Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Count Your Blessings

A couple reminders against ingratitude blinders for seekers and finders to put in their binders:

"Who was this 'man of sorrows, … acquainted with grief'?  'Who is this King of glory,' this Lord of lords? He is our Master. He is our Savior. He is the Son of God. He is the Author of Our Salvation. He beckons, 'Follow me.' He instructs, 'Go, and do thou likewise.' He pleads, 'Keep my commandments.'

Let us follow Him. Let us emulate His example. Let us obey His words. By so doing, we give to Him the divine gift of gratitude." - President Thomas S. Monson, "The Divine Gift of Gratitude"

"President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) described that process of inspired writing: 'Those who keep a book of remembrance are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives. Journals are a way of counting our blessings and of leaving an inventory of these blessings for our posterity.'

As you start to write, you could ask yourself, 'How did God bless me and those I love today?' If you do that often enough and with faith, you will find yourself remembering blessings. And sometimes you will have gifts brought to your mind that you failed to notice during the day but that you will then know were a touch of God’s hand in your life." - President Henry B. Eyring, "Recognize, Remember, and Give Thanks"

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pursuit of Excellence

"Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. / There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—/ And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:18-19)

In 1976 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a pamphlet entitled Pursuit of Excellence. This pamphlet contains a challenge that was designed to help Church members develop a Christ-like life of love and service:

"The Pursuit of Excellence challenge is intended to strengthen adherence to gospel principles in the lives of Church members who elect to participate. Each person who undertakes the Pursuit of Excellence challenge should so closely pattern his life to the sacred and enduring example of the Savior, Jesus Christ, that the basic principles of gospel living will be incorporated into his life for eternity."

The pamphlet also contains the encouraging words of President David O. McKay:

"Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love; every brave suffering for the right; every surrender of self to something higher than self; every loyalty to an ideal; every unselfish devotion to principle; every helpfulness to humanity; every act of self-control; every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy, but by being, doing, and living of good for the very good’s sake—that is spirituality... Spirituality, our true aim, is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the Infinite. Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more and more strength. To feel one’s faculties unfolding and truth expanding the soul is one of life’s sublimest experiences. Being true to self and being loyal to high ideals develops spirituality. The real test of any religion is the kind of man it makes. Being “honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men” [see Articles of Faith 1:13] are virtues which contribute to the highest acquisition of the soul. It is the “divine in man, the supreme, crowning gift that makes him king of all created things.”

The pamphlet contains guidance on creating worthwhile and meaningful goals pertaining to improvement in 1. scripture study and spirituality, 2. reading, enlightenment, and intellectual expansion, 3. physical health and fitness, 4. service, and 5. character. It provides specific goals (as well as suggested goals) to help each participant incorporate gospel principles into his or her life and to reach his or her full potential.

In the life-long quest to improve one's character, spirituality, intellect, sociability, health and talents, this little pamphlet may prove to be a helpful tool.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


This is a great enactment of the Lord's conversation with Peter about forgiveness.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Opening Hymn = 265 Arise, O God and Shine
Sacrament Hymn = 197 O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown
Rest Hymn = 340 The Star-Spangled Banner
Closing Hymn: = 69 All Glory, Laud, and Honor

Brothers and sisters, I am grateful for the privilege that I have to address you today. I love and admire you for your faith in Christ and devotion to His gospel. Brother Young asked that I address you today on the theme of Patriotism, or more specifically, how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has played a part in the independence of the United States of America, and how the Founding Fathers used prayer and faith to help them in their work. I would like to ask an interest in your prayers and faith as I speak to you today, in order that we may all be instructed and edified by the Holy Ghost, according to God’s will and our own individual needs.

Since my name is John Hancock (and for those of you who have seen the movie “Tommy Boy,” no, it’s not Herbie Hancock), and since I was born in 1976 the bicentennial anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, one can only hope that I would have something intelligible to say on the topic of patriotism. But I have some confessions to make: in preparation for this talk, I have to admit that I watched the video of Kid President’s (Robby Novak, age 9) visit with the President of the United States. It’s a great video. President Barak Obama was impressed by how well this 9 year old boy was handling the pressures of the third grade as well as the duties of being Kid President. President Obama said “You seem to be handling it pretty well.” and the Kid President replied, “uh-huh, Very Well!” It’s a fun little video with a positive message. But it hasn’t always been so easy. America has certainly been through a lot in the years since the Revolution in 1776. Another bright young lad like Kid President, named Scott, (age 11, from Colorado) recently gave an astute response to the question “In 1776, what did King George III of England think of the American Colonists?” Scott simply replied: “He thought they were revolting.” With kids like this, the country is in good hands.

