Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Mark Steyn on Polygamy

Interesting Mark Steyn piece at the Telegraph (UK) on polygamy.
I found this quote particularly interesting, in view of how "religious" the U.S. is considered by most Europeans....

"The YouGov poll on Britons' lack of religious faith, reported in yesterday's Telegraph, confirms that this country is well advanced in its post-Christian condition. Whereas 44 per cent of Britons believe in God and 44 per cent don't, in recent American polls the number who believe is 92–97 per cent and the number who don't is around three per cent. Three quarters of Americans believe in Hell, which is more than the bishops' bench in the House of Lords can say. Most Britons, for good or ill, are content in their post-Christian state. The danger is in assuming it's permanent, rather than an intermediate phase."

Thursday, December 16, 2004

What is a Teacher?

From "What Is a Teacher?" by Paul H. Dunn, Ensign, Dec. 1971.

What is a teacher? The teacher is a prophet. He lays the foundation of tomorrow.

The teacher is an artist. He works with the precious clay of unfolding personality.

The teacher is a friend. His heart responds to the faith and devotion of his students.

The teacher is a citizen. He is selected and licensed for the improvement of society.

The teacher is an interpreter. Out of his mature and wider life, he seeks to guide the young.

The teacher is a builder. He works with the higher and finer values of civilization.

The teacher is a culture-bearer. He leads the way toward worthier tastes, saner attitudes, more gracious manners, higher intelligence.

The teacher is a planner. He sees the young lives before him as a part of a great system that shall grow stronger in the light of truth.

The teacher is a pioneer. He is always interpreting and attempting the impossible, and usually winning out.

The teacher is a reformer. He seeks to improve the handicaps that weaken and destroy life.

The teacher is a believer. He has an abiding faith in God and in the improvability of the race. It was James Truslow Adams who said, "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live."

We are engaged in teaching people how to live.

Elbert Hubbard said, "You can’t teach anybody anything. You can only help him find himself."

That was the genius of the Savior. He taught us divine principles we could apply to ourselves and thus solve our personal problems. The Savior had no peer as a teacher.

Read full text here.

Turn Heavenward Our Eyes

From "Turn Heavenward Our Eyes," by John H. Vandenberg, Ensign, Dec. 1971.

Henry Ward Beecher has said: "God asks no man whether he will accept life. That is not his choice. He must take it. The only choice is how." Parenthetically, I would say we did make the choice to come to earth. God does not force his children.

The choice we are now concerned with is how we are going to live our lives. We have the agency to make that choice as we react to the conditions in which we find ourselves during our life span. We must make choices, as we are surrounded by the elements and resources of the earth as well as by the people with whom we associate. From the words of the prophets to the words of the atheists, the question is: How will we emerge? Will we rise or fall? Will we fulfill our life’s purpose, or will it be wasted?

In accepting life, we must relate to the world as it is—to the struggle between good and evil. There are, of course, some who would have us believe that there is no such thing as good or evil, but this philosophy runs counter to the natural laws of opposites that exist, such as heat and cold, light and dark, gravitation and vacuum, and many others. We need to use our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, and our minds that we may be able to think and make our own decisions as we sift out the chaff of all we see and hear, so that we may know the truth of that which we feel in our hearts, as it is affirmed by the Holy Spirit.

Faith in God is a prerequisite to the influence of the Holy Spirit. To have a belief in God is the foundation of a full and happy life. Without this belief, life can be wasted. Evidence of God’s existence spreads throughout the universe.

Abraham Lincoln said: "I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God." I believe I know what Lincoln meant when he made that statement.


Do you think of yourself as a happy person? A young man once made a list of all the things he thought would bring happiness in life. He included such things as wealth, fame, honor, success, and love. It was quite a long list, and he thought he had covered everything; but when he showed it proudly to an elderly friend, he was told, "You have left out the most important thing of all—peace of mind." The young man said he could not, at that time, understand how right his friend was.

Peace of mind, a clear conscience, was declared by President David O. McKay as the first condition of happiness. He said: "It is glorious when you can lie down at night with a clear conscience that you have done your best not to offend anyone and have injured no one. … These and countless other virtues and conditions are all wrapped up in the Gospel of Jesus Christ." (Man May Know for Himself [Deseret Book Co., 1967], p. 458.)

Some other conditions that make for happiness are the ability to follow that which you know to be true, to control your appetites and passions, to be able to make your own decisions, to feel no envy of another, to be able to commune with God in prayer, and to be free from bonds, and to be master of yourself.

The second appeal of the child to his parents—train me to be a blessing to the world—is companion to happiness, for it calls for action by the individual in an expression of service, of losing himself in helping his fellowman.

You’ve heard that statement that each of us is either a part of the problem or a part of the answer, with the understanding that this world is beset with problems. If you are a part of the answer, then you are a blessing to the world and can train your children to follow in your footsteps. Those who are a blessing to the world will try to do these things: (1) lend a helping hand, (2) refrain from infringing upon the rights of others, (3) obey God’s laws and the laws of the land, (4) stand up for the right and fight against evil, and (5) share the truth with others, remembering, and remembering well, that the greatest gift of God is his plan of salvation.

Read the full text here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Out of the Mouths of Babes: What Does Love Mean?

From The Commons at Paulie World
Christmas Cuties

Here's a sample, but go read the rest here.

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, "What does love mean?"

"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love." Rebecca- age 8

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth." Billy - age 4

"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired." Terri - age 4

"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen." Bobby - age 7 (Wow!)

A Life Founded in Light and Truth

From "A Life Founded in Light and Truth," by Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, July 2001. Original talk given at BYU devotional on 15 Aug 2000.

Obedience to commandments is the way we build a foundation of truth. Here is the way that works, in words so simple that a child could understand: The truth of most worth is to know God our Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and Their plan for us to have eternal life with Them in families. When God communicates that priceless truth to us, He does it by the Spirit of Truth. We have to ask for it in prayer. Then He sends us a small part of that truth by the Spirit. It comes to our hearts and minds. It feels good, like the light from the sun shining through the clouds on a dark day. He sends truth line upon line, like the lines on the page of a book. Each time a line of truth comes to us, we get to choose what we will do about it. If we try hard to do what that truth requires of us, God will send more light and more truth. It will go on, line after line, as long as we choose to obey the truth. That is why the Savior said that the man who obeyed His commandments built on a rock so solid that no storm or flood could hurt his house.

In another place in the scriptures, the Lord described in a beautiful way how that foundation could be built so that we could finally come to know all He knows and become like Him and our Heavenly Father: "I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace" (D&C 93:19–20).

And then a few verses later the Lord says: "And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; and whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning. The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth; and no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments. He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things" (D&C 93:24–28).

...Yet you will notice that the work is simple obedience. It is not complicated things; it is not fancy things or getting great spiritual manifestations. This is work within the abilities of the most humble and the least educated.

It sounds so simple to build upon a foundation of truth that you may wonder why everyone doesn’t succeed. For one thing, it takes great humility. It’s hard to repent, to admit you are wrong on faith alone, before the evidence of a feeling of being forgiven and light comes. But that is the way it has to be. First comes obedience and then come the confirming assurances, the revelation of truth, and the blessing of light.

That is so because God gave us agency, not just as a right but as a necessity. We must choose with our agency to obey in faith that the promised blessing will come, that the promise is true because it comes from God. You remember the words of the scripture in Ether, the 12th chapter, which tell us both why that is hard and why it is necessary: "Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God. And it came to pass that Ether did prophesy great and marvelous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not. And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith" (Ether 12:4–6).

There is another reason why it is not easy for the proud to build on a foundation of truth. It is because the enemy of righteousness also works in little steps, so small that they are hard to notice if you are thinking only about yourself and how great you are. Just as truth is given to us line upon line and the light brightens slowly as we obey, even so, as we disobey, our testimony of truth lessens almost imperceptibly, little by little, and darkness descends so slowly that the proud may easily deny that anything is changing.

