Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Earnest Money

from a symposium paper on Covenant Renewal by Matthew Clayton:

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul uses a unique Greek word (see 2 Corinthians 1:22) to describe our state in Christ. He says that we have been “given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.” The word translated as “earnest” comes from the Greek word arrabon, which in modern Greek means “engagement ring.” When a young man places a ring on his sweetheart’s hand, their relationship changes. She is now promised to him. Likewise, when a follower of Christ is baptized, confirmed, and then receives the Holy Ghost, he or she is the Lord’s. The Spirit is a sign in the present of what is sure to come in the future. Explaining this very same Pauline concept, Brother Millet taught that
the same Holy Spirit of Promise that searches the hearts of men and women, that ratifies and approves and seals ordinances and lives, that same Holy Spirit serves, as Paul indicates, as the “earnest of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14). The Lord’s “earnest money” on us, his down payment, his indication to us that he fully intends to save us, is the Holy Spirit. We know that we are on course when the Spirit is with us. We know that our lives are approved of God when the Spirit is with us. We know that we are in Christ, in covenant, when the Spirit is with us. And we know that we are saved when the Spirit is with us. If we live in such a way that we can partake of the sacrament worthily, hold and use a current temple recommend, and maintain the gift and gifts of the Spirit, then we are in the line of our duty; we are approved of [in] the heavens, and if we were to die
 suddenly, we would go into paradise and eventually into the celestial kingdom.[17]
Paul is teaching that God has invested in us. He has put earnest money down for us as a goodwill gesture to show that he is serious about making the purchase (i.e., saving us). If we worthily partake of the sacrament, we can have the Spirit with us. If we feel that Spirit comforting, directing, and enlightening our lives, we can know with surety that we are receiving God’s seal, his affirmation that we are on track.
Image result for last supper prints lds walter rane
In Remembrance of Me by Walter Rane
It is interesting that from Adam to Christ, sacrifice pointed toward the Atonement. When Jesus prepared the Last Supper for his disciples, the bread, representing his flesh, was blessed and then broken (see Matthew 26:26) to symbolize the fact that for millennia people had looked forwardto this time. But since that time the sacrament replaced sacrifice, and people have looked back to remember his sacrifice. This is evidenced in the Book of Mormon: in a setting after Christ’s Atonement had been made, Jesus broke the bread first and then blessed it (see 3 Nephi 18:3). That sequence, which continues today, indicates that although the sacrifice was already offered, it is made holy for us again.

Having the Spirit in this life is the best indicator of our eternal destination. Seeking to keep the companionship of the Holy Spirit is the most important thing we do, thus we meet each week to remember him (see 3 Nephi 18:7). The repetition of this ordinance weekly is vital for us. As we return faithfully each week to humbly take the sacrament we will have the peace borne of the Spirit. The grand secret is that if we have the Spirit, all of our covenants and their blessings are in force. We must be careful not to skip over that vital step in the process. I believe we as a people habitually neglect the Spirit. We neglect not only his influence, but we downplay his role in the process of salvation. In John 6:54 Jesus specifically included eternal life as one of the blessings made available via the sacrament. If this is true, and it is, then why would anyone ever miss a sacrament meeting? This is why it is so crucial for us to seek and retain the Spirit in our life.

President Joseph Fielding Smith, put the relationship between the sacrament and the Spirit into proper context when he taught,
No member of the Church who refuses to observe this sacred ordinance can retain the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost. . . . When we eat the bread and drink the water, we covenant that we will eat and drink in remembrance of the sacrifice which he made for us in the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood; that we are willing to take upon us the name of the Son; that we will always remember him; that we will always keep his commandments which he has given us. In this act we witness to the Father, by solemn covenant in the name of the Son, that we will do all of these things. Through our faithfulness to these covenants, we are promised that we will always have the Spirit of the Lord to be with us in all truth and righteousness . . . . This covenant we are called upon to renew each week, and we cannot retain the Spirit of the Lord if we do not consistently comply with this commandment.[30]

President Spencer W. Kimball taught us, “Remembering covenants prevents apostasy. That is the real purpose of the sacrament, to keep us from forgetting [what we have] . . . covenanted at the water’s edge or at the sacrament table and in the temple.”

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Oh, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Nativity Countdown #24

I started writing this post a few years ago. I imagine it comes from a little program I have in my files which I wanted to put in digital form. We've used it in the past for a family home evening lesson, but it would also make a great Christmas Eve family program, and is similar to what we did last year with our good friends and their children. Children bring such innocence and enthusiasm to sharing the Christmas story. Every single rendition is beautiful and awesome! And that reminds me of one of my favorite Christmas books - The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I think it's time to read it again!