On a more serious note, today is French Independence day, or Bastille Day. I assume that Brother Young wanted me to talk about American Independence, but today the French celebrate their independence after the fall of the Bastille, which was a medieval fortress and prison that was symbolic of royal tyranny. Although France, like the United States of America, threw off the shackles of oppression in the late 18th Century, both nations became allies once again in the 20th century battle against a totalitarian Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler. On June 6, 1944, during World War II, Allied forces from the United States, France, Canada, Great Britain and other countries, invaded the beaches of Normandy to deliver mainland Europe from German occupation. My step-grandfather was among the Navy Seals who bravely descended upon the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and, miraculously, lived to tell of it. Not long after I was released from serving as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Southern Italy (and not long after Steven Spielberg had released the film Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks), I had the privilege of meeting with my step-grandfather and attending a sacrament meeting near the same beaches of Normandy where he had fought more than 50 years earlier. (Coincidentally, one of the Beaches is called Utah Beach… so no more complaining that Utah doesn’t have a beach… or for those of you who think this Utah is bad, just think of Utah Beach during the D-Day invasions… it could be a lot worse : ) ) There among the thousands of graves marked by white crosses for the fallen Christians, and white stars of David for those of the Jewish faith, we blessed and partook of the sacrament. This sacrament meeting, beside the graves of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom, taught me new dimensions of appreciation and reverence for the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

But let’s zoom out for a moment to consider questions of Patriotism and U.S. Independence in the larger context of the Plan of Salvation. To begin, let us consider a few basic questions: 1. Who is God? 2. Who are we? 3. Why are we here? What is our purpose? During this talk, please also consider the following questions: 1. What is patriotism? 2. Is patriotism good… why or why not? 3. How does the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or more specifically, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, relate to moral agency and the founding of the United States of America? 4. In God’s great Plan of Salvation, why do any of these things matter? And finally, 5. What does this mean for us as fellow Latter-day Saints, looking toward the future?

To answer these questions, I would like to focus on the basic principles of the Gospel as contained in the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets, as well as the lives of certain exemplary individuals, those I would like to call Celestial Citizens, including our Father Abraham, the prophet Moses, the Prophet Joseph Smith and our Savior Jesus Christ. As we read of our Savior in the document The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles, “we offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.” In the process, we will consider the lives of other great and noble souls, some of whom are also mentioned in the scriptures. These great and noble ones played a significant role in the discovery, founding and preservation of the United States of America, and their faith and prayers helped lay the foundation of freedom in the United States of America that paved the way for the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

From a record translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith from a papyrus we understand that Abraham grew up as a citizen in the land of Ur of the Chaldeas, as the righteous son of an idolatrous father. The persecution against the young lad had become so intense (not unlike the persecution against the Prophet Joseph Smith in a latter dispensation) that local priests were attempting to sacrifice him upon an altar, as they had previously done to three virgins. At the very moment when the priests had lifted up their hands to slay him, Abraham prayed, and the Lord intervened to deliver him. After this heinous experience, Abraham wrote, with maybe only a hint of understatement, “I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence.”

Seeking greater happiness, peace and rest, as well as the blessings of the Priesthood, Abraham took his beautiful wife Sarai, as well as some relatives and friends, on a trip from Ur to Haran to Canaan and eventually into Egypt. Think of it, Abraham’s wife Sarai was so beautiful (perhaps almost as beautiful as our sisters here today) that the Lord told Abraham to tell her to pretend that she was his sister in order to protect him from being killed by the jealous Egyptians.

Along the way, Abraham had many wonderful conversations with the Lord, some face to face, in preparation for his visit to Egypt. In one particular vision, the Lord revealed to Abraham truths about the cosmos, the eternal nature of spirits, the pre-mortal life, the creation, the choosing of a Redeemer and the second estate of man. Of this vision Abraham wrote:

“22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he said: These will I make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou was born.” (Abraham 3:22-23)

Now, we might not remember it, but we, and everyone we meet, were there. In the Proclamation to the World on the Family we read: “IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”

Thanks to Abraham (and to Joseph Smith for his translation) and to modern apostles, we can discern the first and most basic truth of the Gospel, that God is our Heavenly Father who loves us, and that we are literal spirit sons and daughters of God with a divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. “ALL HUMAN BEINGS- male and female- are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

Heavenly Father loves and blesses all of his children, and has been doing so eternally, even before we embarked on the journey of mortality with the potential and the objective to become like our Heavenly Father. The enlightened Christian philosopher and apologist C.S. Lewis understood this basic truth. In his book The Weight of Glory, Lewis wrote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilites, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

O.k. So you may now be wondering… “great, but what does any of this have to do with Patriotism, Independence or the United States of America?” Hold on… the plot thickens.

