Age-old conflict comes down to good vs. evil

'How are you going to choose to exercise your God-given agency?'

Today's young Church members are fighting "the same battle that has been fought since before the foundation of the world," Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve told an Institute congregation Nov. 16.

Elder Ballard spoke at a fireside involving the Salt Lake University Institute located adjacent to the University of Utah campus, the six Salt Lake University stakes and other stakes and institutes near the university. Thousands attended the meeting held in the university's Huntsman Center, a sports and special events arena on the campus.

Elder Jon M. Huntsman Sr., an Area Seventy and an industrialist and philanthropist for whom the Huntsman Center is named, also spoke.

Elder Ballard said the details of the current age may differ in technology and other ways, but the battle is the same.

Students sing a congregational hymn at the Salt Lake LDS Institute of Religion fireside Nov 16, 2008 in Salt Lake City.  Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News/photo
Students sing a congregational hymn at the Salt Lake LDS Institute of Religion fireside Nov 16, 2008 in Salt Lake City. Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News/photo Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News

"It is the battle for the hearts and souls of Heavenly Father's spirit children, pitting us against Lucifer, the Great Deceiver, the father of lies," he said. "As it has always been, this battle is fought on the battleground of moral agency and free will. Regardless of the technology or the political environment of the time, it all still comes down to this: How are you going to choose to exercise your God-given agency? Are you going to choose to follow the Lord, or are you going to choose to follow Satan? It really isn't any more complicated than that. No matter how much we may try to justify or rationalize our choices, it still comes down to choosing good over evil."

Elder Ballard told young Church members in the congregation that at this point in their lives. They are establishing patterns for living that will last a lifetime.

A former mission president, he said he had one of his missionaries come to see him some time ago. The man said he thought he was losing his testimony. He had been reading anti-Church literature and had questions that his bishop and stake president had not answered for him.

Elder Ballard could see it would take some time to research answers to the questions, so he asked the man to come back in 10 days.

As he was leaving, Elder Ballard asked him how long it had been since he had read from the Book of Mormon. It had been a long time. Elder Ballard elicited a promise from him that, for the next 10 days, he would read at least an hour a day from the Book of Mormon.

"Ten days later, he came back," Elder Ballard recounted. "I pulled out my paper to start the answers, and he said, 'President, it won't be necessary for you to answer my questions.' Then tears came streaming down his cheeks as he explained, 'President, I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.'

"I responded, 'Well I'm very happy to hear that, but you're going to get answers to your questions anyway. I worked a long time on this; you just listen and you will get the answers to your questions.' I asked, 'Elder, what have you learned from this?' And he said, 'Give the Lord equal time.'"

Elder Ballard told members of the congregation they would never be challenged beyond their ability to resist if they give equal time to the Lord through study, pondering and praying about the gospel as found in the Standard Works of the Church.

"We are living in a day and a time when we must be spiritually anchored," he said. "You and I must be anchored to the divine truths that have come to us through the Prophet Joseph Smith. We must be anchored to the principles of God's plan of happiness which is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ."

Noting that the strength of the Church from its beginning has been in the individual testimony and service of its members, Elder Ballard assured the young people of their leaders' love and prayers for them.

"Also know that we understand your challenges, and be assured that regardless of your circumstances at the moment, each one of you is precious to your Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ."

He spoke of the need for them to progress toward being bound to family through temple covenants.

"Trust me when I tell you that when you reach my age of 80 years, your companion, your children and your family will be a source of great joy and happiness to you," he said. He added that no eternal blessing would be denied any who remain faithful to the gospel, though some may not attain all their righteous desires in mortality.

Departing for a moment from his prepared remarks, Elder Ballard urged his young listeners to avoid pornography and other evils.

"If you are tampering at all with it in any way, in the name of Jesus Christ and as an apostle of the Lord, I call upon you to repent, and say to you with all the love I have and the power I have, to stop it this very night."

Citing statements from Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Elder Ballard said, "While standing in Nauvoo at the foot of the headstone of these noble men, I had the impression that they would have me counsel all the members of the Church to remain anchored to the basic and simple principles of the gospel. Study the scriptures; look to the leaders of the Church for guidance in these troubled times. Brothers and sisters, be careful of schisms, divisions and contentions that are among us today. Keep the commandments so the Holy Ghost will be with you in your search for truth and knowledge."

Warning that discipleship comes at a price, he said, "It has never been easy to come to Christ. False prophets lie in wait to ensare the unwary. There are sacrifices made by all who seek to know and follow the Savior, and sometimes those sacrifices bring pain and tears. But the joy of being 'anxiously engaged' in His holy work transcends all else."

Elder Huntsman, who shares grandchildren with Elder Ballard by virtue of a marriage between the son of one and the daughter of the other, said he has been a dear friend for many years and that they have traveled around the world together on numerous occasions.

He said there are great challenges in the world today but that there are also wonderful opportunities.

"During times of stress and difficulty and challenge, we formulate within our hearts and minds our character," he said. "We determine our integrity. We determine who it is that we are and who it is that we will emulate in our lives."

He said he had learned much from great leaders he has known, including President Howard W. Hunter.

He recounted that on one occasion, as he was driving by President Hunter's home, he felt a prompting to stop and see how he was feeling. The Church president asked him for a blessing.

"He [President Hunter] said, 'Today, President Huntsman, I had an ill thought toward another individual. It has made me physically sick. I need a priesthood blessing, because I cannot continue to function if I have any ill thoughts toward any man or woman on earth.'"

Elder Huntsman said the incident made him think of the statement by the Savior, blessed are the pure in heart, "for I was in the presence of someone who was pure in heart."

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