Alright, let’s acknowledge the obvious before we go any further. None of us have done this before. Not me. Not you. Clearly… I am no expert in teaching the Come, Follow Me manual to my children. In fact, I am writing this before the new year. I haven’t sat down with my family to teach any of these lessons yet. I have no idea how they will be received, what we will pause on, skip, or have time for. I have no way of anticipating what questions my kids will have or how I will answer them.
But! I have read the lesson I will write about here several times. I have asked the Lord to guide me in this process. I have had some impressions as to what might help my children better understand these concepts. And I am looking forward to sharing them with you. I hope you will share your ideas with me and other readers in the comments, so we can grow and progress together in this journey of becoming a home-centered gospel teaching people.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I think a couple preparatory steps will always be helpful, no matter what lesson you are teaching.
- Pray for inspiration as you consider and read the lesson. Pray to know what your family needs and encourage them to come with open hearts, scriptures in hand, ready to learn.
- Read the lesson, including the scripture sections, and write down your thoughts or impressions. Highlight the parts you want to make sure you focus on with your family. As with any lesson, you won’t get to everything. Pick and choose what you feel is important.
- Decide when you will study together. Our family has decided to study 15 minutes every school morning at 7AM before our junior high daughter leaves and 30-60 minutes each Sunday before our church services at noon.
We are Responsible for Our Own Learning
Last night our family did discuss part of the first lesson titled, “We are Responsible for our own Learning.” I asked each of my children to decide what they want to get out of our family study time this year. These were some of their answers: “To understand how Jesus treated others so I can treat others the way He did.” “To better understand the Atonement.” “To understand the second coming of Jesus.” “To get to know the scriptures better.”
In all teaching of children, I find concepts are better received when children have time to reflect on a question and take turns giving their individual answers. At our recent stake conference, Elder Richard N. Holzapfel encouraged us to meet with our children and discuss how they want to make family study work. He said,
“We must adapt our teaching at home to meet the needs of our family. We don’t want this new teaching to become a barrier that increases strife. We must invite our children to buy-in and give input as to how they want it to work.”
We have had some discussions about this, but I’m going to bet that this principle of getting “buy-in” and valuing our children’s input, will be ongoing.
Per prompting from the manual, I also asked our kids to think of someone they know who has not lost their faith even though they have been through very difficult things. Each child thought of someone different. It was beautiful to hear their answers. The manual then offered this line of explanation,
“What you may not see are their diligent efforts to strengthen their testimonies and truth.”
We talked about how these individuals, even in the face of great sorrow, loss, and discouragement, still knelt morning and night to stay connected to their Heavenly Father. Each day they opened the scriptures. Each day they chose to turn towards God and not away from Him. This was the most powerful moment of our conversation.
Each of us, parent, child, or individual, is responsible for what we learn. It is up to us how diligent we will be in studying the gospel. It is our choice how open we will make our hearts to this monumental and prophetic change the Lord has made to teaching in the church.
Now, let’s jump into Luke 2; Matthew 2.
That First Christmas
I love that we are beginning with the New Testament. The stories and images of that first Christmas are still swirling in our minds and hearts. It is easy right now to think of the babe in the manger, Mary holding him close, Joseph’s protecting arm around them both, the shepherds in their fields, the sky full of angels, and the wisemen coming from the east.
The first section has a lovely paragraph that introduces us to Jesus Christ. It is worth reading aloud:
“From the day of His birth, it was clear that Jesus was no ordinary child. It wasn’t just the new star in the heavens or the joyous angelic proclamation that made Jesus’ infancy unique. It was also the fact that such a variety of faithful people — from different nations, professions, and backgrounds — felt immediately drawn to Him. Even before He uttered His invitation to ‘come, follow me,’ they came.”
Question: How many of these individuals can you name that came to see Jesus as a newborn?
The lesson points out that not everyone came to Him, of course. There were many who paid Him no notice. Even a jealous ruler sought His life. But the humble, pure, devoted seekers of righteousness found what they were seeking in Him.
