A Charge for Memorial Day

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As we are celebrating Memorial Day here in the United States, a day that we honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country and freedom, a quote from Joseph Smith resonated with me. During the “Last Charge” meeting, Joseph Smith told those present the following, which was meant to be encouraging:

“Brethren, you have many storms to pass through and many sore trials await you; you will know what it is to be bound with chains and with fetters for this cause’s sake. God knows I pity you and feel for you. But if you are called to lay down your lives, die like men of God and pass immediately beyond the reach of your enemies. After they have killed you they can harm you no more. Should you have to walk right into danger and the jaws of death, fear no evil – Jesus Christ has died before you.” (As cited by Truman Madsen).

We all die. Whether we die old or young, in sickness or in battle, we still die. What is important is the manner in which we have lived our lives and the manner in which we face our deaths. I hope that we can all, when the time comes, die like men and women of God – faithful. If so, when we are dead we are beyond the reach of all our enemies. Jesus Christ died that we might live. All will live again; I hope that all who will might live again as Christ lives – in celestial glory.

The Purpose of Life

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Yesterday, I had some very weighty matters to write about. In my post I talked about some hard things, things that shouldn’t happen but do. Some might wonder in the face of such tragedy, “What is it all for? Why do we even try in this life? Why are we even here on Earth?”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently released a beautiful video that explains why we are here, what our Earth life is all about.

Lessons from Life – Scouting

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When I was younger I went on a number of Boy Scout campouts. On one campout we got to our campsite late. We had to set up out tents in the dark. The tent that I was assigned to was old and not in very good working condition; none of the three of us who were to sleep in it were able to put it up correctly. This was due to a number of factors – little light by which to see, tent poles that weren’t quite going together correctly, and inexperience on our part (although by that age I had put up many tents). We decided to be content with a tent that wasn’t quite put up right; it held its form and we could sleep in it so we decided to leave it as it was. If it had been a “normal” Arizona night we would have been fine but that night was different.

Elsewhere a storm was brewing – literally. This storm quickly moved towards us. After we settled down for the night and had gone to sleep, it started raining. This was not just a light misting rain, it was a downpour. The three of us woke up with our tent collapsing around us and with the water level rising in our tent. You would be correct if you thought a pool of water does not belong inside a tent. However, ours had one. We were practically swimming in the tent in our soaked sleeping bags. Two of us (including me) loved the experience, one did not.

We survived the night only a little worse for the wear. We were not prepared for the storms that hit us. It wasn’t completely a lack of our preparation but we didn’t have the tools – a tent – that could withstand the rain.

On a different campout I had a very different experience. This time we were not weathering a thunderstorm; this time we were not setting up a not-quite-functional tent at night; this time it was daytime in the desert with nothing but a compass and some instructions. As part of an orienteering competition my scout patrol had to try and complete a course faster and more accurately than all of the other patrols if we wanted to win the competition. Given nothing but bearings and distances, we had to traverse the course, find the checkpoints, and then end up at the destination. I had spent a lot of time practicing orienteering. I practiced my pacing so I had a 5 foot long pace set. If there was one thing I could do well, it was orienteering. In this particular competition and every other one I did for scouting, my patrol and I did not lose; we never lost an orienteering competition. It’s not that we were better than the other scouts, we were just more conscientious about the activity. We were the best because we had prepared, we were true to our preparation, and we sought to perform our task with exactness. We strove to be like the worthy warriors of Helaman’s army who “did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness” (Alma 57:21). We did not just go blindly without preparation; we studied, we planned, and we acted (see D&C 9:7-8). Part of this preparation involved in gathering the right tools for the job. We needed the proper tools – we needed a compass; without one we would never have succeeded.

With scouting and scout activities, sometimes I failed (like when our tent collapsed around us) but most of the time I was successful. Scouting is designed to be like that – challenging, but with some effort a scout – any scout – is able to succeed in most of the activities. Some of the physical tasks are beyond the capabilities of some boys but those tasks can be modified if needed. Scouting is about building confidence and competence. That’s how the gospel is in general. We are taught and trained; we partake of gospel milk before gospel meat. While there are set specific requirements and commandments, personal requirements are sometimes modified based on knowledge and capability: “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). The key is simply to act with all the integrity and capability you can, whether that is in setting up a scout tent or traversing an orienteering course or in your relationships with others. Integrity to God is what is important in life. Integrity takes preparation and work; it takes holding to the course and finding and following the guideposts. That is one thing I learned from scouting, that success comes only after preparation, hard work, and by using the right tools. Success comes from trying to act with exactness to the principles we have been taught. It comes through at-one-ment with God; in other words, integrity with and to God.

