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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Filters - Keeping out the evils that affect our marriages and lives

Today I’d like to talk to you about being pure in heart, and what that means for us on a day-to-day basis. My wife and I like to talk a lot about the ‘why’ of living the gospel, because finding out why you’re doing it, is what really puts the fun and the fire into living the gospel every day.

We decided one quiet Sunday morning to do some scripture study, and we looked up a Conference talk from 1973 by Gordon Hinckley, called ‘Opposing Evil’.

He talked about a young man he’d met with, who had been living in immorality, but now had serious questions about where his life was going.

He asked the young man how this change of heart had come about. The young man showed him a ring, that had belonged to his grandfather. That ring had come to his father, who had given it to him. One night, a friend of his remarked, ‘Whom will you give it to? I guess you’re the last one.’

He saw in that moment that he was on a road that was going nowhere. In his own words, he said ‘I was walking down a blind alley, where there is neither hope, nor light, nor future.’ And so the young man came to then-Elder Hinckley for help.

Gordon B. Hinckley then talks about the experiences this young man had had…the onslaught of immorality growing in the world around him in the mid-60s and early 70s, which we know from history and our own experiences were very turbulent times. There were references to evil in the theatre ads, in the newspaper, and in the mail around him as he thought about that young man. Today, we could include the Internet as well, as our computers often bring us the horrors, the violence and the immorality of the world on a daily basis, even in our social media. There’s no escaping it.

Decades before President Hinckley blessed us with the inspired words of The Proclamation to the World on the Family, he spoke even back then about evil finding its ways into our legislation and our courtrooms, and we’re living the results of that in even greater measure today than back then.

While we were reading through his talk, we came to his suggestions for combating the forces in the world. We read this paragraph, which said,

“It is a matter of more than passing interest that the Lord, as he spoke to the multitude on the Mount, included this marvelous declaration: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” – Matthew 5:8

In that moment, both my wife and I realized that this promise from the Lord included more than the choice opportunity of being worthy to stand in the presence of God and seeing God’s face – something we all would desire, but for most of us, an event that feels far out of reach.

This promise also includes a blessing that we can claim right now – the blessing of being able to ‘see’ as God sees.

It’s like the filter for the air conditioner in a home. Air conditioning is vital to life here in a hot area like Texas in the summer. It’s vital that it functions well. If you remember, this spring was particularly heavy with allergens. I get horrible hay fever, so I feel it more than others. My eyes start burning, my face starts itching, my vision gets blurry. Every nerve ending is irritated, and my life becomes unbearable. Admittedly, I’m less easy to live with at times like this, at work or home.

This spring, we looked around our home, and we began to notice all the dust bunnies coming from our vents, covering our ceiling fans and our furniture and floor, and drifting through the air.

Recently, we had installed an air filter into our air conditioner – an expensive and heavy air filter designed to filter out the tiniest of allergens. We assumed it would last us for months. When we checked the air filter, we saw that it was already super-saturated with dust particles and allergens, so much so that it was not containing them anymore, and coming around the sides of the filter. As hard as it was being hit with undesirable particles, it could no longer contain all of them, and particles were getting through into our air.

What we came to realize was that we had to change our filter more often. As soon as we changed our air filter, I began to feel relief. Our home became a more breathable place. The irritations that were overwhelming my ability to focus on being more Christlike in my behavior went away or became more manageable, and I could interact more easily.

So what does all this have to do with being pure in heart?

Being pure in heart is like a having a home. The spiritual air filters on that home need to be maintained frequently in order to keep our views of ourselves and our surroundings pure and just.

So what’s getting through our filters?

What would a person who is exposed to heavy doses of sensational news articles see through their filter? They would ‘see’ violence and corruption and people who can’t be trusted, on a daily basis, instead of ‘seeing God’ in other people. They’re seeing the world’s perspectives, which may be correct, or may not.

What would a person who is exposed to profane erotic materials on a regular basis ‘see’? They would see lust and sexuality in everyone and everything, even in their young children. We all know tragic examples of this, sometimes in our own families. They’re seeing people as objects, instead of seeing them as children of God, and are comfortable treating them as such.

