Saturday, December 31, 2016

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on stretching ourselves in personal progress

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"Our goals should stretch us bit by bit. So often when we think we have encountered a ceiling, it is really a psychological or experimental barrier that we have built ourselves. We built it and we can remove it.
"Just as correct principles, when applied, carry their own witness that they are true, so do correct personal improvement programs. But we must not expect personal improvement without pain or some 'remodeling.' We can't expect to have the thrills of revealed religion without the theology. We cannot expect to have the soul stretching without Christian service."
- Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple, pp. 33-34

We often neglect the fundamental premise of this excerpt: ongoing self-improvement. We tend to coast along in life, surviving the needs or demands as best we can, but not often focusing on improving our abilities, knowledge, habits, or personalities. Elder Maxwell encourages that we look for areas of gradual but consistent improvement ("bit by bit"), recognizing that our perceived limits in various areas are not really barriers at all. I like that challenge! But it should be remembered that change and improvement are not effortless, and sometimes are not painless:

It's also an interesting thought that "correct personal improvement programs" will "carry their own witness that they are true." We will sense, often quickly, if a course we are taking is leading in positive directions. But it requires that we embark on the course first in order to know!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on setting explicit life goals

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) served as a Seventy from 1976 to 1986, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1986 until his passing in 2008 at age 91.
"In some respects, progressing through life is like running a marathon. You young people are nearer the beginning of your earthly sojourn. You chose to come to this earth and to be tested and proved. The end may seem too far away to concern you now. But life, like a marathon, requires a good start and a strong, consistent effort all of the way to the finish.
"Marathon runners set explicit goals. You should look ahead now and decide what you want to do with your lives. Fix clearly in your mind what you want to be one year from now, five years, ten years, and beyond. Receive your patriarchal blessing and strive to live worthy of its promises. A patriarchal blessing is one of the most important guides in life that members of the Church enjoy. Write your goals and review them regularly. Keep them before you constantly, record your progress, and revise them as circumstances dictate. Your ultimate goal should be eternal life—the kind of life God lives, the greatest of all the gifts of God."
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Running Your Marathon," Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 73
Click here to read the full article

Elder Wirthlin was quite athletic in his youth, and these analogies are natural for him. He proposes the mortal experience is like a marathon race that "requires a good start and a strong, consistent effort all of the way to the finish." Elder Wirthlin lived his life that way; he truly did endure and finish strong. In order to achieve the best success in our course of life, Elder Wirthlin encourages us to start by having a clear vision of what we want to accomplish:

Even though Elder Wirthlin was addressing his remarks to youth, who have more of life ahead, the principles apply to readers of any age. The idea of 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, and longer-term goals is a good one. Not many of us actually take the time to ponder what we want to accomplish in those kinds of intervals. But Elder Wirthlin believed there was power in recording and reviewing specific goals. That will aid us in the quest for the "ultimate goal."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Elder Quentin L. Cook on goals, self-discipline, and humor

Elder Quentin L. Cook (b. 1940) was called as a Seventy in 1996, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2007.
"I encourage everyone, young and old, to review goals and objectives and strive to exercise greater discipline. Our daily conduct and choices should be consistent with our goals. We need to rise above rationalizations and distractions. It is especially important to make choices consistent with our covenants to serve Jesus Christ in righteousness (see D&C 76:5). We must not take our eyes off or drop that ball for any reason.
"This life is the time to prepare to meet God (see Alma 34:32). We are a happy, joyous people. We appreciate a good sense of humor and treasure unstructured time with friends and family. But we need to recognize that there is a seriousness of purpose that must undergird our approach to life and all our choices. Distractions and rationalizations that limit progress are harmful enough, but when they diminish faith in Jesus Christ and His Church, they are tragic."
- Quentin L. Cook, "Choose Wisely," Ensign, November 2014, pp. 46-49
Click here to read or listen to the full article

It's interesting to consider the relationship between goals and covenants, as suggested by Elder Cook. There is power in having goals to set targets for our long-term achievement, and to make sure we are focusing appropriately on those worthy objectives with the discipline reflected in our daily conduct and choices. But covenants are a type of goal; they also set standards for ongoing behavior and choices that help us stay on an established course.

