Monday, January 31, 2011 3 comments

Book of Mormon war chapters help us defend against pornography

As I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon through again, I’ve been working my way through the war chapters, and as I generally do, I ask myself, “Why are these in here and how can they help us?” I’ve previously thought that it could correspond to the spiritual battles we have to face, and recently the idea struck me that there are some pretty good things in there that correspond to how we can and should defend ourselves against pornography. And let’s be real; pornography is a MAJOR threat to us today and it is invading in blatant, insidious, sneaky, and cunning ways. The prophets warn us again and again about it, so it is time to pull our heads out of the sand and acknowledge that we are AT WAR with pornography and learn what we can do about it.

I believe that Heavenly Father knew about the flood of pornographic filth that would sweep the world. He knew the tactics that would be used to spread it. To help us, He provided a crash course on tactics and defense in the Book of Mormon so that we could become aware of how we may unconsciously put ourselves and our families at risk of attack. Also, many parts of the war chapters give us a fabulous course on defense strategy.


We see Captain Moroni pushing his men to build up barriers against invaders—walls of earth, pickets on those wall, towers overlooking those pickets. Clearly this can teach us that WE NEED BARRIERS between us and the enemy pornography! We need filters and firewalls and anti-virus software and so on. Do the city walls prevent Nephites from dissenting to the enemy? No. But for those Nephites who want to be protected, they are a big help. Do filters stop computer users who are determined to access pornography? No. But for those who want to be protected, they make a significant difference.

When Captain Moroni began his fortification program, he started with the cities that were most weak and vulnerable. These were places where the Lamanites had previously had success. He fortified them and made them as strong as he could. I think it is significant that he placed his strongest army in the weakest spot. I think this has great application for the fight against pornography. If someone has had troubles with pornography and is very weak, they need someone there to keep them safe. There is nothing wrong with setting a watch to guard them. They need support and encouragement.

The Nephites fortified their cities so that the only way anyone could get in was through the place of entrance (Alma 49:18). This tells us that we need to be aware of the different ways pornography can get into our homes and take steps to reduce the number of entrances and guard those entrances carefully. It used to be that the only entrances to the home were through printed media, the computer, and through the TV. Today many cell phones and video game consoles (and tablet computers) can get on the internet, so it is important to become acquainted with those capabilities, to use the parental controls, and to alter the management of affairs like Captain Moroni did among the Nephites (Alma 49:11) to provide for greater safety.

One of the things that Captain Moroni did when he was providing for Nephite defense was that he fortified the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites. (Alma 50:11) We can do the same by drawing a clear line between what is permitted in our homes and what is not. We can make use of ratings as long as we don’t rely completely on them because ratings tend to drift over time and they don’t usually compensate for unsavory themes. But everyone in the family needs to know where the line is and needs to be taught to stay in safe territory far away from the line.

Captain Moroni did a lot of city-building too. Alma 50:14 says, “they also began a foundation for a city…” To me this teaches that we can begin a foundation for strong marriages and families at the very beginning by teaching the Plan of Salvation, which can fortify us. Some important principles that can help us are the following:
  • Heavenly Father gave us the wonderful gift of a body so that we can grow and progress. It is part of His eternal plan.
  • The body that Heavenly Father has given us is a temple and we must keep it sacred by not taking into our mind or body anything that is harmful.
  • The power to create life is a sacred power that should only be used by man and woman who are married together.
  • Satan tries to tempt us to misuse our bodies because he doesn’t get to have one, because he wants us to be miserable, and because he wants to ruin Heavenly Father’s plan.

Even with fortifications, some Nephites were exposed to the arrows and stones of the Lamanites and were severely wounded. They were exposed through the pass at the entrance. Some stuff still got through. However, they were spared worse wounds because they were protected with their helmets, their breastplates, and their shields. In the same way, even with good filters and careful guarding, pornography can still get through and wound. But those who have put on the armor of God (shield of faith, breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation) can survive. Train your children to put on the armor of God, just like Captain Moroni caused his armies to obtain armor.

If we need it made obvious to us how important it is to have the armor of God and how much of a difference it can make, we need only look at the comparison in Alma 43:37:

37 And the work of death commenced on both sides, but it was more dreadful on the part of the Lamanites, for their nakedness was exposed to the heavy blows of the Nephites with their swords and their cimeters, which brought death almost at every stroke.
38 While on the other hand, there was now and then a man fell among the Nephites, by their swords and the loss of blood, they being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites, by their breastplates, and their armshields, and their head-plates; and thus the Nephites did carry on the work of death among the Lamanites. (emphasis added)

There is hand-to-hand combat out in the world at work and school today. Nuff said.

