My usual pattern is to study everything I can on the assigned topic, think and pray about it, create an outline with some of the doctrines that I want to include along with scriptural references and statements from the Brethren, then I write everything out. After that I spend substantial time reading and rereading the talk. Once I get up to give the talk, I may refer to the talk but usually I have become familiar enough with the material that I am not absolutely reliant on my written talk. Of course, I still use it but my dependence is lessened.
August 21, 2011
Matthew B. Christensen
Provo Peak 2nd Ward, High Council Speaking Assignment, Provo East Stake
I bring with me the love and greetings of the Stake Presidency. I have worked with them for several years in various capacities and have always been impressed with the depth of affection and concern each of them possess for each of us. I know it is made possible in part because of the lives they live and in a larger measure because of the priesthood keys President Christiansen carries in righteousness.
As you know, the Stake theme for this year is based around 2 Nephi 31:20. “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” My assignment from the Stake Presidency is to focus on the monthly sub-theme for August: “making and keeping Temple covenants.”
I have always found it instructive to note that the word “religion” has its roots in two words, RE and LIG. The LIG is the same root that gives us the word ligament. Of course a ligament is what attaches or binds or connects bones to bones. And so, using that idea, RE-LIGION is a way that re-attaches or binds or reconnects us to God. And nowhere does that happen with more validity and power than in the making and keeping of sacred Temple covenants.
God our Father has required us to enter into covenants, while other religions and the world asks us to make commitments. Covenants have the force of heaven, commitments are authored by man. Covenants are scriptural, while the word commitment does not find place in the scriptures or ordinances. For example, for many decades there has been a movement in the United States that asked its adherents to “make a commitment for Christ.” I believe these people are honest and devoted to what they believe. However, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is not a commitment that we are asked to make. Rather, God has required that we make a covenant. It is a covenant relationship with our Redeemer and His Father that will save us, not a manufactured commitment.
Covenants are an evidence of the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel. In fact, from the various accounts of the First Vision we learn that the Lord told Joseph Smith that “I must join none of [the churches], for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt because all of them were mistaken in their doctrine and not recognized by God as his church and kingdom [because] the Everlasting Covenant was broken.” (Christensen, “Music Ringing,” emphasis mine, p. 14.)
And then in a process to correct that “brokenness,” those “everlasting covenants,” were restored to the earth by Joseph Smith. I testify that on that early spring morning in 1820, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. It was real and it really happened. The more I testify of its reality the more it becomes a part of who I am and informs how I approach the restored gospel and the world.
The Lord’s People Are a Covenant People
We are the Lord’s people. His people have always been a covenant people. Of course, in order to become His people, we must first enter into a covenant.
The Lord desires that we go to the Temple and enter into sacred covenants through the ordinances there. The Lord told Joseph Smith, “Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.” (D&C 84:2, emphasis mine.) Or in other words, the Lord says that one of the reasons for the restoration of the gospel in the last days was to bring people to the Temple to make covenants with God. It is as simple and as important as that!
Covenants and Blessings of the Temple
It is no accident that salvific covenants are always associated with the ordinances of salvation. Indeed, the only way to enter into a covenant is through a saving ordinance. In the Bible Dictionary we are taught, “God in his good pleasure fixes the terms [of the covenant], which man accepts.” With that knowledge, coupled with the realization that ordinances and covenants are related, there is no reason for us to manufacture our own covenants in an attempt to bind God to them (or us). Indeed, I cannot imagine a covenant and its associated blessings that is not already encompassed in the covenants God has proscribed.
President Gordon B. Hinckley once taught: “If our people could only learn to live by these [baptismal and temple] covenants, everything else would take care of itself, I am satisfied. We would not have to worry about sacrament meeting attendance. We would not have to worry about willingness to serve missions. We would not have to worry about divorce and the many requests for cancellation of temple sealings. We would not have to worry about any of those things.” (Meeting with General Authorities and Wives, April 10, 1996.)
Remember, President Hinckley said these things would not be a worry if we as Latter-day Saints could learn to live our covenants. That is a “bold saying” as the scriptures would tell it. (D&C 128:9.)
While I served as the bishop of the 5th ward, I would have the opportunity to counsel with members. I was able to see first-hand the blessings that came from making and keeping Temple covenants as well as the devastation that followed the breaking of the same covenants.
