Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A perfect way to start off the Christmas Season!

  Yesterday I woke up with a stomach ache, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to go to church, and today is December 1st I thought, I have to go because today we will begin to start singing Christmas Carols! I love all the Christmas songs! I love Christmas and everything about it.
   I still remember going to church as a little girl and loving to sing all the Christmas Carols with the congregation...it seemed almost Magical! Some times I cry when I sing or hear them, because the first week of December was when my Mom passed away 14 years ago! So it is definitely bitter/sweet.
I was also glad that I started to feel better before Church began. I was blessed to hear a dear friend of mine teach a  wonderful Christmas lesson about Christ. I took notes but, I got these notes from her, they are more complete. It is a bit long but if you read it...I think you will be glad you did. What a wonderful thought to begin the Christmas Season!
Good night dear friends!
“The Living Christ”
My favorite Mary & Baby Jesus picture.  (Liz Lemon Swindle)

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.

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 any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). ..His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example…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.

You can feel their strong conviction of all the truths that they proclaim in this testimony.  I love all the words they used to name the Savior and I underlined as many as I could find as I read and reread their words. Then I stopped at the title. The Living Christ. I began to ponder on the idea of “living”. As I did, many ideas came to my mind, but the one that struck a chord with me was that He exists…He is ever present. I knew this but for some reason it hit me so strongly as I reread the declaration and I thought to myself, if he is ever present in my life, how well do I know Him? How can I obtain a stronger testimony of Him and know Him better?

Today I want to extend an invitation to all of you…  It is an invitation that Christ Himself offered freely throughout His ministry, to come and know Him. 

Today your invitation is not as glamorous. . It is a simple request to come and learn and know the “living” Christ and gain a testimony that you will spend your whole life strengthening. For what is a greater treasure than to know the Savior. This journey may be hard at times. Your testimony may be shaken. C.S. Lewis once said “For all that can be shaken will be shaken. And only the unshakable remains.” Hopefully that is our testimony.

So the first invitation I extend to you is to Come and Seek Christ. I know for me that I usually seek out the Lord when I have questions, am in need of direction, or in need of comfort. It is during these times that I allow myself to really feel the Savior’s love for me. In the scriptures there are many stories of individuals who sought out the Savior in time of need.  In Matthew 9:18-25 is the story of Jarius who traveled day and night to seek out the Savior because his daughter was near death. When he met the Lord, Jarius begged Jesus to come and “lay hands on her that she may be healed; and she shall live.” (Mark 5:23) How many times in our lives do we do plead to the Lord to give us aid? To physically or spiritual heal us or lighten our load?

 Christ immediately went with Jarius and on their journey a woman who suffered from an illness for many years saw Jesus in the crowd and with faith sought Him out to help her in her time of need. She probably saw the Savior as her last hope and reached out to touch the hem of the Christ’s robe.  “For she said within herself, if I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.”  But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” (Matt. 9;21-22) – I can just imagine how Jarius felt as the saw this miracle unfold before his eyes. He must have felt such hope maybe his faith was increased from this small act. Shortly after this event however, a messenger arrived with the news that his daughter had died. I can only imagine the devastation he must have felt. I wonder if this small miracle happened in his presence to help him exercise faith even though all seemed lost.

When have you exercised faith and sought out the Savior for help?

Your journey (self-reflect) – Think of a time in your life when you have sought out Christ. Have you ever sought him out to give you extra strength, comfort, support?

How did you seek him out?

What are some distractions that prevent you from seeking out the Lord?

I think of the scripture of the young rich man in Mark 10 who sought out the Savior and knelt at His feet and with probably what he felt as pure intent told the Lord how he had kept the commandments his whole life and wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. The answer he received was not the one he was prepared to hear.

Do we have times in our lives when we are the same? How do we prepare ourselves to receive His answers?

My second invitation is to Come and Hope in Christ.