The Book of Abraham continues…

“24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them…

Then, in one of the most defining moments of eternal history…

“27 [And] the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.

28 And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.”

(There is an interesting parallel to this pre-mortal scene when Isaiah is called to be a prophet. See Isaiah 6:8-10 :

8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I asend, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; bsend me.

9 ¶And he said, Go, and tell this people, aHear ye indeed, butbunderstand not; and see ye indeed, but cperceive not.

10 Make the aheart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and bshut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.)

Once again, we might not remember it, but we were there. I suspect that many of us were great friends who loved each other and who watched in reverence and awe as Jesus Christ volunteered and was chosen to be our Savior and Redeemer. From The Proclamation to the World on the Family it is clear that, not only were we familiar with God, but we also knew and worshiped Him, and accepted His plan. We accepted and rejoiced because of our Savior Jesus Christ’s role in that plan. The central figure in that plan was and is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the centerpiece of that plan was and is the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

If you are still wondering, so what? What does this have to do with Patriotism or America? Hold on… things are just starting to heat up…

The great prophet Moses also learned truths about the pre-mortal council in heaven and the plan of salvation from God in a vision:

“1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

“3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;

4 And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.” (Moses 4:1-4)

John the Revelator records:

“7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,” (Rev. 12:7)

“9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev. 12.:9)

The ancient American prophet Lehi also wrote of this event:

“17 And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God. “(2 Ne. 2:17)

So, how does this actually relate to American independence? Don’t worry, we’re getting closer… Abraham, Moses, John the Revelator, Lehi and others have taught the truth concerning the pre-mortal council in Heaven, and the battle that ensued, a battle in which all of us fought with Michael against the dragon. The war that Satan provoked eons ago in the pre-mortal life, a war that continues to this day, is, simply put, the war over the principle of moral agency (commonly referred to as freedom or liberty). It is the war of good against evil. It is the war against sin.

We learn from these scriptures that Jesus Christ was chosen to be our Savior and that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we would be blessed with the privilege of exercising moral agency, the privilege to make choices, which is, next to life itself, one of the greatest gifts of God. Lucifer, looking for revenge, opposed this plan, and in his pride and arrogance sought to destroy the agency, or liberty of man, and to make all men miserable like unto himself. As Brigham Young has explained: “The difference between God and the Devil is that God creates and organizes, while the whole study of the Devil is to destroy.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 69) Everything that creates, builds up, edifies… is of God. Everything that does the opposite, or tears down, is of the devil.

Lest we suppose that after this pre-mortal war in heaven Satan simply gave up and crawled into his little corner of Hell, we have only to reflect on the annals of recorded history and the standard works to see that this same being has wrecked havoc upon the earth ever since, with relentless efforts to destroy the precious gift of agency of those created in the image of God.

This war continued throughout the ages, leading up to the Revolutionary War for American independence (and the French Revolution… remember today is Bastille Day). The same war over agency, the war against sin, continues to this day. As Elder L. Tom Perry declared in the most recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which is, by the way, in the pattern of the great pre-mortal council in Heaven):

“Today we find ourselves in another war. This is not a war of armaments. It is a war of thoughts, words, and deeds. It is a war with sin, and more than ever we need to be reminded of the commandments. Secularism is becoming the norm, and many of its beliefs and practices are in direct conflict with those that were instituted by the Lord Himself for the benefit of His children.”

Thus far, with the help of the scriptures, we have begun to answer the questions, “Who is God?” (our Heavenly Father who loves us and who sent Jesus Christ to be our Savior), “Who are we?” (spirit children of God) “What is our purpose?” (to become like our Heavenly Father and like Jesus Christ and to inherit Eternal Life). Now, let’s address some other questions: “What is patriotism?” “Is patriotism good… why or why not?” “How does the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or more specifically, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, relate to moral agency and the founding of the United States of America?”

