The Christmas Spirit

Intentionally focusing on the true meaning of Christmas draws us to Christ


I must admit, I’ve been struggling with this a bit this year. I’ve had a lot on my mind these last few days and have been feeling discouraged about what I see going on in the world. I’ve been concerned with the reaction of A&E to the “Duck Dynasty” guy. I’ve been a bit upset about the actions of a federal judge in Utah declaring that same-sex marriage can occur in the state. I worry about the erosion of religious liberty that I keep seeing around the world. Many of you know how I stand on issues such as these, but I was thinking about my attitude tonight and decided that I don’t want to let these issues distract me from what is really important about this season of the year.

I got to spend the day at home with my beautiful family today. I want them to know me as a Christian that lives his beliefs, and I want them to know how important Jesus Christ is to me in my life. I don’t know everything, but I wanted to share a few things that I do know and that I want to focus on (despite the news) this Christmas season.

The whole point of this season of the year is to remember Christ’s birth. His birth is important because of how He lived, what He taught, what He showed by His example, and most importantly, what He did for all of us by performing the atonement in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. I think that the statement at the end of this video says it perfectly.

To catch the real meaning of the Spirit of Christmas, we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the Spirit of Christ. — Thomas S. Monson

At this busy season of the year may we try a little harder to feel and show the spirit of Christ. May we be more kind to those around us. May we show more love to our families. May we serve those that are in need. May we strive to better understand and apply the atonement in our lives. May we pray for the heavenly gift of Charity — perhaps the most important characteristic of Christ.

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—but charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ. — Moroni 7:44-48

I know that Christ lives. I know that He came into the world to fulfill the will of His father. I know that He loves and knows each one of us individually. I know that through His atonement I can be forgiven. I know that it’s not always easy to follow Him, but I know that when we do we are happier and live more fulfilling lives. I am grateful for this Christmas season that helps me to remember Him better. I hope and pray that I can be a better follower and a better Christian.


O Come, O Come Immanuel

Immanuel (or Emmanuel) means God with Us. The birth of Jesus Christ the son of God was prophesied centuries before He was born of Mary in Bethlehem. The prophecies of Him, fortold his virgin birth, His life and His atoning sacrifice. Christ, as a member of the Godhead and therefore as a God himself, literally fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that God would be with the people through Him.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. — Isaiah 7:14

This great video shows some of the story of Christ’s life. I testify that Christ is the son of God. I’m grateful for this Christmas season where I can focus better on remembering His life.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. — Matthew 1:18-23

What I Learned On The Way to The Temple

Yesterday we took a trip to the San Antonio Texas Temple. We try to go about once a month, and we’ve gotten really used to taking the trip down there. Yesterday, as usual, we wanted to go to the 9:30am session so that we could get done in time to come back home and get our Saturday chores and activities done. It takes us about 2 hours to drive from our house to the temple, so we have to get up fairly early to make it on time and be ready for the session. Yesterday we got out of the house a bit late and were really in a hurry to get there on time. As we were rushing along the toll road headed to the temple, I started to notice signs saying that the new section of the toll road was open going to San Antonio! I knew that the speed limit on that new section was 85 mph and the thought crossed my mind that if we took that way we’d get to the temple faster. Faster speed must mean earlier arrival time, right?

I made a split second decision to take the new road. Not only was this way faster, but for this time it was free! How could it get better? We were driving faster and even had more beautiful scenery to look at than the crazy traffic and busy city that we usually saw on our normal route. As we drove along I admired the wide open sky and the green fields that seemed to stretch on forever. I watched the hawks and eagles soaring and marveled at the beauty of the earth that I was seeing.

As we got farther and farther along this new highway, however, my focus started to shift from the scenery and to the time. We were traveling very quickly, but I was realizing that I had no idea where this new highway connected to roads that I knew. The minutes were flying by much faster than I thought they would, and we weren’t seeing anything familiar. I really had no idea what roads to take now to get to the temple. The ultra-fast toll road that we had been on ended in a small town with much slower speed limits and I had to deal with bumpy back roads and stop lights. I had to make several guesses on what way to go. When we only had 5 minutes left until our session was due to start and we knew that we were going to be late, we still hadn’t found a main road that I could connect to the temple on. Finally, when we were already late, I found the highway loop that I recognized would take us to the temple. I was very discouraged. I had tried hard to make it in time and had thought that my decision earlier would help us be earlier, but instead it had put us very behind schedule.

We eventually did make it to the temple but weren’t able to attend our session. I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in other ordinances but was still disappointed that we had missed our original plan. We were able to enjoy the blessings of the temple but perhaps had missed out on an opportunity to feel the spirit and learn from our session.

