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Monday, July 9, 2018

The Miracle that is America: A Land Which is Choice Above All Other Lands

Note: This is the "director's cut" (i.e. longer) version of a talk I gave in church July 8, 2018. It was updated slightly on July 13, 2019.

Background on “The Miracle” 

Last year I read a book by one of my favorite commentators about some troubling trends that are affecting America today.[i]  In this book, he called America “The Miracle” and went on to comment (over and over) how grateful we need to be for this miracle.  But he also said “The Miracle” was some kind of happy accident—that it was created by people who really did not know what they were doing.  It just happened.

We as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know that this is not the case—not at all.  Because of modern revelation, we know “The Miracle” that is America was no accident!  This is God’s “promised land.”

In fact, we know the area in Missouri known as Adam-ondi-Ahman was the home of Adam and Eve from the very beginnings of this world.  After the flood, when God moved civilization to what is now the Middle East, the Americas were hidden from the rest of the world because if anyone knew about them “many nations would overrun the land”(2 Nephi 1:8).

When the time was right, around 2200 BC—over 4000 years ago—God brought Jared, his brother, and their families here.  In Ether 2, the Lord told the brother of Jared …

…that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people….

… wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God (Ether 2:7, 10).  

The next of the ancient prophecies is found in Genesis 49. In a father’s blessing given from Jacob to his son Joseph, Jacob prophesied that God would separate Joseph’s descendants from the descendants of his other sons (Genesis 49:22).

We learn in the Book of Mormon that the first descendants of Joseph to be separated—to leave the Old World and come to the New World—were Lehi and his family, who were descended from Joseph’s son, Manasseh.

Upon their arrival, Lehi learned, in 2 Nephi 1, that every group of people that was brought to America would be brought by God AND would be under the command to follow Him (2 Nephi 1:6, 7).

Why is America so Special? 

What makes America so special? So promised? Why was the founding of America and the formation of the Unites States so important?  N. Eldon Tanner, former member of the first presidency, said in October 1976:

We believe that the Constitution was brought about by God to ensure a nation where liberty could abound and where his gospel could flourish.  
 We believe that both freedom and the continuing reformation that flourished here [in America] occurred in preparation for a restoration from heaven of the full gospel of Jesus Christ…[ii] 
For the remainder of this essay I’d like to share a few stories about the faith of three key players in what Elder Mark E. Petersen, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles called “the great prologue”—the events that needed to happen in the world for the gospel to be restored here in America.  These events did not just happen because God wanted them to.  God required human hands—faithful human hands—to listen and obey.

Many of us may not be aware of some of these events primarily because our schools have become so secular. Elder Oaks once decried the omission from history textbooks of references to religion and its “significant role in American history.”[iii] But, such events did occur. They are facts.  They happened.  A lot!

In addition, secular, modern historians are fond of pointing out some of the flaws of these men. But Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us a few years ago that, “imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”[iv]

Latter-day Saints have it on good authority – – living prophets and apostles – – that despite their human failings, these men were called of God.

So—here are a few stories about three great men that show their great faith in God. Men who were faithful enough to allow themselves to be “made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work” (Alma 26:3).

Christopher Columbus 

Early in the Book of Mormon, Nephi had a vision:

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 (1 Nephi 13:12).

Latter-day Saints know that this verse is referring to Christopher Columbus.

Clark Hinckley, author of Christopher Columbus: “A Man among the Gentiles” writes:

One of the best-known facts of history is that Columbus did exactly what Nephi saw him do: he sailed across the ocean that separated the Gentiles of the Old World from the land of Lehi’s seed in the New World, ushering in a new era in world history.

But Nephi also tells us why Columbus did this: “I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man.” Columbus himself knew exactly why he was compelled, against all odds, to do what he did. He described his motivation in these remarkable words:

With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project . . . This was the fire that burned within me . . . Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit . . . urging me to press forward?

Upon returning to Spain from his first voyage to the America’s, Columbus wrote in his journal:


In the circumstances of this voyage, [God] has miraculously made [his power] . . . manifest… through the … miracles that He has performed during the voyage and for me . . . I hope in Our Lord that it will be the greatest honor to Christianity that, unexpectedly, has ever come about.

One of the reasons Columbus was so anxious to make this voyage was missionary work—to spread Christianity. Columbus’ hope is now a reality beyond what even he imagined!  The Americas are profoundly Christian—77% of North Americans and 92% of South Americans profess themselves Christian.  Over 800 million Christians live in the Americas!!

Bro. Hinckley writes that Columbus was aware of many of his imperfections. However, “In the end, Columbus’s achievements and his universal fame are a reflection of his personal faith.”

Again, Columbus himself wrote:

Peter stepped out upon the water and to the extent that his faith remained firm, he walked upon it. … No one should be afraid to undertake any project in the name of our Savior, if it is a just cause and if he has the pure intention of his holy service.