Keeping in mind the context of the Plan of Salvation as set forth in the scriptures, let’s first answer the question, “What is patriotism?” One dictionary defines patriotism as “love or devotion to one’s country.” Another dictionary defines patriotism as “devotion to one’s own country and concern for its defense.” The English term “patriot” comes from the Latin “patriota” meaning “countryman” and the Greek “patriotes” also meaning “countryman”. This word comes from the Greek “patris” meaning “fatherland”, which finds its origins in the Greek term (close to the Latin) “Pater” meaning “Father” (think of the English word “Patriarch” or even your “Patriarchal Blessing”) (For any of you who have seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will be familiar with such exercises in Greek etymology) Ok. Fair enough. So Patriotism is related to the word the means father. So is patriotism a good thing?

Quoting C.S. Lewis again, Elder Oaks has given an answer to this question:

“It is surprisingly easy to take what should be our first devotion and subordinate it to other priorities. [Fifty years ago] the Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis illustrated this tendency with an example that is distressingly applicable in our own day. In his book The Screwtape Letters, a senior devil explains how to corrupt Christians and frustrate the work of Jesus Christ. One letter explains how any “extreme devotion” can lead Christians away from the Lord and the practice of Christianity. Lewis gives two examples, extreme patriotism or extreme pacifism, and explains how either “extreme devotion” can corrupt its adherent. “Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause’ in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war effort or of pacifism. … Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.” (C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters , rev. ed., New York: MacMillan, 1982, p. 35).

As Elder Oaks has explained, with the help of C.S. Lewis, patriotism is a virtue, like any other virtue, only inasmuch as it is subordinated to Jesus Christ and His work. In other words, faith in Christ and the love of God are to inform our perspectives on patriotism, and not the other way around. As soon as we begin to place patriotism, pacifism (or any other thing before the Lord), we have fallen into the trap of idolatry. As the Lord commanded the ancient Israelites:

“2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

To illustrate this same point, President Thomas S. Monson is fond of quoting from Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII in which Cardinal Wolsey learns a valuable lesson. Stripped of his power after a life of service to his king, Cardinal Wolsey sadly lamented:

“Had I but served my God with half the zeal / I served my king, He would not in mine age / Have left me naked to mine enemies.”

So, in answer to the question, patriotism is good as long as we place the Lord first in our lives, as we did in the pre-mortal life when we decided to follow Christ and Heavenly Father’s great Plan of Salvation.

Ok, so up to this point it is clear. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us. Jesus Christ is our Savior who loves us. We are spirit children of Heavenly Father who chose to follow Christ in the pre-mortal council in heaven, and we are valiant children who fought with Michael against the dragon. Patriotism is good when it is subordinated to the Lord Himself and His work, because our first Patria, or fatherland, was with our Father in Heaven, and His Kingdom on earth, and Zion, is our true Patria, no matter which country we hail from. So where does America fit into to all of this? Now to the really good stuff…

Ultimately we know that Satan will fail, good will triumph over evil, and that celestial citizenship is not dependent upon location, but on transformation… or in other words, conversion to Christ and His gospel through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance. In many times and places, including in this country, there have been people like Abraham and Moses who understood these basic principles of the Gospel, who put the Lord first in their lives, and who therefore became Celestial Citizens. Before we get to Joseph Smith, however, allow me to briefly paint a picture of a few of the characters and events that led up to the founding of the United States of America, and the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we shall see, God’s hand was in it all along.

Joseph Smith’s translation of The Book of Mormon makes it clear that American history stretches much further back into time than the American Revolution and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The prophet Ether, hidden in a cave, recorded the tragic history of a people that once flourished on the American continent more than 2,000 years ago. The Brother of Jared and his people followed the Lord, journeyed across the ocean, and began to prosper in the land of promise. Periods of righteousness and prosperity led to periods of pride and the abandonment of God’s commandments, until eventually the entire Jaredite civilization was destroyed.

Just as Ether was observing the crumbling toward complete collapse of the entire Jaredite civilization, God was preparing others to inhabit the promised land, others who would follow the Lord and keep his commandments. The Lord called the prophet Lehi and his faithful son Nephi (as well as others, such as the Mulekites) to lead their families through the wilderness, across the ocean, and into the land of promise. But because of pride, divisions also arose among them. Although later generations of Nephites possessed records that told the sad tale of Jaredite destruction, they too were unable to prevent another catastrophic conclusion. Like Ether, the last prophets of The Book of Mormon, Mormon and his son Moroni (named after the great captain of an earlier Nephite army) observed the entire destruction of their people by war.

