Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Leaf - A Lesson in Less-Subtle Temptations

Yesterday, I told you that this morning, I'd be blogging about Spiritual Whirlwinds, but right now, I want to blog about something else.

A few days ago, I saw a leaf floating a foot or so above the ground, twirling in the breeze, but never falling to the ground. At first, I was curious about this anomaly, and almost went to take a closer look, but then I realized what it was - the leaf was suspended in a spider's web. As I walked away from the window, I thought about how the leaf gave an obvious indication of the presence of the web, yet I was still drawn toward it anyway. You would think that remaining invisible would have given the web a better chance of catching its prey, or at least tricking me into walking into it, but it turned out that curiosity was almost an effective bait.

Because of Satan, we are frequently faced with temptations, which usually rely on subtlety and non-detection to catch unsuspecting victims, But sometimes, even when non-detection fails, the traps still manage to catch some of us because we grow curious about them. Some people have "experimented" with alcohol, smoking, drugs, and pornography despite knowing that these things are generally considered vices and are frequently addicting. We know that the webs are there, and we know that they're webs, and yet there's still some pull to go toward them.

Granted, once I realized that the leaf in the web was a leaf in a web, my desire to approach it diminished, but with the webs meant to catch us, that's not always the case. People see others that are smoking, drinking, and generally "having a good time," and are drawn to that lifestyle, despite those choices' known drawbacks. Satan's traps are often sneaky, but they can still be effective when they're lying in plain sight. I plainly saw the leaf, and didn't want to be the leaf, but if I thought the leaf was having fun in the web (and its twirling did look kind of fun), and I thought I could have fun by hanging onto the web, too, I might have been tempted by it. And right now, I'm thinking that that's pretty scary.

Satan has devoted his life to tempting others to commit sin, and he has gotten pretty good at it. Subtlety is a favorite method of his, but when that fails, he piles on the bait. Sometimes he piques our interest with offers of fun or pleasure, and sometimes it's mere curiosity that draws us in. In either case, we need to see his temptations for the traps they are, and avoid them, no matter how fun or interesting they look.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Habits and Benefits of a Christ-Focussed Home

This morning's talk is Protection From Pornography--A Christ-Focussed Home, by Sister Linda S. Reeves. As I rewatched the talk this morning, I tried to look for something I could share here on my blog, knowing that it's not likely that many of the people that I know read my blog struggle with pornography. (Incidentally, if you do struggle with pornography, you may want to read the full talk. There's a link to it above.) Fortunately, I found a paragraph containing wise counsel that pertains not only to pornography, but to other challenges as well. Sister Reeves testified: 

Brothers and sisters, because I know from my own experiences, and those of my husband, I must testify of the blessings of daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening. These are the very practices that help take away stress, give direction to our lives, and add protection to our homes. Then, if pornography or other challenges do strike our families, we can petition the Lord for help and expect great guidance from the Spirit, knowing that we have done what our Father has asked us to do.

 Daily prayer and scripture study is, thankfully, a practice that has been in place in my home as long as I can remember. Family home evening is a little harder, since we're not always all home on the same evenings. But it has always been somewhat strengthening to me to walk passed Mom's room in the evening, and see her kneeling in prayer or hear her listening to the scriptures on her computer. It's good to know where she gets her spiritual power, and it serves as an example to me of how I can gain spiritual power as well. Our prayers aren't always spectacular, and we don't always understand everything we read in the scriptures, but just by having that daily routine, I think we gain some of the spiritual blessings that Sister Reeves listed.

Prayer, scripture study, and family home evening help families increase their spirituality and unity. They build a foundation of faith that can be a strength to us when trials and temptations come. Tomorrow morning, I'll be blogging from Elder Neil L. Andersen's talk, Spiritual Whirlwinds, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about the importance and benefits of strong foundations then, but for now, what I want to teach is how to build one, and that it's not too late to start.