To that Bro. Hinckley comments: “Columbus’s faith remained sufficiently firm to enable him, like Peter, to step out upon the water.”

Christopher Columbus—discoverer—one of God’s humble instruments.

George Washington 

Again in 1 Nephi 13 we read of a group of Gentiles that came to the promised land, that their mother Gentiles came to battle against them, but that the power of God was with these people. In verse 19 we read: 

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. 

Again, prophets and apostles have taught us that this passage refers to the American Colonies and their fight for independence from their “mother Gentiles,” the British Empire.

And we know that the majority of people who emigrated from Europe to North America were also descended from Joseph, through his son, Ephraim.

Thus, as prophesied, in Genesis 49, the posterities of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, were reunited in the America’s—God’s “promised land!”

We could focus on many, many leaders who played a role in this migration and the eventual establishment of a “nation under God.” But, to me, one of the most important of these leaders was George Washington.

There are literally hundreds of examples of the faith of George Washington, but I only have time to share a few. 

As a young man Washington’s parents strictly taught him the Bible and regularly chided him to pray and obey God’s commandments. 

However, I am going to fast-forward to the day Washington attended the First Continental Congress in 1774 as a delegate from Virginia.  Secular histories do not discuss the “opening prayer” of that Congress.  This task was given to an Episcopalian clergyman by the name of Duche (Dushay) and he actually delivered a sermon and a prayer.  One of the scriptures he read during his presentation was the 23rd Psalm—The Lord is my Shepherd.  

According to John Adams, after several scripture readings:

Mr. Duche struck out into an extemporary prayer which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer…[I never heard anyone pray] with such fervor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so elegant and sublime—for America, for the Congress, for [Massachusetts], and especially for the town of Boston.[v]
  
John Adams also said that the prayer was one that “heaven had ordained” and that it brought tears to the eyes of the delegates. “It was,” he said, “enough to melt a heart of stone.” 

Most of the delegates stood during this remarkable prayer. But on their knees were a handful of delegates, including George Washington. 

On July 4, 1775, one of Washington’s first acts as commander in chief of the newly formed Continental army was to issue a General Order to ban all “profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness” and to encourage “a punctual attendance on divine Service, to implore the blessings of heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.” Translation: Don’t drink and swear ; do go to church and pray. 

According to author Timothy Ballard, Washington regularly issued orders that requested these behaviors from his troops—“He did not just ask for prayers, ... He asked for righteous living. He asked for repentance.”[vi]  

Fast forward again to Pres. Washington’s First Inauguration.  He requested a Bible to use when he took the oath of office.  According to one eyewitness, the Bible was opened to Genesis 49 during the swearing in ceremony.[vii]

One final fast-forward to Pres. Washington’s Farewell address, published in Philadelphia’s American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796. Below are two excerpts:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness…

…Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct. And can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? … Can it be that Providence [God] has not connected the permanent felicity [happiness] of a nation with its virtue?

I think this sounds a lot like Ether 2:9

And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God.

I personally believe that not only did our Founders fight and debate this country into existence—they prayed it into existence!


George Washington, father of our nation and one of God’s humble instruments.

Abraham Lincoln 

Abraham Lincoln became a political celebrity in the late 1850’s in part due to his famous debates with Stephen Douglas, commonly referred to as the Lincoln-Douglas debates. 

He became president on March 4, 1861. 

One of the statements he made in his first inaugural address was this, “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.” Translation: If we rely on God, he will help our favored country through this.  He has done it before. He will do it again.

For the first 2 years of the war, things did not go well for the Union, which created a lot of stress for the new president.  In addition, sadly, about one year into Lincoln’s presidency, his sweet son Willie passed away.

One scholar wrote: “The great responsibility he faced as President and the tragedy in his personal and professional life caused him to undergo what he called a “process of crystallization” starting around 1860…in which… [he] began to look to faith for comfort.”[viii] 
Elder Mark E. Petersen, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said in October 1976 GC: 
President Lincoln was one of the great men of all time, and the reason for his greatness was his willingness to acknowledge and obey the Lord. 
He believed in God; he lived near to God; he prayed most earnestly and knew for a fact that he was guided by divine inspiration in his important work. 
Lincoln was a devout believer in the Bible and read it often… 
Lincoln guided the destinies of the United States during the Civil War period by using the Bible and applying its principles.[ix] 
There is also physical evidence that Abraham Lincoln may have also read all or parts of the Book of Mormon.  According to an entry in the Library of Congress ledger, President Lincoln checked out a copy of the Book of Mormon on November 18, 1861 and did not return it until July 29, 1862. Seven days later he submitted the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet.[x] 
In the spring of 1863, with the help of the Senate, Lincoln realized that he needed to do what presidents, governors, and congresses had done hundreds of times before—ask the nation to drop to its knees. He needed to ask America to fast and pray.

