Snapshots of Life

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Armed with Righteousness and Power

With the new job and greatly improved schedule (more on that later) I really hope to blog a little more often.  More than a month ago we were asked to speak in Sacrament meeting before moving from our ward and the following words were the result.  I guess I've never been one for fun and exciting posts, just long ones with no pictures.  I suppose that's part of the reason why less than a handful of people follow my blog! :) Sorry about that.  I will try to get better at that too.  For any who have the patience to read the full talk, I hope you find it worth your time.

Centuries ago the prophet Jeremiah prophesied of our day saying:

31 ¶Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a anew bcovenant with the house of cIsrael, and with the house of Judah:
 33 But this shall be the acovenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my blaw in their inward parts, and write it in their chearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

One of the reasons that God spoke to Joseph Smith and restored the gospel through his instrumentality was to establish the new and everlasting covenant as was prophesied by Jeremiah (D&C 1:22).  The new and everlasting covenant is simply the fullness of the gospel, which includes all of the doctrines, ordinances, and covenants associated with it (D&C 66:2).  As we accept this covenant we become God’s people.

Isaiah, who was a contemporary of Jeremiah, prophesied:

2 And it shall come to pass in the alast days, that the bmountain of the Lord’s chouse shall be destablished in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all enations shall flow unto it.
 3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us ago up to the bmountain of the Lord, to the chouse of the God of Jacob; and he will dteach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths…

The mountain of the Lord’s house is the temple, wherein the culminating elements of the new and everlasting covenant are experienced.  God’s people are always commanded to build a house unto Him (D&C 124:39-40) where His ordinances are revealed.  Hear the word of the Lord:

8 Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should abuild a house, in the which house I design to bendow those whom I have cchosen with power from on high.

How does the building of a temple endow God’s people with power?  It is what happens to individual hearts within the temple that opens up a bestowal of power from our Father.  Remember Jeremiah said God would put the law in their “inward parts” and “write it in their hearts”.  The purpose for the edifice of a temple is to have a place where sacred ordinances can be performed and where God can dwell.  Whenever we participate in ordinances there are covenants attached to those ordinances.  It is the making and keeping of covenants, particularly those in the House of the Lord, that opens us up to the endowment of power.  Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught, “What is the source of moral and spiritual power, and how do we obtain it?  The source is God.  Our access to that power is through our covenants with Him…Our covenant commitment to Him permits our Heavenly Father to let His divine influence, ‘the power of Godliness’ (D&C 84:20), flow into our lives…In all the ordinances, especially those of the temple, we are endowed with power from on high…” (The Power of Covenants, April 2009 General Conference).

At this time of year our attention often turns to our pioneer ancestors.  They understood the power of temple covenants.  The prophet Joseph Smith was martyred in June of 1844.  Though the prophet himself had discussed leaving Nauvoo and taking the body of the Saints to the Rocky Mountains, Brigham Young and the first company of pioneer immigrants did not leave their home on the Mississippi until February of 1846.  Surely some of the delay was attributable to preparations for the journey, but another significant factor in the timing was the yearning among the Saints to complete the Nauvoo temple, which the Lord had required at their hands.  They did complete the temple and throughout December of 1845 and January and February of 1846 they served day and night in the House of Lord to perform endowment and sealing ordinances before their trek West. 

I think it is not a coincidence that at the very time that many of them were making those sacred covenants, they were being asked to act upon them in a very significant way.  They sold or gave up most of all their worldly possessions for a journey they could scarcely imagine and a home in the unknown wilderness.  Perhaps they recalled the word of the Lord through their beloved prophet in the dedication of the Kirtland temple, “That thy servants may go forth from this house armed with power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them (D&C 109:22).” 

Among those who received their endowment in the Nauvoo temple on Dec. 16, 1845 were my 4th great-grandparents, David and Patty Sessions.  Already they had given up so very much for the cause of Christ as they left their home in Maine in 1834 to join the Saints in Zion.  They had been driven from Missouri following the infamous extermination order.  Patty carried her infant babe in her arms along that trail of tears.  Now they were called upon to give up everything yet again.  David was ill and Patty alone drove the wagon most of the way to the Salt Lake Valley.  They came with the advanced company, where as the midwife, Patty delivered numerous babies across the plains.  Most assuredly she also witnessed many of those same babies die deaths of cold, exposure, sickness, and hunger.  David and Patty made it through the trek.  Her skills would be the means of delivering nearly 4,000 babies in the Saints’ new home.  Her meticulous and oft-quoted diaries have also been wonderfully significant to her posterity, as well as to historians.