I have heard the boast of a man who walked away from the Church slowly, at first just ceasing to teach his Sunday School class and then staying away from Church and then forgetting tithing now and then. Along the way he would say to me: "I feel just as spiritual as I did before I stopped those things and just as much at peace. Besides, I enjoy Sundays more than I did; it’s more a day of rest." Or, "I think I’ve been blessed temporally as much or more as I was when I was paying tithing." He could not sense the difference, but I could. The light in his eyes and even the shine in his countenance were dimming. He could not tell, since one of the effects of disobeying God seems to be the creation of just enough spiritual anesthetic to block any sensation as the ties to God are being cut. Not only did the testimony of truth slowly erode, but even the memories of what it was like to be in the light began to seem to him like a delusion.

More than a few of those slides down the path of disobedience come in the years of transition from childhood to maturity. How often have you heard a parent describe a child’s tragic journey into years of sin and sorrow by saying, "It began when he was 16," or "It began when she was 14." And yet in those same years the young man or the young woman who chooses obedience can build a foundation of truth to last in the years ahead, and many do. It is not by accident that seminary across the world is offered to young Latter-day Saints in those years. They are at risk in that time of transition; yet the very source of that risk creates an opportunity for them and for us who serve them.

Agency is the source of that risk. It is so priceless a gift from our Heavenly Father that a war in heaven was fought to defend it. Lucifer sought to take it from us and to take for himself the honor and glory of our Father. The teenager you love may well have been one of the valiant warriors on the side of agency and truth. Satan seems to feel he can win a double victory by drawing teenagers into sin. He can destroy one of his antagonists and in the process try to prove the Father wrong, prove that the risk of agency was too great.

We can help by seeing clearly the opportunity. The teenager who begins to say, "It’s my life to live, my choices to make," is speaking the truth, a wonderful truth. The choice to do good is the only way to build a life on the foundation of truth and light. Yet these words can strike fear into a parent or a bishop or a Young Women leader who loves the teenager. That outburst of independence usually comes when a rule is announced or something is forbidden. It may come with the mere appearance of authority, of anyone telling them what they must do.

Our opportunity and theirs lies in their seeing a simple truth. It is their life to live, and yet they live it with two powerful opposing forces pulling on them. One is from God, who loves and will not compel and who offers eternal life through the plan of salvation. That plan depends on the Atonement made by the Savior, Jesus Christ, and the teenager’s choice to follow Him. The other, a terrible power, will use deception, force, and hatred to bring them into bondage and misery. And the teenager is free to choose.

The opportunity is in their seeing that reality, but that is also the problem. It takes the revelation of truth from God for the teenager to see those opposing forces as real. Once seen, the choice will be obvious. But many young people have little experience with persisting in obedience, when the truth must be taken on faith alone until truth is revealed to them. The opportunity lies in their sensing what they once knew, that the power to choose is a gift from God to bring them happiness in this life and in the life to come with Him.

We can help by the way we react to their determination to choose for themselves. They will sense whether we see them as if they could well have been one of the faithful warriors from the premortal existence, committed still to the defense of moral agency and aware of its great value to bring them happiness. If we can see them as faithful warriors from the premortal existence, we may also see their claims of independence as a sign of their potential, a sign that they are testing the power of agency which will bring them happiness. That is hard, because we know the risk should they choose sin. But when fear for them comes, as it does, it helps for us to remember and take comfort that there are opposing pulls. There is an influence of evil in the world, but there is also in the world and across all creation the powerful light of Christ.

Our young people were born with access to the Light of Christ. Because of that, they have in them the power to apply for themselves this test given in the book of Moroni, if they believe they can and if they choose to do it: "Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil" (Moro. 7:12–14).

And then a few verses later: "But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged" (Moro. 7:17–18).

...When the Spirit is invited into a meeting, truth is communicated beyond what is said aloud. In your Church meetings, write down impressions or thoughts that you feel came from God. And, remembering what we have said about building a foundation, think carefully about whether the truth you received requires action. It is by obedience to commandments that we qualify for further revelation of truth and light. In a recent meeting you may have committed to act on something you felt was true. Then more truth came to you. That process may slow or stop if, as you go out into daily life, you fail to keep the silent commitments you made with God. God not only loves the obedient, He enlightens them. I fear that more people make promises to God than keep them, so you will please Him when you are the exception and you keep your promise to obey. You should test those impressions of what you should do against a simple standard: Is it what the Master has commanded in the accepted revelations, and is it clearly within my calling in His kingdom?

Life will have its storms. We can and must have confidence. God our Heavenly Father has given us the right to know the truth. He has shown that the way to receive that truth is simple, so simple that a child can follow it. Once it is followed, more light comes from God to enlighten the understanding of His faithful spirit child. That light will become brighter even as the world darkens. The light that comes to us with truth will be brighter than the darkness that comes from sin and error around us. A foundation built on truth and illuminated by the light of God will free us from the fear that we might be overcome.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Voice of the Church - Elder Dallin H. Oaks Encourages Civic Responsibility

From "Where Will It Lead?" by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The following is an excerpt from an address given on 9 November 2004 at Brigham Young University.

First, I am concerned about the current overemphasis on rights and underemphasis on responsibilities. Where will this lead in our public life? No society is so strong that it can support continued increases in citizen rights while neglecting to foster comparable increases in citizen responsibilities or obligations. Yet our legal system continues to recognize new rights even as we increasingly ignore old responsibilities. For example, so-called no-fault divorces — which give either spouse the right to dissolve a marriage at will — have obscured the vital importance of responsibilities in marriage. Similarly, I believe it is a delusion to think that we help children by defining and enforcing their rights. We do more for children by trying to reinforce the responsibilities of parents — natural and adoptive — even when those responsibilities are not legally enforceable.

The same principles apply in public life. We cannot raise our public well-being by adding to our inventory of individual rights. Civic responsibilities like honesty, self-reliance, participation in the democratic process, and devotion to the common good are essential to the governance and preservation of our country. Currently we are increasing rights and weakening responsibilities, and it is leading our nation down the road toward moral and civic bankruptcy. If we are to raise our general welfare, we must strengthen our sense of individual responsibility for the welfare of others and the good of society at large. (See Dallin H. Oaks, “Rights and Responsibilities,” Mercer Law Review, 36 [1984–85], no. 1 [fall 1984]: 427–42.)

Read the rest of the article here, or the full text here.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Gifts of Christmas

From "The Gifts of Christmas," By Elder John A. Widtsoe, Ensign, Dec. 1972. (Originally published in The Improvement Era, vol. 38 [1935], p. 752)

Christmas gifts should be in memory of the divine gift, the life of Jesus Christ. His gift gave us eternal life; our gifts should enliven with joy those who receive. His gift was the sacrifice of his earthly life; our gifts should represent personal sacrifices on our part.

It is easy to give to our own, those whom we love. Their gladness becomes our joy. We are not quite so ready to give to others, even if they are in need, for their happiness does not seem so necessary to our happiness. It appears yet more difficult to give to the Lord, for we are prone to believe that he must give and ask nothing in return.

We have foolishly reversed the proper order. Our first gift at Christmas should be to the Lord; next to the friend or stranger by our gate; then, surcharged with the effulgence from such giving, we would enhance the value of our gifts to our very own. A selfish gift leaves a scar upon the soul, and it is but half a gift.

How can we give to the Lord? What shall we give to him? Every kind word to our own, every help given them, is as a gift to God, whose chief concern is the welfare of his children. Every gentle deed to our neighbor, every kindness to the poor and suffering, is a gift to the Lord, before whom all mankind are equal. Every conformity to the Lord’s plan of salvation—and this is of first importance—is a direct gift to God, for thereby we fit ourselves more nearly for our divinely planned destiny.

The desire and the effort to give to the Lord, born of the surrender of man to the plan of salvation, stamp every Christmas gift with genuine value. They who identify themselves with the plan, who do not resist it, who earnestly seek to tread the path of the plan, are true givers to the Lord, and their gifts to men come with the flavor of heaven. The Lord and his plan must have place in our Christmas celebration.

Do we give intelligent obedience to the laws of the gospel obedience based upon sober study and trial of the practices of the Church? If our giving is without such obedience, it is away from the Lord, not toward him. Do we stand ready to sacrifice for the cause of the Lord in the unpaid services of the Church? That is, are our time, talents, and means at the disposal of those who administer the Lord’s work? Great is the gift from such a hand.