One of the great things about Captain Moroni is that he never stops preparing his people and not only does he prepare tangible defenses for them, but he prepares their minds:
  • “Moroni…had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God” (Alma 48:7)
  • “he was preparing to support their liberty, their lands, their wives, and their children, and their peace, and that they might live unto the Lord their God” (Alma 48:10)
  • He rallied the people using the Title of Liberty, which said, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (Alma 46:12) These are also all reasons for defending ourselves against pornography.
  • “And he caused that all the people in that quarter of the land should gather themselves together to battle against the Lamanites, defend their lands and their country, their rights and their liberties; therefore they were prepared against the time of the coming of the Lamanites” (Alma 43:26).
What other things were the Nephites taught that prepared their minds?

“they were also taught never to give an offense” (Alma 48:14) I think this is a very important point. As we draw the lines in our families, each family will not all draw the lines in the same places. Yet we all want to share cool things we find with our friends and family. For the sake of this war against pornography, we can train ourselves to refrain from giving offense in our media recommendations.

Preparing our minds by learning to follow the Spirit also helps us.
15And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger;
16 And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them… (Alma 48:15-16)
The Holy Spirit is an extremely important defense. He’s a spiritual early warning system. He can warn us to flee or to prepare for war according to our danger. He can make it known where we should defend ourselves and by obeying that guidance, the Lord will deliver us.


This is about motive. The Lamanites wanted to subject the Nephites and bring them into bondage (Alma 43:29). And that is the motive of people who produce and sell and advertise and push pornography. They mean to enslave and exploit. They exploit those who they depict, and they enslave those who view it. And all for money.


Now we’ll get into some of the tactics that are used in the war chapters.

The Lamanites thought they would be able to overwhelm the Nephites with their sheer numbers. (Alma 49:6) Similarly, the amount of pornography out there is truly huge. And we’ve all heard stories about how someone who stumbles onto a pornographic site on the internet is subjected to a large number of pop-up windows that open one after another. There are also so many different kinds of electronic communication devices now, and while they can all be of great benefit when used wisely, they can also be used as a vehicle for pornography. The Book of Mormon tells us that when the cities were fortified and guarded with armored men, the number of attackers became less consequential.

On account of some intrigue, some Nephite cities were captured by the Lamanites. (Alma 53:8-9) I don’t think there could be a statement that could correspond better with how people get pulled into pornography addiction. They get intrigued into it. Curiosity leads to interest, which leads very quickly to addiction, and then it is very very hard to get rid of it. We can guard against that intrigue.

Amalickiah conquered a number of fortified cities because the people in them were not sufficiently strong (Alma 51:23). I used to wonder why the text in that place doesn’t seem to say much about what Amalickiah did that contributed to his victory. All it says is that he came into the borders “by the seashore” (Alma 51:22) and “he kept [his armies] down by the seashore” (Alma 51:25). I can only conclude that the Nephites did not expect an attack from the direction of the seashore, so Amalickiah’s attack completely blindsided them. This tells us that we must expect unexpected attacks.

Alma 55:29-32 has a number of different strategies that the Lamanites used and which are important to note:
  • The Lamanites tried to encircle the Nephites many times by night. (Alma 55:29) This tells us that we need to be aware of our surroundings and who we are with at night. This has all kinds of implications about peer pressure and the tendency to let our guard down at night when we are tired. (Remember the mention of sleepovers in conference?)
  • The Lamanites tried many times to administer wine to the Nephites so that they could destroy them with poison or drunkenness. (Alma 55:30) Yet another reason to avoid alcohol and drugs. Mind-altering substances will getcha in trouble in more ways than one. Since the Lamanites seemed to use wine to relax and strengthen themselves, we can also compare this with entertainment and fun, which can relax and strengthen us. But don't forget, if it will poison a Lamanite, it will poison a Nephite. If the entertainment will corrupt a child, it will corrupt an adult.

It is helpful to note that there are times when the Nephite tactics can give us just as much insight into what we have to guard against as the Lamanite tactics.

The Nephites frequently trick the Lamanites out of the captured cities with decoy tactics. It would always start with luring army that are designed to appear to be no threat at all, but which was only part of a larger plan to get the Lamanites out of the safe zone and into a vulnerable position. Satan uses this tactic too. There are distractions and decoys everywhere and not just on the internet. Some (like swimsuit issue magazines and lingerie catalogues or romance novels) look like no threat at all, but can quickly lead outside the safe zone.