In consideration of desires for long-term success in spiritual matters, Elder Cook suggests that there should be a balance between good humor and "seriousness of purpose" to define the focus of our lives:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Elder M. Russell Ballard on spiritual anchors in life's storms

Elder M. Russell Ballard (born October 8, 1928) was called as a Seventy in 1976, and has served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles since 1985.
"Just as ships need anchors to keep them from drifting away on the open seas, people need spiritual anchors in their lives if they are to remain steadfast and not drift into the sea of temptation and sin. Faith in God and in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the main anchor we must have in our lives to hold us fast during times of social turbulence and wickedness that seem to be everywhere today. This faith must be more than that of the generic dictionary variety. Our faith, for it to be meaningful and effective and to hold us fast, must be centered in Jesus Christ, in his life, in his atonement, and in the restoration of his gospel to the earth in the last days....
"Nothing is more remarkable or important in this life than to know that God our Eternal Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, have spoken again from the heavens and have called prophets and apostles to teach the fullness of the everlasting gospel once again upon the earth. That is a glorious thing to know. When you know it, that knowledge affects your life. It influences every major decision you make. It changes the course of your life to a safer one because it provides an anchor that helps hold you fast to the teachings of the gospel despite the evil influences all around you that entice you to drift toward sin and transgression."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Anchor to the Soul," BYU Fireside, September 6, 1992
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Ballard suggests that "spiritual anchors" are crucial in our lives to prevent us from drifting in the midst of storms and challenges; and the greatest anchor of all is to have faith in God and in Jesus Christ. He encourages us to have faith that goes beyond "the generic dictionary variety"—firmly centered in the Savior, the Atonement, and the Restoration.

It becomes so critical for us to establish, and then to nurture and build, that faith and understanding in our lives.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on refinement and sanctification

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (b. August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call 'the furnace of affliction' (Isa. 48:10; 1 Ne. 20:10). Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become.
"We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason—for the pure love of Christ. The Apostle Paul illustrated this in his famous teaching about the importance of charity (see 1 Cor. 13). The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness he cited is that charity, 'the pure love of Christ' (Moro. 7:47), is not an act but a condition or state of being. Charity is attained through a succession of acts that result in a conversion. Charity is something one becomes. Thus, as Moroni declared, 'except men shall have charity they cannot inherit' the place prepared for them in the mansions of the Father (Ether 12:34; emphasis added)."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "The Challenge to Become," Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32-34
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Among the descriptions of the challenges of our mortal experience, this one—"the furnace of afflication"—may be the most descriptive. There are certainly times when we feel the heat of oppression or discouragement, almost to the point of being consumed. But Elder Oaks reminds us that "refinement and sanctification" are also possible outcomes of those times if we allow God's work to have its desired effect upon us.

In order for that to happen, we must have hearts filled with charity. We must learn to focus on giving in Christlike love and service to others. This involves allowing ourselves to be led through a gradual "process of conversion" as our hearts are in the right place; we not only do the right things, but we become the right kind of person as our heart is changed:

Monday, December 26, 2016

President Russell M. Nelson on Christlike service to others

President Russell M. Nelson (b. Sept 9, 1924) was an internationally-renowned heart surgeon when he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984. He was set apart as president of the Quorum of Twelve on July 15, 2015.
"Relationships with neighbors, friends, and associates will be enhanced as we approach them with 'the pure love of Christ' (Moro. 7:47). A desire to emulate the Lord provides powerful motivation for good. Our craving for compassion will cause us to act in accord with the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). By so doing, we will find joy in feeding the poor, clothing the naked, or doing volunteer work of worth.
"Service to neighbors takes on new stature when we first look to God. In the Church, when priesthood and auxiliary leaders face their congregations, quorums, and classes as would the Lord, they learn that it does not matter where they serve, but how. Position in the Church does not exalt anyone, but faithfulness does. On the other hand, aspiring to a visible position—striving to become a master rather than a servant—can destroy the spirit of the worker and the work....
"In rendering service to others, which way do we face? From the right or the left, we can only push or pull. We can lift only from a higher plane. To reach it we don't look sideways; we look up to our Master. Just as we must look to God to live well, so we must look to God to serve well."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods," Ensign, May 1996, p. 14
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

One of the greatest blessings and challenges of the Gospel vision of life is the call to love and serve one another. We emulate the Savior as we do so; and striving always to see those around us as He would see them facilitates that service. And the results are promised: "By so doing, we will find joy in feeding the poor, clothing the naked, or doing volunteer work of worth." It doesn't require a calling or position of leadership to serve in this way; only a desire to do the Lord's work faithfully.

