Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Choices and Goals

                Many people make New Year resolutions and forget them a few days or a few weeks later.  Other people set goals and make plans to put those goals into effect in their lives.  Which group are you in?

                Resolutions can be a spur of the moment idea, but goals take a bit of time to put into effect.  “Goals reflect the desires of our hearts and our vision of what we can accomplish.  Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action.  Goal setting and planning are acts of faith.” (See Preach My Gospel, Use Time Wisely, Chapter 8).

                In order to set goals, we first have to make some choices.  We have to choose what direction we desire to go with our lives, such as asking ourselves what we will do about our physical condition.  Will we continue to let our weight go up and our health decrease or will we start eating healthy foods and exercising?

                President Thomas S. Monson said that there are three Rs to making choices:  (1) right of choice, (2) responsibility of choice, and (3) results of choice.  After reminding us that our choices have consequences, he discussed the three Rs.  Our right to choose came with us from our premortal existence.  The gift of agency, or the right to choose, was given to us there by our Heavenly Father, and Satan tried to take our agency from us.  President Monson quoted President David O. McKay as saying, “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man.”

                President Monson continued:  “Next, with the right of choice comes the responsibility to choose.  We cannot be neutral; there is no middle ground.  The Lord knows this; Lucifer knows this.  As long as we live upon this earth, Lucifer and his hosts will never abandon the hope of claiming our souls.
                “Our Heavenly Father did not launch us on our eternal journey without providing the means whereby we could receive from Him God-given guidance to assist in our safe return at the end of mortal life….
                “Decisions are constantly before us.  To make them wisely courage is needed – the courage to say no, the courage to say yes.  Decision do determine destiny.”

                The final R of President Monson stands for “results of choice.  All of our choices have consequences, some of which have little or nothing to do with our eternal salvation and others of which have everything to do with it….
                “No temptation, pressure, no enticing can overcome us unless we allow such.  If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame but ourselves….
                “We have all made incorrect choices.  If we have not already corrected such choices, I assure you that there is a way to do so.  The process is called repentance.  I plead with you to correct our mistakes.  Our Savior died to provide you and me that blessed gift” (“The Three Rs of Choice,” Ensign, November 2010, pp 67-70).  

                Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about keeping life in balance.  “All of us must come to an honest, open self-examination, an awareness within as to who and what we want to be.”  Elder Ballard suggested eight steps to keeping our lives in balance:  (1) “Think about your life and set your priorities.”  (2) “Set short-term goals that you can reach.”  (3) “Through wise budgeting, control our real needs and measure them careful against your many wants in life….  Be care of the many attractive offers to borrow money.  It .is much easier to borrow money that it is to pay it back.”  (4) “Stay close to your spouse, children, relatives, and friends.”  (5) “Study the scriptures.”  (6) “We must schedule time on our daily calendars for [sufficient rest, exercise, and relaxation] if we are to enjoy a healthy and balanced life.  Good physical appearance enhances our dignity and self-respect.”  (7) “Families should teach one another the gospel, preferably in a weekly family home evening.”  (8) “Pray often as individuals and families” (“Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance,” Ensign, May 1986, pp. 13-16.) 

                Setting goals that we can meet is one part of keeping our lives in balance.  The best goals are considered to be SMART goals.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound.  The first step is to set a specific goal:  what specifically do you want to accomplish?  The second step is to make sure the goal is measurable:  how can you measure your progress?  The third step is attainable:  can you meet this goal?  The fourth step is relevant:  will this goal help you meet larger life goals?  The fifth step is time-bound:  when you complete your goal?

                I had a difficult time developing the habit of flossing my teeth every day until I set a goal to do it.  My goal was specific, could be measured, was attainable, was relevant to my health, and was time-bound every night before I brushed my teeth.  There were many nights that I would have gone to bed without flossing my teeth except I did not want to fail on my goal.  I have now been flossing my teeth every day for seven years.

                What do you need to do in order to keep your life in balance?  I suggest that you choose two or three areas of your life and set a single SMART goal in each area; I know you can see big changes in your life by taking small steps every days.

                President Monson stated, “When performance is measured, performance improves.  When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates” (Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 107).

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Focus on the Present

                This is the time of year when we look forward to another year.  Many people look forward with fear as to what might happen.  Other people look back wondering what did happen.

