Wine
John 3: 1-21 – Born Again
Nicodemus was a Jew with a Greek name. He was also a member of the Sanhedrin – the supreme religious body over Israel. He was an honest seeker of truth. Later he speaks in defense of the Savior to the chief priests and Pharisees, and is ridiculed for it (John 7). And after the Savior’s crucifixion, he assists Joseph of Arimathea in burying the Lord’s body (John 19).
I love this impressionist depiction of Jesus with Nicodemus by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Tanner was an African American painter who moved to Paris in 1891 to study, then lived out the rest of his career in Paris.
As we learned so profoundly in John 1, the apostle John often casts his account of Jesus’ teachings in a contrast of light and darkness. Nicodemus went to Jesus in the dark — both physically and spiritually. Then he was enlightened by The Light of the World. Coming to the Savior at night, has caused some to depict Nicodemus as cowardly, but he could have come to visit at a time when their were less crowds around Jesus. Or maybe he was responding to a spiritual stirring, his own change of heart.
Questions for discussion: What does it mean to be born again? You were born once. Have you been born again? How does baptism play a role in this? Is this a once and done kind of thing? Or a journey? What is baptism by water and by spirit?
Elder Christofferson, as a newly called Apostle in April 2008 , taught that this is a process, not an event. He spoke of a good man, a retired evangelical minister who came to his home in Tennessee, out of welfare and concern for Elder Christofferson. He wanted him to be saved and born again. The two had a sweet conversation together, where both learned and grew in their love of Christ together.
Read 2 Nephi 31: 20 (“press forward with a steadfastness in Christ”)
Read John 3:8
Question for discussion: How is receiving a testimony similar to feeling the wind?
I love imagining that as Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus in the quiet of night, a wind caught their clothes and stirred a nearby tree. Jesus used so beautifully the things around Him, His creations, to teach truth. Consider how the wind is like the spirit.
President Kimball said, “We cannot measure [our testimonies]. We cannot weigh them, or tell exactly what they are made of. It’s like a breeze. We feel… it’s pleasantness and cooling, but we don’t know exactly where it came from.” (Teachings, pg. 67)
John 3:16 -17 – For God So Loved the World
Just after graduating from high school, my best friend Kara and I spent a week in Hana, Maui, with Kara’s grandparents. They owned a home in Hana that rested on lush hills above the rocky black shore. It had a large, white veranda that overlooked the ocean. It was the most peaceful place for reading and pondering. Kara’s grandfather was serving as a Seventy at the time and I will never forget how he sat us down one evening, windows wide open to the sound of the waves, the trade winds rustling his papers.
He opened his bible and began to tell us the story of Jacob and his twelve sons, the scattering of the tribes, the importance of the gathering. And then, as if to sum it all up with one overarching purpose he asked if we had memorized John 3:16. I hadn’t. I don’t remember if Kara had. But I memorized it that very night. He repeated it out loud, in perfect accuracy, and with so much feeling.
“For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth in Him… And then he said, “Now you can’t learn verse 16 without learning verse 17.” The two are inseparable. He continued on, “For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Then he said, “Those two verses are the most important verses in all of scripture.”
I have never forgotten what he taught me that night. The Father gifting His Son to the world was the key to salvation for me, for the tribes of Israel, for all of God’s children. I have also never forgotten those verses. Even now I type them easily from memory. Years ago I had my children memorize them and I have asked my primary classes to memorize them. They are powerful. The Spirit confirms them to our hearts every time we say them. They rouse inside us a feeling of gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice. And they are words we can tell ourselves when we feel discouraged, or have questions, or when we need a reminder of what is most important.
Bruce R. McConkie said of John 3:16, it is “perhaps the most famous and powerful single verse of scripture ever uttered.”
Activity: Memorize John 3:16 AND 17 as a family this week.
Listen to: Reverently and Meekly Now (Hymn #185)
This piano arrangement is by Ginger Fairbanks. I like all her arrangements. But I came to really love this hymn a few years ago after a personal experience our family had with the sacrament while visiting a ward in St. George. I wrote about it at Segullah, then the Ensign picked it up and you can find it here: “The Last Sacrament Cup.”
Reverently and Meekly Now is the only sacrament hymn in which Jesus speaks in first person. The voice we hear is His and it is so very touching to me. These words depict so tenderly the love Jesus has for us. You could consider printing these lyrics written by Joseph L. Townsend (1849-1942) and reading them before or while you listen to Ginger’s arrangement.
Read as a cross reference John’s words later in the New Testament — 1 John 4:9 : “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.”
Below is one of my favorite bible videos. So well done.
And this one shows a more comprehensive view of the Savior’s life and Atonement.
Video: For God So Loved the World
John 3: 30 – He Must Increase
This verse is not mentioned in the manual but I cannot omit mentioning the humility of these words spoken by John the Baptist to Jewish leadership. The Jews were worried about John’s gaining popularity, his growing followers, and they knew that Jesus was closely associated with him, but they were not sure to what degree. This statement by John indicates that his ministry in Judea was waning but Jesus’ ministry was gaining force dramatically. In this phrase, “He must increase and I must decrease,” we see a beautiful demonstration of humility, worship, and understanding. John knew his role as preparer for the Lord. He also knew who was to receive the attention and glory.
