Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Profound Power of Gratitude

As this Christmas season concludes, the stores are filled with people returning gifts. Regardless of whether the gifts we received fit us and our desires, we all have reason to be grateful. We have need to be grateful to the givers of the gifts, especially those gifts that were given at much sacrifice or with much thought and love. We have need to be grateful for our friends and family that surrounded us during all of our Christmas festivities, that we have warm places to be and food to eat. We have need to be grateful to all those who influence our lives for good, co-workers, teachers, kids, parents and relatives, good friends. We have need to be grateful to our Heavenly Father for the gift of His Only Begotten Son and His atoning sacrifice. Indeed, there is much for which we can express gratitude and many to whom our gratitude can and should be directed.

This week's article comes from the September 2005 issue of the Ensign. The article, entitled "The Profound Power of Gratitude," was written by President Thomas S. Monson, the current prophet and president of the Church while he was serving as counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley, then prophet and president of the Church.

In this article, President Monson explained about the importance of gratitude as pertaining to various aspects of our lives. Of the simple phrase "thank you" he said, “'thank you' frequently expressed will cheer your spirit, broaden your friendships, and lift your lives to a higher pathway as you journey toward perfection. There is a simplicity—even a sincerity—when 'thank you' is spoken." He continued, "I believe a sincere 'thank you' could lift a heavy heart, inspire a good deed, and bring heaven’s blessings closer to the challenges of our day."

Of course, gratitude is more than simply saying thank you, gratitude is reflected in our actions and attitudes. On a later occasion President Monson said, "We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. . . . Send that note to the friend you’ve been neglecting; give your child a hug; give your parents a hug; say 'I love you' more; always express your thanks" (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 86).

We can all work on being more grateful and considering the time of year, we shouldn't have a hard time finding those to whom we can express our gratitude. Identify one way in which you can show gratitude better, a way that will lift a heavy heart and cheer someone's spirit. Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. I am grateful that God loves us enough to call prophets in our day who lead and guide us as in days of old.

Jeremy

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Three Degrees of Christmas

Christmastime is an exciting and wonderful time. Christmas is perhaps the only holiday with an entire season, an entire month (or two or three) devoted to it. Most look forward to the Christmas season and miss it when it’s over. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, a season of happiness and joy, of fun and excitement and wonder, a season when people seem to come together, when our hearts are filled with compassion, when we feel more of a desire to help those who may be less fortunate than ourselves, and when we see more opportunities to do good and serve our fellow man. Christmas is a season of traditions, of family, and of worship even for those who are not actively religious. Christmas is a season of hope and love.

Of course, with Christmas come the Scrooges and the people who complain about the music and the commercialization and the cold weather. And, unfortunately, there are those who perhaps have good reason to dislike the Christmas season, people who have lost loved ones or have experienced other hardships during previous Christmas years and all of the Christmas extravaganza only serve as a harsh reminder of the past.

I’ve heard it said that there are three degrees of Christmas: Santa Claus, Silent Night, and the Adult Christ. Each degree has some sort of influence and significance in our lives, whatever the degree of importance may be.

1- Santa Claus

The Santa Claus degree is the commercialized Christmas, Xmas, and what is implied with Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. Santa Claus Christmas is fun, full of bright lights and elaborate decorations, snow about which people don’t complain, candy canes, Rudolph, cards, presents, Christmas trees and ornaments, and the smells and tastes of all the Christmas candies and treats. Santa Claus Christmas is perhaps best described in the lyrics to the popular Christmas song, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas:”


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Toys in ev'ry store
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

The greetings Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings are heard more frequently in an attempt to include all holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and perhaps even New Years so that Christians and those with other beliefs alike may all celebrate the season together.

Santa Claus Christmas is the Christmas that the Scrooges hate. They hate the songs and the busy stores and the lack of parking and slipping on the ice and whatever else they can complain about. I say bah humbug to them; Santa Claus Christmas is fun.