Do we look upon the progress of the purposes of the Lord, by feeble human instruments, through eyes of love? Love looks deep into the soul, beyond superficialities; the loving husband does not sense that age is stealing upon the sweetheart of his youth; the member who loves the Church dwells upon the likeness of man to God, forgets human imperfections, and does not find fault. These are tests of the higher, richer giving at Christmas. Obedience, sacrifice, love—once these tests have been met, the gifts of Christmas, small or great, become more pleasing to the Lord, by a subtle, spiritual sense, more acceptable to the recipient, and leave permanent joy with the giver.

Would it not be well this Christmas to give first to the Lord, directly through obedience, sacrifice, and love, and then to give to him indirectly through gifts to friends and those in need as well as to our own? Should we do this, perhaps many of us would discover a new Christmas joy.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Awake My Soul: Dealing with Depression

With the Christmas season drawing near, most of us excitedly think of this as a time of "good cheer." Unfortunately, it is also the time when many people become quite depressed, even to suicide. I wanted to share a few excerpts from an excellent article on the nature of depression as well as some very practical ways to combat it. If you or anyone you know has even a tendency toward depression, you might want to read the whole thing (here).

From "'Awake My Soul!': Dealing Firmly With Depression," by Steve Gilliland, Ensign, Aug. 1978.

Feeling discouraged and inadequate happens to all of us, but when these feelings become a way of life, or even frequent visitors, they’re signs of trouble....

As I remember my own experiences of being trapped in the web of discouragement, the worst part was the feeling that I was helpless to get free. Working on a “positive mental attitude” seemed like only kidding myself. Fasting and prayer brought specific guidance, and over time my struggles produced what may perhaps be the long-term answer to my prayers—some concepts and skills that have helped me pull myself out of these depressions....

Basically there are two approaches. The first way to attack depression and feelings of inadequacy is to try to change what you’re doing so that you’ll feel better about yourself. The second way is to try to change your feelings about yourself so that it will be easier for you to do things differently. Both approaches are interrelated and both are important, but let’s talk about the second one mainly. It’s the one that gets overlooked....

Each of us has many voices within, criticizing and praising, encouraging and discouraging, desiring and warning, reasoning and disregarding. We’ve all wondered at some time which voices were from the Lord and which were from Satan, which came with us from premortal life and which we’ve acquired since birth. Fortunately, some good clues to discerning the source of these voices are given in Moro. 7:16: “Every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent … of Christ” ....

Once we can turn off the negative voices, we can see their source. Discouragement is not the Lord’s method—it’s Satan’s. Satan emphasizes your weaknesses; the Lord, your ability to overcome. Satan urges immediate perfection to make you feel inadequate. The Lord leads you toward perfection. Once we recognize the source, we can cry with Nephi, “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Ne. 4:28.)....

First, stop feeling guilty. Depression afflicts persons of all ages and both sexes. Statistically, married women with children at home are most subject to depression, single women least. The proportion of depressed married women has risen in the last ten to fifteen years, according to a study taken in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Women in general are somewhat more prone to depression than are men. Depression is a high-risk condition. National statistics show that the suicide rate among depressed people is one in 100, compared to one in 10,000 for the general population.

Second, ask what caused the depression. It may be mostly chemistry, a physiological condition that your physician can prescribe medication for. People forty and over are particularly susceptible to this kind of chemical imbalance. Counseling can help too, sometimes. Usually, though, depression follows some event—the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, separation, children leaving home. This kind of depression is in your mind, not your body, and may last two to three months, with some effects continuing up to a year to two....

1. Consider how you’re looking at the world. You may think everything is going wrong, but usually a lot is going right, too. Are you being rational? Match your picture against reality. Get help doing this; see your bishop, who can draw upon Welfare Services professional help, if necessary.

2. Set a workable schedule. Get enough sleep. Eat enough.

3. A depressed person usually punishes himself by doing few things he enjoys. Try new things, but also make a list of things you used to like doing: rearranging your furniture, making fancy snacks, washing your hair, eating out, visiting friends, discussing politics, playing ping-pong, telling someone you love him, going shopping, doing favors for people, and those all-important spiritual things—meditating, praying, reading scriptures. Then, every day make yourself do some of these things; increase the number and increase the amount of time you spend.

4. Do your duties. If the floor is filthy, scrub it, or you will feel guilty. Go visiting teaching whether you want to or not. Count simple things, such as answering the phone, as real personal victories. Start to notice how often you win each day....

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Christmas Miracle

I have earlier linked to Debi Faris' wonderful site Strengthen the Good, whose intent is "to raise awareness of 'micro charities'--charitable opportunities that are simple, personal, non-bureaucratic, and inspiring."

The latest news from this front is that Debi and her husband Steve "have won a $27 million jackpot in the California lottery. Debi Faris-Cifelli and her husband, Steve, won the jackpot last Wednesday and plan to use the winnings to continue their advocacy work, possibly by starting a college scholarship fund. 'We can do some good with the money,' Steve Cifelli, a high school guidance counselor, told television station KABC on Monday. 'Now we're going to be able to do some things that'll last lifetimes, generations.'" (hat tip to Michelle Malkin!)

I am very happy for Debi and know that the money will be used to bless the lives of many many people, not the least of whom will be those of us who are inspired by her courage and compassion to further our own efforts in doing good in a weary world.

As a Latter-day Saint, however, I have to stop for just a second. If that had been a Latter-day Saint who won the money, well...uh oh. We'd be in big trouble, eh? Can't pay tithing on lottery winnings, because we aren't supposed to gamble. And if we aren't and can't ever be again full tithe payers, well, you already know the rest. Just made me pause to think about this. This does in no way detract from my feeling that this is a Christmas miracle, and to wish this truly charitable family the absolute best. Just makes me think about how the Lord has many people in this same fight, and how we all serve in sometimes different ways.... (Comments welcome!)

The Power of Peace-Greater than the Atomic Bomb

From "The Power of Peace," by President James E. Faust, Ensign, December 2004.

Among the Christmas experiences that are etched most sharply in my memory are the ones spent away from home and loved ones while serving in the mission field or in military service. Each Christmas when I was in the military in World War II, I wondered when the terrible suffering and agony of war would end and we could all go home. And as we sang, "Peace on earth, goodwill to men," I wondered if the Germans and the Japanese who were Christians were also singing this familiar refrain with the same yearnings in their hearts. Then it all ended 59 years ago after the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. Mankind had never before seen such destructive power. There was a concern in our hearts about the beast that had been unleashed.

I would like to recount a story told by Kenneth J. Brown, who was serving as a U.S. Marine in Japan following the dropping of the bomb. His moving story about a Japanese Christian he met at Christmastime in Nagasaki is as follows.

"I watched him turn from the street and climb the path leading to our shelter. He was groping, hesitating. As he came near he folded his umbrella and stood quietly a long moment. His thin coat soon dampened from the cold rain that was falling from the same sky that had brought death to nearly half his townspeople three short months before. I concluded that it must take some special courage to confront one's conquerors without invitation. It was little wonder that he hesitated.

"His polite bow to me was no bow of submission. Rather his squared shoulders and lifted head let me feel as if I were looking up at him even . . . though I towered over him a foot or more. I recall being disturbed that I hadn't yet become used to the near sightless eyes of those who had looked heavenward that morning when the bomb dropped. . . .

" . . . I respectfully asked if I could be of service. [In his clear English] he introduced himself as Professor Iida. . . .

" 'I am Christian,' he said. 'I am told this is the head minister's office. Are you a Christian? It is good to talk with a follower of Christ; there are so few Christian Japanese.'

"I took him to the inner office of the division chaplain and waited while the two men conversed. Professor Iida stated his request briefly. He was a teacher of music in a Christian girls' college until it was closed by imperial command. . . . He had been imprisoned because of his professed Christianity. After being released he had returned to Nagasaki and continued his music instruction in his home even though it was forbidden. He had been able to continue a small chorus and would be pleased if . . . they [could] sing a concert for the American Marines.

