We wrestle against the rulers of the darkness of this world

A little bit ago I wrote about trusting God. I indicated that we who call ourselves Christians should remember that there is a God in Israel, who won’t do our work for us, but will strengthen and increase our efforts to the point that miracles can be accomplished.

I’d like to follow up on that theme a little.

My examples for that post used stories of courageous soldiers and battles from the Bible. Those stories are inspiring and meaningful.

There are other great examples from the Book of Mormon, particularly Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty:

In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children

Captain Moroni wrote those words to remind people what it was that people needed to fight for. What was at stake. Why it was so important for people to risk their very lives in battle–to preserve these ideals.

Isn’t it still just as important?

The nature of the wars and battles are certainly different–we are not fighting other armies.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our challenges are not as straight-forward as a mighty army intent on our destruction. Our time is not as much like Captain Moroni’s as it is like a generation or so later. Actually, President Benson mentioned this in a talk he gave in 1987:

The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.

So what was life like at that time? There were secret bands scattered throughout the nation, seeking (and gaining) positions of power. Corrupt judges ruled the land. Righteousness was looked down on and mocked.

Sound familiar?

President Benson expanded on this in 1988:

I testify that wickedness is rapidly expanding in every segment of our society. It is more highly organized, more cleverly disguised, and more powerfully promoted than ever before. Secret combinations lusting for power, gain, and glory are flourishing. A secret combination that seeks to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries is increasing its evil influence and control over America and the entire world.

President Packer in 2007:

Atheists and agnostics make nonbelief their religion and today organize in unprecedented ways to attack faith and belief. They are now organized, and they pursue political power. You will be hearing much about them and from them. Much of their attack is indirect in mocking the faithful, in mocking religion.

Ideas, philosophies, slogans, ridicule, misunderstanding. These are our enemy today. These are what we must fight. These ideas are not new. Immorality is not new. Faithlessness is not new.

I am reminded of the scene in Ben-Hur, where the retiring commander demands, “How do you fight an idea?” and is given the response, “With another idea.”

We have another idea. It also is not new. It is tried and tested and true.  The armor of God; the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through Him miracles can and do happen.

Through Him we can quench the fiery darts of the adversary. “The righteous need not fear.” We may not be able to solve every problem or right every wrong, but as we stand for the right, we can make a difference. We can have that faith that there is a God in Israel, who will guide and encourage us and magnify our efforts.

When our time in mortality is complete, what experiences will we be able to share about our own contribution to this significant period of our lives and to the furthering of the Lord’s work? Will we be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might, mind, and strength? Or will we have to admit that our role was mostly that of an observer?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2014

 

Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don’t live it at all. Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them. A long history of inspired voices… point you toward the path of Christian discipleship. It is a strait path, and it is a narrow path without a great deal of latitude at some points, but it can be thrillingly and successfully traveled, “with … steadfastness in Christ, … a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” In courageously pursuing such a course, you will forge unshakable faith, you will find safety against ill winds that blow, even shafts in the whirlwind, and you will feel the rock-like strength of our Redeemer, upon whom if you build your unflagging discipleship, you cannot fall.

Jeffrey R. Holland, April 2014

A Spiritual Feast

I got a lot more from this conference than others, I think mostly because this conference I was particularly looking for guidance. And boy, did I ever get it. What a wonderful opportunity General Conference is! I am so grateful to live in a time where we not only have prophets and apostles, but we have such access to their teachings as has never been available on this earth before. Who could have thought that a prophet’s voice could be heard by so many people (What would King Benjamin have given for satellite reception, eh?). Who would have thought that I could search, study, highlight, annotate, comment on, and read not only the scriptures, but the words of the prophets and apostles for the last 40 years? As well as manuals, magazines, references, study guides, and other resources? Oh, and that all fits in a hand-sized computer that I carry in my pocket everywhere I go.

As cool as the golden plates are; at about 50 pounds, I’d rather not have to take them to church every Sunday.

There wasn’t just one or two talks that really spoke to me, there were so many that I have a hard time keeping them in my head.
I absolutely loved Elder Holland’s talk on defending our faith. And the many talks that continued that theme. I was tempted to take a nap when a few 70′s were lined up (maybe I’m the only one who mistakenly says, “OK, he’s not an apostle, so it’s not as critical for me to listen”), but Elder Zwick’s talk was really powerful for me.

I loved Sister Reeves’ talk about pornography and it’s dangers, and things we can do to avoid it. This is particularly close to me as I attended an anti-porn conference recently.

