Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas is a Greater Show

It’s the Christmas season, and once again both Hollywood and politically correct supporters want to steal the show. It is disturbing how far we have sunk in the name of political correctness. It is unbearable to think of the sacrifices that our Founding Fathers made for this Country to supply us with the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and so forth. So much of the founding was based on Judeo-Christian principles and patterns that have worked well in past democracies and republics. But the name of Jesus Christ is no longer politically correct. In this world of sophistry reigning supreme, it is still the meek that shall inherit the earth (See Matt 5:5). Why? Because our Lord and Savior said so.

As I have studied the scriptures from childhood through my 53rd year here on this earth, one thing has been made clear to me. The Lord has always done the will of the Father (See John 5:30), putting His own needs and interests on the altar of sacrifice, and supplying for our constant welfare and support, in both offering us peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come, if we will but accept Him as our Savior and determine to follow Him (See Matthew 16:24). Following His example means that we must also put our needs and interests on the altar of sacrifice by giving to Him a broken heart and a contrite spirit. What does that mean? It means that we keep His commandments…all of them…to the very best of our ability; and, it means that we accept His laws, recognizing that they are never obsolete, no matter how many people scoff and scorn and shake their fists. Hopefully, those who have chosen to do so will find their way to repentance before that is all that they are able to do.

Another thing that I have learned is that Lucifer or Satan is very capable in his abilities of persuasion (See Revelation 12:3-9), but somehow he seems to have remained underdeveloped, like an everlasting self-centered teenager. Truly part of our real growth into maturity comes from our submitting ourselves to the will of the Father. Have you noticed that those who put their own wants, needs, and desires before the common good of their own families or humanity as a whole, care very little for the wants, needs, and desires of their fellowmen? They possess underdeveloped souls, every searching for pleasure and reassurance that their ways are just as truthful and good as the Lord’s ways, because they serve their purposes, and their personal freedoms are paramount in their own eyes. But they do not foresee how their self-centeredness affects everyone else around them and society as a whole. So instead of accepting that they indeed might be in the wrong, they proclaim that there is no right or wrong, that there is no God and no devil. The devil has perpetuated this common lie since the very beginning of time. Interesting, isn’t it, how he puts evil thoughts and desires into men’s hearts and then he tells them, “I am no devil, for there is none (See 2 Nephi 28:21-22)?” He must feel jolly good about himself to fool so many.

And that brings us back to Heavenly Father’s true plan for us. Since Adam and Eve, our Heavenly Father has supplied His spirit sons and daughters a correct family model to bring forth all the families of the earth. And God gave Adam and Eve this commandment in the Garden of Eden, “To multiply and replenish the earth (See Genesis 1:28).” He further explained this commandment, stating that “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24).” This is God’s pattern for the family. There is no other. But Hollywood and television media have been carefully working out new family patterns since the 50s and 60s to gear people up for Satan’s eventually well-accepted lie that all relationships are equal and that there is no set pattern for the family. And as family life has been misplaced by government programs, the erosion of society has been underway. And for those who think that it is all okay, No, it is not. This has happened before in other societies, and they were destroyed (See Genesis 19). Vanity of vanities, there is nothing new under the sun (See Ecclesiastes 1).

Why is the family unit important (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World)? Being placed in families gives us the greatest potential for growth in our lives and in our development to become more like our Heavenly Father. Husband and wife work together to supply the best environment that they can for their children. If they have entered their relationship responsibly, with maturity, covenanting with each other and with God, they sacrifice many of their own needs and desires for one another and for their children. They put the welfare of the entire family at the forefront of everything they do, not just exalting one person’s interests at the disparity of all others. They seek to follow the Father's will. Doesn't that sound familiar? It is the pattern that the Lord set for us in putting the common welfare of all people above his own comfort and welfare. The family allows us to establish an environment that is in keeping with God’s law and that helps us develop into mature selfless beings that are becoming more like our Heavenly Father.