With Sister Reeves, "I cannot [fully] explain the power of this great book [the Book of Mormon]. I only know that, coupled with prayer, the Book of Mormon carries the power to protect families, strengthen relationships, and give personal confidence before the Lord." I want to develop the habit of reading it more frequently and studying it more deeply. I want to learn more from it and absorb more of its spiritual power. I know that, by doing so, I can gain the strength to overcome my personal challenges, and so can you. Daily prayer and scripture study isn't always easy. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice sleep or recreational activities for it. But as you give your time to the Lord, He will give His promised blessings to you, and those are blessings that are worth spending the time it'll take to get them.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sting of Death

I don't know if this is a coincidence or really good timing on God's part, but last night, I saw a production showing the scenes that followed Christ's resurrection, and this morning, I read and listened to Elder Carlos H. Amado's talk, Christ the Redeemer, which talked about Jesus' power over death.

In light of those two inspiring messages, death doesn't seem so bad as we often think it is. When we die, we lose our bodies, but we get them back, better than ever, when we're resurrected. When we die, we become separated from our loved ones, but we'll be reunited in heaven. When we die, we're forced to leave this beautiful earth, but even the lowest kingdom of heaven, the telestial kingdom, in which are found "liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers" (D&C 76:103), is described as having glory "which surpasses all understanding" (D&C 76:89), so even the worst place any of us might end up when we die will be better than here (unless one of us manages to pull off a sin at the same level as Judas Iscariot, which I'm pretty sure would be impossible for any of us).

Thanks to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, most of the pains of death are only temporary, apart from the probably permanent move from one place to another, and thanks to the mercy and goodness of our Heavenly Father, the place we will move to will, in all likelihood, be much better than here. The worst pain of death that remains is the temporary separation from our loved ones, but like all trials of mortality, as soon as it has ended, we will have the perspective to see that it really wasn't so bad as it felt. Death may seem frightening, painful, and tragic now, but in reality, it is but a passing from one world to another. And the world to which it takes our loved ones, and to which it will eventually take us, is glorious beyond all description. "And the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ" (Mosiah 16:8).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Live to Serve

This morning, I listened to Elder Ronald A Rasband's talk, The Joyful Burden of Discipleship, in which he spoke about a tornado which tore through part of Oklahoma and gave many people opportunities to serve one another. His talk was mostly about how we should be ready to serve each other, but as I heard his message for the first time, I came away with a different message.

Elder Rasband spoke of a young woman named Tori who had miraculously survived the tornado, and later had been given a blessing by Elder Rasband, who said in his talk, "I counseled Tori to remember the day when a servant of the Lord laid his hands on her head and pronounced that she had been protected by angels in the storm."

I wrote down in my notes that Tori had been saved from the tornado because God loves her and He has a work for her to do. It occurred to me then that God also loves me and that He has a work for me to do, and since I don't know exactly what that work is, I'm probably not doing it, and I need to do something about that.

Since then, I've thought about my purpose in life, mostly wondering what it is. My Patriarchal Blessing doesn't spell out what my purpose is, but it does mention that I'll have many opportunities to serve, and to be honest, that sounds like about as good of a purpose in life as I could ask for. One thing that I enjoy doing and feel capable of doing is serving and helping others. I don't think I have any special talent in any given area, but I feel good inside whenever I lend a helping hand.

Helping others sounds too vague to be anyone's purpose in life, but it seems like a good place to start, and whether this is a coincidence or not, it matches up pretty nicely with the rest of Elder Rasband's talk, in which he quoted President Thomas S. Monson as having said:

We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children.

I don't know if that's the reason I was born, but it sounds like a good thing to do regardless, so I'm going to try to take those words to heart and try to serve others more frequently and more diligently. It may or may not be my purpose in life, but I'm reasonably certain that if multiple prophets and apostles ask us to serve each other, it's probably a good idea.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Legalization - Hint of Advocacy?

As I promised yesterday, I will now launch into a political discussion on the legalization of drugs. But first, a little bit of backstory.

My first opinion of the legalization vs banning of various drugs was something along the lines of "whatever." People are free to make their own choices. As long as they're not hurting other people, what does it matter to me?If they want to do drugs, let them. But then I realized that people are really hurting themselves with drugs. Drugs cause tragic problems, and I want to protect the people that would use them - even from themselves. So, a part of me wants to take drugs off the streets so as to protect potential drug-users from themselves and from the people who would exploit them. But is it really my place to do that?

