Our family travelled to Orleans to celebrate Christmas a couple of weekends ago.  Sunday the 16th, at Chapel Hill Ward I appreciated a marvelous talk by Brother George Piper, Stake High Councillor. He kindly assented for it to be posted and shared with you.

In here are sweet morsels of truth. If you would like to read a bit of a condensed version of George’s talk, please click here.

HC Sunday/ December 16 2012

George Piper Talk in Chapel Hill Ward, Ottawa Ontario Stake

Good morning brothers and sisters. I extend the love and greetings of our Stake Presidency, and also the love and gratitude of President and Sister Cannon for all you are doing to move the work forward in our ward.

Before President Henry B. Eyring had been called to be an apostle, he gave an address at BYU entitled “Gifts of Love” in which he observed some of the key qualities of great gift givers.  One story he shared included how something as simple as the gift of a jar of home preserved cherries from his aunt and uncle shortly after the passing of his mom was such a well given gift for him.

“Well, there is a simple theory. When you’re on the receiving end, you will discover three things in the great gift giver: he felt what you felt and was touched; he gave freely; and he counted sacrifice a bargain.

(Now you can see it won’t be easy to use this theory to make big strides in your gift giving this Christmas. It will take some practice, more than one holiday, to learn how to feel and be touched by what’s inside others. And giving freely and counting sacrifice as joy will take a while. But you could start this Christmas being a good receiver. You might notice and you might appreciate. You have the power to make others great gift givers by what you notice. You could make any gift better by what you choose to see, and you could, by failing to notice, make any gift a failure.)

Gift giving takes a giver and a receiver. I hope we use our little theory, not to criticize the gifts and giving that come our way this year, but to see how often our hearts are understood and gifts given joyfully, even with sacrifice.”  President Henry B. Eyring (Gifts of Love, BYU Devotional, Dec 9, 1980)

Referring to those who will be heirs of the telestial kingdom (the lowest of the three degrees of glory) God explained:

Doctrine & Covenants 88:32, 33

32  And they who remain shall also be a quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

33  For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.

Here then is my list of 15 Christmas Gifts we might overlook or neglect to fully appreciate and by so doing we might fail to rejoice in Him who is the giver of these Gifts, even Jesus Christ.  Please remember that this list is by no means exhaustive or all-inclusive.  I hope you’ll begin your own list this very day of the gifts you are truly grateful for that have come to you through your Heavenly Father and his Son, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ and/or through his atonement.

As I list each gift and where time permits a scripture or story about some of them, I hope you’ll consider President Eyring’s three qualities of a great gift giver and how they apply to each gift.

Do you remember what they were?  “He felt what you felt and was touched; he gave freely; and he counted sacrifice a bargain.”

The first six gifts are unconditional or universal gifts that are free to all whether they believe in Jesus Christ and live his teachings or not.  The last nine gifts are freely available to all but require us to ask, seek, live for, and do something to fully receive them.

1) The gift of the resurrection: to rise from the dead with a perfected, immortal body.  (Read Alma 11:43,44 or 1 Cor. 15:20-22)  All physical, emotional and developmental disabilities will be healed or removed in the resurrection; we will be restored to perfect eternal health.  Christ was indeed the first fruits of them that slept (or the first to be resurrected) but through our saviour this gift now extends to all who have ever entered mortality.  (On a lighter note as far as I know this is the only legitimate cure for hair loss.)

2) Closely connected to the resurrection is the gift of preservation of human intelligence and identity.  “Death is not the permanent annihilation of the human personality and individuality!  President Brigham Young wisely declared that the preservation of human intelligence and individuality through the atonement and resurrection ‘is the greatest gift that ever was bestowed on mankind’”.  (From book entitled “Through His Eyes” by Virginia Pearce.)  Until I first read that quote I wasn’t fully aware of this tremendous gift.

3) The gift of being judged by Jesus (John 5:22) and (Romans 2:16).  All (even the wicked) will be resurrected and at least temporarily be able to stand in the presence of Jesus to be judged by him.  (See Alma 42:23-24 and Jacob 6:7-9)

4) The gift of individual accountability.  All men will be punished for their own sins but not for the sins of another. Clearly this gift flows out of the atonement. (read from Kent R Brooks article in Sperry Symposium Classics, The New Testament, bottom of Page 165, top of page 166 which reads:   (One of the) “unconditional blessing(s) of the atonement is expressed in our second article of faith: ‘we believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.’