I loved how Elder Uchtdorf loves to mention planes in his talks, with “Dieter, don’t even think about it” being one of my favorite lines–it’s not only funny in the context of the story he was telling, it also speaks to the need for us to control our appetites and desires, lest they begin to control us.

I loved his later remarks about the importance of gratitude. Of simply being grateful to the Lord for what you have, and making gratitude a defining characteristic of your personality, and allow other virtues and righteous traits to come to you more easily.

It was really, really, powerful.

I’ll finish with a drive-by-shooting-style set of one-liners from my notes:

Defend your faith with courage, courtesy, and compassion.
Disciples of Christ are also called on to worry, warn, and sometimes just to weep.
To sustain a leader is to help them bear their burden.
String winds can cause trees to grow their roots deep, and to strengthen their trunks and branches. We can similarly be prepared for adversity through the gospel of Christ.
Whatever civil law may say, God’s moral law does not and can not change.
When teaching and encouraging others, keep the short and long views in mind.
Even if everyone is doing it, wrong is never right.
Gives others questions to ponder, and time to do that pondering.
Our family history centers are now in our homes.
Once you conclude “That’s just the way I am,” you have given up the ability to change (or be changed by the atonement).
What we insistently desire becomes, over time, what we will become. Therefore we must educate our desires.
The restoration is not an event that is over. It is a process that we are in the middle of. God has yet many great things to reveal.
Don’t sleep through the restoration.
Be specific in your prayers and in your expressions of gratitude. This will take more than a few minutes and more than a little thought.
We need to have courage to do the right thing because it is right.
A grateful heart is the parent of all virtues.
God helps us. Not necessarily in the way we want, but in the way that will help us grow.
This life is our Olympic four minutes.
Happiness is not the absence of a load.
We cannot keep either the first or second great commandment without keeping the other.
There is much knowledge that can only be obtained by study and prayer.
Obedience is an emblem of our faith in the power and wisdom of God.
Opposition, criticism, and antagonism are companions to truth.
Faith requires work.
May we realize how close God is willing to come to us, and how far He is willing to go for us.
These talks are worthy of our careful review and study.

UCAP Conference

My wife and I attended an anti-pornography conference put on by the Utah Coalition Against Pornography.

It was really good and very eye-opening. Below are some of my notes, hopefully reworked so they are somewhat more coherent. Sorry, this is a really long post. But I think it’s pretty important.

Donald Hilton gave the opening keynote. His speech focused on the science behind pornography addiction. He discussed “Neuroplasticity,” which is the science of how the brain is constantly changing itself. Under normal circumstances, the brain makes connections and drops connections based on what we do and how often we do it. Reminds me of the phrase, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but our power to do so is increased.”

He explained how addictions take advantage of and short-circuit this process. Ironically, part of that involves less dopamine (pleasure) being released in the brain. That means that in the case of an addiction, the same action that created a high before doesn’t accomplish that after a while. He went on to demonstrate how it has been shown that exposure to pornography has this same effect, just like drugs such as cocaine and heroine.

He defined addiction as follows: Addiction is a chronic disease of the pleasure systems, involving a loss of control of the activity and requiring increasing levels of stimuli.

He mentioned that critics attack him for pushing his moral stance. To which he replies that he prefers to discuss it on a scientific basis. He mentioned previous inadequate studies and ideas promoting pornography and compared them to early studies showing how good smoking was for you, or advertising things such as cocaine toothache drops; the point being that our knowledge and understanding of what is harmful grows and changes over time. We know more about how the brain works and can see how pornography really is an addiction in the classical sense (something which we did not understand not that long ago).

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The second presentation was from Jill Manning, who talked about being a “media savvy” family. This session took on a broader scope than pornography. Her speech focused on developing internal rather than external controls. The external controls are very important and should not be excluded. These are typically technological solutions such as filters.

The internal controls are character and integrity, demonstrated both offline and online (many people seem to have a problem with integrity and character when they’re online). These internal controls, if developed, will make the external controls much more effective and provide protection for the times and places where the external controls aren’t there.

She retold the story of the 3 little pigs, comparing the wolf to toxic media. The first pig hardly takes a thought to protecting himself, and quickly falls prey to the wolf. The second pig puts more effort into protecting himself, but again it is not nearly enough. The third pig takes a LOT of time and effort to really protect himself. Even then he knows that is not enough (in the version where the wolf gets in through the chimney), and watches for known weak areas, taking extra care by regularly keeping a fire in the fireplace.

