Cappuccino, Coke, and Courage

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“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
-John 7:17

When I was 16 years old, I was invited to play on an all-star baseball team along with several other kids from Utah county. I didn’t really know the other guys that well, but we had a really good team and we started to become friends over the few weeks we were together. The team was put together to compete in an all-star tournament in Salt Lake. Even though we had only recently been put together as a team, we somehow won the whole thing. Because we won, we advanced to the regional tournament. Lucky for us, it was in Arizona. Yuma, Arizona. In July.

So, we had a road trip. We piled in together in a couple of big vans, and hit the road. The logical place to stop halfway from Utah county to Yuma was, of course, Las Vegas. The coaches got us checked into our rooms, and left us there. The slots, or blackjack tables must have been calling. Now, as you can probably imagine, 15 teenage boys left on their own about a mile from the Vegas strip with 14 hours before the vans left again for Arizona was mischief waiting to happen.

We were set to leave for Yuma early the next morning, but 15 year olds don’t usually sit and read books in hotel rooms, so we put all of our teenage brain cells together and decided to take in the sights.

After a few minutes, we left and walked all through the night, up and down the strip, seeing the sights, walking through the Caesars palace mall, and soaking it all up. After several hours, we were exhausted. I still don’t know who, if anyone really, came up with that brilliant idea, but It wasn’t a good one. And, unfortunately, I just went along with the crowd.

About 5 a.m. we finally realized we were super tired, and someone decided that rather than sleeping, we just needed caffeine. So we stopped at a small fancy coffee shop in Caesars Palace somewhere. I sat there staring at the menu not knowing really what I was doing. I remember feeling way out of place.

What was I supposed to order at a coffee shop anyway? Well, coffee is what you order at a coffee shop. And so, one by one, every one of the other players who were with me ordered a cappuccino. Apparently it’s stronger than coffee, so it was perfect for anyone who happened to have stayed up all night walking.

I found myself in a spot I had never really been in before in my entire 16 years. I had never been offered a drink, a cigarette, or anything else that was against the Word of Wisdom. Peer pressure wasn’t really something I had ever dealt with either. I knew a good Mormon kid wasn’t supposed to drink coffee, tea, or cappuccino, even if I did stay up all night.

I sat there and had to decide if I was going to go along with everyone else who had already ordered or do what I had been taught. I had to decide for myself. Mom and Dad weren’t there, the bishop wasn’t there, no one who really knew me was there. It was completely up to me. I could take that first step in either direction. As seemingly insignificant as that choice in reality was, the principle was huge. Which way would I choose to go?

It took me only about 5 seconds, and maybe my lack of money helped, but I decided I would go with the $1.95 coke, instead of the $6.99 cappuccino. After I ordered, all the other guys kind of looked at me sideways and wondered why I had ordered coke at a fancy coffee shop, but I felt happy that I did.

A few minutes later, I learned that the Lord has our backs when we do what he asks. Even on little tiny choices that may not seem like they mean a whole lot in the big picture. He knows me, and all my little personal battles, choices, struggles, and temptations. I had broke ranks with all the guys around me to try and do the right thing. I had stepped out on my own, and the Lord rewarded and taught me in a way that I would understand even with my teenage brain.

As the cappuccino cups were all handed out to the other players, It looked like Mrs Nesbitt’s tea party in Toy Story. The cups were tiny. They couldn’t have held more than 6 oz. I, however, was rewarded with a gigantic 64 oz towering container full of delicious Coca Cola. It looked more like a giant fish bowl, than a cup (think of the time the Hobbits found out what a “pint” was at the Prancing pony in Lord of the Rings). At that very moment, all the other players were jealous of me and my choice that morning. I remember feeling totally justified, and rewarded for that little, tiny, almost insignificant moment in my life. For me, it was a lesson I would never forget.

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It wouldn’t have been the end of the world had I ordered a coffee that morning. But, the lesson I learned was that I could be strong on my own. I was able to do what I knew or believed was right, regardless of what everyone else was doing. I also learned that it was my choice, not anyone else’s, that would determine who I would become in the future.

This lesson of taking that first step out on our own is a lesson we all have to learn. It has been necessary since the beginning. One of my favorite examples of this principle is the one we learn about in Alma 56.

This is the famous chapter where we learn from Helaman all about his 2000 stripling warriors.  These young men, Helaman describes as being “very” young, had never fought. Even though they had zero experience fighting, they volunteered to be soldiers and join the Nephite armies as long as Helaman was their commander. They joined because the Nephites desperately needed help, and their fathers had previously buried their weapons of war in a sacred covenant, vowing never to fight again.

Helaman’s 2000 were a welcome sight to the Nephites, even thought they had no experience, and were likely a bit scrawny. Because of this, the Nephite commanders probably had to use them in a way that would minimize their physical disadvantage. So, they came up with a plan, a plan that would use them like bait. Like worms on the hook.

Helaman’s boys finally received their marching orders. Their mission was to march past the city of Antiparah, which held the largest Lamanite army in that part of the country, and draw them out of their fortified city by looking like easy prey.  This probably wasn’t hard, because they actually were easy prey. If the Lamanites came out, their job was to run away faster to avoid getting slaughtered. Pretty simple, right? It was a perfect assignment for some fresh legged, young new recruits.

The plan worked. Just as the Nephite armies had hoped, the Lamanites took the bait. They poured out of Antiparah. All of them. They then took off in hot pursuit of Helaman’s 2000. The second part of the plan was to have Antipus and his men then take off after the Lamanites, catch them, and engage them out in the open, instead of the fortified city. But, this plan took a full 3 days to take effect. Tyson explained this unique prolonged footrace in a previous post here.

After basically running from the Lamanites all day for 3 days straight, Helaman noticed that the Lamanites suddenly stopped chasing his little band of 2000. But, they were not sure as to the reason. It could have been a trap, or Antipus could have finally caught up with them. It was unclear. Those 2000 young men, who had learned all about faith, courage, and trust and had also seen it in action from their parents, were now faced with a decision. A choice. A much harder, more difficult, and life threatening choice than choosing between a cappuccino or a Coke.

Helaman presented this choice to his “sons” this way…

”Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare;“

“Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?¹”

Helaman was leaving the choice up to them. He had been a commander. He had been in battle. He was intimately familiar with what the likely outcome of a choice to fight would be for those young boys. Those young men knew their job was to be bait for the Lamanites, not to necessarily fight with them. But now, they had to decide what they wanted to do. They needed make their own choice. Mom and Dad weren’t there. Which way would they go? Forward into battle? Or wait it out in supposed safety far away.

They had been taught by their mothers to believe in God and his power. They had seen it demonstrated by their fathers in their covenant with God. They had seen or heard of the ultimate sacrifice of many of their lives honoring that covenant. But, their mothers were all hundreds of miles away. They were out on their own.

Helaman described his reaction to the choice these young men made…

”And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites²”

They made their choice. Helaman’s boys would fight.

They knew they had no experience and had never fought before, but they also believed the Lord would protect them. They took that step of faith for themselves, and decided to exercise it. This was their answer to Helaman…

“Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus³.”

Their choice to fight given their lack of experience required a lot of faith. A lot more than my choice to avoid coffee, and a lot more dangerous. But, the principle is the same. We all need to, at some point in our lives, step away from what we have been taught, and make our own choices that will affect the rest of our lives.

The wonderful testimonies of others can guide us, encourage us, set examples for us, but eventually we all find ourselves in a spot just like Helaman’s boys were. We are in a place where we need to make a step in one direction or the other. We will either leap in faith towards the fight, or ease quietly away in the opposite direction.

The Lord knows us perfectly, he knows exactly what our anxieties are, he knows our concerns, our fears, our struggles and every little detail of our lives. He is the one that orchestrates these opportunities and moments of truth. He wants us to step out in faith. If we take that step, he will support us. He will strengthen us, protect us, and bless us. It’s how we learn. It’s how we develop our own testimony independent of anybody else. This hard fought, and experienced testimony is the only one that is ultimately strong enough to withstand the onslaught of a world that will challenge us.

Helaman’s 2000 took that step, and survived multiple hard fought, and bloody battles against older, more experienced and hardened Lamanites. Not one of Helaman’s “sons” were killed. It was nothing short of a complete miracle. There is no way that should have happened. But, because they were willing to step into the fight with faith in the Lord’s protection, he preserved them. The most important step they took, was that first one. That first step when Helaman gave them the choice to step out on their own, and exercise the faith that they had been taught.

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We all read this story and marvel on their faith, their courage, and dedication. We try and put ourselves in their shoes and contemplate if our answer would be like theirs in that moment. We may not be asked to take up arms against a powerful opposing army, but we can try and emulate that same courage, dedication and faith.

We may not face a literal army of Lamanites, but we all face an army of those who wish to harm us spiritually. We do face an opposing force that will stop at nothing to destroy us and our faith. Let’s take the lessons we have learned, the testimonies we have heard and felt, and allow them to bolster us into taking those first steps on our own to face the enemy with our hearts full of faith. We will be protected. We will be strengthened. Our faith will grow.

