Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mustard Trees and Mountains

The gospel of Mark records a miracle performed by the Savior right after His experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. A man came to Jesus with his son, who had been afflicted with an evil spirit/psychiatric illness since he was a child. The apostles could not heal the boy, so the man brought him to the Savior.
"And when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
"Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
"And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:20-24).

Sometimes I feel like this man. There are so many principles of the Gospel that require so much faith to operate, and though I have been taught of their truth since I was a child, yet I lack the perfect faith I need to be able to move mountains (Ether 12:30).

The Lord told his disciples that "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt. 17:20). Often in Sunday School classes we talk about how small a mustard seed is, and compare it to the size of the mustard plant, and from the vast difference observe that even just a little faith can have great consequences. The teacher then ends the lesson by admonishing the students to plant that little mustard seed of faith in their garden, and it will soon grow into a giant mustard tree.

But the mustard of Christ's day was very different from the bright yellow condiment with which we are familiar. There is very little evidence that mustard was cultivated in those days. In fact, Jewish law at the time prohibited planting mustard seeds in one's garden. The reason was simple: the mustard plant was a weed. In fact, it was such a persistently hardy and fast-spreading weed that it was the bane of many early gardener's existences. Introducing a few mustard seeds could ruin a well-kept garden. And mustard plants weren't giant trees--they were shrubs, and stood only a few feet high, at most. (This book introduced me to this idea).

So what does it mean to have faith like a mustard seed? I think it means to have faith that is infectious, that grows and takes over everything else, that chokes out our carefully cultivated doubt, fear, and depression. It's an inconvenient faith we have to have-- a faith that moves us to action, that infuses everything we do. It can't just be one plant in a corner of the garden of our spirit--it has to be mixed in with everything--the flowers, the vegetables, the herbs--it has to be everywhere we turn. It isn't a faith we can put in a box on a shelf and dust off and trot out on Fast Sunday, it's a faith that informs and transforms everything we do. It's this kind of faith that is so powerful--the faith to do miracles, the faith to move mountains--the faith of a persistent weed. It's faith like a mustard seed--once it gets into you, it stays, and grows, and spreads.

It's that kind of faith that I want--not the tame faith that can only reflect on the truth academically. I want the stubborn overpowering faith like a first-century Mediterranean weed.

"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Making a Scourge

Here's another Carl Bloch painting, this one of Christ casting the moneychangers from the temple. It appears that He did this twice during his ministry, so we know that defiling the temple must have been one of His big pet peeves.
I've heard people use Christ's cleansing of the temple to argue that He wasn't all that merciful or loving or perfect, or that He lost His temper and let 'em have it. But, as John recounts,

"And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when he had made a scourge of
small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise" (John 2:13-16).

Christ sat down and made a scourge of small cords. This isn't the behavior of an impatient man. When He finished making the scourge, He then proceeded to do what needed to be done. His patience and forbearance demonstrate that His actions would have been deliberate, righteous, and requisite with justice of God, not hasty, angry, or short-tempered.

I'm come to realize the value of this kind of patience. I'm a passionate woman, and driven at times to let loose at someone with what I think of them or their behavior. But I've realized that when I take time to braid my own scourge of small cords, when I finally confront someone, my words are better-chosen, my motives more pure, my argument more well thought-out. For emotionally charged conversations, that often means writing a letter, since I'm better at writing than at speaking. That way, I can go through several drafts and pray about my words before sending them, so that I don't say something I later regret. I remember in particular one angry e-mail I received from a friend (let's call him John) who I knew was in the wrong. Had I sent off a response immediately, it probably would have been poorly-worded and angry, something like:

"Dear John-
How dare you? You're a jerk. Go away.

