Saturday, June 25, 2016

God Counts Your Tears

I should have blogged about the war chapters this afternoon, but I lost track of time, and now I'm tired, so I'll share a blog post I wrote previously, and I'll write you a proper, war-related blog post tomorrow.

At least once, President Monson has quoted the old adage, "Men should take care not to make women weep, for God counts their tears." But there's something missing here that I feel is worth pointing out. I don't mean to discredit women or anything, but they're not the only people God cares about. God cares about everyone, so while this is a nice quote with good advice for men and comforting words for women, I feel that it's important to remember that God counts everyone's tears, not just women's.

It doesn't matter what gender you are or how old you are; God loves you more than you can imagine, and He rejoices when you rejoice, and He weeps when you weep. Your emotional well-being is of great importance to Him, whether you're a woman or not. No matter who you are, God loves you. He wants you to be happy, and when you're not happy, He counts your tears.

Again, I don't mean to discount women at all. God cares about women just as compassionately as He cares about everybody else. And having, as a general rule, stronger emotions than men tend to have, women probably have a higher count of tears than men, and a greater need for the comfort that God's compassion can provide. I just think that we guys shouldn't feel left out. God still cares about us just as compassionately as He cares about everyone else. We are all equally loved by God.

So, regardless of gender, we should all try to be careful about other people's feelings, and we can all take comfort from knowing that God's compassion is ever-present when we're upset. No matter what gender we are, we are all God's children, and He counts all our tears.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Back to the Battlefield

I seem to have drifted away from the original theme of my blog. I used to blog about spiritual conflict and  being a Paladin, with a side of role-playing games, but now I blog more about Magic than about any of that. I want to get back into the saddle, so to speak. I don't know whether it's the fact that I just blogged about spiritual combat strategies, or whether it's that I'm about to get into the war chapters again in my Family and Personal Scripture study, but for whatever reason, I've decided that now's a good time to refocus and to go back to blogging about thopics that are more important and more inspirational than Magic: the Gathering. No more Magic for now, or for at least a month or so. Paladins are back.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Four Satanic Tactics and How to Combat Them

One last blog post from Stake Conference before I move on to some other topics that have been building up in my "Blog About" list. This one will focus on a large portion of Elder Lawrence's talk, discussing four satanic tactics and how to combat them.

The first tactic Elder Lawrence listed was the most obvious: Direct temptation. Just as the Holy Ghost can put ideas and suggestions into our minds, the adversary has that same ability. He can put thoughts into our minds, and there isn't much we can do to prevent that. However, there is a lot we can do once the temptation enters our minds and we recognise it as such.

For starters, we could simply ignore it. The devil can give us ideas, but we don't have to act on them. Ignoring those temptations is one way to show that they have no power over us. However, merely ignoring the temptations may not be a good idea. Over time, Satan's suggestions may begin to seem reasonable, or at least annoy us to the point where we give in and try things his way.

A better way to deal with these temptations is to put our feet down. In a famous General Conference talk, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
Like thieves in the night, unwelcome thoughts can and do seek entrance to our minds. But we don’t have to throw open the door, serve them tea and crumpets, and then tell them where the silverware is kept! (You shouldn’t be serving tea anyway.) Throw the rascals out!
Elder Holland suggested that we could throw evil thoughts out by replacing them with thoughts of loved ones. Elder Lawrence and others suggested quoting scriptures or singing hymns. Whatever you turn to, you can force Satan's direct temptations out of your mind by thinking about other things.

The second tactic Elder Lawrence listed was deception. Satan often tries to lie to us to tell us that there's something wrong with us or that there's nothing wrong with what he's tempting us to do. He tries to trick us into giving up the fight because he knows that if we fight him, we will win.

Sometimes, we can see through his lies by using logic, but we also have the scriptures and the Holy Ghost to help us. Satan's lies can be convincing, but the Holy Ghost can help us see the truth.

The third tactic Satan uses is contention. He knows that if he can keep us busy fighting each other, we'll be too busy to fight him. He also knows that contention drives the Spirit away, and the Spirit is our most powerful weapon against him. By getting us to fight with each other, or even with ourselves, Satan tries to distance us from those who love us and would help us, and then he attacks us more directly when we're alone.

