Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why we Need to Know the Ten Commandments (and an FHE idea)

Teach your family the ten commandments!  Most Christians don't know them. My seminary class learned them this morning within minutes. 

Some Christian leaders say the current generation is the most Biblically illiterate we've ever had. They say the reason is that U.S. Christians are guiding their lives by popular culture instead of by scripture. Check out these statistics:

  • "More than 60 percent of Americans can't name either half of the Ten Commandments or the four Gospels of the New Testament.
  • "Some 80 percent including "born again" Christians believe that "God helps those who help themselves" is a direct quote from the Bible.
  • "And 31 percent believe a good person can earn his/her way into heaven.
  • "According to a recent George Barna study, most self-proclaimed Christians don't believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit actually exist. 
  • "And even though the Bible is very clear about the sinless nature of Christ, 22 percent believe that Jesus sinned while he was on the earth." (Source)

Here is an FHE idea. 

1. First, memorize them. 
This four minute video shows a quick and easy way to remember the ten commandments. 

2. Next, mark and number each commandment in your Bible. They are in Exodus 20:3-17. 

3. Read and discuss together some quotes about the commandments. Click here for a printable handout of the quotes below. 

4. Close by asking what blessings it brings to obey this or that commandment. 

  • What blessings does it bring to avoid killing someone? How about avoiding going to prison and keeping your freedom  and a clean conscience? 
  • What blessings come from avoiding adultery and keeping the law of chastity? How about avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, broken hearts and broken families and homes?  Those are just a couple ideas to get your discussion going. 

Quotes about the Ten Commandments

President Thomas S. Monson: “Although the world has changed, the laws of God remain constant. They have not changed; they will not change. The Ten Commandments are just that— commandments. They are not suggestions. They are every bit as requisite today as they were when God gave them to the children of Israel” (Ensign, Nov. 2011).

“Cecil B. DeMille, director of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments: ‘We are too inclined to think of law as something … hemming us in. We sometimes think of law as the opposite of liberty. But that is a false conception. … God does not contradict Himself. He did not create man and then, as an afterthought, impose upon him a set of arbitrary, irritating, restrictive rules. He made man free—and then gave him the Commandments to keep him free. … We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them—or else, by keeping them, rise through them to the fulness of freedom under God. God means us to be free. With divine daring, he gave us the power of choice’ (BYU Commencement Address, 31 May 1957).

Joseph Smith: "[God] never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of His law and ordinances.” (History of the Church, 5:135)

President Harold B. Lee: “The most important of all the commandments of God is that one that you are having the most difficulty keeping today. If it is one of dishonesty, if it is one of unchastity, if it is one of falsifying, not telling the truth, today is the day for you to work on that until you have been able to conquer that weakness. Put that aright and then you start on the next one that is most difficult for you to keep. That's the way to sanctify yourself by keeping the commandments of God” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 82)

#1 – Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.
President Ezra Taft Benson: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities” (Ensign, May 88)

#2 – Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
Spencer W. Kimball: “Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood. ... Degrees and letters and titles become idols. … Young married couples who postpone parenthood until their degrees are attained might be shocked if their expressed preference were labeled idolatry. … Many worship the hunt, the fishing trip, the vacation, the weekend picnics and outings. … These pursuits more often than not interfere with the worship of the Lord and with giving service to the building up of the kingdom of God” (The Miracle of Forgiveness).

#3 – Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain.
President Spencer W. Kimball: “In the hospital one day I was wheeled out of the operating room by an attendant who stumbled, and there issued from his angry lips vicious cursing with a combination of the names of the Savior. Even half-conscious, I recoiled and implored: ‘Please! Please! That is my Lord whose names you revile.’ There was a deathly silence, then a subdued voice whispered: ‘I am sorry’” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball).

“There is an additional implication in the commandment to avoid taking the name of God in vain. An integral part of living the gospel is the making of oaths and covenants with God. When a person [makes] covenants ... if he forgets that solemn oath ... he has taken the name of the Lord in vain” (Old Testament Student Manual).

#4 – Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
For the Strength of Youth: “The Lord has given the Sabbath day for your benefit... Honoring the Sabbath day includes attending all your Church meetings. …Prepare during the week so that you can reserve Sunday for the many uplifting activities that are appropriate for the Sabbath day. Such activities include spending quiet time with your family, studying the gospel, fulfilling your Church callings and responsibilities, serving others, writing letters, writing in your journal, and doing family history work. Your behavior and dress on the Sabbath should show respect for the Lord and His holy day. Sunday is not a day for shopping, recreation, or athletic events. Do not seek entertainment or make purchases on this day. …Observing the Sabbath will bring you closer to the Lord and to your family. It will give you an eternal perspective and spiritual strength” 

#5 – Honor thy father and thy mother.
Gordon B. Hinckley: “If [this commandment] were only observed more widely, there would be far less misery in the homes of the people. Instead of backbiting, accusation, argument, there would be appreciation and respect and quiet love” (Ensign, May 1993). 

#6 – Thou shalt not kill.
"’Thou shalt not ... kill, nor do anything like unto it’ (D&C 59:6). Entertainment and media that glorifies or presents as acceptable murder and other forms of violence should be avoided. Such entertainment and media influence our attitudes and thoughts and offend the Spirit (see For the Strength of Youth)” (Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual).