2- Silent Night

The Silent Night degree of Christmas is the true Christmas story; the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, the original reason people began celebrating Christmas. The Silent Night Christmas is the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, no room in the inns, shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, wise men from the east; it is, in the words of a heavenly host, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The Silent Night Christmas is the reason we give gifts to each other, although the feeling and meaning may be lost in the Santa Claus Christmas. It is the source of our feelings of goodwill toward men. The Silent Night Christmas gets its name from the sacred hymn “Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber:

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth;
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

The Silent Night Christmas is so wonderful because on that silent night over two thousand years ago, Christ, the Savior, was born. Families and communities around the world dress up and re-enact the holy scene each year, using the second chapter of Luke as their script. I believe that most people try at least to some degree to remember the Silent Night Christmas each season as they go about their Santa Claus Christmas excitement. The Silent Night Christmas is sacred and holy because the Savior and Redeemer was born on Christmas day.

3- Adult Christ

The Adult Christ degree of Christmas is the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a time of hope, peace, and love and in this third degree of Christmas, the Adult Christ Christmas, our hope of peace and love becomes real.

The Holy Infant so tender and mild “increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) and as He did so, He went about His Father’s business (see Luke 2:49). The modern prophets said of the Adult Christ:

“Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) yet was despised for it. His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example. He walked the roads of Palestine healing the sick, causing the blind to see, and raising the dead. He taught the truths of eternity, the reality of our premortal existence, the purpose of our life on earth, and the potential for the sons and daughters of God in the life to come.

“He instituted the sacrament as a reminder of His great atoning sacrifice. He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary’s cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.

“His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.”

Indeed, the Adult Christ is the real reason we celebrate Christmas. The real and lasting peace that we truly seek and that we wish upon others especially at Christmastime comes from and through the Savior. “Peace I leave with you,” He taught, “my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). He continued, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Jesus Christ did overcome the world. We gain a peace and hope of eternal life as we learn more about the Atonement. Those who have experienced hardships during the Christmas season and no longer enjoy the jollies of the Santa Claus Christmas because of undesired memories can take hope in and eventually have joy because of the Adult Christ degree of Christmas, because of His Atonement. All that is unfair in life is made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement takes a more full effect in our lives as we strive to emulate our Savior’s life of righteousness, service, and compassion. He taught, “this is my Gospel; . . . for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Nephi 27:21). As we love and serve our fellow men just as He selflessly did during His mortal ministry, we fulfill His great commandments to love the Lord God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves (see Mark 12:30-31).

This is the true meaning of Christmas: “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). The Lord loves each of His children individually and equally and desires our happiness. “Men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

May we all more fully understand and act upon the true meaning of Christmas. I wish each of you a Merry Christmas and hope that the peace, hope, and joy of this Christmas season lasts throughout the whole year.

Jeremy

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas stories- Article of the Week

Christmastime is filled with heart-warming stories of selfless acts of service and kindness that reflect the meaning of Christmas. The video is a talk given by President Thomas S. Monson, the living prophet on the earth today, at a Christmas devotional this month. The text of this talk has not been formally published so this week you get to watch the video rather than read the article.

Remember that all the warm, fuzzy stories we hear this season do nothing for anyone unless we act upon those feelings we experience while listening to them. We must go out of our way to create more selfless Christmas stories.

We must remember that this season is not Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. The main holiday that we hope is happy for all is Christmas, the commemoration of the birth of our Savior. The greetings we send to beloved family and friends is not in celebration of the season; certainly all of you who complain about the weather all winter are not celebrating the cold and the snow. Indeed, the root of the happiness and celebration this season and each year is Christmas. I understand the "politically correct" reasons in the name of tolerance and inclusion for coining other phrases that replace Merry Christmas. However, that cannot in any way deter or take away from remembering the true meaning of Christmas. The Atonement of Jesus Christ and the hope it brings is the reason we can be so happy and that we can rejoice and the reason we celebrate the birth of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ. The love He showed us and the love that our Father in Heaven shows us should reflect through us to the blessing of all God's children.