David and Patty, like so many others, showed great faith in sacrificing all to keep their covenants.  As a result they were richly blessed of the Lord, both temporally and spiritually.  Though their story is not as dramatic as many, I feel confident that they would join in testimony with the elderly man, who many years ago stood in a Sunday school class and witnessed of a powerful reality.  He had been part of the ill-fated Martin handcart company.  There was criticism in the class over the decision of that company to leave so late in the season.  The man stood and proclaimed:

“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts … give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife … too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but … we became acquainted with [God] in our extrem[i]ties.
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay” (as quoted in David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” The Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1948, 8).
Is it not true that in our extremities we come to know God if we will allow it?  The journeys of our pioneer forbears are models for our own, whether or not we are direct blood descendents.  We know that our trials and tribulations are different than those of the early Saints, but the Source that endowed them with power to endure their hardships is the same Source that offers that power today.  It is the making and keeping of covenants, especially those associated with the temple, that will allow for an endowment of power in our lives, just as it was in so many of theirs.
For what do we need power?  Elder Christofferson has said, “We need strong Christians who can persevere against hardship, who can sustain hope through tragedy, who can lift others by their example and their compassion, and who can consistently overcome temptations. We need strong Christians who can make important things happen by their faith and who can defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism.” (The Power of Covenants, April 2009 General Conference).  It seems that we need power today more than we ever have before! 
Brothers and Sisters, not everybody made the trip when the Saints came West.  There were those who never departed, there were those who turned back in the middle, and there were even those who completed the journey and decided not to stay.  We do not judge them.  We know not their hearts nor their tribulations.  However, we may do well to ask ourselves about our own commitments to the covenants we have made in the house of the Lord.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught that the key to receiving divine power to overcome opposition and move the Church forward “is the covenant we make in the temple – our promise to obey and sacrifice, to consecrate unto the Father, and His promise to empower us with ‘a great endowment.’” (Understanding Our Covenants with God, Ensign, July 2012).  May I reiterate those three things once again:  to obey, to sacrifice, and to consecrate unto the Father! 
In the final week of the Savior’s ministry he delivered a parable about a grand feast.  A man made a great supper and invited many to participate.  He called upon his servant to bid those invited to come to the feast when the supper was prepared.  Those that were bidden to come began to make excuses.  One asked to be excused because he just bought land that needed care, another informed the servant he had just bought oxen that needed training, and a third told the servant he was getting married and could not come.  When the servant passed onto the Lord of the feast the response to his invitations, the Lord was angry.  He called upon the poor, the maimed, the halt, and the blind to join his feast.  When there was yet room at the table he called upon all those who were out and about in the streets of the city.  The Lord said that none of the people who had first been invited could partake of his feast.  (Luke 14:16-25).
May we each ponder deeply the meaning of this parable.  The invitation is extended to all of us to come and eat at the table of the Lord.  Notice that the excuses made were all reasonable, all were worthy endeavors to pursue, none were inherently sinful.  So, why did the Lord get angry and disinvite those that were initially bidden?  Jesus answers that question thusly:
26 If any man come to me, and ahate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, byea, and his own clife also, he cannot be my ddisciple.
 27 And whosoever doth not bear his across, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.b 
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that aforsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my bdisciple.
I do not believe that Jesus is here telling us that we should hate our family members.  He is instead teaching us that to truly be His disciple, we must first and foremost follow Him!  We must take up our cross and be willing to forsake all that we have, and are, and want, to feast at the table of the Lord.  Sometimes that may even involve giving up good for something far better.  Remember the words of Elder Holland in describing the covenants we have made; to obey, to sacrifice, and to consecrate unto the Father.  These are hard doctrines but they are true!
