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Defending Against the Enemy of Your Soul


It is an honor and privilege to stand here and speak to you today. I am humbled by the invitation of this university, and to President Kauwe, for this opportunity.

The third verse, last stanza of the Marines’ Hymn [1] states, “If the Army or the Navy ever look on Heaven’s scenes; They will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines.” Now that is both comforting and troubling, comforting to know that there will be no soldiers or sailors in heaven, they can only but “look” on heaven’s scenes! Comforting to know that Marines will be in heaven. But, troubling to know that it appears we will still be standing guard duty.

After spending 32 years on active duty in the Marine Corps, you could say that the Marine Corps is in my blood. It really began with my father answering the call of our nation to serve during WWII. He entered Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina in the fall of 1942, at the age of 17. His drill instructor was a sergeant – he stood 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighed about 140 pounds. His opening introduction to the platoon of new recruits my father often repeated – “I cannot make you do anything, but I can make you wish you had!” I believe that the drill instructor was tapping into the true doctrine of agency! Agency is not simply choosing to do whatever it is we want to do, rather, as the Lord instructs Enoch,

32 Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; (Moses 7:32,33) [2]

God gave us agency so we would choose Him! That truth is fundamental to our learning and progress. That is why the first commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. That is why the first question of the temple recommend interview asks, “Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father?” It is why the first article of faith [3]
is, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father.” We are to use our God given agency to choose Him! When we do, everything else will be properly aligned.

In coming here today I was encouraged to speak about what I know – what I know a lot about is war. I spent a large portion of my adult life studying the application of combat on all three levels. I am here to tell you, you are in combat everyday with the enemy of your soul, the adversary, whether you know it or not. There is nothing worse than finding yourself in combat unprepared. As you learn to plan and execute daily combat operations in your life, you will be securely established on the covenant path. These three levels of war apply to the physical and spiritual warfare we face daily:

  1.  ​Tactical Level of War – small unit, up close and personal. Much of the Book of Mormon [4] war chapters are focused upon the tactical level. One needs only to read about the actions of Teancum to see the power and effects of war on the tactical level.
  2. ​​Operational Level of War – multiple units, campaigns to achieve a stated and identified objective – We see examples of the operational level of war throughout The Book of Mormon – In Captain Moroni’s ability to both divide and reinforce his armies to bring about his stated objectives.
  3. Strategic Level of War – those actions taken by nations to bring all the elements of national power to bear on their enemy.

The most basic and elementary definition of war is a clash of opposing wills. That is the essence of the war in heaven. In physical combat, you seek to impose your will upon your enemy – it is to act, and not to be acted upon.

The ancient Chinese General and philosopher, Sun Tzu states in his treatise, “The Art of War” [5] “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The essence of Sun Tzu is to know yourself and your enemy which means know your strengths and know your weaknesses. Know your enemy’s strengths and know their weaknesses.

According to the Pew Research Center, The share of the U.S. population with military experience is declining. In 2018, about 7% of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18% in 1980, according to the Census Bureau. This drop coincides with decreases in active-duty personnel. Over the past half-century, the number of people on active duty has dropped significantly, from 3.5 million in 1968, during the military draft era, to about 1.4 million (or less than 1% of all U.S. adults). [6]

So, if fewer citizens never serve in combat – in war – then decidedly fewer members of the Church serve in combat as well. Why is it that there is so much focus given in the Book of Mormon to the application of conducting warfare, again, on all three levels of war. What are you to learn and apply through the discussions of war and conflict?

By my calculations, a little more than 10% of the Book of Mormon is directly and indirectly focused upon war – combat – on all three levels of war. The vast majority of Church members and the vast majority of citizens in our nations rarely, if ever, experience physical combat. But, you wake up in spiritual combat, every day.

Let’s start at the beginning of combat in the Book of Mormon in Alma 46:10 [7], “Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake.”

Captain Moroni’s response to this threat is the “Title of Liberty” – “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.” (Alma 46:12) [8] All things worth dying for. The conflict is set with Amalickiah trying to destroy the freedom of the people and Captain Moroni trying to defend their liberty.