Instead, I took three days to write a response, and even asked a trusted friend for feedback before I sent it. I'm still not one to mince words, and this letter was no exception. But my attitude in writing it was different, and that came across in the tone of the letter. It was direct and pointed but not angry. When I finally sent it, I realized that the things I had written needed to be said, but that I wasn't saying them to vent my anger. All the anger was gone, and there was a deep sense of relief. I thought John would never speak to me again, but that day he came to see me, thanking me profusely for what I had written, and admitting that it was something he had needed to hear for a long time. I was shocked.

Christ was scathing in His condemnation of those who hurt children: "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6). Ouch! I've heard child-rearing "experts" say that you should never spank your children in anger--you shouldn't touch them unless you are in complete control of yourself. I was babysitting the other night and I realized that their counsel can apply equally well to things we say to children. So when the children were supposed to stay in bed but were making noise, I waited for a while before going up to speak with them. My friend who was helping me that night turned to me and said, "You'd better go up there." I told him I would, as soon as I was not angry at them, because it wouldn't do me any good to go and yell at them. I waited until I could be pleasant with them. I guess I was busy with my own heap of small cords.

The next thing I have to work on is not thinking angry thoughts--being even-tempered enough to not need to count to ten (or some such). I'd like to get to the point that I am able to act in the face of provocation rather than react. Action, after all, is a use of agency, where reaction makes us a product of our circumstances. I can't always change my circumstances, but I can change my choices. I think that the same patience technique will work. There's an old Native American proverb that says, "Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins." Maybe my proverb will involve not judging (or chastising) a man until I've made a scourge of small cords.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Rise, Take Up Thy Bed, and Walk

I love Carl Bloch's famous painting of Christ healing a man by the pool of Bethesda.

I got to see the painting when it was on display at the MOA, and it's even more striking and beautiful in person. The story behind the painting is short, but incredibly powerful, and it has become one of my favorite miracles.

John records some background:
"There was a feast [that is, the feast of Passover] of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years" (John 5:1-5).

The rest of the miracle is recorded in only four simple verses:

“When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath” (John5:6-9).

It seems there was a superstition at the time that this pool possessed healing power, and many of the desperate cases of the day--those with illnesses or conditions incurable by ordinary medicine--congregated around the pool, hoping that the disturbance (caused, they believed, by some angel) would cure them. One of the men there had long been ill. We aren't told of his condition, only that it was too debilitating for him to walk or even to rise from his bed.

Then John records that "Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case.” (John 5:6). First, Christ was mindful of the man. There was “a great multitude” of the infirm there beside the pool, but Christ saw this man and had compassion on him individually. Christ saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time.

The Lord is the same with us. He sees us as individuals, as His precious children. He knows how long we’ve struggled with whatever pains us, whatever stops us from being whole. And He has compassion on us.

Christ then asked the man, “Wilt thou be made whole?" (John 5:6). What a fascinating question! Will we be made whole?

What does it mean to be made whole? There’s the obvious physical healing, but beyond that, each of us needs to be completed, made healthy, healed of heartache, addiction, sin, or pain. But the verb tense makes it clear that wholeness isn’t a gift we can give ourselves. Obviously, the lame man wasn't going to heal himself. If he was healed, it would be because Christ healed him. He would still need the desire and the faith to be healed, but he had to know that the power of healing was not within himself, but came from a power greater than his own.

The same is true with us. We cannot heal ourselves, but the Lord can—and will—heal us.

The man, undoubtedly frustrated at his situation, responded, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me” (John 5:7).

The man gave a reason why he was still ill, even though he was lying beside a pool that purportedly had healing powers. The reason he gave is fascinating and ironic—he couldn’t hobble down to the pool, and he didn’t have anyone to help him. In other words, the reason he couldn’t get better is that he was sick!! If he had been well, he could have made it down to the pool, but then he wouldn’t have needed to get there. As it was, he couldn’t get better because his sickness prevented him from taking the steps necessary to be healed. He needed someone to intervene, to perform an action on his behalf which he could not accomplish on his own.