                Moses gave great counsel to the children of Israel:  “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of them, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

                President Gordon B. Hinckley gave us some great counsel also:  “I don’t worry too much about the future, and I don’t worry very much about the past.  The past is gone, and you can’t change, you can’t correct it.  The future, you can anticipate, but you can’t necessarily do very much about it.  It is the present you have to deal with.  Reach out for every good opportunity to do what you ought to do” (“Focus on the Present,” Stand A Little Taller, p. 382).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gratitude for Christ

                Before we move too far from Christmas, let us express gratitude for the Christmas season and the spirit of Christmas which softens hearts and spreads love.  We can continue to enjoy this wonderful spirit by turning to Jesus Christ and showing kindness and goodwill to all men.  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14).

                President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “I am grateful for Christmas.  I am grateful for the spirit of the day and grateful for the outreach that comes into our hearts at this season of the year when we think a little more kindly of one another, when there is a little less of bitterness, when there is a little less of hate, when there is more of love and more of a reaching out to those in trouble and need and distress.  I thank the Lord for Christmas” (“Gratitude for the Season,” Stand a Little Taller, p. 353).

                President Hinckley also said, “Brutality reigns where Christ is banished.  Kindness and forbearance govern where Christ is recognized and His teachings are followed” (“The Effect of Christ on Humankind,” Stand a Little Taller, p. 370).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Learn of Me

                My VIP for last week was Jesus Christ, and I decided to make it Him again.  He is the most important person that has ever been born on earth.  He is the center of all human history.   He created the earth and then came to live among mortals.  He taught a message of love, peace, and goodwill.  He died to atone for the sins of all mankind.  He was resurrected on the third day that all mankind may become immortal also.

                We can put the Atonement of Jesus Christ into effect in our lives and prepare to live with Him again.  He commanded, “Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23).

                President Gordon B. Hinckley counseled, “We need to read the scriptures more.  We need to read the New Testament and renew our knowledge of the birth and life and ministry, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.  Each is a part of the same picture.  Had there been no resurrection there likely would not be any remembrance of the birth.  They all go together in one great life:  Jesus Christ, the most perfect man who ever walked the earth.  We ought to get to know Him better.  We would have more of the spirit of Christmas, more of an outreach to others, more concern for our neighbors, if we would do it” (“Learn of Christ through the Scriptures,” Stand A Little Taller, 356).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Balanced Budget Amendment

                Why has Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul been advocating “for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution for years”?  The main reason is because we cannot trust the bureaucrats to stop spending.  He believes that the budget will never be balanced unless Congress is forced to do it.  He believes there is an “unholy alliance” in Washington between conservatives and liberals to continue spending money.  Conservatives demand more money for the military, and the liberals demand more spending on domestic issues.  They work together to keep adding to the debt.
                “… Today, the economy is simply too frail to weather more broken promises from conservatives running to lead the nation into the future.  As 2016 approaches us, I encourage my colleagues and opponents to begin thinking long and hard about the kind of future they want their children and grandchildren to have, as well as what they will change in the new year in order to make those expectations possible.”

                What do you think?  Do you think we need an amendment to the Constitution?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Family Relationships

                The family is central to Heavenly Father’s plan for the happiness of His children.  The Proclamation on the Family states:  “We … solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”

                Later the proclamation states:  “The family is ordained of God.  Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan.  Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.  Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ” (“The Family– A Proclamation to the World”).

                We can identify and practice principles that will strengthen our families.  We can do this best by developing the skills necessary to strengthen our families.  We must remember that God considers the family to be essential to His plan and do our part to keep our family strong.

                Elder Russell M. Nelson declared:  “Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is `central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’  The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service.  There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another” (“Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, May 2008).  

Friday, December 25, 2015

Choose the Right

                Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when we teach the rising generation that happiness comes from choosing the right.  We must teach children and teens that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love them and want them to be happy.  In order to be truly happy, we must make the right choices.

                Joshua tried to convince the children of Israel to follow God:  “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

                We make many choices as we go through each day.  We decide if we will get out bed when the alarm goes off; we decide what we will do each day – whether we will go to work or call in sick; we decide what we will wear and how we will act, what we will read and watch, and where we will go.  The opportunity to choose is a gift from Heavenly Father; He gave us this gift of agency before we became mortal.  Heavenly Father has a plan for us, and agency is a huge part of His plan.  He wants us to choose to follow His commandments because we love Him and want to do His will.

