Sunday, December 31, 2017

President Thomas S. Monson on four goals for a new year

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.
"I made a few resolutions at the commencement of this new year. I’d like to share them with you, hoping that you, too, will join in making the same choices, the same resolutions.
"First in 1973, I will listen. Second, I will learn. Third, I will labor. And fourth, I will love. Four words beginning with the letter l, but four words which can well determine our destiny....
"Four pledges for the new year: I will listen, I will learn, I will labor, I will love. As we fulfill these pledges, we can have the guidance of our Heavenly Father and in our own lives experience true joy. Now, I don’t simply mean that we should make a wish, or that we should dream a dream, but rather determine to do that which we pledge to accomplish. We can, if we will. It was Henry Ford, the industrialist, who declared, 'Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.' Now, shall we go forward with such resolutions? Can we change our practices if such need changing? I declare that we can....
"I testify today that when the Savior spoke those words recorded in Revelation he was giving you and me counsel to help us be true to our pledge this new year. Remember his words? 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him' (Rev. 3:20). My prayer today is that we will have listening ears, that we might in turn hear his knock, appreciate the invitation of our Lord, and have the wisdom to open wide the doorway to our heart and the portals to our mind, that Jesus Christ might come in unto us. Shall we make room for him in our hearts? Shall we provide time for him in our lives? Once again the choice is yours, and the choice is mine, remembering that our choices, our decisions, determine our destiny."
- Thomas S. Monson, "A Time to Choose," BYU Devotional, January 16, 1973
Click here to read the full message

It's been almost 45 years since President Monson offered this counsel to BYU students at the start of a new year and a new semester in school. The vigor and enthusiasm of his message and challenges has not changed much over the years! He shared his personal goals with the students, and encouraged them to consider similar areas of growth in their own lives:

In the full text of the talk, President Monson goes into more detail for each of these four areas, giving more specifics about how improvement could occur and how it could be a blessing. It's very worth reviewing!

President Monson concludes with the reminder that divine assistance is available to us as we strive to change and grow. The Savior still stands at the door knocking, hoping that we will allow Him to enter our hearts and minds:

Perhaps the most important "resolution" of all would be to make sure we are opening that door more often and more fully!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin on examining life and setting 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.
"I have known many great men and women. Although they have different backgrounds, talents, and perspectives, they all have this in common: they work diligently and persistently towards achieving their goals. It’s easy to get distracted and lose focus on the things that are most important in life. I’ve tried to remember the lessons I learned... and prioritize values that are important to me so that I can keep my eye focused on things that really matter.
"I urge you to examine your life. Determine where you are and what you need to do to be the kind of person you want to be. Create inspiring, noble, and righteous goals that fire your imagination and create excitement in your heart. And then keep your eye on them. Work consistently towards achieving them.
"'If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams,' wrote Henry David Thoreau, 'and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.' (Walden 323)"
- Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Life’s Lessons Learned," General Conference, April 2007
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

What defines greatness? How is it achieved? Elder Wirthlin gives some suggestions in this interesting talk, in which he drew from his own life experiences to show the importance of such principles as setting goals, always doing what is right no matter the consequences, and then reaching out in love to those around us.

I think one of the keys to this message is in the statement, "It's easy to get distracted and lose focus on the things that are most important in life." In our busy, complicated lives, we often have things press upon us that seem urgent. But those are often not the things that matter most in the long run! Learning to balance the demands of the moment, with the long-range priorities and principles, is a critical skill. Elder Wirthlin suggests that having "righteous goals" on which we can fix our attention makes all the difference:

I've always loved the statement from Thoreau that Elder Wirthlin quotes. Having dreams, well-defined dreams, towards which we can be advancing consistently, will enable us to ensure that our overall life direction is as it should be. We need to have the destination firmly in mind in order to travel the right path! This principle applies not just to the grand, eternal goals but also to shorter intermediate stages along the way.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Elder M. Russell Ballard on finding life's priorities through challenges