When we add action to our beliefs, our testimonies will be solidified. We will know the gospel is true. We will feel closer to the Lord. We will then know and understand more completely the doctrine of Jesus Christ, because we will be doing his will, and that is exactly what He promised us…

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

-John 7:17

 

  1. Alma 56:43,44
  2. Alma 56:45
  3. Alma 56:46

Being Child-like

 

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When our Heavenly Father wanted to save the world, He didn’t take over a country or develop a militia. He sent a helpless child to a choice and worthy woman and a humble and believing man living in insecure circumstances in a conquered land occupied by a hostile force. The harsh geopolitical and military circumstances of Christ’s birth should remind us that Heavenly Father can bless us even if the external circumstances of our lives aren’t necessarily easy or peaceful.1

Jesus taught: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”2 and “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”3

King Benjamin explained that we must put off the natural man and “[become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father”4

That is quite a list but for now, I am going to focus on two qualities. 1) Being full of love, and 2) Being willing to submit to all things which the Lord inflicts upon us.

It is easy to find examples of these child-like behaviors in the scriptures.

Now…

Paul, after he explains charity, states: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”5

To be child-like is not the same as being childish. There is an important distinction there. Obviously, as we learn, practice, and develop, our behavior should change. Child-like qualities of innocence, humility, simplicity, faith, and love should grow and mature into traits like wisdom, leadership, accountability, dependability, and self-mastery.6

Examples of child-like behavior in the scriptures:

We have to start with our perfect example in all ways, Jesus Christ. We celebrate the baby born in Bethlehem not simply for the miraculous birth, but also for his selfless life, infinite atonement, and perfect resurrection. Christ grew in wisdom and stature, he performed miracles and commanded the elements, but he never became full of himself or slothful. Isaiah described his as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”7, but our Lord and Savior never complained, murmured, nor shirked his exceptional responsibility. He didn’t constantly groan under the weight of His office.1

He served others, shared joy, and became the light of the world. He was, (as King Benjamin taught) full of love, and willing to submit to the Father. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”8

Another example, this time from the Book of Mormon: The people of Alma were oppressed, beaten, and had heavy burdens placed upon their backs. When they prayed, they were threatened with death, but they continued to pray in their hearts. Their prayers were heard. “And it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord”.9

The people of Alma demonstrated child-like qualities of love and submission to God’s will. They were blessed with strength to endure and overcome the afflictions placed upon them.

We can all think of someone that we know who demonstrates these child-like qualities.

My friend, Sean Thomas has been described as ‘stubbornly optimistic’. And he is.  He radiates happiness, and no matter what life throws at him, he is smiling right back. He has a child’s love and happiness. He is child-like in the best ways.

Grandpa Ralph is a man who is full of love and willing to submit to the will of our Heavenly Father (and to the will of his wife). He did not always have an easy go at life, he has endured trials while lifting and teaching others, all while maintaining a cheerful attitude.

To fully appreciate this brief story, you have to have known Ralph and Deon, and their awesome and inspiring relationship. The following exchange can be found on family search submitted by Grandpa Ralph himself:

TIME: Some time in the 1980’s.

HITCHCOCK HOME PHONE RINGS: RALPH ANSWERS: “Hello, this is the hen pecked husband at the Happy Hitchcock House… May I help you?”

DEON: (over hearing the salutation) ” !! RRAALLPPHH !!

RALPH: “It’s Helen, and it’s for you.”

RALPH: (Unstated comment to himself) “Being a happily hen pecked husband is one of the pillars of our good marriage. But, because Deon did her hen pecking with such a style and precision that I not only accepted it, (most of it) and depended on it to benefit our marriage. But, I had to let her know that I knew what she was doing.”

Grandpa Ralph liked to tease his true love, he liked to laugh… as did Deon. Now, before you get upset, you should know that every person who ever saw my Grandfather interact in any way with my Grandmother, knew that he loved her dearly. He would do anything for her – no question. There is no way that anyone could deny that. He was cheerful.

My little boy Blake is a tangible example to us of child-like behavior. He can’t talk or give sermons on Christ-like attitudes and how we can achieve them. He does, however serve others and spread happiness. He likes to smile at people. When he does, he spreads love and light, it is really neat to see. It is something so simple, but smiling when we see others really can make a difference.

Joseph Smith, while in Liberty Jail wrote to the saints: “a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves. Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God”.10

We celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Lord for what Jesus grew to be and what he has done for us. With the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the power of his grace and atonement, we can change, we can grow. We can strive to be as children and cheerfully submit to His will, because, as Pual taught: “When we are weak, then we are strong”11

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  1. Scott E. Ferrin, Christmas and Christ’s Invitation to Become as a Little Child: What Manner… BYU Speech Dec. 10, 2013.
  2. Luke 18:16
  3. Matthew 18:3
  4. Mosiah 3:19
  5. 1 Corinthians 13:11
  6. Derek A. Cuthbert, The Meaning of Maturity, General Conference, Oct 1982
  7. Isaiah 53:3
  8. Luke 22:42
  9. Mosiah 24:15
  10. Doctrine and Covenants 123:16-17
  11. 2 Corinthians 12:10

The Gadianton Robbers of Doctrinal Mastery

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Recently, the CES (Church Educational System) outlined a new approach to help its students learn how to recognize, understand, and apply gospel principles in their lives.  It’s called Doctrinal Mastery.  It is a supplement to the previous Scripture Mastery program that we had as curriculum back in the 90’s.  Instead of just memorizing scriptures (which is still an excellent idea by the way), the CES is helping and teaching and encouraging the students to learn how to search for and answer their own questions.  I encourage everyone to go here and read all of the material available (but especially the talk by Elder Ballard, Chad Webb, and the 2016 annual  broadcast), because it is outstanding information and is well worth your dedicated and repeated study time (not to mention how great it would be for FHE and/or other family discussions).

In case you don’t follow the link above right away and hope that I will recap some of the main points, below is an overview:

Principles

  • Students acquire spiritual knowledge and are better prepared to respond to questions as they follow the principles and patterns that Heavenly Father has established for us to learn and understand truth.
  • Students will deepen their conversion and commitment to Jesus Christ, be protected against the influences of the adversary, and be better prepared to bless the lives of others as they come to understand, believe, and live according to the Savior’s doctrine.

Desired Outcomes

Learning and applying divine principles for acquiring spiritual knowledge and responding to questions by

  1. Acting in faith
  2. Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective
  3. Seeking further understanding through divinely appointed sources

 

Each one of these three desired outcomes is outlined in great detail in the various talks/devotionals/messages that are available through the link above, and each one of them is worth spending hours reading/learning about, but for the purpose of this particular message, I want us to understand number 2 – Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective.

An eternal perspective means not limiting our questions or our concerns or our doubts to our own little tiny 20th century timeframe, nor to our little tiny understanding of a particular principle/application.  Part of examining concepts in this eternal perspective is the acknowledgement that opposition and temptation have been around since the very beginning of what we call time, and the understanding that we certainly are not the first ones to struggle or deal with a particular issue – no matter what it is.  Even if our pride thinks it is.  We need to understand that the scriptures (the divinely appointed sources referenced in item 3 above) are in fact a compilation of scenarios, situations, stories, that produced the entire gamut of burning questions and riveting answers – all recorded by righteous individuals with the express intent of being available for us to “examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective”.

Maybe the next time we have a doubt, or a serious question, or something that makes us ‘wrestle’ with the Lord – no matter what it is – let’s ask ourselves a guiding question that will start our search for answers on the right path: “Has someone already asked this question before”?  “Has someone in the history of recorded time struggled with an issue similar to this”?  Has someone then “acted in faith” and “sought further understanding through divinely appointed sources” and received an answer – and then recorded that answer”? In most cases the answer is yes.  As a note, that’s what the scriptures are – the most true and correct FAQ document the world has ever seen.

A “yes” answer to the questions above places some of the question finding responsibility on our shoulders because I doubt the Lord loves when we ask a question that he has already answered – especially when that answer has been asked, answered, and then recorded in the scriptures.  After all, most successful companies refer you to the FAQ section before they connect you with a representative right?  Right.

To help us understand exactly what and how awesome the scriptures really are – which will in turn help us really feel the possibilities that it holds for us – let’s think of some of the times that angels have come down from heaven to visit the earth to deliver a particular message – or when a beloved prophet is sent to do the same.  Moroni comes to Joseph Smith and quotes some scriptures.  Abinidi gets sent to King Noah and ends up quoting/reading scriptures (Isaiah).  Christ himself (not to mention Nephi, Jacob, and many other prophets who wrote in the Book of Mormon) comes down to minister among the Nephites and spends a whole lot of time reading and expounding the scriptures.  Talk about answering questions – maybe he was making sure they really did have all the scriptures, so that when they recorded the Book of Mormon, it would ensure that we really do have the full set of FAQ.

There is a scripture passage that helps us solidify how we should approach and deal with any questions that we may have surrounding the gospel.  The setting is approx. 29-23 BC and the Lamanites are the good guys and the Nephites happen to be the bad guys.  At this time, there was an especially bad group (secret band of robbers) who were led and named after their especially bad leader Gadianton.  It’s found in Helaman 6:37-39:  So, when we read this passage, and understand how these two groups dealt with the robbers, we can understand and liken it to the two options we have when questions or doubts arise in our hearts – because the doubts we have about the gospel are in fact, the robbers of Gadianton.

The Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.

And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.

And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

The Lamanites preached the word of God among their doubts and questions, until they were utterly destroyed.1  I expect this preaching of the word of God (pure, scripture truth) was not a one-time sermon, but more of a repeated, continual effort that took place over time.

On the other hand, the Nephites did build them up, and support their doubts until they had overspread all the land, seduced the more part of them, until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them.  If we build up and support our doubts, it won’t be long until they overtake all our land, and we will come down to believe in their works, and partake of their spoils (please notice how enjoying fruit is the end goal of Lehi’s dream, Jacob 5, and Alma 32, yet spoils are the result of Gadiantons plundering and Satan’s offering to us).  Worse yet, if we to continue to build them up, these doubts will have “sole management of the government” – and they will drive away all faith, hope, and love until we become cynical, bitter, and then we trample under our feet all of the things we once loved.

 

 

Notes

1 Questions are good – critical even.  They lead to answers.  They lead us to and through the process of becoming a seeker of truth and a seeker of answers.  So much of our history (both ancient and modern) is the result of diligent searching for answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging Ditches to Be Happy

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A few months ago, I traveled to California with my wife to watch my brother Tyson compete in an Ironman triathlon. It was pretty amazing to see him, along with everyone else, both men and women, swim, bike, and run for 8 or 10 or 12+ hours straight. It was nuts. Imagine getting up early, before the sun is anywhere near up, and wading into a dark river and swimming for about an hour- with no stopping, rest, or lifeguard. Then, instead of dying an anonymous silent death and sinking to the bottom of the murky water, you run to your bike, and hop onto the most uncomfortable bike seat ever designed, and start pedaling- for about 6 hours. Then, after crouching and straining on that bike for the same amount of time as two full length Lord of the Rings movies, and looking more like a crooked old lady with scoliosis, you get to relax by running a full marathon. Its mind boggling.

After witnessing this event, and seeing Tyson do so well. I had a familiar feeling start to swell inside me. It was a familiar feeling that had been silent, dormant, and suppressed for quite a while, but began to fester up just like a long forgotten illness. It was the re-emergence of the “I can’t let my brother beat me” syndrome that I thought I had fully recovered from. Turns out, there really is no cure. You can’t beat it, you can only hope to contain it.

Tyson, from years of competition growing up together, knew just the kind of salt to throw in that freshly opened wound as over the next few days, he “encouraged” me to throw my hat in the triathlon ring. Smarter men, like my other younger brothers Casey and Riley, would have been wise enough to see the end game, and let that “encouragement” go unacknowledged or laugh it off altogether. But, because of my newly reopened competition illness, I fell for it. Both Tyson and I suffer from rather severe strains of this disease.

I had previously enjoyed a stronghold on the long distance running record amongst my brothers with a full marathon, but even that looked pretty pathetic now. I had just been ceremoniously slapped across the cheek with the proverbial gauntlet. And he did it in such a nice way which was even worse.

So, I was done. And, soon after returning home, I signed myself up for a small triathlon, and started training. Running and biking weren’t so bad, having done endurance training before. But, here’s the difference, you can breathe when you run or bike. And I happen to be very fond of breathing. Swimming, however, presented as a whole different set of problems for me.

The first time I hit the pool, I knew it would be tough, but that was an understatement. I never realized just how far 25 meters can be until I tried to swim it. It then got worse as I then turned around, and did it again, and again, and again. It was exhausting. Its kind of like tying a plastic bag over your head, and walking on your hands up a steep hill.

After my first training session in the pool, I didn’t die, but I did I feel nauseous and lightheaded for hours afterwards. And that was only after about a whopping 200 meters with life-saving gasping-for-air breaks after each 25 meters. I was in trouble.

The next 8 weeks were brutal. I was thrown by how slow my progress was. I was used to being able to train regularly for 2-3 weeks while running, and seeing some significant improvements. With swimming, I was able to go a bit further, but it was very slow, slow, slow improvement. I felt I was improving at the pace of the sloth at the DMV in Zootopia.

Swimming was the obvious weak link on my chain. I knew that going in, but that reality soon started to hit me, hard. I started to have serious doubts, not necessarily about my ability to finish the race, but in my ability to actually survive the race. The way I saw it, if I didn’t somehow have arm floaties on, I only stood at about a 50:50 chance of surviving the swim portion. Seriously. I’m not even kidding.

Now, I don’t like to have weaknesses, let alone having very apparent ones, so this was uncharted territory in a sense. I was eating some serious humble pie, like several meals a day strict diet of humble pie. It was frustrating, but I stuck with it.

Now, after almost 12 weeks, I am proud to say that I have confidence that I will not die in 3 weeks when I go for my first little triathlon. It has been a slow go, but I can tell I have made improvements. Thank goodness, because, I don’t want to get lapped by those 87 year old grandmas because I can’t get out of the pool.

This process that I am in the middle of- this process of trying to get rid of my weakness, and possibly even turn it into a strength, is a principle that we are familiar with. Its frequently taught in the Book of Mormon. A few weeks ago, I recognized this principle all over again in a seemingly unrelated story. This time it was embedded in the way the Nephites dug ditches.

In Tyson’s last post, he mentioned that Moroni had prepared the Nephites to fight in the most unfair way possible against the Lamanites. He did it with unprecedented preparation. You can read it HERE. This process employed by Moroni has everything to do with the famous scripture from Ether. In his book, he explains why we have these weaknesses….

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”  (Ether 12:5)

Ether wasn’t necessarily talking about swimming, or even Nephites digging ditches, but the principle applies to both of these scenarios.

We learn all about Moroni’s ditches in Alma chapter 49. It explains how the Nephites rebuilt the city of Ammonihah after it had been destroyed. They rebuilt it and then some. It was obviously regarded as a weak spot for the Nephites….

Behold, I said that the city of Ammonihah had been rebuilt. I say unto you, yea, that it was in part rebuilt; and because the Lamanites had destroyed it once because of the iniquity of the people, they supposed that it would again become an easy prey for them. But behold, how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance. Now at this time the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security.” (Alma 49:3-5)

So, the Lamanites were looking for the wimpiest spot to attack the Nephites. Remember that Ammonihah was wiped out in one day. It should have been easy pickins’ for the Lamanites. The  Nephite resistance should have been like me swimming 100 meters in the pool. Weak cheese. But, the Nephites had worked hard- very hard, in fact, to prepare themselves for that moment.

The Nephites had dug a ditch, not just any ditch, but a ditch so deep, and the accompanying ridge of earth was so high, they couldn’t hit the top by throwing stones or shooting arrows. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that is a lot of dirt. Thats a big hole, and a big bank of earth.

I picture these Nephite soldiers shoveling, hauling, digging, laboring day after day load after load after load to prepare this city. I can imagine that in the beginning, it seemed like a daunting task, kind of like me imagining myself swimming in a dark river for over 2 miles at 5:00 a.m. But they kept at it. I am absolutely positive, that when these Nephites finished moving that vast amount of dirt, and constructing this massive protective wall all around their entire city, they were stronger than when they started. How could they not be? They probably looked like a bunch of linebackers fresh from the gym.

But, it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen by a lightning strike, or by the fairy Godmother coming and throwing twinkle dust the ground and turning it into a perfectly structured dirt fort. We don’t know exactly how they constructed this ditch or the bank of earth, but it wasn’t with a back hoe or diesel powered crane.

It was built bit by bit, little by little, Im sure almost imperceptible progress was made. But the process made those that were working on it strong, and the process is what transformed the city from a weak point into a stronghold. That same weak city that had been wiped out in a single day.

But, it wasn’t just one city. The Lamanites, came looking to take out Ammonihah, took one look, and said, “No thanks, peace out”, and headed instead to attack another weak spot, the city of Noah. But, Moroni was one step ahead…

 “But behold, to their astonishment, the city of Noah, which had hitherto been a weak place, had now, by the means of Moroni, become strong, yea, even to exceed the strength of the city Ammonihah. (Alma 49:14)

“Now behold, the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance.

 And thus were the Nephites prepared to destroy all such as should attempt to climb up to enter the fort by any other way, by casting over stones and arrows at them.

 Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies.”

 Thus the Nephites had all power over their enemies; and thus the Lamanites did attempt to destroy the Nephites until their chief captains were all slain; yea, and more than a thousand of the Lamanites were slain; while, on the other hand, there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain.” (Alma 49:18-23)

The Nephites had gained the advantage. They had put in the time, and had become incredibly strong. But it wasn’t by accident. It was a long, deliberate process. The cities and men had become strong by identifying and working on their weaknesses. By working, digging, scrambling, struggling, pulling, pushing, sweating, and preparing.

The Lord can, and will make our weaknesses strong, but he doesn’t just give it to us. It requires work on our end. We need to first recognize our weaknesses, and then we need to humbly commit to strengthen it by work. Then, the Lord blesses us, and aids us in our own little battles.