#7 – Thou shalt not commit adultery.
For the Strength of Youth: “Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife. God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage.”

Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual: “Adultery means sexual relations between a married individual and someone other than his or her spouse. Any sexual relations outside the bond of marriage between a man and a woman, including homosexual behavior, violate the Lord’s law of chastity. To keep the law of chastity before and during marriage, prophets have also taught that we are not to share, view, read, or listen to anything that depicts or describes the physical body or sexual conduct in an immoral or pornographic way. We must keep our thoughts, desires, words, and actions pure.”

#8 – Thou shalt not steal and #9 – Thou shalt not bear false witness.
For the Strength of Youth: “Be honest with yourself, others, and God at all times. Being honest means choosing not to lie, steal, cheat, or deceive in any way. … Dishonesty harms you and harms others as well. If you lie, steal, shoplift, or cheat, you damage your spirit and your relationships with others. Being honest will enhance your future opportunities and your ability to be guided by the Holy Ghost.” 

#10 – Thou shalt not covet.
Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual: “Coveting, in this context, means having a selfish, excessive desire for something that belongs to another person. Coveting can cause feelings of jealousy, envy, pride, and greed. Coveting can lead us to be ungrateful and never satisfied with what we have. We can admire what others have, and we can seek to improve our lives and circumstances, but we must do so with modest, humble desires and honest, appropriate efforts.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Printable handout of Similarities between Joseph and Jesus

This year in seminary our class theme is "S.O.S. -- See Our Savior in the Old Testament." 

If you've never studied the scriptures before by looking for the Savior in the people, stories, and symbols, I invite you to try it. You'll never see the scriptures the same!  Here and here are resources that are helping me see the Savior in places I didn't before. It makes me love these scripture people even more, especially the Savior. I took many other lists of parallels and added almost all of them into one list. 

Click here for the printable handout below. 

Click here to see another blog post about similarities between Joseph and Jesus. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Power Down to Power Up: Eight Ways God and Satan use Media in the War for our Souls (My Stake Standards Night Presentation)

You've probably heard this before, but did you know you and I are in a war? 

There is a war going on for your soul and for my soul. Both Heavenly Father and Satan want to win us to their side.  And guess what one of the most powerful weapons is on both sides of the war? Some of you are holding it in your hand right now. In one small device you have virtually all the good and all the evil the world has to offer in the form of media. 
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Satan has made … media among his most effective tools [or we could say weapons] to destroy minds and souls” (Ensign, Nov. 1988).  How you use your phone, tablet, computer, TV, your music, movies, video games, or the Internet can have a big impact on whether you win this war or not. 
Elder Holland said, “The final outcome between good and evil is already known. There is absolutely no question as to who wins because the victory has already been posted on the scoreboard. The only really strange thing in all of this is that we are still down here on the field trying to decide which team’s jersey we want to wear” (Elder Holland quoted by David Lewis,“Time to Build,” BYU-Hawaii Devotional, Nov. 20, 2012). 

My presentation is titled “Power Down to Power Up” because we need to unplug ourselves from using media in Satan’s ways, and plug ourselves into God’s power instead. Let’s look at eight ways the Lord and Satan each use the weapons of media to try to win each of us to their side of the war.

1. How much time do you think Satan and the Lord want us to spend on media? 

I think Satan’s weapon is to entice people to ALWAYS be plugged in, to be obsessed, addicted, and unable to live without their devices.  One 13-year old said, "I would rather not eat for a week than get my phone taken away. It's really bad. I literally feel like I'm going to die." Another 13-year old said, "When I get my phone taken away, I feel kind of naked. I do feel kind of empty without my phone" (Why some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day,  Here is a video showing recent findings of how plugged in teens are to media today. 

Did you notice the girl said she wasn't addicted, but said her phone was a leash and you always have to be on it. Do you think Satan is doing a pretty good job convincing people to be plugged into media a lot? On the other hand, the Lord’s weapon is to help us set limits and learn how to unplug with media. 
Elder Ballard said, "We need to limit the amount of time our children watch TV or play video games or use the Internet each day.  Virtual reality must not become their reality" ("Let Our Voices Be Heard," Ensign, Nov. 2003).

  • Unplug to hear the still, small voice. The Spirit won’t speak louder than what’s playing in your ear buds. 
  • Unplug to partake of the sacrament, sincerely pray, and focus on the Savior. 
  • Unplug to have real conversations with real people who really care about you, like your family, friends, teachers, and church leaders. During one bishop’s interview with a new Mia Maid, the bishop said she was texting on her phone through the entire interview. I’m guessing she had no idea how rude and disrespectful that was. When you’re with people, be present with those people. 
  • Unplug to read good books and the scriptures without getting distracted by notifications.  
  • Unplug before going to bed. You’ll get better sleep and say better prayers without a phone buzzing every 60 seconds.  One anti-pornography expert said if you allow internet in a child’s bedroom you are setting him up for pornography addiction, so it’s recommended that all Internet devices have a curfew and are plugged in by the parents’ bedside. Prophets have said for years to keep internet computers in public rooms. Of course it’s much harder with phones and tablets but you can still set limits of using those in public rooms and during certain times. 