We must emulate the work of the Master in this season and throughout the entire year. Find someone to serve. It will bless you more than them.

Jeremy

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Maybe Christmas Doesn't Come From A Store"

This week's article is a few days late, and I apologize. However, the next few weeks' articles need to be very specific to the Christmas season and I have been searching for a long time for the perfect articles to post.

The article I chose this week is written by Jeffrey R. Holland entitled, '“Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store”,' from the December 1977 Ensign. In this article, Holland focuses on the significance of the original Christmas story and on the things that we can learn from the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.

I won't say more about this article or about remembering the real purpose and meaning of Christmas; I am writing a Christmas post that will hopefully be up by the end of the week in which I will share my thoughts and feelings about the season. I will, however, add my short testimony to that of Elder Holland's. Jesus Christ is our Savior. His birth in this mortal world was heralded by angels and wondrous signs because His life, which did not begin in Bethlehem, would not end on Calvary's cross. He lives. He is our Savior and His life, death, resurrection, and Atonement provides hope and the means to all of us that we may also receive eternal life which is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’ ”

Jeremy

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Good, Better, Best

Our lives are filled with many choices and, as part of His plan for us, Our Heavenly Father has given us agency that we may choose do many things of our own free will and bring to pass much righteousness (see D&C 58:27). In order to bring to pass much righteousness and live a full, rewarding, and happy life, we must make choices between good and bad decisions. However, not all our choices that effect our lives are decisions between good and bad; some decisions that affect our eternal potential and happiness concern only good choices. Many good situations, people, and activities compete for our time, leaving us needing to prioritize in order to accomplish all that we wish to accomplish and reach our eternal potential.

In his General Conference talk in October 2007, the apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk entitled, "Good, Better, Best," concerning the decisions we make in this life. In his talk, he explained that we do not have enough time in this life to do all of the good things there are to do. He counseled:

"As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all."

He continued:

"We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families."

Keeping the commandments and striving to do that which the Lord expects is hard and we absolutely have to give up some good things in order to be anxiously engaged in the better and best things.

Some of the good-better-best decisions in our lives are similar to the ones described in this talk. Listen to Elder Oaks' counsel and let the Spirit help you know how you can best apply these principles in your own lives. Some of the good-better-best decisions in our lives are not described in his talk. Think about some of the things you do in your life that are good such as striving to be honest, making a living for yourself and your family, and believing in God. Make the distinction between good things and not-bad things. I believe one mentality that many of us posess is that as long as we don't do bad things, we're fine. Of course not breaking the law or not taking advantage of our neighbor is good. But we must also do good, better, and best things. We can't just not do bad things, we must be anxiously engaged in a good cause, we must go to church, we must act on our faith in God, we must strive to better our situations and look for opportunities to serve those around us. Just because you aren't doing bad things or making bad decisions does not mean you can coast through life and still qualify for the greatest of all the gifts of God, even eternal life (see D&C 14:7). Seek out the better and best things, they aren't hard to find although they may be hard to do, at least initially. But the promised blessings are so incredibly worth everything we forego.

As we follow the counsel in this talk and the counsel of other apostles and prophets modern and ancient, we will know how to decide which choices are better and best for us. As we pray for direction, guidance, and strength, we will be able to sacrifice some of the good choices so that we may make better and best choices. Power in making correct decisions comes from keeping an eternal perspective.

Jeremy

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"Don't you think that our happiness is a result of our spirituality?"