Moroni didn’t strengthen just the obvious weak spots, he strengthened all the cities. He didn’t take a look at Ammonihah, or Noah, and say, “Nice, our job is done.” He kept going. There is always room for improvement, or strengthening. That means, at the same time, there is always work to do. We can’t stop shoveling, or hauling, striving, or trying.

 “And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war…” (Alma 50:1)

The beauty of all of this hard work isn’t just in the final product. A strong fort made for our own protection isn’t the only end goal. In addition to the increased strength where once we were weak, we are also happier.

We are happy when we work, get stronger, improve, and accomplish. Yes, we then become stronger. But, we also are happier along the way. The Lord blesses us in sneaky ways sometimes. Who would have thought, that through all this time of massive preparation, digging ditches, chopping trees, and laboring night and day that the Nephites would be the happiest they had ever been?

“But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges.” (Alma 50:23)

The Nephites were happy. Happier, in fact, than ever. Even after digging seemingly endless numbers of ditches and trenches, and hauling dirt back and forth. Their strength came from the security of shoring up their places of retreat, and strengthening their weaknesses.

Sometimes our improvement doesn’t have to be pretty, or glorious, or fancy, or amazingly awesome. Sometimes we get better simply by working at our weaknesses. It may be slow, but it is always worth it.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Great Pyramid of Giza took 20 years to build. The Great Wall of China took thousands of years altogether to make, and the iconic temple that sits in the middle of Salt Lake City took over 40 years to finally complete.

Lets not lose sight of our goal- to be the best we can be, and live with God again. Lets look at our weaknesses only as opportunities for future strengths, and lets commit to be just as willing to work at them as the Nephites were in digging their ditches. Because, in the end, just like the Nephites, our safety and happiness is at stake.

An equal chance to fight

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We have all heard and/or read a lot about equality lately, and the importance of making sure that everyone has an ‘equal chance’ for everything.  An equal chance at education, career opportunities, to have their voice heard, and to have rights or liberties or freedoms.  But I’d like to talk about a situation in which we actually want to discourage equal chances and encourage lopsidedness – and if we do it right – severe lopsidedness.

This situation happens to be an ongoing battle with the forces of evil, which ironically highlights in one sense the perfect case of equality, because forces on both sides of this battle are attempting with all their might to create the most severe cases of inequality imaginable in order to gain the victory.  In other words, neither side wants to create an ‘equal chance’ for fighting because each side wants a severely lopsided victory.  One side wants to save as many people as possible, and the other side wants as many casualties as possible.  There isn’t much room there for compromise – and if we don’t realize that – we need to.

There are many ways in which people can gain an advantage, in business, in sports, and in life.  For example, just this week I did something that I had been resisting for quite a while. I joined a triathlon club.  In fact, I joined a triathlon club with a very good reputation and track record with a lot of successful athletes (they had 7 athletes qualify for (and race in) the world championships in Kona this last month).  That’s impressive.  The reason for my hesitation has been primarily because I felt that it was the easy way out.  I thought it might be more admirable/impressive if I were to work hard on my own, improve on my own, and qualify for Kona on my own, because after all (in my mind), a tri club (this one in particular) seemed to create an unfair advantage for their athletes somehow removing the ‘equal chance’ for the rest of us due to their associations with vendors, bike fitters, coaches, and advisors.  In some strange way, my brain associated these athletes getting all the help they could possibly get in order to improve was somehow cheating.  I was (and still am most of the time) an idiot.

Luckily for me, the Book of Mormon is true, and it can prevent my idiot-ness from being permanent.

What I learned this week (helping me feel good about joining this club) is that captain Moroni had founded a triathlon club in the earlier years (about 72 BC) and that if you joined his club you weren’t cheating, you were giving yourself the best chance for improvement (and winning).  Just check out his coaching bio: “if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17).  And his bio doesn’t end there; the record goes on to show several case studies in how he had encouraged his people to prepare for battle in ‘in a manner which never had been known’ (Alma 49:8) – and win.

Now to be fair, there might have been some Nephites who thought to themselves “all of Moroni’s troops are cheating.  They are creating an unfair advantage over the Lamanites by joining his fight club with his extensive preparations and unknown manner of preparation and matching triathlon unitards (the title of liberty is definitely the Nephite tri club logo and the original basis for the current unitard design of today).  So, I’ll just work out my own preparation plan by doing the same things we’ve always done.”

Moroni was taking their previously weak places, and building them to ‘exceeding strength’.  Is there a better description of what a tri club and/or tri coach should be doing?  No.   Is there a better description of what we as parents should be doing for our children?  No.

We are not preparing the youth (our children) for a battle by ensuring that all sides get an equal chance.  We are not preparing them for a battle in which the enemy will engage in ‘good sportsmanship’.  We are preparing them for battle against an enemy who is absolutely ruthless and does not want anything other than complete domination.

Moroni teaches all of us how to create inequality in battle and it all starts with preparation.  Lots and lots and lots and lots (and lots) of preparation.  And he doesn’t stop – even in peaceful times – “Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people” (Alma 50:1).  As parents, we must build up heaps of earth round about all the city as the first line of defense.  Then we must create ‘works of timbers’ atop the heaps of earth.  Then we must build ‘frames of pickets’ atop the works of timbers.  After that, we must build a tower overlooking the picket.  Then, and only then can we create a place of security on top of the towers in which we can stand (nice and safe) and “cast stones from the top thereof, according to [our] pleasure and [our] strength” (Alma 50:5).

Thus, Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies” (Alma 50:6).

Thus, they were prepared… to smite down all who should attempt to come into their place of security” (Alma 49:20).

None of these guys in Moroni’s club were down on the ground fighting the Lamanites ‘on equal grounds’.  None of them.  And for that reason, “there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain” (Alma 49:23).

I think it is worth noting here, that the Lamanites tried their best and began to “dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrow which were thrown at them” (Alma 49:22).

Thus, the Nephites had all power over their enemies” (Alma 49:23).

We must create an absolutely lopsided battle fortifications for our kids.  We are charged (just like Moroni) in establishing a ‘place of security’.  And yes, it will take constant preparation.  We cannot allow the enemy to ‘obtain a pass’ to our army by any other way than the death trap we create – the front door – where we can see them coming from a mile away and where we have our strongest fortifications.  We cannot stop at the heaps of earth, or the timbers, or the pickets, or even the towers.  We need to create that place of security on top of all that which happens to be the most unequal chance possible for the enemy to win – just like we want.  We cannot think that by sending them out into the world on equal ground with the enemy is a show of good sportsmanship or that somehow that meeting the enemy head on will teach them good battle skills.  No – that will just get them injured, or worse – killed.

From our carefully crafted places of security we much teach our kids what the enemy looks like, sounds like, smells like, and feels like so that they are not surprised when they see them coming and so they can be ‘swept off’ by our stones and arrows thrown according to ‘our pleasure and our strength’ (not theirs).

We cannot be naïve or embarrassed about the plain, simple, and powerful doctrines that create our places of safety.  We cannot think that by building up heaps of earth, timbers, pickets, towers, and places of safety that we are guilty of offense, discrimination, or hate –because if you are busy down on the ground at the place of entrance apologizing for the towers and the pickets, you can’t see the enemy sneaking up as they come to destroy you.

Let us be like Moroni, who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people… and who was firm in the faith of Christ” (Alma 48:12-13).

Thwimmin’ Thoup and Mac ‘n’ Doo

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Having a 3 year old in the house is hilarious. If any of you have one, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There is never a dull moment. Our youngest son Jake is right in that fun age where he thinks he is way older than he is, but his language hasn’t quite caught up with his ego.

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He is just getting old enough to have really good conversations, but still young enough to where they are a mix of real words, and garbled up toddler jargon. The results are fantastic. It’s non-stop verbal entertainment. If you take into account that all these words are spoken with his toddler lisp as well, its priceless.

Here are just a few examples of his “Jake-ese” that cracks us up…

Swimming suit and goggles -“thwimmin’ thoup” and “gobbles”.
Movie theatre – “moobie peadure”
Gatorade – “Gardogade”
Computer – “pewder”
Favorite – “fravrit”
Horses – “horthes”
Grandpa – “Drampa”
Grandma – “Dramma”
Yellow – “Weddo”
Mountain Dew – “Mac ’n’ Doo”

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Jake loves to play on his own, and in his own little world. He has the world’s biggest imagination. He has worn out countless wooden surfaces all around our house with the constant stampede of plastic horse, and dinosaur feet. He gets this high pitched play voice that he goes into and does full on conversations between all his imagined characters. He rides his bike around the inside of the house and loves to show off his sprinting skills whenever someone comes in to visit. He makes our life full, and fun, exciting, and exhausting all at the same time.

 

Unfortunately for us, the entertaining days of our Jake words will eventually come to and end, and he will learn the right way to say all these words, and the dinosaurs will be replaced with homework, or something else way more boring as he keeps growing and developing. All our other kids have done it, and so will he. Kids grow up. Its part of life, and we will have to rely on all the fun memories that he gives us now, and then wait for all the grandkids to do the same thing.

