Thursday, July 21, 2005

Sacrament Meeting Talk

Sometimes I just get a hankering to speak in Sacrament Meeting, but in seven years in my ward I've only been asked to do it once, and I don't think it likely I'll be asked again for a very long time. Or if I am asked to speak when I move into my new ward, I'll already have this talk written! Either way, I'll just write my talk here.


My talk today is about how Satan makes sin look attractive, and what we can do about it. Before we can understand this, we need to understand a little bit about marketing. Take, for example, tooth whitening products.

There are tons of tooth whitening products out on the market nowadays, and people are buying them. Why do people feel they need tooth whitening products? It's true that most teeth are not naturally a vivid shade of white. But ten years ago nobody outside of Hollywood would have thought to have their teeth whitened. Why do we feel we need tooth whitening now? Are teeth suddenly darker than they used to be? No, dental hygiene isn't any different than it was ten years ago, and teeth are still the same natural color they have always been. No, the reason we feel we need tooth whitening is because we have gotten a message that our appearance is less than perfect if our teeth are not white.

Well, where did we get this message? Look around at the people near you. How many of them have shiny white teeth? Are their teeth any whiter than yours? Obviously we didn't get this impression from looking at people around us and noticing that their teeth were much whiter. No, we got this message from the advertisements. They showed people with shiny white teeth, and they told us that shiny white teeth make you more attractive, and we believed them. Gradually we started perceiving that beautiful people have shiny white teeth, and we accepted the converse, that shiny white teeth would make us more beautiful.

The tooth whitening ads took a truth-- that our teeth are not shiny and white-- and packaged it with a message-- that shiny white teeth will make us attractive. This is the nature of marketing; it always consists of a truth and a message. People don't buy products; people buy what they think the product will do for them. They buy a particular food because they think it will be more satisfying or tasty or nutritious or easier to use or a better value than the alternative choice. They buy certain clothes because they believe others will think about them a certain way if they wear them. If we only bought food and clothes for their practicality, we'd all be eating beans and rice and wearing non-matching old clothes from the D.I. Instead we get Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup and a matching skirt and blouse, because we've gotten the message that beans and rice is not convenient to cook and that keeping up with fashion will make us more appealing. Now, marketing is not evil. The message is usually completely benign, even sometimes beneficial (think of the ads for medicines and products that help people).

Satan is a master at marketing. He operates according to the basic principle of marketing, which is that you always package your message with the truth. In Satan's case, however, the message is neither benign nor beneficial. Satan doesn't want something as innocent as getting people to buy tooth whitening products. He wants all people to be as miserable as he is, sitting huddled in the dark and cold away from the warmth and light of Heavenly Father for eternity. So Satan's message is going to be a lie that will, if it works, persuade you not to buy a product, but to sin.

Satan's most productive marketing campaign to date has been the "You Can't Help It, It's In Your Nature" campaign. In this campaign, he takes a truth-- that your desire for something is in your nature-- and packages it with a lie-- that you can't help but satisfy that desire. He wants people to believe that they should do something they know is wrong, because they can't help themselves. He wants us to believe that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who are entitled to sin because their nature requires it, and those to whom the Lord's words apply.

Now let's take a closer look at Satan's argument. We know from our study of the scriptures that certain things are in our nature. All through the scriptures, Paul and others complain about the "natural man"-- the carnal side of ourselves that is inclined toward the satisfaction of its appetites. While we are in our bodies, we will be subject to these appetites, and rightly so. Each appetite has a purpose. Our appetite for food must be satisfied to some degree, or we will die of starvation. Our appetite for sleep must be satisfied. However, our carnal bodies cannot know where we cross the line from satisfaction to gluttony. This is a spiritual decision, and as Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 2:14, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him..." It would indeed seem foolish to our bodies to not eat seconds even though there's delicious food available, or to wake up early because we have to go to work in the morning. We make these decisions-- what to eat, how long to sleep-- as part of the program of spiritual mastery of our carnal selves that is spoken of all through the scriptures.