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.
"Sometimes we need a personal crisis to reinforce in our minds what we really value and cherish. The scriptures are filled with examples of people facing crises before learning how to better serve God and others. Perhaps if you, too, search your hearts and courageously assess the priorities in your life, you may discover, as I did, that you need a better balance among your priorities.
"All of us must come to an honest, open self-examination, an awareness within as to who and what we want to be.
"As most of you know, coping with the complex and diverse challenges of everyday life, which is not an easy task, can upset the balance and harmony we seek. Many good people who care a great deal are trying very hard to maintain balance, but they sometimes feel overwhelmed and defeated....
"Brothers and sisters, we all face these kinds of struggles from time to time. They are common human experiences. Many people have heavy demands upon them stemming from parental, family, employment, church, and civic responsibilities. Keeping everything in balance can be a real problem."
- M. Russell Ballard, "Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance," General Conference, April 1987
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The challenges that occur in our lives can have many different impacts on us. Elder Ballard suggests that one positive way to handle a "personal crisis" is to spend time evaluating our priorities in life to make sure the balance is proper and appropriate. Particularly at those times when life hangs in the balance, we naturally reconsider what matters most and how we might better prepare for future challenges.

Maintaining the proper balance in our lives is not an easy task. As Elder Ballard notes, many people struggle with the demands that come and end up feeling overwhelmed or even defeated.  In the rest of his address, he gives a series of suggestions of the things that we can do to regain and maintain the proper perspective and balance in life. Click on the link and read the full article!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on the consequences of our choices

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (born 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.
"From your position on the road of life, you young men have many miles to go and many choices to make as you seek to return to our Heavenly Father. Along the road there are many signs that beckon. Satan is the author of some of these invitations. He seeks to confuse and deceive us, to get us on a low road that leads away from our eternal destination....
"Here are some ways the devil will try to deceive us. God’s commandments and the teachings of His prophets warn against each of them....
"Satan also seeks to deceive us about right and wrong and persuade us that there is no such thing as sin. This detour typically starts off with what seems to be only a small departure: 'Just try it once. One beer or one cigarette or one porno movie won’t hurt.' What all of these departures have in common is that each of them is addictive. Addiction is a condition in which we surrender part of our power of choice. When we do that we give the devil power over us. The prophet Nephi described where this leads: the devil says, 'There is no hell,' and, 'I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance' (2 Ne. 28:22).
"If we choose the wrong road, we choose the wrong destination."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Be Not Deceived," General Conference, October 2004
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This is a classic "warning" message, in which Elder Oaks identifies some of the dangers of our time and points out the traps and pitfalls that could befall us if we are not aware and wary. This section of the talk focuses on the temptation to experiment with inappropriate actions. As the Master Deceiver confuses us about what is truly right and wrong, we can fall into his trap:

Satan can deceive us into thinking that trying out something just once can't be that bad. But a single step onto the wrong road begins to take us away from our correct and proper destination, and is can become much harder than we ever realize to return to the proper path. We must learn to constantly be on guard of this deception, and do all we can to "obey... with exactness" (Alma 57:21).

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

President Russell M. Nelson on understanding teachings about perfection

President Russell M. Nelson (born 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.
"When comparing one’s personal performance with the supreme standard of the Lord’s expectation, the reality of imperfection can at times be depressing. My heart goes out to conscientious Saints who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life.
"We all need to remember: men are that they might have joy—not guilt trips! (See 2 Ne. 2:25.) We also need to remember that the Lord gives no commandments that are impossible to obey. But sometimes we fail to comprehend them fully....
"In Matt. 5:48, the term perfect was translated from the Greek teleios, which means 'complete.' Teleios is an adjective derived from the noun telos, which means 'end.' The infinitive form of the verb is teleiono, which means 'to reach a distant end, to be fully developed, to consummate, or to finish.' Please note that the word does not imply 'freedom from error'; it implies 'achieving a distant objective.' In fact, when writers of the Greek New Testament wished to describe perfection of behavior—precision or excellence of human effort—they did not employ a form of teleios; instead, they chose different words....
"The perfection that the Savior envisions for us is much more than errorless performance. It is the eternal expectation as expressed by the Lord in his great intercessory prayer to his Father—that we might be made perfect and be able to dwell with them in the eternities ahead.(See John 17:23–24.)...
"We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord. It awaits all who love him and keep his commandments."
- Russell M. Nelson, "Perfection Pending," General Conference October 1995
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