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In a way, we all are still growing. It never stops. We are all still learning and developing. Im sure our Heavenly Parents look down lovingly to watch us learn new principles, or finally pull through our challenges. Im sure they relish the fun memories, and look forward to each and every one of our spiritual milestones. Sometimes, however, it takes us quite a while to learn.

Over the last year or so, that kind of describes me. I have had a bit of a struggle trying to reconcile my own personal practical views on the refugee situation that is going on in Syria. The church has asked for our support of the refugees and that we should treat them with open and welcoming arms. In my heart, I knew this was true, and, of course we should treat everyone that way. But, my head seemed to just see the potential for problems. I was kind of stuck. I guess I was stuck saying “thwimming soup”, and “Mac ’n’ doo” in a spiritual sense on this one particular issue.

In my head, along with many others, I just kept thinking about all the potential bad guys that would likely use this situation to take advantage of our country’s generosity. This was right at the time of all the attacks in France, and the bombing at the airport that effected the missionaries. It seemed like it would be so easy for terrorists to slip in claiming to be a refugee and then do a lot of damage to the honest innocent people just trying to help. My head was saying we had to be wary of the refugees to make sure we weren’t opening ourselves up for an easy attack. I seemed to be at a stalemate. My head saying one thing, while the church encouraging me to do what seemed like the exact opposite.

I hadn’t quite learned what I needed to learn. I had a spiritual lisp. Until a few days ago.

It was another testimony to me of the power and relevance of the Book of Mormon. I was reading in Alma about the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. Also known as the people of Ammon. Those guys were as tough as nails. This group of Lamanites, thanks to some great missionaries, had converted to the Lord and repented of all their previous sins and murders of the Nephites. They had been a very nasty group of people, but had completely changed into an unbelievably good, devout, and committed people. They had converted to the Lord so completely that nothing else mattered to them. Not even their physical lives.

As a first token of their commitment, they first put away all their “weapons of rebellion¹”. I think that these these “weapons of rebellion” can mean ideas, thought processes, habits, traditions, or anything else that puts us in opposition to the Lord. However, this wasn’t necessarily the act that made them famous in the Book of Mormon.

A little while after these Anti-Nephi-Lehis had converted to the Lord, their fellow countrymen, the Lamanites who were NOT converted to the Lord, started making preparations for war. But, this time, they were not preparing for war against the Nephites. They were getting ready for war against their own people. The people of Ammon. They had become angry with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis because of their conversion to the Lord².

It is interesting to me, and very telling, that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, who are famous for burying their weapons of war deep in the earth as a covenant not to shed the blood of man ever again, did not do so immediately. Remember, the first step was only putting away their “weapons of rebellion” as well as their weapons of war. It was not until their fellow Lamanites were actively preparing to come to war against them, that they physically buried their weapons, to absolutely make sure that they did not break their covenant. Even in self defense.

In peacetime it would be difficult to make such a commitment. But can we imagine how much more difficult it would have been to voluntarily disarm, in the very moments that their hardened enemy was preparing to come to battle against them? This was an act of pure faith.

Here are the words that their king used describing their mindset, “And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved³”

In that short amount of time, the people of Ammon had gone from recent converts to one of the most committed, righteous people to ever have lived. Their spiritual development was rapid, and complete. They had changed their character to be more Christlike, and had NO reservations, and had complete faith in their God, and left their fate in his hands. They knew that if they were faithful to him, their fate would be sealed, and they would be with the Lord.

“And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it. Therefore, they would suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren, before they would take the sword or cimeter to smite them. And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord4

The people of Ammon were completely converted to the Lord. That conversion influenced their actions. They had changed their character completely. They weren’t only committed and righteous on Sunday, but everyday, and every hour and every minute.  They looked at the world around them through the lens of the gospel, not the lens of self preservation, political affiliation, or secular ideology. I have a lot to learn from them.

I am not suggesting that we as a country or as a people should do just as the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and bury our weapons of defense, and come what may. But, I am hoping that we can all look to them as an example of true and complete commitment to the Lord.  Their faith took away their fear. Their love of God, replaced their apprehension for death.

The people of Ammon, because of their degree of commitment and testimony, had reached the point of being unafraid of death. Because of their faith, they didn’t look upon it with “any degree of terror4.” Not even when they were faced with death “in the most aggravating and distressing ways.4” They knew exactly what was coming, and still held true to their covenants.

I need to graduate from my current elementary school spot, to their graduate level of faith. In a spiritual sense, I was still playing with plastic “dinothaurs” and “horthes”. I was looking at the world through nothing but my worldly eyes. I had been stuck in 3rd grade and couldn’t quite wrap my head around 4th grade, let alone the concepts mastered and taught in the Graduate School of the People of Ammon.

I learned right then, that I had been wrong. My thought process had been too narrow and not spiritually based. I had to get my head right. Even if it meant going in the opposite direction of where my head was telling me to go. I had to graduate from “Mac “n” Doo, to the actual real life Mountain Dew. I needed to open my heart to see what was really happening in Syria, and other devastated areas of the world. People are hurting, and desperately need help. It is my duty as a follower of Jesus Christ to act as he would act, think as he would think, and love as he would love. My own personal opinions notwithstanding. My character needed an upgrade.

So, I decided to change. I decided to try and be more faithful, and less skeptical. I decided to look at all the chaos in the world right now, and compare it to the chaos that surely existed in the days of the people of Ammon. If they could do it, maybe I can too. If I work to be more committed, all the time, even when looking at practical problems in seemingly secular situations.

In Emma Lazerus’ poem “The New Colossus” the ideas of inclusion and welcome that shaped this modern day promised land are perfectly put into words. They are inscribed on the pedestal under the Statue of Liberty. Sometimes I need a little (or big) reminder to put my thoughts and actions back into the proper perspective. The people of Ammon did that for me this last week, as well as these words that are written under the feet of Lady Liberty….

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  1. Alma 23:7
  2. Alma 24:1
  3. Alma 24:16
  4. Alma 27:28-30

Titles of Liberty

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 Flag remnant from Fort McHenry

Eleven days ago it was September 14th. It was a special day. And, up until a few days ago, I never realized quite how special it really was. I always thought that the only thing worth remembering about that particular day was that 38 years ago, yours truly was born. But, as usual, something way more cool and better than me is the real reason for that day’s awesomeness.

On September 14, 1814 something vastly more inspiring than me was born. It was the birth of the Star Spangled Banner. We all know the basics of the story. Francis Scott Key saw the flag standing after a battle and was inspired to write his poem, one thing led to another, and voila, we had the National Anthem.

The back story, though, is a lot more amazing than just that little snippet we hear from the history books.

Francis Scott Key was a lawyer, and an amateur poet. He had a way with words. Because of his skills, he was sent by the Americans to meet with the commander of the British naval fleet floating in the bay outside the city of Baltimore. In this fleet, hundreds of American prisoners were being kept in cells under deck. His job was to be a prisoner exchange negotiator.

After reaching an agreement to release the American prisoners being held, the British Commander informed him that the agreement would be meaningless soon, because the war would soon be over. The war would end because of a massive impending British attack on the nearby Fort McHenry.

The British had plans to unleash all hell on the fort. The Commander was confident that as soon as the Americans realized their plight was helpless, they would be ready to surrender.

In order to give up the fight and survive, all they had to do was lower the American flag that was flying over the ramparts of the fort. If, and only if, this happened, the bombing would stop, that was the deal. The fort would then be turned over to the British, and the battle, and soon the war, would be over.

Needless to say, Key, was anxious to see how this played out. All of the American prisoners below deck were also anxious to see, and were all focused on the flag flying above the fort. In many ways, that one flag’s survival symbolized the survival of the USA, and real freedom that she had fought for and won.

Soon, at the twilight’s last gleaming, the bombing started. It was relentless, endless, and complete. All the British ships were aiming all of their cannon fire on the flag. If it fell, the battle was over. The bombing lasted all night. The flag took numerous direct hits, but somehow stayed upright. All night the prisoners were below deck anxiously hoping, and actively praying for the survival of the flag. They constantly begged for updates from Key as he watched from above deck. After a long night, and with the gleam of the morning’s first beam, the flag was still there, upright, although hammered, shredded, and teetering.

Upon his return to the fort, Key was able to get a better understanding of just what had taken place over that terrible night. Each bomb had taken its toll. The fort had been ravished.The flag had indeed fallen several times due to direct cannon strikes, only to be hoisted back up, over and over again, by individual men. These men were willing to hold it up themselves, with their hands. Doing so was a death sentence. But, they were willing to die, so that the flag would still fly.

As the bombs had been aimed squarely at the flag, the cannon fire had thus taken the lives of many of those men. Their bodies now lay strewn around the pole holding the tattered flag up at that tilted angle. Those men knew exactly what their fate would be when they volunteered to hold up that flag, and yet, they were still willing to so. It wasn’t just for the flag, but for what the flag stood for. It was their symbol of God given freedom and liberty.

Is it any wonder, that after what he had witnessed, both from the ship in the harbor, and then from the fort itself, that such a poem would be written? The same flag that had inspired those men to give their lives for its continued display, had also inspired Francis Scott Key to write an amazing few verses, that now, in turn, inspire so many of us.

