1) The early Saints were told over and over again to be firm, "not shaken in mind, or troubled…by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter , except ye receive it from us; (the apostles)" (2 Thes 2:1,2 JST in italics). They were warned not to be deceived. Before the second coming of the Savior, there would be a "falling away first, and that Satan would be revealed. The coming of a total Apostasy was very literal.
The prophet Amos taught that the Apostasy would be as a "famine in the land…..of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11)
Amos must have used this wording--famine-- because the people of the Old Testament should have been familiar with the stories of the plagues that the Lord used on Pharoah to free the Hebrew slaves, and then the terrible famine that afflicted the land of Canaan after Joseph had been sold into Egypt. Famine brought a very vivid picture to the mind.
I find his wording in verse 12 to be very descriptive-- "they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it." We know that during the Reformation, just prior to the Restoration, men were seeking truth and light. They knew that things just weren't right. But they didn't know where to look.
The early Saints were told that they would be persecuted "hated of all nations" (Matt 23:9) for the name of Christ. Because of this persecution, many of the Saints would be offended and they would turn on one another. (Matt 23:10). In the midst of this chaos, false prophets would step forward, deceiving many. As the light of truth began to dim, iniquity would increase and charity would fail. Even false Christs and false prophets would step forward, claiming to perform signs and wonders. This brings to mind that Satan would be revealed in the time of Apostasy.(2 Thes 2:3) These signs and wonders would serve the purpose of deceiving even the very elect (Matt 23: 10-12, 24)
Christ's true church would be built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20)
Because we know and teach of the reality of the Apostasy, we know that the gospel had to be restored and not just reformed. There was no continuous line of authority from Peter to the present. The authority and keys had been taken from the earth and could only be restored by those to whom the keys had been given by the Savior.
Conversely, Paul warns those of us living in the latter days, that yet again, some will "depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;" (1 Tim 4:1) Verse three of that same chapter is interesting in light of the morals of today "forbidding to marry". I don't know that there are those that "forbid" to marry, but reports and studies indicate that the concept of marriage is fading in popularity as couple choose to not marry, but live together because they shouldn't need a piece of paper to show their commitment.
And in verse two-- "having their conscience seared with a hot iron;" This is a very literal description of much of society today. If we are not careful we can become desensitized to right and wrong, black and white and find ourselves living in the gray area.
As Latter-day Saints, we believe in the reality of the Apostasy, and in the literal Restoration. To guard against our own personal falling away, we must keep out eye on the Prophet, and not be "shaken in mind or troubled" (2 Thes 2:1), by the teachings around us, but attend our meetings, pay attention during General Conference, read the Ensign, (2 Thes 2:2) do (our letters received from our leaders)do our home and visiting teaching to strengthen one another and look forward to the second coming of Christ with joy and faith.
2) I discussed the concept of "fertile soil" with my husband and oldest daughter. We came up with the usual points -- Scripture study, FHE, prayer, church meetings, temple attendance, serving in callings. Then as we kept discussing, my daughter suggested that having a desire to be as "fertile soil" is part of the activity. We can go through the motions, but unless we have a desire to receive, in won't matter what activities we participate in. Frank suggested that we need to be outgoing and proactive. That triggered a memory for me. When I was about 16, we lived in small ward in northern Idaho. One night, for mutual, we had a ward dance. There weren't very many youth in our ward, but the leaders helped us to mix things up. After 30 minutes or so, I was ready to go home, so I slipped away and went home. When my father came home from whatever meeting he'd had that evening, he scolded me for leaving. I explained that I wasn't having a great time, and all I did was come home. He explained that it's not always about me when attending a church activity, but that someone in attendance needs that activity, and if we all left, then the activity is a flop and the fellowshipping that needed to happen flops also. When I was 16, it sounded a bit silly, but as I've matured, I've come to see the wisdom in my father's counsel. Just two days ago, my 15-year old questioned whether or not he needed to attend mutual that night. The activity for the young men was a court of honor. He received his Eagle Scout award back in October, so--why should he have to go. I asked him to please put on his scout shirt, which is a size or two to small by now, with his Eagle adornments, and go and support those younger boys, cheer them on, and be an example. To his credit, he did exactly that, and also enjoyed a fun basketball game after the court of honor.
My goal is to be aware of sisters who are at church or RS or any activity, that might be feeling tentative about being there, and might be sitting alone, and I will make a point to visit with them and make sure they feel welcome and included. Too often, I sit and visit with my close friends and leave the fellowshipping up to someone else.