Another tactic we frequently see in the war chapters is that the cities get retaken at the same time that the Lamanites get decoyed away from them because the Lamanites take no thought for the city and don’t leave sufficient guard. When parents are away, the children will play, so defensive measures and guards must be set. Unlike the thoughtless Lamanites, Captain Moroni is a great example; when he goes to save Manti from the Lamanites, he leaves part of his army in Jershon just in case Jershon gets attacked while he is away (Alma 43:25).

I suggest that we can learn a lot about how to fight pornography by studying the war chapters. We can learn about the enemy’s strategy and we can learn about where our weaknesses are. We can learn a lot about effective measures to take.

Finally, if we consider Captain Moroni’s frustrated letter to Pahoran, even though it turned out that Pahoran was faithful, it leads to some very important questions for us to ask ourselves:
  • Are we sitting on our thrones in a state of “thoughtless stupor” (Alma 60:7) while pornography’s work of spiritual death is going on around us?
  • Have we stirred ourselves diligently enough for the welfare and freedom of our families? (Alma 60:10)
  • Do we think that we can sit on our thrones and because of the goodness of God we don’t need to do anything to be delivered from this plague? (Alma 60:11)
  • Do we think that we will escape judgment for neglect and slothfulness toward our families? (Alma 60:14)
Since I have studied the war chapters on this topic, I have talked to my husband about filtering our internet. We’re finding a filter to use.

If you are interested in taking the first steps to fortify your family with internet filters, you need information. The LDS Tech Wiki website has a good article “Internet filtering (Family Safety)” explaining different types of filters and it even recommends some free filters.

Here is a site that reviews and rates internet filtering software:
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 2 comments

Peace like a river, righteousness like waves

18 O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea:
19 Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor destroyed from before me. (Isaiah 48:18-19)
These verses are both easy and hard to understand. It is easy to see that if we keep the Lord’s commandments, we’ll have peace and righteousness. But it is hard to see why Isaiah compares the peace we will have to a river, and why he compares the righteousness we will have to waves of the sea. Is he just doing it because it sounds pretty? It is easy to think so. I thought that was his intention, until recently, when I started to realize that Isaiah made these comparisons to teach gospel principles.

[T]hen had thy peace been as a river - I was always somewhat puzzled by this phrase, because I never thought of a river being very peaceful, since it is always moving. But then I remembered something about keeping the commandments that made it clear. Obeying a commandment brings a certain blessing. We know that from Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21. But not only do we get a blessing, we also get a feeling of peace. So what happens if you obey a bunch of commandments? You get a bunch of blessings and feel a bunch of peace, right? Right. Then what happens if we are continually obedient to the commandments? We’ll get a constant stream of blessings and feelings of peace from God, right? That’s peace flowing to us like a river. You’ve just learned from Isaiah that peace flows to us like a river when our obedience continually flows like a river.

[T]hy righteousness as the waves of the sea - What qualities of waves can be compared with righteousness?

They both wear down barriers over long periods of time. The more you keep the commandments, the more of an example you are to the people around you, and the more people will become curious about the gospel because of how they have seen you act. Their barriers to the gospel will be slowly broken down by your righteous influence.

Also, just like one wave follows another onto a beach, one godly character trait after another will come to us when we continually keep the commandments. That’s righteousness coming to us in waves.

If we want peace and righteousness (both very much like happiness) we must keep the commandments. I know this is true. The more obedient to the commandments I am, the happier I am.

Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof – I used to pass over this part thinking that I already knew what it meant. It immediately evoked in my mind the words that were used in Genesis when the Lord promised Abraham that he would have posterity as innumerable as the sand of the sea or the stars in the sky. But recently I found yet an additional way of understanding this line and it was related to the previous idea of having peace as a river when we keep the commandments continually. When we keep the commandments, it doesn’t just affect us, it affects everyone around us. When we have children, our obedience to the commandments will create an environment of peace and righteousness for them and they will be immersed in it, just like sand and gravel in the river bottom are immersed in the river water that flows around it. That’s a beautiful image and a wonderful promise, isn’t it? Isaiah was teaching us that if we always keep the commandments, our children will have a wonderful environment to learn from.