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend with whom I had not spoken in months. We’re in different places doing different things but I texted her about a band and our discussion eventually turned to life and happiness. I asked her if she was happy, a question that wasn’t necessarily fishing for a deep answer yet I was willing to listen to whatever answer I received. She began to talk about her spiritual life and about how although she’s going to church and doing the right things, she feels as though she’s in a rut as far as spiritual matters are concerned. She asked, “don’t you think our happiness is a result of our spirituality? The happiest moments of my life were when I was spiritually strong.” Absolutely! With that statement, she nailed the problem right on the head. When you’re unhappy—and I’m talking about the prolonged, not-situational-and-temporary sort of unhappy—take a step back and look at the actions in your life. Once you sift through all of the good things that you are doing, you may notice the lack of better or best things in your life. Often, good things crowd our schedules and our lives and we don’t realize that better things and best things exist that would make us happier. For instance, going to church is a good thing, but going to church and trying to find people to serve is better. Avoiding sin is good, but filling our lives with meaningful activities that bring us closer to God is better. Reading the scriptures is good, but truly studying the scriptures and seeking revelation through the Holy Ghost is better.

I confided in her that I felt somewhat the same way and shared with her some of the reasons why I thought I was not feeling at a spiritual high. We spoke about things that we could do and things we have done in order to stay on top and maintain a high level of spirituality, among these things were studying the scriptures and praying earnestly and sincerely.

Scripture Study and Prayer

Praying and studying the scriptures are not new suggestions, nor are they unique to her or my situation. Anyone and everyone can and should, indeed are commanded to read and study the scriptures and converse with God though thoughtful prayer (see Matt 6:6; 7:7-8; 3 Nephi 18:19-21; Alma 37:37 to start). I heard it once said that scriptures that are falling apart are being used by someone who isn’t. Indeed, if we are consistently studying the word of God through His chosen prophets and apostles, we are more receptive to the Holy Ghost and we are more spiritually prepared to face the trials and temptations of the adversary.

Prayer keeps us close to our Father in Heaven and helps us know that whatever may happen to us in this life, short-term or long-term, we have a loving Heavenly Father who will stand by us and has everything under control. The prophet, President Thomas S. Monson said that prayer is the provider of spiritual strength and the passport for peace.1

Understanding and Recognizing the Power of the Atonement

As the conversation progressed and we discussed these truths that we both knew to be true but of which we sometimes need to be reminded, deeper concerns began to surface. She referred to things in her past about which I already knew but did not know were still bothering her, things that required the Atonement to fix. These previous actions from her past made her feel unworthy to ask the Lord about unrelated concerns she was having in present time although she had fully repented and moved on long ago. She compared herself to one of our friends who is experiencing some of the present trials she is and who is also not necessarily receiving answers to his prayers either. She made the argument that if he, who hadn’t made the same mistakes she did, wasn’t getting answers, then why should she?

The Savior taught, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42; see also Hebrews 10:17). This promise should give us hope and encouragement that when we have truly repented of our sins and have allowed the Spirit to make “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2), we are clean and we can continue onward and upward. The Lord does not dwell on “repented-of sins” and neither should we.

Once you have truly repented, you are just as worthy as one who never committed the sin. In relation to the comparison my friend made to another, seemingly better friend I say this: we cannot compare ourselves to those who we think have not made mistakes as severe as ours and thus judge our worthiness against theirs. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, ”Remember: the heavens will not be filled with those who never made mistakes but with those who recognized that they were off course and who corrected their ways to get back in the light of gospel truth.”2

President Harold B. Lee said, “When you have done all within your power to overcome your mistakes, and have determined in your heart that you will never repeat them again, then … peace of conscience [can come to you] by which you will know that your sins have been forgiven.”3 Do not forget the peace of conscience you received as you fully repented and turned your heart completely to God. Do not allow the master of deceit and the father of lies to convince you that you are still unworthy and therefore do not qualify for the blessings which your Heavenly Father wishes to bestow upon you.

