Self-Mastery

Episode 15.  May 8, 2016.  It’s Mother’s Day here in the Philippines and I want to give a shout out to all of the mothers out there.  How grateful I am for my own mother, and even more so, my wife LaDawn, the mother of our children.  I am also grateful for my daughter Kira and daughters in law Kelsi, Chelsea and Kaitlin who are all wonderful mothers to our grandchildren.  How grateful I am for all of the women in my life!

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Today I want to discuss Self-Mastery. It seems as we move ever closer to the establishment of Zion and the return of our Savior Jesus Christ, the assault of the adversary is accelerating. This is particularly evident in growing influence of the world in our lives, most frequently manifested in the deterioration of a family based society, fueled by bad habits, addictions and tolerance devoid of conscience. Amongst all this confusing secularism, we as Latter-Day Saints must be clear who we are. We must have the courage to stand as disciples of Jesus Christ. We cannot allow our appetites and passions to rule over us.

The term Master is used frequently as an adjective to describe a high level of competency or excellence or prominence…here are a few I came up with….

  • Master Teachers
  • Master Rowers
  • Master Mechanics
  • Master Gardeners
  • Master Sergeants
  • Master Thieves
  • Chess Masters
  • Judo Masters
  • Master Chefs, and even Jr. Master Chefs

Further, there are

  • Master Plans
  • Master degrees
  • Recording masters
  • Slide masters
  • We even have MasterCards!

Today, however, I want to talk about becoming a MASTER SAINT.

In a 1985 General Conference talk on the subject of self-mastery, Elder Russell M. Nelson said this: [Quote] “You may have heard the expression “mind over matter.” That’s what I would like to talk about—but phrase it a little differently: “spirit over body.” That is self-mastery.” [Unquote]

My former mission president, Elder F. Enzio Busche describes this same relationship of spirit over body as two distinct “selves”. The spiritual self (our spirit) and the natural self (our body or our flesh). We learn from King Benjamin that the natural man is an enemy to God and has been since the Fall of Adam…. The scripture goes on to explain that we can overcome our natural selves by yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putting off the natural man and becoming a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord. I guess he could have said become a Master Saint!

We live in a world today where darkness continues to encroach further into our societies and even more concerning, into our homes. Our natural self or our flesh, is attracted to this darkness and feeds off of it. The World however, is not left without hope, as Heavenly Father has sent the gift of the Light of Christ to counter this darkness. As members of the restored gospel, we have an even greater gift in the Holy Ghost.

Self-mastery is about using our agency to develop, train and strengthen our spirits to rule over our bodies. This is one of most fundamental reasons why we fast each month.

Elder Faust explained it this way, “In its simplest terms, self-mastery is doing those things we should do and not doing those things we should not do. It requires strength, willpower, and honesty. Only we can control our appetites and passions. Self-mastery cannot be bought by money or fame. It is the ultimate test of our character.” (April 2000 priesthood session of general conference)

So what are the things we should and shouldn’t do? I will highlight just two of each.

The first thing we shouldn’t do is to put the things of the world ahead of the things of God.

The books we read, the TV shows we watch, the movies we go to – all of these form our character. Much of today’s media focuses on violence, sexuality or sadistic comedy. It is becoming clear that Hollywood has played a significant role in destroying the definition of marriage between one man and one woman.   Even the popular trend of reality shows often feeds on ruthless competition between individuals and teams where the drama between the contestants is more important than the ultimate objective. All of this nonsensical sensory input dulls our spiritual senses and allows a greater darkness to creep into our lives.  It begins to influence our thoughts and the result is explained in Proverbs 23:7 “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Further, we have thousands of ancestors who are pleading and praying that they might receive the ordinances of the gospel so that they can progress. How will we tell them when we meet them that we were too busy watching TV, reading books and going to the movies to help them?

The world’s beckoning call will always appeal to our natural self. Perhaps you recognize what the world values most? Wealth, recognition, power, popularity, fashion and acceptance of man’s laws over god’s laws.

I really love this quote by holistic educator and author Eric Micha’el Leventhal: [Quote] “The fearful seek to serve themselves by mastering the world, while the fearless seek to serve the world by mastering themselves.” [Unquote] I hope we can all be fearless and adopt the counsel given to Emma Smith and lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better. (see D&C 25:10)

The second thing we shouldn’t do is to approach or engage in addictive behaviors – whether we realize it or not, these behaviors rob us of our freedom to choose the light over the darkness. Elder Ballard said this in a recent General Conference: “The battle over man’s God-given agency continues today. Satan and his minions have their lures all around us, hoping that we will falter and take his flies so he can reel us in with counterfeit means. He uses addiction to steal away agency.”