                Since Heavenly Father wants us to choose the right, He will help us make right choices.  We are His children; He loves us and wants us to return to live with him.  He gave us commandments because He knows that we can be truly happy only if we follow them.  He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, to prepare the way for our return; Jesus Christ gave us His teachings, His example, and His life.  Heavenly Father wants us to communicate with Him and have given us two different ways to do so.  We have the scriptures that teach us about Jesus Christ and the words of many prophets; we can hear God’s words by studying the scriptures.  We also have the opportunity to talk with God through prayer.  We also have the Spirit of Christ and the Holy Ghost that help us to choose the right.  By following the Spirit of Christ we can be led to the truth; after baptism we can receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the opportunity to have His presence with us at all times.  We also have living prophets and apostles who teach the word of God.  As we follow their counsel, we will choose the right and be truly happy.

                A friend suggested that we do not want children who are merely obedient; we want children who are willing to cooperate with us.  One can obey with bad feelings, but one cannot truly cooperate without acceptance of the plan or a willing heart.  When we teach the rising generation to choose the right and to cooperate with loving parents, we can strengthen our families, communities, and nations.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Spirit of Christmas

                The Spirit of Christmas is the Spirit of Christ.  When the angel appeared to the shepherds on that holy night in Bethlehem, “the angel said unto them, Fear not:  for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

                Christmas is a joyful time because people become more thoughtful and loving of others.  The peace we feel at this time of year comes from the Spirit of Christ.  The wonderful Spirit of Christmas is joy, love, peace and every good attribute all wrapped up in one beautiful gift to all mankind.

                President Thomas S. Monson stated, “Probably no other time of the year yields as many poignant memories as does Christmas.  The Christmases we remember best generally have little to do with worldly goods, but a lot to do with families, with love, and with compassion and caring.  This thought provides hope for those of us who fear that the simple meaning of the holiday is diluted by commercialism, or by opposition from those with differing religious views, or just by getting so caught up in the pressures of the season that we lose that special spirit we could otherwise experience” (A Future As Bright As Your Faith, [2015], 376).

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Star

                I found an interesting article about the Star of Bethlehem – that symbol in the heavens that led the Wise Men to the new King.  This same star has been the subject of research projects of experts on events in the skies.  One such expert is Dr. Grant J. Mathews, a professor of theoretical astrophysics and cosmology at the University of  Notre Dame and the director of the school’s Center for Astrophysics.  He is one of many experts who have “investigated `unusual events in the sky’ near the time of Christ’s birth.

                The Blaze published some statements by Dr. Mathews that are very interesting to me and probably to anyone who is interested in the birth of Jesus Christ.  Dr. Mathews thinks it is “quite likely” the Magi followed a star to find the location of Jesus.  Even though the Bible refers to it as a “star”, Dr. Mathews does not believe it was a star. 

                “It’s probably not a `star’ somehow hovering over a manager and pointing a beam of light as we traditionally view it.  Any new star or comet in the sky was usually taken as a harbinger of disaster at that time,” he said, noting in past interviews and appearances that the Magi wouldn’t have followed a star due to perceived negative events to come.  “It was most likely an unusual planetary alignment.”

                Dr. Mathews apparently believes that there are three different planetary alignments that could have created the “star” that the Wise Men followed.  He said that he and other researchers believe that one of the alignments is more “plausible.”
                “In my opinion the most [probable] was the occurrence of the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn in Aries, with Venue in the next-door constellation Pisces along with Mercury and Mars on the other side in the next constellation Taurus.”

                You can read more of Dr. Mathews comments at this site.  I found his idea very interesting.  If true, the event would certainly testify of the great powers of Heavenly Father.  Only a God could bring the Sun, the Moon and four planets into alignment at any given time!  It was the birth of His Son, His Only Begotten Son!  The birth of a child is always a big deal, but this was the birth of the Savior of the world.  It is appropriate that Heavenly Father should tell the world!

                It does not matter much to me whether it was a special star or a planetary alignment.  The important thing to me is that there was a sign, and Wise Men followed it, saw the new King, and left their witness.  In Matthew 2:9 we read:  “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

                President Thomas S. Monson stated, “May we give as the Savior gave.  To give of oneself is a holy gift.  We give as a remembrance of all the Savior has given.  May we also give gifts that have eternal value, along with our gifts that eventually break or are forgotten.  How much better the world would be if we all gave gifts of understanding and compassion, of service and friendship, of kindness and gentleness.  As the Christmas season envelops us with all its glory, may we, as did the Wise Men, seek a bright, particular star to guide us in our celebration of the Savior’s birth.  May we all make the journey to Bethlehem in spirit, taking with us a tender, caring heart as our gift to the Savior” (A Future As Bright As Your Faith, [2015], p. 389).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Joseph Smith

                Today is the anniversary of the birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  He was born on December 23, 1805.  As a young man not yet fifteen years old, Joseph desired to know which of all the churches he should join.  He read in James 1:5:  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

                Joseph accepted the scripture to be true.  He explained, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.  It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart” (Joseph Smith – History 1:12).