Applying Truth

One aspect that may be frustrating to many of us is that these are truths we know and ones we understand yet we still find ourselves not acting on them. "A knowledge of truth is of little value unless we apply it in making correct decisions."4 None of the things that my friend and I discussed was new to her, she knows and understands the gospel of Jesus Christ, she just needed to hear it again and be reminded of that, which she already knew and realize that the entire gospel applies to her.

The key is always striving to do what is right and do what will bring us lasting happiness. President Uchtdorf said, “My dear brothers and sisters, don’t get discouraged if you stumble at times. Don’t feel downcast or despair if you don’t feel worthy to be a disciple of Christ at all times. The first step to walking in righteousness is simply to try. We must try to believe. Try to learn of God: read the scriptures; study the words of His latter-day prophets; choose to listen to the Father, and do the things He asks of us. Try and keep on trying until that which seems difficult becomes possible—and that which seems only possible becomes habit and a real part of you.”5

There is the key to success and happiness in this life and the life to come. Do not allow the adversary, the one who “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27) throw you off course and distract you from your righteous goals and eternal potential. If you feel as though you are in a spiritual rut, take the time to evaluate your life and figure out what better and best things you could be doing that would pull you up and set you back on the right course. Pray more sincerely, study the scriptures more diligently, do those things that you know to be true and correct. If you feel that you are doing the things you should be doing, figure out how to do those things better, for none of us is perfect and we can always improve. Then, as you continually strive to increase in righteousness, do not become distracted and allow feelings of inadequacy, imperfection, guilt, discouragement, despair, and disappointment cloud your eternal perspective. Do not allow the devil to plant doubting thoughts in your mind. Remember that God is the author of love, peace, and happiness; Satan is the source of doubt, despair, inadequacy, and misery. Remember that God wants us to feel godly sorrow and remorse unto repentance. Satan wants us to continue to feel guilt and unworthiness after repentance. Always remember that you are a child of God and that He loves you. Taught John, “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).

I know that God lives and that He loves us. He hears and answers our prayers. I am grateful for the restored truth in our day through the prophet Joseph Smith, and the continued revelation and guidance through the Lord’s living prophet President Thomas S. Monson. The Atonement is real and is available to all of God’s children.

Jeremy

Notes:

1. See Thomas S. Monson, “Be Your Best Self,” Ensign, May 2009, 67–70; focus on the three suggestions in the middle of the talk.
2. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “A Matter of a Few Degrees,” Ensign, May 2008, 57–60.
3. See “Law of Chastity Vital, Girls Told,” Church News, Sept. 2, 1972, 7.
4. Richard G. Scott, “Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 90–92.
5. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 23.

Other Related articles:

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Point of Safe Return,” Ensign, May 2007, 99–101
Anthony D. Perkins, “The Great and Wonderful Love,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 76-78

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great and Wonderful Love

In our day, many things press us for our time and attention. Temptations of every kind constantly bombard us from every direction. The world would have us believe that we need to be prettier, smarter, more powerful, and richer. Amidst these distractions, the real purpose of life and those things that are of real importance that bring true satisfaction and happiness can become lost.

This week's article helps us to understand what is most important and helps us focus on the love that God has for each of us. The article is entitled “The Great and Wonderful Love,” and is a talk given by Elder Anthony D. Perkins of the quorum of the seventy in the October 2006 General Conference.

Satan wants us to feel inadequate, exaggeratedly imperfect, and guilty for things of which we have fully repented, each of which are contrary to that which the Atonement teaches and are not feelings from a loving Heavenly Father. In response to these unheavenly feelings, Elder Perkins offers—"in addition to consistent prayers, scripture study, and Church and temple attendance—five changes to your thoughts and heart to more fully feel the tender love of God." The principles taught in this article are from God. Apply them in your life.

Since life is enough of a challege even with His help, we need not make our lives even harder by prescribing to the way Satan would have us feel and forgetting God's love. Our Heavenly Father loves every one of us since He created us. He is our Father in Heaven and He looks out for us.

Jeremy