Although each of us is certainly influenced by the fall of Adam (that is we all experience pain, suffering, sickness, and death), the infinite mercy of Christ prevents us from being punished for Adam’s transgression or the sins of anyone else.  We may suffer because of the sins of another, but that suffering does not occur as a punishment imposed by God.  For God to punish one person for the sins of another would not be just.

John recorded the words of Jesus: “The Father …hath committed all judgement unto the son” (John 5:22) and “my judgement is just” (John 5:30)”.  (Relate this concept to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012.)  God honours the agency of each of his children, but the victims of such atrocities are not being “punished” by our ever merciful Father in Heaven.

5) The gift of a perfect example in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ during his time here on our earth. (See 1 Peter 2:21 and John 13: 12-15.)

6) The gift of Christ being able and eager to “succor” us in our hour of need. (Read from Kent R Brooks article, ibid, page 172):  “Elder Jeffrey R Holland noted “the word succor literally means “to run to”…Even as he calls us to come to him and follow him, he is unfailingly running to help us.”  Such is the love of the Good Shepherd.  As John so beautifully recorded: “The sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out…And…he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4). Jesus understands perfectly every feeling, every temptation, every pain, every weakness, every sickness, every infirmity, and every difficulty known to man. He knows us. He loves us. He desires to help us.  And “that teacher come from God” (John 3:2) can enable us to do all things, if we will but let him.” (See also Alma 7:11,12;  Hebrews 2:17,18;  Mt 8:17).

7) The Gift of Faith in Jesus Christ and the opportunity to be able to pray in the name of Jesus Christ and receive according to our faith. (Read Moroni 7:26; and Mosiah 4:21).  Jesus is our mediator and our advocate with Our Heavenly Father. God Our Heavenly Father honours what Jesus asks for.  Jesus asks our Heavenly Father in our behalf, for whatever we have asked God for, that is righteous, with faith in Jesus’ name.

8) The gift of repentance and the ability to “re-turn” to God. (Read He 5:10,11; and 3 Ne. 10:6)

9) The gift of baptism and the opportunity for spiritual rebirth with Christ as our father.  (See Mosiah 5: 7-8 and Ether 3:14).  Connected with this choice gift is the gift of forgiveness of our sins (read Doctrine & Covenants 58:42).  Also note the relief that can come to us when we forgive others with the Saviour’s help who have injured us (See Doc & Cov 64:9-11).

10) The gift of the new commandments that the Saviour gave us during his ministry that superseded the schoolmasterly Mosaic Law, and the connected opportunity He offers us to obey them and be blessed.  We are blessed by obedience in two ways: i) we are freed from the future consequences of sin and ii) we become eligible for the specific blessings promised by the Father and connected to each commandment. (Read He. 11:16; and Doc & Cov 130:21)

11) The gift of mercy is clearly extended to us through the saviour’s atonement to those with a broken heart and a contrite spirit who have entered into a covenant relationship with him and the Father. (See Alma 42:23,24)  (Read quote on page 167 by Kent R. Brooks):  ““President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said “I believe that our Heavenly Father wants to save every one of his children….I believe that in his justice and mercy he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.”  If we accept the terms of conditional redemption, then “mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles us in the arms of safety” (Alma 34:16) John testified “the Lamb …shall feed [us], and shall lead [us] unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes” (Revelation 7:17)  If we let him, the Good Shepherd will free us from the entanglements of sin and bring us safely back to the fold.”

(Also read Bruce C Hafen quote on page 173 of Kent R Brooks article): “A sense of falling short or falling down is not only natural but essential to the mortal experience… The Saviour’s victory can compensate not only for our sins but also for our inadequacies; not only for our deliberate mistakes but also for our sins committed in ignorance, our errors of judgement, and our unavoidable imperfections.  I grieve for those who…believe that, in the quest for eternal life, the Atonement is there only to help big-time sinners, and that they as everyday Mormons who just have to try harder, must ‘make it’ on their own.  The truth is not that we must “make it” on our own, but that He will make us his own…As we [hold to the iron rod] we are likely to find that the cold rod of iron will begin to feel …[like the] loving hand of one who is literally pulling us along the way.  He gives us strength enough to rescue us [and] warmth enough to tell us that home is not far away….Sometimes we talk about how important it is to be on the Lord’s side.  Perhaps we should talk more about how important it is that the Lord is on our side.”