I was grateful for President Nelson's assurance that as we "look to God" we will be better able to live, and better able to serve.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

President Thomas S. Monson on the sacred gifts of Christmas

President Thomas S. Monson (b. August 21, 1927) was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1963. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency with Presidents Benson, Hunter, and Hinckley until becoming Church president in 2008.
"The spirit of giving gifts has been present in the mind of each Christian as he or she commemorates the Christmas season. Our Heavenly Father gave to us His Son, Jesus Christ. That precious Son gave to us His life, the Atonement, and victory over the grave.
"What will you and I give for Christmas this year? Let us in our lives give to our Lord and Savior the gift of gratitude by living His teachings and following in His footsteps. It was said of Him that He 'went about doing good' (Acts 10:38). As we do likewise, the Christmas spirit will be ours."
- Thomas S. Monson, "What Is Christmas?" Ensign, Dec. 1998, pp. 2-5
Click here to read or listen to the full message

The greatest gifts of eternity focus on the Savior Jesus Christ.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
And then correspondingly:
Hearken and hear and behold what I, the Lord God, shall say unto you, even Jesus Christ your Redeemer;
The light and the life of the world, a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not;
Who so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God.
(D&C 34:1-3)
What glorious gifts we have been given! How grateful we should be! And how eager to show our gratitude in return, as we give our gifts to our Father and our Savior.

May we seek to preserve that Christmas spirit always in our lives.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Elder Ronald A. Rasband on worshipping at Christmas

Elder Ronald A. Rasband (b. 1951) served as a Seventy beginning in 2000.  He was the senior president of the Seventy when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2015.
"Imagine that scene in Judea—the sky filled with the brilliance of a magnificent star and choruses from heaven marking this singular event. The shepherds then went 'with haste' (Luke 2:16) to see the babe lying in a manger. And later they 'made known abroad' (Luke 2:17) what they had seen.
"Each year at Christmas we add our witness to that of the shepherds that Jesus Christ, the literal Son of the living God, came to a corner of the earth in what we call the Holy Land. 
"The shepherds reverently approached the stable to worship the King of kings. How will we worship Him this season? Endlessly shopping? Hustling about and adorning our homes? Will that be our tribute to our Savior? Or will we bring peace to troubled hearts, good will to those in need of higher purpose, glory to God in our willingness to do His bidding? Jesus put it simply: 'Come, [and] follow me' (Luke 18:22)."
- Ronald A. Rasband, "Glory to God," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 8, 2013
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

What a powerful experience those humble Judean shepherds had, as they heard announcements from heavenly messengers! They were so deeply touched that they left their accustomed and assigned duties "with haste." One wonders what happened to the sheep under their care. Did some stay behind to watch? Were their heavenly guardians at hand filling in? Regardless, the record says the shepherds quickly made their way to the stable and manger, and then afterwards were eager to share the joyous news of what they had learned and experienced.

As we consider the example of those shepherds, we are led to ask ourselves, as Elder Rasband suggests: what is our method of worship as we enjoy the Christmas season?

The best worship clearly is emulation, following the teachings and example of service, sharing the message of hope and love.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Joseph Smith on finding happiness in our mortal life

Joseph Smith was given the apostolic authority when the Church of Jesus Christ was organized on April 6, 1830 and he was designated the first president of the church at age 24. He was martyred in 1844 at age 38.
"Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received....
"But in obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his law and ordinance."
- Joseph Smith, Aug. 27, 1842; History of the Church 5:134-136; see also TPJS pp. 255-256

There are a number of important insights in this classic quote from the Prophet of the Restoration.

  1. Happiness is the fundamental purpose and goal of our mortal experience
  2. Happiness if obtained through obediently following guidelines provided in God's commandments
  3. Obedience follows knowledge; we must know and understand in order to obey
  4. As we obey we are able to learn and understand more, thus being enabled to obey in a greater measure and obtain greater happiness
  5. Every ordinance and commandment from God exist to bring us greater joy and peace as we comply