Teens and children aren't the only ones. Adults can be hooked to their electronics too much also, and sometimes not realize it. I fight the urge to be on my phone too much myself. Perhaps most people do. Because of electronics' addictive nature, it's important to keep up the fight, and not let them be in control of us. 
Let’s talk Sabbath for a moment. With the new emphasis on the Sabbath, that’s a great day to plug into media that brings you closer to Christ, like Mormon Messages, Bible videos, youth LDS music, indexing, and family history. Or doing Personal Progress or Duty to God online.

2. Does Satan or the Lord want you to believe that media affects you?

Satan’s weapon is to lie about this. “No way. My music, videos, TV, and video games don’t affect me at all.”

On the other hand, the Lord tells us that our media does affect us so we should choose wisely. Here are a some of the ways media affects people. 
John Bytheway said, "According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, television watching [or I would say mainstream media in general] is tied to desensitization to violence, obesity, teen pregnancy, [and] use of alcohol and drugs. Isn't that what every young woman would want?  To become a desensitized, obese, pregnant alcoholic?  Probably not" (John Bytheway, "Turn off the TV and Get a Life!" audio CD, 2003). 
“But Mom, it’s just one bad part.” What if I gave you a pan of brownies and reassured you that there’s only one bad part – just a little bit of dog poop inside the brownies? 
“‘Mom, it’s not that bad, it’s just sex and violence...’ What did Alma the Younger say to Korianton were the worst sins? [1] Denying the Holy Ghost, [2] murder, [3] breaking the law of chastity. Most of television is 2 and 3... And they often deny [or degrade the Lord]” (John Bytheyway, “Turn off the TV and Get a Life!” audio CD, 2003).
In a longitudinal study, kids whose favorite TV shows were violent ones between ages 8 and 11 were interviewed about 15 years later. Men who grew up watching more violent media were about twice as likely to push, grab, or shove a spouse. The women were four times more likely to punch, beat, or choke another person (See Brad Bushman PhD, “Is Violent Media 'Just Entertainment?'” BYU Lecture, Feb. 13, 2014).  

Elder Oaks said we should ask ourselves, “Where will this lead?” (“Where Will it Lead?” BYU Devotional, Nov. 9, 2004).  Looking where this could lead, and knowing that using violent media for years growing up desensitizes the person from how bad violence is, making it seem more normal, it makes sense that it would increase his or her chances of settling for a husband or wife who is abusive. And that could affect multiple generations. I’m sure it never crosses the mind of a parent buying a violent video game for her teenager’s Christmas present, “Gee, I sure hope this child becomes a violent husband and father, and marries a wife who is also mean and violent, and that my grandchildren get beat up by them.” NOBODY thinks like that. But statistics show you are increasing those risks when you buy that violent video game.  
Elder Joe J. Christensen said, “It is very unreasonable to suppose that exposure to profanity, nudity, sex, and violence has no negative affects on us. We can’t roll around in the mud without getting dirty” (Ensign, Nov. 1996). 
Elder Oaks said, “The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food, but the brain won’t vomit back filth. Once recorded it will always remain subject to recall. ... Pornography impairs one's ability to enjoy a normal emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationship with a person of the opposite sex. It erodes the moral barriers that stand against inappropriate, abnormal, or illegal behavior. ... [It is] also addictive. It impairs decision-making capacities and it ‘hooks' its users, drawing them back obsessively for more and more" (Dallin H. Oaks, "Pornography," Liahona, May 2005). 
If media doesn’t affect people, then why in one month, did Reeses Pieces sales go up 78% when the movie ET was released? Why did the applicants to become fighter pilots skyrocket after the movie Top Gun? My friend admitted that being raised watching soap operas contributed to her having skewed views of marriage and love, and led her to commit adultery. What people watch does affect them. 

3. What types of media does Satan want you to use?  And What types of media does the Lord want you to use?

Let’s look at the ways Satan uses media in this war for our souls. In For the Strength of Youth the Lord says not to use any media that is: 

  • vulgar
  • immoral
  • violent
  • pornographic in any way
  • Or media that makes bad look normal, funny, exciting, or with no consequences

Now let’s look ways the Lord uses media. Media that is: 

  • uplifting
  • helps you keep the Spirit
  • have good thoughts
  • make righteous choices 
That’s not my standard, or even the prophet’s. That’s the Lord’s standard. This would be a great list to write in the back of your scriptures or on an index card next to the TV, or even to memorize as a family.

Now think of a typical evening sitcom or murder show, or the latest movie everyone is raving about, or a popular song on the radio. Give it the test. Does it meet God's standard of media? 
  • Is it free from vulgarity, immorality, violence, and any type of pornography? 
  • Does it help you feel the Spirit and feel uplifted, make good choices and have good thoughts? 
  • Is it pro-family? Julie Beck taught that if something is anti-family, it is also anti-Christ. (See Julie Beck, "Teaching the Doctrine of the Family," Ensign, March 2011).
  • Does it teach us to respect our parents, teachers and law enforcement? 
  • Does it teach us to be kind and honest and be like Jesus, or does it teach the exact opposite? 
  • Another question we can ask is, "Does this invite light or darkness?" The Lord tells us, "that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. And ... know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23, 25). 
I would say most of the time mainstream media teaches the exact opposite. It takes work to find good, wholesome media. Think of the amount of time we spend each week going to church and seminary, having scripture study and family home evening to learn how to be like Jesus. Then how much time are we spending each week with the TV, device, or video games that are teaching us to be like the world? 

