Sunday, December 9, 2012

Because I Have Been Given Much

(From a talk I gave today in sacrament meeting)
With Thanksgiving just behind us and the Christmas holidays in full swing, I have had many opportunities to ponder on the many blessings I have. Each day I am overwhelmed as I inventory not just the daily things each day like home, food, clothing, shelter – but the luxuries I’m given like having a good job with a not-crazy boss, talents I’ve been given that allow me to fulfill the job responsibilities, physical health that allows me to exercise; a wonderful family of origin with loving parents and siblings who would do anything for me; an amazing family of choice who support and encourage me.

Beyond even those things are the smaller, harder to inventory miracles that occur and even change each day. I was reminded recently of Elder Eyring’s counsel to take some time at the close of each day and inventory or even document the tender mercies of the Lord, or the infinite ways I see His hand in my life each day. Sometimes those things are as simple as a pleasant conversation with a stranger in the elevator on the way to work, or the smile of a primary child in the hallways at church – anything that reminds me of the constant love and presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in my daily life.

Each time I think of my many blessings I’ve received each day, I am reminded of King Benjamin’s powerful speech to the Nephites in the book of Mosiah. His ultimate intention, the centerpiece of his message is to call his people to Christ. He wants them to feel the true conversion of the message of the gospel that he has come to feel in his own life. To do this, he reminds the Nephites that without the goodness and blessings of a loving Heavenly Father, they would be and have, quite literally, nothing.

23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you. (Mosiah 2:23-25)

The people realize the truth in this – that they are nothing without Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. After realizing this, they wonder how they can repay this great debt. King Benjamin’s answer is simple:
“…when ye are in the service of your cfellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)

One of my favorite hymns comes from a poem called, “Because of Thy Great Bounty,” written by poet Grace Crowell. These words made it into what I still call “the new” hymnbook in 1985.  The third verse expresses those feelings of overwhelming gratitude I feel each day:

Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord,
I’ll share thy love again, according to thy word.
I shall give love to those in need; I’ll show that love by word and deed:
Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.

Elder Ballard in this last General Conference also talked about why it’s important to do service for our fellowmen:  “The Savior’s words are simple, yet their meaning is profound and deeply significant. We are to love God and to love and care for our neighbors as ourselves. Imagine what good we can do in the world if we all join together, united as followers of Christ, anxiously and busily responding to the needs of others and serving those around us—our families, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens.

“As the Epistle of James notes, service is the very definition of pure religion (see James 1:27). We read of the service Church members provide around the world and especially the humanitarian service given in times of crisis—fires and floods and hurricanes and tornadoes. These much-needed and much-appreciated emergency responses should certainly continue as a way of bearing one another’s burdens. But what about our everyday lives? What would be the cumulative effect of millions of small, compassionate acts performed daily by us because of our heartfelt Christian love for others? Over time this would have a transformative effect upon all of our Heavenly Father’s children through the extension of His love to them through us. Our troubled world needs this love of Christ today more than ever, and it will need it even more in the years ahead.

“How do we make this change? How do we ingrain this love of Christ into our hearts? There is one simple daily practice that can make a difference for every member of the Church, including you boys and girls, you young men and you young women, you single adults, and you fathers and mothers.

“That simple practice is: In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help. Stay focused, just like the honeybees focus on the flowers from which to gather nectar and pollen. If you do this, your spiritual sensitivities will be enlarged and you will discover opportunities to serve that you never before realized were possible. (M. Russell Ballard, “Be Anxiously Engaged,” General Conference October 2012.)

“We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness. … We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.”  (President Thomas S. Monson)

A few weeks ago, Linda, Cinnamon and I went to Disneyland. One of our favorite activities to do there is to people-watch. We have a few observation games we play, such as Spot the Mormon and Fashion Bingo (this includes things like a woman wearing impractical high-heeled shoes, or other inappropriate or funky fashion choices.) On this particular visit, Linda decided to get more specific with our hunt. We made a list of things we could look for such as someone wearing a Spider-Man shirt, or a First Time Visitor button. We were even on the lookout for someone with a real dog.

To make things even more exciting, we had a point system. The first person to see an item got three points, the second person got two points, and the third person got one point. It was a pretty close rasc, but we still hadn’t found anyone wearing a BYU shirt. For some reason they were in short supply that day. On our way out, we finally saw someone wearing a BYU shirt. I think we scared the poor guy about half to death as we all shouted at once, “BYU!!!!” in our attempt to win the three points for spotting him first.

As I’ve been thinking about the admonition from our prophets and apostles to become more Christlike in our daily lives, not just on Sundays, but how to really ingrain those attributes in my life, so that I may show my gratitude, I have started making a scavenger hunt list of my own. The first thing on that list is to look for people that I may serve, or even that I NEED to serve that day. Making prayer a part of that step should not be forgotten.