In what ways do you feel you benefitted from an upbringing like that? In what ways do you feel you have done this for your children? What is something you can do differently to give this gift to your children? Share with me.
Friday, January 21, 2011 3 comments

More interesting outside articles

Recently I found a book at the institute library that had some really good articles in it that changed the way I looked a number of different parts of the Book of Mormon. I was also thrilled to discover that this book, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, is accessible online. The following are chapters that I found particularly enlightening. Each one is a fairly short article of maybe 2-3 pages, so it shouldn’t take too much of your time.

Statutes, Judgments, Ordinances, and Commandments by John W. Welch
I found this to be interesting as it suggested some meaning to a ritual phrase “laws, rites, and ordinances” that I encounter.

Jacob’s Ten Commandments by John W. Welch
This added an additional dimension to a block of verses that I’d read over many times before, which begin “Wo unto..”

What Was a Mosiah? by John W. Welch
Connects together the king’s name, the historical events of the Book of Mosiah, and makes it a type of Christ.

Abinadi and Pentacost by Robert F. Smith, Gordon C. Thomasson, and John W. Welch
This shows that Abinadi may have chosen the time of his confrontation of King Noah and the wicked priests to best emphasize his message.

Four Quarters by Steven L. Olsen, and Diane E. Wirth
Symbolism of the number four.

The Destruction of Ammonihah and the Law of Apostate Cities by John W. Welch
Links the Ammonihah events to provisions in the Law of Moses that concern cities that go bad. Fascinating.

The Case of an Unobserved Murder by John W. Welch
Talmudic examination of the evidence for the assassinated chief judge and conviction of the murderer.

Thieves and Robbers by Kelly Ward, and John W. Welch
Do you know the difference between those two terms?

The Sermon at the Temple by John W. Welch
Suggests the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament was a given in a covenant context.

The Gospel as Taught by Nephite Prophets by Noel B. Reynolds
Delineates what is covered by the term 'gospel' when it is used in the Book of Mormon.

The Survivor and the Will to Bear Witness by Gordon C. Thomasson
Mormon and Moroni’s books as survivor literature.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 0 comments

The covenant of peace realigned Lamanite loyalties

In Alma 44:11 when Captain Moroni and the Nephites have Zerahemnah and the Lamanites at their mercy, Captain Moroni requires a covenant of peace to let them go. The covenant of peace will actually require the Lamanites to align themselves with the Nephites; it has that practical effect. To keep this oath, when they go home, they will have to stay disengaged from any popular Lamanite movements of aggression, and this will put them in opposition to any Lamanite royal command to muster for battle. If they wanted to keep their oath, they would have been much better off getting their families and going to live with the Nephites because if they continued to live with the Lamanites, people would look askance at their pacifism and even try to force them to arms.

When Amalickiah defected to the Lamanites and first started his rabble-rousing, it may have been those very people who had taken the peace oath at Zerahemnah’s battle who reacted with fear to the prospect of fighting the Nephites, rebelled against the Lamanite king’s call to arms, fled to the place Onidah to the hill Antipus led by Lehoni, and were “fixed in their minds with a determined resolution that they would not be subjected to go against the Nephites” (Alma 47:6). The sad thing is, Amalickiah, through his treachery and trickery, snookered these people into doing what they were bound by oath not to do.

I think this has an important lesson. If we make covenants, it isn’t very smart to stay around people who we know will want us to break those covenants, especially if we have a choice of who we can be with. If we’re smart, we will align with and join those who share the values that we covenanted to uphold because that close association makes us stronger and helps us keep our covenants.
Friday, January 14, 2011 4 comments

There has to be backstory to Captain Moroni’s meteoric rise

And Moroni took all the command, and the government of their wars. And he was only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites. (Alma 43:17)
Captain Moroni blasts onto the scene in Alma 43 with such power and brilliance that you know he wasn’t appointed to that position at so young an age without have shown some incredible aptitude for strategy and boldness in his earlier years. There is no mention of him whatsoever before this point in the record, but it is possible to identify certain influential and formative events and link these to certain strategies he uses with such masterfulness during his military command. Moroni was appointed chief captain at age 25 in the 18th year of the reign of the judges, which puts him at about age 7 when Alma the Younger was first appointed chief judge. Between age 7 and age 25, Moroni saw his nation in three separate conflicts with the Lamanites. If we work backward through Nephite history from the point he takes command, I think we can detect how these conflicts influenced his thinking about strategy in warfare.