The simple title of this talk, "Perfection Pending," conveys the message of President Nelson that we all have work to do and need to keep our progress in the proper (eternal) perspective. It's easy to be discouraged when we view the relative lack of progress that is typical for our lives; but depression results from incomplete or inaccurate understanding of the expectations.

The guilt trips come when we have improper expectations for our progress. Instead, President Nelson helps us understand that perfection ultimately relates to long-term goals, when we will be "complete" or "finished" at the end of the long process. In the mean time, we work on smaller aspects of mortal progress, in which we can obtain partial perfection. The grand key is to continue to progress, and continue to find joy in the journey!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

President Henry B. Eyring on confronting tests in life

President Henry B. Eyring (born May 31, 1933) served in the Presiding Bishopric from 1985-1992, as a Seventy from 1992-1995, then was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. He has served in the First Presidency since 2007.
"Knowing why we are tested and what the test is tells us how to get help. We have to go to God. He gives us the commandments. And we will need more than our own strength to keep them.
"Again, the restored gospel makes plain the simple things we need to do. And it gives us confidence that the help we need will come if we do those things early and persistently, long before the moment of crisis.
"The first, the middle, and the last thing to do is to pray....
"Another simple thing to do, which allows God to give us strength, is to feast on the word of God: read and ponder the standard works of the Church and the words of living prophets. There is a promise of help from God that comes with that daily practice. Faithful study of scriptures brings the Holy Ghost to us. The promise is given in the Book of Mormon, but it applies as well to all the words of God that He has given and will give us through His prophets."
- Henry B. Eyring, "In the Strength of the Lord," General Conference, April 2004
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

Do we know why we are tested in life? In general terms, we accept the premise that it is for our growth and improvement, as we are guided and molded by a loving Father. But we don't always know the specific reasons at any given time or the lessons we might learn from a challenge we face. It's critical to learn to turn to God, our constant source of strength to keep the commandments and to endure faithfully.

I love his simple comment; in all things, at all times, we must learn to pray in order to survive and thrive in our daily challenges and responsibilities. In addition, as we learn to "feast on the word of God" we also receive sustenance from the Comforter. We need never struggle alone—divine help is always available!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Monday, December 25, 2017

President Thomas S. Monson on the enduring gifts from God

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.
"For a few moments, may we set aside the catalogs of Christmas, with their gifts of exotic description. Let's even turn from the flowers for Mother, the special tie for Father, the cute doll, the train that whistles, the long-awaited bicycle—even the 'Star Trek' books and videos—and direct our thoughts to those God-given gifts that endure. I have chosen from a long list just four:
"First, the gift of birth. It has been universally bestowed on each of us. Ours was the divine privilege to depart our heavenly home to tabernacle in the flesh and to demonstrate by our lives our worthiness and qualifications to one day return to Him, precious loved ones, and a kingdom called celestial....
"Second, the gift of peace. In the raucous world in which we live, the din of traffic, the blaring commercials of the media, and the sheer demands placed on our time—to say nothing of the problems of the world—cause headache, inflict pain, and sap our strength to cope.... He who was burdened with sorrow and acquainted with grief speaks to every troubled heart and bestows the gift of peace.... The passport to peace is the practice of prayer. The feelings of the heart, humbly expressed rather than a mere recitation of words, provide the peace we seek....
"Third, the gift of love. 'Master, which is the great commandment in the law?' queried the lawyer who spoke to Jesus. Came the prompt reply: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
"'This is the first and great commandment.
"'And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' (Matt. 22:36-39) ...
"Fourth, the gift of life—even immortality. Our Heavenly Father's plan contains the ultimate expressions of true love. All that we hold dear, even our families, our friends, our joy, our knowledge, our testimonies, would vanish were it not for our Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Among the most cherished thoughts and writings in this world is the divine statement of truth: '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)"
- Thomas S. Monson, "Gifts," General Conference April 1993
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