Of course there is also amazingly good media. I personally use media for many good things. I blog, I find and share ideas for seminary teaching and preparedness on Facebook groups, I love video chatting my two adorable grand daughters, and I love watching an uplifting movie with my family.  Elder Bednar challenged us to sweep the earth with a flood of light and truth using social media. Here is a video about that. 

Would you please raise your hand if you’ve ever used social media to share something good and uplifting? That’s great! 

I have a question for you. Which side of the line do you think violent video games are on? Let’s look again at the Lord’s standard in For the Strength of Youth.  Do they fit in how Satan uses media or the Lord? Also the Lord said, “Thou shalt not … commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6).  Do you think watching a movie with people committing adultery or killing people in a video game is like unto it?  If the Lord commanded us to chase darkness from us (see D&C 50:25) aren't violent video games a source of spiritual darkness? 
Brad Bushman said, “The Spirit is offended when we pollute our minds with harmful, violent material. ... It is troubling that so many people consider it entertaining to view violence. ... Violent video games might be even more harmful than violent TV programs [because they are] highly interactive. Most violent video games require the player to take on the identity of a violent game character, and most of these games reward individuals for behaving aggressively. For example, players get points for killing people.” (“It’s ‘Only’ Violence,” Ensign, June 2003, emphasis added).  
Brad Bushman is a world-renowned expert in the effects of violent video games. 
Last year he took every study done about this (that’s 381 studies)! This is very reliable research which shows that violent video games “increase violent thoughts and behavior, anger, stress. [And] decrease empathy, helping, self-control, and honesty (See Brad Bushman PhD, “Is Violent Media 'Just Entertainment?'” BYU Lecture, Feb. 13, 2014).  As we all know, violent video games are the ones that sell the most. 

Your child may think he or she is the only one on the planet not using a certain movie, show, book, or game. Peer pressure can feel intense sometimes. It's also a great opportunity to teach President Monson's maxim, "dare to stand alone," even if you're the only one in the ward who follows God's standard of media (See Ensign, Nov. 2011). How many lessons in church, seminary, and family home evening have you had where you've been taught to obey the Lord even if it's hard, and even if you stand alone? This is one of those areas where the Lord has commanded us to keep His standards, which can sound hard, maybe even impossible if none of your friends do. You may feel alone. I testify that just as God gave Nephi power to do seemingly impossible things like getting the brass plates, building a ship, and crossing the sea to America, He will give you and me power to keep His standard of media even when it's hard, and even if we stand alone (See 1 Nephi 3:7). 

When my children have been patient through a fad like this, after a while the fanfare dies down about that movie or book and it's not that big of a deal any more. My oldest son who begged for violent video games when he was younger has since thanked us many times as he was preparing for his mission for saying "no."  
President Monson said, “Don’t be afraid to walk out of a movie, turn off a television set, or change a radio station if what’s being presented does not meet your Heavenly Father’s standards. In short, if you have any question about whether a particular movie, book, or other form of entertainment is appropriate, don’t see it, don’t read it, don’t participate” (“Preparation Brings Blessings, Ensign, May 2010). 

4. Where do Satan and the Lord want you to seek self-worth and confidence?

Satan wants you to seek self-worth and confidence from virtual reality. From how many people you kill in a video game. From showing a fake life on social media. From how many likes you get on a post, and that you have no value if only a few people “liked” your post. From your body size and what brands you wear. From the great and spacious internet. From caring what your friends think more than what God thinks. From obsessing about yourself. From comparing and competing with other people’s fake lives on social media. None of these bring real self-worth. They are fake. They are shallow. They are temporary. Like the great and spacious building, they have no foundation and they will fall. 

Teens, especially young women often struggle with low self esteem, obsessing about body image, and even having eating disorders. It’s no wonder, when they’re comparing themselves with movie stars who have starved themselves, had surgeries, and are airbrushed. They’re not even real people, yet they’re making our youth feel low self-esteem. Ads are designed to create fear and low self-esteem, because that’s how they sell products. The more a person stays away from mainstream media, the easier it is to feel higher self-worth.  Back when TV and radio were the only kinds of electronic media, one young man took a challenge to fast from TV, and after a semester he noticed the girls in his ward started to look pretty to him. Isn’t that interesting?

