Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gospel Principles #1 - Our Heavenly Father (TBM version)

Since I no longer serve as a Relief Society teacher in my ward, I'm going to start retroactively examining lessons that I taught in the past. I'll start at the beginning with my first lesson from the Gospel Principles manual.

This blog entry will examine how I taught this lesson originally in church. I'll post the "NOM Version" of this lesson in a few days. At the time I originally taught this lesson, I was a fully believing church member. My crisis of faith began about two months after teaching this lesson.

For reference, see Our Heavenly Father in the Gospel Principles manual.

Who is God?
I started the lesson by talking about how when my husband served his mission in Japan, he struggled to teach with the old-school missionary discussions because the first discussion operates on the assumption that you are already familiar with the Christian concept of God. For most Japanese people, their concept of God is so different from our own that it was difficult to even fathom what the missionaries were talking about. I then asked the sisters how they would explain the concept of God to someone who had never heard of him before---someone who has absolutely no concept of God. I listed the sister's responses on the boards. (I don't remember what they were any more.)

We then read the following paragraph from page 5 of the manual:
The prophets have taught us that God is the Almighty Ruler of the universe. God dwells in heaven (see D&C 20:17). Through His Son, Jesus Christ, He created the heavens and the earth and all things that are in them (see 3 Nephi 9:15; Moses 2:1). He made the moon, the stars, and the sun. He organized this world and gave it form, motion, and life. He filled the air and the water with living things. He covered the hills and plains with all kinds of animal life. He gave us day and night, summer and winter, seedtime and harvest. He made man in His own image to be a ruler over His other creations (see Genesis 1:26–27).

I emphasized that God is the creator and that Jesus Christ created the world under God's direction.

God is Our Spiritual Father
We then read the following passage from page 5 of the manual:
God is the Supreme and Absolute Being in whom we believe and whom we worship. He is “the Great Parent of the universe,” and He “looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 39).

I reiterated that God is our Father. Because he created our spirits, he is our spiritual father in heaven.

I then had a few people in the class read Moses 1:27-33, 37. You can read it on your own if you want to, but it's basically God speaking to Moses saying that he created worlds without number, but "The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine." I talked about how there are so many people that they are numberless like the sands of the sea, but God knows each one individually and cares about them. That says a lot about our relationship to him.

God Has a Body of Flesh and Bones
We then read from page 6 of the manual:
Because we are made in His image (see Moses 2:26; 6:9), we know that our bodies are like His body. His eternal spirit is housed in a tangible body of flesh and bones (see D&C 130:22). God’s body, however, is perfected and glorified, with a glory beyond all description.
To add a little bit of humor to the lesson, I talked about how the first time I learned this principle was when I watched the Cecil B. DeMille movie The Ten Commandments and my parents took me aside to tell me that God actually has a physical body that resembles a human's---not like the pillar of fire depicted in the movie.

I then said to the class: "So, this is something that puzzles me. The doctrine that God has a human body is unique to our church. Joseph Smith learned this from the First Vision and we emphasize it heavily in our church. Why does it matter that God has a tangible body? Assuming he could still love, guide, and protect you without a body, what difference would it make if he were only spirit?"

I used the sister's responses to have a discussion about it. I don't remember what was said, but I have in my notes that one point I wanted to bring out was that it tells us about God's past and about what we each have the potential to become.

God is the Source of Everything Good
We then read from page 6 of the manual:
God is perfect. He is a God of righteousness, with attributes such as love, mercy, charity, truth, power, faith, knowledge, and judgment. He has all power. He knows all things. He is full of goodness.

All good things come from God. Everything that He does is to help His children become like Him. He has said, “Behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39)
I had the sister's pick out the key words from that passage that told us about God's attributes and we listed them on the board: perfect, righteous, all-knowing, the source of everything good, etc. Once those were listed on the board, I talked about how these attributes were the reason why we worship God and also why we desperately need God's guidance in our lives.

Coming to Know and Love God
The final section of the lesson talks about the importance of coming to know God. We read from page 6 of the manual:
Knowing God is so important that the Savior said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

The first and greatest commandment is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Matthew 22:37).
The more we know God, the more we love Him and keep His commandments (see 1 John 2:3–5). By keeping His commandments we can become like Him.
I then said: "So, we need to know God better in order to become more like him and to learn how to love him. It's probably safe to assume that all of us in this room do believe in God. I want you to reflect for a minute on why you believe in God. What experiences have shaped your testimony of our Heavenly Father? What methods have you used that are helpful for drawing you closer to Heavenly Father?"

I just let the sister's share their experiences for the remainder of the lesson, building on what they said to bring out the four suggestions given by the lesson about how to come to know God:
  1. Believe that he exists and that he loves us
  2. Study the scriptures
  3. Pray to him
  4. Obey all his commandments
For #3, I had a note to myself to read this from the Bible Dictionary: “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”

I had also written my own ideas for how to come closer to God:  writing a journal, being a parent, giving service, putting our wills on His altar, removing anything from our lives that can distract us from God.

I then bore my testimony and concluded. Pretty standard stuff. I seem to recall that it went well.

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