She talked about being conscious and aware about the media that you and your children are consuming. On average, youth spend 7 hours per day on entertainment media. Young adults spend 12 hours per day. Approximately 100,000 words cross our eyes and ears each day.

She asked, “If the only thing someone knew about you is the media you consume as well as when and where you consume it, what would it say about you? What does it say about how you use your time? Is there anything they would learn that would make you cringe? Is it too much or too often?”

Another way to look at it is to think of the top three to five priorities in your life. Does the time you spend consuming entertainment media fit with your priorities? This is not to say that we should stop all media use, but maybe it could be trimmed some to make more time for the things that are really important.

Another suggestion was to think of the content that you consume. Is it mentally or spiritually nourishing? How well does it reflect your values?

It’s also important to establish standards as a family. There are several variations of a “Clean and Safe Media Pledge” that you can download and adjust to your own standards and values. Review it regularly with your family and update it as needed. Have regular media-free times. Fill that time with other activities, preferably family activities. Read a book together, go on walks, play sports, work on a garden, work on other projects. There are so many good things that we can be involved in.

Consciously seek out the best, and mindfully avoid the worst. Sometimes finding the best things takes a while, and that’s fine.

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My favorite presentation was from Clay Olsen, with Fight The New Drug (FTND). They are something like “D.A.R.E.” from the 80′s. They do mostly youth assemblies in high schools and junior high schools discussing pornography and its dangers. Clay’s presentation was geared toward helping us adults understand what the pornography landscape looks like to a teen and what we need to do as parents and leaders to help. At the same time, we got a pretty good flavor of what their youth presentations are like.

Parents need to better understand the dangers of pornography. We need to understand that it really is an addiction and should be treated as such. Just saying “cut it out” or “don’t do it” is not really helpful. Teens need the facts, which means that parents need to understand the facts.

The harms of porn fall into 3 main categories:

  • It is addictive
  • It kills love
  • It harms society

The addictive nature of porn has already been discussed by Dr. Hilton, but they have a somewhat simplified version of the same ideas that they present. It needs to be treated like an addiction.

On how porn can kill love, he referred to an experiment performed by Dr. Tinbergen, in which he created cardboard versions of a certain kind of female butterfly with exaggerated colors and markings. He found that the male butterflies preferred the cardboard fake and would try to mate with those rather than the real butterflies.

He discussed how porn changes men’s view and attitudes about women, objectifying them so that they see a woman as a collection of parts rather than a person. A person hooked on porn can get to the point where they simply prefer the virtual false experience over the real thing. (Raymond Berner and Ana J. Bridges, 2002)

On the harms to society: A common misconception is that porn and trafficking are not related. In fact the opposite is true. The porn industry fuels the trafficking industry. Many sex performers are trafficked and have no real way out. But to the consumer of porn, it is presented as consensual. They have no idea what is going on. He played a recording of a sex performer talking about the various drugs that would be given to her before a performance was to be recorded: a amnesiac, or a paralytic, or a strong pain suppressor, or some odd combination, depending on what the desired result was.

Another thing that parents and leaders need to understand is that porn today is so much different than it used to be. Part of that is due to the various new mediums available (for example, web-camming). Clay opened our eyes a bit more when he mentioned that many of the teens he worked with did not consider Playboy to be porn, as it consisted only of nudity. A study concluded that 88% of the more popular porn films portrayed violence to women and children.

He went over what he called the the four A’s:

  • Accessible - Porn is accessible in nearly all times and places. Many of us have phones, which means access to porn is available in our pocket, 24/7.
  • Affordable – There is a lot of content that is free. This industry focuses on trapping the teen in order to get a lifelong paying customer.
  • Anonymous – Drugs and smoking have external signs, whereas signs of porn use are much harder to detect.
  • Addictive – (Already discussed)

At this point Clay shifted gears in the presentation more towards prevention. Not surprisingly, he emphasized that parents are a big part of the solution. They need to be involved early and often. Clay indicated that in the few years FTND has been in operation, they have seen younger and younger children admit to problems with porn.

Parents need to get educated about porn, and that’s not a one-time thing (like a conference). They need to continue to educate themselves on what is going on, especially with their youth. They need to pay attention to what their youth are doing and experiencing. They have found that the first exposure to porn typically happens inside the home (79%).