" 'We know something of your American Christmases,' he said. 'We should like to do something to make your Christmas in Japan more enjoyable.'

"I felt sure the chaplain would give a negative reply. Our unit was one of hardened fighters, four years away from home, who had fought the enemy from Saipan to Iwo Jima. . . . Yet there was something about the man that bespoke sincere desire to do a good deed so that . . . permission was granted. The concert would be Christmas Eve.

"The rains had stopped and a calm settled over the atomic bowl reminiscent of the calm that night long ago. The concert was well attended; there was nothing else to do. The theater . . . had been cleared of its fallen roof and men were sitting on the jagged walls. The usual momentary hush fell over the audience as the performers filed on stage. . . .

"The first thing we noticed was that they were singing in English and we became aware that they didn't understand the words but had memorized them for our benefit. Professor Iida had taught his students well; they sang beautifully. We sat enthralled as if a choir from heaven were singing for us. . . . It was as if Christ were being born anew that night.

"The closing number was a solo, an aria from 'The Messiah.' The girl sang with all the conviction of one who knew that Jesus was indeed the Savior of mankind and it brought tears. After that there was a full minute of silence followed by sustained applause as the small group took bow after bow.

"Later that night I helped Professor Iida take down the trimmings. I could not resist asking some questions that propriety forbade but curiosity demanded. I just had to know.

" 'How did your group manage to survive the bomb?' I asked.

" 'This is only half my group,' he said softly, but seemed unoffended at my recalling his grief so that I felt I could ask more.

" 'And what of the families of these?'

" 'They nearly all lost one or more members. Some are orphans.'

" 'What about the soloist? She must have the soul of an angel the way she sang.'

" 'Her mother, two of her brothers were taken. Yes, she did sing well; I am so proud of her. She is my daughter.' . . .

"The next day was Christmas, the one I remember best. For that day I knew that Christianity had not failed in spite of people's unwillingness to live His teachings. I had seen hatred give way to service, pain to rejoicing, sorrow to forgiveness. This was possible because a babe had been born in a manger [and] later taught love of God and fellowmen. We had caused them the greatest grief and yet we were their Christian brothers and as such they were willing to forget their grief and unite with us in singing 'Peace on earth, goodwill to all men.'

"The words of Miss Iida's song testimony would not be stilled, 'Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.' They seemed to echo and re-echo over the half-dead city that day.

"That day also I knew that there was a greater power on earth than the atomic bomb."

That power has influenced for good the hosts of His followers on the earth for more than 2,000 years. It is the power in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, our Savior, our Advocate with the Father, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Prince of Peace. It is the power by which, through faith and obedience to His teachings, we can find joy and happiness, peace and comfort.

It is the priesthood power by which the world was created and the plan of salvation and happiness was put in place to bless our lives eternally if we are true to our covenants. It is the power that was magnified by His agony on the cross, bringing the single most important blessing to mankind. The greatest of all acts in all history was the atoning sacrifice of our Savior and Redeemer.

We remember that sacrifice at this time of year when we celebrate His birth. It is only through the atoning sacrifice of the Prince of Peace that we may know the true power of peace in our own lives.


Vatican presses the UN to recognise 'Christianophobia' telegraph.co.uk (hat tip to Meridian)

The Vatican is pressing the United Nations to recognise "Christianophobia" as an evil equal to that of anti-Semitism or "Islamophobia".

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican's foreign minister, said anti-Christian feeling had increased, exacerbated by the war on terrorism.

He said Christianity was often mistakenly seen as being inextricably linked with Western political policy, and had suffered as a result in the backlash against the West.

His comments, at a conference in Rome, were primarily aimed at Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, where insurgents have bombed a number of churches.

But he also echoed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a leading contender to be the next Pope, who said last month that parts of Europe were so now secular that Christianity was being pushed into the margins.

Archbishop Lajolo disclosed that Vatican diplomats were discreetly attempting to persuade the UN and other bodies to recognise the previously almost unheard of term "Christianophobia".

"It should be recognised that the war on terrorism, even though necessary, had as one of its side-effects the spread of 'Christianophobia' in vast areas of the globe," he told the conference. The UN General Assembly in New York is to debate the issue later this month.

...Vatican officials said privately that they could not stand aside while Judaism and Islam got special attention at the UN. The organisation demands regular reports from member countries on issues officially recognised as international concerns.

Read the whole thing here.

The Spirit of Christmas-The Spirit of Love

LDS Church's annual Christmas devotional (Deseret News)

President Gordon B. Hinckley opened the LDS Church's annual Christmas devotional on a somber note Sunday night, announcing that the wife of the late Elder David B. Haight had died. Ruby Haight survived her husband, a member of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, after his death last summer. "She has gone to join him. She was a great lady, beautiful and sweet and pure in character . . . . We extend our condolences to the family and our prayers that the Lord will comfort and sustain and bless them." At Christmas time, he said, "We feel a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more happy and more like the kind of people we ought to be at all times. Our thoughts turn to the less fortunate," and prayers are offered for the sick, the hungry, the cold, the friendless and those at war. "Let us never forget as we celebrate Christmas with song and story, with gifts and mundane baubles, the greater message that Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of the Father, came into the world that 'the world through him might be saved.' He has come again to usher in a dispensation. And he will come yet again in clouds of glory to usher in a millennium and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. May each of you at this glad season have bread on your tables, clothing on your backs, a roof over your heads and most of all, a conviction in your hearts of him who is the Son of God."

Of all the things Christmas is, most of all, it is the love of Christ, according to President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency.Lee Maloy, a young sailor with the U.S. Merchant Marine, saw the power of that gift on Christmas Eve 1944 as he and his shipmates were headed home across the Atlantic. All were thinking of Christmas with their families when the ship's alarms began to sound and a German submarine was sighted 100 yards away. Waiting to be fired upon, they saw a Morse code message flashing at them instead, signaling out Merry Christmas. "As the reality of what had just transpired and the words 'Merry Christmas' took hold in their minds and their hearts, they unitedly sent up a cheer" of relief, joy and true celebration. The spirit of love had prevailed — the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of Christ." President Monson asked the audience to let Christmas be a time for lifting others from loneliness, for praying for peace, for forgetting self and finding time for others, for discarding the meaningless and stressing true values. "Let it be a time of peace because we have found peace in his teachings."

President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, told of a young Canadian man who sent every cent of his paycheck home to his parents during the Great Depression. On Christmas morning, the young man gave his father "the greatest Christmas gift he had ever received." Opening the gift, he found it was his son's Boy Scout journal, which had the letters "GT" printed on each page in the corner. The letters on each day were crossed out, and the journal recorded happenings during the year. After tears filled his eyes, the father announced to his large family that their brother, Brigham, had given the journal to him, with a note that read, "Dear Father, I had no money to buy gifts this year. This is all I have to give you. Each crossed-out GT is a record of a good turn which I have done for someone each day of the year." Brigham Card is now 90 years old and loaned President Faust the diary he had given his father in 1933. "It still records the crossed-out GT for each day of the year, showing he did a good deed for someone else each day. "We are each the agents of our Father in Heaven to do Christ-like deeds for all his Father's children," President Faust said, "even as he offered to do in the grand premortal council when he said, 'Here am I, send me.' "

Monday, December 06, 2004

Finding Joy in Life

From "Finding Joy in Life," by Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 1996.

Recently I stood on the north shore of a beautiful Pacific island gazing out to sea at daybreak. I was fascinated by the regularity with which the gigantic waves consistently moved forward to break on the shoreline. It reminded me of the constancy of the plan of the Lord, with its fixed, eternal law, and the security of enduring justice and the tenderness of mercy when earned by obedience. I noticed that each wave would crest at a different point on the horizon to find its unique path to shore. Some cascaded over rocks, leaving rivulets of foaming, white water. Others burst on the shore in individual patterns. They slid up the moistened sand with playful frothy edges, then bubbled and swirled as they receded.