In today’s world, electronic media is often the source of addictions. For example, without the internet, access to pornography is significantly curtailed. Video games are now beginning to hold back an increasing number of young men from serving honorable missions. In a letter back to their ward, President and Sister Kirkham of the Mexico, Cancun mission wrote the following:  “We recently had to send one young man home because he was severely addicted to video gaming. He explained that he could not focus because his mind went in a loop. As we worked with Church psychiatrists, we learned that it is a common problem in Church missions.   Video gaming rewires the brain and a person gets to the point that social interaction is nearly impossible. Frustration is resolved by violence”

Now I want to talk about the things we should do:

First thing we should do is engage in powerful personal worship. A couple of years ago I spoke with a man who had Internet filters and safeguards on his computer as a defense against a pornography problem that has plagued him for many years. One day the filter broke and in an attempt to fix and test the filter, he found himself going down a dangerous rabbit trail. As we spoke, the spirit revealed the problem. He had built up some excellent defenses in his life against pornography, but his offense was very weak.

Perhaps our offense against the darkness is not as strong as it needs to be. Here are a some things we can do to strengthen our offense.

Our foundation of personal worship should be daily scripture study. Simply reading the scriptures now and again is no longer sufficient. We must internalize the doctrines and the feel the confirming spirit of the truths we are studying. Evidence of progress in this area will be a pen and paper in our hands as we record new insights and the greater degree of light evident in our lives.

Powerful personal worship is also underpinned by mighty prayer. The evidences of our progress in this area are the length and intensity of our prayers, the resultant miracles occurring in our lives, confirming promptings that we are being heard, power to overcome temptation and trials and most importantly, greater access to the strengthening and enabling power of the atonement.

The last keystone of this firm foundation of personal worship is frequent temple attendance. Evidence of progress in this area is that we will become less critical of others as our life is filled with greater charity and our burdens will become lighter as extended family on the other side of veil, now joined through priesthood ordinances pray for us and for our children.

The second thing we should do is to sacrifice more for the things of God. When we chose to sacrifice our time, talent, energy and resources to building the kingdom, the very nature of that sacrifice often causes us some degree of self-inflicted pain or anguish. Perhaps you have felt it has you have risen early on a Saturday morning to clean the church. As we begin to labor, we are released from the pain by an immediate confirmation by the spirit, which fills our souls with joy and moves us towards discipleship and the light within us grows. When we chose not to sacrifice for the things of God, interestingly enough we experience a similar pain through the natural consequences of our choices. The difference is there is no immediate release through the sweet confirmation of the Spirit and the thus the darkness within us grows.

We should remember that sacrifice is about giving up something good in order to receive something better. Said another way, sacrifice is giving up something we love for a God we love more.

I think everyone knows about the movie Frozen that was released to the acclaim of critics and moviegoers alike. The song “Let It Go” written by Robert and Kristen Lopez even won an OSCAR for best original song.   Some of you might be interested to know that Robert Lopez was also the song writer behind the music from the Broadway Musical titled the Book of Mormon which pokes fun at not only our faith, but also religion, sexuality, poverty and race in general.

The underlying message of this popular song is nearly hidden, and has been the subject of numerous discussions and editorials across the country. I will read just one verse that is directly counter to this topic of self-mastery:

It’s time to see what I can do.
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

I want to be clear that we should not “Let it Go”. We should be masters of our lives and not succumb to the appetites, passions, addictions and longing of the flesh. We must “Keep it In”! We must teach our spirits they are stronger than our bodies. That by accessing the light of the Gospel, “we shall know the truth, and the truth shall make us free” (John 8:32)

Just a warning. Just over a century ago living conditions required 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week, just to survive. There was little wealth and nothing was simple, not light, not warmth, not shelter. Transportation was slow and bumpy. Communication was almost non-existent. To sum it up life was hard! Compare that to the ease we have today due to our relative affluence and modern conveniences. At least one of the consequences of these changes is that we may think that increasing the light in our lives should be as easy as sending a text or checking our email. But it is not. Gaining spiritual strength still has to be done the same way as a century ago. Personal worship, sacrifice and keeping the commandments. We may have better tools, but the work is the same. We cannot be defrauded into thinking this will not require effort!

Now, let me conclude by reaffirming the power of the light. Make no mistake about it, as Elder Oaks has stated, “we do not know when this game will end, and we do not know the final score, but we do know that when the game finally ends, our team wins”.

It’s my hope that we will all be on the winning team. I hope we will seek for the light in our lives so that our spiritual selves might rule over our natural selves and in that process that we may become Master Saints, in the similitude of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is in the end, the only true and living Master.

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