Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sunday Preview

NOTE: Here, a preview of the boring talk I'm going to give on Sunday. B ring your pillows, please. You'll need them.

Dad came into the church late in life, though he’d been a member for quite a while. He was born in Holland in 1928 and, as a young man, witnessed some of the horror of World War II in the little city of Santpoort, a distant suburb of Amsterdam. He, his parents, and his older brother emigrated to the United States in 1950 and made their way to Idaho where his parents farmed and he and his brother worked in construction. He met my mother at a Knights of Columbus dance.

Her story starts in the village of Pilley Green, England, where a great-great grandmother left her family, converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and emigrated to the United States following the call to the saints to gather in Zion. Her family disowned her, but she went on faithful in the gospel. She settled in Utah, married, raised a family.

Mom was always strong in the gospel, serving, as I recall, alternately as either primary president or Relief Society president as long as I can remember. Dad went to church as well, but always had questions.

They married in 1955, but it wasn’t until 1980 that they were sealed in the Idaho Falls temple. I was then eight years old and remember sitting in some room in the temple with my siblings, waiting it seemed forever for Mom and Dad to finish whatever it was they were doing – they were taking out their endowments – so we could get on with the rest of the event.

While we were waiting, the attendants has we younger three kids work on a little art project. I still have mine. For those of you who can’t see it, it’s a pair of scissors made of paper, held onto another piece of paper with a brad. On the paper is written in part the following:

“Marriage resembles a pair of shears so joined that they cannot be separated. Often moving in opposite directions, yet always punishing anyone who comes between them.”

I’m sure at the time I had no idea what any of this meant. But now, older, hopefully wiser, I see the wonderful promise that this simple inscription holds.

“Joseph Smith the seer revealed the eternity of the marriage covenant,” says President David O. McKay. Temple marriage is “a doctrine so beautiful,” he goes on to say, “so logical, so far-reaching in its significance that if it were adopted in its entirety, many of the present evils of society might be abolished.” I look back at my parents’ relationship and try to see in them this significance.

Like the pieces of a pair of scissors, Mom and Dad did often move in opposite directions. Once they were discussing a gospel topic over the fence with a neighbor. Dad said something snotty about the topic at hand. Mom and the neighbor lady took their Books of Mormon and started whapping him on the head with them until he shouted “I believe! I believe!” That’s just Dad being Dad.

Michelle will tell you I’ve inherited a bit of his odd sense of humor. But another thing I’ve inherited, as I look on their relationship and on the relationship that I have with my wife and children, is that above all else, we are family.

We sing in the church:

I have a family here on earth
They are so good to me
I want to share my life with them through all eternity
Families can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father’s plan
I always want to be with my own family
And the Lord has shown me how I can
The Lord has shown me how I can.

I remember singing this song with gusto as a child, watching my mother direct the music in Primary. I remember singing the words loudly, trying as Primary kids do to out-sing or out-shout the kid next to me.

These days I can hardly make it through the song without the Holy Ghost whispering to me, “Brian, this is more than a song, you know.”

I guess this prompting, and the prompting I felt as a child to keep this little art keepsake, are part of my journey of “coming to myself,” as we read in the scriptures.

“The Savior told his disciples about a son who left his wealthy father,” Elder Robert D. Hales told us at conference last month. This son “went to a far country, and waste his inheritance. When a famine arose, the young man took the lowly job of feeding swine.”

“Away from home, far from the place he wanted to be, and in his destitute condition, something of eternal significance happened in the life of this young man. In the Savior’s words, he ‘came to himself.’ He remembered who we was, realized what he had been missing, and began to desire the blessings freely available in his father’s house.”

We are all prodigal sons and daughters of God, gone to a far country, far away from the place we want to be.

Dad grew into this knowledge late in his life. I remember as a child some Sunday mornings being very reluctant to go to church because there were more interesting things to do. “Hey, boy,” Dad would say with his Dutch accent, “Jesus wants you to go to church.”

Of course he does, Dad, I probably thought to myself then. That’s what parents always say. You have to say that, Dad. I say it myself nearly every Sunday. I am my father’s son.

But fifteen or so years ago, Dad said something else about going to church, about going to the temple. “These are the only places where Satan can’t get you,” he said. He said this during a rather tumultuous period in our lives, with some children going astray and with health problems beginning to plague him.

