Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Contrasting Zacharias and Mary

As I read in the first chapter of Luke, I noticed some interesting parallels in the two angelic visits made by Gabriel in that chapter. First, he visits Zacharias, telling him that his wife, Elisabeth, shall conceive. Zacharias responds by asking "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years." And because he "believes not" the words of Gabriel, he is struck with dumbness until the miraculous birth of his son.
Gabriel then makes a visit to Mary, telling her that she, like her cousin Elisabeth, shall also conceive. Both children have special missions to fulfill. After Gabriel's declaration, Mary also has questions. She asks, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" Then, rather than losing one of her five senses, she actually gets an answer, as Gabriel explains that she will be with child of the Holy Ghost; he ends the explanation by teaching that, "with God nothing shall be impossible."
Why does Gabriel respond so differently to each of their queries? Why wasn't Mary struck dumb? I would love to be able to go back to the Greek translation of the Bible to see what syntactical similarities the two questions have. From looking at the English version, there do seem to be subtle differences in what Zacharias and Mary are asking. Zacharias seems to be saying, "How can I believe this when the evidence before me (my wife's and my age) so strongly opposes it?" He focuses on satisfying his own mental insecurities. Mary, however, seems to be asking, "In what way will this miracle be brought to pass? for I know it must be a miracle, since I've not known a man." She has already accepted that the miracle will take place; now she's just interested in how, and so Gabriel gladly teaches her. Zacharias' heart, however, needed to overcome its disbelief before he could hope to learn about the workings of God. We must have faith before we can learn.
This was just one reason I thought of for the different reactions to what, on the surface, appear to be the same questions. I'm interested to hear what other people think about this and would love to hear anyone else's insights!

"Wise as Serpents and Harmless as Doves"

This past weekend, I hiked Mt. Timpanogas with a bunch of my college friends. As we trudged up the trail, one of my friends and I started having a discussion about the history of rhetoric and how rhetoric is viewed today (yes, we are both English majors, and yes, we are both nerds about it). We thought it was interesting that the term "rhetoric" often comes attached with a negative stigma: if anyone is using rhetorical skills, it must be because they are trying to persuade you to do something wrong. We realized, however, that there are many situations when you can use skills of persuasion to help someone make right decisions. Nephi, a Book of Mormon prophet, uses the phrase, "and that I might more fully persuade" and Ammon, another prophet, uses strategem to direct his conversion conversation with King Lamoni.
I was thinking about the proper use of rhetoric in sharing the gospel when I read Matthew 10:16 where Jesus commands his disciples to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves." I thought it correlated really well with what my friend and I had been discussing on our hike. We can purposely tailor our gospel sharing for specific people and ponder on what methods of sharing might be the most effective for them- this would be where we are "wise as serpents." But even as we formulate plans, we remember that we are doing so out of love and that we are only persuading because we believe that what we are sharing is the truth and can help our friends- this is how we are "harmless as doves."
I was feeling pretty smug as I thought about this connection- then I read verse 19 where Christ says, "take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak." So much for planning ahead, right? But then I looked at the context more carefully. Christ was speaking specifically of moments when his disciples would be brought before governors and kings, "for a testimony against them" (vs. 18). I realized that there is a difference between gently persuading people who are genuinely seeking for the truth and boldly testifying against those who are challenging the truth. On my mission, when I encounter people who are are simply looking for a chance to argue, rather than trying to fruitlessly persuade them, it is better for me to simply bear my testimony as directed by the Spirit. No one can legitimately challenge my words of "I know this is true." On the other hand, when I am working with investigators who are earnestly searching, the Spirit can direct me in my preparation before I teach them, as well as during the actual teaching, and I can pick methods of teaching specific to my investigators. Knowing the difference between the two situations will be something where, again, the Holy Spirit will direct me.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"A Labourer into his Harvest"

Just two days ago, I received my mission call to serve in the Norway Oslo mission. I report to the Missionary Training Center early in December and then after about 2 months of training in the Norwegian language and gospel study, I will travel to Norway where I will stay for 16 more months sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
In Matthew 9:36-38, Jesus feels compassion for a multitude of people "because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." He then speaks to the disciples, in what I read as a not-so-subtle suggestion: "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest." The next chapter continues with Jesus giving his disciples a list of missionary dos and don'ts. One of my favorites comes in verse 8: "freely ye have received, freely give."
Whenever my family gets ready to leave the house, my mother often looks despairingly at my youngest sister who, no matter what care or time my mother expends in making her look presentable, always seems to be able to undo my mother's efforts. "She looks like an orphan child," Mom will sigh. "But she's really not! I take such good care of her, and no one can even tell." I wonder if my mother's sentiments echo something of what Christ felt as he looked at the multitudes of his time, "scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." Because the truth is, they do have a shepherd, one who loves them very much. They do have a Father, just as all of us do now; however, there are many people who don't know about the shepherd because they don't know where to find Him, or even worse, they don't even know that they can be looking! My calling as a missionary is to introduce people to the Good Shepherd, to help them find what they've had all along. I have received so much of the Lord, and by giving of what I've received, not only will my own faith in Jesus increase but others will have the resources to begin their own quest of faith.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Here's my first blog ever. I decided to name it Steph's Steps because it seems like that is what I am continually doing-- stepping from one thing to another (even creating this blog is a big step for me into the technological world!). I'm trying to focus more on the process that is life so that I can better enjoy each step as it comes to me, instead of wishing that I could just bound ahead.
I'm especially excited to be sharing ideas about Jesus Christ, my Savior, and how accepting Him as such means that I try to take steps everyday to come closer to Him and to be closer to what He is.