In Alma 28, there is mention of a tremendous battle, and it is treated so briefly in the text that we hardly ever notice it. It happens after the Anti-Nephi-Lehis are safely settled in Jershon with Nephite armies to guard them. This happened in the 15th or 16th year of the reign of the judges and Moroni would have been about 22 or 23 years old, which is prime fighting age.
1 And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla; behold the armies of the Lamanites had followed their brethren into the wilderness.
2 And thus there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem; yea, and tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad.
3 Yea, and also there was a tremendous slaughter among the people of Nephi; nevertheless, the Lamanites were driven and scattered, and the people of Nephi returned again to their land.
4 And now this was a time that there was a great mourning and lamentation heard throughout all the land, among all the people of Nephi—
5 Yea, the cry of widows mourning for their husbands, and also of fathers mourning for their sons, and the daughter for the brother, yea, the brother for the father; and thus the cry of mourning was heard among all of them, mourning for their kindred who had been slain. (Alma 28:1-5)
If I were to speculate, I might jump to the conclusion that Moroni was part of the army guarding the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and that it could have been through his instrumentality that no Lamanites succeeded in killing any Anti-Nephi-Lehis and that this must have been a stunning effort in which more and more Nephite resources were poured into the conflict to prevent the Lamanites from ever reaching the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and that surely the Nephite victory after such a tremendous slaughter was due to Moroni’s grassroots leadership.

But I think that is probably assuming WAY too much. I do a lot of speculating, but I think that goes much too far.

The fact that tens of thousands of Lamanites were driven and scattered abroad suggests that there were a number of different Nephite armies driving the Lamanites in many different directions with varying degrees of success.

Also, mentioning the Nephite victory in the same breath as the tremendous slaughter among the Nephites suggests that the Nephites were caught unprepared and it was another miraculous victory. Now, knowing as we do Moroni’s stouthearted character, we can easily visualize him rallying a besieged group of his fellows and leading a counter-attack that first looks futile and which then turns into a rousing success. That kind of thing builds military reputation really fast. Further, considering how Moroni would so often call on people to “rally ‘round the flag” when he was chief captain, I can imagine that he was only continuing a rallying tendency from before he was chief captain and that his ability to mobilize and inspire his peers was part of what made him such an obvious choice for commander of all the Nephite armies.

Regardless of how Moroni participated, we can see how this particular conflict would have influenced him. Seeing such carnage among so many unprepared Nephites would have got him thinking about how it could have been avoided and this would reveal to him the vital importance of both watchfulness, preparation, fortification, and even protective battle dress. (It is notable that at his first commanded battle he requires his men to be dressed in protective clothing. I can almost hear him say to himself, “Finally, a chance to get it right!”) We eventually see all these other elements of watchfulness, preparation, and fortification addressed throughout his years as commander.

Previous to this conflict is the conflict in Alma 16. (Remember, we are working backwards.) This happens in the 11th year of the judges and Moroni would have been 17 or 18 years old, which is also certainly fighting age. In this conflict, Ammonihah is attacked then completely destroyed, and then citizens of Noah are attacked and carried off. General Zoram with his two sons Lehi and Ahah get guidance from the prophet Alma on where to go to get the captive Nephites back, and they save every Nephite captive, while driving and scattering the Lamanites.

It is possible that Zoram’s example of asking the prophet Alma for guidance could have been an influence on Moroni, if Moroni had been part of his army, because Moroni eventually does the same thing in Alma 43. Yet Moroni still manages to improve on Zoram’s methods. While Zoram moved his whole army after the Lamanites, Moroni left part of his army behind to defend the city he was leaving, while he went to the recommended place of battle. Also, Zoram only asked Alma, while Moroni, when his turn came, asked Alma where to go AND sent spies to watch the Lamanites. (I don’t think this meant Moroni was a skeptic. I think it just means that he was living the principle of “do all you can then trust God.”)

Also, if you look at the place of battle for the Zoram-commanded Nephite troop movements in Alma 16:6-7, they are very similar to the place of battle Captain Moroni later chooses in Alma 43:27,31-33 when he is in command. If Moroni had been in Zoram’s army, his familiarity with the lay of the land would have helped him substantially. (I also have to point out that General Lehi was at both battles, and is mentioned by name at both parts of the record. For all we know, the strategy in Alma 43 could have been HIS idea.)

Whether he had participated or not, from the fight to regain the captive inhabitants of Noah, Moroni would have certainly gained a strong appreciation for General Zoram’s greatness and honor in achieving the military objective without loss of life. And we know that Moroni was able to recreate this same great performance himself at least once when he reconquered the city of Gid and liberated all its Nephite prisoners without any loss of life, Nephite or Lamanite.