Thursday, December 22, 2016

President David O. McKay on prolonging the Christmas spirit

President David O. McKay (1873-1970) was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1906.  He served as a counselor in the First Presidency to Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith beginning in 1945, then then as the president of the Church from 1951 to his death in 1970 at age 96.
"What is the source of the joy of this almost universal holiday? It is found in the fact that everyone has in his or her heart the desire to make somebody else happy. There is a losing of self for the good of another. Selfishness is replaced by a feeling to do good; sordidness is banished by gratuity; enmity by friendliness and doubt and suspicion by confidence and trust. On that day we glimpse the truth that peace can come to earth only through 'good will to men.' It is the spirit of giving that makes us truly happy....
"If the world can be so happy in Winter, when, in northern climes at least, 'From snow-topp'd hills the whirlwinds keenly blow, howl thru the woods, and pierce the vales below,' how simple it should be to have the joys of Christmas mingle with the murmuring life of Springtime, or with the full bloom and sunshine of Summer, or with brilliantly bedecked Autumn. Why not be happy throughout the whole year, and every year?
"To do this let us supplant the spirit of getting from others by the spirit of giving; the spirit of selfishness by the spirit of helpfulness....
"Too often:
We ring the bells and we raise the strain, 
We hang up garlands everywhere 
And bid the tapers twinkle fair, 
And feast and frolic—and then we go 
Back to the same old lives again. (Susan Coolidge)
"What a different world this will be when men and women everywhere will strive to give up mean, petty, selfish, sordid, uncharitable feelings and attitudes and replace them by kindness, friendliness, forbearance and sympathy and mutual helpfulness. When that day comes the angels will again sing—
"'Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
- David O. McKay, "Extending Christmas Throughout the Year," The Instructor, December 1934, p. 528
Click here to read the full article

President McKay begins by identifying the "source of joy" in the Christmas season: it comes from our efforts to make others happy. As we become focused on sharing joy with others, we find it increases in our own lives—"it is the spirit of giving that makes us truly happy."

President McKay then asks the important question, "Why not be happy throughout the whole year, and every year?" How can we extend the spirit we feel beyond the Christmas season? It seems obvious: we must continue the spirit of unselfishness and service: "kindness, friendliness, forbearance and sympathy and mutual helpfulness." That is truly the path to joy in our lives and peace on earth.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Elder John A. Widtsoe on perspective in giving of Christmas gifts

Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952) was born in Norway. He was raised by his widowed mother who immigrated to Utah when John was 11. He was educated at Harvard and in Europe, and had formative roles in programs in several Utah universities including BYU. He served as an apostle from 1921 to his death in 1952.
"Christmas gifts should be in memory of the divine gift, the life of Jesus Christ. His gift gave us eternal life: our gifts should enliven with joy those who receive. His gift was the sacrifice of his earthly life: our gifts should represent personal sacrifices on our part.
"It is easy to give to our own, those whom we love. Their gladness becomes our joy. We are not quite so ready to give to others, even if they are in need, for their happiness does not seem so necessary to our happiness. It appears yet more difficult to give to the Lord, for we are prone to believe that he must give and ask nothing in return.
"We have foolishly reversed the proper order. Our first gift at Christmas should be to the Lord; next to the friend or stranger by our gate; then, surcharged with the effulgence from such giving, we would enhance the value of our gifts to our very own. A selfish gift leaves a scar upon the soul, and it is but half a gift."
- John A. Widtsoe, "The Gifts of Christmas," Ensign, December 1972, p. 4
Click here to read the full talk

This was a beautiful article written by an apostle not many of us remember today. I love how Elder Widtsoe invites us to ponder our motivation in gift-giving; in reality, we are emulating the eternal gift of the Savior as He gave His life for us. So in the process of gift-giving, we might think about those who need the gifts most, and what our "personal sacrifices" might mean to them.

As we share gifts with others and consider our motives for doing so, Elder Widtsoe teaches that we can find increasing "effulgence" (brightness or intensity) as we discover the proper motivation. We might remember the warning written by Mormon many centuries ago: "For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God." (Moroni 7:8)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Elder Mark E. Petersen on the gifts of the first Christmas