After we know who to serve, it is important to know the correct way to serve. Sister Linda K. Burton had these wise words from the last General Conference that can help us know HOW to serve: “First observe, then serve.

“We are all invited to follow Jesus’s teachings and to minister to others. This invitation is not limited to angelic sisters. As I share a few everyday examples of members who have learned to first observe and then serve, listen for the teachings of Jesus they illustrate.
“A six-year-old Primary child said: “When I was chosen to be a class helper, I could choose a friend to work with me. I picked [a boy in my class who bullied me] because he never gets chosen by others. I wanted to make him feel good.”

“What did this child observe? He noticed that the class bully never got chosen. What did he do to serve? He simply chose him to be his friend as a class helper. Jesus taught, 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.'”  (Linda K. Burton, October 2012 General Conference.)

I recently saw a video showing different acts of kindness captured on security cameras throughout the world. (I was going to share the link here, but it’s been pulled on YouTube due to a copyright dispute.) The people doing good deeds didn’t know they were being recorded, and they did good and kind things, without any thought of themselves or of any form of repayment. The thought I had as I was watching this was, “What would I be caught doing if I thought no one was watching?” and hoped that I would be caught doing good things.

At about the same time I saw this video, I started hearing stories of other acts of service. (I've always hated the term "Random Acts of Kindness." Why does it have to be "random?" I firmly believe that all acts of kindness should me meaningful. They may be unexpected and unplanned and completely spontaneous, and maybe that's why people call them "random," but service should never be random. End soapbox.) One of the stories I heard was about a mother who struggled to make ends meet. She had the opportunity to one day help another struggling mother at the grocery store purchase some groceries for her own family when she couldn't afford even the basic necessities. The gift was made even greater because this woman knew what it felt like to be in a similar situation and was able to give of herself, thus making it meaningful service for both parties.

We all have busy lives, and adding one more thing onto an already full to-do list can seem daunting at best, impossible at worst. Elder Robert D. Hales said, “…we need not be afraid or feel inadequate. The Savior has promised that He will make us equal to His work. “Follow me,” He said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” As we follow Him, He blesses us with gifts, talents, and the strength to do His will, allowing us to go beyond our comfort zones and do things we’ve never before thought possible. This may mean sharing the gospel with neighbors, rescuing those who are spiritually lost, serving a full-time mission, working in the temple, raising a child with special needs, loving the prodigal, serving an ailing companion, enduring misunderstandings, or suffering affliction. It means preparing ourselves to answer His call by saying, “I’ll go where you want me to go; I’ll say what you want me to say; I’ll do what you want me to do; I’ll be what you want me to be.” (Elder Robert D. Hales, October 2012 General Conference.)

To me, one of the biggest challenges is learning to give of myself. It’s easy to think about giving some spare money to a homeless person outside of McDonald’s after I’ve just enjoyed a hot fudge sundae. Giving money is easy. Giving of myself is a little more difficult, and it’s why I need to be reminded to serve the individual, not just the situation.

I’ve been chuckling as I think about how much fun it would be to be on a constant scavenger hunt to serve others. I want to have the same amount of enthusiasm to serve someone as we did when we found the guy wearing the BYU shirt.  

My scavenger list looks something like this:

  • Pray for opportunities to serve
  • Look for opportunities to serve as I listen to the Spirit
  • Have a smile on my face
  • Serve the RIGHT way after observing what needs to be done
  • Remember that we are all children of God, regardless of circumstances
  • Give of myself
  • Don’t overextend and cause unnecessary stress

In last week’s First Presidency Christmas Devotional, President Monson said, “Overdoing it is especially common this time of year for many of us. The causes for this might include too many Christmas activities to attend, too much to eat, too many expectations and too much tension. Often our efforts at Christmas time result in our feeling stressed out, wrung out and worn out during a time we should feel the simple joys of commemorating the birth of our Savior.

“The real joy of Christmas is found from making the Savior Jesus Christ the focus of the season. We can keep Him in our thoughts and in our lives as we go about the work He would have us perform here on earth.

“He who gives money gives much
“He who gives time gives more
“But he who gives of himself gives all.

“True love is a reflection of the Savior’s love. In December of each year we call it the Christmas spirit. You can hear it. You can see it. You can feel it.

“May we, as did the Wise Men, seek a bright, particular star to guide us to our Christmas opportunity in service to our fellow man. May we all make the journey to Bethlehem in spirit, taking with us a tender, caring heart as our gift to the Savior, and may one and all have a joy-filled Christmas.” (Thomas S. Monson, First Presidency Christmas Devotional December 2012) 


Sunday, December 2, 2012

'Tis the Season

This weekend we had a nativity/crèche festival at our church building. There were a lot of different choirs scheduled to perform from other churches in the community, some schools, choirs from our stake, and some solo performers. Over 350 nativity sets were on display, pictures of Jesus Christ, and a live nativity with real animals! It was all quite beautiful. Here are some of my favorite nativity sets from it, as well as a picture from the live nativity.