Question for Discussion: In what ways can we increase the Savior’s presence and prominence in our lives? In what ways can we decrease our pride and selfish tendencies?
John 4:24 – Is God a Spirit?
I had a conversation just last night with one of my daughters about the nature of God, what his physical person is like. Sometimes we assume our children understand things until, to our surprise, we learn they don’t. The JST in this verse is a necessity. As you read it, ask your children how we know God is not just a spirit? Show an image of Joseph Smith being visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ.
Activity: Don’t miss this stunning artistic collection of Interpretations of the First Vision put together by the Church History Museum. It is powerful to see so many varied pieces about this grand event in one place.
Read Genesis 5: 1-3 and D&C 130: 22-23 “The Father has a body of flesh and bone…”
John 4: 7-26 – Christ Offers Us His Living Water
Be sure to save time for this story! This is another example of the apostle John including narratives about women. Elder Ballard taught, “The first time the Lord acknowledged Himself to be the Christ, it was to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well” (Lund and Lund, Savior’s Respect for Women, p. 52).
Jesus knew He had work to do in Samaria. He purposely made his way out of Judea towards Galilee through Samaria, to Jacob’s Well. This is interesting because when Jesus initially called his apostles he counseled them not to preach to Samaritans (See Matthew 10:5). The history of the Jews and Samaritans is long and complicated. There are heated, cultural and religious reasons that over time they chose to have no dealings with each other. But it is obvious Jesus sought out his women and went intentionally to the well.
Jacob’s well, it has been agreed generally by scholars, LDS and other, is the traditional site now located in modern-day Nablus. It is still a working well but is housed inside a Greek Orthodox Church. While Jacob’s well is not mentioned in the Old Testament, we do have record of him returning to Shechem in Genesis 33, where scholars believed he pitched his tent and a well was constructed.
This is a photo of Jacob’s well pre-1900. Remnants of a crusader’s church can be seen surrounding it. Many churches have been built around and over it during past centuries.
As soon as Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink, she recognized Him as a Jew. Her response acknowledged the antipathy felt between the two groups, Jew and Samaritan. Despite her limited vision, Jesus crossed those boundaries and saw in her something much more than the land she hailed from. And he used the very daily task of drawing water to teach her, to elevate her sights, and to witness to her of his Messianic abilities and calling.
Water is a precious commodity in the desert. The people viewed water as a gift from God. They relied on wells and cisterns to collect water during rainy seasons, and ensure their survival through dry summers. What Jesus offered this woman, however, was a much more precious gift. More precious even than water. He was offering her eternal life and the opportunity spiritually to never thirst again.
Move slowly through their dialogue. It is telling and instructive. Jesus teaches her about the elements of true worship and what salvation means. The woman makes a revelatory transition from seeing Jesus as an enemy, then to a prophet, and eventually to a God, her very own Savior.
Question for discussion: What is Living Water?
Just like we need water to sustain our physical bodies, we need Christ to sustain our spiritual bodies. He is the Living Water and the scriptures contain His words. His Spirit can be found in all these holy works. It can be found in holy places, and in the teachings of modern day prophets.
Elder Bednar said of the scriptures, “The scriptures… are a reservoir of living water to which we have ready access and from which we can drink deeply and long.”
Question for discussion: How do you feel when you feel spiritually thirsty? Why do you think you feel that way? What or who helps to quench your thirst? How can we drink more often from the Living Water Christ is offering us?
My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, passed away January 17th, 2019. She wrote a poem called “Thirst” which I love. Older children and adults, maybe some very astute young ones, might appreciate what she is trying to say.
Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the hour
and the bell; grant me, in your mercy,
a little more time. Love for the earth
and love for you are having such a long
conversation in my heart. Who knows what
will finally happen or where I will be sent,
yet already I have given a great many things
away, expecting to be told to pack nothing,
except the prayers which, with this thirst,
I am slowly learning.
After this exchange with the woman at the well, many Samaritans heard the woman’s story and believed the Savior. He consented to stay two additional days and many were converted to His teachings.
This gorgeous painting is called Water of Life Discourse by Angelika Kauffmann, 17–18th century. Mostly I love the look on the woman’s face. How their eyes are locked and how Jesus is pointing heavenward. This story reminds us powerfully that Jesus was no respecter of persons. In fact, he went out of His way to find those who were considered enemies to the Jews, untouchable, undesirable, and common. Ironically, however, He teaches us no one is common. All of God’s children are of great worth and divine inheritance.
Here are two videos about the Woman at the Well. The first is an older video, but I love some of the details, like the water pot she leaves, and the arduous way she draws the water. The second is the newer LDS bible video and it’s lovely.
Video: The Woman at the Well
“Doer of the Word” Ideas
- Study John 2:5 then pray and ponder to know what it is God needs you to do this week, then do it.
- Memorize John 3:16-17 and write your thoughts about it in a study journal
- Decide on some ways you can allow for Christ to increase in your life. Like carve out extra time for temple worship, choose to offer a service somewhere in your community, minister to someone in your ward or neighborhood, set aside your own wants for someone else’s in your family, or practice “you first” throughout the week.
- Commit to a daily study from the words of Christ. Set aside a longer amount of time than usual. Let that be your Living Water for the week and note the spiritual life it brings to your days.