It is the same with us. We can’t heal ourselves, because our fallen natures put us in a position from which we cannot rise without being aided by someone more able than we. We, like this lame man, are helpless to rise on our own power. We need the power of a God. Catherine Thomas, instructor of Ancient Scripture, said, “Men were designed to be essentially powerless in this life except for their agency either to draw on God’s power and become God, or to refuse His power and become something less.” Christ testified that “I am the vine, ye are the branches...without me ye can do nothing” (John15:5). Moses, after seeing a vision of God’s creations, proclaimed, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10).

If we can’t save ourselves, then, where do we turn? Though you already know the answer, Elder Richard G. Scott put it beautifully. “No matter what the source of difficulty and no matter how you begin to obtain relief—through a qualified professional therapist, a doctor, priesthood leader, friend, concerned parent, or loved one—no matter how you begin, those solutions will never provide a complete answer. The final healing comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His teachings, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and obedience to His commandments.” (Ensign, May 1994, 9)

Accordingly, Christ turned to the man, and said,

“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8).

What a funny commandment! Christ knew perfectly well that the man couldn’t get up and walk! That’s why he was lying there! Why would He command him to do the impossible? Nephi answered this in his oft-quoted maxim, “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). Nothing that the Lord commands is impossible—in fact, whenever the Lord gives a commandment, He prepares a way and provides the power needed to keep that commandment. Obedience to any commandment brings blessings, but even before the obedience, a commandment given is always accompanied by the gift of the power to obey that commandment. When the Lord commands us to be stripped of pride, to refrain from lust, to forgive, to love our enemies, or even to “be ye therefore perfect,” He also gives the power to keep the commandment.

What about the difficult commandments? For example, the Lord commands us, “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (Doc. & Cov. 121:45). How do we keep our thoughts virtuous? Isaiah, quoting the Lord, writes: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we think the Lord’s thoughts, they will automatically be virtuous—the Lord will give us the power to think well of others, as He does.

How about avoiding evil-speaking? James, in a beautiful sermon on the subject, wrote, “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:8-10). So how do we speak with an un-poisoned tongue? Jacob told us that the power to do so had been given when we recieved the gift of the Holy Ghost:

“Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:2-3).

How about becoming perfect? Christ commands very clearly, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt, 5:48). Be perfect?!?! How do we manage that? It turns out that a way has been prepared even for this, the most difficult of all the commandments:

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God” (Moroni 10:32).

The lame man could not deny the power of God that day. For, though he knew he could not stand, when Christ commanded him to rise, “immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked” (John5:9).

And then, almost as a parenthetical note, John mentions, “and on the same day was the sabbath” (John 5:9). How very appropriate! Just as this man was healed on the Sabbath day, so we can partake of the same wholeness, the same atoning power, of the very same God, on the Sabbath day. As we worthily partake of the sacrament, we are relieved of our heavy burdens. We are made whole if we exercise faith in Christ. Through His matchless power and love, we are given the power to rise, take up our beds, and walk.

I know that the Savior’s Atonement has this great power—the power to make us whole, to heal us through our faith in Him. I have felt the great peace that can only come from heaven. I know that the Lord is mindful of us, and that, no matter our heartache or sin, He has the power to heal us, that He calls to us, as He did to the Nephites of old,

“O all ye that are spared...will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Men Are That They Might Have Fun

"Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255).

The scriptures are filled with teachings about happiness, cheerfulness, and rejoicing. The Lord's plan for His children is referred to as the "plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8,16). Alma makes it clear to his son that wickedness, since it is contrary to the plan of God, will never make us happy (Alma 41:10). Jacob tells us that "if there be no righteousness there be no happiness" (2 Ne. 2:13). King Benjamin encourages us to "consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending
happiness" (Mosiah 2:41).

But the scriptures are also filled with instructions on how to endure trials. The Lord told Joseph Smith to "be patient in afflictions, for thou
shalt have many" (Doc. & Cov. 24:8). Christ told His disciples of old that “these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matt. 24:8-9). Following the Lord doesn’t sound like a very happy, safe prospect.