When I think of lack of hope I think of darkness. I feel like those times when I had little hope in my life, I felt the most alone and surrounded by darkness and despair. I believe we have all had hard times in our lives where we feel like we are in the dark.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “It is part of our condition as mortal beings to sometimes feel as though we are surrounded by darkness. We might have lost a loved one; a child might have strayed; we might have received a troubling medical diagnosis; we might have employment challenges and be burdened by doubts or fears; or we might feel alone or unloved. But even though we may feel lost in the midst of our current circumstances, God promises the hope of His light – He promises to illuminate the way before us and show us the way out of darkness.”

In the John 9:1-38 there is a story about a man that was blind from birth. He spent his whole life in the dark. Though he was “surrounded by people” he was completely forgotten and left alone in his trial.

How many times in our lives do we feel completely alone in our trials?

He must have wondered why him? Why did he have this trial? What was the purpose of it?

Emily Freeman in her book states, “There is a moment of epiphany after the soul has doubted all it knows, when it begins to search out for solid answers and firm ground. This moment is defined by one emotion that sustains and creates a desire for change. Before faith or knowledge is found, before joy or happiness is experienced, before the healing begins, one emotion starts to stir from deep within the depths of despair. It is hope.  Hope is the light that will begin to lead through the darkest hour, which will enable us to move forward along the darkened path. It was this light that the blind man sought. Sometimes this epiphany, this small portion of hope will bring a change in thought. This change simply helps us to evaluate the situation from a different view than we have previously seen. We are given small portions of knowledge, line upon line, as we work through the abyss.”

I’m sure as this man experienced the Lord’s touch and as He put the clay over the blind man’s eyes, and then later as the man washed the clay off in the pool at Silom, he must have experienced this. The small portion of hope he probably felt as the Lord gently touched his eyes and bid him wash them must been new to him. He probably felt and viewed life differently when his eyes were opened. He knew he had been healed by Christ.

Dieter F.Uchtdorf said this about hope, “The very moment you begin to seek your Heavenly Father, the hope of His light will begin to awaken, enliven, and ennoble your soul. The darkness may not dissipate all at once, but as surely as night always gives way to dawn, the light will come.”

“Never underestimate the purpose of a trial. It is through adversity that we experience the sweetest parts of the Atonement. Enduring our trials allows us to experience the healing power of Jesus Christ. This process strengthens our testimony of the reality of Christ…  Come forth from the darkness, despair, and discouragement that surround you, come forth from the sorrow and be healed…We do not experience trials just to see if we will make it through. Each of us experiences the refiner’s fire for one reason – to come to know the Refiner. We are no just tried; we are proven. Priceless lessons can be learned from the Master during times of adversity. It is in these moments of heartache that we come to know the Savior and more fully appreciate His atoning sacrifice. Lessons thus learned will prepare us to better endure what may follow and will sustain us through the darkest days of our lives. Christ is always there. In the darkest hours of the night and the longest hours of the day, He is there. He is accessible and available at a moment’s notice.”

Journey :  How has Christ guided you through your darkest times? Think of an experience when you have felt Him guide you through a trial. How did you know of his presence? How does feeling His presence give you hope?

The third invitation is to Come and Align yourself with Christ.

Boyd K. Packer told a story of a fair that he went to where there was an oxen pulling contest. The oxen were in teams of two with a heavy wooden yoke and a sledge that was weighted with cement blocks that held ten thousand pounds (5 tons) to begin with. The object was for the oxen to move the sledge three feet. He noticed a well-matched very large pair of big boned oxen that were supposed to be the favorites. Each team was given three attempts to move the sledge. If they were able to do this easily, more weight was added until each team was eliminated leaving just the winners. The teamster would get the oxen ready and with a loud command they would slam forward against the yoke. Either the weight would move or the oxen were jerked to a halt. The team that was the favorite to win didn’t even place! A small pair of oxen not very well matched in size, moved the sledge three times. Pres. Packer turned to the man next to him and asked him to explain how this could happen. The man said the larger and stronger  team were better matched for size than the other team but the little oxen had better team work and coordination.  They were better aligned. They hit the yoke together. Both animals jerked forward at exactly the same time and the force moved the load.