Now, where does the Lord want you to seek self-worth and confidence? 
President Monson said, “Your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. … God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there” (“We Never Walk Alone,” Ensign, Nov. 2013).  You are a child of God. You already have infinite worth, and that never changes, no matter what. 
The Lord tells us two sources of real confidence in D&C 121:45. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45). In other words, the Lord gives us real confidence as we have charity or love for others, and have righteous thoughts. When we are kind to and praise others we feel better about ourselves, and help others gain confidence as well. Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift someone else.”  (Up from Slavery: An Autobiography)
Sheri Dew said, “The only way that I know to be happy is to live the gospel. It is not possible to sin enough to be happy. It is not possible to buy enough to be happy or to entertain or indulge yourself enough to be happy. Happiness and joy come only when you are living up to who you are” (You Were Born to Lead, You Were Born for Glory, BYU Devotional, Dec. 9, 2003). 
Susan Tanner said, “I remember well the insecurities I felt as a teenager with a bad case of acne. I tried to care for my skin properly. My parents helped me get medical attention. For years I even went without eating chocolate and all the greasy fast foods around which teens often socialize, but with no obvious healing consequences. It was difficult for me at that time to fully appreciate this body which was giving me so much grief. But my good mother taught me a higher law. Over and over she said to me, ‘You must do everything you can to make your appearance pleasing, but the minute you walk out the door, forget yourself and start concentrating on others’” (Ensign, Nov. 2005).
So the Lord’s weapon is to help us gain self-worth from Him, knowing we are His child and have infinite worth. And to gain real confidence by loving and lifting others, having righteous thoughts, by living the gospel, and living up to who you are. 

5. Where do Satan and the Lord want you to seek answers to spiritual questions? 

Satan wants you to head straight to the great and spacious building for answers to your spiritual questions. Ask Google. Ask Siri. Ask Wikipedia. Ask your friends or strangers on Facebook. Ask anyone, but whatever you do, don’t ask Heavenly Father. 
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “...Studying the Church only through the eyes of its defectors [is] like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed” (“All Hell is Moved,” BYU Devotional, Nov. 8, 1977).
Now, where does the Lord want you to seek answers to spiritual questions?  From the Lord, from the source of truth, and from sources where you will feel the Spirit.  The Bible tells us that man cannot understand the things of God except he has the Spirit of God. (See 1 Corinthians 2:9-14.)  Seek answers from the Lord  – from the scriptures, conference talks,, from prayer and fasting, priesthood leaders or trusted parents. Some answers don’t come quickly and some may not even come in this life. 

Can I show you an analogy that helps me when I have questions I don’t understand yet?

Let’s say I have unanswered questions about something like polygamy. That’s like a small stone or pebble. What’s important is how closely I focus on the pebble.  If I close one eye and bring that pebble right in front of my other eye, what happens to my vision? It’s totally eclipsed by that one pebble. That one unanswered question covers up the massive pile of boulders of things I DO know, like that Heavenly Father is real, that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that the Holy Ghost has helped me more times than I can count. I could let it cover up that I do know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God who restored the church and translated the Book of Mormon, a book that has changed my life over and over and NOBODY can convince me that book isn’t true. That President Monson is a prophet of God today and I have had multiple spiritual witnesses of that. 

Do you see how important it is not to focus too closely we focus on little pebbles of questions so they don’t eclipse the big stuff, ruin our testimony, and pull us away from all the good of the gospel?  I’m sure you’ve seen this happen to people. Do I have unanswered questions? Yes, so does probably everybody. That’s what faith is about. If we had all the answers where would we need faith?  So I like to imagine setting those little pebbles of questions to the side a shelf, and then I  move forward in faith with the many big rocks of things I do know.
Elder Holland said, “I ... readily acknowledge that everyone has some gospel question or other yet to be answered. At the end of the day, all of us must make distinctions between the greater and the lesser elements of our testimony. For me the greater pillars include those majestic truths mentioned earlier, their irreplaceable centrality in my life, and the realization that I simply could not live, I could not go on without them or without the blessings I have known or without the promises we have all been given in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (“Be Not Afraid, Only Believe,” Address to CES Religious Educators, Feb. 6, 2015).
Elder Tad Callister said, "I can live with some human imperfections, even among prophets of God—that is to be expected in mortal beings. I can live with some alleged scientific findings contrary to the Book of Mormon; time will correct those. And I can live with some seeming historical anomalies; they are minor in the total landscape of truth. But I cannot live without the doctrinal truths and ordinances restored by Joseph Smith, I cannot live without the priesthood of God to bless my family, and I cannot live without knowing my wife and children are sealed to me for eternity. ... That is the choice we face—a few unanswered questions on one hand versus a host of doctrinal certainties and the power of God on the other. And for me, and I hope for you, the choice is an easy one and a rational one" (Elder Tad R. Callister, "What Is the Blueprint of Christ's Church?" CES Devotional for Young Adults, January 12, 2014).
I want to show you a Church website that we seminary teachers are trained to show the youth if they bring challenging questions to us like “What about polygamy, or priesthood and race, or same-sex attraction?”  The site is, and on the right side you click on Gospel Topics.  Then it brings up an A to Z menu. You can choose topics by letter, or type a topic in the search bar. This site is a great place to get truth about questions about which the great and spacious internet will only give opinions. I highly recommend this site for family home evening lessons too. 

6. Will You Do What God Sent You to Earth to Do? 

The Lord tells us, "There are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world..." (D&C 121:34-35). The Lord also said, “Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13).  A car idles when its enormous potential power is sitting still. A teenager has enormous potential power to do great things, but he idles when he spends hours a day being entertained by media.  

