Wednesday, February 21, 2018 0 comments

Introduction of "To Defend Them By Stratagem"

I thought I'd post the introduction to my new book To Defend Them By Strategem so you could get a sense of how I approached the topic and whether you might find this book helpful or not.


I have always loved the war chapters in the Book of Mormon. Growing up, when my family read the Book of Mormon around the dinner table, I listened with breathless interest to the stories of Captain Moroni, Teancum, and Helaman’s stripling warriors. I reveled in Captain Moroni’s cleverness, Teancum’s intrepidity, and the stripling warriors’ sheer heroism and courage. Every Nephite victory was cause for celebration; every Lamanite victory brought disappointment. 

Multiple reads through the Book of Mormon embedded these stories of victory and defeat deep in my consciousness, and as I grew older I started to wonder why Mormon had decided to write in such detail about the wars when the purpose of the whole book was to testify of Christ’s divinity.

Eventually, I began to understand how the Lord meant for us to learn from those battles. Just as Captain Moroni thought it no sin to defend the Nephites by stratagem, the Lord thought it no sin to use war stories in the scriptures to teach His people strategies to help them recognize and defend against the ugly temptations and sins of world, especially during times when temptations would abound in both blatant and subtle ways.

In the Church, we have a lot to say about the sterling character of Captain Moroni and the stripling warriors, but as a people, we have not yet collectively discovered the wonderful array of battle strategies presented throughout the whole Book of Mormon. So why is this? 

The Church’s Sunday School curriculum calls for the Book of Mormon war chapters, Alma 43-62, to be treated in the space of two lessons. Only 90 minutes every four years is spent to study 19 chapters spanning 52 pages, giving us less than two minutes per page. There is not enough time to cover the material in the manuals, and the manuals only cover a fraction of what could be discussed. The Church focuses on teaching fundamental gospel principles while trusting and encouraging members to learn more through focused individual study. 

Still, because of the cursory attention of the church manuals, it is tempting to treat the war stories lightly. Some members see the derring-do only as thrilling entertainment, while other particularly peace-loving members are disgusted with all the violence and struggle to find any redeeming qualities in the chapters beyond the heroes of Captain Moroni, Teancum, Helaman, and the stripling warriors.

While I know that sooner or later members of the Church will individually be led to understand the treasures hidden in the stories of war, I also believe that I can do a service by speeding up the process. The battle strategies are of key importance; they are a big part of what made the Book of Mormon heroes the mighty men they were, and unless we can learn to recognize and master the strategies they used and defend effectively against attacks the way they did, we can never hope to reach their stature.

The events of the war chapters in Alma 43-62 are filtered through the eyes of not just one prophet-general, but two—Helaman and Mormon. In his record, Helaman featured events he found important in his day, and then centuries later, Mormon made his abridgement from Helaman’s record. The years between Helaman and Mormon probably gave Mormon valuable perspective, allowing him to better interpret for our edification the events Helaman recorded.

Many have observed that we are not in a war of physical violence; we are in a spiritual war for souls in which no holds are barred. Satan has had all of human history to learn the most effective ways to attack. We need to make a tactical science of spiritual survival in these last days, and there is no better way to do it than to learn from history by studying the war strategies in the Book of Mormon. Every tactic and strategy of field warfare has its spiritual equivalent, so we don’t have to be a member of the military to apply them in life. 

In this book, you will learn about tactics that Satan uses against us. You will learn about tactics you can use to defend yourself. You also will learn strategies that will allow you to go on the offensive. 

You may begin this book with the notion that Nephite tactics are always good and Lamanite tactics are always bad. This notion is comforting, but it effectively halves the usefulness of the war accounts. We can easily compare how the Nephites defend themselves to how we should defend ourselves against Satan, but we can also examine how the Lamanites’ failed defenses show us where our weak spots are. Also, we are used to comparing Lamanite attacks to Satan’s attacks, but we also can learn how the Nephites’ successful attacks to regain cities might be similar to ways Satan attacks us today.