The ancient prophet Isiah wrote the following:
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

"Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful"

Luke 2:1-5

Luke 2:6-7

"Away in a Manger"

Luke 2:8-14

"Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains"

Luke 2:15-20

"Joy to the World"

Matthew 2:1-6

"We Three Kings of Orient Are" or "With Wondering Awe"

Matthew 2:7-12

"Silent Night"

Friday, December 23, 2016

Nativity Countdown #23

Speaking of little children, I love the Precious Moments figurines, but since they're porcelain, I'm not going to let little kids play with them! This set reminds me of my childhood, and particularly my youngest sister.

I considered pontificating more on light and goodness and the blessings of the Christmas season, but I've run out of time and now my kids are here and it's time to start celebrating. Enjoy your family and friends, and thanks for letting me share my nativities with you.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nativity Countdown #22

This set we've had for many, many years, and if I recall correctly it was a gift from my parents. I love that it's not breakable! This is the set I've taken to Primary to use as a visual aid for music and/or sharing time, or in class. We never did have a Fisher Price Little People nativity set, but we didn't need one! While that is a terrific set, and maybe someday we'll get one, I like that this one is more realistic and yet is suitable for children.

So, this set reminds me of the importance of music, and of using it to praise and worship God. What Christmas hymns are you getting ready to sing this weekend?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Nativity Countdown #21

Not all of our nativity reminders are three dimensional. Over the years we've had many, many two dimensional ones. Maybe they're a bit more disposable, but they're also more interactive. When we're coloring, we have an opportunity to really think about our Savior and what he means to us.

I'm reminded of one year when I bought some 'color your own nativity" gift bags from Oriental Trading. The idea was to have a "crafternoon" one day in early December, and then use them for Christmas presents. I don't think I ever followed through on the art day, but we did use the bags for several years. And it was a good reminder on Christmas morning of the real meaning of Christmas.

I also remember a two dimensional nativity that turned into a three dimensional one from my Primary days. Wow! I haven't thought of that in decades, but I loved sharing it with my family. And thanks to Google I found a picture of one!

Last year's issue of the December Friend had several little articles dealing with the symbolism of the nativity. It's a great review, for young and old alike.

We can be like Mary and Joseph by doing what God wants us to do.

We can be like the shepherds and Wise Men by following Jesus Christ.

We can be like the angels by telling others the real story of Christmas.

And we can be like Jesus by following His example!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Nativity Countdown #20

This is another more traditional set that I picked up one year after Christmas. I liked it because it came with a stable, and at the time not many of my sets did. However, today I want to focus on the shepherd. There's so much that could be said, but right now they remind me that the Savior is also known as the Good Shepherd, and that reminds me of the seven "I am" statements we just studied in seminary.

"I am the bread of life." John 6:35
"I am the light of the world." John 8:12
"I am the door of the sheep." John 10:7
"I am the good shepherd." John 10:11
"I am the resurrection, and the life." John 11:25
"I am the way, the truth, and the life." John 14:6
"I am the true vine." John 15:1

Jesus Christ provides light and life to all of us. He is there to protect us, to show us the way home to Heavenly Father, and to be our advocate and redeemer. I am so grateful for him!

Here are a couple of magazine articles if you want to learn a bit more about shepherds - from the Ensign and from the Friend.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Nativity Countdown #19

Constancy is a god-like trait. This is our "main" nativity set, and even if I decide sometimes to not put out everything, this one will be opened and displayed. I am grateful that God is constant and unchanging, and that we can always count on him.

You may notice one of the wise men is missing. God may be perfect and unchanging, but movers and porcelain aren't. Fortunately, nowhere in scripture does it state there were three wisemen, so I'm okay if there are just two. There were probably many more. After all, shouldn't we all be wise men?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Nativity Countdown #18

For some reason, more than any other in our collection, this set reminds me of Bethlehem. I love remembering that Bethlehem means "house of Bread" and that reminds me that Jesus referred to himself as living bread.

Here's the simple explanation from last year's Friend:

Jesus Christ called Himself the “bread of life.” He said, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus wasn’t talking about food to eat. He meant that if you believe in Him and feast on His word, you will be filled with His love. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means “house of bread.” What a perfect meaning for the place where the Savior was born. 

I agree, and that's one reason why I like giving bread as a neighbor gift for Christmas. I appreciate the symbolism involved, even if no one else understands. More importantly, I am grateful for the Bread of Life.