Some things that parents need to be familiar with (not in a over-the-shoulder interrogating way):

- What publications and media access do your kids have?
- What internet access to they have?
- Where can they access that media?
- When can they access the media?
- What social media profiles or streaming services do your kids use?

At this point he brought up a slide with about 50 different logos to various social sites that are currently available. None of which are particularly evil, but any of which can (and do to some extent) have explicit content shared on them. He did warn specifically against Tumblr and Snapchat. One cautionary tale he told was of two teenage girls who shared explicit pictures of themselves on some site. They quickly realized realized their mistake and took them down. They had been up for about a minute. And that’s all it took for those pictures to be copied, shared, tweeted, and re-tweeted. Those girls ended up having to change schools because of it.

Next he shared some warning signs that there might be a problem. These included:

  • Deleting the browser history
  • Using a different browser than what everyone else uses
  • Being overly protective of their digital device
  • Accessing the internet without monitoring

Again he emphasized the need to discuss this with our children, and sooner than we think. The one-time “birds and bees” discussion is simply not enough. It should be an ongoing (regular) conversation about healthy sexual relationships as opposed to counterfeits. Helping our children understand the difference between these two was his “If you don’t remember anything else, remember this” statement. Kids today don’t really have a context, and if they don’t get that understanding and education from their parents, they may not even understand that there is a difference.

Some guidelines on having these conversations:

  • Make sure there is enough time. Don’t have something in the oven
  • Make it one on one.
  • Try to not make it a forced conversation.
  • Understand that the vast majority of teens really do want a committed lifelong relationship
  • Be “In their corner.” Kids are absolutely inundated with this. Love them first and foremost
  • Don’t shame or guilt. The majority of teens have this problem.
And then guidelines on what to say:
  1. Ask questions and listen. find out where the gaps and misunderstandings are.
  2. Teach them the facts. Teens are figuring themselves out. deciding if they believe what you believe. They need the facts.
  3. Share your family values. Don’t skip the other steps and go directly to this–that’s just a lecture.
  4. Repeat. repeat. repeat.
He also talked about the need to having family standards and making sure our children know what those standards are.

This was my favorite of the sessions. To me it was the most applicable in giving me a framework and ideas to use in teaching my children, particularly on the “What to say and how to say it” And I did rather like that his “Don’t forget this!” point was very much along the lines of what my parents taught me growing up.

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The final keynote was given by Mary Anne Layden and was titled “What’s the Problem? What’s the Solution?” One of the main focuses of her talk was about “Permission-giving Beliefs” and how those things can lead people to do or believe things that they otherwise wouldn’t. She talked about counseling with people who believed that sex is a need, and how that justified many different behaviors.

She gave some statistics that were pretty concerning. I didn’t write all of them down, but here are a few:
  • Porn performers’ average life expectancy is less than 38
  • Only 25% have a marriage that lasts as long as 3 years.
  • 77% of prostitutes have head injuries
  • 68% of prostitutes have PTSD
  • 87% want to get out of prostitution
  • The average age that a woman goes into prostitution is 13. Typically they’ve been raped and are homeless.
That last one in particular was really scary.

She discussed three different policy strategies surrounding the selling of sex. One of these was to legalize it. Not surprisingly, that tends to lead to vastly increased prostitution and trafficking.

Another common approach is to make prostitution illegal. She showed mugshots taken by a Denver sheriff of prostitutes under arrest. Each women was in her late teens or early twenties. There were 8 mugshots taken–each was a successive arrest. The problem is that the woman gets arrested, then released, and then what can she do? Very typically they just go right back to prostitution, as they don’t really have any other option (that they can see). The really sad thing about these mugshots was seeing how very many of the pictures showed that they have been beaten. By the eighth shot, it looked like they had aged twenty years, yet all the samples we were shown took place within two years or less.

She then mentioned a different approach taken by Sweden. This country decided to make the purchase of sex illegal, which means the man (usually) is the one that gets arrested. What happens to the prostitute? She is considered a victim and given counseling, drug rehab if needed, and subsidized housing. The idea is to punish the demand. From the numbers she showed it appeared to be a wildly successful approach, with the number of prostitutes going down from the thousands to the hundreds.

She mentioned another study asking men what things would keep them from purchasing a prostitute. There were lots and lots of interesting responses, such as “tell my mom” and “impound my car.”

