We Are Responsible for Our Own Learning
by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson December 26-January 1: We Are Responsible for Our Own Learning
When I was on my mission in the Great Lakes (Michigan and Indiana; 1967-1969), our mission president’s wife, Sister Berg, was in charge of our gospel study program. She promised us that if we followed the program as outlined, we would be among the top 1% of Church members when we returned from our missions in our understanding of the gospel. Also, when I was in the Old Mission Training Center in SLC – where the Conference Center now stands – Elder Bruce R. McConkie told us that we needed to read the Book of Mormon at least twelve times before we would begin to fully understand it.
I took both of those challenges to heart – even though I was not a very good reader and read very slowly. I read the scriptures as often as I possibly could. If it was not my turn to cook, I read while my companion was making breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I read from the time I awoke until it was time for companion study. When we came home at night, I read right up until the time for lights out. During my mission, I read the New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price six times each. I only read the Old Testament twice.
I had been to BYU one year before going on my mission and I had not learned to study in High School – I didn’t need to very much. I was a Chemistry major at BYU and my first year was a disaster. I finished with a 1.87 GPA and was still on academic probation when I returned as a sophomore. Thanks to what I had learned on my mission, I was able to pull a 180 and had nearly a 4.0 the rest of my school career. I say “nearly” because I was more interested in prowling the library stocks for the latest scientific papers than studying for exams. My mission saved my academic life and my future career – I ultimately graduated with a PhD in Anatomy from the University of Pennsylvania. I still love to spend hours in the scriptures. I have lost track of how many times I’ve read them – somewhere over twenty five times – except that the Old Testament is still lagging behind. However, I loved the Come Follow Me lessons for last year and writing my blogs, which allowed me to dive more deeply into that wonderful old book.
I usually avoid quoting from the actual Come Follow Me program as that material is readily available through the Church website and other sources. However, I will make an exception here and quote from Elder Bednar’s 2019 article as reported in the Come Follow Me lesson, “Elder David A. Bednar taught: ‘We should not expect the Church as an organization to teach or tell us everything we need to know and do to become devoted disciples and endure valiantly to the end. Rather, our personal responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become who the Master would have us become. And our homes are the ultimate setting for learning, living, and becoming’ (“Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2019, 102).”
I love Sunday School, and if I were in charge, we would have Sunday School for two hours every Sunday and then a two-hour fireside every Sunday night. That’s one of the many reasons why I’m not in charge.
I love our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. I was thrilled at the revelatory messages he gave in the first General Conference after becoming our new president: Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives, April General Conference, Sunday, April 1, 2018. He stated, “One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will. The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children… Imagine the miracle of it! Whatever our Church calling, we can pray to our Heavenly Father and receive guidance and direction, be warned about dangers and distractions, and be enabled to accomplish things we simply could not do on our own. If we will truly receive the Holy Ghost and learn to discern and understand His promptings, we will be guided in matters large and small…I know that good inspiration is based upon good information…Brothers and sisters, how can we become the men and women—the Christlike servants—the Lord needs us to be? How can we find answers to questions that perplex us? If Joseph Smith’s transcendent experience in the Sacred Grove teaches us anything, it is that the heavens are open and that God speaks to His children… In like manner, what will your seeking open for you? What wisdom do you lack? What do you feel an urgent need to know or understand? Follow the example of the Prophet Joseph. Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort…Does God really want to speak to you? Yes! …I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation… Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know…I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow. That is what personal revelation will do for you…Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory…My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. Let this Easter Sunday be a defining moment in your life. Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly.”
Three months later, 6 July 2018, the Church announced the new Come, Follow Me for Home, Sunday School, and Primary. This new program was released early enough for us to get used to it in time for the 11 March 2020 announcement that there would be no in-person attendance at General Conference, and the 12 March 2020 announcement that there would be no in-person attendance at Church meetings because of COVID.
Six months after the Come Follow Me announcement, at a meeting in Concepcion, Chile, 30 October 2018, President Nelson made this, now oft quoted, statement, “We're witnesses to a process of restoration…If you think the Church has been fully restored, you're just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come…Wait till next year. And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It's going to be exciting.” (News Release: Latter-day Saint Prophet, Wife and Apostle Share Insights of Global Ministry; churchofjesuschrist.org/article/latter-day-saint-prophet-wife-apostle-share-insights-global-ministry)
This year is going to be a bit more of a challenge for me to find the science buried within each part of the New Testament. First of all, the Old Testament covers roughly four thousand years (not counting the billions of years of the creation: Genesis 1 and 2), from Adam down to Malachi, whereas the gospels cover only about three years (excluding Matthew 1 and Luke 3, around 1800 years and 4000 years respectively), plus another fifty years or so for the letters. As a result, there is a lot of archaeology pertaining to the Old Testament Story and nowhere nearly as much for the New Testament.
Furthermore, there are 1184 pages in the Old Testament, compared to only 406 pages in the New Testament, so I will have to find more scientific issues in about one third the material. As I have not yet written most of my New Testament blogs, it will be interesting to determine what I will say. We’ll all have to just wait and see – and pray for divine guidance.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD