Quick Thought – Winning Battles, Losing Wars

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I was playing a game recently. One of the players was playing well, winning many individual contests. However, as this player won battles, he was losing the war. His tactics could not make up for his strategical losses. In the end, although the player was busy and won many battles, he lost the war.

“We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.” (Oaks, Good, Better, Best, October 2007). Are we winning battles by focusing on the good at the expense of winning the war by neglecting the best? It’s possible to fill our lives with good but neglect the best. We need to keep in mind our ultimate goals and realize what’s really most important in the end.

The Reality of Evil

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While I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my missionary companion and I were out knocking on doors in a suburb of Seattle on a Thursday morning in June. At one home a man talked with us through a kitchen window, which was right by the pathway to the front door. We talked with him for a few minutes. He told us that he had seen Christ in a vision and that he had had a badly burned hand completely healed through that vision. During our conversation in which he was trying to tell us of the error of our ways, I kept getting a progressively worse feeling inside. It is difficult to explain what it was like other than it was a really bad feeling (cue the Star Wars quote: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”). I had never talked with anyone who had such a evil spirit about him; it was almost terrifying. The feeling went way beyond creepiness. At one point, I felt that my legs were almost held in place as he talked with us. I was just thankful that we were separated by a sturdy house wall instead of talking with him without a barrier. He was not interested in what we had to say so we quickly left, thanking him for his time, and went on knocking on other doors. As we left his presence, the evil feeling went away. I hoped and prayed that one day he would understand and accept the truth of the gospel.

On a Monday just a few weeks later, my companion and I were out looking for a family who had just moved into our ward boundaries (their membership records had been moved into the ward but they had not shown up at church). As we were looking for their address we passed a house a few times. Inside that house there was a man who just stood inside and stared out at us. We found the address we were searching for but no one was home so I decided to go talk with the man who had been staring at us. I pulled out a Book of Mormon and we approached his home. He saw us coming (he was still staring at us) and opened the door saying, “Hello Elders!” I asked if he was a member of the Church. He replied, “If I was born a member and never not became one, I guess you could say that I was.” He invited us in and we talked for a few minutes. He had stopped going to church when he was 14. He started telling us many of the standard anti-Mormon lines and some not-so-common lines (e.g., The LDS Church owned Pepsi-Cola [but was hypocritical because they prohibited church members from drinking Pepsi]; it had been discovered that Moroni was the name of one of the Devil’s main messengers, etc.). The only thing I could do, because he was not really interested in talking with us, he just wanted to talk at us, was bear my testimony to him. My companion and I both had a creeping, hollow, bad feeling growing inside while in his presence. It was a really bad feeling, similar to what I had felt a few weeks previously. He quickly became very angry with us (mainly with me because I was the one responding to him) because I would not try to argue with him about the claims he was making against the LDS Church. He asked us to leave, which we gladly did, thanking him for his time as we went on our merry way. Like the previous man, I hope and prayed that he would be able to accept the truth some day.

Those are two of the most memorable times that I have been in the presence of people who have exuded such feelings of emptiness and evil that being in their presence was nearly unbearable for me. Those two different men were both witnesses to me of the reality of evil. The experiences might seem minor in light of all the evil that goes on in the world but the evil spirit is the same. There are people in whom the Spirit of the Lord resides, there are people in whom the Spirit does not reside, and there are some people in whom an evil spirit resides. These two men were filled with an evil spirit. I have not met any people like those two since that time.

C.S. Lewis Quote du Jour

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“Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled…. It follows that this Bad Power…must have things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them…. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things – resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself…. Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.” (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. HarperCollins, 2001, pp.44-45).

There was a war in Heaven between Jesus Christ and Lucifer. Satan rebelled against God and God’s plan of salvation. At one point, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, Lucifer was good. He had intelligence, light, knowledge, and free will. He had the moral agency to choose right from wrong. These are the good things Lucifer received from God. He took these gifts and used them to become evil. It is only in this manner that God created evil. There are eternal principles – God’s laws – that are not breakable. Agency is one of them. God gave Lucifer – and all of us – agency, which agency Lucifer used for evil. Lucifer rebelled and was exiled to the earth. “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down” (Moses 4:3).

With this agency we all have been given comes the responsibility to choose that which is right. “That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.” (D&C; 101:78). With this agency – the same gift that made Lucifer’s fall possible – we can choose good or evil. Do you choose good?

Lessons from Life: Cockroaches – Part 1

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I live in Florida, which is great if you like warm winters, beaches, rain, and no snow. The downside is the number of insects and other critters. Occasionally we will see a cockroach in our home. There are only a few insects I do not like – cockroaches are one of them. Here in Florida, even in spite of deterrents and poisons, cockroaches can creep into our homes. They fit through small cracks and are virtually indestructible, as far as animals go; cockroaches have been known to live for at least a week without a head! Cockroaches live all over the world – even in Antarctica – but most are harmless to humans. Regardless of that, the cockroaches that invade homes can contribute to asthma and allergies. They are not clean insects and can spread their filth around as they scurry around. “They are also capable of mechanically transmitting disease organisms such as the bacteria which cause food poisoning. Recently, cockroaches have been found to be an important source of allergy in people, second only to house dust.” (Source). It is never enough to kill a single cockroach if we want to eliminate them from our homes – nests of cockroaches can live in our walls, reproducing rapidly.

One effective way to eliminate cockroaches is to use cockroach bait. When one cockroach eats the bait, which is poisonous to it, it is able to walk back to its nest (hopefully) where it will then die. “Cockroach baits contain a slow-acting insecticide incorporated into a food attractant. Roaches locate and feed on the bait, typically contained in small, plastic bait trays, and crawl away to die. Bait carried back to the nesting area also kills other roaches after being expelled in the sputum and feces” (source). In this manner, instead of simply killing one cockroach, you are able to get to the root of the problem and allow the nature of cockroaches to lead to their demise. Using bait, it is possible to take out entire colonies of cockroaches over a short period of time. Even so, most preventative methods need to be reapplied frequently in order to prevent or minimize further encroaches of cockroaches.

Just as we can have physical cockroaches enter our homes, so too can we have spiritual roaches invade our homes. What are we allowing into our homes? Do we allow filthiness or do we prevent it? If some filthiness finds its way into our homes do we do all we can to purge it from our homes or do we ignore the problem and let it grow? Like cockroaches, evil is pervasive; it is worldwide. Satan looks for any crack or crease or crevice to invade. He looks for chinks in our armor – any part of our lives that seem weak. However, Satan is not limited to sneaking in back doors; his brazen influence is seen as he mocks all that is sacred. Satan roams about the earth with an openness rarely seen in the history of the earth.

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “We live in a season when fierce men do terrible and despicable things. We live in a season of war. We live in a season of arrogance. We live in a season of wickedness, pornography, immorality. All of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah haunt our society. Our young people have never faced a greater challenge. We have never seen more clearly the lecherous face of evil” (Ensign, Nov. 2001). Yet, there is hope against this evil. Pres. Hinckley continued,

“And so, my brothers and sisters, we are met together in this great conference to fortify and strengthen one another, to help and lift one another, to give encouragement and build faith, to reflect on the wonderful things the Lord has made available to us, and to strengthen our resolve to oppose evil in whatever form it may take.

“We have become as a great army. We are now a people of consequence. Our voice is heard when we speak up. We have demonstrated our strength in meeting adversity. Our strength is our faith in the Almighty. No cause under the heavens can stop the work of God. Adversity may raise its ugly head. The world may be troubled with wars and rumors of wars, but this cause will go forward.

“You are familiar with these great words written by the Prophet Joseph: ‘No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done’ (History of the Church, 4:540).

The Lord has given us the goal toward which we work. That goal is to build His kingdom, which is a mighty cause of great numbers of men and women of faith, of integrity, of love and concern for mankind, marching forward to create a better society, bringing blessings upon ourselves and upon the heads of others” (Ensign, Nov. 2001).

Good and Evil – Part 2

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None of us remember our life before this earth when we lived with our Father in Heaven as His children. However, just because we do not remember this does not mean it was not real or did not happen. Few people remember much of anything from their lives before the age of two. Many people do not remember anything from before the age of four. This is called infantile amnesia – the loss of memory from our earliest years. There are explanations why we do not remember but for now what is important is that even though we do not remember, those years of our lives actually occurred.

We know they occurred because we are here now – reading these words at some later stage in life. We might have photos or video of our youngest years. We might have heard stories about when we were born or about other things early in life. All of our knowledge about our first year or two of our lives comes from other people. We have to trust them (and photographs or video if we have them) but again, we know that those first years of our lives occurred because we are here now. This is the same as with our premortal existence. We do not remember that time but we know it occurred because we are here now. We have the testimony of latter-day prophets to trust. We have scriptural accounts in Abraham and Job referencing our premortal life. We are experiencing an amnesia now but some day we will remember our life before we came to earth.

While there we saw two plans presented – one by Jesus Christ and one by Lucifer. All of us here on earth now chose to follow God’s plan – we rejected Satan’s plan and watched as he and his followers were cast out – maybe some of us assisted with his expulsion. Evil at that point was definitely out of fashion.

Then we started coming to earth. It did not take long for Adam and Eve’s children to leave the Lord and lust after worldly things. They were no longer in the presence of God, although they had access to His Spirit if they sought it. They were, however, in the presence of Satan and his followers, even if they could not see them (although they probably could sometimes). Even though Satan is on the earth, he has no power over people except as they give him power. Make no mistake, he has great power. He tried to kill Joseph Smith as Joseph knelt to pray in what became known as the Sacred Grove. Satan also wields power indirectly through governments, mobs, gangs, murders, lies, wealth, and armies. He calls himself the prince of this world and he is to an extent. He is given nearly free reign over the earth. Satan is very real with real power. Twice in my life I have met people who had evil spirits within them. I still remember how I felt in their presence – it was not good. I have met and talked with many people who were what we would call strong “anti-Mormons” and none of them were like these two men. These two men were full of evil. Satan is there but he only has strength over us when we give it to him.

Throughout the ages God has given us a way to counteract the influence of Satan. He has given us people who speak with authority and clarity against the wiles and insidiousness of Satan. All are entitled to the influence of the Holy Ghost. All are entitled to discern good from evil but the Lord’s way is even grander and broader than that. He calls men who have been given His authority and authorization to act in His name.

Good and Evil – Part 1

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I recently saw an ad for a Halloween party sponsored by a major corporation. The main tag-line of the ad was: “Evil never goes out of fashion.” That line succinctly summarizes one of the major problems in our world – that evil does not go out of fashion. The love of evil is not new to our world. Thousands of years ago lived a man named Cain. His parents were illustrious – they were our first parents. Adam was a prophet of God; he and his wife Eve were a couple of the most chosen among all the sons and daughters of God. Some of their children quickly stopped following their counsels though. Among them was Cain who “loved Satan more than God” (Moses 5:18). Cain was not the first of Adam and Eve’s children to leave God and love Satan: “And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. And Satan came among them, saying: I am also a son of God; and he commanded them, saying: Believe it not; and they believed it not, and they loved Satan more than God. And men began from that time forth to be carnal, sensual, and devilish.” (Moses 5:12-13). After that time Cain was born. He became notorious when he killed his brother and lied to the Lord. Before he killed his brother Cain did not love the Lord. He was one of the most secular in a rapidly-secularizing world. He was Satan’s protege.

Since that time, Satan’s influence has continued to flourish. Satan is the father of all lies (see Moses 4:4), one who seeks to destroy the agency of man (see Moses 4:3) by deceiving them and leading them carefully down to hell. Satan likes to spread rumors and contentions. He enjoys being a troublemaker. What’s more is that he enjoys the fact that not only do many people in today’s world not believe in God, even more do not believe that Satan exists. If Satan, and therefore evil, does not exist then moral relativism reigns. Further, if there is no devil then soon people will believe there is no God. That is not to say that God only exists if Satan exists – that is not true; however, once people stop believing that there is absolute evil, namely Satan, they will soon stop believing there is absolute good, namely God.

Satan exists as no more than an abstraction for many people (the same could be said for their conceptions of God but it is my impression that more people believe in God than believe in the Devil). Many believe that They are nothing more than unknowable concepts and not visible percepts. Even more, because of mistaken beliefs about the nature of God, many cannot conceive of the existence of a literal devil. If God created everything, did He create evil (i.e., the devil)? If so, why? Does that make Him not all good? Many arguments continue on in a similar manner. We as Latter-day Saints have a much clearer understanding of how Satan came to be, even if our understanding is limited.

C. S. Lewis on Suffering

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Why does God allow us to suffer if He is all-good and loves us? Many today confuse love with kindness. C. S. Lewis wrote:

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.‘” (Source).

This reminds me of the scripture in 2nd Nephi:

“Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:7-8).

A loving God, according to many, would simply dote on His children. Many think He should be like the grandfather who spoils His grandkids and then hands them back to the parents. We think God should just let us have a good time, eating, drinking, and partying. However, God really does love us, which means that He, like any good parent, allows His children to learn by experience. How many parents, as their children learn to walk, never allow them to fall down? Parents do not like to see their children hurt or upset but it would be a spoiled child who always had its way and never once got hurt.

Again, it is because God loves us that He allows us to suffer. It is part of His plan for us to become like Him. We should not confuse love with kindness, as C. S. Lewis so eloquently pointed out. When people ask why God allows us to suffer, they do not understand the nature of God or His plan for us. This is not necessarily their fault but the question is evidence of ignorance or at least temporary blindness.

Do Good and Love God, Part 8

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The story of the Good Samaritan reminds me of the scripture in Ezekiel about the shepherds who do not watch over their sheep. “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:2-5). We should serve others and emulate our Savior. Of the Savior Isaiah prophesied:

“The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;…to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; tat they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). Just as the Good Samaritan cared for him who was broken and poured oil into his wounds in order to cleanse and purify them, the Savior applies the oil of joy for our mourning. He binds up the broken and the brokenhearted, freeing them from the captivity of pain, sin, and sorrow. In our own way, large or small, we too can help bind wounds and free captives. As we do this unto our brothers and sisters we do it unto the Lord.

“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.” (Moroni 7:13). We should do that which is inspired of God – that which invites us to do good continually, to love God, and to serve Him. As we seek wisdom out of the best books, study the words of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, and serve others, we do that which is best – that which leads us back to our Father in Heaven.

Link to part 7 of this essay.

Do Good and Love God, Part 6

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Another of the best things we should focus on is serving God. One of the saddest experiences I had as a full-time missionary occurred in the MTC. While there we manned the call lines for people who called in requesting a copy of the Book of Mormon, Bible, or church video. One man with whom I spoke told me that he felt like he had spent much of his life serving God but didn’t feel like he received anything for it. He told me he was going to stop serving God and instead wait for God to serve him. That brief conversation has remained with me over the years. At the time I had no good response to the man’s statement. Over the years I’ve thought about my experience with that man and spent time learning about the importance of serving God.

We are commanded to serve God: “And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water” (Exodus 23:25). When we are baptized as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we covenant with God to serve Him. Further, being baptized is one way we show God by our actions that we will serve Him: “[The people of Limhi] were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts” (Mosiah 21:35). Those who serve God with all their might are sanctified: “And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength” (D&C; 20:31).

When we cease serving God we turn away and serve other gods, as is stated repeatedly throughout the Old Testament: “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them” (Deut. 11:16). We do not stop serving gods, we just stop serving the True and Living God. “When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you” (Josh. 23:16). Ceasing to serve God is a sign of wickedness. It is not pleasing to the Lord. Why does God want us to serve Him though? Through our service to Him, He is able to fulfill His purposes. What are those purposes? “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). He wants us to serve Him so that He can sanctify us and help us return to live with Him. Serving God helps us become more like Him.

Link to part 5 of this essay.

Do Good and Love God, Part 3

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So, in the end, the innate goodness of humankind is really not separate from God; however, I believe people can be good without being directly inspired by God. My point is that there are things that people do or there are events that happen that are good or bad but this does not mean that God caused them or is responsible for them. Why is this important to understand? Because there are good things, as I wrote before, but just because something is good does not mean it is something we should expend a lot of energy and effort on; we should focus most of our efforts on the better and best – things that are inspired directly by God; things that lead us to do good continually and serve and love God.

What are some of these best things in life? In the Doctrine and Covenants we are commanded to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C; 88:77). The doctrine of the kingdom is certainly one of the best things. Related to this verse is the following from the Doctrine and Covenants, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C; 88:118). What are some of the other “best” things we can do? Teach one another words of wisdom, seek out the best books (particularly the words of wisdom in those books), seek learning but particularly learning by study and faith. Those are all some of the “best” things we can, or rather, we must focus on.

The scriptures are included within the category of the “best books” but that category is not exclusive to scriptures. There are many other non-scriptural books that can be included in the “best books.” However, there are no books that are better than the scriptures. One of the books that we should particularly focus on is the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is the most-quoted prophet in the scriptures. His prophecies are particularly prevalent in the Book of Mormon. Nephi talked about the importance of Isaiah, “And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23). Isaiah is a powerful source of knowledge about the Savior.

Link to part 2 of this essay.