President Monson encourages us, as have many others, to be sure to reserve some of the time during the Christmas season to remember the gifts of heaven on our behalf:

President Monson calls them "gifts that endure"—and they are the only ones that don't wear out or become outdated as time goes by. No matter who we are, no matter what the situation of life we find ourselves in this year—truly, we should feel overwhelming gratitude for all we have if we understand these gifts from our loving Father and his Son.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

President Gordon B. Hinckley shares a witness of the Christmas child

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) was called to the Quorum of Twelve in 1961. He served as a counselor in the First Presidency from 1981-1995, then as Church President until his death in 2008.
"Of all the children born into this world, none other has come with so rich a birthright as Jesus, for He was the Only Begotten of the Eternal Father in the flesh.
"Of all men who have walked the earth, no other has lived so perfect a life as this the man of miracles, who testified that He is 'the way, the truth, and the life' (John 14:6).
"Of all the victories in human history, none is so great, none so universal in its effect, none so everlasting in its consequences as the victory of the crucified Lord, who came forth in the Resurrection that first Easter morning.
"I have seen statues and paintings of the great men and women of history, many hundreds of them. But great and important as are all of these heroes of the past, none can compare with the victory of the lonely, pain-wracked figure on Calvary's cross who triumphed over death and brought the gift of eternal life to all mankind....
"Of all things of heaven and earth of which we bear testimony, none is so important as our witness that Jesus, the Christmas child, condescended to come to earth from the realms of His Eternal Father, here to work among men as healer and teacher, our Great Exemplar. And further, and most important, He suffered on Calvary's cross as an atoning sacrifice for all mankind.
"At this time of Christmas, this season when gifts are given, let us not forget that God gave His Son, and His Son gave His life, that each of us might have the gift of eternal life."
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Son of God," from an address given at the new mission presidents’ seminar, 23 June 1992; See Ensign, Dec. 1992, p. 2
Click here to read the full article

President Hinckley shared scores of Christmas messages during his ministry, particularly as a member of the First Presidency for many years. This message focuses on the miracle of the birth of the "Christmas child" but was initially given to mission presidents, since an understanding of the life and mission of the Savior is critical for the work of conversion and salvation.

President Hinckley here gives his testimony of the Savior's divine birthright, the perfection of His life, and the everlasting victory over death that brought resurrection.

And so this is the most important testimony that can be offered:

That final message is a precious reminder. While we give our gifts to one another, we should never forget the Heavenly gift of the Father and the Son on our behalf!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

President Joseph Smith on God's call to obedience and holiness

Joseph Smith (December 23, 1805-June 27, 1844) 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.
"The commandments of our Lord, we hope are constantly revolving in your hearts, teaching you, not only His will in proclaiming His Gospel, but His meekness and perfect walk before all, even in those times of severe persecutions and abuse which were heaped upon Him by a wicked and adulterous generation. Remember, brethren, that He has called you unto holiness; and need we say, to be like Him in purity? How wise, how holy; how chaste, and how perfect, then, you ought to conduct yourselves in His sight; and remember, too, that His eyes are continually upon you.”
- Joseph Smith, “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland, to Their Brethren Abroad,” Jan. 22, 1834; published in Evening and Morning Star, Mar. 1834, p. 142; see also History of the Church, 2:13

It's a beautiful concept to have the commandments of the Lord "constantly revolving in your hearts" to be teaching and guiding us—not only guidance for how to act, but perhaps more importantly, how to be as we strive to follow "His meekness and perfect walk before all." Jesus maintained serenity and purity of heart, even in the midst of challenges, persecutions, criticisms, and abuse. As we struggle with our present circumstances, having Gospel precepts firmly and actively in our minds and hearts will bless us more than we know.