I want to liken us to the mismatched team. By ourselves, there are loads that we cannot bear. There are times when we are not enough but when we are equally yoked with the Savior, He makes up the difference. “For all things are ours, if Christ is ours.” He compensates for our limitations and He makes us enough. This is what makes the atonement so amazing and personal.

In Mark 9:17-27 – There is a story of a man that came to the Savior, begging him to heal his son, who was possessed of a “dumb spirit”. He probably felt so hopeless at this point, knowing that there was nothing within his power that he could do for his son. He had asked the apostles to heal him but they were unable to do so. He knew he needed help. He immediately sought out the Savior. He knew by himself, he could not overcome this challenge. The Lord had compassion on the man and said: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (vs 23). I know that this man believed that the Savior could heal his son because he sought him out. The Savior knew he believed. The man’s reply with tears in his eyes was, “Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” This father knew that he believed, but that his faith was not perfect and that he needed to the Lord to make up the differences.

When have you had a similar experience like this father, when you have needed Christ to help you become more than what you were to overcome a challenge?

 The last invitation is to Come and Follow him.

In John 10, there is the parable of the good shepherd. In this chapter, Christ “reminds His listeners that a good shepherd, “goeth before them, and the sheep follow him for they know his voice” (vs 4). The sheep learn to rely on this shepherd who earns their trust because of his watchcare. He leads them to green pastures and finds them still waters to drink from. He anoints their heads to keep insects away. He protects them from danger and offers healing when they are wounded or ill. He is their guardian, their defender, and their comforter. He makes sure they want for nothing.

Christ said of Himself:  “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep”(vs 11). As the Good Shepherd, He has promised to lead us, protect us, heal us, defend us and comfort us. HE gave His life for us. In return He asks each of us to “come, follow me”. But to follow Him we must know His voice.”

Do we know Christ’s voice? How does He speak to you? When you hear it do you follow?

Search and Rescue story – a couple of years ago we had a big search and rescue drill at our school. One of my students was chosen to be a child that pretends to be hurt and hide in the room. The child that was selected was a bit of a worrier, however she was also a very dependable child. I was worried that she would be nervous about this task so I took Monica aside and gave her specific instructions. As I talked to her I could see that she was very nervous about it. So I told her specifically what was going to happen, where she was going to hide and what she needed to do. I also told her that I would not have her do this if I knew that it was unsafe. I knew that she would be protected and not truly alone as there would be other teachers in the building that were searching for her. I knew that it was going to be a specific teacher (who Monica knew) that would come and find her so I told her to listen for this teacher’s voice and when she heard the voice she was immediately to follow her and she would lead her straight to me. Monica’s nerves were immediately calmed and she said that she would listen for this teacher’s voice.

When Monica was delivered to me, she was smiling. She commented that it was easy because she knew who to listen for.

Sometimes I wonder if my life would be easier if I was more like Monica and listened carefully for the Savior’s voice.

In Luke 24:13-32 is the story of two disciples who were walking down the road to Emmaus and were joined by the Savior, who they thought was a stranger. They were so caught up in their journey, conversation, and sorrow from the loss of the Savior that they did not recognize or know Him.

How often are we on our own road to Emmaus and fail to see the miracles around us? What keeps us from recognizing that the Master is accompanying us in our lives? Are we following his direction?

Sisters, I hope that as we read this beautiful testimony of the apostles and feel of their love and knowledge of the Savior that we will be touched and want to know more of Him. That we might want to know is His voice and seek Him, hope in Him, align ourselves with Him and follow Him on our journey of life so we can be with Him again. I want to close with the final words of the apostle in their testimony of Christ…

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.

May we always remember that Jesus is present and the greatest gift we have been given…
Thanks to my friend Jaimie for a beautiful Christmas lesson!

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