On an individual level, it's not my place to govern the moral choices of others. But as a member of society, I have the responsibility to try to improve society, and I think society would be much better off without drugs. This topic and a few others were the subject of a conversation I had recently with a person I had met on my mission. He explained that making a thing illegal is to create an illegal business for it. Drugs still exist, even when they're illegal, and people are still going to grow, sell, buy, and use them, even if they could be arrested for it. Illegalization doesn't work. But what's the alternative? Legalize drugs, but bring them into the light. Make sure they're manufactured safely, make sure people know the side-effects and alternatives, and stop fueling the black market narcotic monopoly.

The person who argued that point did so much better than I did just now, mostly because he seemed to honestly believe it was a good idea, and so did I... until I heard Elder Holland's talk.

So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).

I repeat for emphasis, "We must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others." Partaking of drugs is, according to Mormonism, some level of transgression. I don't know if it's strong enough to be called a "sin," but I'm pretty darn sure God doesn't want us to do it. So, if I'm interpreting this correctly, I have a moral responsibility to discourage the use of drugs - to "forsake... any hint of advocacy for it." Does voting for something to be legal count as advocating for it?

At first, that sounds like a stupid question. If a politician voted for something, it would be considered a clear indication of advocacy for it. Why should it be any different for us? I strongly believe that people shouldn't use drugs. I don't advocate for drugs, as I understand that term. But still, do I have any right to protect someone from themselves? Do I have a right to force people to not take drugs? If that's not something that I think I should do, even if I had the power to do it, then why should I give police the power and responsibility to do it? I can't stop others from taking drugs, and I probably shouldn't, even if I could.

But that doesn't mean that I'm in favor of drugs. I still hate them. I hate what they do to people. I wish that they didn't exist. If I could get rid of such drugs, I probably would (which essentially amounts to the same thing as forcing people not to do drugs, but it sounds less controlling this way). Does that mean I should vote against the legalization of drugs? It wouldn't really do any good to make drugs illegal, since people are going to do them anyway. If anything, illegalizing drugs will make the partaking of drugs more dangerous and harmful to the people who are going to do drugs either way, and it'll put more money into the hands of people who are actively working against the law. In light of that, it makes sense to legalize drugs and bring them into the light, but that would probably constitute a "hint of advocacy" for something I believe is a transgression, so I should actually vote against it, even though I don't think it's right to force my moral beliefs on other.

To be honest, if I had to vote for or against the legalization for drugs right now, I'd have to pray really hard about it, and then probably flip a coin.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Greatest Need

Just after the always-short introduction to Conference from the prophet, the first full-length talk of General Conference  was The Cost - And Blessings - of Discipleship, by Elder Jeffrey R Holland. Elder Holland is always a powerful speaker. He usually covers heavy topics, and he is almost always very bold in his speaking. This Conference, he spoke of Jesus Christ and His prophets and followers being persecuted because of their message, and of our need to "Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them." But for the purpose of this blog post, I would like to focus on a single paragraph from near the end of his talk.

Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. Jesus clearly understood what many in our modern culture seem to forget: that there is a crucial difference between the commandment to forgive sin (which He had an infinite capacity to do) and the warning against condoning it (which He never ever did even once).

First of all, the first sentence of that paragraph needs to be a meme. It probably already is.

Well, how about that?

I could, and probably should, write a blog post just about that before moving on to the next topic I wanted to discuss from that paragraph. I had an idea for what I wanted to blog about today, but now I feel that I should give that sentence its own blog post, so I will. I was going to initiate a semi-political discussion about the legalization of immoral activities VS the attempts to stamp out sin through the use of (legal) force, but I guess I can save that for tomorrow.

It's interesting that Elder Holland said that Christlike love is our greatest need. Not food. Not water. Not even air. I suppose that that could be because we (as a planet) already have sufficient amounts of food, water, and air, by we (again, looking at the global scale) suffer from a deficit of love. Many people do not love themselves, their God, or their neighbors as much as they should, and we could all stand to feel more love from others. Human hearts were made to feel and share love, but for many people, that doesn't happen nearly enough, and there seems to be only one solution to that problem.