Paul, when brought to defend himself before King Agrippa, proclaimed, “I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused” (Acts 26:2). Imagine that! He was happy to be on trial, because it gave him an opportunity to bear witness of Christ. Never mind the beatings and imprisonments, “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11:26-27), Paul rejoiced in the opportunity to bear witness of Christ, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Christ closed this dichotomy when he prophesied of impending tribulations, but comforted his disciples, saying, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulations: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because Christ has overcome the world, we can find joy, even in our times of trial. Because of our unique perspective, we can be happy even when life is hard. As James said, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:10-11).

As Helaman described it, life is going to be hard, but if we’re built upon the rock of Christ, we cannot be overcome.

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).

The devil will send forth hail and storms and shafts in the whirlwind—we can be sure of that. But if we are built upon the rock of Christ, no power on earth or in hell can overcome us—we cannot fall. What a beautiful promise! We aren’t guaranteed that life will be fun or simple, but we do know that we can be happy and joyful, and because of our hope in Christ, we “can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven” (Moroni 7:3).

“Behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:24-25).

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Exorcists

"God never bestows upon His people, or upon an individual, superior blessings without a severe trial to prove them, to prove that individual, or that people, to see whether they will keep their covenants with Him, and keep in remembrance what He has shown them. Then the greater the vision, the greater the display of the power of the enemy...So when individuals are blessed with visions, revelations, and great manifestations, look out, then the devil is nigh you, and you will be tempted in proportion to the vision, revelation, or manifestation you have received. Hence thousands, when they are off their guard, give way to the severe temptations which come upon them, and behold they are gone." (Brigham Young, JD 3:205-206)

Moses, the scriptures record, spoke with the Lord face to face, and was given a vision of the earth and all its inhabitants, and "of the same he greatly marveled and wondered" (Moses 1:8). Afterward, he was "left unto himself" and "Satan came, tempting Moses, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me" (Moses 1:9, 12).

Moses and the devil then have a fascinating conversation. I wouldn't generally recommend conversing with the devil, as you're not likely to gain light, knowledge, or power, but in this case, Moses handled himself beautifully, and gave us some great insights into how we can rebuff the devil when he comes, tempting us. Allow me to outline a few that I have gained, as this story has long been fascinating to me.

After Satan belittles Moses' divine nature, calling him a "son of man," Moses asserts who he knows he is: "Behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten" (Moses 1:13) What a beautiful statement of the first principle:

1. Know that you are a child of Heavenly Parents, that you have the seed of the divine in you, and that such conduct as the devil will encourage is unbecoming to one born for such great glory.

Moses then comments on Satan's lack of glory. He tells him of his vision of God, and the transformation that had to take place in order for Moses to be able to be in God's presence. Then he says, Satan, "where is thy glory, that I should worship thee...for it is darkness unto me? (Moses 1:13,15). He has thus distinguished between God and the devil, not always an easy thing to do, since the devil can appear "as an angel of light" (Doc. & Cov. 128:20). Having distinguished between two immortal beings, he asserts his commitment to worship only God: "I can judge between thee and God; for God said unto me: Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve" (Moses 1:15). That outlines the second principle for getting rid of the adversary:

2. Distinguish between good and evil actions and influences, and choose to do those which uplift, strengthen, and add to your radiation of God's light and glory.

Moses then does something awfully cheeky: he commands Satan to get lost. He has to do it three more times before Satan actually leaves (more on this later), but such directness sent an unmistakable message that the devil's presence wasn't wanted (Moses 1:16,18,20,21), that Moses wasn't going to entertain his suggestions, continue the discussion, invite him home for dinner, etc. Moses' declaration "Get thee hence, Satan" was a flat-out refusal--no room for negotiation. Not very diplomatic, but the time for diplomacy has passed. We'll talk about this principle more later.