On one occasion a couple came in and taught me something that I have never forgotten. I had been bishop for about two years. Usually, the member making the confession would come in alone and then, if married and appropriate, I would encourage that the spouse come in the next time. But on this occasion, the husband and wife came in together in the first place. I eventually asked why she came in with her husband—she was of course welcome, I was just not used to it—and her response was profound and sincere, “I made covenants in the Temple with my husband and God. We are in this together. How can I hope that he would help me keep my covenants if I am not willing to help him keep his? I love him and our covenants. They will keep us together.”
I know that because of her willingness to live her covenants, she was able to assist him in the process of applying the atoning blood of Christ in his life and overcome his sin and fully repent. As President Howard W. Hunter taught, “Whatever Jesus lays His hands upon lives. If Jesus lays His hands upon a marriage, it lives. If He is allowed to lay His hands on the family, it lives.” (1979 General Conference.) I believe that one of the most profound ways Jesus can “lay his hands” on us is through the making and keeping of Temple covenants.
An important exercise might be to consider the covenants entered into and their direct relationship with the blessings that will eventually be obtained. For example:
- As we keep the Law of Obedience there is the promise of a Messiah and forgiveness of our sins.
- As we keep the Law of Sacrifice and give everything up, we will one day receive everything and become omnipotent.
- As we keep the Law of Chastity we are promised one day to have eternal increase of seed and posterity, becoming omnipresent.
- And finally as we keep the Law of Consecration and dedicate all that we are and have to the Kingdom of God and its cause, we will one day have the Father of us all dedicate all that He has to us.
Wlder Bruce R. McConkie has taught: “With reference to temples, it would be a good thing to have a good perspective, which is this: temples are for the living. Now we think that temples are for the dead… but primarily temples are for the living. Temples are so that I can get married for eternity, and my children can get married for eternity. That’s what temples were for from Adam to Christ. There was no work for the dead [during that time]. The thing that’s wonderful about a temple to me is first: that it’s for me. That’s where my interests lie. It’s second that it’s for my dead ancestors. [We would] build temples if we couldn't find a single name anywhere to do work for, because you’ve got to have temples for the living.” (A Man Raised Up: The Teachings of Bruce R. McConkie, 10:362, emphasis in original transcription.)
We often talk about “being born in the covenant,” but rarely talk about what that means. To explain this, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught there were three blessings associated with being “born in the covenant”:
“It may be asked, what is the advantage coming to those born under the covenant? Being heirs they have claims upon the blessings of the gospel beyond what those not so born are entitled to receive.  They may receive a greater guidance,  a greater protection,  a greater inspiration from the Spirit of the Lord.” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:90.)
It is a magnificent blessing that in the Temple when parents are sealed to their children, they are promised everything “as if they had been born under the covenant.”
How We Keep Covenants
There is safety in the covenants of the Temple. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “If we will keep our covenants, the covenants will keep us spiritually safe” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 71). When I was serving as the bishop of my ward, I cannot think of a single instance when a confession of sin was not associated with the breaking of a covenant. On the other hand, some of the greatest joys and happiness’s I ever experienced during those seven years was witnessing the manner in which members prepared for, made, and kept sacred Temple covenants.
We are also expected to keep covenants when it comes to callings in the Church. We keep them by sustaining our brothers and sisters as well as accepting them from our leaders.
[IF TIME PERMITS (it did not): President Boyd K. Packer has shared the following story on a couple of occasions:
“Several years ago I installed a stake president in England. In another calling, he is here in the audience today. He had an unusual sense of direction. He was like a mariner with a sextant who took his bearings from the stars. I met with him each time he came to conference and was impressed that he kept himself and his stake on course.
“Fortunately for me, when it was time for his release, I was assigned to reorganize the stake. It was then that I discovered what that sextant was and how he adjusted it to check his position and get a bearing for himself and for his members.
“He accepted his release, and said, ‘I was happy to accept the call to serve as stake president, and I am equally happy to accept my release. I did not serve just because I was under call. I served because I am under covenant. And I can keep my covenants quite as well as a home teacher as I can serving as stake president.’
“This president understood the word covenant.
“…He… had learned that exaltation is achieved by keeping covenants, not by holding high position.