Think of all the times that you have heard the National Anthem, before a baseball or football game, or special event. Remember each time that we all sing those words that describe the feelings of that day. Think about the climactic ending of the words, “O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!” It instills a sense of pride to be an American. It helps us honor and appreciate the men and women that helped preserve us a nation. That is what our flag represents. It represents our liberty, and freedom. The gifts that God gave to this land.

Now lets look even further back in American history. Like about 2,089 years ago to be exact. Lets look back at the story of another inspiring flag. One that has a very similar story, and that was equally inspiring. Its pretty amazing how these stories are so similar. I guess the old adage of “history repeats itself” really is true.

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Captain Moroni’s Title of Liberty

We read all about this ancient flag in The Book of Mormon in Alma Chapter 46. At this time, there is a huge uprising all over the land of the Nephites. If we look back at this story and compare it to 1814, its amazing how the stories can be so similar so many years apart.

This Nephite uprising was led by a conniving, evil man named Amalakiah. Amalakiah wanted to be king. His only problem was that the Nephites were a free people, they no longer had a king. They had recently transitioned into a free government system of elected lower, and higher judges. At this time, the Nephite people were in their 19th year of this whole no king experiment. It was then that Amalakiah decided he should be king and because of his pride and malice, caused pain and misery. But, because he was a persuasive man he had convinced most of the lower judges to side with him. They, like Amalakiah, sought the same thing. Power.

However, not everyone was on board with Amalakiah. In fact, the majority of the free Nephites opposed him. Among those who opposed Amalakiah was the famous Captain Moroni. Moroni was integral in reminding the Nephites of what was at stake, and was unrelenting in his defense of liberty.

Moroni had done this same thing time and time again. He had just led the Nephites for years against the invading Lamanites in order to preserve their lands and freedom. The Lamanites were in a near constant state of war to attack and take over the lands of the Nephites. But, this time, he found himself needing to fend off the threat of Amalakiah and his supporters from within his own people.

So how did Moroni do it? How did he manage to inspire an already war torn and weary people yet again? He made a flag. Not an ordinary flag, but a personalized, symbolic flag. He cut off his coat, and wrote on it by hand, he wrote just a few simple words, but words that reminded the people just what was at stake. He needed to inspire them to turn to God, and turn to the cause of freedom and liberty. He needed them to fight for the very thing that meant the most. The words he wrote on his flag were “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children¹”. He then fastened it to a pole and raised it to rally the people, and inspire them to join the cause.

Just as the American flag over Fort McHenry stood as a symbol of liberty and freedom attained  by sacrifice in war and loss of life, so did Moroni’s Title of Liberty. Both flags inspired men and soldiers to fight for what their flags represented. Which, in both cases, was freedom and liberty. Not only freedom from tyranny, and oppression, but freedom to worship God how they wished.

Both of these events seemed to be centered around their respective flags, or titles of liberty. As we listen to these words of Moroni, they could almost be used interchangeably to describe the times that would come 2000 years later.

“And it came to pass that when he had poured out his soul to God, he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south—A chosen land, and the land of liberty²”.

“Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them³”.

This land is special. It has been special for a long, long, time. Even before Columbus was a twinkle in his father’s eye, this land was special. Long before that inspired morning’s sunlight shone on our flag in 1814. It will remain a special place for freedom and liberty for exactly as long as we treat it as such. It is a God blessed land, a chosen land for those who would honor Him. Its up to us to live up to our end of the covenant. Our blessings as a country will depend upon our collective obedience to God’s commandments.

Let’s always remember the history of this great place. This history goes back thousands of years, but seems to always have a way of repeating itself. These two stories show how a simple flag served as the reminder of the fragility of freedom and liberty. Both of these flags inspire me. They make me want to be better. They make me want to be a part of the great cause of liberty and freedom.

Amazingly, we still live under those same skies that watched the flag survive over Fort McHenry. We still live on the same land as those who followed Captain Moroni against the forces of Amalakiah. We still live under that same covenant today. Let’s try harder to be like those who sacrificed for us, and understood the necessity of liberty and freedom. Lets try harder to honor our part in the covenant. Lets try harder to keep God’s commandments so that we can be deserving and worthy of the freedoms we currently enjoy.

 

  1. Alma 46:12
  2. Alma 46:17
  3. Alma 46:20

 

Additional Note:

We are all very familiar with the first verse of the National Anthem. But, all 4 verses of this poem are amazing. Sometimes, I wish we would sing the 1st and 4th verses at least…

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Lost in Translation

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About 19 years ago, I learned a great lesson about the perils of translation. I was 19 years old and had just finished up the grueling 8 week language program in the Missionary Training Center before being sent to Brazil for my mission. If anyone else has tried to learn a language in 8 weeks, you can empathize that it’s not all that simple. If you couple this with the fact that other Americans, not Brazilians, were the ones trying to teach me, it meant that I had a lot of work to do.

But, for 16 hours a day, for 8 weeks, I worked, learned, practiced, practiced, listened, listened and practiced. So much so, that I felt I was half Brazilian after about 7 weeks. I was sure that in all the years of the MTC there had never been a more fluent American missionary. I had set records. I would have a plaque on the wall. I was pumped to go and blow the faces off the Brazilians with my 8 week old Portuguese.

I felt that I had a huge advantage because I had spent the last 3 years in high school learning Spanish. I loved it. I loved trying to talk with my friends in high school for practice, and I was excited to transition that into Portuguese because they were so similar.  Many of the words were the same, the verbs conjugated in the same way, and I was picking it up pretty easily. I thought I was awesome.

As the end of the 8 weeks came, and it was time to head to real Brazil to put my newly crafted skill to use, I started to get a little nervous. I had begun to realize that if any conversation wasn’t about the gospel, breakfast, cats and dogs, ice cream, or what time it was, I was going to struggle. I started trying to think in Portuguese, and translate full sentences in my head just to be ready.

When I finally got to Brazil, myself and all the new American missionaries were able to get together at the Mission President’s house to meet him, his family, as well as the missionary leaders. We were all exhausted. We had just spent the last 36 hours on several different planes, and transfer buses, and were now in a time zone that gave us some serious jet lag.  In addition to our thrown off sleep patterns, no one spoke English. This led to a scenario where there were a lot of Elders who, instead of spiritual firecrackers, were more like little deer caught in the headlights.

The Mission President’s wife had a favorite tradition she would do each time the new missionaries came from America. She would take out her video camera, start recording, and then, in a mix of Portuguese and the occasional English word, go around to each wide-eyed Elder, and do simple little individual interviews or introductions while we were milling around in the apartment.

The questions were simple, but the pressure was on. This was, of course, for the entertainment of the Brazilians,  and for us to be able to watch and laugh at ourselves and our stumbling Portuguese 2 years later when we would watch it again, as we left the mission on our way back home.

I was confident that I could handle this simple task. I wasnt looking forward to being recorded necessarily, but I was ready to be the best there ever was with my flawless Brazilian accent.

When the camera was finally on me, and the question came, “Oi, Elder, qual é o seu nome?” Or, “Hi, Elder, what is your name?” I understood perfectly. I had been in this scenario a million times before. I had played this out in my mind, I had silently practiced over and over. I knew what I should say, and I was ready to shine, it was go time…..right up until my mouth opened.

At that very moment, the moment of my rise to Portuguese stardom, the moment that the whole room would pause, and gasp in amazement at my stellar, perfect Portuguese, I blew it. My brain was running left instead of right, my tongue went up instead of down. The little gerbils running the translation department in my brain passed out, and all that came out of my mouth was, “Yo me llamo Elder Alexander.” Which in Spanish means, “My name is Elder Alexander”. The obvious problem was that I wasn’t anywhere near anyone, or even any country, that spoke Spanish.

My brain had barfed all over my shoes and reverted back to the Spanish I had learned in high school. So much for first impressions. But, that isn’t all. I could have survived if it was just a little slip up in the languages. The biggest problem with my slip up, was that in Portuguese, “Eu me amo” doesn’t mean “my name is”, it means, “I love myself”.

So, there I was, on day one, ready to be crowned the best Portuguese speaker ever, and as soon as my mouth opened, I blurted out, on camera, in front of everyone, that “I love myself, Elder Alexander”. The mission President’s wife, and two boys busted up laughing uncontrollably. The two boys were around 9 and 11. The perfect ages to make fun of the gringo Elders as they came through. I had given them just what they wanted. The translation didn’t go as I had planned. Needless to say, I wasn’t crowned most impressive Portuguese speaker that day.

The worst part of this story is that I only had to relive this almost every day, every single conference, and each time I saw those two boys for the next two years. The gift of humility I guess. The moral of the story? Sometimes things do get lost in translation.

Two days ago, I learned about another translation snafu. I was reading and getting ready for my lesson this Sunday when I came across this scripture in Genesis. This is where the Lord is creating Eve and presenting her to Adam.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

The interesting thing about this scripture is the word “help meet”. I had heard that word a bazillion times before, but this time, the manual said something about the word “meet” meaning “equal”.  I had never heard that before. So I looked into it. Turns out, the word “help meet” is a lot more complex than I ever realized.

