Monday, September 01, 2008

Talk From Sunday

In case you are thinking this is getting repetitive, I did do a fireside last November and speak in Sacrament meeting less than a year ago. There is a new counselor in the bishopbric over talks and I am thinking that he lost the original list or something. At least I gave a new talk. That is more than I can say for . . . well, I won't go there. Because it was a REALLY great talk: who cares if he gave it twice?

I am not sure how well this will load because of the footnotes (I know that seems a little, well, over the top, but somebody wanted a copy so I was more careful than normal). It is also quite lengthy; I'm too lazy on our last day of summer vacation to edit. What I WOULD like to know, however is if anybody knows where I can get some extremely cheap and user friendly web hosting for PDF pages? I am thinking of publishing some of my stuff on-line, linking it through here and removing all personal identification from my manuscripts, but the blogger format is all wrong. I want to link PDF protected pages from my home page. Anyway, if you have any advice, skip the talk, and make a comment to give it to me.


When we were given the topic of “preparedness” today, I immediately thought about food storage and panicked. Once my mind began seeing past hundreds of quarts of canned peaches that I don’t have, however, there was a story that came very clearly to me that I wanted to share. It was not immediately apparent why I should, but as I’ve pondered and prayed, I understand why the Lord would have me share this very personal experience.

During my freshman year of college, there were a series of difficult trials that happened to several friends and family members. Although none of these trials happened to me directly, each circumstance greatly affected my outlook. I had been raised in the church, but it wasn’t until I was faced with such life-altering trials that I really began to seek and find my testimony. And then, during finals week of my freshman year, President Benson died. Within days of the funeral, President Howard W. Hunter was sustained prophet and held a press conference.

Wasting no time in declaring his prophetic vision for the church, this soft-spoken and gentle man said that he had two directives for Church members. The first was to look to the Savior as the supreme example in our lives, doing in all things what he would do. He then said,

“Secondly, and in that same spirit, I also invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church be temple worthy. I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.

“Let us be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. Let us hasten to the temple as frequently as time and means and personal circumstances allow. Let us go not only for our kindred dead, but let us also go for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety which is provided within those hallowed and consecrated walls. The temple is a place of beauty, it is a place of revelation, it is a place of peace. It is the house of the Lord. It is holy unto the Lord. It should be holy unto us.”[1]

Perhaps I had matured, or because of my new-found testimony, it was the first time I remembered really standing up and taking note of what the prophet said. I replayed those words of the temple as “the great symbol of our membership.” That resonated with me, even though I had very little understanding of what he meant.

In October of that year, his first presidency message in the Ensign reiterated the charge[2]. Just a week after the issue came out, he spoke in conference. He again shared a similar message, encouraging us to display pictures of the temple in our homes. He also mentions the upcoming dedication of the Bountiful Temple and said, “My brothers and sisters, I testify that the impressions of the Spirit have weighed heavily upon me in considering these matters.”[3]

It turned out that nearly a million people toured the Bountiful Temple in November and December of 1994[4]. My parents had tickets for a tour on a November evening. The temple was nearly two hours away from where I attended college at Utah State University in Logan, but I decided to attend with my parents anyway. Snow was forecast for that day, but without too much worry I set off. The temple was lovely and the rooms were incredible. I remember especially the bride’s room. However, it was also very crowded, and there was no explanation provided for the purpose of the various rooms. Between the crowds and my confusion, my experience was not exactly what I had hoped for. I was not sorry I had gone, certainly, but I had not felt the spirit the way I expected. When we were done touring the temple, I went with my parents back to my home in Ogden, where they encouraged me to stay for the night. I had early classes, however, and decided to be on my way.

All started well on my journey back to my apartment, but about five minutes after entering Sardine Canyon, the snow began in earnest. Besides the snow rushing at my windshield like the Millennium Falcon rushing into hyperspace, it was very foggy. I slowed down to a crawl, not able to see more than a few feet in front of me, my headlights actually exacerbating the effects of snow and fog. I have driven that canyon literally hundreds of times in my life and I can only remember a handful of instances when conditions were that bad. I knew I was in serious trouble if I went off the road. The only shoes I had with me were the dress shoes I was wearing; my only coat, a thin dress coat. I didn’t have food or water in the car. I didn’t have a phone to call for help. I didn’t have a shovel in case digging myself out became necessary. I went at a snail’s pace for nearly ten miles. With relief, I could tell from the lay of the road that I was nearing the end of the canyon.