So we are "called" by God "to be like Him" in purity and holiness. He longs for us to be wise, holy, chaste, and yes, perfect in our behavior and attitudes. On another occasion, as Joseph contemplated the urgency of the times in the last days, he was led to reflect with the ancient apostle Peter, "what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness" (2 Peter 3:11). That is a beautiful reminder and invitation from the Prophet of the Restoration!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Friday, December 22, 2017

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on being gracious receivers of gifts

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (born November 6, 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.
"Every gift that is offered to us—especially a gift that comes from the heart—is an opportunity to build or strengthen a bond of love. When we are good and grateful receivers, we open a door to deepen our relationship with the giver of the gift. But when we fail to appreciate or even reject a gift, we not only hurt those who extend themselves to us, but in some way we harm ourselves as well.
"The Savior taught that unless we 'become as little children, [we] shall not enter... the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 18:3).
"As we watch the excitement and wonder of children at this time of the year, perhaps we can remind ourselves to rediscover and reclaim a precious and glorious attribute of children—the ability to receive graciously and with gratitude."
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "The Good and Grateful Receiver," First Presidency Christmas Devotional, December 2012
Click here to read the full talk

While we often talk about the giving of gifts, we don't focus as much on the act of receiving a gift. President Uchtdorf shared some great insights and suggestions about that part of the process. Learning how to receive with graciousness and real gratitude will help to bless those who are learning to give:

The act of giving and the act of receiving work together to "build or strengthen a bond of love." That's a wonderful part of being a group of believers. I love the scriptural description of having "hearts ... knit together in love" (Colossians 2:2Mosiah 18:21). Those kinds of bonds are created as we serve and give, as well as when we receive the service or gift.

Children are often great receivers of gifts, as they are filled with wonder and excitement. President Uchtdorf suggests that we can learn from them "the ability to receive graciously and with gratitude."

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

President Spencer W. Kimball on the spirit of the Christmas season

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895-1985) was ordained an apostle in 1943 and served as President of the Church from 1973 to 1985.
"Christmas comes once a year to reveal to us the beautiful and near approach man can make to the divine, to the ideal, to the Christlike life.
"Once a year on this day we raise the flag of truce. All men are friends. We are our 'brother's keeper.' It comes so clearly to us that all mean well, that their greetings are sincere. We lift high the open hand of fellowship. There is no race, no color, no rich or poor, no bond or free. Christmas comes to remind us of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. It comes to show us the real progress we would make, could all our days be unselfish, friendly, helpful, and clear of bitterness and strife."
- Spencer W. Kimball, St. Joseph Stake Primary, 12/16/34; see The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball p. 247

If we are attentive, we will notice the change that we feel at Christmastime each year. As President Kimball describes it, we begin to make an approach " to the divine, to the ideal, to the Christlike life."

So we sense " the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man" in the midst of the spirit of this season. If we are careful to notice how we feel, and what motivates that change, then perhaps as President Kimball suggests, we could make "real progress" towards changing our natures in all our days, and not just in the Christmas season.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Elder Hugh B. Brown on the spirit and serene joy of Christmas

Elder Hugh B. Brown (1883–1975) was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in 1953, then as an apostle in 1958.  He served as a counselor to President David O. McKay from 1961 until President McKay's death in 1970, then for five more years as a member of the Quorum of Twelve until he passed away.
"This is the secret of the popularity of Christmas. It is the best day of the year, the most joyous because we seek the happiness of others rather than of ourselves. It is the day when love takes command, and men, women, and children, by losing themselves, find joy and peace. For one day, at least, Christendom practices Christianity.
"For fifty-one weeks most men desire to wring personal profit, economic, social or political, out of every situation, often without regard to the effect on the lives and happiness of others.
"The Yuletide is to many people an annual seven-day Sabbath. It is a holy season when men rest from the agitating business of getting and relax into the serene joy of giving.
"The spirit of Christmas creates interest in others, minimizes self-serving interests and activities, and searches for opportunities to make others happy. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world's busy life and become more interested in people than in things. We see people struggling and competing with each other and wish we could somehow touch their lives with the joy and gladness of Christmas. The Spirit whispers, 'They are your kinfolk, and their happiness is your concern.'
"During this joyous week we apply the brakes to the driving power of self-interest and, like the propeller on an airplane when its blades are reversed, the pull is in the opposite direction. When speed and altitude are reduced, the details and beauty of life refresh the soul and inspire gratitude and a desire to serve and partially repay our debt to the Giver of life."
- Hugh B. Brown, "The Abundant Life," pp. 305-307