Now we go further back in time to Alma 2-3. This is the 5th year of the reign of the judges and Moroni is about age 12 or 13. This is the Amlicite conflict when the Nephites engage the Amlicites in one place, beat them, and then are warned by their spies that they must race to another place to prevent an enormous combined Amlicite-Lamanite army from descending upon Zarahemla. With divine help, they beat this army and drive it out. Then, not many days afterward, they have to beat off yet another Lamanite army at the first place again (see Alma 3:20-23).

Now, I can’t see Moroni being old enough to take part in this conflict, but I’m sure he heard plenty of talk about it afterward. I think it would have made him think about the need for guards and spies to warn when enemies were coming. It would have shown him it could also be important to follow and spy on enemies who were fleeing. It would have taught him how vital it was for the army to move quickly. Most importantly, I think the repeat attack at the same place would have started him thinking why armies attack the same place more than once. (This lesson, when later combined with the destruction of Ammonihah, would have laid the foundation for Moroni’s ability to predict that the Lamanites would try to attack Ammonihah and Noah again.)

We are unable to know exactly how or where Moroni gained his formative experience in tactics and strategy. But it is easy to see how the conflicts of the Nephite nation played a vital role in his ideas. Somehow, wherever he was, he was seeing the big picture and drawing the conclusions from it that would make him the great warrior he was.

What does this mean for us today in our lives? I suppose that when we are dead and gone, our descendants will look at our lives through the records we leave behind and they will say, “Isn’t it obvious how these large events were playing such a role in their lives and preparing them for greatness!” And they will list all the different things. They will point to the Persian Gulf War, or the Great Recession of 2008, or the rise of social media, or whatever it is that will have taught us the lessons that contributed to our prowess. They will say, “Look how they were prepared for that calling!” or “Look how they were prepared to save their family!” or “Look how they were prepared to build Zion!” And they will speculate about us and attribute all manner of great motives to us that would make us blush to hear them. Let’s not disappoint them, shall we? Whatever it is that we do, let’s do it the best we can.

So.. share your dreams with me. What do you want to be known as the best in?
Thursday, January 13, 2011 1 comments

Jesus’s charged Nazareth sermon

16¶ And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written,
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way,
31 And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days. (Luke 4:16-31)
Here are some questions I have about this story that I have tried to answer for myself.

Why does Jesus start with the Isaiah scripture? I think it is because it announces who He is and what He can do for the people. I notice that verse 22 says that “all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” This makes me think that He further expounded on the scriptures and His role to the people.

Why do the people say “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” It seems to me that they wonder what power Jesus has to fulfill the scripture that He says is about Himself. They know His upbringing, so they think He is Joseph’s son, not God’s Son. If they believed He was God’s Son, they would not doubt that He could do what He said. They also take refuge in a strategy (which happens to be the favorite strategy of all anti-Christs), which is to find fault with (or manufacture fault against) the messenger as an excuse to ignore the message.

Jesus responds to this in kind of a strange way. He doesn’t make a direct defense based on argument; He makes a prediction about what they are going to say to Him in the future. Why does Jesus predict what they will say to Him? First, His prophecy is a demonstration that He is who He says He is. (Do they notice this or not? I don't know.) Second, I think He understood the spiritual implications of their doubting question and He was pointing out that if they couldn’t grasp that little bit about His divinity, it would get in the way of them understanding the power that He would demonstrate so they would make all kinds of inaccurate assumptions about what He would do. He gives them a sample of two inaccurate assumptions they would make:
  • “Physician, heal thyself” - The people would think that Jesus was just a powerful healer, rather than understanding that He was using the priesthood power of God that came as part of His divine identity as Son of God. They would also see Him becoming subject to all manner of diseases of mortality and they would think that He should just use His healing abilities to benefit Himself. (If Jesus were just a healer, He could, but because He used the power of God, He wouldn’t use it in a self-serving way because the power of God can only be controlled or handled in principles of righteousness.)
  • “whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country” - The people would think Jesus was some sort of magician who did miracles regardless of need or the faith of others. It shows they would not be willing to believe what good they heard about His works or what they knew of His early life and character. They would demand to see it themselves. They expected that being of His homeland should give them privileges above all others.
Why does Jesus refer to the stories of the non-Israelites? Is this an expansion on proclaiming liberty to the captive? It seems no. They already disbelieved that part, so He couldn’t go any farther. It seems it is a warning about unbelief. He cites two important examples from the Old Testament to illustrate. He points out that no widows in Israel were miraculously fed during a famine, only a widow of Sidon. (He was highlighting how Israelite widows’ unbelief in Elijah hurt them and kept them from being fed.) He points out that no Israelite lepers were healed, only a Syrian. (He was highlighting how Israelite lepers’ unbelief in Eliseus hurt them and prevented them from being cleansed.) Jesus cites these examples* to teach that just like belief in the living prophets was required for feeding and cleansing healing, belief in Jesus was necessary to be healed, delivered, to see, be liberated, and taught, according to Isaiah's prophecy. If they didn’t believe in Him, none of them would enjoy any of those miracles and they would stay in captivity.