Whenever I drive into Cache Valley, particularly at night, the first thing I look for in the distance is the temple. It is built on a bluff just in front of the mouth of another canyon through the mountains to the east. As you enter the valley from the south, the temple stands out brightly, with its white spires illuminated bluish white every night. Though it is nearly pushed up against the east mountains, you get the impression that it actually stands on a large hill right in the center of the valley. The pioneers chose their site for the temple very well.

But that night, as I exited the canyon with 10 miles to go to my apartment just blocks from the temple, I still couldn’t see a thing. The snow had let up, but the fog was as bad as ever. My habit for getting to my apartment was to go up around the temple, even though the route took a few extra minutes, because it was a pretty drive. Despite the terrible visibility and little hope of seeing anything, I kept to my routine and drove up around the temple. I nearly ran off the road as I rounded the curve.

As if someone had turned on a switch, the temple was suddenly before me, blazingly bright and seeming to rise up out of the fog. Its parking lot was empty, covered only with a layer of fresh new snow. The quiet was intense and lovely as I pulled over carefully and just stared for several minutes, feeling the manifestation in my spirit that I had not felt inside the cozy and warm temple from the hours previous. I knew with all my heart that I wanted to be inside that sacred building, that I wanted to understand what President Hunter meant when he said that the temple should be the symbol of our membership.

But I knew something else. I knew that I was no more prepared to be in that glorious building than I was to be driving through the canyon that night.

I’m going to relate the symbols of what I was missing from my car that day to things I was also missing from my life. As I do, please carefully consider the things in your own life that may need putting in order so that we might each claim the blessings that our Father in Heaven is standing ready to give us.

1) Boots. If something had gone wrong and I had to get out of my car, I would have been wet to my nyloned knees in the ridiculous shoes I was wearing.

Just as my shoes would have allowed me to do little more than mince and slip in the snow, the faith I was exercising at that time in my life was weak and tentative. In 1997, the sesquicentennial of the pioneer’s arrival in Utah, President Hinckley narrated a remarkable documentary, shown in conference, titled Faith in Every Footstep[5]. There was a lovely hymn of the same title composed that same year to honor the anniversary[6]. In the documentary, President Hinckley and his counselors spoke with fervor and testimony about the faith of our early pioneer ancestors. They were a people who understood that faith was not just about believing, but that true faith inspires you to act, time and time again, even against overwhelming odds and challenges.

My own faith was not like this. I had not learned to trust the Lord. Despite many wonderful and subtle spiritual experiences through my teenage years, I asked time and time again for a manifestation about the truthfulness of the gospel. I was not unlike Oliver Cowdery. Even with experience after experience, Oliver still petitioned Joseph to ask the Lord to send him another witness. The Lord’s reply to Oliver’s question is loving, but there is a distinct rebuke also.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might aknow concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak apeace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater bwitness can you have than from God?[7]

I needed to trust the many witnesses I had received from God and move forward; taking my turn to serve others and live the religion I knew to be true. Now, true faith was the first piece of preparation, but not the only one. From the scripture just shared, we see that Oliver was admonished to greater faith by listening to and trusting the Holy Ghost. This leads me to the second thing that would have been useful.

2) I needed something to keep me warm.

This symbol should be a little more obvious. The Savior himself said just hours before his atonement, “But the aComforter, which is the bHoly Ghost, whom the Father will send in my cname, he shall dteach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.[8]

I love the word “comforter.” I think there is no better description of the way the Holy Ghost can help us to feel. In a world of turmoil and difficulty, indeed, there is no greater need than this marvelous feeling of comfort. In addition to providing feelings of comfort and peace, the Holy Ghost helps to guide and direct us in our decisions.

The importance of the Holy Ghost was a thing I did not understand when I was a teenager in the YW program. My leaders and seminary teachers always seemed so urgent about us gaining testimonies, and learning to recognize the Spirit. I just didn’t really see what the big deal was. It wasn’t until that first spring away from home when life’s major trials truly beset me for the first time that I understood why my leaders had tried so hard. Between the ages of 18 and 25, I made no fewer than eight major life decisions. Decisions that would have changed the whole course of my life and perhaps my eternity if they had been different. I don’t know how I would have done this without the influence of the Holy Ghost, or how I could have possibly had any confidence in my decisions without His powerful, guiding influence.

In a world where the philosophies of men are becoming increasingly confused with doctrines of God, it will be vital to listen to the Holy Ghost so that we might do what is right.