                After making plans to ask God for help, Joseph went into a grove of trees, now known as the Sacred Grove, and knelt in prayer.  God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to the boy Joseph.  The Father introduced His Son, and the Son spoke to Joseph.  After overcoming his surprise, Joseph asked the heavenly Beings which church he should join and was answered that he must not join any of them because they were all wrong.

                President Thomas S. Monson stated, “No description of models for us to follow would be complete without including Joseph Smith, the first prophet of this dispensation.   When but fourteen years of age, this courageous young man entered a grove of trees, which later would be called sacred, and received an answer to his sincere prayer.  There followed for Joseph unrelenting persecution as he related to others the account of the glorious vision he received in that grove.  Yet, although he was ridiculed and scorned, he stood firm.  Said he, `I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it’ (Joseph Smith – History 1:25)”  (A Future As Bright As Your Faith, [2015], p. 387).

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Living Christ

                I think it is only fitting that Jesus Christ be the VIP for this week since we are celebrating His birth just a few days from now.  I have just one problem:  what can I write about this magnificent Personage that has not already been written about Him?

                Over the past few months I have come to know the Savior with a deeper understanding that I previously had.  Most of this understanding came as I memorized the document known as “The Living Christ.”  I have memorized few things in recent years and had to work to memorize this wonderful summary of Christ.  As I put words together, then sentences, and then paragraphs, I pondered the meaning of the words and phrases much more than I would have done simply by reading it.

                The document begins, “As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago, we offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice.  None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.”  No one else has done or can do what the Savior did.  His life was “matchless” and His atoning sacrifice was “great” and “infinite.”

                “He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New.  Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth.  `All things were made by him: and without him was not anything made that was made’ (John 1:3).  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.”  I find it amazing that this Man who was already a God walked among men and women, blessing their lives, and teaching His gospel.  

                “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.”  Jesus had divine blood running through His veins, and He could not be killed.  He voluntarily gave up His life to atone for your sins and for my sins.

                “We solemnly testify that 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.”  Jesus Christ came to earth for two main purposes:  (1) to gain a physical body and (2) to make it possible for all of us to be resurrected and to prepare the way back to Heavenly Father’s presence for those who choose to follow Him.

                “He rose from the grave to `become the firstfruits of them that slept’ (1 Corinthians 15:20).  As Risen Lord, He visited among those He had loved in life.  He also ministered among His `other sheep’ (John 10:16) in ancient America.  In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised `dispensation of the fulness of times’ (Ephesians 1:10).”  Many people - at least hundreds - have witnessed the resurrected Christ.  The Prophet Joseph Smith had the great privilege of seeing both God the Father and His Son.

                “Of the Living Christ, the Prophet Joseph wrote:  `His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:  “I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he was slain; I am your advocate with the Father”’ (Doctrine and Covenants 110:3-4).”  The Prophet described Jesus Christ in order for us to know what He looks like!

                “Of Him the Prophet also declared:  `And now after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him:  That he lives!  For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father – That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God’ (Doctrine and Covenants 76:22-24).”  Joseph Smith was not the only person to see God the Father and His Son in our day.

                “We declare in words of solemnity that His priesthood and His Church have been restored upon the earth - `built upon the foundation of … apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone’ (Ephesians 2:20).”  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His Church here upon the earth.  It is led by prophets and apostles under the direction of Christ.

                “We testify that He will someday return to earth.  `And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together’ (Isaiah 40:5).  He will rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords, and every knee shall bend and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him.  Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts.”  All of us will see Christ when He returns to earth, and each of us will stand before Him to give a report on our lives here on earth.

                “We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles – that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God.  He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father.  He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world.  His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.  God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son.”

                Fifteen men signed their names to this document, the three members of the First Presidency and the twelve members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  They published this document to the world that all of us might know and worship The Living Christ.  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christ and the Constitution

                The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is the simple fact that the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and the ratifying of the Constitution of the United States prepared America for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Lord needed a free nation in order to restore His gospel, and He inspired those who declared independence, fought for freedom, and wrote the Constitution.  He was very much a part of the founding of the United States of America.