Structure of the book

We will begin where war starts to appear in the Book of Mormon record—at the Words of Mormon as Mormon describes some of the struggles of King Benjamin. The chapters are in the order that the stories and incidents appear in the Book of Mormon, so if you are fairly familiar with the sequence of events as you read from front to back in the Book of Mormon, you will be able to follow fairly well. 

This book is broken up into chapters, each of which talk about important strategies we can learn from war in the Book of Mormon. Some of them start out by examining features of battles or incidents that seem a bit puzzling or that don’t seem to make sense. Most of the chapters are fairly short and can be read quickly. The very last chapter is a longer, detailed examination of how the war chapters reveal ways we can defend ourselves against the increasing threat of pornography.

Assumptions and Speculation

There are some times when I will make assumptions or speculate about how things were in Book of Mormon times. It is my attempt to “fill in the holes,” so to speak. You will recognize that I have made some speculative assumptions when I say something “may have” or “probably” happened a certain way. In each case, I will explain how I arrived at each conclusion. Caveats and provisos aside, ONWARD, Christian soldiers! (Author waves sword above head)

Amazon paperback ($12.99)
Monday, February 19, 2018 2 comments

Woes hanging over the Gadianton Robbers

In Helaman 22, the prophet Nephi came back to Zarahemla and found the Gadianton Robbers in political power, doing all kinds of injustice to the people, and when he tells them of their iniquities and warns them of the consequences, he says this:

And for this cause wo shall come unto you except ye shall repent. For if ye will not repent, behold, this great city, and also all those great cities which are round about, which are in the land of our possession, shall be taken away that ye shall have no place in them; for behold, the Lord will not grant unto you strength, as he has hitherto done, to withstand against your enemies. (Helaman 7:22)

From the Gadianton’s perspective, they had all the power. They held the judgment seats, the governor positions, control of the armies, etc. Furthermore, the Lamanites, who had previously been enemies of the Nephites, had converted to the Lord and laid down their weapons, and so were enemies no more. To the Gadiantons, Nephi’s prophecy would look crazy, because at that time there were no enemies with enough power to stop them, either in their cities, or among neighboring peoples.

But. What they didn’t know was that the enemies would come from among themselves. In a mere 15 years, they would be pushed out of the land, and in their resentment, they would form a marauding band that in the last crisis would eventually have to convert to the Lord or be killed by Nephite armies.

The story of how Nephi forces Gadianton judges to detect the murder of the chief judge as coming from one of their own also gives a picture of the injustice among the Gadiantons that would prevent them from ever having the peace they anticipated or flattered themselves they would gain. Because they were founded on robber, murder, corruption, and secrecy, and while they would protect each other from public justice and try to subvert it, that also meant they would have no real justice among themselves. They would do what they wanted to each other (who could stop them?) and the victims could have no recourse in public justice because everything they were guilty of would have to be revealed in the inquiry. And inside the combination, there would be no incentive for justice, only for a show of it. With no peaceful, orderly recourse available, the Gadiantons would have no choice but to fight each other, thus splitting into warring factions.

But they couldn’t see this.

There is also subtle irony in Helaman 8:4-6 that shows their inability to see things.
4 And those judges were angry with him because he spake plainly unto them concerning their secret works of darkness; nevertheless, they durst not lay their own hands upon him, for they feared the people lest they should cry out against them.
5 Therefore they did cry unto the people, saying: Why do you suffer this man to revile against us? For behold he doth condemn all this people, even unto destruction; yea, and also that these our great cities shall be taken from us, that we shall have no place in them.
6 And now we know that this is impossible, for behold, we are powerful, and our cities great, therefore our enemies can have no power over us.

How fascinating that they say they are so powerful and their cities so great, and yet…. They fear the people and fear angering the people if they take Nephi and condemn him. If they can’t handle the healthy corrective of Nephi’s words, and take appropriate action to change, how can they possibly handle a real crisis situation and the difficult truths that would stare them in the face then?