3) Though the events of that snowy night happened before it was common for college students to carry cell phones, a means of communication would have been a third highly useful thing to have.
The best means of communication that we have with the Lord is prayer. It can be done any time and anywhere. It can be done with much forethought or on a whim. Prayer can be formal in front of a congregation, or traveling in the car on the way to work. When we call on God in all sincerity, he will answer us. Alma the younger gave the following counsel to one of his sons:
“Yea, and acry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy bdoings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy cthoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.

“aCounsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for bgood; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the cmorning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.[9]

4) If the worst had happened and I had been stranded in my car for any length of time, I would have gotten hungry very quickly. You know what a humbling experience it can be to fast even a few hours. Our physical body can only survive a very short time without nourishment. Our spirits are no different.

In the last few chapters written by Nephi, he talks about the importance of reading the scriptures saying, “aAngels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, bfeast upon the cwords of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will dtell you all things what ye should do.[10]

To bring this feasting image into more modern language, in 1988, President Benson gave a talk about one of his favorite topics, the Book of Mormon. He spoke at length about the potential he saw for the book in the hands of righteous and studied church members. My favorite part of his talk is specifically to missionaries, but his words can apply to all of us.

“We need to read daily from the pages of the [Book of Mormon] that will get a man ‘nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.’ I challenge all of us to prayerfully consider steps that we can personally take to bring this new witness for Christ more fully into our own lives and into a world that so desperately needs it. I have a vision of thousands of missionaries going into the mission field with hundreds of passages memorized from the Book of Mormon so that they might feed the needs of a spiritually famished world.[11]

I will not ask for a raise of hands for how many of you have hundreds of passages memorized from the Book of Mormon, but it should be apparent that we have a long way to go in how carefully we are reading this most sacred book, as well as our other scriptures. It is impossible to feed others if we ourselves are spiritually famished.

5) The last useful tool to me would have been a shovel. Sometimes you just have to dig yourself out.

Regardless of how much faith a person has or how often we read the scriptures, we are all just human, and mistakes will be made. This is part of our mortal experience. However, to be prepared for partaking the Lord’s covenants whether baptism or the sacrament or the temple, we must be humble enough to continually be in a state of repentance. As I’ve learned about and studied repentance I’ve come to see that repentance is much more than being sorry for the actions you’ve committed. It is even more than attempting to make reparations for the mistakes we’ve made. And it is more than merely promising never to commit these acts again. While each of these is an important part of the process of repentance, true repentance is more akin to conversion than apologizing. It is a complete bending of our will to our Father in Heaven’s so that our hearts are changed and we have no more disposition to do evil.

A few years ago, Elder Hafen gave one of the best talks that I have ever heard on the atonement. It was titled “All for All.” He explained that Christ is willing to put all he has on the line to save us, as long as we do the same. Obviously, what He brings to the table is much greater, but he accepts our best effort as enough. He then talked about trials and sin as part of ever mortal experience. He said,

“Adam and Eve learned constantly from their often harsh experience. They knew how a troubled family feels. Think of Cain and Abel. Yet because of the Atonement, they could learn from their experience without being condemned by it. Christ’s sacrifice didn’t just erase their choices and return them to an Eden of innocence. That would be a story with no plot and no character growth. His plan is developmental—line upon line, step by step, grace for grace.
“So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose. As we draw close to God, He will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses that just might mean you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away [12].”

We all have difficulties that must be worked on. It is not a punishment to correct our lives to put them more in line with our Father’s will. It is instead a great blessing. Repentance allows us to “learn from our experience without being condemned by it.”

Obviously, any of these tools: faith, the influence of the Holy Ghost, prayer, scripture study and repentance could be a topic all on its own. I use them here to merely illustrate some things that can help prepare us to enter the temple.

After the Bountiful Temple’s dedication in January of 1995, President Hunter fell very ill as cancer spread through his body. His February message in the Ensign again reiterated his urgency to get members of the church to the temple[13]. On March 3, 1995 he passed away[14], just short of nine months after being called as prophet. His prophetic tenure was brief, but his message was powerful and sank deep into the hearts of the saints worldwide.

Almost exactly a year later I went to the Logan temple to receive my own endowment in preparation to serve a mission, thinking that I had arrived at some great destination. Instead, my temple experience, even from that very first day, showed me what President Hunter meant by the temple being a symbol. The temple was not actually an end in itself; it was a preparation for entering one day into God’s presence. The temple teaches us what is necessary to return to him.