Now I am not a perfect family member, but I do try to do what is right. There are many things that I have chosen not to do because I knew that those things would bring dishonor to both my earthly parents and my Heavenly Father. As a parent, many of my decisions have been based upon what is good for my husband in his professional endeavors; what is good for our children in their growth, learning, and progression into adulthood; and what is the Lord's will. As a result, I have not been diminished in any way; but, if anything, have become more accomplished as a result. Also, there are many things that I have chosen to do, because I was taught by good Christian parents who established a healthy environment for learning and growth, and because I have personally studied the scriptures, tried to be of Christian service, and gained a firm faith, hope, and testimony of my Lord Jesus Christ. This pattern we have sought to perpetuate in our own home.

And for the things I have done wrong, I have felt appropriately guilty, acknowledged my errors to God and to those He deemed necessary, and recommitted myself to His plan for me. As children of the Highest, we are never promoting ourselves well by leaving His path and going on our own merry way, thinking that we are now free. Cain made that mistake in the beginning (See Moses 5:30-33). And so it has continued; we bring personal and perpetual destruction when we deviate from God’s course. In contrast, the best way to promote ourselves is to follow God’s plan. He has so much more to offer us (See Luke 14:11, Moses 1:39).

So much of what happens in the media today seems to draw our attention away from what is most important. If we would all receive direction to focus on the Savior of mankind, we would begin to heal as a nation (See 2 Chronicles 7:14). Because of the easiness of such a choice, to just turn and look to the Savior, many turn themselves about and seek disparaging counsel and continue to struggle in darkness (See John 3:14-15; 1 Nephi 17:41). There is no peace and salvation offered that can reach to every struggling mortal soul than that which has been offered by God in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ (See John 3:16-17). He is the way, the truth, and the life (See John 14:6). There is no other way that is acceptable than the Lord’s way. And the Lord’s way cannot be changed or eradicated. Like the Lord, His ways are eternal. And the established pattern of families to include a husband and a wife, who may become a father and mother, who may be blessed with children that Heavenly Father sends to that union is not just a pattern, but it is eternal law. No matter what man does to obliterate God’s laws, they will still stand. Those who worship the Father in spirit and in truth, those who trust in the words of the prophet and the atoning sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son, these are the ones who will be blessed for adherence to the laws despite the ridicule and condemnation of the world. These are those whom Jesus prayed for, and these are those whom He will claim (See John 17:9-26).

So back to the Christmas Season. May the Spirit of Christ reign in our hearts throughout this season and throughout all the years ahead! May we decide that Jesus will be our focus and that the distractions of the world will only serve to make us more determined to both follow Him and pray for our fellowmen to have the opportunity for a change of heart, a chance for repentance, and the gift of following Him in their own lives. Christmas is a reality. This season is not just a holiday. It is a celebration of a Holy Day: the day that our Lord and Savior was born, fulfilling the prophecies of all the holy prophets, and bringing us hope of his glorious sacrifice and our impending rebirth and salvation through Him. And Christmas grows in ever deeper importance because Easter is a reality. Jesus Christ lives. To Him be all praise and glory both now and forevermore. The captive shall go free. All shall live again. And the righteous shall be exalted through His perfect grace and holiness. Let us turn our hearts and thoughts back to the Savior. He will not forsake us, and He will offer us His perfect peace in the midst of unsettling times (See John 14:27).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We Lost More Troops in Afghanistan, and This is a Reason for our Country to Be Even More Divided?

We Lost More Troops in Afghanistan, and This is a Reason for our Country to Be Even More Divided?