Again, due to the secular nature of modern education, it is not well known that beginning from its earliest days, leaders in the United States regularly invited citizens to fast and pray using proclamations.  One source states that since 1775, there have been 1,526 state and federal calls for national prayer.[xi]  Another source states that prior to 1815, there were 1,400 official government-issued calls to prayer by presidents, governors, and congresses and there have been thousands more since.[xii] 

Congress, in the very beginnings of the Revolutionary War, issued one of the first national proclamations. They asked Americans to pray for its leaders and for God’s protection. 

Thus, on March 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation for a Day of Humiliation [their word for humility], Fasting and Prayer.  Here are a few excerpts: 
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the supreme authority and just government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and nations, has …requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer…

We have been recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God, we have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and …we have become … too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.…


The day designated for this fast was April 30, 1863. Approximately 2 months after this day of national prayer, the tide of the war turned in favor of the North with the victory at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.  
Less than 2 years later the war was over.  The Union was preserved. 
Elder Reed Smoot, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke about Lincoln to the U.S. Senate on February 12, 1927. He said, “It was [Lincoln’s] faith in God that made him a guide, a prophet, and a seer.”[xiii] 

President Heber J. Grant said: “We honor Abraham Lincoln because we believe absolutely that God honored him and raised him to be the instrument in His hands of saving the Constitution and the Union” (Improvement Era, Feb. 1940).[xiv]

Abraham Lincoln, freer of slaves, preserver of the Union, and one of God’s humble instruments. 

Summation

I think one of the things we learn from each of these three great men is that certain conditions are required to be “instruments in the hands of God.”  None of them was perfect.  However, each of these men were faithful to his religious tradition and to the knowledge and light they had in their time.  Columbus was a faithful Catholic, Washington a faithful Episcopalian, and Lincoln a faithful Protestant.

Each of these men were prayerful; they were humble; they felt the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and they listened and obeyed; and each of these men encouraged others—and our nation—to look to God for guidance and support.

And I think each, in his own way, understood that America was a promised land and knew that they had a role in its discovery, founding, and preservation and they magnified their callings.
 

Our Imperative Duty 

According to Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, all this happened for one reason:

Our Father in Heaven planned the coming forth of the Founding Fathers and their form of government as the necessary great prologue leading to the restoration of the gospel….[Christ himself spoke of it] when He visited this promised land…America, the land of liberty, was to be the Lord’s latter-day base of operations for His restored church.[xv]

We also know from 3 Nephi 20 that this land will be our Savior Jesus Christ's millennial base of operations after His Second Coming.

So what does that mean for us? What is our duty?  Here are a few ways I think we can be “instruments in the hands of God” in preserving and protecting the Lord’s “latter-day base of operations:” 
1)                 Emulate the good qualities of each of these leaders. 
Pray, study our scriptures, be in tune with the spirit, and follow righteous promptings. 
2)                Vote for leaders who are like these great men. 
In D&C 98:10 we are clearly told: “Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; ….” 
We need to strive to vote for men and women of character because character matters!!! 
3)                Run for office yourself. 
In a recent GC, Elder Ballard said: “Church members—both men and women—should not hesitate, if they desire, to run for public office at any level of government wherever they live. Our voices are essential today and important in our schools, our cities, and our countries. Where democracy exists, it is our duty as members to vote for honorable men and women who are willing to serve” (April 2018 GC). 
4)               Support religious liberty. 
Go to churchofjesuschrist.org and in the little search box, type “religious liberty.” Several articles, talks, and other resources will pop up.  Here is just one example: 
President M. Russell Ballard spoke at an event last month in the Washington DC area.  He said: 
“Without religious freedom and without an ability to express faith in the public square, our ability to influence the world to be better is diminished; it limits our opportunities to strengthen and nudge one another toward kindness, goodness, duty, and civility. 
“Fittingly, however, perhaps the best way to preserve our first freedom is to live our faith—let others know what we believe and be examples of that belief in word and deed.” 
There are also talks and comments by Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder Robert D. Hales, Elder Oaks, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, and many others. 

Conclusion 

God has promised—very clearly—that the wicked will be swept off this land.  He has done it many times before.  He will do it again.  “But,” as we learn in Moses 7:61, “my people will I preserve.” 
How will we be preserved? Just this past April (2018), President Russell M. Nelson promised, “Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again.”[xvi]  However, he went on to say that, “…in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” 
In addition, I testify that we must also do the following: 
1.      Be grateful for "The Miracle" that is America—“a land which was choice above all other lands.” 
2.     Keep the commandments.  
3.     Be prepared.  
4.    Elect righteous leaders.  
5.     Follow the prophet.  
6.    And pray.  Pray for America.  Pray for our leaders.  Pray for our prophets, seers and revelators—and ask for God to bless the truly God-given “Miracle” that is America.
I would like to conclude with one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith. I totally agree with this declaration:


..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” (History of the Church, 4:540).