Moses also recounts God's words to counter Satan, saying "for God said unto me:" twice. He then says something that I initially found odd, but have come to appreciate: "And he [God] also gave me commandments when he called unto me out of the burning bush, saying: Call upon God in the name of mine Only Begotten, and worship me" (Moses 1:17). Why, at this critical juncture, during a face-to-face encounter with the devil, would Moses start talking about a vision he had with the burning bush? Why wouldn't recounting God's more recent commandments be sufficient?

The only reason I can imagine for Moses to talk about his experience with the burning bush is to establish the distinction between God, a being with whom he had had previous experience, and Satan, who is new on the scene. Essentially, Moses is saying, "Look, Satan, what are you trying to pull? God and I go way back. Who died and left you king?" That leaves us with the next principle:

3. Recount God's words to counter Satan. Establish a relationship with God, so that when temptations or trials come, you can recall experiences you have had with Him, and recognize from whence every good thing in your life has come. Then it will be obvious that the Lord is a loving, caring, Father, and that the devil is the newcomer, the usurper, the deceiver.

Moses concludes his refusal with the recognition of the clear distinction between God and the devil, "I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan" (Moses 1:18).

Satan is awfully determined, and Moses' refusal makes him mad. "And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me" (Moses 1: 19). Wow! Talk about a temper tantrum! Here's what we learn:

4. Don't expect Satan to give up. He's a very determined man, and he's intent on destroying you. Expect Satanic opposition. And hold your ground.

All that ranting and screaming was a bit unnerving, to put it lightly (ever seen a devil rant? Sounds pretty terrifying). "And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell" (Moses 1:20). Why? Because one of the devil's greatest powers is fear. Fear is anathema to love, contrary to the nature of God. For "God is love," and "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment" (1 John 4:16,18, see also Moroni 8:16). "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" (Doc. & Cov. 38:30). Fear seems to be the only thing Moses did wrong in this encounter. So we learn:

5. Be prepared, and overcome fear with the love of God. God has promised His protection to the faithful, so "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them" (2 Kings 6:16).

Moses quickly got a grip on his fear, and "calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God will I worship, which is the God of glory" (Moses 1:20). Again, Moses is driving home the distinction between God and Satan, and choosing to worship "the God of glory," and calling upon Him for help. Number 6 is easy:

6. Pray for strength.

This seems to work for Moses where talking didn't: "And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook" (Moses 1:21). And here's the kicker: "And Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan. And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not" (Moses 1:21-22). Satan wasn't happy about it, but he left when commanded in the name of Jesus Christ. Just as His name is the only name by which we can be saved, so it is the only power which the devil must obey. If, having authority, we command the devil to leave in the name of Jesus Christ, he must obey. On our own power we cannot defeat him--the devil can only be expelled with the power of God. That's the last, and most powerful principle I've learned from this conversation:

7. The devil, and those who follow him, must leave when commanded to leave in the name of Jesus Christ by one having authority, for, as the disciples of old proclaimed, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name" (Luke 10:17).

Now, since "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect," (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we can "liken all scriptures unto us," and profit and learn thereby (1 Nephi 19:23). When sore trials and temptations come upon us, we can take comfort in our divine potential, and do those things which will increase the light and glory in our lives. When the devil persists in trying to drag us down, we can gain strength from our established relationship with our Father in Heaven, who loves us and will empower us, "that when [notice: not if] the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of
the rock upon which ye are built" (Helaman 5:12). We need not fear, because of our preparation and the love and protection of God, a power we access by pleading for it in prayer. And finally, we can know that the Lord has power over the devil, for "all things are subject unto him, both in heaven and on the earth" (Doc. & Cov. 50:27).

"And by giving heed and doing these things which ye have received, and which ye shall hereafter receive—and the kingdom is given you of the Father, and power to overcome all things which are not ordained of him" (Doc. & Cov. 50:35).