It's a pretty sad reflection for Elder Brown to observe that one of the unique benefits of Christmas is that "for one day, at least, Christendom practices Christianity." The characteristics of service, unselfishness, charity, and love for others are magnified by the celebrations; but all of those things should be part of the disciple's daily life. It's a good time to reflect on our priorities and motivations in life, and make sure that we are actively "practicing Christianity" throughout the year.

"The serene joy of giving"—that's a beautiful phrase and a profound concept. And it's at the core of the message of Christianity. I loved the phrase "The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul." We can look through that picture window in a new way in order to view the opportunities to serve and bless those around us.

In all of these things, as we learn to focus on the Savior's message of giving and service, we begin to "partially repay our debt to the Giver of life." And perhaps that's the greatest message of all. As we celebrate Christmas and recall the birth of Jesus and the beginning of His crucial ministry, we should be led to strengthen our resolve to follow Him in every way. That is what He asks in return for His gift to us. That is how we begin to repay the debt we owe Him.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Elder Neal A. Maxwell on the Star of Bethlehem and our personal lights

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.
"The matter, therefore, of being a light is even more important in dark times. Our impact, for better or worse, on others is inevitable, but it is intended that we be a light and not just another shadow.
"The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well."
- Neal A. Maxwell, That My Family Should Partake (Deseret 1974), p. 86
Elder Maxwell's book That My Family Should Partake was written in 1974 when he was serving as Church Commissioner of Education. Many books would follow throughout his ministry, but this is still one of my favorites.

In this passage, he considers the concept of being a light to the world. The darker the times, the more important it is for lights to shine; and as the challenges in our world increase, there's no doubt that God's light is needed more than ever. His disciples are expected to "be a light and not just another shadow."

Then comes a very interesting insight:

As we consider the miraculous appearance and operation of the "Star of Bethlehem," it's interesting to ponder the fact that what we consider miracles are often just divine operations, functioning within established physical laws, in ways we don't understand. Elder Maxwell suggests that God knew about the need for an unusual heavenly phenomenon that would point out a location and would lead travelers to it. He had millennia to prepare that phenomenon to be in place at precisely the time when it would be needed.

And so by extension, if God has that much control, insight, and concern over physical events, how much more might He have interest in directing where and when we have opportunities to let our lights shine for His purposes? If we are vessels of that light, we are then prepared to "illuminate the landscape" surrounding us and to lead others to Him, "warming" them in the process! It's a beautiful analogy, and a great reminder of our responsibility to let His light shine.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Monday, December 18, 2017