As I made covenants there and participated in ordinances, I knew I was committing myself to a lifetime of service to the Lord: the temple was a beautiful representation of all that was possible if I kept my covenants. Yet the most powerful symbol for me that day came as I joined four generations of my family in the Celestial room. I cried as the spirit filled my whole soul, truly realizing for the first time that one of the Lord’s greatest promises is that God will allow our most cherished relationships on this earth to continue into the eternities.

Fairy tales always wrap up everything nice and neat with a “happily ever after” at the end of the story. Real life, however, is not quite that neat. Our lives continue long after the highs and lows: indeed we know that our lives will continue forever and we will constantly learn and struggle and triumph along the way. Some months after my endowment, I was serving my mission in a huge country with but a single temple. President Hinckley visited that great country in 1997 to tell the people in each of the major cities he visited that they would soon have temples too. The Lord had seen the faith of his people in following the admonition to carry recommends even if they had little opportunity to go to the temple: He would bring the temples to them. The Saints wept for joy at the news and I caught the tiniest glimpse of the thousands upon thousands of Saints who had taken President Hunter’s words to heart.

Each day is a preparation for eternity. I pray that each of us will look carefully at our lives and prune away what is unnecessary and spend our time instead focused on what the Lord tells us matters the most.

I know that as we prepare to one day enter the Lord’s presence there is no better voice to follow than the prophet. I have a testimony that President Monson is a prophet today, and that the keys have been handed down, unbroken since Joseph Smith was given them more than a century and a half ago. I know the Book of Mormon is God’s work: another testament that Jesus is indeed the Christ and that he is the head of this Church. I saw these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Jay M. Todd, “President Howard W. Hunter: Fourteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, Jul 1994, 2

[2] Howard W. Hunter, “The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, Oct 1994, 2
[3] Howard W. Hunter, “‘Exceeding Great and Precious Promises’,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 7
[4] ”Bountiful Utah Temple Dedicated,” Ensign, Mar. 1995, 74–75
[5] “Faith in Every Footstep: The Epic Pioneer Journey,” Ensign, May 1997, 62

[6] K. Newell Dayley, “Faith in Every Footstep,” Liahona, Feb 1997, 22–23
[7] D & C 6:22-23

[8] John 14:26; note that Jesus refers to the idea of “comfort” two other times in this chapter—once in reference to the Holy Ghost (though some readings of this passage suggest that his reference to “another” comforter is in actuality a personal visitation from the Savior indicating your calling and election made sure) and the second time to his pledge not to leave the apostles “comfortless.” It is not exactly clear why, but it seems that the apostles were unable to have the full influence of the Holy Ghost while they had the Savior with them.
[9] Alma 37:36-37
[10] 2 Nephi 32:3; see also 2 Nephi 9:51 and 31:20 for more references to feasting and the scriptures written by Nephi. It should be remembered that Nephi had seen a vision of the end of the world. He knew, perhaps better than any writer in the Book of Mormon, that this record would be preserved for a people far removed from his own. He had a wonderful perspective on the importance of these scriptures, their coming forth, and what their restoration would mean for the history of mankind. In 2 Nephi 29 he talks at length about the necessity of a second witness and each time having its own scriptures. The incredible writing in that chapter shows his frustration with those who would one day reject the words he had spent his lifetime writing and protecting.
[11] Ezra Taft Benson, “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov 1988, 4; the embedded reference is from the History of the Church 4:461 as well as the Book of Mormon’s introduction page.

[12] Bruce C. Hafen, “The Atonement: All for All,” Ensign, May 2004, 97. The embedded reference about weakness making us stronger is to Ether 12:27
[13] Howard W. Hunter, “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb 1995, 2
[14] “President Howard W. Hunter: The Lord’s ‘Good and Faithful Servant’,” Ensign, Apr 1995, 8


Slyck and Slim said...

Thank you for posting your talk and your testimony. It was beautifully written, but it was your heart that was talking. You have a talent for seeing the symbols in life and your analogy was oh so interesting. Thanks.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

President Hunter is the first prophet I clearly remember, and his messages about the temple had a big impact on me, too. He helped me realize that temples are a fundamental part of our discipleship, not just something to do in our spare time.

Also, I like your comparison of repentance to conversion, a real change of heart. I've been trying to think of a way to communicate to my Beehives that repentance is a positive part of everyone's progress, not a punishment for the wicked. I think your analogy may help. If nothing else, it will help me. :)

Janssen said...

I finally got around to reading this and now I'm blinking back tears in the common room of the iSchool. Lovely and profound.