President Hinckley said, "You are the best generation we have ever had" ("An Ensign to the Nations, a Light to the World," Ensign, Nov. 2003).  President Kimball said this is a time when our influence "can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times" ("Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters," Ensign, Nov. 1978).  Ezra Taft Benson said, "For nearly six thousand years, God has ... saved for the final inning some of his strongest children, ... the generation that must be prepared to meet your God. ... Will we be true to our last-days, foreordained mission?" (“In His Steps,” BYU Fireside, March 4, 1979)

You’ve been sent to this troubled world in the last days for a reason, and it’s not to spend 6 ½ or 9 hours a day vegging in front of screens. You’ve got better things to do. You’ve got amazing things to do. Some young people are missing their missions or leaving the MTC because of addiction to internet video games and other technology. Others aren't courting or getting married because of being too caught up with technology and virtual reality. 

Several years ago a bishop told me that out of about a dozen priests in his ward, all from active families, only two of them were sure they were going to serve missions. He said they were the only two boys not addicted to violent video games. Some of the boys would walk into Priests quorum talking about staying up until 4 AM playing games, and their parents had no idea.  Some of those boys were able to turn their lives around with the help of the atonement and go on missions. Some of them never did. 

Here is an example of violent video games keeping a young person from doing what God sent him to earth to do. 
A young man named Reuben played Civilization for seven years after a college dorm friend shared the game with him. He said, "At the time the ability to create an alternate world was a refreshing break from the routine of student life. For the first week I didn't sleep... It was worse than being on crack.  I'd always get a sinking feeling when I looked out the window and saw it was dawn. I'd be angry at myself for being such a loser, because the game was controlling my life" (San Francisco Chronicle, quoted by John Bytheway, "Turn off the TV and Get a Life! audio CD, 2003).
Did you know that violent video games can also be a gateway to pornography addiction? That may sound silly, but think about it.  They both typically involve the same elements: immodest or pornographic images, violence, darkness and pushing away the Holy Spirit, escalation and desensitization, meaning the user needs more quantity and more intensity to get the same high.

Here are a couple stories of how limiting media can free a person to do what God sent them to earth to do. 

I won’t tell you this person’s name yet. He was a childhood TV addict. His single mom, who could barely read herself, decided the way to help her two sons pull out of their poverty situation was to help them become readers. This boy was the only African American child in his fifth grade, and got the worst grades in his class. His mother, working as a house cleaner, noticed that books, rather than television, were very prominent in the homes where she worked. He and his brother spent a lot of time watching TV, so their mom began requiring they read two library books each week and write book reports for her. She also limited television to only few certain programs each week. The boy was also required by her to finally memorize the multipliction tables. His scores in math improved, and he improved in all his school subjects. By the end of high school, he graduated third highest in his grade, went to Yale, and eventually became the head of Johns Hopkins Pediatric Surgery. He has saved many lives with his skilled brain surgeries, has written inspiring books, and now is a presidential candidate. 

Can you guess who this man is? Ben Carson. What would Ben have to show for his life if he kept spending his free time in front of the TV? Nothing. What does he have to show for it because he started limiting media and reading good books instead? A lot. 

Here is a personal example. Can I tell you what I did with my summer when I was 13? I wasted it in front of the TV watching dumb reruns of shows, some of which I snuck were below my family’s standards. What did I have to show for my life after that summer? Nothing. I idled away an entire summer and had nothing to show for it. As I look back on that summer I felt lazy, unproductive, guilty and empty. Since then I have learned to limit media to plug into God’s power. 

In contrast, now can I tell you what I did with this past summer? I started a 90-day Book of Mormon challenge for myself, and decided to invite others to join me. Using social media and email, about 1,000 people joined a Facebook group I created for the challenge. People  cheered each other on and shared insights and how the Book of Mormon was changing their lives. Some people who had never finished the book before were reading and loving it. That felt amazing. Also this summer, my family served our neighbor who had a new baby and was having serious health problems. I helped my 13-year-old sons get their biking merit badge. I made a goal to attend the temple every week. I attended seminary trainings, BYU Education Week, and other conferences, at some of which I spoke. I worked out regularly. I organized my basement and food storage. I caught up with old friends and took family walks through the neighborhood. I wrote blog posts about scripture study tools, getting organized, and preparedness. We visited museums and went on a family vacation. What do I have to show for my most recent summer? A lot!  What if I had spent those hours being entertained by electronics, then what would I have to show for it? 

Remember how the average teen spends 6 ½ hours a day being entertained with electronic screens? That is more than 2,300 hours per year. Imagine what you could do in 2300 hours! I’m going to paraphrase and embellish John Bytheway here. Think of the songs you could learn, the free throws you could shoot, the books you could read, the pictures you could draw, the children you could play with, the mountains you could climb, the businesses you could start, the merit badges you could earn, the Personal Progress projects you could accomplish, the Duty to God goals you could achieve, the Preach My Gospel you could study, the money you could save for your mission or college, the journals you could fill, the names you could index, the family members you could do temple work for, the things you could build, the scriptures or quotes you could memorize, the testimonies you could strengthen, the people you could serve, the things you could write, the lives you could change, including your own. (See John Bytheway, "Turn off the TV and Get a Life! audio CD, 2003). Or you could spend 2300 hours vegging in front of electronic screens.