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Not much else to say, except possibly “Eww” and “Help!” Dr. Hilton closed his speech with the following quotes from World War II. The first is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a pastor executed by the Nazis for speaking out against their regime.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The second is from Winston Churchill:

“We ask no favours of the enemy. We seek from them no compunction… We will have no truce or parley with you, or the grisly gang who work your wicked will. You do your worst – and we will do our best…

We do not expect to hit without being hit back, and we intend with every week that passes to hit harder. Prepare yourselves, then, my friends and comrades, for this renewal of your exertions. We shall never turn from our purpose, however sombre the road, however grievous the cost, because we know that out of this time of trial and tribulation will be born a new freedom and glory for all mankind.”

http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/129-you-do-your-worst-and-we-will-do-our-best

My Political Leanings

Republican or Democrat? Libertarian or Tea-Party?

While the LDS Church does take a stand on certain issues, it does not endorse any political party or candidate. Instead the Church encourages its members to be active politically and be a voice in their states and communities.

As we gear up for the next round of elections, I wanted to take a few minutes and list some of my political thoughts, largely as an exercise for myself. I’m curious to see what comes…

These are not necessarily ordered. I don’t plan in going to any great detail on any of these. Some of them may lead to follow-up posts.

1. I believe in the importance of the traditional family in society. This has been the hot-button issue of the day. I do think that government should be involved in promoting the traditional family by providing reasonable benefits and rights to families.

2. Parents have the right to direct how their children are raised. 20 years ago I didn’t think it was necessary, but now I think we really should consider a parental rights amendment.

3. Religion is important to a moral society (and yes, I do want to live in a moral society). One of the great ideas of this country from the time of some of the first colonies, is the free exercise of religion. That means that religion is not only allowed, but should be encouraged in the public square.

4. I emphatically do not believe in a completely hands-off economy. There are places where the government absolutely needs to provide some regulation.

5. Having said that, I think that currently there is way too much regulation, and a fair amount should be removed, clarified, updated, and condensed. In my mind, this should be the focus of current legislations: rather than adding ever more rules and regulations, we should be reducing and condensing existing laws (perhaps I’m just misunderstanding how bills are done, though).

6. Capitalism is not perfect. No system is. It’s about as good as we’re going to find.

7. I do not believe in a flat tax rate. Again, I would agree that our current tax code is too complex and should be reduced. In general, I would argue that those living below the poverty level should not pay taxes, while those who make over 150,000 should pay a fair amount. Middle class families should not have to pay more than 25%, and even that is really high.

8. The government is severely bloated and needs to be reduced. The 2012 presidential debates were riddled with questions of “what would you cut from the budget?” If it were me, I would have argued that the list of what is not on the table is easier to quantify: veteran’s benefits, social security, soldiers and teachers pay below 100,000. That’s all I can think of offhand.

9. Welfare should not be eliminated, but should be reworked to focus more on helping people to get back on their feet where possible. Again, no system is perfect, and people will take advantage of whatever system is in place. Try to reduce that, but don’t worry about making it perfect. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to perform drug tests.

10. I think immigration should be easy. Really easy. I think work visas, green cards, etc. should be even easier. Let them come. Let them work. Let them contribute to our country. Let them pay taxes. I don’t buy the “taking jobs away from citizens” argument.

11. We need a balanced budget. This is critical. It is unconscionable that we are crippling future generations. In my opinion, a government shutdown may be required to spur us into action. I hope not. It should be avoided. It would be best if a shutdown did not happen. However, it is better to shut down the government than to increase our debt.

12. A balanced budget is only a start. From there I think we need to work on generating a surplus to pay our debt down. Instead of increasing our debt ceiling, I think that Congress should regularly decrease the ceiling.

13. Our military should be reduced. Maybe not a lot, but definitely some. It would be better if our boys were with their families and with jobs that contribute to the economy.

14. I don’t have a big problem with nationally defined education standards. Guidelines on what a 4th grader should know does have value. I have a big problem with national requirements on how those standards are taught. States should have flexibility with those standards. Communities should have the greatest say in how those standards are implemented.

15. Preschool should not be required. Kindergarten should not be all day. A child’s younger years should be spent with their parents.

16. Congress should not be exempt from any law. All citizens should be held to the same law.

17. I am pro-life. The child in the womb has the right to life. Yes, there may be exceptions. They should be rare.

18. We don’t need more gun laws. We do need to enforce the gun laws we have.

19. Obscenity laws should be enforced. Pornography is not harmless and should not be encouraged. Children should be actively shielded from porn.