Here are some of the recipes we like to use for our neighbor gifts:

Poppy Seed Bread

Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Loaf

Pear Bread

Easy Banana Bread

Triple Chocolate Banana Bread

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Nativity Countdown #17

This little set reminds me of the importance of simplicity. It contains just the basic characters - Joseph, Jesus and Mary. It's small and inexpensive. Yet, it still brings me happiness and joy and reminds me of the great gift of the Savior in my life.

A few years ago President Uchtdorf gave a talk titled, "Of Things that Matter Most." It was a reminder that we don't need to be busy all the time; it's okay to slow down and smell the roses. What better time to do that (and what harder time to try!) than during the Christmas season?

Here are some thoughts from that talk:

"The search for the best things inevitably leads to the foundational principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the simple and beautiful truths revealed to us by a caring, eternal, and all-knowing Father in Heaven. These core doctrines and principles, though simple enough for a child to understand, provide the answers to the most complex questions of life."

"There is a beauty and clarity that comes from simplicity that we sometimes do not appreciate in our thirst for intricate solutions."

"The holy scriptures and the spoken word of the living prophets give emphasis to the fundamental principles and doctrines of the gospel. The reason we return to these foundational principles, to the pure doctrines, is because they are the gateway to truths of profound meaning. They are the door to experiences of sublime importance that would otherwise be beyond our capacity to comprehend. These simple, basic principles are the key to living in harmony with God and man. They are the keys to opening the windows of heaven. They lead us to the peace, joy, and understanding that Heavenly Father has promised to His children who hear and obey Him."

"Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship—the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Nativity Countdown #16

I don't particularly care for angels being portrayed as having wings, so I don't go out of my way to find nativity sets with angels. However, we have a couple with them, and this is one of them. I do believe in angels and I am grateful for their presence and influence in my life, and in the lives of others.

Whenever I think of angels, I think of Elder Holland's talk, "The Ministry of Angels." Here are a couple of quotes from that conference address:

"When the time for this Savior’s advent was at hand, an angel was sent to announce to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Son of God. 3 Then a host of angels was commissioned to sing on the night the baby Jesus was born. 4 Shortly thereafter an angel would announce to Joseph that the newborn baby was in danger and that this little family must flee to Egypt for safety. 5 When it was safe to return, an angel conveyed that information to the family and the three returned to the land of their heritage. From the beginning down through the dispensations, God has used angels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children."

"When we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with—here, now, every day."

" I testify of angels, both the heavenly and the mortal kind. In doing so I am testifying that God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face."

I am so grateful for angels!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Nativity Countdown #15

These next three nativities are all dollar store finds, so you know they're not terribly expensive. However, we don't need great riches and power to be a follower of Christ. I've already discussed humility and meekness, but there some synonyms to those words that are also Christ-like attributes. How about being kind and gentle, patient and docile? When I see the unassuming characters in this little scene, I'm reminded of those qualities.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Nativity Countdown #14

Except that it's white and not clear, this is a twin to the nativity set featured yesterday, with the three kings coming to give gifts to the Christ-child. Gifts are a huge part of our Christmas celebration and traditions, and that's okay. They remind us of the wonderful gift we've each received in the life and mission of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Gifts are often mentioned in the annual First Presidency Devotional, and they were again this year.

"It seems appropriate that giving and receiving gifts is a central part of Christmas. After all, we are celebrating the matchless gift of God’s Son, the Savior Jesus Christ. Of course, our gifts to each other will never compare to this gift, but I believe that the joy of giving and receiving gifts can turn our hearts toward the gifts of God.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Nativity Countdown #13

Isn't it interesting how some sets just include part of the figures? This little glass one has the holy family and the wise men. Perhaps for that reason it reminds me of royalty. I love knowing that if the royal line had continued with all of David and Solomon's descendants, Joseph and then Jesus would have been the lawful kings of Judah. That is one claim that the Pharisees never said was untrue. Even more importantly, I am grateful for my knowledge that I descend from royalty. It helps motivate me to act like my Heavenly King would expect me to.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Nativity Countdown #12

This nativity is a snow-globe, and as such, it's a perfect reminder of our need for repentance and baptism, and the Savior's example of that saving ordinance. I am so grateful that because of the Savior we can be washed clean and allowed to return to God's presence. A couple of weeks ago a ward member shared the thoughts (from a talk by Elder Christofferson) that the invitation to repent is a divine gift; the cost of repentance is swallowed up in the joy of forgiveness; and as we strive to change we should both abandon sin and commit to obey. I appreciated those reminders.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Nativity Countdown #11

Isn't this crystal nativity gorgeous? As I look at this set I'm reminded of purity and light. It was a gift from Wayne's parents who also embody those characteristics. I often wish that Dansk hadn't discontinued the line because I'd love to add more pieces. However, with only these few it's easy to find a place for display, and I can use our money on something else that will also bring me joy.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Nativity Countdown #10