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).

Gospel Weekend Warriors – Part 3

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Something important to understand is that endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. The hardening of the endurance process is not the hardening of hearts experienced by the unrighteous. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. Enduring is more than just strengthening, it is also “going the distance.”

When I was 12 or 13 I went on a 4 day, 40 mile backpacking trip with my father, younger brother, the Varsity scouts, and some leaders. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria (there is no “h” on the end). Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere in Arizona in what is some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we also spent a lot of time walking through the river. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. We enjoyed the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of quicksand that we played in (here is a link to a photo of someone {I just found the photo using Google – that’s not me or anyone I know} playing in the quicksand). Once we started to near the end of the canyon it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat. Shade was found only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river. The hike that had been pleasant turned more arduous. At one point one of the young men got tired enough that he started asking when the hike would be over. One of the leaders said, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!”

Life can be like that. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path to eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that was not the best option. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time or we could have endured and enjoyed our time. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the old question: “How far can you run in a forest?” to which one clever answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. We need to endure to the end.

We read in the Book of Mormon: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:20). I will return to how I started this essay by asking the following questions: Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church but nowhere else? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports? Are you trying to endure to the end or are you fighting only a portion of the battle and finishing only part of the race?

The Hand of the Lord

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Ten years ago I was serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the town of Sultan, a small settlement off Highway 2 up in the lovely Cascades of Washington. Our area covered a number of small towns along the highway. The ward in which we served was small – we met in a local middle school for the first four months I served in that area. For the first experience we were still meeting in the middle school, for the second, we had just moved into our new church building.

The two experiences I will share are similar in that I was preparing talks for church for both of them and had a similar experience in my preparation of both. Here is the – mostly unedited – first experience.

“Since today was a 5th Sunday we got to speak in church. I had my talk done by last night but this morning I woke up and started looking over my talk and I started rewriting it. I kept the basics [of the talk] but wrote it over, really basing it on the Plan of Salvation. This morning gave [a man] a blessing with the help of [a brother in the ward]…. I gave my talk and it went well and I left plenty of time for my companion. He did well. People commented on how much they felt the spirit during Sacrament Meeting. I really felt it strongly. We filled in…teaching…the 7 and 8 year-olds [in Primary]. After church we saw all the women crying and then [a sister] told us that [a brother in the ward] had just died. He had a heart attack, called 911 and within 45 minutes was gone…. It is really interesting that I spoke on the Plan of Salvation. This day has been both a spiritual high and a sad day.”

What I did not write at the time is what happened during my talk in Sacrament Meeting. Because we met in the cafeteria of a middle school, Sacrament Meeting was usually noisy due to the acoustic properties of the room. However, when I started to give my talk and throughout my talk, the room went completely silent. It was the strangest experience. I believe that the spirit was there in strength because of what the Lord had inspired me to speak on. That was one time in my life I knew I was speaking directly for the Lord. My talk had been about talents but then changed to talents as found in the Plan of Salvation. I talked about the pre-earth life, earth life, and life after death. I firmly believe that the Lord inspired my words to help prepare the ward members for the sudden death of the ward member who died at home during church (maybe even right around the time I gave my talk).

I was scheduled to give a talk in sacrament meeting the day Daylight Saving Time ended, which was on Sunday, October 31 that year. The Fall was cool, with gray skies more often than not and light, misty rains more often than not. Over the previous week I had tried to prepare a talk but had not had much success in my preparations. Now I’ll quote from my missionary journal (I’ll not make edits to my writing in order to keep the quote pure):

“I have learned many things today. I have really learned that the Lord does provide. I had to give a talk in Sacrment Meeting today and up to last night, nothing seemed right [i.e., which topic to write on]. I kept praying that I would know what to write. Last night it started coming to me and this morning I got to finish it. I even had an extra hour to write it because daylight-savings went off but I still got up at the normal time. I am really learning to trust in the Lord by really praying a lot. I find that out here I pray many times a day, even if it is a little plea or a prayer of gratitude in my heart.”