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Assault With A Deadly Weapon

If you know me at all, you already know of my deep and abiding hatred of pornography. You've undoubtedly heard me lament the awful hurt that it causes, the good men and women it enslaves with its awful chains, the sweeping destructive power it possesses. I know no greater evil that is so persuasive, so convincing, and yet so deadly. I have watched helplessly as friends and loved ones have succumbed to this plague, and I feel driven to bear witness of the reality of the power of this great evil, "in all [its] dark and hellish hue," for:

"It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand, and also to ourselves, to our wives and children, who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and the influence of that spirit which hath...filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger
and stronger, and is now the very mainspring of all corruption, and the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity. It is an iron yoke, it is a strong band; they are the very handcuffs, and chains, and shackles, and fetters of hell" (Doc & Cov. 123:6-8).

In this respect, the devil's power is frighteningly real. He knows how much good we can do, how much godly power we can have if we live worthily, and he wants to destroy our ability to do good, to enslave us, to sap our power. If you hadn't noticed yet, this is war. And we are the casualties in this war. Satan isn't alive, so it's our lives he's fighting for.
"Wherefore, he maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about" (Doc. & Cov. 76:29).

The Lord has something very frightening to say about pornography:
"And verily I say unto you, as I have said before, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit , but shall deny the faith and shall fear" (Doctrine & Covenants 63:16).
For men [or women] who use pornography, the Lord says, there are three inevitable consequences:
1. They will lose the Spirit. The Spirit can't dwell in unholy temples. The Spirit leaves, "and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man" (D&C 121:37).
2. They will deny the faith. This means they will lose their testimonies, their relationship with God, their ability to understand the gospel. A covenant is a very, very powerful thing, and when you keep a covenant, you gain great strength and power. When you break a covenant, Satan gets great power and strength in your life. He really is a master of deceit, and he manages to really confuse people. The Spirit isn't there to make things clear to the covenant-breaker, and they lose their way. It's like letting go of the rod of iron in the middle of the mists of darkness--you wander off in forbidden paths, because you're just plain lost (see 1 Ne. 8:23).
3. They will fear. If you lose the Spirit and the protection of the priesthood, and you're turned over to the power of Satan--well, there's not much that's scarier than that. But this also affects people around the transgressor. A person in such a condition not only can't have the Spirit, he also can't have a relationship with God. Since God is love (1 John 4:16), a man who can't be close to God can't love his wife/girlfriend/family/etc. A person given over to fear, the inevitable consequence of lust, cannot love: " There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment" (1 John 4:18).
These are laws, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the world (D&C 130:20). If you think you're the exception--trust me, you aren't.

Thankfully, there are the more comforting laws, which proclaim there is a way out for all of us, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Christ is that Way. He proclaimed Himself the Resurrection and the Life, the Truth, a God who cannot lie. The Prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed: "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel" (AoF 1:3). For "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed...[for] the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6).

The Lord Jesus Christ, whom we worship, knows how to succor [run to rescue or help] his people, "and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities...[for] the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.
" (Alma 7:12-13).

I echo the words of Alma, of Isaiah, and of the Lord himself. None are beyond the reach of the Atonement. None are exempt from its saving and transforming power. The power of the devil is indubitably great, but the power of the Lord is infinitely greater. His Atonement has the power to heal, to cleanse, and to make new. Of these things I testify, for, as with Alma, this is the testimony which is in me.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Pulling Weeds

My mother is an eminently practical and virtuous woman. With her example, she has taught her children how to work, how to serve, how to live, and how to love. She "worketh willingly with her hands...She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household...She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her."
"Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all." (Proverbs 31)

To My Mother:
One summer day last year my mother and I were out in the garden, pulling weeds.
As a child, I never liked the garden. I especially hated weeding. It was hot, boring work and made me dirty and sticky and gross. I would much rather have curled up on the couch and read a book. But the garden needed to be weeded, and we were expected to help, so there we were, singing songs from old musicals as we worked together in the hot sun, and taking turns finding something to keep Jonny busy.