The San Antonio Texas Temple

After we had finished our activities in the temple and were on our way home, I couldn’t help but think about how my experience from that morning could be an example for our lives. In life, we have an ultimate goal and purpose to get to the Celestial Kingdom. Sometimes on our journey through life, however, we get distracted by other roads that look like they might be shortcuts. The road is new and the speed limit is high. We sometimes fly along these roads enjoying the scenery and the speed but are completely oblivious to the fact that our beautiful vistas and breathtaking speed are speeding us away from our goal. When we realize our mistake, it can be too late. We are already off course and have to make major adjustments to our direction to get back on course. We have lost precious time and opportunities.

In my trip to the temple, I knew the right way to go. I knew exactly where it lead, and I knew that it would likely get us to the temple on time. In our lives, much like my trip to the temple, we should remember that we do know the path we should take. We have the direction of the Spirit and of prophets and apostles to keep us on the straight and narrow road to the Celestial Kingdom. Let us heed their counsel and teachings and avoid the seemingly attractive detours that life will present to us.

Why do Mormons Revere Joseph Smith So Much?

Last year my wife and I spent a lot of our time with a real estate agent as we shopped for our first home. For a few months we went out with this agent and viewed home after home. Through this process we began to develop a friendship with this man. We learned that he was a God-fearing Christian who was active in his local Baptist congregation. I enjoyed asking him questions about how his church operated and what some of his beliefs were. We enjoyed a very open conversation during these house-shopping excursions, and I learned a lot. Through these conversations this good man learned that I was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons.) Discussions about the many similarities between our two faiths and church organizations became common between us. One day on our drive he asked me, “Why do Mormons revere Joseph Smith so much?”  I would like today to try to give my answer to that question.

Joseph Smith the Prophet
Joseph Smith the Prophet

To start you have to understand God’s pattern of calling prophets throughout the ages. Almost all of the scriptures we have recorded in the Bible are the writings of prophets. God uses prophets as a conduit to teach His children on earth what they should do and how they should act. He also uses prophets to warn and teach people about His doings. In fact, the prophet Amos teaches us that “surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). In other words, before God will do anything to or for His people, He will tell the prophets about it.

You might think that a single prophet would suffice to tell us all of God’s will. All prophets do teach the same basic principles of God’s gospel: faith, repentance, obedience, baptism, etc; however, each of them also has a specific mission given to them that is of particular importance to the people living at that time. This can be seen in the examples of many of the prophets in the Old Testament as well as with Christ’s Apostles in the New Testament. Take, for example, Jonah after he had already been eaten by the “big fish” and decided that he probably should to go Nineveh to fulfill the mission God had given him (Jonah 2). God specifically called Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that they needed to repent of the evil that they were doing or they would be destroyed. Jonah taught the principles of the gospel, specifically repentance, but also the imminent destruction of the people if they did not follow God’s commandments. If Jonah had been the only prophet that God ever called we might be confused as to what was really important from his message. Was the destruction part the most important or the repentance part? Obviously, some of Jonah’s teachings were general and some were very specific to the time and place to which Jonah was called.

Because situations have differed from place to place and from time to time throughout history, God has called prophets to teach the people in many places and times. God has called these prophets because He loves all of His children and wants all of them to be able to return to Him.  He has given prophets specific instructions about what to teach and often has given these prophets specific commandments that are particular to their time. People rely on prophets not only to teach them eternal principles of the gospel but also for help in understanding how to navigate the challenges and difficulties that are particular to a certain age of history.

I believe that God is an unchanging being. Historically, God has called prophets, and because He is perfect and unchanging, it follows that He must follow His pattern and continue to call prophets. This is where Joseph Smith comes in. I believe that, like the prophets in the Bible, Joseph Smith is a prophet. His being a prophet is completely consistent with the pattern that God has established through history of calling prophets and giving them missions to complete relative to the salvation of men in their times.

Joseph Smith was born in 1805 in upstate New York. By the time he was 14, he had moved with his family to the small town of Palmyra, New York. In Palmyra there was a huge excitement about religion. There were pastors from many different churches, each saying that their churches were true. Being confused about the conflicting views of these different churches, Joseph turned to the Bible for help. After searching and study he found a verse in James that said, “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 said that when he read this verse, it had a great influence on him. He decided to do as James directed and ask God which of all the churches was right and which one he should join. He went to a grove of trees early one spring morning to pray and ask God for an answer to this question. In that grove of trees that morning God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared as distinct Personages and answered Joseph’s prayer. He described the experience:

“I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him.” (Joseph Smith History)

“I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air.”

Through this vision and subsequent visions and heavenly visitations, Joseph Smith was called as a modern-day prophet. Just like the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, he was given information and revelations from God on how to address the particular concerns of this modern age. Through Joseph Smith, God restored the pure form and authority of His Church as it originally existed in the time of Christ and the Apostles. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the same organization and authority as the ancient Church did with prophets and apostles in historic times. Its belief and faith are centered on Jesus Christ who is the author and finisher of our faith.