Through sincere prayer, we can know God’s will for us. As we pray and listen, we receive inspiration and revelation. Through us, the Lord can help others. We need to be willing and ready vessels of the Lord so that our lives do not hinder the work of the Lord. As we look for the Lord’s hand in our lives we will see it.

Lessons from Life – Part 4: Sunburn

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A number of years ago I floated on an inner tube down the Salt River in Arizona with a friend. We had a nice time enjoying the hot sun and cool water. We floated at a leisurely pace – taking a couple hours to reach our destination. It was a great day with my friend (and the thousands of other people around us on the river).

Before going out in the intense Arizona sun it is a good idea to put on sunblock – it is particularly a good idea for someone with skin of an alabaster hue like mine. I’ve never been very tan in my life (except for a couple times when I spent a lot of time outside) and have always burned easily in the sun. I had done a good job of slathering myself with sunblock – or so I thought. I missed (or, it rubbed off) about an fifteen square inch area on the front of my lower left left (starting just below the ankle and extending upwards about five inches). Over the next couple of days this area of skin turned bright red and then purple. It was blistered, swollen, and very painful; I had a difficult time walking, which was unfortunate because my summer job involved a lot of walking. After a couple weeks the color returned to normal, the blisters drained, the swelling went away, and the pain subsided. I was able to walk without pain once again. However, I still have a patch of freckles over that area – the permanent residuals of my carelessness.

There’s a spiritual lesson in this. In Mosiah 4:30 we read: “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.” We need to watch ourselves – our thoughts, words, and deeds. We need to do this all our lives. This is not all. We also need to don the armor of God in order to protect ourselves. “Put on the whole armour of God,” the apostle wrote, “that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).

I had covered myself in sunblock, at least I thought I was covered, but I missed a large area of my skin. I did not “put on the whole armor of God” – my “feet were [not] shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15), so to speak. I, like Achilles, had an unprotected spot that led to great pain and suffering (although, unlike Achilles, mine did not result in death). I was severely burned by the sun. There is another spiritual analogy with this and making sure we are in a position where we are not burned at the Second Coming (or in the next life) but I’ll not expand on that.

Are you protected against all the wiles of the adversary? Have you completely protected yourself with a spiritual sunblock? Do you reapply it frequently? Have you donned the armor of God? If so, do you wear all your armor all the time? We need to protect ourselves – physically and spiritually.

Lessons from Life – Part 3 – Rappelling

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As I was growing up, my family went rappelling fairly often. My father had spent a lot of time climbing when younger and had developed a great love of rappelling. It was not long after I first tried it that I loved it. I remember the first time I went rappelling. I was about 8 years old. The rock we went down was not large – maybe 20 feet tall – but to an eight year old, it was daunting. I was able to make it down under the reassurances of my father and family. It wasn’t long before I went down without hesitation. There is something thrilling about bouncing down a cliff at a high speed. There were times that I would jump down 20-30 feet in a single bound, relying on the friction between the rope, my hand (when I planned on going down that quickly I wore a leather glove), and the figure-8 (a metal device that the rope slides around) to keep me from falling to quickly. I even tried going down head-first, which is not recommended if you have a serious fear of heights. [Image by Rescue Dog].

Rappelling is a dangerous activity. Yet, if proper safety measures are taken, it can be quite safe. When we went rappelling, my father made sure we were safe. Whenever possible, he would tie the rope(s) to two anchor points so that if one failed, there would be backup. We used to tie our own harnesses using nylon straps but we preferred to use manufactured harnesses. All harnesses were checked and re-checked to make sure they were on properly. We would use two carabiners to connect to the figure-8 (that the rope went around). These carabiners were set so the gates were on opposite sides. Whenever possible we would use at least one carabiner with a locking gate. As an added measure of safety, we would have someone at the bottom of the cliff who belayed. Belaying is a climbing term to describe the controlling of a rope. If someone were to slip down the cliff out of control, the person belaying at the bottom could pull the rope out away from the cliff and stop the person on the rope. They can also help guide the person rappelling down the cliff. Rappelling is safest when there is a person at the top guiding the person on their journey down the rope as well as someone belaying at the bottom.

Over time rappelling ropes wear thin. The tough outer layer of the rope can weaken with the friction of the people going down the rope as well as when it rubs against the rocks. Rappelling ropes are incredibly strong – they can hold thousands of pounds of weight and force. However, they become unsafe if their integrity is compromised.