Without changing the spiritual filter in our lives, we only see what the world is constantly flowing through – the idea that people are objects to be used, that people are angry and hateful, or that people want to take advantage of us and deceive us for their ends, people who will never trust you, or that you’re unlovable or unforgivable.

Without changing the filter, we start seeing other people this way. We start seeing our spouses and children this way, then our Church leaders and fellow Saints. This leads to discontent, mistrust, contention, broken vows, broken homes, broken lives, apostasy, and worse.

On the other hand, those who make the effort to keep that filter through which they see the world clean, who willfully keep themselves ‘pure’ in their hearts, will ‘see God’ in everyone and everything. They will understand that when they are serving each other, they are only serving God.

They will understand the parable of the sheep and the goats that Christ gave, when he replied to the people who asked when they had served Him, and He told them that ‘…inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ They will see the child of God in each person they encounter, and treat them as such, without hesitation or resentment of any kind.

We can’t assume that, just because we’ve been baptized, or that we’ve been a member of the Church for years, or even all our lives, that that filter is permanently clean. You can’t repent once and think you’re done. You can’t read the Book of Mormon once all the way through and think your testimony will last you a lifetime.  

Maintaining that ‘eternal perspective’ (like the air conditioner) is something we have to deliberately do monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly or moment to moment in more taxing times. Additionally, the daily and weekly filters have to be maintained before other filters will work optimally as well.

Let me illustrate by giving you a recommended spiritual maintenance schedule.

For filtering the largest worldly influence particles, moment to moment and sometimes hourly, we need to use prayer and repentance. Alma emphasized the importance of this filter when he said to Zeezrom and the other people of Ammonihah, ‘…humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear...’.

When we allow our filter to become saturated with the dirt, filth and lies of the world and we are breathing in a temporal perspective, temptations become increasingly hard to bear, and we are easily overcome. If we fail at this level of filtration, our worthiness can be affected, and the other finer filters I’m about to discuss will lose their effectiveness. The other finer filters are not strong enough to keep the largest particles at bay.

Our daily filter is our scripture study, both alone and with others. Scriptures are a way of putting on the mind and will of God, and helps filter out worldly perspectives and godless belief systems.

Studying any topic, combined with the scriptures, gives us greater insights into what is being taught to us as ‘truth’. Combining prayer and scriptures with others is a powerful way of receiving direction and revelation in our lives, whether it be family scripture study, or seminary or institute classes. I always compare my textbooks to the scriptures. Often, the textbooks are written purely from a professor’s perspective, and one professor may teach one thing and another may teach something completely different on the same topic, and both claim to be truth. Without the scriptures, I would find myself lost in a sea of ideas. I often feel bad for other students who don’t have the gospel’s filters, and have to rely on whatever ideas are given to them as reality.

If we’re not reading scriptures, our ability to receive revelation can become twisted or misled. We can be easily pulled off course by one idea or another from TV, movies or other media or cultural expectations, and lose our bearings very quickly.

All entertainment are morality plays, constructed from the belief systems of the writer, director or producer of the entertainment. Many of which can be subtle and not easily seen without the filter of scriptures and the words of the living prophets. The other finer filters become less effective; because the Lord cannot bring to our minds ideas we have never read or studied.

After the filters of prayer, ongoing repentance and regular scripture study during the week, taking the sacrament every week is our next layer of filtration. It renews our baptismal covenant and allows the Spirit of the Lord to flow pure and clean revelation in our lives, for ourselves and our loved ones.

If we take the sacrament unworthily, because we haven’t been maintaining the other filters, our spiritual progression becomes clogged – hindering the Spirit’s flow of inspiration and guidance in our lives and any benefit that could have come from that.

Sacrament Meeting is the most important meeting, to renew this important spiritual filter. If we ignore it, or don’t utilize this important filter, there will be an undesirable result.

As Elder Oaks said in last Conference, “If the emblems of the sacrament are being passed and you are texting or whispering or playing video games or doing anything else to deny yourself essential spiritual food, you are severing your spiritual roots and moving yourself toward ‘stony ground’. You are making yourself vulnerable to withering away when you encounter tribulation like isolation, intimidation, or ridicule.”