In honor of David's birthday today, I'll share another nativity that he brought home, this time from his mission to the Dominican Republic. We were blessed to be able to visit that country ourselves and I was impressed with the warmth and friendliness of the people there. I especially enjoyed attended church there, and was reminded that even though I didn't necessarily understand what they were saying, I could feel their love and concern, and I could still learn things because the Spirit is the real teacher. This set reminds me that we are all one great family. We are children of God. We can become unified and strengthened as we remember these simple principles.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Nativity Countdown #9

One of our sons spent a few weeks working on the Panama City Temple renovation, and part of his assignment was to redo the gold leaf striping. He said that it needed to be done perfectly, and so when I see this nativity that he gave us as a souvenir of that trip, I'm reminded of the commandment to be perfect. I am grateful that I can set that as a goal, and that the Savior will help me along my path so that one day I can achieve it.
The Panama City Panama Temple seen from afar, amidst a large number of green trees.
Panama City Temple

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Nativity Countdown #8

I'm not sure when or where I received this little nativity, so it's going to remind me of traditions like our secret Twelve Days of Christmas and the Christmas star and Gracious George the Gingerbread Man where we try to give anonymous service. Our Savior has given us the very best example of someone who was always serving others. I know that as I strive to follow that example, I bring joy and happiness into my own life, and hopefully the lives of others as well.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Nativity Countdown #7

Technically this set was a Christmas gift from last year, but it didn't come into our possession until January, so this is the first year we've been able to display it. Yesterday's spotlighted nativity reminds me of my past heritage; this one reminds me of my future heritage. (Is that a proper way of putting it? Ancestors vs. descendants or grandparents vs.grandchildren). Anyway, our son and his family picked this set up for us while living and traveling in France, so it will always remind me of them.

Apparently, one of the unique features of these nativity sets is the town crier (homme ravi or delighted man) who is there to let the villagers know the good news of Jesus' birth. I like that thought. I'm grateful that we can all play that role today.
In addition to the usual shepherds and wise men, these sets include villagers. There are dozens to choose from (see here for some examples), but Brad picked the baker (boulanger) and the spinner (fileuse). I think those are appropriate figures to represent us. What would it have been like to have been actual witnesses of the birth of our Savior? Unfortunately, we can't remember, but I'm sure we were there, and I'm grateful for my testimony that this sacred event truly happened.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Nativity Countdown #6

I've posted about this nativity set in the past but it's time to share it this year as well. This is a set I inherited from my grandmother, and every year it takes the place of honor on top of the piano. This set reminds me of my heritage and brings back memories of Christmas Eve celebrations with my cousins. Not only was my grandmother a good cook (although the only reason I ever choked down her authentic English plum pudding was to see if there was a dime hidden inside), she had other talents as well. I'm told she probably painted this nativity set herself and she was an excellent musician. She also made a lot of her gifts. In particular, I remember her crocheting. One year all the granddaughters received hats and scarves, and another year she gave hand-crafted afghans to all the grandchildren. I'm grateful for my grandmother's example of Christ-like love and service, and I love that looking at this set helps remind me of that.

Learn, Live, Share

While pondering at the temple a while ago I was struck by the importance of three words for my life - learn, live, share. Since then I've been surprised to find the same concept mentioned by others. It's an indication to me that this is something I need to continue studying and pondering at this stage in my life.

President Monson at the last general conference taught:

"We are blessed to have the truth. We have a mandate to share the truth. Let us live the truth, that we might merit all that the Father has for us. He does nothing save it be for our benefit. He has told us, 'This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39). From the depths of my soul and in all humility, I testify of the great gift which is our Father’s plan for us. It is the one perfect path to peace and happiness both here and in the world to come."

Sister Carol F. McConkie encouraged the parents and leaders of the Young Women of the church to teach them how to learn the word of the Lord, live it and then share it. The best way to teach is through example.

I came across a devotional address called "The Cycle of Becoming" by Daniel Johnson that mentioned this as well:

"I have chosen to speak today on the cycle of becoming, which describes our progress in this life and, eventually, the kingdom that we’ll choose—one that our Father in Heaven has prepared for us. The three parts of the cycle are learning or knowledge; doing or, in some cases, not doing; and becoming."

I've even found it in ads on my Facebook page!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Nativity Countdown #5

Here's another one I made myself. It's from a little cross-stitch kit I picked up one year during the after-Christmas clearance sales. I imagine the original plan was to make more using supplies I had available at home. Someday I may still do that, but it hasn't happened yet.

