Sunday, December 26, 2010

Joseph, the Man and the Prophet

December 23 is the birthday of the prophet Joseph Smith. Not wanting to upstage the birth of the Savior, I've waited until now to honor the first prophet of this dispensation and the man through whom the Church of Jesus Christ was restored.

For those of you who know little of the prophet Joseph Smith, I encourage you to start here rather than firing up a new Google or Wikipedia search. Remember the source of the information you obtain, especially on the internet. Joseph Smith was a boy of fourteen when God the Father and His son Jesus Christ appeared to him and called him to be the prophet through whom the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ would be restored. The priesthood--the power to act in the name of God to perform saving ordinances such as baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and the power to perform miracles such as healing the sick--was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith by John the Baptist and by Peter, James, and John. Additional heavenly messengers visited Joseph including the angel Moroni who told Joseph of an ancient record written on gold plates hidden in a hill not far from the Smith family farm. From these gold plates by the power of God Joseph translated a record called the Book of Mormon--a collection of writings by ancient prophets living on the American continents compiled by the prophet Mormon for us in our day.

On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith gave his life for the work to which he had been called by God. John Taylor, an apostle and later President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and who was present at the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph wrote:

Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood;"

The article this week is entitled, "Joseph, the Man and the Prophet," a talk given by apostle Elder Dallin H. Oaks during the April 1996 General Conference. I chose this talk because Elder Oaks talks about what he calls, "lesser-known aspects of [the prophet's] life that further affirm his prophetic calling." Read this talk.

I love the prophet Joseph. I know he was a prophet of God.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Testimony of the Son of God

The article this week is entitled, "A Testimony of the Son of God," written by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) for the December 2002 Ensign. President Hinckley was a prophet of God and he spoke the mind and will of God. His words are true. The article is his testimony, given as the prophet of God of our Lord Jesus Christ. Read it. The Spirit that you will feel will help you understand the spirit of Christmas even more.

President Hinckley said of the Christmas season:

It is proper during this season when we commemorate His birth that we remember the Lord Jesus Christ in reverence and with love. He has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has brought meaning to our mortal existence. He has given us the gift of eternal life. He was and is the Son of God, who was “made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Along with the article this week, I want to share with you my testimony of Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this season. I love the Savior. I am increasingly grateful for His sacrifice; for His willingness to volunteer to be the central figure in the plan of our Heavenly Father; for His selfless and perfect example of how we can be happy in this life; and for His Atonement that we may become clean and return to live with Him, our Father in Heaven, and our earthly families forever. Let Him in this Christmas season and throughout the next year. Notice the difference in your life.

I echo the words of the prophet:

God be thanked for the gift of His Son, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind, the Prince of Life and Peace, the Holy One.

Merry Christmas everyone.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

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.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Giving With Joy

Christmas is the season to be jolly, forget about diets, drive around looking at lights, and stress about what we're going to get everyone on our ever-growing Christmas lists. Some of you are just starting the process of figuring out what to get everyone, some of you have been in the process for weeks or months and some of you are wondering why anyone would think about anything related to gift-giving before Christmas Eve.

Whatever your situation, I hope that the article this week can help you in some way to sift through the Santa Claus degree of Christmas and find the other two deeper degrees that your Christmas may be merry and bright.

In the December 1982 Ensign President Henry B. Eyring wrote an article entitled, "Giving With Joy," in which he taught, "what matters in giving is what the receiver feels." His "theory on giving a great gift" as he calls it involves three parts which he illustrates with a story of a gift given to his family by his Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine when his mother passed away.

Wrote President Eyring:

First, I knew that Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine had felt what I was feeling and had been touched.

Second, I felt that the gift was free. I knew Uncle Bill and Aunt Catherine had chosen freely to bring a gift. They weren’t doing it to compel a response from me; the gift seemed to provide them joy in the giving.

And third, there was an element of sacrifice. Someone might say, “But how could they give for the joy of it and yet make sacrifice?” Well, I could see the sacrifice.