20. I was very disappointed in the ruling from the Supreme Court on Prop 8. In cases where a governor (or other civic leader) declines to defend a law, proponents of that law should have the right to defend it.

21. Drugs and other harmful substances should not be legalized.

22. And, last, but not least, and as I’ve mentioned once or twice, we all need to be more active in the government. We should be aware of the issues and voice our opinion. We really should hold our representatives accountable for their actions.

Well, I’m sure I forgot some things, but that should give you the basic flavor of my political ideals.

Needles and Haystacks

At work we have a tool that analyzes the code we write. It looks for possible problems and bugs. It’s pretty impressive.

And really prolific.

The problem with it is that it reports literally hundreds of potential problems, when in reality there may only be a few real bugs. So we can spend a lot of time digging through the reports deciding which items are real and which are not.

It’s a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack, and because of that it can be rather frustrating. Especially when you’re not quite sure whether something really is a needle or is just a piece of hay.

But if you think that’s bad, you should check out our legislation sometime.

A recent Ensign article reiterated (again) the prophets’ counsel to be involved in our communities and nations. For myself, I have tried to follow somewhat what my state legislature has been doing. And holy cow. Talk about a lot of static. Between the sheer amount of noise and the regular busy-ness of life my own efforts were a whole lot less than I’d hoped.

But I did do a little. Hopefully I can continue doing at least a little.

There are so many problems and so many issues. There’s so much that needs to be done. It’s more like a stack of needles with maybe a few pieces of hay in it. Everyone is needed. In 2012 I wrote that we all have responsibility for what happens in our communities, states, and nations–good and bad, and I still believe that. They are shaped by our voices. Or by the lack thereof.

So do something. Write in a blog. Post something (worthwhile) on Facebook. Even better, write to your representatives. Let your opinion be known at a city council meeting. Volunteer at a library, homeless shelter or soup kitchen.

Make your voice heard. Maybe only a few people will hear it, but that’s OK. Do what you can. It will make a difference.

 

The Silly Little Things -or- How God Works

I love the stories the little kids tell. The ones where they have had some small experience with prayer and listening to the Spirit. You’ve heard them: they were looking for their lost puppy, or got lost in the store. After praying they find the puppy, or feel comforted. My own experience was with my CTR ring (“Choose The Right”).

I love these stories and experiences. I love the things that we learn from them. The main one being that God is there, and that He loves us.

That’s huge. That is a Big deal. There is a God. He hears and answers prayers. He will answer your prayers.

But beyond that, He is concerned about the little things as well as the big ones. Not in the way that we expect, either. Very few of my prayers and desires have worked out exactly the way I expected. But they always work out.

Here’s a very silly example that happened tonight.

I had borrowed a flash drive and needed to return it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I looked in my bags, around the computer desk, on my dresser. No luck. Maybe it fell over the edge? No, not by the bed, maybe the other side…

OK, bit of a mess, but it’s not there.

Clean it up.

Really? I’d really rather not right now. I’ve got to find that flash drive.

Clean it up.

<Sigh> Fine, I’ll clean it up… Hey, look at that! Those coupons that Rosanne made for me! Those were sweet. I better put those somewhere safe. Here in the drawer…

Oh look, there’s the flash drive.

Again, not big, not important. But the fact that it’s not important actually makes it a little more special.

For we are well able to overcome it

God did not do everything for the Israelites. He certainly did many mighty miracles, and strengthened them in their battles and difficulties, but it is clear that they were to put some effort in on their own. Or at least some faith.

For example, when the Israelites initially arrived at the land of Canaan, which God had promised would be given to them, He did not cause an earthquake or plague to wipe out the existing inhabitants. Instead, God tells Moses to send spies out into the land. One man from each tribe is assigned to go.

Forty days later they return, and the report from 10 out of the 12 spies is very depressing:

And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.

Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great

…We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.

Only Caleb and Joshua report that they will be able to take the land from their enemies.

The people of Israel are terrified at the report, and decide they want to go back to Egypt and be slaves

And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?

Now on one hand, this seems like a reasonable response. Out of 12 spies sent into the land, 10 of them are adamant that the land can never be taken by their own army. So the choice seems pretty clear: either death at the hands of their enemies, or return to Egypt (their other enemies) and be slaves. Clearly, the “promised land” idea was simply that, an idea, and a foolish one at that.

Now wait a minute. Just wait a minute.