Satan knows the scriptures more thoroughly than I'd bet most of us do, and he's aware of this dual nature of man. He wants to persuade us to give up pursuing the goal of spiritual mastery, and the most efficient way to do this is to get us to let our carnal drives get out of control, or else to let us believe that our carnal drives are in control. This is where his most successful ad campaign comes in. His message that "You Can't Help It, It's In Your Nature" is to persuade us that whatever he is trying to get us to do is part of the normal satiation of our carnal drives, and it doesn't cross the line into over-indulgence. What he's asking us to do, though, usually has crossed the line, and will allow our carnal selves to become stronger than our spiritual selves.

Satan has used this message many times over the years, always to great effect. He has used it to persuade some men that violence is in their nature and that it's OK to beat your wife or children. He has used it to persuade some women that gossip is in their nature and that it's OK to spread rumors about others. He has used it to persuade some young people that wanting to be attractive is in their nature and that it's OK to be so obsessed with your appearance that you neglect the things of God. He has used it to persuade some married people that it's OK to commit adultery because their sexual urges are natural and need to be satisfied. In short, he uses it to tell us that it's OK to commit any sin because we cannot stop ourselves from committing every sin.

But the scriptures tell us point-blank that while our natures are in fact oriented toward sin, the message that we can't do anything about it is dead wrong. In 1 Cor. 10:13 we read, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." In other words, these temptations Satan throws our way are nothing that hasn't been thrown in the path of millions of our contemporaries or in the paths of saints thousands of years ago, and just like them, we will be capable of rising above these weaknesses and utterly failing to commit sin. Not "may be" or "might be" or "will probably be," "will be."

The degree to which we fail at this task of overcoming temptation is, according to this scripture, a function of our weakness to resist. And make no mistake, all of us are weak. You'd think, of all people, Nephi would be one of the strongest. And yet he complains, "O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me." (2 Ne. 4:17-18) And this was not as a young man either-- this was toward the end of his life, after having traveled across the sea to the Promised Land, after enduring the warfare that his brothers and their kin inflicted on his family. After all of that, you'd think Nephi would have developed a little resistance to sin. But no, he hadn't. He was still as vulnerable as ever. He was as "encompassed about" by temptation as any kid watching MTV is. He was as "easily beset" as any one of us. His iniquities, the choices made in weakness, were grievous enough to pain his very soul and make him feel wretched.

All of us are vulnerable to temptation. All of us at some point will not escape the temptation to sin. Satan is right about that point. But here's what the Lord has to say about weaknesses in Jacob 4:7: "Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things." The "grace" and the "great condescensions" of which Jacob speaks are the blessings of the Atonement. You see, God has the power to turn any bad thing into a great and glorious thing. And it is through the Atonement that God can turn our weakness, our giving in to temptation, into a glorious, faith-promoting display of His power and grace.

"So also," says Paul, "is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Cor. 15:42-44) The seeds of our eternal glory are sown in the lowly dirt of our weakness and temptation. Through careful cultivation of a spiritual nature, we can encourage these seeds, divine gifts of grace, to grow into a most glorious tree of everlasting life. We know that this is true, for it is the pattern that the Lord has set from the very beginning: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25) The paths that would lead billions toward a chance at eternal life were sown in the sin of Adam and Eve.

I will end this talk with Paul's account of an answer to his own prayer for protection from temptation. From 2 Cor. 12:6-10 :

For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

Brothers and sisters, we need not be ashamed of our weaknesses. Like Paul, we can instead realize that these weaknesses can be a source of strength in the Lord, and we should cultivate that strength and treasure the blessings that will come showering down on our heads as a result. What a glorious work is this that the Lord has done! What a precious joy, what a treasure He has given us! What exquisite peace it gives us, to know that even in our moment of weakness, the Lord has a way prepared for us to come to a beautiful state of glory! What a light this glorious hope shines into the darkest corners of our hearts! My heart exclaims with joy to hear of it!

We should not use our weaknesses as an excuse to believe Satan's messages, packaged with truth as they are, but as an opportunity to take advantage of the loving grace of the Lord and to participate in His plan for eternal life. This is what the Lord wants for us. He gives us our weakness, and he gives us our free agency. What will we sow in our weakness? Will we sow more weakness and sin, or will we plant the seeds of our spiritual growth and allow ourselves to become a conduit for blessings?

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.