What does this story teach us? In it Jesus seems to make it pretty clear that if we do not believe Jesus Christ can save us, we will not be saved, even if we are a member of the church. (This charged message had to have been exactly what angered the hidebound Nazareth people to the point that they tried to kill Jesus.)

* Jesus’s perspective of these stories and the lesson He drew from them also gives us an insight into His character and spiritual penetration. Think of how many times He must have heard those stories read in the synagogue and discussed in a certain way. Usually when those stories are discussed in our Sunday school classes, we focus exclusively on the people who were the beneficiaries of those miracles. But it seems that Jesus also thought very carefully about those who DIDN’T experience those miracles (yet needed them badly) and realized that the stories were an indictment on the Israelites for unbelief just as much as they were instructive about the belief of those who were blessed by the miracles. He also must have decided that the only thing that could make those stories truly applicable to the lives of the people in His day was if those miracles were within reach of anyone who would believe. Otherwise, why talk about them over and over again if they are only for a chosen few? I think it is the same for us today. If we really believe that the priesthood power is the same power that Jesus has, then we may be healed of all manner of diseases and be cleansed from our sins and escape captivity. We may enjoy the same miracles manifested to believers in all ages of the world.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011 4 comments

Interesting outside reading

You know how every once in a while you find an article on something in the scriptures that just seems to open your eyes and help you make much more sense of it? Here’s an article by John W. Welch called “Was Helaman 7-8 An Allegorical Funeral Sermon?” If you remember, Helaman 7-8 is when the prophet Nephi comes back to Zarahemla to find everything is a complete mess and he mourns on the top of his tower. Welch’s explanation adds an extra layer of meaning to this incident. I recommend it.

I also happened to stumble upon Hugh Nibley’s “Teachings of the Book of Mormon” which is broken up into four semesters, consisting, it seems, of transcripts of 112 lectures he gave. I expect to be working my way through these for a very long time. This would probably make very good Sunday reading. You can pick and choose or go from beginning to end.
Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Semester 1 (1 Nephi 1 to Mosiah 5)
Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Semester 2 (Mosiah 6 to Alma 41)
Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Semester 3 (Alma 45 to 3 Nephi 20)
Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Semester 4 (3 Nephi 6 to Moroni 10)
Sunday, January 9, 2011 2 comments

Alma’s advice to his son Helaman reveals his own character

36 Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
37 Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day. (Alma 37:36-37)
In these verses, Alma advises his son Helaman to incorporate the Lord into all aspects of his life with such specific language that I can only conclude that Alma is sharing his own spiritual regimen.

when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God – Alma seems to have awakened in the morning with gratitude and gone to bed at night with prayers for safety. To me it seems like a wonderful thing to think of the Lord first thing in the morning and last thing before falling asleep. The times that I have done this have sweetened those semi-conscious moments.

The other things that Alma recommends can be clearly seen as his way of fulfilling the commandment to love the Lord with all his heart, might, mind, and strength:
  • “let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever” (heart)
  • “let all thy doings be unto the Lord” (might)
  • “whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord” (might)
  • “let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord” (mind)
  • “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good” (mind)
  • “cry unto God for all thy support” (strength)
(I see the second and third list items as loving the Lord with all your might because directing your doings to the Lord gives the greatest motivation to do your best, which requires great might and skill. Also, letting all your goings be to the Lord exhibits love of the Lord with all your might in that you feel you are on the Lord’s errand, so again, you do your best, which requires your might and skill.)

if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day – Alma anticipated that the final result of all this effort to put the Lord at the center of his thoughts and words and actions was that he would be exalted at the last day. I can certainly see that such a careful focus on the Lord would crowd Satan out of his life.

I think it is probably safe to say that in Alma we also see a type of Christ’s devotion to the Father. I aspire to this level of worship.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011 3 comments

Ezekiel sees four creatures: Lessons on traits of servants of God and heavenly cooperation

It's been a while, but I'm back! Woo-hoo!