Elder Mark E. Petersen (1900-1984) served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve from 1944 until his death in 1984.
"This was the first Christmas. There were no tinseled Christmas trees, no family gatherings, no children at play. But there were carols, the greatest ever sung. The angels of heaven joined in a great chorus rejoicing at the birth of God's Son. Now the redemption of the world could take place. Salvation could come to all mankind. Death would be overcome, for this little child, when he became a man, would bring about the Resurrection. All mankind could then live again.
"Christmas gifts? There were none at that time. The Wise Men came later with their offerings.
"But God now gave His gift to the world—that of His Only Begotten Son. And this divine Son by His very birth on earth gave Himself as the greatest Gift of all time.
"He would provide the plan for our salvation. He would give His life that we might rise from the grave and have a happy life in the eternities, forever. Who could give more?
"What a gift this was! Think what it means to us! We can learn patience, devotion, and faithfulness such as Mary had. And like her Son we can follow the true gospel principles, being in the world but not of the world.
"Mary offered her gift also—the gift of nurturing and rearing the Son of God from infancy to manhood. What hours and days and months of care, what years of devoted service!
"Through this first Christmas, and the birth of Jesus the Messiah, we can adopt in our own lives the traits that made Jesus great.
"We can be kind and thoughtful. We can be honest and fair to others. Mercy can be an important part of character. And then there is purity....
"Through Him we can enjoy the dearest of our associates forever. We can have eternal families. We may be sealed to our parents and be a part of their loving circle eternally. Isn't that a priceless gift? It, too, comes from that first Christmas."
- Mark E. Petersen, "The Gifts of Christmas," New Era, Dec. 1983, p. 4
Click here to read the full talk

It's interesting to consider the difference between "the first Christmas" and our contemporary celebrations. Elder Petersen describes some of the contrasts, the many things that have been added in our commemorations. But he also points out the sublime, sacred import of those original events and all they mean to us.

I think one of the keys from this message is that we should attempt to "adopt in our own lives the traits that made Jesus great." The Christmas season is a wonderful time to ponder that effort.

Monday, December 19, 2016

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on avoiding the distractions of the Christmas season

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (1940- ) served as a Seventy from 1994-2004, when he was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve.  He has served as second counselor in the First Presidency since 2008.
"The more commercialized and busy the Christmas season becomes, the easier it is for the sublime message of the Savior's life to get lost along the way. If we notice that planning for parties and scrambling for presents begin to detract from the peaceable message of Jesus Christ and distance us from the gospel He preached, let us take a step back, slow down a little, and reconsider what matters most.
"Christmas is a time for remembering the Son of God and renewing our determination to take upon us His name. It is a time to reassess our lives and examine our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Let this be a time of remembrance, of gratitude, and a time of forgiveness. Let it be a time to ponder the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its meaning for each of us personally. Let it especially be a time of renewal and recommitment to live by the word of God and to obey His commandments. By doing this, we honor Him far more than we ever could with lights, gifts, or parties."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Seeing Christmas through New Eyes," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 2010
Click here to read the full talk

There seem to be two competing Christmases: the commercialized, sales-oriented, present-focused, secular one; and the more subtle, sublime, spiritual one. President Uchtdorf warns that the second one, focusing on the Savior, is often lost amid the clamor of the first. We need to remember to find place for "the peaceable message of Jesus Christ" and His gospel, for that is truly what matters most.

This is a beautiful reminder and invitation for us all:

We would be especially blessed in this holiday season to take time to carefully ponder the message President Uchtdorf shares and make sure there is time in our celebration for the actions he suggests.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on applying the Christmas message

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) served as a Seventy from 1976-1981, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until his death from cancer in 2004.
"No wonder the declaratory focus of the first Christmas was on 'a Savior is born.' What greater tidings could there be than those 'good tidings of great joy'? No wonder the reverential exclamation praising our planning and loving Father—indeed, 'Glory to God in the highest'!
"'Come, let us adore Him,' Jesus Christ. The ultimate form of adoration of Him is emulation! Come, let us glorify God with our daily lives!
"Like the wise men from the east, we too must travel a great distance in order to come unto Christ, the Light of the World. No matter—He waits for us 'with open arms' (Mormon 6:17). May Christmas cause us deeper contemplation and deeper determination to complete that journey of journeys—in order to experience that resplendent rendezvous."
- Neal A. Maxwell, The Christmas Scene (Bookcraft, 1994), p. 9

It's interesting to ponder the declaration of the angels to the shepherds in the field: good tiding of great joy. What do those words represent? In what ways did the coming birth merit such a description? Elder Maxwell's beautiful words and phrases about the "first Christmas" convey a beautiful reverence for those events and an understanding of their eternal import.

If we truly do "adore" the babe in the manger, and the man he became in mortality, then our greatest goal would be to follow Him, to emulate His teachings and example. We are then able to "glorify God" by the actions of our lives each day!