As is rappelling, so is life. Life can be and is very dangerous but it can be a lot of fun. However, to survive – physically and spiritually – we need to establish safety guidelines and procedures. We need to establish them early and follow them. Others can guide us and help us remain safe as well. We have parents and prophets who can teach us correct principles. We can have safety in our personal lives, our homes, and within the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can find safety within Zion, the spiritual place where the pure in heart dwell and the physical city where the saints of God will eventually live.

“And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God; And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.” (D&C; 45: 66-68).

As we anchor ourselves to the rock of Christ and follow the prophets and scriptures as our safety guides, we will be safe even as we experience some of the harrowing heights and even the thrills of life.

Lessons from Life – Part 2 – Leaky Balloons

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The other night I sat watching my daughters play with a couple helium-filled balloons. As my daughters played with them, the helium inside slowly leaked out. At first the balloons stayed up on the ceiling but then over time they lost their lift and sank to the floor. The spiritual significance of this was striking. Before I write the spiritual, I’ll focus on the physical.

Balloons are usually made out of rubber or plastic or latex. All of those materials, especially when stretched thin, are porous. Being porous, balloons will leak whatever is inside based on the principles of equilibrium (of pressure) and diffusion. Many balloons are filled with helium, which is the second “lightest” element. It diffuses through solids very quickly, up to 3 times faster than air, because it is a small and simple atom. This means that latex/plastic/rubber balloons filled with helium will deflate quite quickly.

We, spiritually, are like helium-filled balloons. Over time we start to deflate spiritually. Remaining pumped full of spiritual helium requires effort and recharging. If we slack off in our spiritual efforts and endeavors, we will lose our lift and sink slowly down. For a time, if we are connected and tied to others, their buoyancy can keep us afloat but not indefinitely. Eventually we will sag and hang down, deflated and dejected. To counteract this spiritual diffusion we need to actively recharge with new helium. We should do some of the soul-searching Alma did and asked his people to do.

“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

“Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?” (Alma 5:26-27).

I’ll repeat the key question: “If ye have experienced a change of heart…can ye feel so now?” Change once is not enough; conversion and salvation and exaltation take a lifetime of effort. We must seek daily for the Lord’s mercy and grace to free us from our sins. We must fill our lives with goodness and good acts. We must endure to the end: “Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20). If we do not: “watch [ourselves], and [our] thoughts, and [our] words, and [our] deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what [we] have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of [our] lives, [we] must perish. And now…remember and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).

In order to keep our spiritual balloons inflated and buoyant, we must remember what we have learned and endure to the end. We must continually fill our balloons with new helium in order to be lifted up at the last day.

Image source:

Lessons from Life – Part 1 – Spiritual Sewage

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Originally uploaded by Billy V

I’m starting a series of articles in which I will turn various circumstances and objects of life into spiritual lessons. Most will be brief; hopefully all will be informative and helpful. This first in the series is about spiritual sewage.

Last week the group of townhomes we live in had a sewer blockage that caused sewage to start to come back up out of our downstairs toilet. While we did not have much come out of the toilet, thankfully, I thought about the symbolism of the event. What kind of spiritual sewage are we letting into our homes and lives? Is our spiritual plumbing blocked? If sewage is getting into our homes, how is it getting there?

Unlike the external sewer line blockage that caused the sewage to trickle out of our toilet, having functional spiritual plumbing starts with the individual and within the home. The Book of Mormon king Benjamin cautioned against letting our homes overflow with spiritual sewage: “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).

King Benjamin prescribed the way to prevent a spiritual plumbing blockage – remember and observe the commandments of God. Further, we must have and continue in our faith in Christ. It is not enough to flush out a sewage system once, we need to prevent blockages from occurring. However, when we do have spiritual sewage seep or pour into our homes, we can have it cleaned out. We can call a spiritual plumber and get our system cleaned. We can remove the filthiness and be clean. “Though [our] sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

I ask again, “What sewage are you letting into your home?” Do you have or watch inappropriate movies? Do you have or listen to inappropriate music? Are your thoughts impure? Are you letting in sewage inadvertently? Are you allowing your neighbors’ (friends, family) actions overwhelm your spiritual plumbing?

Let us watch ourselves – our thoughts, words, and deeds – and keep our lives and homes free from gushing or seeping spiritual sewage.