Why spend 2,300 hours watching other people live their dreams when you could be living some of your own? Leo Buscaglia said, “Your talent is God's gift to you; what you do with it is your gift to God.”

7. How should we protect our families from inappropriate media?

Satan’s weapon is to tempt you to do nothing. “There is no problem. There’s nothing to worry about. Just do whatever you want and we’ll all be happy.” He wants to blind you to the consequences of his kinds of media. 

How does the Lord want you to protect your family from inappropriate media?  The same way Captain Moroni protected his people in the Book of Mormon, with layers of protection, and upgrading your protection regularly, knowing Satan is always upgrading his battle plans all the time. Moroni had his men dig ditches and put tall ridges of dirt around the cities, place tall timbers on the ridges with a frame of pickets and tall towers, security places with guards watching the borders. He had his people wear shields, breastplates and head plates. He had them keep the commandments, and they did not stop making preparations for war. (See Alma 49-50.)

Here are three layers of media protection I recommend for families: 

First, protect your devices with filters, parental controls, and safe search modes on all devices, not just kids’. 

I’ll share two free ways to avoid seeing filth while searching: one is Ad Block Plus which blocks unwanted ads. The other is using the space bar when I’m searching on Google. So I might type “ [space bar] Camelbak water bottle.”  That lets me skip any immodest and violent movie ads on Amazon’s homepage. Those two both work on Chrome, so you can see if they work on your browser. Another way is filtering movies with something like VidAngel or Clear Play. 

Second, protect your family with a family media plan and open, ongoing discussions about God’s standards of media and what to do when your children see bad stuff like pornography. 

When a young person accidentally sees pornography, they don’t know what to do with the combination of shame and excitement they feel, so if parents haven’t taught a child what to do when they see it, they are likely going to go back for more. (which is an LDS church site) or offer great help here. A panel of anti-pornography experts were asked how old kids should be when parents should teach these things. Their answer was, “Sooner than you think.”  Here is a video teaching what to do when you see pornography. The Church used my friend Kristen Jensen's book in making this video, which book I highly recommend: Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-proofing Today's Young Kids.

And third, protect your hearts with a deep testimony and relationship with the Savior, and holy habits every day that invite the Spirit. 
Sister Linda Reeves said, “Filters are useful tools, but the greatest filter in the world, the only one that will ultimately work, is the personal internal filter that comes from a deep and abiding testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love and our Savior’s atoning sacrifice for each one of us” (Ensign, May, 2014).  
Have you ever noticed how differently you respond to a stressful situation when you don’t have the Spirit verses when you do? Imagine that you break a jar of spaghetti sauce on the floor. If you don’t have the Spirit with you, it’s tempting to scream, yell, blame someone else, and get all stressed out about it. But if you do have the Spirit with you, it’s still not fun, but you have more power to stay calm while you clean it up, and maybe even laugh about it. The same holds true for temptation. You have much more power to resist temptation and keep commitments to God’s standards when you have the Spirit. So the most important protection is your own testimony and having the Spirit.  We all know what daily holy habits invite the Spirit – things like sincere prayer, scripture study, church and temple attendance, being kind, staying away from inappropriate media, and following promptings. 

8. What if you already messed up? 

What if you’ve been using inappropriate media or been spending way too much time on media? What if you’ve been viewing pornography or have even broken the law of chastity? 

Satan’s weapon is to tell you things like, “It’s too late. You’ve gone too far. You’re not worthy to pray. You’re not worthy of God’s love. You might as well just keep doing it. Don’t tell your parents or your bishop about your problem. They’ll freak out and won’t ever forgive you. The atonement might work for others, but not for you. There’s no hope for you. Just give up.” 

Did you feel the yucky feeling when I read those lies from Satan? That’s the Holy Ghost telling you those things are not true. Now pay attention to how you feel when I tell you some things that are true.

The Lord’s weapon is to tells you things like, “You have a personal powerful Savior who loves you more than you could ever imagine, and He wants to bless you with forgiveness, peace, and healing. The Savior is more powerful than all your problems, mistakes, and sins, even more powerful than any addictions. Turn to Him. If it’s serious, contact your bishop right away, even tonight. 
President Boyd K. Packer said, “Save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.  That is the promise of the atonement of Christ” (“The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995). That is the truth. 

Le't review the eight ways to use media the Lord's way.
  1. Limit time and unplug from media.
  2. Media affects you, so choose wisely.
  3. Keep the Lord’s standard of media, even if it's hard and even if you stand alone.
  4. Seek self-worth from God, not from virtual reality.
  5. Seek spiritual answers from God, not the great and spacious internet.
  6. Do what God sent you to earth to do, don't idle your life away in front of screens.
  7. Protect our families from inappropriate media with multiple layers.
  8. Use the Atonement to help with mess ups.
Can you see why it’s so important to power down, to unplug yourself from ways Satan uses media, and plug into God’s power instead? 

I have two invitations for each person in this room, including me. 