First of all, the word “help meet”is like the 10% of an iceberg that is visible. If we look at what that word really means, it opens up the real purpose and role of Eve, as well as her relationship to Adam. In addition to that, I think it will open our own eyes to what our relationship should be with the women in our lives.

In Hebrew, the two words that “help meet” are derived from are “Ezer” and ‘k’enegdo¹”. Ezer is a word that is a combination of two word roots, one means “to rescue”, or “to save”, and the other means “to be strong”.

The noun “ezer” occurs 21 times in the Hebrew Bible. In eight of these instances, the word means “savior”. It is the word most frequently used to describe God in his relationship to us. God is an ezer to man. This “ezer” word is the same word that God himself used to describe Eve when He gave her to Adam². The simplified translation of “ezer” into “help” misses by a mile, its like hitting with a putter off the tee on a par 5. It’s that short. The true meaning of “Ezer” describes much better the purpose, scope, and power that Eve had. Eve was meant to be so much more than a simple helper, or even just Adam’s companion. She was intended to be his savior and deliverer.

It can go a lot further than Eve. It’s not just her that this translation effects. The scripture clearly says that it is not good that man should be alone, meaning all of us. We all need a savior and deliverer at our side.

The second word “meet” comes from the Hebrew “k’negdo”. This word can mean “exactly corresponding to²”. I picture this like someone looking into a mirror, you see an exact reflection of who you are. This reflection connotes equality. No one is better than the other. Both are equal parts, one corresponding perfectly with the other, working together.

This translation teaches us a lot more about the power and purpose of Eve, and also of our wives, and mothers.  It should open our eyes to the calling that women have not only to us directly, but to everyone around them. Women are not here to be merely helpers, they are here to be saviors and deliverers. I like that translation a lot better.

Maybe, if we had a do-over, the scripture in Genesis could read, “It is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a companion of strength and power who has a saving power and is equal with him.”

I am convinced that this definition, the deeper, more meaningful definition, that describes the calling and role for women is WAY more accurate than what we read in Genesis at a brief glance. I know just by my own personal experience that this is the case. How do we as men, fathers, and husbands treat our “Eves”? Do we treat them merely as “helpers”? Or, do we try and see them, and treat them, as the powerful saviors and rescuers that they really are?

 

  1. Eve and the Choice Made in Eden. Beverly Campbell 2003
  2. Forgotten Women of God. Diana Webb 2010

My ‘little’ army

In the NBA these days, there are a lot of superstars – but there are 2 MEGA superstars.  LeBron James and Steph Curry.  In the last 2-3 years there has been an increased surge of popularity and support (love and fandom) for Steph Curry.  There are some who have attributed this increased love to his “normal” physical stature (6’3” 190 soaking wet) – which happens to be much more in common with the average Joe basketball player/fan than that of LeBron James (listed at 6’ 8” 250).  For most people, they can try and be like Steph Curry through practice and training (launching 3’s and dancing as the little guy), but being built like LeBron and running like LeBron, and dunking like LeBron seem out of the realm of possibility no matter how hard we work (I can’t train myself to grow taller).  Somehow, we can all relate a bit more to Steph Curry and his ‘underdog-ishness’.1  At the same time, we may even dissociate ourselves from comparing ourselves to the skill set or talent of LeBron James by thinking that we’ll never be as buff/ripped/tall/muscular as him, so we shouldn’t even try.

There may be a similar thing that happens sometimes in the scriptures.  Whether we mean to or not, we sometimes attribute LeBron James status to our scripture heroes, and therefore think that we can’t relate ourselves or our lives or our situations to theirs because they were just way to righteous or way to buff or way to obedient or way to faithful to be ‘the average joe’.  One (very popular) story in particular happens to be the story of the 2,000 stripling warriors.  Most of the paintings/images of these guys could easily be mistaken for a WWE roll call or an ‘ultimate warrior’ look alike contest.  A guy in my ward yesterday even said that “based on those photos, every single stripling warrior benched at least 500 lbs.” Here’s a little taste of what I’m talking about:

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Now, to be fair, some of these guys could have been totally ripped.  Some of them might have looked like they were 35, but if we really want to ‘liken the scriptures unto us’ we need to understand that these stripling warriors probably looked a bit more ‘real life’ than that.  Some of them probably had some had acne and awkward teenage hairstyles. Some of them were probably as skinny as a rail, and most of them had been purposely been developing their talents off of the battlefield.  These guys probably looked a lot like the 12-18-year-old Aaronic priesthood holders that you and I see every week in church.  You know, the scrawny deacons who pass the sacrament, the slightly beefier teachers with cracking voices who prepare it, and the maybe not so burly/muscular, just getting some man-like facial hair priests who bless it.  They probably look a bit more Steph-ish than LeBron-ish right?  Most of the ones I know certainly do.

It’s worth noting here that the definition and word origin (history) for the word ‘stripling’ includes “a youth” and is possibly from the noun ‘strip’, meaning ‘long, narrow piece’ on the notion of ‘one who is slender as a strip, whose figure is not yet filled out’.2 Not quite the description of the rock (Dwayne Johnson) is it?  Helaman himself calls them his ‘little’ army twice (Alma 56:19, 56:33), and his ‘little’ band twice more (Alma 57:6, 57:19).

With that in mind, let’s review some of the important things that happen throughout this entire story that are critical to helping our youth today understand and relate this amazing story to their own lives (hint: this story just might be even more important for the parents of youth to understand), because the story of the stripling warriors is pretty much the story of our youth today.

Background/Context (Alma 53): Before we even get to the great details, there are some parallels that we need to understand.  In the 2 verses that precede the introduction of this story about the ‘sons of the people of Ammon’ we learn that the Lamanites have ‘gained some ground’ over the Nephites and have ‘obtained possession of a number of their cities placing the Nephites in ‘the most dangerous circumstances’.  And, the cause of this loss (listed in both verse 8 and 9 so we don’t miss it) is ‘intrigue and dissensions’ among the Nephites.  Not an outside force, but internal intrigue and dissensions.

Intrigue:

  1. Arouse the curiosity or interest of; fascinate
  2. Make secret plans to do something illicit or detrimental to someone

Dissension:

  1. Disagreement that leads to discord
  2. Difference in opinion

These youth were growing up in a world that was filled with intrigue (curiosity, fascination, and interest with secret plans, detrimental and/or illicit things, which led to disagreements, and then subsequent dissensions (differences of opinion which led to discord and battle).  That sounds pretty much exactly like the world we live in today.  There is no shortage of intrigue, and no shortage of discord based on opinions, rights, demonstrations, initiatives, programs, litigations, demands, etc. These circumstances placed the Nephites in ‘the most dangerous circumstances’ just like we find ourselves in today.  How many times have we heard that these latter days are the ‘most dangerous circumstances’?

Things set in motion:  I’ve written here concerning Antipus and his awesomeness, but for this post, I will just highlight two things.  Alma 56:10 indicates that the army of Antipus had been reduced by the Lamanites (slain in battle), which caused him to mourn.  How many leaders of the church are mourning because we are losing members of our armies?  Lots.  Some of them are being slain by the enemy, and some of them are being lost due to intrigue and dissensions.  This reduction of our forces gives us all ‘cause to mourn’.  Yet, when this army of Helaman arrives, Antipus ‘did rejoice exceedingly’.  I can imagine that he was happy to see additional warriors, but I’m guessing he was happier about seeing (and hearing) who they were and the reasons why they were there.  Alma 56:16 indicates that this ‘little’ force which Helaman brought to Antipus, gave them (his army) ‘great hopes and much joy’.  I don’t think Helaman put that into his letter to Moroni by accident (because it’s in there twice – verse 10 and 16).  I think Helaman (and later Moroni when he was abridging the record) realized by the spirit how important this story would be for the youth in the latter days, AND how important this story would be for the adults in the latter days.

One of the main reasons the stripling warriors were so important, is because of the effect they had on the adult leaders.  Antipus, Helaman, Moroni, the other unnamed leaders, and their parents all were able to somehow find additional strength, motivation, and were filled with this same ‘great hopes and much joy’ because of what these young warriors did.  The youth of this story turn out to be the catalyst for the Nephite victory.  As soon as this story is told in the Book of Mormon, the tide starts to turn.  The Nephites were losing ground, smothered in dissension and intrigue until a little band of Aaronic priesthood aged youth reminded everyone what was the most important.  They instilled love, faith, obedience, and fire back into the Nephite army.  They were beloved by everyone (see Alma 57:25), not just Helaman.

 Obey and observe with exactness:  Since we are drawing parallels to real life, let’s not forget that the record indicates that these young men ‘did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness’ (Alma 57:21).  Here we come to maybe the most amazing part of this story, and one where the LeBron James effect can come into play – so let’s think about it for a minute.  Do we honestly think that they were born with the perfect obedience gene?  Maybe they developed the gift of the spirit called observing with exactness, but I doubt it.  I think that these young men were exactly like the young men I know.