12) The gift of temple covenants, temple work, and the redemption of our deceased ancestors.  (Read 2nd last paragraph under “Temple” in LDS Bible Dictionary)  While temple ordinances were performed before the Saviour’s life and ministry, vicarious temple ordinance work for deceased ancestors was not commenced until after the Saviour’s death and his sending forth of commissioned servants within the world of spirits to preach the gospel (Read Doc & Cov 138;28-30).

13) The gift of the pure love of Christ – to experience it or be a recipient of it (Read Moroni 7:45) (If time permits relate Barbara Lockhart story from Virginia Pearce book “Through His Eyes” included at the end of this talk, after closing testimony).  Also explain the opportunity we all have to pray for and receive the pure love of Christ as a spiritual gift, and thus be able to see and love others at least in part as the saviour sees and loves them. (Relate challenge I received at the start of my full time mission from my MTC Branch President, Grant Von Harrison, to write a letter to him as soon as I could honestly say that I loved the people of England whom I had been called to serve. To love them, as completely and as quickly as I did was indeed a blessing or gift from God.)

Virginia Pearce quoted her father in her book, “To love the Lord is not just counsel; it is not just well-wishing. It is a commandment. … Love of God is the root of all virtue, of all goodness, of all strength of character, of all fidelity to do right” (“Words of the Living Prophet,” Liahona, Dec. 1996, 8; “Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, Apr. 1996, 73).

14) The gift of eternal life and the promise of perfection.  This is exaltation or life in the presence of God.  (Read D&C 14:7 and quote by Christian writer, George MacDonald, on page 170 / Kent R Brooks) “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”…On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures.  Each time you fall he will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection.  On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal toward which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.”

Our saviour really does desire to make us “heirs of God and Joint-heirs with Jesus Christ”. (See Romans 8:16-18)  President Kimball has said:  “If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. “Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood. “Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, longsuffering, and self-mastery.” (Spencer W Kimball/Faith Precedes the Miracle, Deseret Book Co., 1973, pp. 97–98.)

15) The gift of the Holy Ghost, the promised companionship of the third member of the Godhead and the invitation to seek revelation as we travel through mortality.  Jesus promised He would not leave us comfortless and he didn’t.  (See 3 Ne. 19:9,13,20,21;  D7C 20:41; John 14:26,27)  Also read quote as related by Virginia Pearce in her book Through His Eyes:  “Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president, has said, “The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life” (“And upon the Handmaids,” 11). I think it is interesting that Sister Beck refers to the receiving of personal revelation (is not that simply having the Holy Ghost operating in our lives?) as a “skill.” A skill is something we practice, something we can become increasingly good at.”

Sister Virginia Pearce also included this insight in her book “Through His Eyes”:  “I believe one of the unexpected gifts President Thomas S. Monson is giving to us as members of the Church is a call to slow down. When he speaks, he tells stories, giving us time to step into someone else’s life. And they are usually stories about taking time for individuals, enjoying the simple luxury of quiet visits and conversations. As we listen to him speak, we can almost feel ourselves slowing down a bit—entering a world that isn’t about lists or the clock but rather about listening and responding to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”

“What will you do with the light that you have been given? A moth may be drawn to the light. A wolf may howl at the light of the moon.  As humans, with the same spiritual DNA as our Heavenly Father, our very first impulse will be to want to share it with others.” (GPO)

I pray that at this beautiful Christmas season you will reflect quietly on the wondrous gifts we have each been given and how our Heavenly Father and also our Saviour Jesus Christ would want us to acknowledge these gifts and utilize them in our daily lives.  And please also ponder how we can really share them with our non-member friends during the coming year.

Here’s a quote from President Eyring from his April 2008 General Conference address:  “My hope would be that all of us would have the confidence that God will guide us in reaching out, and back, to those God would have us bring with us as we go home to Him….For years we have remembered the words of President David O. McKay: “Every member a missionary.” I am confident that the day is coming that through the faith of the members we will see increasing numbers of people invited to hear the word of God who will then come into the true and living Church.”

I conclude with gratitude for the Christmas gifts Jesus Christ and Our Heavenly Father have freely given us and my testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and its restoration in these the latter-days. Also I leave a challenge with each of you to remember the tremendous blessings we have been given at Christmas and always.