                President Howard W. Hunter stated, “Christianity in its fullness and truth has been restored to the earth by direct revelation.  The restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most significant fact since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What was restored?  In a very real sense, the true Law of the Harvest was restored – the law of justice, the law of mercy, the law of love.  It was restored in a free country under the influence of a God-inspired Constitution which created a climate of freedom, opportunity and prosperity.  The basic virtues of thrift, self-reliance, independence, enterprise, diligence, integrity, morality, faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, were the principles upon which this, the greatest nation in the world, has been built.  We must not sell this priceless, divine heritage which was largely paid for by the blood of patriots and prophets for a mess of pottage, for a counterfeit, a false doctrine parading under the cloak of love and compassion of humanitarianism, even of Christianity.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Make Christmas Real

                A few days ago I wrote a post about the three levels of Christmas and linked to an article by John Bytheway.  I think about the concept of three levels of Christmas almost every day.  You might remember that the three levels of Christmas are (1) the Santa Claus level, (2) the Baby Jesus level, and (3) the adult Jesus level.

                Almost everyone loves the Santa Claus level because it brings all the excitement of Christmas – decorating the Christmas tree, searching for the perfect present, secrets, whispers, Christmas parties, and much more.   This is the level that brings the colors of Christmas – red and green, fun Christmas songs like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and baking Christmas cookies.  There is much to love about this level, but it should not be our only level.

                The Baby Jesus level brings the sacred Christmas hymns and Nativity decorations.   We like to serve others and take tasty treats to our neighbors.  Our thoughts go to Mary and Joseph arriving at the inn and finding no room for them.  We think of the shepherds in the fields with their flocks and suddenly seeing angels and hearing them sing songs of praise.  We think of the wise men that saw the new star in the sky and traveled far to see the new King.  We act out the Nativity story while reading in Luke about the first Christmas.  Some of us actually sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.  This level brings sacred feelings of sacredness and love for all mankind.

                Then there is the adult Jesus level, the level of Christmas can stay with us all year.  At this level, we do not leave Baby Jesus in the manger but see Him grow to adulthood.  We see him walk the roads of Palestine blessing many people; we see Him heal the sick, cause the blind to see, and raise the dead.  We hear His Sermon on the Mount.  We see Him arrested, tried in a mock trial, hung on the cross; we see Him give His life to atone for our sins.  We see Him rise on the third day as a resurrected Being.  This is the Jesus that we worship.  We worship Him because He paid the price for our sins and then was resurrected; He prepared the way back to Heavenly Father’s presence.  He is our Savior, our Redeemer, our Friend, and our Advocate with the Father.

                The people living in ancient America knew the Son of God was born in Bethlehem because they saw the promised signs in their own land.  One of the signs was a day and a night and a day with no darkness.  “There was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day.  And … the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that Lord should be born” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 3 Nephi 1:19).

                President Thomas S. Monson suggested how we can celebrate the adult Jesus type of Christmas:  “We must make Christmas real.  It isn’t just tinsel and ribbon, unless we have made it so in our lives.  Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting.  It is happiness because we see joy in people.  It is forgetting self and finding time for others.  It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.  It is peace because we have found peace in the Savior’s teachings.  It is the time we realize most deeply that the more love is expended, the more there is of it for others” (A Future As Bright As Your Faith, [2015], p. 367).

Friday, December 18, 2015

First Gift of Christmas

                Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when we teach the rising generation about the first gift of Christmas.  We cannot expect children and teenagers to understand the first gift if we do not teach the significance of it.  I suspect there are people who do not even know about the first gift so I will start at the very beginning.

                “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).

                Who is the gift giver?  What is the gift?  The gift giver is God, our Father in Heaven.  The gift is His Son, Jesus Christ.  One reason the birth of Jesus Christ is such a great gift is that Jesus Christ came to earth to teach us the right way to live.  He taught us that loving and helping others will make us happy.  Heavenly Father gave His Son to the world to help us find happiness, not just at Christmastime but throughout each year and into eternity.

                Heavenly Father wanted everyone to know about His gift, and He placed a beautiful new star in the sky.  He also sent angels to the shepherds in the fields.  The angels sang hymns of praise to the new King and told the shepherds to find the new Baby.  They found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in a stable where Jesus slept in a manager.  They might have brought lambs to present to the Lamb of the Lord.  The shepherds were the first witnesses of God’s gift to the world.

