Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Let Freedom Ring!!!

It was yet again a bitter cold night on the banks of the Delaware River in late December 1776. Soldiers sat huddled, praying that defeat would be delayed just a little while longer. In the months previous to this bleak night, American troops struggled to come out on top of battle after battle. Since General Howe of the British Army had arrived on Staten Island with his 30,000 plus troops, the Americans had suffered losses, both physically and emotionally. In the Battle of Long Island Howe and a 20,000 man army drove the Americans back time after time. Washington's army escaped an attack which would have lead to much destruction when he planned and executed an extraordinary rapid movement withdrawing all of his troops in the middle of the night leaving General Howe to discover empty camps in the early morning. This left New York open for Britain’s taking. Later Washington and his men engaged in the Battle of White Plains. Americans were forced to split their troops leaving some at Fort Washington and other to go fight. Unfortunately both were defeated and the American strong hold was lost despite Congress’ plea to keep it at all costs. Washington and his men continued their retreat through New Jersey. In passing they learned of Congress fleeing to Baltimore, leaving them completely and utterly alone in their battles with their enemy. With a small band of only 6,000 men, George Washington was left to wait on the banks of the dismal river. General Howe announced that there was nothing more for them to do other than wait for the Delaware River to ice over, then he and his Hessian troops would invade and end the war. Morale was low on the American side. Defeat after defeat left them discouraged and out manned. It was cold, they were tired, and soon they would be defeated for good. Fortunately, God inspired the minds of a few men.
Thomas Paine wrote in his treatise titled The Crisis, "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God." With in days of it being published, Washington had this read among his soldiers. Thomas Paine couldn't win the battle for them. He couldn't give them warmth or food or shelter. But what he did was more than all of that. His words gave them the morale to continue on; to live to fight another day. George Washington, the bold genius, devised a plan that would save this young country and ultimately lead to their victory over the war. In the middle of a frigid Christmas night, American troops gathered together in a variety of boats. As they navigated men, artillery, and even horses through the blocks of ice floating through the river, Colonel Henry Knox commented that the crossing was accomplished "with almost infinite difficulty." Following their landing Washington gathered his men and commenced to what is now known as the Battle of Trenton. He easily captured the Hessian troops in about 90 minutes and though their position less than ideal continued their fight. Lord Cornwallis of the British army took notice of his position in Princeton and thought he had Washington pinned between Trenton and the Delaware. Much to Lord Cornwallis’ dismay, before the next morning Washington had forged and carried out yet another movement in which American soldiers left fires burning bright through the night and, moving silently, attacked the British army and secured a position in which they could rest and regain strength. Though the war didn't cease till October of 1781, this moment in American history turned the momentum of the war and led to the triumph of this Young American country.
Men had fought long and hard with many giving their lives for the cause. Wives were left widows, children were left fatherless and fathers lost sons in the treacherous battles. The reason for this war was Freedom. Britain, their mother country, was imposing unfair taxes in attempts to raise money for debts acquired in a previous war. British Parliament in reaction to American boycott’s passed what is known as the Declaratory Act in which they stated that Britain had “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America ... in all cases whatsoever". Though American colonies weren’t represented in Parliament, Britain assumed the right to make laws and changes to colonial government. The patriots weren't having it. They decided to lash out in rebellion for a cause that they knew to be right. No man was to be "bound in all cases whatsoever". That right belonged to God only, and even He, the greatest of all, grants unto us our agency, the Freedom to choose. Today we are in a battle similar to the one our forefathers were waged in. But this battle began years and years ago. In the council before this world began, our Father in Heaven called all of his spirit children together to discuss plans for earth life. He presented to us the opportunity to leave our heavenly home and come to earth to get a body. He told us of the choices we would have to make while here in this life. One, Lucifer, presented his plan. He said he would come down to earth and he would force everyone to follow God. It was too risky in his eyes to let people come to earth and have that chance to mess up. With his plan no one would be lost. God could have all of his children again. But we wouldn't learn and we certainly wouldn't be free. Lucifer wanted all the glory. He wanted the praise and power. This was opposite to the plan God had envisioned. Christ stepped forward and offered himself. His plan was for everyone to comedown to earth and be given the freedom to make their own choices. We would all make bad choices in our lives so he offered that he himself would come down and live a perfect life. He would then give himself up as an infinite and eternal sacrifice so that, if we chose to do so, we could accept and allow him to redeem us from that fallen state. It was clear as it which choice was the right one. Satan was furious and gathered as many followers as he could to side with him to rebel against God and Christ. For their rebellion, God cast Satan and a third of those in heaven down to earth with out bodies. We know which side we chose because we are here today with a mortal body. Each of us has made that one right choice in our lives. No matter how bad anyone has screwed up they can know that at one time they made one right choice. The war in heaven was all about choices. Just like our forefather, it began because of Freedom; Freedom to choose.