No wonder the angels could not be restrained from singing their anthems of praise at the birth of Jesus.  No wonder shepherds left their flocks (sheep destined for temple alters) to come adore the new born babe in Bethlehem. No wonder wise men travelled great distances to lay their humble gifts at the feet of a baby king who gave them gifts transcending every need or eternal soul felt desire.

Always remember, “He felt what you felt and was touched; he gave freely; and he counted sacrifice a bargain.”  Jesus was, and is, the perfect gift giver.  

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

(The following excerpt was too long for my talk but I thought it was very illustrative of the pure love of Christ and the revelation we can seek and receive about our relationship to our Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ.  Consider it my gift to you.  It is also from Virginia Pearce’s book, “Through His Eyes”)

“TRUTH: I believe that I am a child of God—that I am His spirit daughter, precious in His sight, known completely, and loved beyond human comprehension.

President Gordon B. Hinckley elucidated this thought: “I believe in myself. I do not mean to say this with egotism. . . . I believe that I am a child of God, endowed with a divine birthright. I believe that there is something of divinity within me and within each of you” (“I Believe,” 6).

Now, keep in mind our map.

We are looking for experience—spiritual experiences that will confirm beliefs or thoughts that are True.

Perhaps this is easier to illustrate with a story. I am quoting from a talk given by Barbara Lockhart at BYU Women’s Conference in 2006.

“When I was in my twenties, I skated in several Olympic Games as a speed skater for the United States. At that time, I thought my value came from my accomplishments. When I achieved a great deal and nothing changed within me, I was really confused. I loved what I could do but didn’t really like myself. And no amount of success changed my negative self-talk and self-contempt. I had so much to hide. I felt that if anyone were to really get to know me, they wouldn’t like me.

Now, it’s very important for you to know something about my friend Barbara. She had already joined the Church when she talked about this feeling of self-contempt. She had already received a testimony of Joseph Smith and the restored gospel and had acted on that testimony by being baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But she was still operating out of beliefs that were not true—beliefs that were creating negative emotions.

Did you hear her say that she thought her value came from her accomplishments? Did you recognize that bit of not true-at-all she was carrying around in her Belief Box—thoughts that were creating subsequent negative emotions?

You see that she has two things she can do with this. First, she can confront the evidence for those beliefs, as we did in the previous chapters. Then she can identify the Truth—the real TRUTH that doesn’t match the negative beliefs—and go about nourishing it, making it so healthy and strong and real that there simply is no dark corner in her Belief Box for those thoughts of worthlessness to grow.”

She continues:

“It was only when I pled with Heavenly Father in a most fervent prayer to know if He loved me that my heart was changed. And that change didn’t come immediately. I knew He loved me; He told me so. He gave me a powerful answer to my most earnest prayer, “Of course I love you. You are my daughter.” But my negative self-talk had become so habitual that even though I knew He loved me, I still could not bring myself to feel love for myself. I couldn’t stand the disparity, the darkness, the loneliness I felt inside. With faith in God that He could change me, I pled with Heavenly Father night and day for some six months, and He eventually changed my heart (“Gift of Worth”).

But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage. Mosiah 7:33

Now we begin the exciting process of finding and feeding Truth. Truth delivers us from the bondage of half-truths and lies. In very real ways, those erroneous or limiting beliefs hold us captive and keep us from developing into our best selves, individuals full of light and truth. We have come to understand how we may have integrated erroneous beliefs into our hearts and minds through sensory experience and data. Now let’s discuss some things we can do to invite and nourish eternal Truth.”

This is how Barbara, our speed skater, described her emotions and behavior when she prayed to have the Lord teach her the Truth that she was His daughter.

“The change was that I sincerely felt a tremendous gratitude for my life—grateful to be me. I honestly had never remembered feeling that I liked me, that I liked who I was. This newfound respect for myself enabled me to see myself as distinct from my behavior and my circumstances. The darkness, the negativism, the self-abasement was gone for good. He totally changed my life. No longer was I emotionally needy, no longer worried about myself, that I was never good enough, obsessed with getting others’ approval.

Instead of being so self-absorbed, I became secure in my divine reality, that I am God’s child, that He loves me, that I am precious to Him. No trial, no rejection, no circumstance has ever caused me to doubt or question His acceptance of me. This is reality. Life now is filled with finding ways of giving rather than being obsessed with getting (“Gift of Worth”).””

 

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