I think it shows the Lord’s great mercy that even when these people were steeped in such awfulness, the Lord still gave the robbers a chance to repent, sending a prophet to preach and sending signs and wonders to warn that they couldn’t hide their deeds and they were going to destroy themselves.
I also think this story shows that even if the wicked are in power, the Lord can shake things up and dislodge them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 0 comments

Pushing forward like Lamanites + MY NEW BOOK!

The Lamanites are busy little beavers in these verses:

33 And now it came to pass that it was expedient for Moroni to make preparations to attack the city Morianton; for behold, the Lamanites had, by their labors, fortified the city Morianton until it had become an exceeding stronghold.
34 And they were continually bringing new forces into that city, and also new supplies of provisions. (Alma 55:33-34)

At this point in the text we get an interruption of Helaman’s letter with the story about the stripling warriors, which causes us to lose the thread. But it is picked back up in Alma 59:

5 And it came to pass that while Moroni was thus making preparations to go against the Lamanites to battle, behold, the people of Nephihah, who were gathered together from the city of Moroni and the city of Lehi and the city of Morianton, were attacked by the Lamanites.
6 Yea, even those who had been compelled to flee from the land of Manti, and from the land round about, had come over and joined the Lamanites in this part of the land.
7 And thus being exceedingly numerous, yea, and receiving strength from day to day, by the command of Ammoron they came forth against the people of Nephihah, and they did begin to slay them with an exceedingly great slaughter.
8 And their armies were so numerous that the remainder of the people of Nephihah were obliged to flee before them; and they came even and joined the army of Moroni. (Alma 59:5-6)

Here we are told that while Moroni was making preparations, the city of Nephihah was attacked and overwhelmed, and the inhabitants (including refugees from cities Moroni, Lehi, and Morianton) were forced to flee.

What this tells us strategically is that there was a reason the Lamanites kept bringing more men and provisions into the city Morianton and fortifying it; they meant the city Morianton to become the next jumping off point for their next invasion into Nephite territory. There are reinforcements for maintenance and there are reinforcements for imminent invasion, and the Lamanites intended invasion. The Lamanites made Morianton a great stronghold so they could store more supplies there and strengthen their supply chain.

How does this help us today? Can we learn something positive from the Lamanites here, even though we’re used to thinking about them as the bad guys?  I think it helps us to think about where we are putting most of our energy and focus. The Lamanites put emphasis on amassing supplies and men at Morianton in anticipation for starting their invasion.  So, we could ask ourselves where we are putting our energy and preparation, and to what end? What do we expect to be able to do because of it? Are we simply maintaining things as they are, or are we preparing for progress? Are we preparing for new things, new goals, new growth?

The Lamanites knew how to grow their territory—they received strength from day to day, and then they PUSHED into new territories. What would happen if we followed that example spiritually in good ways? Can we receive strength from God from day to day? Yes. Can we prepare for new things? Yes. Can we push into new spiritual territories? I think so, if we are sufficiently prepared.

Today, let's press forward with faith in Christ.

Postscript NEWSFLASH 

I got my rear in gear recently, and pushed forward to finally publish my book To Defend Them By Strategem: Fortify Yourself with Book of Mormon War Tactics. (The audience goes wild, slings roses in all directions, and moshes enthusiastically with the orchestra while the world rejoices!)  This book contains many ideas about how the stories of war in the Book of Mormon teach us how we can defend ourselves against Satan. 

I’m very excited to have this book finally out, after all the work I’ve done on it. It contains some of my best thoughts and insights from this blog, which have been polished and reworked to focus specifically on spiritual strategies that can protect us. I think that you’ll really enjoy it and learn a lot.

This book will not be in Deseret Book…unless you decide to ask for it specifically by ISBN # (978-0-9968730-0-0, if you’re interested).  So, if you want to see it there, request it. ;-) 
Alternatively, you can get it Amazon, as it is available in both paperback and as a Kindle book.