“The mariner gets his bearing from light coming from celestial bodies—the sun by day, the stars by night. That stake president did not need a mariner’s sextant to set his course. In his mind there was a sextant infinitely more refined and precise than any mariner’s instrument.
“The spiritual sextant, which each of us has, also functions on the principle of light from celestial sources. Set that sextant in your mind to the word covenant or the word ordinance. The light will come through. Then you can fix your position and set a true course in life.” (“Covenants,” April 1987 General Conference, emphasis in original.)]
I believe that it takes faith to accept a call and sometimes more faith to accept a release. But because we have made covenants that is precisely what is expected of us and is what we do. I have wondered what it means about our understanding of covenants when we refuse or moan about our callings. It would seem that the manner in which we serve in our callings reflects our personal understanding of covenants—particularly those of the Temple.
A Challenge/Charge to Make & Keep Covenants
There is no question that at times it is a challenge to not only keep our covenants but to live them. I feel I am being tested right now. It is nothing too serious but for me it is a test and I hope I pass. One of the things that I believe is involved in my own personalized tutorial from the Lord is to see if I am willing to really keep the covenants I have made. For the last seven years of my life, I asked and helped others keep their covenants; and because of the visible and demanding nature of my previous calling it was been relatively easy for me to keep my covenants.
But now, when no one is looking, when no one is expecting me to keep them because I am not under the same scrutiny, will I do it? Will I keep them? Of course, I will keep the “big” covenants (such as chastity, Word of Wisdom, etc.). But will I keep what I consider to be the highly personalized covenants (meeting attendance in relation to my calling, Temple worship, three-hours at Church, consecration)? I hope so. My hope and prayer is to one day gather my family together and look each of them in the eyes and tell them that I have been true and faithful in keeping my covenants. All of them!
President Howard W. Hunter taught: “Let us truly be a temple-attending and a temple-loving people. We should hasten to the temple as frequently, yet prudently, as our personal circumstances allow. We should go not only for our kindred dead but also for the personal blessing of temple worship, for the sanctity and safety that is within those hallowed and consecrated walls. As we attend the temple, we learn more richly and deeply the purpose of life and the significance of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us make the temple, with temple worship and temple covenants and temple marriage, our ultimate earthly goal and the supreme mortal experience.” (“A Temple-Motivated People,” May 1995 Ensign, emphasis added.)
Because we are a covenant people, and we make covenants together in front of witnesses and angels and even God, we are also a covenant community. It is proper that covenants are personal. However, it also seems right that covenants are a community experience and as such we have an obligation to help our covenant partners and neighbors keep them. This does not mean we break down doors and check to see if people are properly wearing garments. It does not mean that we demean or unrighteously judge someone when they do not appear to be living their covenants. It does not mean that we take advantage of others because they have entered into the same covenants as us. This is not appropriate behavior for members of a covenant community such as ours.
To live in a covenant community means when a couple we love has a marriage that is falling apart and appears to be salvageable, we encourage them to keep their covenants. When a youth we know is struggling we express love and encouragement. When a dear friend is having a hard time with his or her calling, we step in and offer support and help. And finally, if we are aware that someone in our community we made a covenant to comfort, to mourn with, or to strengthen is falling down in any way—we not only offer our assistance but perhaps go to a priesthood key holder and in love, offer our assistance in the loved ones behalf. This is all part of living in a covenant community.
I know of a group of sisters who regularly attend the Temple in a ward in our stake. They invite sisters that perhaps haven’t been to the Temple in a long time, or a sister that is struggling with the Temple itself to attend with them. A wonderful thing has happened, the sisters (both those who organize the weekly outing and the sisters that are invited to attend) have begun to love one another and the Temple to a greater degree and they attend the Temple often together. From my perspective, all of these sisters understand their covenants and know what it is to make and keep them—both individually and collectively in a community.
In the end, when I am asked, “What do you remember when you have forgotten everything about covenants,” I can at least say:
- Covenants are the means by which God places you and me under formal contract that if we keep the covenant, He will exalt us.
- That we “will receive all that the Father hath.” (D&C 84:38.) That nothing will be withheld from us.
- That we will be “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17) and “to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn.” (D&C 107:19.)
- That by being true and faithful to our covenants we may be chosen, called up, and anointed Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses to the Most High God.
That we may all make and keep our Temple covenants is my determined prayer, in the sacred and redeeming name of Jesus Christ, amen.