When we move ahead a few chapters we see that Captain Moroni and his other chief captains – today we would refer to them as generals – calls for and holds a council of war. (Alma 52:19) [9]
In the modern military we refer to this “council of war” most commonly as the operational planning team – where we conduct analysis on the enemy and upon ourselves.

We see that Captain Moroni and his chief captains make plans on both the tactical and operational level of war – identifying strengths and weaknesses. Later we see Captain Moroni and Pahoran, the governor and Chief Judge, conducting analysis on both the operational and strategic levels of war. Pahoran teaches us a beautiful truth in his magnanimous response to Captain Moroni, when he writes, “Therefore, come unto me speedily with a few of your men, and leave the remainder in the charge of Lehi and Teancum; give unto them power to conduct the war in that part of the land, according to the Spirit of God, which is also the spirit of Freedom which is in them.” (Alma 61:15) [10]

In today’s modern military, the model I used repeatedly in both Iraq and Afghanistan in planning all military operations and actions is based on Center of Gravity.

The famous Prussian General and writer, Carl von Clausewitz, defined The Center of Gravity as “the hub and source of all power and movement, upon which everything depends.”

Center of Gravity Analysis is conducted from both sides of conflict – going back to Sun Tzu, know yourself. You must conduct a Center of Gravity Analysis on your own forces. Know your enemy. You must conduct a Center of Gravity Analysis on your enemy. What is it that makes him tick?

Then we move to the second quadrant, critical capabilities. Identifying those few capabilities which enable that center of gravity to do what it does.

For each critical capability we then identify the few requirements that are necessary for that capability to exist.

Lastly, we look at each of the critical requirements and identify the critical vulnerabilities associated with that Requirement. In other words, “Where is the enemy weak?” and “Where are we weak?”

It is apparent to me that Captain Moroni and his chief captains fundamentally followed a type of Center of Gravity Analysis on their enemies. They had fundamental knowledge of their tactics and operational plans. They had been in conflict and had fought against one another many times and they knew one another’s personalities. It is obvious that Captain Moroni knew how Amalickiah thought and what was going through his head.

Amalickiah believed and planned on the city of Ammonihah being weak. Captain Moroni had done thorough analysis and had significantly strengthened and fortified the city of Ammonihah. When the Lamanite Armies could not take Ammonihah, they believed they could easily take the city of Noah. So, they marched towards it. Again, Captain Moroni had conducted proper analysis and had properly anticipated the enemy’s next move.

Alma 49:14 [11] reads, “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 of Ammonihah.”

We see this by Mormon’s explanation in the next verse, Alma 49:15 [12], “And now, behold this was wisdom in Moroni; for he had supposed that they would be frightened at the city of Ammonihah; and as the city of Noah had hitherto been the weakest part of the land, therefore they would march thither to battle; and thus it was according to his desires.”

Captain Moroni knew and could anticipate the mind of Amalickiah. He knew of his cunning and treachery, and how he would react to the fortifications of the city of Ammonihah. When opposing military leaders know how the others see the battlefield, know how they think and can anticipate what they will do – you quickly learn who is acting and who is being acted upon.

This is one of the reasons that the U.S. military has always studied the American Civil War so closely – the opposing generals all knew each other on a very personal basis. They had been to the same school – West Point – had had the same teachers – many had fought together in previous wars – some were the best of friends and best man at one another’s weddings. They knew each other’s personalities. That is why General Robert E. Lee, when the report came that one of his operational plans for the Battle of Antietam had fallen into enemy hands, stated, commenting on the opposing general – General George B. McClellan, “George always has a case of the slows!” He knew McClellan’s personality and his inclination to wait until he had more information – he knew McClellan would not act quickly and decisively. Had his opposing general been Grant or Sherman, the war would most likely have had a much shorter duration.

A word of wisdom and counsel to you all – which I learned from a professor who was teaching about the American Civil War – he taught us, “One can only view the past through the lenses of the past. You cannot view the past through the lenses of the present – it will not make any sense!” Whether you are looking at 1776, 1861 – or at 1842 Nauvoo – if you are looking at them through 2023 lenses, it will not make much sense.

So, why all these war chapters? Why did Mormon include them? How are we to benefit in using them today in 2023? I believe it is given to us as a warning and recommendation to identify weakness and build fortifications and reinforcements in our lives. Where are your weak cities? Where do you need fortifications and reinforcements?