One way to counter this is to make sure we're never alone. The Holy Ghost can be our constant companion, and He, too, has the ability to influence our thoughts and feelings. When we feel contentious, we can pray for His influence to help us calm down. He can also help us to know what to say or do to help heal the rifts we may have formed between us and our loved ones. Being united through the Spirit can keep us together, even when the devil is trying to drive us apart.

Finally, Satan tries to discourage us into giving up. This seems silly after discussing the many ways we can counter Satan's strategies and the fact that he can only defeat us if we give up the fight, but the temptation to give up can be surprisingly strong. We are only human beings, and we humans have several debilitating limitations. It's easy to consider something a monumental task and give up on it. The prospect of ever becoming perfect seems impractical. The need to keep all the commandments is overwhelming. When we think of how much growth we'll have to do to even begin to approach becoming like God, it's easy to become discouraged.

As with the previous tactic, the way to overcome this tactic is to pray. The reason our eternal goals seem overwhelming is because we try to put them in a temporal context. We picture a goal that will take multiple centuries to accomplish and we think it'll never happen because we only have a little less than a hundred years to work with, but God knows we have a lot more time on our hands than that. He can give us a more eternal perspective and remind us that we actually are making progress, even if our progress is too subtle or gradual for us to see. God knows that we can succeed in this grand endeavour, no matter what the father of lies tells us, and the assurance God gives us can give us the encouragement we need to keep fighting.

These probably aren't the only ways Satan tries to work against us, and they certainly aren't the only ways we can work against him. The point of this message wasn't to give a comprehensive list of battle strategies, but rather to show that for every way Satan tries to defeat us, there's a way we can defeat him instead, and often, the answer is to turn prayerfully toward the scriptures and the Spirit. If that doesn't solve the problem outright, it can at least point us toward the true solution to the problem. For every problem Satan causes, God has an answer. Satan tries many different ways to destroy us, but no matter what he does, we will always have a way to defeat him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why Doesn't Everyone Know, and Why Do We?

One thought I had during this Stake Conference is a two-part question about God's plan for our happiness, the Plan of Salvation. I'm not sure if this question has a definite answer, and I'm not going to try to come up with one this afternoon, but it's an interesting question, and I thought I'd raise it here, just to give us all some food for thought.

If it's important for us to know God's plan, why did the veil of forgetfulness make us forget all about it? And if it's important for us not to know the Plan of Salvation, why would God reveal it?

There are some reasons why the veil of forgetfulness makes sense. Life is supposed to be a test. It's something like a practical personality quiz. Rather than presenting us with hypothetical scenarios and asking us what we would do, life puts us in real-world scenarios and keeps track of what we actually do. The purpose of this is not the determine what our spirit animal is, or what color our auras are, or which element we would control if we had the magical ability to control an element, but rather, the personality quiz of reality is meant to determine what kind of people we really are, specifically in terms of righteousness. Are we Celestial material, or are we more the Terrestrial or Telestial type? When it comes to difficult decisions regarding right and wrong, what decisions would we, or do we, really make?

Of course, having a prior knowledge of God's plan would influence our decisions. Even an evil-hearted person could act like a saint for a short while, if he knew he would gain eternal benefits from it. We had to not know about God's plan, and the potential punishments and rewards, or it wouldn't be a real test of character. Knowing God's plan changes the question from "Are you righteous enough to do the right thing, even though it's hard?" to "Do you want the blessings badly enough to do the right thing, even if you don't want to?" Thus, knowing the purpose and potential outcomes of God's plan kind of defeats the purpose of the plan.

Then, why would God reveal His plan to us? For starters, His plan requires some faith to accept. Knowing about the plan may make life more of a test of faith than a test of moral fiber, but we need both faith and moral fiber, so I guess it makes sense to test for both. Plus, following this plan is pretty important. Yes, God has contingencies if we go off the rails, but He'd rather that we didn't, and some of us need a little bit of extra incentive to stay on track. Knowing that there is a test gives us more incentive to try and pass it. However, since knowledge comes with accountability, knowing about God's plan also raises the stakes for us. Knowing about the plan makes it both easier and more important to follow it.