That war that began long ago is still long from being over. Satan tries to persuade us to make wrong decisions all the time. Rarely are we free from his temptations. He is miserable and he wants us to be miserable with him. There are choices we have to make everyday of our lives. Some of them don't really matter in an eternal aspect. Such as, What should I wear to work today? or What kind of cereal should I eat for breakfast? Some of them are a lot harder like, Who should I Marry?, What should I study in school?, or even, Should I keep watching this show even though it is a little dirty? Some of these decisions won't make a difference two weeks from now. No one cares that I wore a pink shirt to work last week. But others like, who should I marry, could impact us for the rest of forever. It’s all about choices and I think for most of us we make the right ones. I feel like most of us try to use good language and listen to good music. Most of us want to marry someone with similar standards as our own. But I also feel like we tend to shy away from making the "big" decisions we are required to make. It is intimidating to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life as a career. It’s intimidating to decide what you want to study in school to get you there. It’s even intimidating to make that final leap into marriage. Fortunately we don't have to make these choices on our own. Satan wants us to choose those options that will lead us to failure but God is rooting for us. It’s the final inning today and I’m not sure if God wears hats but if he did I’m sure he’d have his rally cap on. He wants to help us but we have to access the help he’s given us. He has given us many tools to find answers to many of life’s questions. We have the scriptures for example. They answer questions that man has been faced with since the days of Adam. We have the words of modern prophets to guide us on matters of today. And the one I feel is most important is a direct communication with God in prayer. I was able to gain a strong testimony of prayer early on in my mission but it was strengthened more as I was finishing it. In returning home from my mission just a short while ago, I was faced with a lot of these important life forming decisions. About a month before coming home, my Mission President had all the missionaries going home in my group fill out a return home plan. In it included what my vision was for my future family, career, and church service. It also asked for goals that would aid me on my way to creating that vision and then action items to achieve those goals. I felt super overwhelmed, so I began with a prayer that God would comfort me as well as help me know what a worthy and realistic vision was for my life. I immediately felt comfort. The choices were still there to be made but God had comforted me so I continued filling it out and I felt his help as I did so. But even after that experience, returning home was scary. It’s easy to write it and read it on paper but I actually had to start doing those things. So I prayed some more to ask God what exactly he would like me to be doing. In the month and a half proceeding my return home I have been blessed with many opportunities that I believe God has given me as answers to those humble prayers. I have been blessed with a good job that I can later make into a career which has also helped me decide what to study in school. I have been presented with schooling opportunities by people who care about me which has helped me decide what will be right for me in where I should attend school. I have seen God's subtle hand in my life and in answering these questions I’ve been presented with and I feel extremely blessed. But making these important choices isn't all Satan is trying to attack us with.