We lost more troops in Afghanistan, and this is a reason for our Country to be even more divided? Facebook responses show that we are not one nation, but several with differing opinions. There are the humble who are saddened and turn to God in faith, praying for the welfare and peace of the soldiers’ families, especially during this Christmas season. There are those who condemn people of belief, saying that God is their make-believe friend. There are those who either blame God or question a God who would allow this to happen. There are those who readily blame Obama, because he promised that he would hurriedly bring our soldiers home. This was during his campaigning periods; but, while in office, he’s been faced with the complexities of the situation. There are those who defend Obama, because they view him as beyond scrutiny, and they always have, and they always will. In turn, they call all those who do not favor Obama conservative sheep who just follow a conservative news media. There are others who claim that there is no such thing as a conservative news media. There are those who are still blaming Bush because he’s the one who first took our troops into Iraq and Afghanistan. They claim that the war was all about oil, not about atrocities committed against our nation, other nations, and even the people of the nations with which we went to war (in hopes of establishing a degree of freedom for those people). Most everybody supported Bush in his decision; but, then most readily dismissed that they did so. It must be remembered that Obama did not start this war; neither did Bush start this war. There was a terrorist attack on our nation! The saddest thing of all is that there are those who think that the soldiers received their just and due reward. To be so blind that you cannot see the great love of country and people that these men and women have, that they sacrifice their daily lives, putting personal and family pursuits on hold; that they even offer the ultimate sacrifice of life and breath, is ingratitude in its deepest depths. Why do the people of this country choose to be divided?

There is a great sifting process happening now in the world. People have been richly blessed in this generation, and most in the United States have really seen nothing of war, except what the media chooses to show. But there are those who have valiantly served our Country, and they have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Not all is bad, but news ratings thrive on sensationalism. There are people in the world who have looked to God for understanding and direction in their lives, and they have felt a measure of peace, even while living in the great confusion that surrounds them. They are often condemned as ignorant and blind by those who exercise their right to claim personal superiority, because they see no need for a God in their lives. They constantly tell those who have faith that they lack reasoning and that they make no sense. Just remember, faith never makes sense to the faithless. But for those of faith, we do have hope for the better world of promise that is not out of reach to those who believe and put their trust in God.

Most United States citizens have not seen much of war since World War II. I believe that because the people of the United States united in a common purpose during that war, it became a time of great growth for the country. We became stronger as a people and stronger as a country and a world power. But that strength was founded in a common purpose and a united faith. Today, many feel too superior to work towards unity in any degree. The backlash in Facebook posts and responses show the extreme lack of unity and the justifications for remaining in disharmony.

When you write on Facebook, you are exercising your freedom of speech. When others respond, they are doing the same thing. You can't expect to just write and not have responses. All are entitled to their opinions. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't agree. I just wish that people didn't think that they are displaying intelligence by stating that others are stupid. We are so lacking in common courtesy and diplomacy as an entire nation, and then we wonder why we are at war. It’s not Bush’s fault or Obama’s fault; it goes much deeper than that. If we cannot learn to be civil in our communications with each other, why would we expect civility among differing nations and peoples. It's all right for someone to have an opinion without others attacking his or her intelligence and/or integrity. So strange. You would think that when troops are lost, we could all agree that it is sad the troops have been lost. If we had less hate in our own country, we might begin to have less hate in the world.

I am no politician or political scholar, so I have no proposals for change, other than this: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” If each of us were to develop a love of God and a love of fellowmen in our own hearts, not only would we transform ourselves into children of the Highest, but we would transform the world. I cannot do much, but I can have influence in my own life, in the life of my family and my neighbors to some degree; I can have influence in my church congregation and in my community. So can you. If individuals (and families) would decide now as Joshua did of old (when he said that as from him and his house, they would serve the Lord), we would have a promised change, and it would begin with a change of heart, and it would be the change that would unite us as a people and as a world; and it would prepare us for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. As we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” this season, let us also pray that we will have the strength to rise up and prepare for a peaceful world so that we may take part in His return. Our Country’s unity, and world unity, depends upon each of us developing a unified relationship with our Maker. To become one nation under God, we must begin to live the motto, “In God is our trust.”

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Does Jesus Fit into your Christmas?

Does Jesus fit into your Christmas? Christians the world over have been taught about the prophecies leading to Christ’s birth: that the promised Messiah was born in a stable and cradled in a manger, that His birth was the greatest gift ever given to the world by God, the Father of us all; but, do Christians remember Jesus on Christmas day? Does Jesus fit into your holiday plans? Does He fit into your life all through the year?