I don't really know why God would reveal His plan to some people, and invite them to share that information with others, but not outright tell everyone the plan right from the start. My only guess is that maybe some people weren't meant to know about the plan, and that there must be some benefit that ignorance gives them, though I'm not quite sure what that benefit might be. To me, it seems to be important for people to know about the plan, so we can be better-prepared to follow it. Yet, God has more wisdom than I do, so if His plan involves a veil of forgetfulness, there must be a good reason for that.

I have no idea why God would make it so some people know about His plan and others don't. Perhaps that's one of the many things I'll understand better when I pass back through the veil of forgetfulness and recall all the details He shared with us about the plan when He told us the plan in the first place. I know He told all of us His plan, and then deliberately made us forget about it, so there must have been a reason for that, and then He directly revealed information about His plan to select people afterward, so there must have been a reason for that to. I'm sure that God's plan includes a very good reason for some people to know about it and others not to, but I am truly puzzled trying to find out what that reason is. Why would God deliberately remind some of us of what He deliberately made us all forget?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Repentance Is Part of the Plan

Another thing that stood out to me may be difficult for me to describe. I tend to over-analyse things and worry too much about things. For example, I sometimes think too much about mortal life and its place in God's plan. I know that God's plan is perfect, but so much of mortality isn't. And when I think about my own life, it gets even worse. I'm sure God has a specific plan for me personally, but I have no idea what the plan is. I can't follow a plan I don't know about, unless God's plan is for me to do what I'm already doing, and I'm pretty sure it isn't. I know it's important to follow God's plan, but from what little I know about God's plan, I'm sure I've gotten off track.

With this being one of the major concerns in my life, something I heard in the Stake Conference really spoke to me. I can't remember the exact words of what I heard, but the feeling I got from it is that God's plan isn't that fragile. It isn't so rigid that it can be derailed by accident. God know that His plan involved working with humans, and He knew that humans make mistakes, so His perfect plan accounted for the mistakes He knew we were going to make. An example of this foresight and flexibility is that God knew that we were going to sin, so He made it possible for us to repent of our sins and get back on track. In fact, as long as we continually repent and try to improve, making mistakes like that doesn't derail God's plan much at all.

One of the main purposes of God's plan is for us to learn wisdom so we can make good choices. This can happen in multiple ways. Preferably, we would keep God's commandments and follow the guidance of the Spirit to learn the right things to do, and make a habit of doing them. That way, it's possible to learn the right way to act without having to learn the hard way. However, even if we make mistakes or even deliberate sins, we can learn from those experiences and hopefully gain the wisdom to avoid making those mistakes in the future. Thus, even when we make mistakes, we're still kind of on the right path, as long as we learn from those mistakes and repent of them.

Even though God's plan centers around imperfect people living in an imperfect world, His plan can still be perfect, as long as it accounts for every possibility, including the mistakes we make, and it does. In His wisdom, God made it possible for us learn from our sins and repent of them, so anything we might do to derail God's plan for us, even wilfully rebelling against it, can work toward God's plan, as long as we learn from the experience and eventually repent of our poor decisions.

I often make poor decisions. I usually try to be righteous, but I frequently find myself in need of repentance. And I worry that, since I'm not always perfect at keeping God's commandments, I'm probably also not doing very well at following God's plan. But God's plan is about us gaining wisdom from our experiences. Sure, it would be better for me to keep the commandments and learn that that's a good idea, but I can also gain wisdom when I break the commandments and find out that that's a bad idea. The goal is to gain wisdom and use it, and the interesting part is that if we don't have enough wisdom, we instead have experiences that help us learn wisdom. It's a system so foolproof that it works even when we actively work against it, and it's virtually impossible to completely derail by accident. For a long time, I've been worried that God's plan wouldn't work for me because I lack the ability to follow it, but now I understand that a perfect plan isn't one that can't go wrong, but one that has contingencies in place for everything that might go wrong, and God's plan is certainly at least as perfect as that.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Counterfeit Blessings

We just had our Stake Conference yesterday, and several blogworthy thoughts were shared. I'd like to share a few of them from my notes, starting with the distinction between opposites and counterfeits. It seems as though everything has an opposite, and for everything God wants for us, Satan wants us to have the opposite. God wants us to be happy; Satan wants us to be miserable. God wants us to be together forever; Satan wants us to be alone forever. God wants us to love everyone, including ourselves; and Satan wants us to hate everyone, including ourselves.