I thought of the unending variety of possibilities the Lord has provided for us. We have so much freedom, so many opportunities to develop our unique personalities and talents, our individual memories, our personalized contributions. Since there would be no further opportunity to observe the majestic sea, I tried to imagine the glorious panorama the brilliant sun would later create. As I watched this magnificent scene in reverence, a window formed in the clouds; the glistening rays of the rising sun broke through the overcast sky, transforming everything with its luminescence, its color, its life. It was as if the Lord wanted to share an additional blessing, a symbol of the light of His teachings that gives brilliance and hope to everyone it touches. Tears of gratitude formed for this wondrous world in which we live, for the extraordinary beauty our Heavenly Father so freely shares with all who are willing to see. Truly, life is beautiful.

Do you take time to discover each day how beautiful your life can be? How long has it been since you watched the sun set? The departing rays kissing the clouds, trees, hills, and lowlands good night, sometimes tranquilly, sometimes with exuberant bursts of color and form. What of the wonder of a cloudless night when the Lord unveils the marvels of His heavens—the twinkling stars, the moonlight rays—to ignite our imagination with His greatness and glory? How captivating to watch a seed planted in fertile soil germinate, gather strength, and send forth a tiny, seemingly insignificant sprout. Patiently it begins to grow and develop its own character led by the genetic code the Lord has provided to guide its development. With care it surely will become what it is destined to be: a lily, crowned with grace and beauty; a fragrant spearmint plant; a peach; an avocado; or a beautiful blossom with unique delicacy, hue, and fragrance. When last did you observe a tiny rosebud form? Each day it develops new and impressive character, more promise of beauty until it becomes a majestic rose. You are one of the noblest of God’s creations. His intent is that your life be gloriously beautiful regardless of your circumstances. As you are grateful and obedient, you can become all that God intends you to be.

Sadness, disappointment, and severe challenge are events in life, not life itself. I do not minimize how hard some of these events are. They can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining center of everything you do. The Lord inspired Lehi to declare the fundamental truth, "Men are, that they might have joy." That is a conditional statement: "they might have joy." It is not conditional for the Lord. His intent is that each of us finds joy. It will not be conditional for you as you obey the commandments, have faith in the Master, and do the things that are necessary to have joy here on earth.

Your joy in life depends upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His holy Son, your conviction that their plan of happiness truly can bring you joy. Pondering their doctrine will let you enjoy the beauties of this earth and enrich your relationships with others. It will lead you to the comforting, strengthening experiences that flow from prayer to Father in Heaven and the answers He gives in return.

A pebble held close to the eye appears to be a gigantic obstacle. Cast on the ground, it is seen in perspective. Likewise, problems or trials in our lives need to be viewed in the perspective of scriptural doctrine. Otherwise they can easily overtake our vision, absorb our energy, and deprive us of the joy and beauty the Lord intends us to receive here on earth. Some people are like rocks thrown into a sea of problems. They are drowned by them. Be a cork. When submerged in a problem, fight to be free to bob up to serve again with happiness.

You are here on earth for a divine purpose. It is not to be endlessly entertained or to be constantly in full pursuit of pleasure. You are here to be tried, to prove yourself so that you can receive the additional blessings God has for you. The tempering effect of patience is required. Some blessings will be delivered here in this life; others will come beyond the veil. The Lord is intent on your personal growth and development. That progress is accelerated when you willingly allow Him to lead you through every growth experience you encounter, whether initially it be to your individual liking or not. When you trust in the Lord, when you are willing to let your heart and your mind be centered in His will, when you ask to be led by the Spirit to do His will, you are assured of the greatest happiness along the way and the most fulfilling attainment from this mortal experience. If you question everything you are asked to do, or dig in your heels at every unpleasant challenge, you make it harder for the Lord to bless you.

Your agency, the right to make choices, is not given so that you can get what you want. This divine gift is provided so that you will choose what your Father in Heaven wants for you. That way He can lead you to become all that He intends you to be. That path leads to glorious joy and happiness.

Learn from inspiring individuals who have made peace with their challenges and live with joy amid adversity. A lovely woman with an aggressive terminal disease consistently found joy in life. She understood the plan of happiness, had received the temple ordinances, and was doing her best to qualify for the promised blessings. Her personal journal records: "It is a beautiful fall day. I picked up the mail and sat down on the swing. I was so happy and content in the warm sun, the sweet smell of nature and the trees around me. I just sat and gloried in the fact that I am still alive on this beautiful earth. … The Lord is so good to me. How I thank him that I am still here and feeling so good. I am soooooo happy I just want to shout and dance through this beautiful house as the sun streams into the big windows. I love being alive."

A valiant mother courageously fighting a debilitating illness spent untold hours laboriously completing a large, challenging needlepoint work of art. It was a gift to a couple experiencing trials. For the couple it is a priceless treasure, a constant reminder of the precious fruits of resolute effort in the face of adversity, an enduring message of hope bound in the bonds of pure love and willing sacrifice.

Children teach us how to find joy even under the most challenging circumstances. Children haven’t yet learned to be depressed by concentrating on the things they don’t have. They find joy in what is available to them. I remember a small boy playing along a riverbank. He had tied a piece of fishing line to the ends of two discarded soft-drink cans. He threw one can over a limb, then filled it with water. He would pull on the other can, then let it go. The weight of the first can would draw the second one up as it fell. He laughed and danced with glee.

Simple, rejuvenating experiences surround us. They can be safety valves to keep the tension down and the spirit up. Don’t concentrate on what you don’t have or have lost. The Lord promised the obedient to share all that He possesses with them. You may temporarily lack here, but in the next life, if you prove yourself worthy by living valiantly, a fulness will be your blessing.

Find the compensatory blessings in your life when, in the wisdom of the Lord, He deprives you of something you very much want. To the sightless or hearing impaired, He sharpens the other senses. To the ill, He gives patience, understanding, and increased appreciation for others’ kindness. With the loss of a dear one, He deepens the bonds of love, enriches memories, and kindles hope in a future reunion. You will discover compensatory blessings when you willingly accept the will of the Lord and exercise faith in Him.

To the afflicted people of Alma, the Lord said: "I will also ease the burdens … that even you cannot feel them upon your backs … ; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

"And … the burdens … were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord" (Mosiah 24:13–15).

Attempt to be creative for the joy it brings. After their noble husbands were called home, Sisters Camilla Kimball, Amelia McConkie, and Helen Richards learned to paint. They not only leave legacies of art, but they will never see a sunset, a face, or a tree the same again. They now perceive subtle nuances of color and form and rejoice in the abounding beauty around them.

Select something like music, dance, sculpture, or poetry. Being creative will help you enjoy life. It engenders a spirit of gratitude. It develops latent talent, sharpens your capacity to reason, to act, and to find purpose in life. It dispels loneliness and heartache. It gives a renewal, a spark of enthusiasm, and zest for life.

Willing service to others is a key to enduring happiness. President Kimball said: "God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another mortal that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other."

I know of a woman who was joyously happy. Each morning she would ask her Father in Heaven to lead her to someone she could help. That sincere prayer was answered time and again. The burdens of many were eased and their lives brightened. She was blessed continually for being an instrument directed by the Lord.

I know that every difficulty we face in life, even those that come from our own negligence or even transgression, can be turned by the Lord into growth experiences, a virtual ladder upward. I certainly do not recommend transgression as a path to growth. It is painful, difficult, and so totally unnecessary. It is far wiser and so much easier to move forward in righteousness. But through proper repentance, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and obedience to His commandments, even the disappointment that comes from transgression can be converted into a return to happiness.

Make a list of things you can do for happiness, such as:
• Ponder the scriptures to understand the plan of happiness.
• Pray with faith in Jesus Christ.
• Love and serve others.
• Receive the temple ordinances. Return to bless others.
• Listen to the prophet and obey his counsel.
• Be grateful for what you have.
• Smile more.
Your list will provide keys to contentment and joy.

A famous Brazilian song repeats a falsehood many believe: Sadness never ends, but happiness does. I witness that with faith in the Savior and obedience to His teachings, happiness never ends, but sadness does.

No matter how difficult something you or a loved one faces, it should not take over your life and be the center of all your interest. Challenges are growth experiences, temporary scenes to be played out on the background of a pleasant life. Don’t become so absorbed in a single event that you can’t think of anything else or care for yourself or for those who depend upon you. Remember, much like the mending of the body, the healing of some spiritual and emotional challenges takes time.