We are all gone to a far country, far away from the place we want to be. We’re told in the scriptures that when we were told of the plan of salvation, we shouted for joy at the opportunity to progress, to become as our Father in Heaven is. That shout of joy should be our reminder, as prodigal sons and daughters, as to what is missing.

There is another shout of joy spoken of in the scriptures. Joseph F. Smith, writing in Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants mentions this shout of joy:

“The eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.

“And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality.

“And who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name.

“All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

“I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.

“They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.”

More prodigals, gone to a far country. Looking with joy for ways to go home. I feel peace in the temple. I feel a sampling of the joy we all felt when we learned we were to come to earth to obtain a body, to learn, to grow, and, ultimately, to return to our Father in Heaven. These are good reasons to go to the temple.

Elder Hales reminds us of others. He said: “As endowed temple recommend holders, we establish patterns of Christlike living. These include obedience, making sacrifices to keep the commandments, loving one another, being chaste in thought and action, and giving of ourselves to build the kingdom of God. Through the Savior’s atonement and by following these basic patterns of faithfulness, we receive ‘power from on high’ to face the challenges of life. It is power we receive only through temple ordinances. I testify that the sacrifices we make to receive temple ordinances are worth every effort we can make.”

I think this is what Dad was telling us when he said church and the temple are places where Satan can’t get us. A few years before he died, Dad asked his four sons to go to the temple with him. We obliged. I recall standing together in the celestial room of the Idaho Falls temple, underneath that shimmering chandelier, looking at my father and three brothers, dressed in white. I had a glimpse, momentarily, of Lehi seeking his family as he stood at the base of the tree which bore the fruit that made him happy. We’re here, Dad, I remember thinking. We’re here.

We found the way along that strait and narrow path, through the mists of darkness, through the mocking of those in the great and spacious building. We’re here.

I think the same thing when I see my beautiful wife in the temple, knowing we are there together. Soon, I will experience the joy of seeing my own boys, my own daughter, also dressed in white, also standing beneath that chandelier in the temple, and I will catch another glimpse of the eternity to come.

Obviously, we still have journeys to make. “We may deceive men but we cannot deceive the Holy Ghost,” said Elder Melvin J. Ballard, “and our blessings will not be eternal unless they are also sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. The Holy Ghost is one who reads the thoughts and hearts of men, and gives his sealing approval to the blessings pronounced upon their heads.”

President Henry B. Eyring suggests four things we can do to seal these temple blessings as ours, and as our families’. First, he advises that we gain a testimony that the keys of the priesthood are held by the president of the church. Second, he says it is “imperative” that we love our wives. Third, he says we must “enlist the entire family to love each other.” Finally, fourth, is to lead our families in the Lord’s way.

Is that easy? Perhaps not. But it is not outside our ability. “Worthiness to hold a temple recommend gives us the strength to keep our temple covenants,” Elder Hales said. “We strive to obtain a testimony of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the reality of the Atonement, and the truthfulness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration. We sustain our leaders, treat our families with kindness, stand as a witness of the Lord’s true Church, attend our Church meetings, honor our covenants, fulfill parental obligations, and live a virtuous life. You may say that sounds like just being a faithful Latter-day Saint! You are right. The standard for temple recommend holders is not too high for us to achieve. It is simply to faithfully live the gospel and follow the prophets.”

Growing up, I know my family had times when the love was strained and forced, when nerves frayed, when the childish thoughts of packing a few sandwiches and a few pairs of socks and underwear into a hobo bag and “running away” sure sounded tempting. And now that I have a family of my own, I see the same things, the same difficulties. But I also remember instances of selfless service and sacrifice, of prayers said behind closed doors answered in the broad daylight, of love, fun, laughter, joy, and happiness. I see such instances in my own family, and my burdens are lifted and my heart lightened because I know that Jesus Christ loves us all and wishes us to rejoin he and his father in his father’s kingdom when all is said and done. And I remember the times my family served in the temple as the crowning jewels of childhood and adulthood.

Yes, I have a family here on earth
They are so good to me
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.

I stand here as a witness that temple service strengthens families. Children may learn when they are young by the example of their parents who attend the temple that the temple is more than just a building to be pointed out while traveling. Soon our son Liam will be able to participate in baptisms for the dead and will have a glimpse of the anticipatory joy President Smith writes of in the Doctrine and Covenants. Parents may learn that despite the struggles we may go through to make regular temple attendance part of our lives – and I stand here as a witness to this struggle – that blessings will come in the form of power from on high as we serve in the temple. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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