See here:

Amazon paperback ($12.99)

Monday, February 12, 2018 0 comments

That I may carry thy people

And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters. (1 Nephi 17:8)

That bit at the end – that I may carry thy people” – struck me. It is as though God uses the idea of a boat to symbolize Himself and how He will carry and protect Nephi’s family from the elements.

Looked at it that way, anything that carries us can be a symbol of God—our transportation: cars, buses, airplanes, boats, etc. And anything that protects can symbolize God as well—our clothes, our houses, fortifications, armor, etc.

Saturday, February 10, 2018 0 comments

Called the People of Ammon

This bit from the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis jumped out at me:

…And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after. (Alma 27:26)

It first strikes me as an incredible compliment to Ammon that the Nephites called the Anti-Nephi-Lehis “the people of Ammon.” It gives a sense that Ammon was amazing. Wouldn’t it be incredible if you or I were instrumental in converting so many people that they were called “the people of [your name]”?

But then, Ammon wasn’t the one who did all those conversions. First of all, it was the Spirit, and Ammon was only one of the instruments. Also, Aaron and his other brothers had a big part to play as well. They were all involved. So, it wasn’t necessarily fair to the others to have Ammon shoulder all the credit that way. (Ammon was probably personally embarrassed by it as well.)

And another thing—it was the Nephites who used this name for them, not the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. The Anti-Nephi-Lehis already had their own name for themselves to distinguish them from the Lamanites. We don’t really know how they felt about this name the Nephites put on them. They may have had mixed feelings about it—glad to be identified with Ammon, who was so exemplary, but perhaps wishing for more accuracy.

We perhaps could understand how they feel when we consider how we could be called Latter-day Saints because of the full name of our church, but others have called us “Mormons,” and we’ve had to own and accept that name, even though we consider ourselves Christians.

I really like the next verse that characterizes the Anti-Nephi-Lehis:

And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end. (Alma 27:27)

“Distinguished for their zeal.” What do you think that looked like in daily life? Excitement and enthusiasm for doing their duty? Love and interest in prayer and study of the word of God? Interest in serving others? Did this arise out of the joy of their conversion, or is this also something we can choose to become? I think one has to choose it, because while it understandable that conversion from an awful state would lead to great gratitude, there are people who have always been faithful who continue to maintain their zeal.

It might seem superfluous to add that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis were “perfectly…upright,” but think what it would mean if someone was distinguished for their zeal toward God but was not perfectly upright in all things. There would be an element of hypocrisy there. Zeal means nothing without uprightness.

So, if someone is zealous toward God and perfectly upright, does that mean they are perfect? I don’t know? I imagine they would be close to perfection, and it would only be those little errors and occasional mistakes that would create a problem. But it also says the Anti-Nephi-Lehis were “perfectly honest,” so they would be willing to admit their faults, and then because of their faith in Christ, they would be quick to repent. How can you go wrong if you repent every time you notice (or have it brought to your notice) that you have erred or transgressed?

Today let’s work on being zealous for God, not expecting happiness from something indefinite or mysterious out there, but putting all our efforts on doing the Lord’s will. Let’s find our joy in that and strive to be upright in all things.

Saturday, February 3, 2018 0 comments

Two Harvests in Revelation 14

14 And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16 And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
20 And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs. (Revelation 14:14-20)

What we have here is a big gathering of two separate groups. We don’t know what the 1st group is at first, but we are told the second group is gathered to be cast into the winepress of the wrath of God, so that tells us the grapes represent the wicked. So, the first group must be the righteous who are gathered together for safety. This is consistent with the message of Jesus’s parable of the wheat and the tares in which both the righteous and the wicked are allowed to mix and grow together until the end when the wheat (righteous) are gathered into the garner and the chaff (the wicked) remain to be burned.