My mother-in-law made each person in our family a Christmas stocking. When I was pregnant with our first baby, she made a stocking that just said “Baby” on it, and it had both pink and white yarn with white as well. This particular stocking evolved into our stocking for Jesus. This stocking became a place where we could deliver messages meant for the Christ-child; we deposited our gifts for Him there. It became a lovely family tradition. It is a way for us to fit Jesus into our celebration. What are some ways your family remembers Jesus at Christmastime?

Our current Bishop has challenged Ward members during the last quarter of the year to reread the Book of Mormon before Christmas. Reading the scriptures is another way that we can bring Jesus into Christmas, or to remember why we celebrate Christmas to begin with. In past years, our family has read the four Gospels during the months leading up to Christmas. And always, on Christmas Eve, the father in our home reads us the Christmas Story as found in the Gospel of Luke. What books of scripture or other inspiring books or magazines do you read to help you remember and to prepare you for Christmas?

Christ’s mission was all about service, giving, sharing, and saving. Every year we have enjoyed holiday baking and sharing our treats with neighbors and friends. One year our family acted as Santa Claus and took little presents to another family each day for twelve days leading up to Christmas. Our children felt the joy and excitement of giving anonymously and the anticipation of doing so without being caught. Other years we have chosen names from giving trees, so that we could help individuals or families receive a nice present for Christmas. My husband and I have been involved in missionary work, and there really is no greater pleasure than teaching people about Jesus and our Heavenly Father’s great love for all of us and watching them accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. What are some activities that you engage in that bring joy to others and the Spirit of Christmas into your heart?

We all have our own holiday traditions, and that is as it should be. We are blessed and entitled to believe and to celebrate as well choose. But Christmastime, for me, is a reminder that Christ does live! He is my Savior. He was born as an infant to Mary, His mother; and, God is His Father. Jesus is God’s Literal and Only Begotten Son. Joseph was a righteous man who acted as a mortal father to our Mortal Messiah, teaching Him about his earthly trade of carpentry and guiding Him in His spiritual development. Christmastime is a time for me to contemplate the great love that our Father in Heaven has for all of us in sending His Son to teach us by precept and example, to show us the way back to Heaven, and to pay the price of our admittance there with His own suffering, death, and resurrection. Christmastime is a time for me to remember that the focus of my life, not just the Christmas season, should always be centered in Jesus Christ. As I focus on Jesus Christ, my vision is not limited, but magnified, as I begin to see His great love for me and to feel my love begin to expand for others.

Today I am recommitting to fit Jesus into my Christmas and into my daily life throughout the year. I will need to make this a daily commitment in prayer each morning, and report back each night to my Heavenly Father. I know that some days I’ll do better than others, but Christmastime reminds me of God’ great Plan of Redemption. Each day I can repent and begin on my journey again. I’m thankful for this powerful gift. So my gift in return is to not give up, but to keep on trying, no matter how poorly or how well I think I am doing. Christmastime for many of us becomes a time to review our year and determine to do a little bit better. My gift for 2014 will be to review how I am doing much more often and to be concerned about charting my course more carefully from day to day. I desire for Jesus to fit into my Christmas now and to my daily routines, and spiritually guided deviations from my plans, each day of the year and coming years. Will I be successful at fitting Jesus into my life? If I do as He did and seek to do my Heavenly Father’s will and not merely my own, I know I will be.

Does Jesus fit into your Christmas? Will Jesus fit into your life in 2014?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Does Santa Fit into Your Christmas?

Does Santa Fit into Your Christmas?

Santa Claus has become a controversial subject in the scheme of Christmas giving. Some have entirely abolished him from their families’ traditions, which is their right. The main emphasis for Christmas has always been and should always be that the prophets’ words were recognized and fulfilled: Jesus Christ came into the world to save the world from death and sin. Many explanations have been invented to explain how Santa fits into the Christmas Story; and, in many way, he really does not. We should keep our focus on the Savior, the humble birth of the Son of God, and the richness of His story of giving and forgiving; the King of all becoming the servant of all, to show all the road back to His Kingdom.