The Lord has said, "Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days." As you are patient, you will come to understand what the statement "I am with thee" means. God’s love brings peace and joy.

Your faith in Jesus Christ gives life enduring meaning. Remember you are on a journey to exaltation. Sometimes you have experiences that yield more happiness than others, but it all has purpose with the Lord.

As a witness of the Savior, I exhort you to forgive any you feel may have offended you. If there is transgression, repent of it, that the Master may heal you.

Thank your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son for the plan of happiness and the gospel principles upon which it is based. Be grateful for the ordinances and the covenants they have provided. I solemnly testify they have power to crown your life with peace and joy, to give it purpose and meaning. You will learn that sadness and disappointment are temporary. Happiness is everlastingly eternal because of Jesus Christ. I solemnly witness that He lives, that He loves you, and that He will help you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness

From "Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness," by Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1995.

I join in welcoming Elder Henry B. Eyring to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who are so ably presided over by President Boyd K. Packer. Elder Eyring is a special blend of brightness and sweetness. I am delighted to sustain President James E. Faust, my seatmate of fourteen years and for over thirty years a companion in various civic chores and Church assignments. I have been blessed with five wonderful sisters but no brothers. President Faust has been that kind of brother to me for many years.

I renew my appreciation in sustaining vote for President Thomas S. Monson, who, over that same span of time, has given me opportunities, has tutored me, and has encouraged me. He is sometimes best known for feats of memory, but his quiet acts of kindness are much more important.

In 1935, a returning missionary, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, was asked to visit with the First Presidency because of his special work in the British Isles. His fifteen-minute appointment soon stretched to nearly an hour and a half. Impressed, the First Presidency requested him to help with missionary work, and he has scarcely left the Church Administration Building since then. Only now, he sits, humbly, in the center chair in the First Presidency Council Room to which he came humbly sixty years ago!

President Hinckley is a special blend of the practical and the spiritual, possessing a keen mind furnished with fixed principles. When we rightly describe him as having good judgment, good humor, goodwill, and as being a good listener, the common adjective is good. Goodness is thus the key to so much of what makes up President Hinckley, whom I am delighted to sustain as our President, prophet, seer, and revelator, the high calling which has come after such unusual preparation of this exceptional disciple of Christ.

Jesus' instructions concerning discipleship involve both substance and sequence: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23; emphasis added). Elsewhere, Moroni declared the need for us to deny ourselves "all ungodliness" (Moro. 10:32), thus including both large and small sins. While boulders surely block our way, loose gravel slows discipleship, too. Even a small stone can become a stumbling block.

King Benjamin and Paul both stressed the congenital weakness of the natural man who is turned away from God and who regards spiritual things as "foolishness" (see Mosiah 3:19; 1 Cor. 2:13–14; Col. 3:9). Thus, putting off the views and appetites of the natural man is such a large part of denying oneself, a process sometimes accompanied by scalding shame and the reflux of regret (see JST, Luke 14:28).

Even so, in today’s world, individual appetites, far from being denied, are actually celebrated! As one writer noted, this mantra has its own incessant "beat," and it goes "Me … Me … Me … Me!" (Daivd Frum, Dead Right, New York: BasicBooks, 1994, p. 203, quoting Tom Wolfe, "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening," in Purple Decades, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1982, p. 293).

Yet sensory happiness is illusory happiness. Even legitimate pleasure is as transitory as the things which produce it, while joy is as lasting as the things which produce it!

Of all today’s malevolent "isms," hedonism takes the greatest toll. It is naive to say that hedonists merely march to the beat of a different drummer. So did the Gadarene swine!

A quarter of a century ago historian John Lukacs perceptively warned that sexual immorality was not merely a marginal development but, instead, was at the center of the moral crisis of our time (see John Lukacs, The Passing of the Modern Age, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970, p. 169). Some thought Lukacs was overstating it, but consider the subsequent and sobering tragedy of children having children, of unwed mothers, of children without parents, of hundreds of thousands of fatherless children, and of rampant spousal infidelity. These and related consequences threaten to abort society’s future even before the future arrives! Yet carnalists are unwilling to deny themselves, even though all of society suffers from an awful avalanche of consequences!

Consider this sobering forecast: "About 40 percent of U.S. children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live" (David Blankenhorn, "Life without Father," USA Weekend, 26 Feb. 1995, pp. 6–7).

Some estimate this will rise to 60 percent. This same commentator has written, "Fatherlessness is the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to domestic violence" (ibid., p. 7). Such outcomes, brothers and sisters, unfortunately, constitute America’s grossest national product, produced in the slums of the spirit created by spreading secularism!

In Proverbs, we read, "For the commandment is a lamp" (Prov. 6:23). Once darkened, a society loses its capacity to distinguish between right and wrong and the will to declare that some things are wrong per se. Without the lamp, our world finds itself desperately building temporary defenses, drawing new lines, forever falling back, unwilling to confront. A society which permits anything will eventually lose everything!

Therefore, recognized or not, the public has an enormous stake in private morality! Yet today there is so much hedonism and shouted justification with so little quiet shame. Bad deeds are viewed as nobody’s fault and everything as excusable on one basis or another.

Amid such inversions, no wonder victims are often neglected and the guilty sometimes glorified. Likewise, in place of real confessions there are fluid variations of "I hope I can forgive myself." In contrast, the inquiring Apostles knew the direction in which they faced; all anxiously asked Jesus of the impending betrayal, "Lord, is it I?" (Matt. 26:22.)

Gross sins arise ominously and steadily out of the swamp of self-indulgence and self-pity. But the smaller sins breed there, too, like insects in the mud, including the coarsening of language. But why should we expect those who "mind the things of the flesh" to mind their tongues? (Rom. 8:5.)

For some, their god "is their belly," as are other forms of anatomical allegiance! (Philip. 3:19.) A few hedonists actually glory in their shame, and there is even a "greediness" in their "uncleanness" (Eph. 4:18–19). Sadly, too, a few envy the wicked. Still others complain that the wicked seem to get away with it! (See Prov. 23:17; Mal. 3:14–15.)

Ironically, in all their eagerness to experience certain things, hedonists, become desensitized. People who wrongly celebrate their capacity to feel finally reach a point where they lose much of their capacity to feel! In the words of three different prophets, such individuals become "past feeling" (see 1 Ne. 17:45; Eph. 4:19; Moro. 9:20).

When people proceed "without principle," erelong they will be "without civilization," "without mercy," and "past feeling" (see Moro. 9:11–20). Such individuals do not experience real joy, such as being quietly and deeply grateful to a generous God, or of helping to restore those who "droop in sin" (2 Ne. 4:28), or of gladly forgoing praise and recognition so that it might flow, instead, to parched souls.

Our physical as well as our familial environment is likewise threatened by selfishness. But some worry only about holes in the ozone layer, while the fabric of many families who lack the lamp resembles Swiss cheese.

Of course, we can’t wave a wand and fix families instantly. Some levees and sandbags must be placed downstream. But the real problem lies at the family fountainhead. Many things will not get better until we have better families, but this will require much more self-denial, not less. Most major social and political problems simply cannot be solved without large doses of self-denial; ironically, this is a quality best developed in loving families where the lamp is lit.

Meanwhile, mortals remain free to choose between the things of the moment and the things of eternity (see 2 Ne. 2:27). Given the choices made by some, we all end up with more protected pornography than protected children. Of course better self-restraint than censorship, but urging self-restraint on hedonists is like discouraging Dracula from hanging around the blood bank!

No wonder most of the Ten Commandments are self-denying "Thou shalt nots." Heavenly Father loves his children perfectly, but he knows our tendencies perfectly, too. To lie, steal, murder, envy, to be sexually immoral, neglect parents, break the Sabbath, and to bear false witness—all occur because one mistakenly seeks to please himself for the moment regardless of divine standards or human consequences. As prophesied, ethical relativism is now in steep crescendo: "Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world" (D&C 1:16).

Without the lamp’s perspective, gross distortion results (see Jacob 4:13). I remember reading that one Nazi leader used to listen to Haydn’s music while watching Jewish people being gassed. He was probably proud of his music appreciation.