[i] Jonah Goldberg, Suicide of the West, 2018.
[ii] N. Eldon Tanner, If They Will But Serve the God of the Land, April 1976 General Conference.
[iii] Elder Oaks Defends Religious Liberty, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/01/news-of-the-church/elder-oaks-defends-religious-liberty?lang=eng
[iv] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord I Believe,” April 2013 General Conference.
[v] Peter A. Lillback & Jerry Newcombe, George Washington’s Sacred Fire, 2006.
[vi] Timothy Ballard, The Washington Hypothesis, 2016
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] MaryBeth Donnelly, Close Reading Post on “Meditation on the Divine Will” (circa 1862), https://abrahamlincoln.quora.com/Close-Reading-Post-on-“Meditation-on-the-Divine-Will”-circa-1862
[ix] Elder Mark E. Petersen, The Savor of Men , October 1976 General Conference
[x] Timothy Ballard, The Lincoln Hypothesis, 2014.
[xi] http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/about
[xii] https://wallbuilders.com/library-2/ (hover mouse over Proclamations)
[xiii] Ron L. Andersen, Abraham Lincoln’s Efforts to Save Constitution Helped Restoration, Says Education Week Speaker, https://www.lds.org/church/news/abraham-lincolns-efforts-to-save-constitution-helped-restoration-says-education-week-speaker?lang=eng
[xiv] Ibid.
[xv] Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, Our Divine Constitution, October 1987 General Conference.
[xvi] Pres. Russell M. Nelson, Revelation for the Church, Revelation four our Lives, April 2018 General Conference.

Friday, January 20, 2017

#NeverTrump 'Epic Fail,' Frogs, Scorpions, and What Next?

Epic Fail

Well, it has been obvious for about eleven weeks now that #NeverTrump was a spectacular 'epic fail.' Spectacular. 

Today, it became official.

Personally, I had an impression about a week before the election that #NeverTrump would fail. The thought that came to me was this, "The only way many Trump followers are going to ever believe that #NeverTrump-ers were right about him is for him to win. He's probably going to win."

Sometimes rational, fact-based persuasions do not work. Sometimes the only way some people learn is from bad experiences.

Sigh.

During the post-election celebrations--the honeymoon phase--there has been a lot of finger-pointing and dismissing of us #NeverTrump-ers. Many of his supporters have magnanimously "forgiven" us. 

Sigh. Again.

Here is how we reply. 

Winning an election does not change someone's character. All the character flaws we saw in Mr. Trump remain.

He still has a history of lying. He still has a history of adultery. He still has a history of bullying. He still has a history of boorishness. He still has a history of selfishness. He still has a history of greed. He still has a history of demagoguery And the list goes on.

Why do you continue to believe someone like this will be good for America? 

They have a name for this belief. It is called "false hope." Obama followers had the exact same problem.

Granted, some of Mr. Trump's cabinet picks and appointments have been excellent.  But he is still the President and all of these character flaws WILL come into play sooner or later.  

I don't mean to be negative. None of us do. And I will pray for my president and my country.  But prayers only take us so far.  They do not control people.  People are still free to make their own choices.

But what #NeverTrump-ers understand, and many others seem to be blind to, is that the greatest predictor of success as a leader is not prayer, it is character. That is not negative. It is pragmatic. It is wise.

Character matters and Mr. Trump's remains poor.

Frogs and Scorpions

I have told many people over the past several weeks that we are now living, in real time, the parable of the frog and the scorpion. At this point in the proverbial journey across the river, the frog was feeling pretty good about himself, too. 

Things did not go horribly wrong until about halfway across. And the frog and the scorpion both paid dearly for the scorpion's flawed character.

What Next?

The good news is that we are not helpless frogs. We can prepare.

Are we out of debt?

Are we financially responsible in our own lives?

Are our own houses in order?

Are we doing, being, and living the admonition of Paul to the Christians in Phillipi (Philippians 4:8)?

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

We are also taught in scripture that if we are prepared, we "shall not fear" (D&C 38:30).  So the reverse may also be true. If we are fearful, maybe we are not as prepared as we need to be--physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Despite what we #NeverTrump-ers are being told, we know that this is not over yet. The day will come that we will need to forgive all the voters in this country who did what is coming. What is coming is all on them.

And we will. Forgive.

But, in the meantime, we can always remember that God has promised that He will preserve the faithful. And if we are prepared we should not fear.

#AlwaysConstitution #GodBlessAmerica