Question: Which do you want to be? A skeptic and an unbeliever? Or a seeker and believer?
Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. As you read these verses, ask your family to try
and find a detail they haven’t noticed before.
I find it quite something that Heavenly Father chose to hide his Greatest Gift in the most humble of packages. In the hay of a crude manger, next to the warm cheeks of a virgin mother.
I like to use photos or art images when teaching my children. At the top of the page is a photo of the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. We know it is likely that Jesus may have been born in a cave-like dwelling, where animals were typically kept. Not the traditional barn-like structure we see in paintings or nativity sets.
Above the grotto is a very ornate church but down in the grotto, a very different, more reverent feeling presides. I had a powerful spiritual experience here when I was in my early twenties that taught me many things about our Savior. I could see, in my mind’s eye, the holy family on that sacred night of Jesus’ birth. I thought I could hear their hushed voices and feel what I would have felt had I come to worship Him.
President Harold B. Lee said upon visiting the grotto, “There seemed to be in this place a kind of spiritual assurance that this was indeed a hallowed spot.”
Here are two of my favorite artist renditions of the Nativity you could use for teaching and discussion:
Nativity by Brian Kershisnik. Note Joseph’s face. The two women washing cloths. Maybe they helped with the delivery? Mary, nursing her hungry baby boy. The angels pressing in on the scene, crowding each other, falling over each other, to see. Angels of every age and size, babies in arms, hands reaching. And it is the dog with her baby puppies, who notices the angels above.
Art teaches amazing things when you stop to look, examine, and let the Holy Ghost whisper truths to you.
Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622. I love the faces of the shepherds in this less contemporary piece. You could ask your children what they see in the painting. What do they notice? What do they think the shepherds are doing, thinking, or feeling?
Question: What do we learn about the Savior when we consider the humble circumstances of his birth?
Luke 2: 8-38; Matthew 2: 1-12
The birth and infancy of Jesus Christ were marked by witnesses and worshippers from many walks of life. Witnessing is an important concept to discuss. Witnessing in a court of law proves a story true. One eye witness, if credible enough, can convict someone of a crime. For one of the greatest events of human history, God ensured that there were many witnesses — humble shepherds, wealthy wisemen, a widow who served in the temple, and a faithful disciple.
The manual offers scriptures in which you can explore their stories.
Writing Activity: As you read these stories, have your family write down what they learn about how these individuals worshipped and witnessed of Christ. If your children can’t write, you can write a list for everyone to see or just discuss the observations. If you are alone, take time to write your observations in a study journal. The ways these individuals witnessed and worshipped teach us of the devotion we can have for Jesus and the message of the Savior we too can share with others.
I have been thinking about how the angel said to the shepherds (and many others in scripture) “Fear not.” Our former Bishop said in sacrament meeting recently that the phrase, “Fear not,” can also be interpreted as “Hear this with faith.” Faith is the opposite of fear, right? When the shepherds heard the news of the Messiah’s birth, they said, “Let us now go… [and they] came with haste.” They went immediately. They hurried to follow the injunction given to them by a messenger from God.
Question: How quickly do we hasten to the Savior?
Our ward’s theme for 2019 is “Rush unto Christ.” I love the image our Bishop chose for a bookmark they handed out. It is The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection by Eugene Burnand, 1898.
Our current Bishop, Sean O’Brien wrote this about the painting:
“In this moment, John and Peter begin to grasp the truth of Christ’s resurrection. We are moved by their haste, their faces, hands and tears as they embrace the news — the tomb is empty. Let us, also, rush unto the Living Christ and hasten to obey Him.”
A beautiful thought or theme to implement in our lives.
I also discovered this amazing new TV series trying to get off the ground called The Chosen. It is created by director Dallas Jenkins through Vid Angel. Their pilot episode is called, “The Shepherd” and it’s about 23 minutes long. I showed it to my kids and they loved it. It’s an effort to put together a TV series about the people the Lord interacted with during His lifetime. An attempt to portray those who were touched by His influence as human — just like you and me — sinners with real struggles and sorrows. I thought the first episode was beautifully done. You can view it here.