But even as the Nephites were destroyed, and the Lamanites dwindled in unbelief, the Lord was preparing yet another people to inhabit the land of promise. The prophet Nephi saw in a vision how the Lord inspired a man among the gentiles to set sail toward the land of promise:

“12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.” (1 Ne. 13:12-13)

The young Italian, Christopher Columbus wrote:

“Our Lord with provident hand unlocked my mind, sent me upon the seas, and gave me fire for the deed. Those who heard of my enterprise called it foolish, mocked me, and laughed. But who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?” (Jacob Wasserman, Columbus, Don Quixote of the Seas, New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1959, p. 20)

Soon, the “Mother Gentiles” were gathered against those who sought liberty and freedom to worship God, but, as Nephi continues,

“[And] I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered against them to battle. And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.” (1 Ne. 13:16-19) What an amazing book! I love The Book of Mormon! If you haven’t read it, please do. If you have read it… read it more.

Nephi saw in vision how the power of God had worked to establish, yet again, a righteous people upon the land of promise, a people who would serve Jesus Christ and keep the commandments. As Elder Holland explained in his talk entitled A Promised Land,

“Once again, after meticulous preparation and precise timing, the Lord had begun to build on his promised land a congregation that had compacted to pursue “the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” The cultural freedom of the Renaissance and religious freedom of the Reformation underscored the strong sense of personal freedom espoused in the Enlightenment to provide the ideal attitudes and environments for the beginning of this “first new nation.”

The Lord himself declared that,

“79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.

80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.” (D&C 101:79-80)

Among these wise men (and women) that the Lord raised up were great and noble souls such as George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas and Martha Jefferson, Benjamin and Deborah Franklin (It is Benjamin Franklin who said that “Our cause is the cause of all mankind”), James and Dolley Madison and many others. These honest, god-fearing, talented and highly intelligent souls invoked God for assistance in the establishment of a free nation, the United States of America. Little did they know at the time, but these great souls, now rightly revered as the Founding Fathers, helped blaze a political path that would lead to the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Which leads us to the Prophet Joseph Smith. Like Abraham, Moses and others before him, Joseph Smith was prepared by the Lord, a Celestial Citizen, to lay the foundations of Zion, the Celestial City. Elder Paul H. Dunn taught:

“[Joseph] grew up toward adolescence just like the new land. He fitted it. He was young, clean, unspoiled- a lad without a past, kneeling in a grove. This pristine land- this innocent young man- and thus the Lord reached out and kept his promise. He established his conditions over centuries; you see, God has time. His plan made it possible for the holy priesthood and the Church to be restored upon the earth- the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ- but only in America… The purpose of America was to provide a setting wherein that was possible. All else takes its power from that one great, central purpose.” (Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 54)

There are volumes yet to be written about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the marvelous work and a wonder that he was called to bring forth. For our purposes today, suffice it to say that Joseph Smith helped set in motion a work that is preparing the earth for the return of its rightful king, even Jesus Christ:

“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”

In passing, I would also like to make mention of another great and noble soul whose character and vision helped preserve the United States of America during a terrible civil war. Perhaps even more than Kid President, Abraham Lincoln played an indispensable role in the history of this country.

Of course, none has demonstrated so perfectly and completely this obedience, this love or charity, as did our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He descended from His throne above, in the Fatherland of the Celestial Kingdom, not just a true Celestial Citizen, but the literal King of Heaven, to become our Savior and to lead us to become joint heirs of Eternal Life. It was the pre-mortal Jehovah that instructed Abraham, guided Moses and the children of Israel, who established the Jaredites and the Nephites in the land of Promise. After his mortal ministry and atoning sacrifice, it was this same Jesus Christ who prepared the land of promise again, by raising up of wise men for this very purpose, for the restoration of His Gospel through the instrumentality of His servant the Prophet Joseph Smith. And it is this same Jesus Christ who today continues to prepare the earth for His Second Coming.

Why do these things matter? Jesus declared: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18: 10) This is all a part of God’s work and glory, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) And what does this mean for us as fellow Latter-day Saints as we look toward the future? The great and nobles souls of which I have spoken, from Abraham to Moses, to Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as well as the great and nobles souls who paved the way toward liberty and the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, have lived to accomplish Heavenly Father’s will and to fulfill their part in the Plan of Salvation. But the battle over agency is not over. The battle against sin continues. Our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson has reminded us that the World needs pioneers today. Like Abraham, Moses, Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, Heavenly Father needs celestial citizens, pioneers who will blaze a path of righteousness for others to follow. Will we endure the same fate as the Jaredites? As the Nephites and Lamanites? President Monson also recently reminded us of the fall of other great civilizations: “We forget how the Greeks and the Romans prevailed magnificently in a barbaric world and how that triumph ended – how a slackness and softness finally overcame them to their ruin. In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and a comfortable life; and they lost all- comfort and security and freedom.” He continues: “A dictionary defines a pioneer as “one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow.” Can we somehow muster the courage and steadfastness of purpose that characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers? I know we can be. Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!”