Because of his pivotal role in restoring this Church and authority, Mormons revere Joseph Smith. We tend to speak of him more than ancient prophets because we believe that he is a prophet for our time. The basic principles of the gospel that were taught by ancient prophets were also taught by Joseph Smith and continue to be taught in the Church today by those who have been called of God as prophets in our modern times. Mormons revere the ancient prophets from the Bible and also from the Book of Mormon; however, we also believe that we should give particular heed to the prophets that are speaking the will of the Lord in our time.

I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know that he saw what he said he saw in that grove of trees. I know that the authority he received from God is the true authority of God. I know that by following the counsel of modern prophets we can avoid many of the calamities and difficulties that will confront us in these challenging times. I know that every person who asks God in faith can also have this witness through the power of the Holy Ghost.

Please feel free to comment and ask questions.

General Conference

Every April and October members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gather in locations around the world to be instructed by living prophets and apostles of Jesus Christ. Over the next two days, March 31 and April 1 2012, these inspired men of God will teach the world about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They will likely teach us about the Atonement, the importance of the family, God’s plan for His children, the restoration of the gospel and priesthood authority in our day through Joseph Smith, and the role of the modern Church in the world today.

Come listen to living prophets

Throughout the history of the world, God has always called prophets to lead his children. Through prophets in the Old Testament times, God taught the commandments and led his people in their days of trial and their days of joy and rejoicing. He spoke with his prophets “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11). God gave his prophets power to speak in the name of God for the benefit of the children of the earth. Unfortunately, people often take the words of the prophets to be hard. The things they say sometimes may have seemed antiquated or even insane; however, every person that followed those ancient prophets was saved from danger and protected from evil.

In our day, God has continued the pattern established in the Old and New Testaments of calling prophets and apostles. I testify that if we follow their counsel and direction that we will be protected and guided. Our following need not be “blind obedience.” We can know through the spirit of God that the direction we will receive from the prophets is true. I know that we will be told things in these coming days that may seem hard to us or may seem unreasonable; however, I pray that I, and all of us, will have the strength and courage to say, like Joshua of old, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

You can watch the proceedings of the conference online here.

The Immediate Atonement

“Verily I say unto you my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” How many of us have longed to hear those words? How many of us feel that we don’t deserve to have our sins forgiven? I know that I have felt this way in my life. It can often be difficult as a believer in Christ to understand the principle of forgiveness as it relates to the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Growing up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), I was taught that God loved me and that I could be forgiven of my sins if I repented. I was taught that repentance consists of recognizing sin, confessing our sins, making restitution for our sins to those harmed, and forsaking the sin.  Jesus has taught “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins–behold, he will confess and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).

I know that this doctrine of repentance is true. I also know that forgiveness comes to those that repent. However, for a long time I struggled to feel that forgiveness and the resulting closeness to the Savior because of my continuing imperfections. I was also taught that the Lord has said

“And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto the soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” (D&C 82:7)

I often used to feel that this scripture condemned us as imperfect humans to live in a perpetual state of lacking forgiveness because each time we made any mistake, all of the former mistakes we had made would return to us again. I imagined to myself a God who was anxious to pile the guilt and sin on me. Through personal experience and study I have gained a deeper, if not yet perfect, understanding of the doctrine of the Atonement and forgiveness.

I know that my Heavenly Father is a just God and “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16); however, I also know that God is merciful, kind, loving, and most importantly forgiving.

I believe that God is anxious to forgive us. He wants us to live free from the burden of sin. He wants us to overcome our weaknesses and come closer to Him. He does not want us to suffer. He wants to forgive us and allow us to return to Him quickly. The atonement of Jesus Christ enables all of these things to happen.

When we have made a mistake, we need not feel that we must suffer for some arbitrary amount of time before we seek the forgiveness of God. When we have made a mistake, the best thing to do is to immediately go to Heavenly Father in prayer and begin the repentance process. God is ready and anxious to receive us back into His presence when we have wandered astray.

This principle is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. Recall that the prodigal was the son of a wealthy man who took his inheritance early and squandered it in evil, riotous living.  When his earthly pleasure was over, he realized that he had left the only source of goodness in his life–his father. He decided to return and become a servant in his father’s house. When we are as the prodigal son, desiring to return to God, it is important to remember the attitude and character of the father.

“But when [the prodigal] was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. . . . the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32)

The prodigal’s father was waiting for him. He saw him and ran to him while he was “yet a long way off.” Our Heavenly Father always has this attitude towards us. God always wants us to return. When we turn around a “long way off” and start to return to His arms, He will run to us and embrace us.

I know that the Atonement has the power to begin to heal us immediately when we decide that we need its power. The return journey may still take time, but the process begins immediately when we start to return to God.

The following scriptures illustrate this point further:

Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” (Alma 34:31)

“And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.” (3 Nephi 10:5)

I know that God loves us. We are His literal children and He is anxious to bless and forgive us. I know that the atonement is real and literally has the power to cleanse us. I know that this power is immediately accessible by us when we begin to repent and return to God.