The first one is for each family to hold a family home evening where you discuss your family media plan. What are your rules for what types, where, when, and how long media is allowed? What should your children do when they see pornography? Do you need filters or blocks? Write down your plan and post it in your home. 

The second invitation is for every person in the room to make a commitment right now to be on God’s side of the line with media, because remember there is a war going on for our souls, and how we use media can be a deciding factor in which side we end up on. I invite each of us to say a silent little prayer right now and ask Heavenly Father what’s a change He wants you to make right away with your use of media. Maybe He will give you the idea to delete certain songs or singers from your play list, or toss certain DVDs or video games, or have Him be the first one you check in with in the morning and last thing at night, rather than your phone. Maybe He’ll prompt you that when a family member is talking with you, you should put down your phone and look them in the eyes to listen more fully, or to commit to not turning on any screens until after you've plugged yourself into God's Spirit with sincere prayer and scripture study in the morning. Please write down or send yourself a message on your phone what you are feeling is the step God wants you to take, so you’ll remember to do it when you get home. 

I want to close with my testimony, and then a video clip from Elder Bednar. I know that Heavenly Father created us and sent us to earth in these last days to do some awesome things. I know that He did not send us here to idle and waste our lives away being entertained by screens, especially the ways Satan uses media. But He has given us great ways to use media for good. I know that if we ask Him, He will help us power down and unplug from the ways Satan uses media, and plug into God, His Atonement, His Spirit, and His power more than ever before. I know that as we focus on real life and real people we can find more happiness and self-worth. And I know that the Savior’s Atonement truly forgives and heals broken hearts. 

Click here for 20 principles to stay on God's side of the line with media, including quotes and research. 

Click here for an eye-opening presentation by Officer Gomez, a middle school resource officer, about how to protect our kids from various online dangers.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

If God is more powerful than the Red Sea, He is more powerful than my problems too

During seminary this morning I felt scattered and the students were restless. 

After class I spilled my whole seminary bin on the floor and then got pulled over for speeding on the way home. I was going on too little sleep and had put all my energy yesterday into getting ready to speak last night. 

Nevertheless, I felt the truth of the testimony I bore at the end of class, that just as God was more powerful than the Red Sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other, He is also more powerful than our challenges, stresses, weaknesses, bad habits, addictions, and sins. Even when my day goes south, I love knowing God is on my side, He is grateful for my efforts, and He will make tomorrow a better day.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

FHE on Why Sexual Purity Matters

This week in seminary we compared how two brothers responded to sexual temptation -- Judah and Joseph (see Genesis 38 and 39). Here is an easy family home evening lesson about sexual purity, because our children need to be strengthened in the fight to stay virtuous. 

1. Watch two short videos and discuss each one as a family. 

2. Read and discuss the Lord's standard of sexual purity in For the Strength of Youth. 

“Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. …

"Avoid situations that invite increased temptation, such as late-night or overnight activities away from home or activities where there is a lack of adult supervision. Do not participate in discussions or any media that arouse sexual feelings. Do not participate in any type of pornography. The Spirit can help you know when you are at risk and give you the strength to remove yourself from the situation. Have faith in and be obedient to the righteous counsel of your parents and leaders.Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife” (For the Strength of Youth).

3. Read and discuss a quote from Elder Holland: 

“In matters of human intimacy, you must wait! You must wait until you can give everything, and you cannot give everything until you are legally and lawfully married. To give illicitly that which is not yours to give is emotional Russian roulette. If you persist without the sanction of heaven, you run the terrible risk of such spiritual, psychic damage that you may undermine both your longing for physical intimacy and your ability to give wholehearted devotion to a later, truer love… On your wedding day the very best gift you can give your eternal companion is your very best self—clean and pure and worthy of such purity in return” (“Personal Purity,” Ensign, Nov. 1998).
Also be sure to let your children know that the Savior's Atonement is real and it works. If they ever do lose their virtue by choice or by force, parents need them to know there is always hope, they are always loved by you and by God, and that the Atonement can heal them. 

Click here for a printable handout that's the right size to glue into standard scriptures in Genesis 39. 

4. Finally, invite each person write down a personal commitment to the Lord of what they will and won't do to stay sexually pure. 

Extra ideas for follow-up FHE's

  • If you want to go the extra mile, you could purchase a "purity ring" (here are some ideas) for each child, inviting them to leave it on until their wedding day, as a reminder that they have promised God to stay sexually pure and give that gift to their future spouse. This ring might be more special given on a mother-father-child date with each child, inviting them to promise you and the Lord that you will wear the ring as a sign of their promise to be sexually pure, as shown in the movie Courageous. 
  • Here is a book I highly recommend about teaching children how to respond when they see bad pictures, because these days it's not "if" it's "when."  Experts say that a child who accidentally sees pornography is so overwhelmed by the combination of shame and excitement, that if they haven't been taught exactly what to do afterward, that they will likely go back for more. What age to experts say kids should be taught this? Their answer is, "Younger than you think."
  • Here is a BYU devotional by Elder Lynn G. Robbins called "Avoid It." He does an excellent job of explaining how temptation is enhanced by chemistry, like a person on a diet walking into the kitchen smelling and seeing warm chocolate chip cookies trying to resist them. 
  • Here are more ideas about protecting your family from pornography.