                The Wise Men knew the prophecies of the birth of Jesus and were watching for a sign that a new king had been born.  When they saw the new star in the sky, they immediately began traveling to find the King.  The scriptures say Jesus was a “young child” when the Wise Men found Him and His family was living in a house.  Tradition says there were three wise men, but no one knows how many there were.  We do know that they brought three gifts:  gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  All three gifts were very valuable and rare.  Frankincense and myrrh were sweet-smelling perfumes used in religious ceremonies, and gold has always been valuable.  The Wise Men wanted to give the new King the best gifts they could offer.  They recognized Him as the Savior, the Son of Heavenly Father, and they bowed down to Him.

                The first gift of Christmas was a Child, given to the world because Heavenly Father loves all of us.  God gave His Son to us to help us overcome the world and return to His presence.  When children and teenagers understand the first gift of Christmas, they strengthen their families, communities, and nations.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

School Is Out!

                The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that today is the beginning of Christmas break and I am free for more than two weeks!  I have taken my final exam, submitted all my assignments, and expect to get an A in each of my classes.

                The three most important things I have learned this semester are:  (1) I am not too old to learn new information.  (2) I am to continue to gain more knowledge until the end of life.  (3) God will help me as I work to learn new material.

                That is all for today because I am going to enjoy my new freedom and proceed to prepare my home for Christmas and enjoy my family!  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Avoiding Entitlement

                The world is full of people who believe they are entitled to more than they have.  Elder Kim B. Clark, President of BYU-Idaho, calls the idea the “spirit of entitlement;” he suggests we use the “spirit of gratitude” as the antidote to the “spirit of entitlement.”  

                “Brothers and sisters, gratitude is the great antidote, the great protection against the spirit of entitlement.  What we need is deep gratitude for the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to be drenched in gratitude for Him so that we `confess … his hand in all things’ [Doctrine and Covenants 59:21] and `live in thanksgiving daily for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon [us]’ [Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Alma 34:38].
                “I would like to close by suggesting three things we can do to engender a spirit of gratitude in our lives:  pray with real intent, partake of the sacrament with our hearts and minds focused on the Savior, and worship on the temple with thanksgiving.  These are gifts from the Savior.  He has created them for us and taught us how to use them.  They are opportunities to help us always remember Him and express our love and gratitude for Him.”  (See “Drenched in Gratitude:  Protection Against the Spirit of Entitlement,” BYU-Idaho, September 14, 2010.)  

                Greg Trimble posted an article entitled “5 Ways to Actually Understand What’s Going on in the Temple.”  Mr. Trimble has some good ideas to help us “worship in the temple with thanksgiving.”  I suggest you check out his article here.  

                I know we can lessen the effect of the “spirit of entitlement” in our lives by increasing our gratitude for Jesus Christ.  I also know that we can increase our “spirit of gratitude” by praying with greater intent, focusing on the Savior as we partake of the sacrament, and gratefully worshipping in the temple.  I encourage you to activate all these practices in your life.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Levels of Christmas

                Most of us are aware that Christmas is celebrated in several ways, but few of us even recognize them as levels of spirituality.  The first level is of course the Santa Clause level, and the second level is the Baby Jesus level.  Do you have any idea of what is in the third level?  The first level brings the excited of Christmas – Santa Clause, Christmas trees, stockings, and presents.  The second level brings in the story of the birth of the Savior of the world with all its sacredness.  Neither of these two levels will matter in a few weeks if we do not also celebrate on the third level.  Find out how to celebrate Christmas on the third level and make Christmas last all year long.

                John Bytheway, beloved author and speaker, shared the “Three Levels of Christmas” by William B. Smart (Messages for a Happier Life, [Deseret Book, 1989], 33-34) on Facebook.  I encourage you to read the article and apply it to your life.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Saint Nicholas

                Since we are only ten days from Christmas, I thought it appropriate to make Saint Nicholas my VIP for this week.  The man known as Saint Nicholas was born on March 15, 270, and died on December 6, 343, in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey).  He was born in the Roman Empire, the only son of wealthy Greek parents.  His “parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle – also named Nicholas – who was the bishop of Patara.”  The uncle also ordained young Nicholas a priest.