A few days ago I was puzzling over these verses in Ezekiel 1:
3 The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him.
4 And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
5 Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
7 And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
8 And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
9 Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
11 Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
12 And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.
14 And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. (Ezekiel 1:3-14)
One thing that I notice is the overwhelming emphasis on the number four. There are four living creatures, each with four faces, and four wings, and four sides. So it seemed to me that it was important to learn what the number four symbolized. Four symbolizes the earth or everything that was created, and in the scriptures there are a number of references to “the four corners of the earth” (see Isaiah 11:12, Ezekiel 7:2) (We also refer to the four seasons and the four winds and the four dimensions, etc.) We will come back to this at the end to see how it helps us make more sense of the rest of these verses and understand the message that the Lord was giving Ezekiel.

I’ve previously noticed that wings frequently symbolize heavenly power. In these verses, Ezekiel notices that each of the four creatures have four wings (v6), which conveys an idea that the heavenly power in these creatures is over the whole earth. To me this begins to give an idea that these creatures are servants of God and that they are meant to represent to Ezekiel all the servants of God in the whole earth. But I’m getting a little distracted here; let’s go back to wings. In verse 11, we are told that their wings stretched upward, with two wings of each creature joined to each other, and two wings covered their bodies. Symbolically, this is very significant. Wings stretching upward communicates how heavenly powers in all servants of God are striving to grow, stretching toward heaven, trying to become better, seeking the Lord. That two wings of each of these creatures join to each other conveys how servants of God cooperate with each other and are united through their heavenly power. (We know this is definitely true. The Spirit and the priesthood power build unity among all servants of God.) That two wings of each creature also cover their bodies communicates how servants of God are also very modest, not just in their dress, but also in their acts. They focus on results rather than feeding ego, and this must certainly help them work together.

One aspect that puzzled me in verse 10 was the four faces each creature had. Why a man, lion, ox, and eagle? Why different faces? Finally I realized that the faces must be representative of different personality traits that servants of God must have. I also noticed that it seemed like the faces were being paired in a certain way—the man with the lion and the ox with the eagle. As I thought it about it, it seemed like the lion symbolized strength and courage and even fierceness for truth and righteous principles, while the man symbolized humanity, kindness, and reason. It seemed like the “lion” and “man” characteristics were meant to balance each other. In the ox and eagle pairing, I noticed right away that the ox face might be conveying down-to-earth, practical-thinking, detail-oriented hard work (like an ox pulling a plow in a furrow), while the eagle face might be far-seeing, visionary, and uplifted on flights of the Spirit, seeing the big picture (like an eagle soaring hundreds of feet in the air). Once again, those character traits would balance each other. So it seems that Ezekiel was shown symbolically some character traits that all servants of God should have.

“And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.” (v12) These creatures followed the Spirit within them, which was a righteous spirit. Their path was straight, not crooked. Also their feet were straight (v7), not crooked, which seems to confirm that they were righteous servants. They didn’t turn out of the way, which teaches us they didn’t get distracted or change their minds in the middle of what they were doing. All of this is a great example of what servants of God are like.

“And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.” (v14) To me this communicates how quick they were to obey and how quickly they accomplished their righteous tasks.

Now we see how understanding what “four” means helps us. These four creatures with four wings and four faces communicate to us that the Lord wants ALL His servants on the earth to have those certain personality characteristics along with the powers of heaven.

Why did Ezekiel receive this vision at the very beginning? As a prophet of the scattered Israel in Babylon, he would begin the preparation for the return of the Israelites to their homeland, and even though it would take several generations, they had to start immediately by preparing themselves to be obedient servants of God. In fact, it would be impossible to begin preparing too soon. It is significant that the first thing Ezekiel is shown is a vision teaching symbolically the character traits of all servants of God and how they must cooperate together.

It also shows the mercy and long-suffering of God. God warned the Israelites for years to repent or He would destroy them and scatter them, but they refused to listen. So He destroyed and scattered them. But rather than completely abandon them in that state forever, He immediately began teaching and preparing them to gather together again. He called Ezekiel as a prophet and started teaching about the important character traits servants of God must have and the importance of cooperation and humility and the power of God.

I think this is definitely relevant and applicable to us today, since we are engaged in helping to gather Israel. We need to cultivate these characteristics and get good at working together with humility.

How have you seen these traits at work today? Will you share some stories or examples with me?