God is our Heavenly Father who loves us. Jesus Christ is our Savior. We are children of God who fought valiantly for the Lord in the pre-mortal life, and who now enjoy the gifts of freedom that have been defended and preserved by so many noble souls before us. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the gift of repentance, we can forsake the sins that so easily beset us, and with God’s grace assisting us, we can become even more valiant today than we were in the pre-mortal life. As Abraham learned in his vision: “and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abraham 3:26) That we can do so is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kings and Queens, Gods and Goddesses

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilites, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A More Perfect Union

Last year on the 4th of July, I wrote this brief tribute to the United States of America.  A lot has transpired since that time, but the timeless words of the young Marquis de Lafayette hold true: "the welfare of America is closely bound up with the welfare of all mankind."  In the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith: "... the Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God.  It is a heavenly banner; it is to all those who are privileged with the sweet of liberty, like the cooling shades and refreshing waters of a great rock in a thirsty and weary land.  It is like a great tree under whose branches men from every clime can be shielded from the burning rays of the sun... We say that God is true; the the Constitution of the United States is true; that the Bible is true." (TPJS 147-48)

Not long ago I attended a conference sponsored by the John Adams Center for the Study of Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs, during which Professor John W. Welch presented a lecture outlining a perspective on Joseph Smith's vision of the Constitution of the United States of America.  In this lecture, Professor Welch provided explicit statements of Joseph Smith on the Constitution as well as possible interpretations concerning Joseph Smith's understanding of the Constitution.  During the lecture, Professor Welch also asked the audience to keep in mind the declarations regarding government in section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

In 1836, during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith prayed: "Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever." (D&C 109:54)  Professor Welch argued that "those principles" which are referred to are to be found in the Declaration of Independence and more particularly in the Preamble to the Constitution.  From his detailed research, Professor Welch reached the conclusion that for Joseph Smith, the essence of the Constitution was to be found in the Preamble: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."  In Professor Welch's own words: "For Joseph, the Preamble was not mere window-dressing or literary prologue.  It was the sum and substance of the law of the land.  While the various articles and provisions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were important instrumentalities, they merely articulated and implemented the purposes set forth in the Preamble." In fact, as Professor Welch pointed out, Joseph Smith quoted the Preamble in its entirety at the beginning of his 1844 presidential platform.

Joseph Smith gave the following reasons for submitting his candidacy for President of the United States"I would not have suffered my name to have been used by my friends on anywise as President of the United States, or candidate for that office, if I and my friends could have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizens, even those rights which the Constitution guarantees unto all her citizens alike. But this as a people we have been denied from the beginning. Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time, from portions of the United States, like peals of thunder, because of our religion; and no portion of the Government as yet has stepped forward for our relief. And in view of these things, I feel it to be my right and privilege to obtain what influence and power I can, lawfully, in the United States, for the protection of injured innocence; and if I lose my life in a good cause I am willing to be sacrificed on the altar of virtue, righteousness and truth, in maintaining the laws and Constitution of the United States, if need be, for the general good of mankind."

Not only was Joseph Smith willing, but he eventually did offer his own life as a sacrifice for truth.  On another occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith told his people that: "As I grow older, my heart grows tenderer for you. I am at all times willing to give up everything that is wrong, for I wish this people to have a virtuous leader. I have set your minds at liberty by letting you know the things of Christ Jesus. … I have nothing in my heart but good feelings."12

Of course, Joseph Smith's run for the presidency was cut short by his martyrdom on June 27, 1844.  In fact, some of the people who fomented the violence that led to the assassination may have been concerned with Joseph Smith's views on government.  But whatever the motives were that led to his martyrdom, Joseph Smith left behind a legacy of virtue and the love of liberty that could not be cancelled by his death nor erased by the passage of time.

The question that remains is how we, the inheritors of this legacy, will respond to the challenges of our time to defend and preserve the precious gift of liberty.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fools Mock, but They Shall Mourn

"And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; 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. 

Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness." (Ether 12:26-28)