President Boyd K. Packer on the joyful Christmas story

President Boyd K. Packer (1924-2015) served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve (a position that no longer exists) from 1961 to 1970, when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  He served as president of that Quorum from 1994 until his death on July 3, 2015 at age 90.
"I want to emphasize that I have no quarrel with that well-fed gentleman with the red suit and the white whiskers. He was very generous to me when I was a boy, and we are looking forward with great anticipation to his visit at our home next Monday night. The tree is there, the holly wreath, the stockings hung along the fireplace mantle—it is a very long mantle. I know of few things on this earth quite so celestial as the face of a little youngster, happy, hopeful, and believing, with Christmas almost here. All of those things with reference to Christmas are appropriate and good and all of them are for children—except, I suppose, the mistletoe.
"If you would understand what you get in exchange for giving up the childish illusion concerning Christmas, you could look forward to the greatest of all discoveries. If you could just know that at your age you can find and can have that 'little-kid' feeling again about Christmas. If you understand Christmas at all, you will find that in exchange for Christmas past comes the most supernal of all gifts. If you want to know a good beginning point, I suggest you start in the second chapter of Luke... (reads Luke 2:1-19).
"The Christmas story in the second chapter of Luke takes, I suppose, a minute and a half to read. It might take a minute more to ponder on it. Yet how infrequently, how remarkably infrequently does that find its way into the family festivities at Christmas time.
"The Christmas story does not end there. It is only the beginning. If we can accept as adults a new childhood status with reference to our God, then we will begin to humble ourselves and begin to believe, and so begin to see. In exchange for the fanciful poetry of The Night Before Christmas comes the miracle that grows in every season.
"The whole account—from Bethlehem to Calvary—is the Christmas story, and it takes simple, childlike, almost naive faith to know it....
"Of all times of the year, Latter-day Saints at Christmas time ought to be the most joyful, ought to have greater cause for festivity than anyone, ought to enjoy the Christmas tree and the holly wreath, and the stockings and the mistletoe, and all that goes with Christmas more than any else in the world because they KNOW what Christmas really is."
- Boyd K. Packer, "Keeping Christmas," BYU Devotional, December 19, 1962
Click here to listen to a recording of this talk

President Packer was known by some as a serious, staunch, sometimes hard-line traditionalist. Some might be surprised to read his take on Christmas traditions! This is a refreshing approach to the interplay of the modern, secular Christmas practices and the original sacred Christmas story. The so-called "childish illusion concerning Christmas" that includes Santa Claus isn't necessarily a bad thing; but it can be replaced by something far greater and more significant. President Packer suggests that the same emotions of pure joy, anticipation, and excitement felt by children, can be felt in a very different way by adults as they come to understand the divine gifts we recall at this time of year.

It's a good reminder that the Christmas story includes not just Bethlehem but also Calvary. The Savior's birth and life have meaning because of what He accomplished on our behalf. But knowing that, we truly should feel the joy of the season in a powerful way. And as we feel that joy, President Packer suggests, we can find appreciation in the beautiful symbols and traditions of the season.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

President Thomas S. Monson on Christmas getting and giving

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.
"'What did you get for Christmas?' This is the universal question among children for days following that most celebrated holiday of the year. A small girl might reply, 'I received a doll, a new dress, and a fun game.' A boy might respond, 'I received a pocketknife, a train, and a truck with lights.' Newly acquired possessions are displayed and admired as Christmas day dawns, then departs.
"The gifts so acquired are fleeting. Dolls break, dresses wear out, and fun games become boring. Pocketknives are lost, trains do nothing but go in circles, and trucks are abandoned when the batteries that power them dim and die.
"If we change but one word in our Christmas question, the outcome is vastly different. 'What did you give for Christmas?' prompts stimulating thought, causes tender feelings to well up, and memory's fires to glow ever brighter.
"Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world's busy life and become more interested in people than things. To catch the real meaning of the spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable and it becomes the Spirit of Christ."
- Thomas S. Monson, "Christmas Gifts, Christmas Blessings," Ensign, Dec. 1995, p. 2
Click here to read the full article

President Monson delivered many Christmas messages over the years he served as a member of the First Presidency. The importance of the spirit of giving is a theme that was addressed on a number of occasions. He truly spoke from the heart, as one who understands that spirit and dedicated his life to unselfish service to others, both in public and in private.

Some of the benefits of the spirit of giving described by President Monson are ones we might not have thought of at first: forgiveness of others, greater obedience, and closeness to friends.