It appears that at some point the Saints will need to physically gather for safety and security. I imagine the prophets will tell us when that time comes.

Thursday, February 1, 2018 0 comments

Big problems among the Scribes, as Jesus points out

After Jesus answers some questions meant to entrap him, we get this bit:

45 Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples,
46 Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts;
47 Which devour widows’ houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation. (Luke 20:45-47)

What exactly is Jesus saying here?

He’s warning the disciples to beware of the scribes who do certain things. It seems to me He’s not telling the disciples to shun them necessarily, but to beware of becoming like them.

So what exactly is wrong with this behavior, and are there modern equivalents that must be avoided?

They desire to walk in long robes – Long robes are not easy to move in, and they get dirty easy. I get the impression that long robes were a sign of status, and hard work was not done in them. People in long robes don’t gird up their loins to serve others; they are usually the ones being served. The modern equivalent might be people who desire to wear suits all day.

They love greetings in the markets – This seems pretty benign at first. Who doesn’t love to run into friends at the market? The problem, I think, is when it becomes a point of pride, when one preens over one’s connectedness and how all those greetings by all one’s acquaintances lead one to say, “Look how important I am! Everyone knows me and loves me! Even people who don’t know me can see I must be special because of all the people who greet me!” It is hard to focus on others, when others are so focused on you.

They love the highest seats in the synagogues and the chief rooms at feasts – High seats in the synagogue are probably leadership seats. They love the best places and aspire to importance and status. They love the visibility more than the opportunity to serve.

They devour widows’ houses – Here’s a sad thing. These scribes will visit widows (thinking they are charitably bestowing their attention and encouraging presence) and then the widows are obligated by the rules of hospitality to feed them a big fancy dinner, so the widows have to spend beyond their means to do it, and of course, those scribes have to do justice to the spread, so they eat it all, and thus the widow is far worse off financially after the scribe’s visit than she was before. The scribe is devouring her house. And she lives at poverty level, anyway, so it is all very bad for her finances. At bottom, this is a lack of awareness of how hospitality is going to affect one’s host. It is inconsiderate, and a lack of charity. If these scribes had any real charity, they would host the widow and not obligate the widow to host them. Or they’d bring a nice big present of grain or something to make up for the burden of their visit.

For a show, they make long prayers – Their prayers aren’t doing them any good if it just a show to impress other people. If there is no real desire or repentance or gratitude behind the words, the prayers mean nothing.

The thing that is the greatest warning is that Jesus says, “the same shall receive the greater damnation.” To me, this is saying these characteristics get disciples more spiritually stuck and stop progression more than some others.

To summarize:

Long robes >> status clothing that precludes service and work
Loving greetings >> status and such connectedness that prevents one from forgetting oneself and focusing on others
Loving high seats and the best rooms at feasts >> obsessed with public shows of status at religious events and gatherings. Preoccupation with position and visibility more than opportunities for service and ministering.
Devouring widow’s houses >> Lack of consideration and charity for those who really need it. Making a show of attention that doesn’t really help and leaves the widow worse off afterward.
Making long prayers for show >> Desire to look holy has overcome any desire to actually be holy.

So, the pattern I see here is that status and show for these scribes has become the most important thing, such that they completely miss the increased opportunities for service and charity and ministering that come with a leadership position. They are stopped in their spiritual progress from becoming more like Christ.

Can we draw any conclusions from what one should do instead?
1)    Wear clothes you can help people in
2)    Focus on others and appreciate the humility of anonymity
3)    Care more for the opportunities to serve than position, status, or visibility
4)    Find ways to give notice and charity without taxing others’ resources to give hospitality
5)    Pray with sincerity

These things tell us that Jesus was strongly aware that if leaders weren’t careful, some of the earthly advantages of status created awful spiritual disadvantages with eternal negative consequences. He wanted His disciples to be aware of those problems and do all they could to avoid those behaviors and attitudes so that their position could be a real blessing to them and to all those around them.