God doesn’t seem to like their tone, so to speak, and for good cause. These children of Israel can never seem to get it in their heads who is really leading them. They can’t even seem to remember the profoundly miraculous circumstances that have brought them to where they are now, considering whether to attempt to conquer the land of Canaan.

How frustrated God must have been! How many miracles had these very people witnessed? The ten plagues of Egypt; followed by leaving that land where they had been slaves with the spoils of their captors. Then the Red Sea was parted. Then the Egyptian army was drowned as they tried to give pursuit.

(At this point, one of the greatest nations in the known world has been thoroughly defeated. So what’s with all the grumbling about these cities?)

But there’s more: The commandments given to Moses on Sinai, and the miraculous food and water provided to an entire nation, time and time again.

How can these people possibly forget? Hasn’t it been shown to them over and over that God is with them as they put their faith and trust in Him? That there is nothing that they cannot do when they are on the errand of the Lord?

And now, here they are, at the very gates of the land promised to them by God. Their land of Promise. And yes, the walls are high, and yes the people are strong. Under virtually any other set of circumstances the task ahead would seem at least daunting, if not impossible.

But it should not be to these people. All they need is faith that God will help them, as He always has. All they need to do is act in faith.

If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.

Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.

 

Fast forward to another pending battle. The Israelites, now in the land promised to them, are threatened by yet another army, the Philistines, who has a mighty champion, Goliath.

This story is much more well known. Goliath comes out every day and taunts the Israelite army, challenging them to choose someone to fight him in single combat, winner-take-all. The army of Israel is terrified of this giant.

Once again, God could do the Israelites’ work for them and take care of this giant in some fashion. But God doesn’t work that way. He expects us to do what we can, and He will bless and strengthen that effort.

So in walks David. He’s not a soldier, he’s a shepherd. But that doesn’t stop him from volunteering.

Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.

David is remembering something that the army (and the King) seems to have forgotten. That they are the army of the living God. The same God that led the Israelites out of Egypt, out of the wilderness, and into the land of Canaan in the first place. That same God has made covenants with His people, which He will keep as the people of Israel trust in and follow Him.

And so, against all odds, facing an entire army, this shepherd boy runs toward his opponent, and dispatches the great giant that defied the entire army of Israel.

 

So, when we who call ourselves Christians are put to the test, what will we do? Will we act in faith, or cower in fear and doubt? Will we remember that there is a God in Israel?

 

Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.

And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?

And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.

 

References: Numbers 13 and 14, 1 Samuel 17, and 2 Kings 6:14-17

 

Church Instructions on Same-Sex Marriage

Recently the LDS Church released a statement offering instructions and guidance on Same-Sex Marriage. It is really excellent and I highly recommend it. There have been the obvious patch of critical and supportive reactions. I really liked this article.

There are a number of really good points in it. I’d like to highlight just a couple.

Just as those who promote same-sex marriage are entitled to civility, the same is true for those who oppose it. The Church insists on its leaders’ and members’ constitutionally protected right to express and advocate religious convictions on marriage, family, and morality free from retaliation or retribution. The Church is also entitled to maintain its standards of moral conduct and good standing for members.

The first point is civility. We are expected to be civil and respectful. We should also expect the same in return (even if we don’t get it).

The second point is expression of religion. I really like the point that we have a right to express and advocate our religious convictions. Many SSM advocates insist that since our position against SSM is based on religion that any involvement we have is (or should be) nullified. It doesn’t count, because it’s a religious conviction that others don’t follow.

So our convictions don’t count because they’re based on religious ideals. But their convictions are just fine because…?

This country was founded by people with religious convictions. The first bill of rights guarantees the right to express our religion. That includes efforts to shape the law (or, more precisely, to keep the law from being re-shaped). We have the right to promote those measures that we believe are healthy for society even if those ideas are religiously based.

Do What We Can

“Now,” said Peter, as they finished their meal, “Aslan and the girls are somewhere close. We don’t know when he will act. In his time, now doubt, not ours. In the meantime he would like us to do what we can on our own.”

Prince Caspian

I’ve heard a couple very troubling responses to the ruling on Utah’s marriage amendment and wanted to write a couple thoughts on that. These are responses from those who, like myself, oppose same-sex marriage.

Response One: “Well, it was inevitable anyway.”

This is precisely the argument that SSM advocates are pushing very hard, and frankly, I do not believe it. Even my old computer game is smart enough to advise the player to make it seem like your opponent is being routed. That encourages your troops, discourages the enemy, and makes an actual route much more likely.