Mussolini is said to have made Italy’s trains run on time, a genuine convenience to passengers, but scarcely compensation for the awful consequences of his totalitarian rule and the tens of thousands of lives lost thereby.

We all admire young David for taking on the mocking Goliath. But David’s act of earlier bravery cannot compensate for his later adultery with the wife of Uriah. All things considered, brothers and sisters, to whom did David deal the greater blow, Goliath or Uriah? Or himself?

In the same vein, God’s second commandment, love thy neighbor, clearly leaves no room for racism. Yet it is not enough to be free of racism if one is simultaneously enslaved by other appetites. Jesus emphasized the need for proportion, saying there are "weightier matters" even among good things (Matt. 23:23). To the commandment-keeping young man, Jesus responded, "One thing thou lackest," referring to an errant attachment to material possessions (Mark 10:21). Most of us lack more than just one thing. As we come closer to the Lord, He has promised to "show unto [us our] weakness" (Ether 12:27). Hence, general goodness is no excuse for failing to work on those things which we yet lack.

Any list of our present, personal indulgences is actually an index—but a reverse index to joys—joys we will not experience until we do deny ourselves certain things. Meanwhile, the absence of gross sins in our lives can lull us into slackness concerning seemingly small sins. The failure to visit and care for parents is a failure to honor one’s father and mother. In its lesser form, the lack of self-restraint causes unkind comments to a spouse, but in the extreme it can bring domestic abuse and even murder. The tendency to strike back whenever we are offended makes us brusque and rude, as if others were functions, not as brothers and sisters. Thus, excess of ego is like a spreading, toxic spill from which flow all the deadly sins (see Prov. 6:16–19). Young parents know how a mere half cup of spilled milk seems to cover half a kitchen floor. Small sins spread like that, too.

With His perfect, spiritual symmetry Jesus really is "the way, the truth, and the life,", His way being in such sharp contrast to the world's ways (John 14:6). Jesus' perfect character is thus not only holy, but wholly complete and finished. Without Jesus’ supernal character, He could not have accomplished the astonishing atonement! And He has asked us to become much more like Him (see Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48; 3 Ne. 27:27). Though heavy, discipleship’s burden can be made light (see Matt. 11:30). The Lord can "ease the burdens," and/or our shoulders can be made strong enough that we "may be able to bear it" (Mosiah 24:14; 1 Cor. 10:13).

So it is that real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed! Such is the "sacrifice unto the Lord … of a broken heart and a contrite spirit," (D&C 59:8), a prerequisite to taking up the cross, while giving "away all [our] sins" in order to "know God" (Alma 22:18) for the denial of self precedes the full acceptance of Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Wisdom of C.S. Lewis

"You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness." --The Weight of Glory

"And then she understood the devilish cunning of the enemies' plan. By mixing a little truth with it they had made their lie far stronger." --The Last Battle

"'Something of God...flows into us from the blue of the sky, the taste of honey, the delicious embrace of water whether cold or hot, and even from sleep itself.'" --'Scraps', St. James' Magazine

"The idea which...shuts out the Second Coming from our minds, the idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience." --The World's Last Night

"Though we cannot experience our life as an endless present, we are eternal in God's eyes; that is, in our deepest reality." --Letters to Malcolm

"Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful." --The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment

"Now that I am a Christian I do not have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable." --Mere Christianity

"It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." --The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment

"When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all." --Mere Christianity

"If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will...then we may take it it is worth paying." --Mere Christianity

"Joy is the serious business of Heaven." --Letters to Malcolm

"There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes." --The Last Battle

"Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you." --The Problem of Pain

"Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness." --The Problem of Pain

"Now is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It won't last forever. We must take it or leave it." --The Case for Christianity

Delicious, eh? If you're hungry for more, check out the C.S. Lewis Quote Page.

A Shield Against Evil

From "A Shield Against Evil," by Clyde J. Williams, Ensign, Jan. 1996.

In every dispensation of time, prophets of God have been commanded to warn his children of the influence of evil among them. In the latter days, we have been blessed not only with living prophets but also with revealed scriptures to teach the faithful how to overcome this evil. President Ezra Taft Benson declared: "The Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. … It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day."

Ever since Satan was cast out of the presence of Heavenly Father in the premortal existence, he has been the enemy of our Father, who is the author of all righteousness. By contrast, the Book of Mormon tells us Satan is the "father of all lies" (2 Ne. 2:18; Ether 8:25) and the "author" or "master" of all sin (Hel. 6:30; Mosiah 4:14). It is his purpose to make all of our Father’s children share in his own misery. The Book of Mormon teaches us how he gains power over mankind as well as how we can avoid his snares.

The adversary’s worldly snares are as varied as the weaknesses of men and women. Following are some of those that the Book of Mormon warns us to avoid.

Relying on Worldly Wisdom

When we lack gospel knowledge or rely upon our own wisdom, we may be more easily led into evil. Many "plain and precious" truths have been taken away from the Lord’s teachings given in earlier times, making it possible for people in our day to "stumble" spiritually (1 Ne. 13:29) unless we learn to live by principles revealed again in the Book of Mormon and other modern scripture. It is part of "that cunning plan of the evil one," however, to convince people when they are learned in worldly ways that they do not need the counsel of God or his prophets (2 Ne. 9:28).

Sherem, the anti-Christ, was able to deceive many Nephites in the time of Jacob because of their lack of scriptural knowledge (see Jacob 7:1-3, 23). Likewise, today some individuals by their smooth words and learning may deceive members of the Church. These modern Sherems call for such things as modifications in Church doctrine and liberalized moral standards. They call into question the decisions and directions of the Lord’s anointed servants, and some members are led into inactivity and even apostasy by these people because they do not search and understand the scriptures as illuminated by the light of the Spirit.

Satan and those who follow him also use their deceptive influence to change people’s perception of evil. Isaiah wrote, “Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil” (2 Ne. 15:20). The Book of Mormon is full of examples of this value switch by those who professed principles that were exactly opposite of the truth, from Laman and Lemuel to King Noah to the Gadianton robbers. Our society is no different. The great value switch takes place in our music, movies, marriages, dress standards, and many other areas. That which is wholesome, modest, or uplifting is often ridiculed or demeaned, and the things of greatest value are called worthless or unrealistic by many.

Anger and Contention

The influence of evil also stirs people up "to anger against that which is good" (2 Ne. 28:20). The more wicked part of the Lamanites, for example, became so angry toward their brothers and sisters who had been converted to the gospel of Christ that they sought to kill them (see Alma 24:1-2, 19-22, 30; Alma 25:1).

An increasingly wicked world not only perceives evil as good but also harbors anger and resentment toward righteous people and principles. Elder William Grant Bangerter of the Seventy, now an emeritus General Authority, summarized this situation as follows: "In doing these wicked things [adultery, indulgence in pornography] they [who participate] suggest that it is not so bad anymore. Since so much of the world accepts these actions, if we resist them or speak out against them, we will be scoffed at. We will be called prudish, Victorian, puritan, and self-righteous, as if we had become the sinners."

Contention is a form of anger that can be especially dangerous when it finds a place within our hearts. The Savior warned, "He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention" (3 Ne. 11:29). The spirit of contention leads to family conflicts and neighborhood disputes. It is also the wind that fans the flames of war and strife between nations.

Seeking Happiness in Sin

In today’s world, evil influences and people also teach that there is happiness in iniquity. Samuel the Lamanite warned the Nephites of the fate that awaited them if they continued in their quest to find happiness in sin:

"Behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head" (Hel. 13:38)

The Book of Mormon offers many examples of people like King Noah and Corianton who learned that "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10). Yet all around us today, advertisements, movies, and books portray evil as the source of happiness. Alcohol, drugs, and infidelity are represented as bringing easy and immediate pleasure and satisfaction. These scenes of artificial bliss in the media entice many to do evil. Seldom do we see portrayed the pain, sorrow, and suffering caused by sin.