The Savior was meek and humble, even though he had every reason to be arrogant and proud. As I look at this little ornament, I am reminded of the importance of increasing my own meekness and humility, two Christ-like attributes that aren't necessarily prevalent in today's society.

I remember really liking this Ensign article on the subject, which included this conclusion:

"We cannot simply repent of being weak—nor does weakness itself make us unclean. We cannot grow spiritually unless we reject sin, but we also do not grow spiritually unless we accept our state of human weakness, respond to it with humility and faith, and learn through our weakness to trust in God. When Moroni fretted about the weakness of his writing, God did not tell him to repent. Instead, the Lord taught him to be humble and to have faith in Christ. As we are meek and faithful, God offers grace—not forgiveness—as the remedy for weakness. Grace is an enabling power from God to do what we cannot do on our own—the appropriate godly remedy by which He can “make weak things become strong.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nativity Countdown #4

Some of my nativities I like more than others; this is one of them. I love that it's unique and one-of-a-kind. (I know it is because I hand-crafted it myself and even I couldn't duplicate it again.) Each one of us is unique and individual, and that's what makes us so special, even if on some days we don't feel like it.

I was struck by a question in one of this week's seminary lessons: "How well does the Savior know me?" Think about that. He actually knows us very well, probably even better than we know ourselves. And in spite of our imperfections, He loves us totally and perfectly. What a wonderful gift!

Today while searching for one quote, I found another one I've tried finding in the past without success. Since it goes along with #LIGHTtheWorld Day 4 - Worship - I'll include it here.

"To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ was and is to believe in and accept Him as the literal Son of God and Savior of the world, and to obey His commandments. By these means only may the Spirit of God become an abiding part of man's individual being, even as the substance of the food he eats is assimilated with the tissues of his body." (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, page 342)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Nativity Countdown #3

"Joy to the World, the Lord is come!"

We should rejoice in the fact that our Lord and Savior was born. I like that this is the message of this particular nativity. While I love the message, and I like this wall hanging, it doesn't really fit with this particular house, so I took it to Relief Society last night to put on the exchange table. That's appropriate because I'm sure this was originally a Relief Society craft. I can rejoice in the sisterhood of my friends and remember our good times together without keeping something that will just gather dust. I am grateful that, unlike "things," love and friendship endure eternally.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Nativity Countdown #2

There was another nativity decoration not packed away in the closet, because this one flips around with a year-round "Prayer changes things" message on the back. Isn't that a clever idea? A lot of our nativity sets I purchased myself, but this one was a gift. That is one reason it's special.

Another reason I love it is because of its simple message. Behold means to observe and see. I love that we're encouraged to look to the Savior year-round, but particularly at Christmas. Follow his example. Follow his teachings. Do our part to bring peace on earth and share goodwill with others.

Finally, I just love this particular picture of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. It's filled with love and hope and adoration. We can have those same emotions as we look to the Savior. Look for the miracles and tender mercies that abound this time of year. Look for kindness and compassion. Look for opportunities to serve and bring joy and happiness to others.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Nativity Countdown #1

It's December! This year the Church is sponsoring an initiative called "Light the World" which can be found at


Since a new star first appeared above Bethlehem, Christmas has been a season of light, reminding us that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Together, we can celebrate His birth by making the world a brighter place. All we have to do is follow Him—His life, His example, and His teachings. In doing so, we can help #LIGHTtheWORLD.
I encourage you to participate in the 25 days of service. I plan on doing so. However, although I'll probably complete the daily challenge, I'm not going to write about it here. Instead, I want to share my nativity collection with you. We love Santa! But we also want to remember that Christ is the reason for the season.

One of our family traditions is to wrap a copy of John 3:16 as a reminder that Heavenly Father's gift to us is His Son. Rather than just have a piece of paper in the package, I often wrapped the scripture with a nativity set. Consequently, we have quite a few. Each day this month I thought I'd share one of them with you, along with how it helps us remember Christ. This will definitely help me feel the Spirit of Christmas, and I hope it helps you as well.

There are a few things about the nativity above that prompted me to start this series with it. First, it's the newest one and the only one available for a picture! Second, it's reminding me of my slogan - Finishers Wanted. I purchased several craft sets on clearance years ago, and this year I finally got around to completing them. (That's why it's the first one up, it wasn't packed away with all the others.) Diligence, perseverance, and success are all Christ-like qualities, things in which I'm continually striving to improve. Finally, I just love the star on top, and that reminds me of light and hope, this 2016 Christmas initiative, and my Savior.

There you have it. Best wishes for a wonderful month filled with peace and joy and love.

Image result for John 3:16 christmas

Merry Christmas!