Here are two other lds bible videos you could use:
As you read the story of the wisemen in Matthew 2, you could retell the story of “The Other Wiseman” by Henry Van Dyke. If you haven’t read this gem of a book, it’s a must-add to your library.
It’s a wonderful book to read aloud to your family. It is the fictional story of Artaban, a fourth wiseman who never makes it to see the Christ child. Along his journey, he ends up giving away all the precious things he had set aside to give the Savior. Individuals cross his path that he realizes could use the gifts, so he gives them away. He selflessly gives all he has until his life is literally spent in the service of others — never making it to see the Christ. It teaches so powerfully the Lord’s lesson from Matthew 25, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Matthew 2: 13-23
This section is about how parents can receive revelation to protect their families. These scriptures are about Joseph, how he never could have done what he was asked to do — protect Jesus in His childhood — without heaven’s help. He received a revelation that warned him of danger.
Question: Think about times when you have felt God’s guidance or protection for you or your loved ones.
This would be a good time to share an experience you’ve had as a parent in feeling God’s protection.
I think our children need to hear how wonderful it is to be parents, and how important it is to have children in today’s world, how there is an enormous need to value family. They need to know that God will absolutely aide parents in their efforts to raise families devoted to the gospel. They do not have to worry about bringing children into a difficult or wicked world. I know I worry about how the world will be when my grandchildren are born, but we must teach our children to trust God. To trust that He will not leave them without protection and guidance and that He will bless their efforts to raise children and teach them about Jesus Christ.
You can also talk at this point about how revelation works. That it can come in various forms. Dreams, visions, impressions, thoughts, words that come into your mind, feelings.
Question: Can you share with us a time you felt you received personal revelation?
This video below illustrates how Joseph might have felt about his duty to protect Jesus. The First Christmas Spirit
Luke 2: 40-52
Even as a youth, Jesus was focused on doing His Father’s will. These verses relate the story of Jesus leaving his parents to teach in the temple, which he did for several days until they found him. In Luke 2:47 we read the verse about the men in the temple being astonished by Jesus’ “understanding and answers.” This is an important verse to clarify using the Joseph Smith Translation.
Joseph Smith Translation
This may be a good time to introduce your children to the JST and how this inspired translation works. Teach them how to look at the footnotes and find the italicized writing. Teach them to look for differences and words that are changed. Have each child notice one thing that is different. It would also be good to turn with them to the JST Bible translation in the back of the Bible.
The Father’s Business
When reading Luke 2:49, cross reference to Moses 1:39 for a better understanding of our Heavenly Father’s business. The manual recommends sharing stories that demonstrate how youth you know are about their father’s business, doing good, living and preaching the gospel.
Be a Doer – Take Action
I think there is great power in teaching our families the principle of action as found in James 1:22: “Be ye doers of the word, not hearers only.”
With each lesson our family will try to come up with a “Doer of the Word” Challenge we can accomplish. Some ideas I have considered for this lesson are:
— find a way to witness of the Savior this week – on social media, with a friend, in a church class, or simply to your family
— come up with a service to give to someone in need and re-read the Lord’s teachings in Matthew 25
— memorize Luke 2:52 – “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Then set a personal goal in each of these areas. Write them down in your journal and re-visit them throughout the year.
And those are the helps I have to offer, my friends. Please feel free to share any ideas or insights you have had in the comments.
Remember Cleopas in Luke 24? When Jesus opened the scriptures to Cleopas and his companion (who maybe have been his wife) their hearts burned. If we are gentle with this new teaching endeavor, if we follow the Holy Ghost and do our teaching with love and patience, I believe, (and boy do I hope) these lessons will transform our homes. My family needs more love, more kindness, more discipline of emotion and behavior. So I am trusting in the promises President Nelson made to us. I believe if we do this in the right spirit, our hearts will burn and we will recognize the Savior at work in our individual lives and in our families.