Ignorance of Evil

Along with these false concepts of happiness, Satan spreads the rumor that there is no devil (see 2 Ne. 28:22). Evidence of the denial of Satan, and of the false security it leaves in people’s hearts, is abundant. There are those who profess belief in the gospel yet live as though Satan were not real. In violating the laws of God—the principles of chastity or of honoring the Sabbath day, for example—these people give Satan power to destroy their souls.

There are others who would say that the idea of a devil is nothing but a creation of designing men who want to use fear to keep people under their control. This intellectual denial of Satan is like stepping into a boxing ring and convincing oneself there is no opponent while being continually pummeled by the opposition. "We Latter-day Saints need not be, and we must not be, deceived by the sophistries of men concerning the reality of Satan," warned Elder Marion G. Romney, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (later a counselor in the First Presidency). "There is a personal devil, and we had better believe it. He and a countless host of followers, seen and unseen, are exercising a controlling influence upon men and their affairs in our world today."

Spiritual Apathy

In addition, "the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray" (2 Ne. 32:8). Satan desires to block our communication with God. He does all he can to cause us to forget or forego our prayers, lulling some away through complacency. He convinces others that they cannot pray because they have committed serious transgressions.

Apathy, or the "all is well" (2 Ne. 28:21) syndrome, is another snare to be avoided. "The peril of this century," declared Elder David O. McKay (later, President of the Church) when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, "is spiritual apathy." 4 This spiritual apathy, complacency, and procrastination all lead to spiritual weakness and leave us dangerously susceptible to the ravages of temptation and sin. Failure to actively seek righteousness can cost us our exaltation as surely as choosing wickedness.


Nephi warned us that Satan and his followers will "justify in committing a little sin" (2 Ne. 28:8). Rationalization of sin is one of the adversary’s most successful tactics in today’s society. It is frequently used to excuse what some see as lesser degrees of evil. We often hear phrases like the following: "This music isn’t that bad compared to the really heavy stuff"; "The prices were too high anyway, so we didn’t tell the clerk he undercharged us"; or "These days any movie has some of that in it."

Nephi wrote that the devil would lead many "by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever" (2 Ne. 26:22). A flaxen cord would be made of fine, light-colored fiber manufactured from flax—its individual strands soft and thin and easily broken, but as a cord, soft to the touch yet strong and unyielding. If we continually rationalize our involvement with "little sins" we are being subtly, ever so gently, led away by Satan until eventually we will become bound with his "strong cords."

Vain and Worldly Things

Pride, power, and riches also lead many away from righteousness. Mormon wrote that among the Nephites who lived just before Christ’s coming, "Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world" (3 Ne. 6:15). In the days of Alma the Younger, people in the Church also became proud because of riches and vain things of the world. This led them to ridicule one another and persecute those who did not believe as they did (see Alma 4:6-8).

Unfortunately, for many people in today’s society, pride and prestige seem all-important. Materialism causes people to sacrifice spiritual goals in worldly quests for positions, possessions, and power. Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who lived in exile for many years, warned that while his people suffered oppression under communism, the people of the Western world have been oppressed by materialism, and thus, he said, "I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours."

In summary, all the ways and means Satan uses to drag us down cannot be numbered, as King Benjamin declared (see Mosiah 4:29). Satan may not get us to commit adultery, murder, or rob a bank, but then he doesn’t have to do that to cause us to set aside our exaltation. All he has to do is cause us to be turned away from the things that matter most.


How, then, can we possibly resist the adversary and fend off his temptations to commit sin? We must understand several principles and act on them.

In the end the devil will not support his own (see Alma 30:60). We can apply this principle by reminding ourselves that Satan promises great rewards and yet ultimately leads us to sorrow, misery, and destruction. In the Book of Mormon, we see repeated examples of those who fail or are overthrown because of wickedness. Though Satan is the author of that wickedness, we are taught that his reaction when we sin and suffer is laughter and rejoicing (see 3 Ne. 9:2; Moses 7:26).

If we have been lulled into carnal security, we must shake off our spiritual lethargy. Lehi pleaded with Laman and Lemuel:

"O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. …

"Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness" (2 Ne. 1:13, 23).

To awake from Satan’s sleep we must put on the armor of righteousness. President Marion G. Romney declared: “During these closing years of Satan’s power, he is frantically using every conceivable means to deceive and corrupt us.

"There has never been a time since the world began when obedience to Paul’s charge, 'Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,' was more imperative than it is today."

To put on the armor of righteousness requires more than lip service to spiritual things; we must be willing to put them first in our lives.

To keep from being overcome by the adversary, one must watch and pray. Several times in the Book of Mormon we are told to watch and pray always to overcome Satan’s temptations (see Alma 13:28; Alma 15:17; Alma 34:39; 3 Ne. 18:18). The act of watching might be compared to serving as a goalie in soccer or hockey, being continually on the alert for scoring attempts by the opposition. Just as the goalie cannot afford to relax on defense, neither can we afford to flirt with temptation and expect to be victorious. Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (later, President of the Church) used the same type of analogy in the following insight about Satan and his forces: "There are carefully charted on the maps of the opposition the weak spots in every one of us. They are known to the forces of evil, and just the moment we lower the defense of any one of those ports, that becomes the D Day of our invasion, and our souls are in danger." Thus, we have great need to watch and be on the defensive against the adversary.

We are not capable of overcoming Satan alone. Because he remembers the premortal existence, he may know things about us that even we do not yet understand. Therefore, we must pray continually for the sustaining help of our Heavenly Father in overcoming his influence and that of his followers. President Brigham Young taught, "The men and women, who desire to obtain seats in the celestial kingdom, will find that they must battle with the enemy of all righteousness every day."

To effectively overcome the influence of evil, we must understand how vital it is to hold to the rod. In answering Laman and Lemuel’s question about the meaning of the rod of iron seen in vision, Nephi said to his brothers that "it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction" (1 Ne. 15:24).

Holding fast to the word of God means understanding the principles found in the scriptures and incorporating them into our daily lives. Mormon promised that any who were willing could "lay hold upon the word of God," that it would help us overcome the "cunning and the snares" of the devil, and that it would "land [our] souls … at the right hand of God in the kingdom of Heaven" (Hel. 3:29-30).

In our efforts to resist the adversary’s influence, we must remember that we are free to choose our own course of life. Samuel the Lamanite taught:

"Remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

"He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death" (Hel. 14:30-31).

The ideas that "the devil made me do it" or "I couldn’t help myself" are simply false notions and excuses for our own poor choices. "The devil has no power over us only as we permit him," the Prophet Joseph Smith said. "The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power."

It is possible to bind Satan in our lives now.

Many have thought that Satan could be bound only by chains or by being cast into outer darkness. Nephi, however, taught as he looked forward to the Millennium that Satan would be bound in a different way during that blessed period after the Savior’s second coming. "Because of the righteousness of his people [the children of the Holy One of Israel], Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth" (1 Ne. 22:26).

"How, then, will Satan be bound during the Millennium?" asked Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "It will be by the righteousness of the people. … It is not that men cannot sin, for the power is in them to do so—they have their agency—but it is that they do not sin because Satan is subject to them, and they are not enticed by his evil whisperings."

A change of heart and a will to live righteously can bind Satan. Thus, in the Book of Mormon we find accounts of those who had received a mighty change in their hearts and could say, "We have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2; see also Alma 19:33).

The Book of Mormon provides a classic example of an individual who in large part bound Satan in his life. In Alma 48:11-13, we read:

"Moroni was a [1] strong and mighty man; he was a man of [2] a perfect understanding; yea, a man that [3] did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul [4] did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery;

"Yea, a man whose [5] heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessing which he bestowed upon his people; a man who [6] did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people.

"Yea, and he was a man who [7] was firm in the faith of Christ."

The qualities of Captain Moroni identified by number in the verses above all contributed to his ability to bind Satan in his life. Mormon, who abridged this record, was so impressed that he added: "Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men" (Alma 48:17).

The qualities listed above, if acquired and developed, can help us to defend against the influences of evil around us. Captain Moroni obviously understood the things that he and his people needed to do to overcome the adversary in their lives, and he led by example. The Book of Mormon teaches that we can ward off evil in the same way. It stands as a witness to us that we can bind Satan in our lives.
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