Love travels in a circle. It passes from person to person, eventually coming back to each person who helped it along. We spread love by being righteous; by being kind, generous, caring, and supportive, we show our love for other people, and by being righteous and faithful, we show our love for God. In return, God showers His love upon us, and the people to whom we've shown love usually tend to pay it back or pay it forward. Essentially, one way to receive more love from God and others is to show more love for God and others. This will increase the amount of love in the world, and since most true expressions of love are righteous actions, it'll improve the world's overall righteousness as well. And with the increase of righteousness, there will be an increase of blessings (God's expressions of His love for us) for everyone. This makes love a sort of perpetual motion machine, continuously recycling all the love that's put into it.

But like all perpetual motion machines, this process sounds great in theory, but in reality it takes some effort to keep it going. Some people don't express as much love as they receive. In fact, when we take into account all the love God shows us in the form of the many wonderful blessings He gives us, including the gift of the Atonement, the promise of resurrection, and even our own lives, I'd be surprised if any human being expressed that much love, for God or for anyone. According to the laws of thermodynamics, when energy is transfered from one object to another, some of that energy is almost always lost in the process. As God transfers love to us and we transfer love to each other, there are going to be times when some of that love "goes to waste." As people express less and less love for each other (mostly by being unrighteous despite being blessed), God is morally obligated to show less and less love for us by withholding blessings, leading to the deficit of Christlike love, the filling of which has become our greatest need.

The solution is for each of us to try to share with others as much love as we receive. We won't succeed because the more we show love for others, the more love God will show for us, and we just can't dish out as much love as He can. But we can try. And the more we try to share as much love as we receive, the more love there will be in the world, which will translate to more righteousness, which will be answered by more blessings, which translates into more love. It's a perpetual energy machine, made possible by a God who unvaryingly gives out more love than He receives, and it is, in my opinion, one possible way for us to fill what, in Elder Holland's opinion, is our greatest need.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

From Strong to Unstoppable

Back to Conference. As I was watching the General Women's Meeting, I heard two quotable sayings that seemed to contradict each other. The first quote came from President Rosemary M. Wixom's talk, Keeping Covenants Protects Us, Prepares Us, and Empowers Us, "As individuals, we are strong. Together with God, we are unstoppable."

The second quote came from President Henry B. Eyring's talk, Daughters in the Covenant:
Heavenly Father taught you before you were born about the experiences you would have as you left Him and came to earth. You were taught that the way back home to Him would not be easy. He knew that it would be too hard for you to make the journey without help.
It's that last sentence I wanted to focus on. Putting those two thoughts together, we need help, but with that help, we're unstoppable. Without God's help, we're strong, but apparently not strong enough. This bothers me because it leaves me with the question "How strong can we really be if we can't make it successfully through life without God's help?" Then I realized that my miscalculation might not be in my measurement of our strength, but in my estimate of the difficulty of our task. One could just as easily ask themselves, "How strong can I really be if I can't even pick up a cement truck?"

Strong is a relative term. If a person had enough strength to roll a sedan over, I'd call them strong, even if they didn't have the muscle to lift the car off the ground. Perhaps we are incredibly strong (extremely subtle reference to the Incredible Hulk, a superhuman known for his immeasurable strength, or perhaps to Mr Incredible, whose super-power is also strength), but the burden of life is phenomenally heavy (no reference; I just needed an adjective more extreme than "incredibly"). It is possible that we're very strong - just not quite strong enough, and we need God to help us make up the difference.

Or perhaps it isn't a question of strength at all. We may be strong enough to do anything we set our minds to, but that doesn't mean we'll know what to do. We may be strong enough to resist temptations and choose the right, but are we wise enough to recognize temptations and make the right choices? It may not be a question of will-power, but wisdom. If so, we have a problem.

Traditionally, wisdom comes from experience, and even the most experienced of us only have a few decades of experience behind them (as far as any of us can remember), whereas God has had an eternity of experience, and probably remembers just about all of it. That's why we have so little wisdom, whereas His wisdom is infinite.

So, it may be that our difficulties in passing the trials and tests of life isn't in having too little strength, but in having too little wisdom. It could be that we're incredibly strong, but even having all the strength in the world wouldn't really help us without sufficient wisdom. Perhaps that's the kind of help that President Eyring said we'd need.

But here's the good news - When we combine God's infinite wisdom with our incredible strength (plus some additional strength from God, if we need it), we will have the wisdom to know what to do AND the power to do it. In other words, "as individuals, we are [merely incredibly] strong, [but] together with God, we are unstoppable."