                Some priests apparently went to the Holy Land in AD 305 to establish a small monastery.  “These monks lived on the mountain overlooking Bethlehem in a few caves.  In the years 312-315, St. Nicholas lived there and came as a pilgrim to visit the Holy Sepulchre, Golgotha, Bethlehem, and many other sites in the Holy Land.  The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is located on the site of his cave in Beit Jala where today there are innumerable stories about Nicholas still handed down from generation to generation.  A text written in his own hand is still in the care of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.  It was in his prayers that St. Nicholas heard the Holy Spirit call him back to Asis Minor, to Myra, where soon after his return in 317 he was consecrated bishop.
                “In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of Constantine and appear at the First Council of Nicaea.  There, Nicholas was a staunch anti-Arian, defender of the Orthodox Christian position, and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed….”

                Saint Nicholas is “commemorated and revered among Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians.  In addition, some Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches have been named in honor of Saint Nicholas.  Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe.”

                I recently read a new novel entitle The Immortal Nicholas by Glenn Beck.  Beck apparently told the story to his little children as a way to connect the generosity of Santa Claus to the Savior of the world, even Jesus Christ.  He fleshed out the story and published it this year.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story and highly recommend it. 

                The book is basically the story of Agios, a poor man who lost his wife and newborn child and later lost his only surviving child, a son.  He is heart-broken and tries to drown his sorrows in alcohol.  He is rescued by a nice man and ends up accompanying the three wise men – sometimes known as Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar – to Bethlehem, all the time following a “new star” in the heavens.  The story continues with Agios secretly guarding the Christ Child until He returns to Galilee. Agios becomes a believer when he meets the adult Jesus just before the crucifixion.  Agios later meets the young boy Nicholas who becomes priest after the death of his parents.  Agios and Nicholas both have read coats and go about doing good and leaving gifts.  Somehow Agios becomes immortal and carries on the work after the death of Nicholas.

                A longer review of the book can be found at this site

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Constitution and Covenants

                The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is the connection between covenants and the Constitution of the United States.  I did not fully make the connection until I found a wonderful article published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

                According to the article, “the fundamental principles of the U.S. Constitution arose largely from beliefs about the importance of people making covenants with God and with one another…. 
                “In this light, it is significant that beliefs about covenant-making were essential to the development of the basic principles of the U.S. Constitution and to its ratification two hundred years ago.  For colonial Americans, the concept of covenant was not limited just to religious doctrines; it was central to their view of the world and God’s workings in it.  Not only did they believe that their churches ought to be organized by covenant, but they felt that civil government should also be set up by covenant.”

                It is a very interesting article, particularly to members of the Church who recognize the importance of covenants with God.  I encourage you to read the article that closed with this paragraph.

                “As Latter-day Saints, we would do well to remember the nature of the Constitution as a covenant.  Society as a whole, too, would do well to remember the basic principles of covenant embodied in that document and in its history.  These principles are as essential to the preservation of the Constitution as they were to its establishment two hundred years ago.  In fact, the Book of Mormon teaches that Americans will forfeit their liberties and suffer destruction if they break the covenant to worship and obey the Savior.  (See 1 Ne. 14:6-7; 3 Ne. 16:8-16; Morm. 5:19-24.)   Consider the impact it would have if the nation’s leaders and citizens today believed in the necessity of a virtuous citizenry, the sacredness of civil covenants, and the serious consequences of neglecting or breaching those covenants.”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas and the Resurrection

                 This is a most wonderful time of year!  This is the season Christians and others all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  We feel great joy as we sing Christmas carols and shop for just the right presents for our loved ones.  Many people believe that we celebrate Christmas because a Child was born when in reality we celebrate Christmas because a Man gave His life and was resurrected.  We celebrate Christmas because of Easter.

                Jesus Christ died on the cross on Calvary and was resurrected on the third day.  He died to atone for the sins of all mankind.  The scriptures tell us that He “suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 2 Nephi 9:21).  He paid the price for our sins IF we repent and follow Him; He is our Redeemer because He redeemed us from our sins.  Anyone who does not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior will have to pay for their own sins.

                Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that after we are resurrected, we will stand before Jesus Christ to be used of our works and the desires of our hearts; therefore, we must prepare for that experience while in this life.  He reminded us of the importance of the resurrection.  “The assurance of resurrection gives us the strength and perspective to endure the mortal challenges faced by each of us and by those we love, such things as the physical, mental, or emotional deficiencies we bring with us at birth or acquire during mortal life.  Because of the resurrection, we know that these mortal deficiencies are only temporary!
                “The assurance of resurrection also gives us a powerful incentive to keep the commandments of God during our mortal lives…” (Ensign, May 2000).  