Let us ask ourselves, is there anything keeping me from fully enjoying the feast of the Lord?  What excuses am I making to not have a seat at the table to freely partake?  Elder Maxwell, in his uniquely profound way, has observed, “But, brothers and sisters, what keeps us from knowing and loving Him more? Our reluctance to give away all our sins—thinking, instead, a down payment will do. Likewise, our reluctance to let our wills be swallowed up in His will—thinking, instead, that merely acknowledging His will is sufficient! (see Mosiah 15:7).” (Encircled in the Arms of His Love, October 2002 General Conference).
Joseph Smith taught, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation…” (Lectures on Faith).
Indeed, God requires the hearts of his people (D&C 64:22-23).  The covenants He offers are designed for that very purpose, just as Jeremiah revealed so long ago.  The prophet Joseph also counseled, “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.” (Teaching of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 19).
God took Abraham and He tested him at his very core.  He went right to the heart of what Abraham held most dear – posterity through Isaac.  In a very customized way, He will also get to our very core.  In our own Abrahamic trials will we honor our covenants to obey, to sacrifice, and to consecrate unto the Father?  When our faith is stretched to limits that seem beyond our capacity to manage, will we stay true to the faith?  Will we be willing to forsake pride, doubt, recognition, relationships, time, money, attractions, sins, addictions, and fears?
I am confident there are some in the congregation today who are weary in their journey to Zion.  You are thinking about turning around your wagon.  Maybe you have even tasted of the feast of the Lord but are considering leaving the dining hall.  You have been wounded.  You are disappointed by the imperfection of God’s leaders or the members of His church.  You disagree with a position the Church has taken or are troubled by a doctrine.  You are overcome by temptation or discouraged with the torture of addiction.  You feel that God has not answered your prayers, or that He has left you comfortless despite your obedience.  You are tired of the time, and energy, and means, and effort that the Church calls upon you to make.  As a fellow traveller on the journey, and one who has felt something of that wrenching of the heart strings referred to previously, I plead with you to not give up!  Remember the heritage of faith of which you are a part!  Remember the fortitude of your ancestors!  You have made covenants in sacred settings, before God and angels, to give God your whole heart.  Cling to your promises.  As disciples of Christ we do not leave the path of discipleship when we are angry, or tired, or hurt, or doubting.  We instead look to the Master.  We take up that cross and we follow Him – He who gave every drop of all He had until the very end.  Come, come ye saints!  Do not fear toil and labor.  Come all the way to Zion no matter the price, no matter the sacrifice.  Come and partake of the feast of the Lord.  In so doing, God’s grace, His amazing enabling power, will be fully sufficient for you (Ether 12:27).     
Mercifully, through the miracle of God’s grace, we are promised that as we honor our covenant to obey, to sacrifice, and to consecrate we will be endowed with the power to endure and to thrive, both individually and collectively as a people.  Listen to the reassuring Word:
14 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were aarmed with brighteousness and with the cpower of God in great glory.
Covenants open the doors for promised blessings that God is bound to bestow when we do our part.  When honored they produce the faith necessary to endure.  They reassure us with a sense of security in God’s acceptance and love.  They instill us with hope that in our Father’s time and way, all things will work together for our good, and His promises will be fulfilled.  Finally, they endow us with the power of God to act as His saints in our personal lives, in our families, and in the Church.
The Lord has promised:
8 Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are ahonest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are bwilling to observe their covenants by csacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are daccepted of me.
 9 For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful atree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit.
I share my witness that God lives and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of mankind.  I know that as we receive and honor the covenants of the Lord into our hearts that we are strengthened and sustained through His infinite grace.  We are given power to overcome!  We are truly led to a goodly land of much peace and much fruit.  I feel to acknowledge and express gratitude to my Heavenly Father for my own personal taste of that goodly land, which he has so generously granted us.  I am amazed at His love and at His goodness.  May we always be working toward and thereby find ourselves in that goodly land prepared for those who honor covenants, that we may be among those of whom it is said:
14  These are they which came aout of great btribulation, and have cwashed their robes, and made them dwhite in the eblood of the fLamb.
 15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his atemple: and he that bsitteth on the throne shall cdwell among them.
 16 They shall hunger no more, neither athirst any more…
 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of awaters: and God shall wipe away all btears from their eyes.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.