The strategic war in heaven was won when the Savior of the world, the Lord, Jesus Christ, uttered the last three words He spoke while in mortality hanging on the cross at Calvary “It is finished!” (John 19:30) [13] He stepped triumphant from the tomb the victory was then gloriously announced for all to know.

That leaves you and me fighting the operational and tactical levels of spiritual combat we face every day – and those battles are continuous. My father would often tell me – and I often tell missionary elders “No matter how well you shave today, you will need to do it again tomorrow!” Sound familiar? Like accessing the joy of daily repentance? Every day! And get up and do it again tomorrow! These tactical battles will be fought every day in mortality.

I invite you to conduct a Center of Gravity Analysis in your own lives. What is your Center of Gravity? Utilize the doctrine of Christ as the framework for your own Center of Gravity Analysis. In October 2022, President Russell M. Nelson stated how we can overcome the world, when he said, “It means trusting the doctrine of Christ more than the philosophies of men.” (President Russell M. Nelson, Overcome the World and Find Rest) [14]

Center of Gravity: Faith in Jesus Christ and in His Atonement. Truly He is the hub and source of all power upon which everything depends!

Critical Capabilities: What are the critical capabilities of His Atonement?

  • Redeeming power of His Atonement, Enabling power of His Atonement
  • Immortality – Resurrection power of His Atonement
  • Eternal Life – access to Our Heavenly Father through Him and His Atonement.

What are the critical requirements needed to make these critical capabilities effective in our lives? Good news: He has given us the Critical Requirements.

They are the doctrine of Christ:

  • Repentance – enjoying the blessings of daily repentance
  • Baptism for the remission of sins – and weekly partaking of the sacrament
  • The gift of the Holy Ghost
  • Enduring to the end

These are the critical requirements – so, now comes our true task – knowing our center of gravity – and His critical capabilities – and He has given us the critical requirements necessary to have access to those critical capabilities – we now must identify our critical vulnerabilities – where are we weak? Where are we being acted upon, instead of acting?

Once you identify your own personal critical vulnerabilities you can begin to build fortifications like unto Captain Moroni – you will identify where you need reinforcements.

Do not be deceived by the distractions created by the adversary, the enemy of your soul. Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge stated, “At the far end of the spectrum we come to an entire universe of distractions. Never has there been more information, misinformation, and disinformation; more goods, gadgets, and games; and more options, places to go, and things to see and do to occupy time and attention away from what is most important. And all of that and much more is disseminated instantaneously throughout the world by electronic media. This is a day of deception.” (Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, Stand Forever BYU Devotional, 22 January 2019) [15]

What are your critical vulnerabilities? Where are your defenses weak? Where does the enemy of your soul attack you?

What are you doing about it? If your left flank is weak how do you plan to reinforce it? How will you build fortifications to defend it? Which of your best armies will you send to assist and strengthen?

Here are some thoughts on how to build up fortifications:

1. Do something! ACT! (In Moroni’s time…get a shovel! If you don’t have one, make one. If you can’t make one, get a stick!) Faith is a principle of ACTION. We get so complacent (and I think the younger generation even more so) that we just get flippant in our discipleship. So, we have a vulnerability - but doesn’t God love me and is it really that bad? We just justify it away until our lazy natural selves – the natural man - are satisfied with no actionable outcome from our self-analysis. Quit thinking you don’t have to dig just because a shovel isn’t placed in your hands!

2. Dig - one scoop at a time! That’s how Moroni’s men did it. Why would it be any different for you? One scoop at a time. There is no bulldozer around the corner, no cement truck coming to make a nice wall. There are no shortcuts. Your bishop or parents may be able to help you know where to dig (because they have done their own share of digging) but they cannot take the shovel out of your hands - it’s your fortification - you must dig it. You must be consistent too. No dropping the shovel and coming back after the weekend. You can’t just dig on Sundays. Elder David A. Bednar taught, “Our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results” (“More Diligent and Concerned at Home,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 20). By small and simple means are great things brought to pass. Those small scoops in each shovel load will eventually pile up into great heaps of earth, allowing us to have the high ground (Sun Tzu always recommended the high ground!)