But even though Satan wants the opposite of what God wants, that's not what he offers us. He's too clever for that. He knows that if he blatantly offers us misery, loneliness, and loathing, we're going to turn him down. So, instead of offering us the opposites of what God wants for us, Satan offers us counterfeits. Instead of telling us "Hey, do this and you'll be miserable," he says "Hey, do this and you'll have fun." Fun is not the opposite of happiness. Rather, it's a counterfeit of happiness. It creates a similar feeling, but it's not quite the same and it's not quite as good. Having fun is a pleasant, if brief, experience, but it's nothing compared to the feeling of being truly happy.

The same is true with love and lust. Satan offers us lust as a counterfeit for love, and when we act according to our lusts, we tend to end up with hatred. I'm not sure what the counterfeit of togetherness is, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was one, and if Satan offers it to us, knowing that, if we accept his counterfeit, we're going to end up feeling alone.

We shouldn't settle for Satan's counterfeits. We're capable of obtaining so much more than that. We can have true happiness, eternal unity, and perfect love for ourselves and for our families. Satan's counterfeits can be tempting, but just like counterfeit money, it's worthless. His counterfeits can also be convincing, but once you've felt true happiness, unity, and love, there's really no substitute for that. Satan can't fabricate blessings as good as the ones God offers us, and he wouldn't offer them to us if he could. Satan doesn't want us to be blessed. He tries to trick us with counterfeit blessings to keep us away from the real blessings. I know that the blessings God wants for us are real, but I also know that we can't obtain those true blessings while we're falling for Satan's counterfeits.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Concerted Effort

About a week ago, I opened a pack of Magic: the Gathering cards which included a copy of Odric, Lunarch Marshall. Odric, Lunarch Marshall is a legendary creature (a 3/3 human soldier for 3W) with an ability much like that of Concerted Effort, which I mention only because it'd make a better title for this blog post than anything I could come up with involving Odric's name.

Both of these cards have effects that basically say "if any one of your creatures has one of a list of special abilities, all of your creatures get that special ability." For example, if I had two creatures, and the first one had First Strike and the second one didn't, the second creature would "learn" First Strike from the first creature, and they would both have First Strike. Meanwhile, if the second creature had Vigilance and the first one didn't, the first creature would "learn" Vigilance from the second, so both creatures would end up having both First Strike and Vigilance.

That's one thing I like about White cards in Magic; they work together. They learn from each other and strengthen each other. We can do the same. No matter how much we know or can do, there are always facts, ideas, and skills we can learn from others. Similarly, we each have knowledge and experience that we can share with others. We all have many things to learn, and we all have many things to teach.

As long as we are humble enough to learn from others and generous enough to share what we know, we can all learn and grow together and become far more knowledgeable and skilled than any one of us would have been on our own. And if long as we include God in our "concerted effort," there's no limit to what we can learn and share with each other.

We followed this principle in a recent Priesthood meeting. The leader of the meeting asked the group to raise questions, then invited the group to volunteer answers to those questions. Between us, we were able to come up with satisfactory answers to all the questions we raised. At the start of the meeting, I had expected the head of the meeting to dispense information to us. Instead, he showed us that we already, collectively, had the answers we were looking for.

No one of us knows everything. We all have questions that we, by ourselves, don't have the answer to. But as we listen to the Spirit and to each other, we can learn from and teach each other, until all of us know what any of us know. We won't be able to learn from each other as quickly as my Magic cards can, but sharing what we know with each other seems to me to be a good way to learn.