The main thing to note is that every family is free to create its own traditions. When a son leaves his family and a daughter leaves her family, and the two of them create a new family, they then need to decide what is the proper path for them to take; this applies to all holidays and all parenting choices. There will be a blending of traditions and the creation of new traditions. It’s a beautiful thing, because a new family is created and they set the environment for love and growth, for understanding and discipline. They have the opportunity to set the stage and the rules for their own holidays. In doing so, they can create an environment that is conducive to true discipleship of Jesus Christ and the Spirit of reaching out to others in gift giving and charity, or they can create an environment that perpetuates self-centeredness.

We have done the Santa thing in my family of origin and in the family I created with my husband; but, we never carried it into a perpetual lie. I remember asking my mom, "Santa isn't real, is he?" when I was in Kindergarten or something. She told me that he is just a fun story. (She really had been saying that all along.) We all knew it was just a fun make-believe story. Some parents go overboard to prove he's real; I think that's wrong. Our emphasis should be on teaching that Jesus Christ is real; that the gospel--the good news of Heavenly Father's gift for us is real. In doing so, we emphasize the importance of Jesus Christ in our lives. Christmas has always had its center in Jesus Christ for me.

That being said, I think that the biggest mistake in having all the presents delivered by Santa is that children do not learn to give thanks to those who are actually making sacrifices to give them the presents. They should have the opportunity to thank their parents and family members and to always return thanks to God, who really is the One who gives us everything. We always just had our children's stockings and one or two gifts from Santa. If they woke up earlier, on Christmas day, than the rest of the family, that was all they were allowed to open. Mainly our Christmas giving was from members of the family to each other, and we took turns opening one gift at a time, from the youngest to the oldest. All of our children realized Santa was make-believe because we taught them that was so, but it still was fun to set things out on Christmas Eve and wake up to presents under the tree. It was fun to have older children help set things up for younger ones, too. And it was still fun to set out a plate of cookies for Santa.

(One more thing that was important in our family. We did not ever want to bring commercialism into the Sabbath day, so if Christmas happened to fall on Sunday, the Santa presents arrived a day early. We also did not like to have Easter bunny baskets on Sunday. That was just something we decided would work best for our own family.)

So I don't think Santa is entirely wrong. But I do think that he should be taught to just be a fun story from the very beginning. I think that he should be taught to be one representation of the spirit of giving. One year our family had an especially fun time playing Sub for Santa and delivering surprises to a more needy family than our own for the 12 days leading up to Christmas. That truly brought the Spirit of Christmas into our hearts more than ever. Children need to learn the magic of giving and find joy and glory in that. We shouldn’t allow the Santa that our family perpetuates to teach our children to carry an attitude of indulgence and entitlement which merely focuses on the getting.

If we want to teach our children to have a truly joyous Christmas, we should help them focus on what they can give to one another and to what they can give to others—and these gifts need not, and indeed should not always be, things that can be bought with money. If we focus on the gifts from our Heavenly Father in the Gift of His Son; and if we focus on the many gifts that Jesus has given us as we read about and study His life, we will find that the best gifts that we receive are not monetary, but they are gifts of the heart. Children are great at giving gifts of the heart, and we need to recognize when they give those gifts and encourage them to keep giving gifts of purity.

Giving too much time to the question of yea or nay to Santa also draws attention away from the Savior. So, for me, Christmastime doesn’t really present the question of whether or not to abolish Santa Claus entirely from our family traditions; for me, the questions are, “How can I show my thanks to Heavenly Father for the priceless and endless gift of His Son? How can I live my life to show my appreciation? How can I transform my attitude and my daily life so as to make my life a gift to Them, and so as to be a better example to my children and to others? How can I serve others in meaningful ways to help them feel the Savior’s love in their lives? What is the most important thing that I can do this season to give a gift to Jesus Christ, my Savior? In asking these types of questions, I believe that we can turn our focus to the Savior and have a Christ-centered Christmas that extends beyond our family and that can fill our hearts with the peace of the Savior throughout the New Year.

Merry Christmas to all! (...and to all a good night)!