When I was on my mission, those missionaries who struggled the most in working with nonmembers or other missionaries who challenged their testimonies were those who didn’t maintain the filters of prayer, repentance, scripture study, and sacrament before or during their mission. The successful missionary is the one who maintains their spiritual filters day by day, over years of preparation.

And what about temple attendance, for those of us who have current temple recommends? Temple attendance can be a powerful fine filtration, that filters out the smallest particles of the world’s influence. But if your other filters are not working, your temple experience is tainted instead and not nearly what it should be.

You instead see the people and activities in the temple through a worldly filter. I’ve seen people attend the temple the first time, and they are either immediately solidified into firm activity. I’ve also seen people attend the temple and immediately go inactive, expressing fear or mistrust.

Why did this happen? I’ve wondered about this for years, and now I believe I understand. Those who did not have a good experience of the temple were not keeping their filters maintained. They were allowing temporal perspective to build up and build up until they were not ready for the temple, and their experience was colored as a result.

Without the larger particle filters doing their job, the finer more delicate filters had rocks thrown at it that punched through. The temple is not a catch-all filter and can quickly be overwhelmed by a worldly perspective if the other filters are not being updated regularly.

This is why it’s so important to prepare to attend such a sacred place as the temple. The Lord cannot give his greatest knowledge and blessings to those who are not prepared. Not that he doesn’t want to, but that a clogged filter won’t allow the pure air of the gospel to flow through.

Without a pure heart, we cannot ‘see God’, even if He was standing right in front of us. We would see Him, and the others around us in the temple, as the world sees Him, and us. Lustful, deceitful, malicious…whatever our filters are letting through.

Keeping these filters clean also affects our service in the Church. Do we feel peace or resentment when asked to serve as a home or visiting teacher? Do we willingly give service when asked? Do we even notice when service is needed? Effective service in the Church and in our homes and communities is a result of properly maintained spiritual filters. Trying to give service without them appears instead difficult and painful.

Family Home Evening is a weekly gauge of how well our family’s spiritual filters are working. If we’re contentious with each other, or angry or resistant to spiritual things, are we saying prayers? Are we reading scriptures? Are we repenting often? Are we taking the Sacrament worthily? Are we attending the temple regularly? These are questions to ask ourselves when the gauge tells us something’s wrong.

In closing, I’d like to offer up a little piece of the fictional story of Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. Jean Valjean was a convict who was imprisoned for many years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family.

After being steeped for decades in prison culture, he saw himself through the temporal filter of being a criminal, and others treated him as such. One day he came to a church, where a priest took him in and offered him shelter and food.

True to his own filter, he stole the priest’s silverware to sell for money. He was caught by the local police and brought back. The police were also living from a worldly filter of ‘once a criminal, always a criminal’. When the priest saw what he had done, he relied on a different filter – a clean, gospel-based one. He was able to see Valjean as a child of God, and see what he could become.

Instead of accusing Valjean as the others did, the priest instead told the police that he had given the silverware to Valjean, and admonished him that he had forgotten the silver candlesticks. The priest thanked the policemen, and asked them to let him go.

Valjean was struck with amazement that he wasn’t going to go back to jail, or that anyone would see him as anything other how he saw himself. The priest handed him the candlesticks, and told him that from this day forward, his soul belonged to God. He gave that perspective to Valjean. Valjean became a changed man forever, taking on the filter that the priest gave to him, and he was able to see others as children of God as well, and  found ways to help others in tragic circumstances, just as the priest had helped him.

In the words of President Hinckley, ‘We cannot hope to influence others in the direction of virtue unless we live lives of virtue. The example of our living will carry a greater influence than will all the preaching in which we might indulge. We cannot expect to lift others unless we stand on higher ground ourselves.”

We need to take responsibility for our lives, and change our filters regularly. Don’t take for granted that the filters of prayer, repentance, scripture study, sacrament, and Temple attendance are free, and easily accessible.  

Don’t think that you’ve done it once, and your spiritual air conditioner will work well forever. They clog fast.

Compared to the rest of the house, those little filters don’t seem like much, but they affect everything else in such tremendous ways. Those filters are the basic principles of the gospel, through which the fruits of the gospel come.

Maintain those filters regularly, so that our hearts will breathe free and clean and pure, so that we can ‘see God’ in the world, and in each other.

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