I think one of Satan's biggest weapons of today is getting people to do nothing at all. So many people today think they can get away with doing nothing and still get something out of it. The saddest part is that there are many politicians trying to make that easier for them! Too many people rely on Government hand outs. Much of the working class today is paying to provide for those who don't do anything at all. This is not what our forefathers were envisioning when they framed our country. From modern revelation we learn that the founding fathers of this country were inspired in the choices they made. In the Declaration of Independence we read "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"... That we are endowed by our creator is a religious principle that we believe in. To be endowed means to be given a gift or provided for. So what our forefathers, being inspired, were trying to tell us was that we are provided for by our Father who is in Heaven. The government can only do so much for people. They have limited resources and, quite frankly, too hard of hearts to impact the needs of the world today. God is the only one that can give us what we need. We are living in pretty hard times right now and I believe things are only going to get harder. But you know what they say... "When the going gets tough, the tough gets going". Ok that doesn't apply at all to this situation really. But it kind of does. When things start getting real tough, we need to be the ones out there fighting for what’s right. The more horrible the world gets, the more righteous God’s people will get. Let’s refer back to the writing of Thomas Paine. "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country..." I feel like NOW is the time that is really trying men's souls. There is so much for us to worry about and though we might not be "shrinking from the service of our country", scripture has alerted us that in these last days "men's hearts will fail them". The Summer Saint or maybe the Part-Time Priesthood holder might fall under the pressure. It is just too hard to do it on our own. We need God's help. But that endowment from God doesn't just come with out any effort on our part. We have to work for the blessings of heaven. We learn from the scriptures that when we receive any blessing it is because we were obedient to some commandment (D&C 130:20-21). So to be endowed we need to act, to make those choices, to do what’s right. I learned this lesson early on in my mission while serving in my first area. My companion and I were working hard to find people to teach and baptize but we weren’t seeing too much success. One week our Zone Leaders came to us and asked us why we weren’t reaching all of our goals. We had been asked to talk to 125 people out on the streets a week and we were only talking to maybe 50 in a week. They promised us that if we did all we could to reach those goals and to do our part God would provide. So we put it to the test and worked super hard. We talked to as many people as possible every day and by Friday evening we had talked to our 125. That Saturday we were on exchanges but my companion and the missionary he was with had a huge miracle in our area that I was able to feel the blessings from. They went to a return appointment that we had set up earlier in the week with a younger guy with a young family. When they got there the family was in the process of moving. The guy wasn’t home but his dad was and he wanted to talk. Usually when people want to talk it is usually either really good and they will get baptized or its bad and they want to bash. This guy wanted to bash. So though they shouldn’t have, they did bash with him. About 5 min. into their bash a man in a shiny silver convertible pulled up to the driveway and just stared at them. He was a grungy looking guy, wearing a shirt with the sleeves cut off. He was covered in tattoos and had a fatty goat-tee with an athletic build. All those combined with driving a nice sports car make him look pretty intimidating. They thought he might be the guy’s buddy coming to take care of them if they beat him in the bash but after five min. he drove off and they continued their bashing. About 20 min. later, as they were finishing up their conversation with the kid’s dad the same scary man drove up and they thought ok here it comes. What happened next they did not expect. He called them by Elder and introduced himself as Jim Jordan. He told them about his wife named Julie who struggled with medical issues. She suffered from severe migraines and had been in and out of the hospital quite a few times in the past couple of weeks and it was taking a toll on their family. He asked them if they would come over and give her a blessing around 1 and afterwards they would talk some more. They scheduled it in and continued on with their day but only a few minutes later, at 11, Jim called and asked if they had time right then to come over. They did, so they went over and after giving Julie a blessing Jim told them that he wasn’t a member but Julie was. He had been taking the lessons a few years earlier while living in a smaller town named Davis. He loved the church and even though the members were a little weird he wanted to be baptized. So the missionaries began preparing him and his daughters for their interviews. While in the interview they found out that he was on parole which would keep him from being baptized at that time. The missionaries didn’t handle it as well as they should have and he was a little offended so he and his family stopped attending church. Well a few years later and over his parole he had the same desire as before to join the church. He later introduced us to his two young daughters Mikayla who was 13 and McKenna who was 10 and he said they were ready to be baptized as well. When I met them for the first time he asked me, “So what has to happen for us to be baptized because we’re ready?” We explained to him what would happen and they were excited. He said he had wanted to talk to missionaries for a while but he couldn’t ever find them but that day when he went out to get some groceries and medicine for his wife he saw them standing there on the drive-way of the bashing man’s house. He waited for a while but got nervous so he just left and told himself that if they were still there when he was coming back, he would talk to them for sure. It was a huge miracle that Jim was able to find us and that they were that ready to be taught. We only received that blessing from God because we did what was asked of us. Jim, Mikayla, and McKenna were all baptized about 5 weeks later and it was the first baptisms of my mission. God has given us the freedom to act for ourselves. Countless numbers of men and woman have given their lives to preserve that freedom. Many more still fight today with that same drive. It would be disrespect to those who lost their lives in preserving this great cause if we just sat here doing nothing. The government can't help us. Only God can and to receive that help we have to use that freedom of choice that was given to us way back in the pre-mortal existence.
I think Thomas Paine said it pretty good when he said "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods..." Essentially, the more work it takes to accomplish something, the greater the reward in the end. The prophet Joseph Smith was given the same promise in a revelation recorded now as D&C 121:7-8 “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; though shalt triumph over all thy foes.” At this time when our country celebrates the heroic acts of the many men and woman who have fought and now fight so we can continue to have the freedom that we fought for before this life, let us make a choice, the right choice. Let us do something. Let us be something. These things I know to be true and you can too. Good day sir.