Jonny is my youngest brother. He was four years old at the time. He wanted to help, but Mom didn’t trust him to weed, so he would pick up rocks or talk to us. He was a very curious child, and at the time he always wanted to know who made things. “Who made the airplane?” He would ask, or “Who made that building?” Sometimes it was “Who made people, Amy? Did Heavenly Father make them?”

That day, he was curious about the weeds. “Mommy, who made the weeds?” he asked.

My mother replied, in her practical way, that Heavenly Father had made the weeds to teach us how to work. Jonny thought about that for a minute, then, with a tone of sudden realization, exclaimed, “And Heavenly Father sent us here to pull the weeds!”

At first, I thought he was cute—then I realized he was right. We come from the dust of the ground, and eventually we return to it, but in the meantime we’re supposed to be the gardeners of our own plot of land. God expects us to till not just the earth but also ourselves, to pull the weeds out of our relationships, our habits, and our characters, to make ourselves fertile ground where His Spirit can dwell.

See what you can get from Saturday chores?

My little brother had realized that day what Mom had always been teaching us with her example. In every area of her life, she was pulling weeds and planting flowers.

My mother loved to garden, and our garden took up half of our yard. During the summer we could live almost entirely off of what we raised in the garden, and had enough extra to give to everyone we knew. If we had had enough land for a cow and some chickens, we could have avoided the grocery store entirely. And my mother was practical enough that she probably would have fed the weeds to the chickens.

My mother believed in the value of work. She felt strongly that there were things that couldn’t be learned from books. She expected us to work hard in school, but she never believed that formal education was enough to prepare you for the real world. She also expected her children to work around the house and in the yard, all year long. To my mom, school vacations were just an excuse for getting more yardwork done.

My mother taught us the law of the harvest. She understood the importance of patience and hard work in her garden and in the rest of life. She knew that, just as vegetables have to be planted, fertilized, weeded, and watered for months before they would produce, anything in life that would bear fruit would take a lot of patience and a lot of consistent effort before we could see the results of our labors. She taught us to pull weeds in her garden and to plant vegetables in our lives.

My mother never believed that there should be a separation between men’s work and women’s work. She never bothered with makeup and thought it was silly for her to paint her nails if she was just going to work in the yard and ruin her manicure. She installed the attic fan, put in windows, fixed the plumbing, ran the electric wiring, built a deck, shingled the roof, poured the sidewalk, and built a shed, in addition to cooking and gardening. She was only too happy to let my father do the dusting and laundry. She would out-work all of us in the yard, stay up late talking to a troubled child, and still get up early to make us breakfast before we left for seminary, so we would know that we were important to her. She worked hard in her garden, but always nurtured the seedlings in her children’s hearts.

My grandmother died a year ago. In the months leading up to Grandma's death, my mother spent much of her time with her mother--arranging to have beautiful pictures taken of her, helping Grandma with the family history she was so anxious to finish, and recording her memories on videotape--helping her mother to put together the final details so she could feel prepared to leave this life. When Grandma could no longer care for herself, my mother tended to her, dressing her and changing her bedding and holding her hand as she slipped in and out of consciousness. In those final days, my mother mended childhood rivalries and grew closer to her family. She now remembers the sweetness that laced the heartache of those trying times. In her relationships with those she loved, she was always pulling weeds and planting flowers.

I don’t know what my mother will do when she gets to her mansion in heaven. She’ll probably request a fixer-upper mansion—I don’t think she’d be happy without a bathroom to remodel, or a roof to repair. And when we go to visit her, we won’t find her sitting on a cloud playing the harp.

She’ll be out in her heavenly garden, with dirt under her nails, pulling up the weeds.