Elder Maxwell's challenge in this excerpt is to use the Christmas season to ponder and contemplate the love of God and of His Son, and then to resolve to more fully follow that divine example as we come unto Him. How eager He is to receive us!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

President James E. Faust on Christmas presents and Christmas gifts

President James E. Faust (1920-2007) was called as a Seventy in 1976, then as a member of the Quorum of Twelve in 1978. He served as a counselor to President Hinckley from 1995 until his death in 2007 at age 87.
"We all enjoy giving and receiving presents. But there is a difference between presents and gifts. The true gifts may be part of ourselves—giving of the riches of the heart and mind—and therefore more enduring and of far greater worth than presents bought at the store....
"Of course, among the greatest of gifts is the gift of love....
"There are so many problems facing us individually and collectively. Yet I have the simple faith that many, if not all, of them can be put into proper perspective by Paul's sublime message to the Galatians: 'Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me' (Gal. 2:20).
"The message of this season that is applicable throughout the year lies not in the receiving of earthly presents and treasures but in the forsaking of selfishness and greed and in going forward, seeking and enjoying the gifts of the Spirit, which Paul said are 'love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law' (Gal. 5:22-23)."
- James E. Faust, "A Christmas with No Presents," Ensign, December 2001, pp. 2-6
Click here to read the full talk

President Faust makes a distinction between presents—things we buy at the store to give each other; and gifts—parts of ourselves, from our hearts or minds. And gifts are much more valuable and lasting than presents:

There were two additional points President Faust made that are worth pondering. We can gain perspective to deal with our problems and challenges as we allow Christ to live within us, since He first loved us, and gave Himself for us. And then we should allow the Christmas spirit to direct us towards the giving of gifts, and seeking gifts, particularly the gifts of the Spirit. That's an aspect of Christmas we don't often consider.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Elder D. Todd Christofferson on the Christmas spirit of sacrifice and service

Elder D. Todd Christofferson (b. January 24, 1945) was called to the Seventy in 1993, and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 2008.
"At Christmas when we ponder the birth of Jesus and His example of near-constant service, we are prone to draw from our own resources that which would bless and liberate others. The stories of people helping and blessing one another at Christmastime are legion. And that is certainly one of the main reasons we rejoice so much in this holiday....
"And so at Christmas, the stories of sacrifice and ministering multiply across the world. Our gifts and service gladden hearts; the kindness of others pours healing balm into our own wounds. It is living the Savior's way of life. And since, as He, we came down from heaven to do the will of the Father, it must not be only an annual event, but rather the pattern of our lives. In all that serves to deepen our empathy, broaden our understanding, and purify our souls, His declaration reassures us: 'In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world' (John 16:33)."
- D. Todd Christofferson, "The Condescension of God and of Man," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 2014
Click here to read or watch the full talk

"The spirit of Christmas" does open to us a desire to give and to serve. We want to share gifts with those near to us; be become more sensitive to others who may have needs or challenges in their lives. But this spirit is really the spirit of the Savior, who spent His life in service and sacrifice on behalf of others. It's that "example of near-constant service" that inspires us, more than any time of year.

I love the thought that as we partake of this spirit of giving and service, and as we receive the same from others, we feel "healing balm" poured into our own wounds and are blessed and inspired as we partake of "the Savior's way of life."

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Elder Gary E. Stevenson on the spirit of the Christmas season

Elder Gary E. Stevenson (b. 1955) was called as a Seventy in 2008, then as Presiding Bishop in 2012. He was called as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in October 2015.
"This Christmas, as the spirit of the season permeates our hearts, let us do something that expresses our feelings in an outward way, showing that we understand that the babe born in Bethlehem is the real Redeemer....
"Without Christ, there would be no Christmas. Without Christ, there can be no fulness of joy. Without His birth and His Atonement, we would have no Intercessor, no Advocate with the Father, and no Mediator who makes it possible for us to return to the presence of our loving Heavenly Father and live together as eternal families.
"I celebrate with you the beautiful and miraculous reality of the birth and mission of the Son of God, and I bear my testimony that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer—the promised Messiah."
- Gary E. Stevenson, "The Reality of Christmas," Ensign, December 2014
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Elder Stevenson encouraged that we actually do something in the Christmas season to show outwardly the feelings of our inward hearts. The Light the World initiative offered by the Church this Christmas season has provided a number of ways to do that, through service, sharing, kindness, and worship.

We must never forget the reason for the Christmas season, as well as the reason for our very existence on earth and the promises that come to us through the Savior:

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