There are countless examples of groups, communities, nations, and empires who believed something to be inevitable and were found to be quite wrong. Do I really need to list some? Think for a minute and see how many examples you can come up with off the top of your head.

Now, let us assume that it really inevitable. That no matter what I or anyone else does, same-sex marriage is made legal not only in Utah, but across the country.

Therefore what?

Does that mean that we should not let our voices be heard? Does that mean our opinions have no weight? Does that mean that right really is wrong, and wrong really is right and I should just shut up and get with the program? For myself, I want it to be known where I stand. I want to do my part to help in the causes that I feel are important, even if I fail. I think that the very act of standing up for what is right and true is how I can learn to become more like the Savior, regardless of the outcome. And this is one area that I feel is very important.

Do what is right. Let the consequence follow.

Response Two: “Well, I just hope the Savior comes soon”

So do I, and so do all faithful Christians, but again, therefore what? Are you saying that we should do nothing? Just lie back and count on the Savior to clean up the mess when He gets here? Is this how we learn and progress? Is this what the Savior would have us do? Is this what the Savior would do?

I don’t think it is. I think there are many important tasks and efforts that the Savior wants us to accomplish (or at least work on) while we are down here. The LDS religion is an active religion. We believe that we are here to learn and to grow and to help each other. We absolutely rely on the atonement of Christ in all of these things, but that does not mean that there is nothing required of us. Actually, the opposite is true. We have had many exhortations for us to “go about doing good.” Shouldn’t we be doing that?

WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.

D&C 58:26-29

As a final thought, consider this quote (and check out some similar quotes):

No man, who is not inflamed by vain-glory into enthusiasm, can flatter himself that his single, unsupported, desultory, unsystematic endeavours are of power to defeat the subtle designs and united Cabals of ambitious citizens. When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Sticks or Stars?

“Goals are stars to steer by, not sticks to beat yourself with”

Attributed to  Barbara Smith

I am not a big fan of goals or resolutions generally. In particular I don’t really care for the goals that are often required to be set (and then promptly ignored) at the workplace. You know, the S.M.A.R.T. goals? yeah, those.

I do believe in trying to improve oneself, and when I heard the quote above, I thought, that’s how goals are supposed to be. It’s not something to set and ignore. It’s not something to fail at and then feel like a failure (I think Satan particularly loves and encourages this kind of approach). It’s also not necessarily something that should be followed no matter the cost.

A good goal should be something that motivates you to do or be better. Something that guides you.

So, for 2014, what are the things that I hope to come closer to achieving? What will guide me?

Here are a few of my goals. It’s a pretty standard list, really…

  1. I want to have more meaningful scripture study. Too often I read a few verses or paragraphs when I have a spare minute or two (typically on the toilet, of all places). That’s not feasting on the word. It’s better than nothing, and I expect I’ll continue to have plenty of days when that’s all I get, but I hope to have a greater focus on really studying scriptures, and finding a regular time that I always do scripture study. I get the most out of it when I have time to think and write a few notes about what I am studying.
  2. I want to do more to teach my children the gospel. Typically we come up with some lesson or other for Family Home Evening shortly after I get home. I hope to take a little more time to put something together. I also want to watch for teaching opportunities more closely. In particular, I want to help my children understand the Articles of Faith.
  3. I want to help my wife more with the daily chores and messes. I don’t think I do too badly here, but this is one area where I think husbands can (and should!) always improve. I can be more observant and see what needs to be done and jump in and do it. I should make dinner more often.
  4. I want to be more healthy. I really should be eating better than I am. I also want to keep up a good exercise routine that includes other things besides running (which is my preferred exercise). I have gotten to where I will do a good run a couple times per week in decent weather, and that’s good; but I think it’s time to add to that doing other exercises regularly, particularly to strengthen my back and knees (which running tends to wear down, at least for me).
  5. I want to be more politically active, particularly at the local level. I want to know what’s going on in my city and state, and do what I can to advance those measures and interests that I feel are important.
  6. I want to advance the projects I’ve started. I’m really good at starting new projects, and really lousy at following through and finishing them. If I could make sure that I’ve done something 2 or 3 times each week, I might actually finish something.

So that’s my list for 2014. I’m going to add a calendar item to review this list each month and help me to remember them and work on them, and adjust them if needed. But I don’t plan on beating myself up if I don’t do all of them.