Truly, to be "more interested in people than things" is a great key to the Christian life of discipleship. At Christmas, and throughout the year, we should seek this aspect of the "Spirit of Christ" in our lives, and we will be blessed as we do.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Elder Marvin J. Ashton on the invitation to come and see Jesus of Nazareth

Elder Marvin J. Ashton (1915-1994) served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1971 until his death in 1994 at age 78.
"Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he was later identified as Jesus of Nazareth, the site of his early home. He was brought up in Nazareth, a small village in a hollow among the hills of the Sea of Galilee. Nazareth was a poor town void of wealth, without respected leadership, and without many residents. As young Jesus grew up and taught, people 'were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power' (Luke 4:32).
"Those who saw and heard Him were not only astonished, but frightened, bewildered, and amazed as well in his life and performances. They were inclined to talk among themselves about His unusual skills, conduct, and background.
"Nathaniel, one of His disciples 'said unto [Philip], Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see' (John 1:46). The answer in those days and the answer today is, If you would know Jesus, come and see.
"The word come means to move to, to draw near, or to approach. To see is to perceive with the eyes or to gain knowledge or awareness of....
"We need the continuing faith to declare to the world that Jesus lives today, that He is our Savior, our friend, the Son of God, and that His church and kingdom are available to all today. God does live. Jesus is one with the Father. It takes self-discipline not only to know but also to declare these truths. With God's love and help all of these things are possible, and they will bring peace and joy to each of us as we know and understand the real meaning of Christmas. An attitude of 'come and see' makes it possible for cherished memories and mountains to overshadow losses and valleys in our quest for the joyous.
"If you would love Him, come and see. If you would know Him, come and see.
"Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth is the Only Begotten of the Father—our Redeemer, our Savior, Christ the Lord."
- Marvin J. Ashton, "Come and See," New Era, Dec. 1989, pp. 4-7
Click here to read the full article

This is a very beautiful and insightful address by Elder Ashton, in which he reflects the Savior's desire for His children to "come unto me" (Matthew 11:28) in order to find peace, joy, and rest. That simple invitation expresses the need for each of us to initiate the action; truly, we must be the ones who choose to come and see. "The word come means to move to, to draw near, or to approach. To see is to perceive with the eyes or to gain knowledge or awareness of." If we are willing to make that effort, then the blessings will follow.

To find "the real meaning of Christmas" and feel the "peace and joy" that He promises, we need only take those steps in our lives that will enable us to come and see.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)

Friday, December 15, 2017

President Joseph F. Smith on Christmas as a reminder of past and future

President Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918) was the son of Joseph's brother Hyrum. He was ordained an apostle in 1866 at age 28, and served as a counselor to Brigham Young and the three presidents who followed.  He became the 6th president of the Church in 1901, and served until his death in 1918 at age 80.
"Christmas, to the Latter-day Saint, is both reminiscent and prophetic—a reminder of two great and solemn events, which will yet be regarded universally as the mightiest and most wonderful happenings in the history of the human race. These events were predestined to take place upon this planet before it was created. One of these was the coming of the Savior in the meridian of time, to die for the sins of the world; and the other is the prospective event of the risen and glorified Redeemer, to reign upon the earth as King of kings."
- The First Presidency (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, Anthon H. Lund), Millennial Star, 70:1 (January 2, 1908)
Click here to read the full talk

We typically do a lot of the "reminiscing" half of what President Smith and his counselors describe at Christmastime. But perhaps we don't do enough of the prophetic anticipation, looking forward to that second "most wonderful happening" for mortal existence:

It's good to consider how we might incorporate that second part into our Christmas celebrations, reviewing the prophetic descriptions of the upcoming second visit to earth, and pondering how best to prepare for that glorious time!

This is one of my favorite "Christmas scriptures," as a prophet anticipated the first coming. We can learn some things about our own anticipatory condition:
And now we only wait to hear the joyful news declared unto us by the mouth of angels, of his coming; for the time cometh, we know not how soon. Would to God that it might be in my day; but let it be sooner or later, in it I will rejoice. (Alma 13:25)
Alma was well aware of the prophecies of the coming Christ. In spite of opposition and disagreement from others who didn't understand, he held firm to his faith in the prophecies and knew of the joy that was to come for those who were prepared and ready. Alma was hopeful and eager for that event to come during his lifetime (unfortunately it didn't), but he knew it would be a time of "joyful news" regardless, and he was living in such a way that he was eager for the events to come. A great lesson for each of us!

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)
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