                Resurrection means a reuniting of the physical body and the spirit, never to be separated again.  President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972) explained how the resurrection would affect our physical bodies:

                “There is no reason for any person to be concerned as to the appearance of individuals in the resurrection.  Death is a purifying process as far as the body is concerned.  We have reason to believe that the appearance of old age will disappear and the body will be restored with the full vigor of manhood and womanhood.  Children will arise as children, for there is no growth in the grave.  Children will continue to grow until they reach the full stature of their spirits” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957-66], 4:185; as quoted in Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion121-122, pp. 189-190). 

                We do not celebrate Christmas because Jesus was born; we celebrate because He atoned for our sins and was resurrected.  By His resurrection He made it possible for us to be resurrected and live forever, to gain immortality.  By atoning for our sins, He made it possible for us to repent of our sins, become clean, and return to the presence of Heavenly Father.

                As you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, please take some time to His life, His teachings, His atoning sacrifice, and His resurrection.  He came to earth for you and I, to prepare the way for us to have immortality and eternal life.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Finding Christmas Joy

                We can strengthen our families, communities, and nations by helping children find Christmas joy.   We can find this joy in many ways but never in a store.  This joy is found through unselfishness, love and service.

                President Thomas S. Monson shared his own story about finding the joy of Christmas.  It is a wonderful story told best in his words:  

                “In about my tenth year, as Christmas approached, I yearned as only a boy can yearn for an electric train.  My desire was not to receive the economical and everywhere-to-be-found wind-up model train, but rather one that operated through the miracle of electricity.  The times were those of economic depression, yet Mother and Dad, through some sacrifice, I am sure, presented to me on Christmas morning a beautiful electric train.  For hours I operated the transformer, watching the engine first pull its cars forward, [and] then push them backward around the track.

                “Mother entered the living room and said to me that she had purchased a wind-up train for Widow Hansen’s boy, Mark, who lived down the lane.  I asked if I could see the train.  The engine was short and blocky – not long and sleek like the expensive model l had received.  However, I did take notice of an oil tanker car which was part of his inexpensive set.  My train had no such car, and pangs of envy began to be felt.  I put up such a fuss that Mother succumbed to my pleadings and handed me the oil tanker car.  She said, `If you need it more than Mark, you take it.’  I put it with my train set and felt pleased with the result.

                “Mother and I took the remaining cars and the engine down to Mark Hansen.  The young boy was a year or two older than I.  He had never anticipated such a gift and was thrilled beyond words.  He wound the key in his engine, it not being electric like mine, and was overjoyed as the engine and two cars, plus a caboose, went around the track.  Mother wisely asked, `What do you think of Mark’s train, Tommy?
                “I felt a keen sense of guilt and became very much aware of my selfishness.  I said to Mother, `Wait just a moment – I’ll be right back.’  As swiftly as my legs could carry me, I ran to our home, picked up the oil tanker car plus an additional car of my own, ran back down the lane to the Hansen home, and said joyfully to Mark, `We forgot to bring two cars which belong to your train.’

                “Mark coupled the two extra cars to his set.  I watched the engine make its labored way around the track and felt a supreme joy difficult to describe and impossible to forget.”

                 My wish is that parents everywhere would find some way to help their children feel the “supreme joy” that President Monson felt as a boy when he forgot himself and thought about making another boy happy.  When children learn that lesson, our families, communities, and nations will be strengthened.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Learn from the Past

                The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that we can learn much from previous generations that could save our society from total destruction.  History is full of examples of societies rising and falling.  We should learn what caused them to rise and why they fell.  This information could be very helpful to us.  We can learn about two societies that rose and fell on the American continent by reading the Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ.  This book tells in plain language what the good leaders did to preserve their nations and how evil caused their destructions.

                Greg Trimble wrote an interesting article titled, “Dear Politicians… Here’s Why You Should Read the Book of Mormon.”  He admits that the name of his article is “weird” and has “some stigmas associated with it” but asks politicians to “please give the Book of Mormon a quick read.” 

                “The Book of Mormon is not a novel.  It’s a history book compiled by a string of prophets, politicians, and historians who lived on this continent long before we did.  It’s the only book I know of that has so accurately depicted what we are watching unfold right before our eyes today.  This book is like a field manual for leaders of nations.  It lays out in perfect detail how to avoid complete collapse and destruction.  This book was written for us in our day.  You can learn from the leaders in this book who faced the same problems many years back.”

                You can find Mr. Trimble’s article here.  You can find the Book of Mormon here.