I like the focus on the giver of the gift. The effectiveness of the gift his family received wasn't the actual gift itself, in this case a bottle of cherries, but the manner and attitude in which it was given made the gift effective. He continued:

Now, it won’t be easy to use this theory to make great strides in our gift-giving this Christmas. It will take some practice, more than one holiday, to learn how to be touched by what’s inside others. And giving freely and counting sacrifice as joy, will take a while. But we could at least start this Christmas being a good receiver. We have the power to make others great gift-givers by what we notice. We can make any gift better by what we choose to see—and we can, by failing to notice, make any gift a failure. Gift giving takes a giver and a receiver. I hope no one uses this theory to criticize the gifts and giving that come his way this year, but to see how often his heart is understood and how often gifts are given joyfully, even with sacrifice.

Our attitude and the manner in which we receive gifts can have a great effect on the spirit of gift-giving.

Now on another, deeper note President Eyring taught: 

If that warms you as it does me, you may well want to give a gift to the Savior. But he seems to have everything, doesn’t he? Well, not quite. He doesn’t have all of us with him again, forever—not yet. I hope we are touched enough by the feelings of his heart to sense how much he wants to know each of us is coming home to him. We can’t give that gift to him in one day, or in one Christmas. But we could show him today that we are on the way.

If we have already done that, there is still something left to give. All around us are people he loves, and he wants to help them—through us.

One of the sure signs of a person who has accepted the gift of the Savior’s atonement is a willingness to give. The process of cleansing our lives seems to make us more sensitive, more generous, more pleased to share what means so much to us.

And so what shall we do to appreciate and give a merry Christmas? “Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8.)

As we go about our gift-giving during this wonderful season, think about what would make the best gifts. Think about those to whom you are giving gifts and strive to understand what would bless their lives the most. Get in the true spirit of the season, for the Savior taught, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

We can all show the Savior that we have accepted His ultimate gift as we reach out to those around us with His love. Be mindful of those in need, of those to whom He would pay extra special attention if He were here--those to whom He needs us to pay special attention because He is not here.

May your Christmas season be filled with the perfect gift-giving and receiving.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Of Things That Matter Most

"Have you ever been in an airplane and experienced turbulence? The most common cause of turbulence is a sudden change in air movement causing the aircraft to pitch, yaw, and roll. While planes are built to withstand far greater turbulence than anything you would encounter on a regular flight, it still may be disconcerting to passengers.

"What do you suppose pilots do when they encounter turbulence? A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road.

"Therefore, it is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions."

The above excerpt was taken from a talk by the apostle President Dieter F. Uchtdorf entitled, "Of Things That Matter Most." In the most recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Uchtdorf spoke about slowing down in life and refocusing on the things that matter most.

As I read this talk recently, so many things stuck out to me. He teaches so many solid principles about slowing down and enjoying life to it's full potential. You have to read this talk. The gospel and plan of Jesus Christ is plain and simple yet elegant and beautiful, much like our lives can and should be. "We would do well to slow down a little, proceed at the optimum speed for our circumstances, focus on the significant, lift up our eyes, and truly see the things that matter most."

President Uchtdorf outlines four key relationships upon which we should focus regarding things that matter most:

  1. Our relationship with God. "As we seek Him, . . . our lives become more stable and secure. We experience greater peace, joy, and fulfillment as we give our best to live according to God's eternal plan and keep His commandments."
  2. Our relationship with our families. "Since "no other success can compensate for failure" here, we must place a high priority on our families."
  3. Our relationship with our fellowman. "We build this relationship one person at a time--by being sensitive to the needs of others, serving them, and giving of our time and talents."
  4. Our relationship with ourselves. "[R]educe the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better."
He closed with these words, "Let us simplify out lives a little. Let us make necessary changes to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship--the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace."

I understand that becoming overwhelmed with day to day tasks in the midst of larger responsibilities such as school, work, and family duties is quite easy. I also understand that we can only do so much. At least I can only do so much; perhaps some of you are more superhuman. But no matter how much each of us thinks we can handle or are convinced that we "have" to do, we are happier when we simplify and prioritize. The best things in life are those that bring us closer to our Savior and our families and all others, however good they may be, have the potential to distract, disorient, and debilitate.

King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon taught, "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and in order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again it is expedient that he might be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order" (Mosiah 4:27).


For further reading, see, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Good, Better, Best," Ensign, Nov 2007