For example – let’s just say that Helaman heads home after the battle with the Lamanites in which they acted as decoy, turned around and then overtook the Lamanites and were miraculously saved.  He sees some of the mothers of these young boys during Sunday school and he relates this story of battle to them – and while he does he includes the words ‘they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness’.  How do you suppose their mothers responded to Helaman?  They probably thought in their minds of the many times when their sons did NOT ‘obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness’ at home (like when they asked these boys to clean their rooms, take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, do their homework, and any of the hundred other normal tasks mothers ask their sons to do).  Isn’t that what you and I do when their youth leaders tell us how amazing our kids are?  These amazing mothers may have even thought to themselves, I wish Helaman could come over to my place sometime and watch my son ‘obey with exactness’.  He doesn’t know the real story….  Just this morning I had to ask my son 3 times to pick up his bow and arrow which he always leaves laying around.

Two real life examples that I witnessed just this week that help me believe this is true.

  1. A young man in our ward happens to be leaving for college this weekend. He has caused his mother a fair amount of grief over the years (I know this because both he and she have disclosed this fact).  I have watched him in the priest’s quorum for the last year and happens to be one of the young men that I know I can count on.  In fact, I once asked him to sing in a combined youth meeting knowing full well he couldn’t sing (and didn’t want to) – but I asked him because I knew he would say yes (he did).  If you asked me if he ‘obeys and observes to perform every word with exactness’ I would say ‘absolutely’.
  2. Due to the labor day weekend this past Sunday, our deacon turnout for fast offerings was much less than normal. We needed help from the teachers and priests.  Even though it is not their ‘normal’ fast Sunday duty, we asked them for their help (by sending out texts/calls).  About 20 minutes later, I answered the door at my home to see a priest and an almost priest gathering fast offerings.  Further, the almost priest actually apologized for being late.  Are they stripling warriors?  Yes, indeed.  Do they obey and observe to perform every word with exactness?  Yes, again.   Was there some encouragement from their mothers/fathers?   Of course.

Now, I’m not Helaman, and I’m not Moroni, and I’m not Antipus.   But I can promise that the same ‘great hopes and joy’ that they felt when this little army came to the fight is real and the leaders of our youth today feel it.  It is a love that has been around since the beginning – and it is a love that is accompanied by the spirit.

The enemy we face today is just as frightening and just as scary as the Lamanite armies the stripling warriors battled long ago.  But our youth are just as prepared and are just as important to our forces today as they were to theirs in the past.  They are taught by their mothers in the exact same way – repetition, encouragement, patience, and love.  Even when their mothers may not see the results of that firmness of mind and exactness at home every day – rest assured that others do, and they are filled with ‘great hopes and joy’ when they see it – And wise leaders recognize that these young boys and girls of today can and will turn the tide in the last and great battle just like they did before.  The youth of the church will be a catalyst for increased devotion, increased love, increased faithfulness, and increased effort from their adult leaders who are reminded of the reason we are fighting the battle in the first place.

Hopefully we (as old people), can understand that the past can teach us the future, and the series of events as it’s laid out in Alma can be repeated as our youth realize that they are exactly like the stripling warriors were. Normal, everyday young men and women who are consistent, faithful, and true.

 

Notes

1 Yes, this is a made up word.  And, I realize that he isn’t really an underdog playing for the Warriors, but the idea is that he is not the physical specimen that many other NBA athletes are, and he looks like a normal dude.

2 Dictionary.com/stripling

3 It’s probably a miracle all on it’s own that these young men were able to stay ahead of the Lamanite armies long enough for Antipus to even catch up.

 Additional questions to consider:

  • Do you think Antipus would have run himself and his other leaders to death trying to catch the enemy if they thought these youngters could actually fight off the Lamanites?
  • Do you think Helaman would have frantically searched through the numbers of wounded soldiers as soon as the battle was over to count how many of his little army had perished if they all had strength like the Hulk?
  • Do you think they would have written how ‘miraculous’ it was that they all survived if they were physically built for battle?
  • Do you think Helaman would have been so inspired by their ‘so great courage’ if they were at least a physical match for the Lamanites?

This photo may be a bit more ‘real life’ even though its a cartoon.

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Lead by Following

Tags

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Like many of you, we have children.  Our oldest two happen to be of babysitting age, which makes our lives easier in the event my wife and I (or some other combination of kids/adults) need to leave some of the other (responsible) kids home while we do important things like go on dates to the grocery store or the church to print the monthly newsletter.  Sometimes we are gone for a few minutes, and other times we are gone for a few hours.  In every case, we leave a few instructions with the oldest – and I bet that you do as well.

This list of instructions might be fairly simple if you are leaving for a few minutes, but could grow to be several pages worth of notes in the event you are expecting to be gone for an extended period of time – especially if the babysitters are expected to ensure that bedtime goes according to plan.  That’s not to mention how long and detailed the list would be if you were going to be gone for a week on vacation and the babysitters (probably a responsible adult in this case) reminding them of all the details, events, dates, homework assignments, car rides, etc. that need to be attended to during their absence.

With that in mind, I’d like to review a couple of verses in Mosiah where King Benjamin asked his son Mosiah to babysit (and by babysit I mean rule the kingdom).

In Mosiah 1:15 King Benjamin gave Mosiah “’charge’ concerning all the affairs of the kingdom.”  Let’s remember that this was the Land of Zarahemla, the ecclesiastical and political capital of the Nephites – at least until the time of Christ (See Alma 5:1, Alma 6:1, Alma 27:20) so it was not a small town or village.  King Benjamin put Mosiah in charge of a whole lot of stuff.   But, instead of listing a bazillion things to make sure he took care of, let’s review the tools King Benjamin emphasizes to Mosiah in verse 16:

And moreover, he (Benjamin) also gave him (Mosiah) charge concerning (1) the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also (2) the plates of Nephi; and also, (3) the sword of Laban, and (4) the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness.

So, in today’s language, King Benjamin said something like this: “Hey Mosiah, I’m going to die soon, so I am putting you in charge of the whole kingdom – yes all of it.  And, in order to be in charge of it (or to do a good job of being in charge of it) I am giving you 4 things:

  1. The scriptures
  2. Recent conference talks
  3. The sword of Laban – in case the Lamanites attack
  4. The Liahona – so you’ll know what (and where) to go or do (just remember that it only works according to your heed and diligence).

I bet Mosiah asked “is that it”?  and King Benjamin said “yes – now please gather the entire Kingdom (like I asked) so that I can tell them you are in charge.”

If that conversation wasn’t enough to weigh down Mosiah, then what King Benjamin told his people in the next chapter certainly was – he said to the entire kingdom (in Mosiah 2:31) “if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you.  He lays the responsibility on Mosiah’s shoulders of only delivering commandments to the people that were from God.  (in essence he blackmailed Mosiah into not becoming King Noah).  Not a bad way to convince Mosiah to be good right?

Maybe the next time that I ask our oldest daughter to babysit I will proclaim to the younger children something like this “kids, if you do the things Elyse tells you to do, ye will prosper and your enemies will have no power over you”.  And see if she turns into a tyrant or if she relies too much on the sword of Laban and not on the scriptures and the Liahona to inform her of what the ‘commandments’ to be delivered to the children are.

Yet, there is another bit of context that helps us understand King Benjamin’s trust in Mosiah.  If we go back to read the first part of chapter 1 (specifically verses 2-14 before he gives Mosiah ‘charge’ concerning the kingdom).  The record indicates that prior to this transfer of ‘charge’ King Benjamin had heavily emphasized the importance of the tools that he was passing on to Mosiah.

In referencing the instruction that he gave to all his sons, he underscored the importance of the plates, and how they were critical to learning and understanding the language of his fathers, prophecies which had been spoken, the records which were engraven, the commandments, and how important it was that these things were ‘always before their eyes’ so that they did not dwindle in unbelief (like the Lamanites who didn’t have the records).   He also exhorted them to search the records diligently among many other things which were not written.  All of a sudden, it’s not so surprising that the only tools that he gave as part of the babysitting list were the scriptures – indicating that any answers or struggles that come up as a leader of a kingdom can be solved by seeking inspiration and direction from the Lord.

Now, we can’t really assume that King Benjamin never spoke another word to Mosiah again, because he lived for 3 more years before he passed away (See Mosiah 6:5), but let’s assume that he retired to live a life of peace without explaining every little thing to Mosiah.  This leaves us with a pretty solid model by which to lead/instruct our children when they are set to inherit new responsibilities:

  1. Help them remember how great the scriptures are
  2. Make sure they know that all the answers are in there – they’ll figure it out if they really look for them.

No doubt Mosiah also had the luxury of watching his father lead the people for 30 years (See Mosiah 6:4) and had seen the proper use of wisdom, patience, service, love, and scripture seeking over and over again in action – which likely made his attempts to follow in his footsteps slightly easier.

This also helps us understand that the best way to lead (as taught by Benjamin to Mosiah) is to be a devoted follower.  A follower of the scriptures, the spirit, and the commandments of the Lord.  Then (and only then) are we able to deliver any of his commandments to those we lead in a manner that will be accompanied by the spirit and the truth.  Then (and only then) will we be able to recognize the Liahona guiding us along.

 

Note: Don’t forget that Benjamin spent the majority of his days ‘serving’ the people.  This is another key component of his successful leadership that goes hand in hand with being a devoted follower.