3. Use it! This one may seem painfully obvious, but it so often gets neglected it must be mentioned. So many pick up a shovel, build a huge fortification, and then just cower the moment the enemy shows up - some may even open the doors! They think the enemy is their friend, or it feels good or fun to be with them, so they just let them right in through the walls of hard spiritual work. Some get too proud of their wall, they forget what it’s for when the enemy shows up.  

President Nelson taught in the last conference that we must be willing to give up even our favorite sins - those are the ones you keep letting in. Those are your critical vulnerabilities! You know, the ones that seemingly always find a way around your wall? You either were not honest in your assessment or you built your wall in the wrong place. 

Regardless, don’t get discouraged if the enemy finds another way in - that’s how war goes- the key is to keep fighting, and pick up a shovel and keep digging - that is daily repentance.  Remember, you must impose your will on the enemy and constantly fight to keep the enemy from imposing his will on you! Yes, that means it must become your will that the enemy does not get in - even the ones you like. 

Eventually, after many years of consistent digging, there will be enough fortifications that there will be no more place for the enemy of your soul. You will come to look upon sin with abhorrence and have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2) [16]

I invite you to consider two of, if not, the greatest reinforcements the Lord has given us today to defend against the enemy of our souls:

  • To be found regularly worshiping in the house of the Lord! Temple worship – not simply temple attendance – but true worship will do more to protect your critical vulnerabilities than anything else I could recommend. The temple will help you build fortifications that would make Captain Moroni proud! 
  • Listen to and follow God’s prophets. Always follow the prophet. When you don’t understand, and especially when you don’t agree - reach up and hit that big humility button and realize, as Sister Sheri Dew [17] shared from this pulpit, “Prophets and apostles see around corners.”

Over the past 13 years – I have served as a bishop, stake president and now in this wonderful calling as president of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission – I have sat in counsel with many members who have come seeking counsel on what they often refer to as a “crisis of faith” – I have found in most cases that it is not a crisis of faith, but rather a crisis of policy. When they do the real spiritual work to come more fully to know Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done for them personally, then they have a greater desire to live the doctrine of Christ more fully. Then they have the strength to build and reinforce their own fortifications. Learn the doctrine of Christ – and live it every day.

I love how in 3 Nephi 11:32 [18], the Lord clarifies His doctrine, “And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me;” So, whose doctrine is it? It is the Father’s doctrine – this is The Father’s plan – We are our Father’s children – and our Savior has executed the Father’s plan perfectly – because They love us with a perfect love.

Learn to distinguish doctrine from policy. The doctrine does not change – the doctrine of Christ that was taught to Adam, is the doctrine we will hear again in a few days in general conference. Policies change from time to time – if you apply His doctrine in your life daily and truly build your fortifications, you will not stumble over the policies.

I stand here today because of the work of two faithful missionaries, Anthony Christensen from Spanish Fork, Utah and Nolan Squire from Gunnison, Utah on a cold, wet winter day on the coast of the Great State of Maine. They knocked on our door and a month later my parents, brother, and sister were all baptized. They were all in and never looked back. I happily bear witness that Jesus Christ is truly our center of gravity – He is my center of gravity – He truly is the hub and the source of all life and light. He is my Savior and Redeemer. I gladly bear witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith – I am in awe of his entire life and sacrifice. I joyfully bear witness that President Russell M. Nelson is God’s living prophet on the earth today.

May you have the courage and wisdom to identify your critical vulnerabilities and defend yourself and your families against the enemy of your soul. Remember what President Nelson taught in October 2022 General Conference, “The adversary does not want you to discover the power of Jesus Christ.” [19]

When you discover that Power – His power - your weaknesses will become strengths. I so witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Marines’ Hymn
[2] (Moses 7:32,33)
[3] Article of Faith 1
[4] Book of Mormon
[5] TZU, SUN. Art of War. INDIA PENGUIN, 2022.
[6] Pew Research Center
[7] Alma 46:10
[8] Alma 46:12
[9] Alma 52:19)
[10] Alma 61:15
[11] Alma 49:14
[12] Alma 49:15
[13] John 19:30
[14] Overcome the World and Find Rest
[15] Stand Forever
[16] Mosiah 5:2
[17] Sheri Dew
[18] 3 Nephi 11:32
[19] Overcome the World and Find Rest