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Brothers and sisters, it is an honor and a privilege to address you this afternoon, and as I do so, I feel a great sense of responsibility. I have sought the Lord in prayer to know what I might say and hope that you came today with a prayer in your hearts that we all might be edified together (Doctrine & Covenants 50:22) and taught by the Holy Ghost.
On a warm Northern California summer afternoon several years ago, my wife and I were on our way to speak at a youth conference when we had a most interesting experience. With the day being warm and the drive being long, we decided to stop for gas and something to drink. Walking into the convenience store to pay for our purchases, we noticed two well-dressed women talking to the store clerk. They were clearly upset and were asking for driving directions — something a man, of course, would never do! We learned they were late for a wedding, and at this point, had no idea how to get to their desired location. They had a map, and they were showing it to the clerk. He clearly did not know how to help them, and the women were obviously frustrated at not getting the information they were looking for. I decided to offer my help. I took one look at their map and immediately knew what the problem was. The map had been drawn upside down, with “south” at the top and “north” at the bottom. Let me describe just how lost they were. I will use cities you might be a bit more familiar with. Assume they had left from Rexburg, with Pocatello as their desired destination. They finally stopped to ask for directions when they saw a sign that read, “Welcome to the City of West Yellowstone.” After turning the map right-side up, pointing them in the correct direction and getting them back on the freeway, our hope has continued to be that they finally got to the wedding. We have also wondered how many other people, using the same map, are still driving around the freeways of Northern California looking for the same wedding!
I have reflected on this experience many times and the predicament these women found themselves in. They followed the directions they had been given with exactness. I assume they had observed posted speed limits. They carefully avoided accidents, and anxiously read the exit signs desperately hoping to find something familiar. But, in the end, they were hopelessly lost. Had they not stopped to get true and correct directions, they never would have arrived at their intended destination.
Clearly, in the confusing and turbulent world we live in today, sure and true directions are essential in our journey through life if we are to arrive at our desired destination. As we read and ponder the scriptures; as we listen to the words of living prophets in General Conference; as we read their words in the Ensign and Church News; as General Authorities, university leaders, and others teach us on this campus; as we are taught by our priesthood leaders; and most important when we am taught by the Holy Ghost, we are reminded that a loving Father in Heaven provides for each of us clear, sure, and true directions. He has given us a map that, when followed with faith and obedient exactness, will lead us back to His presence to live with him, his Son, and our families for all eternity. Through the miracle of technology, never before in the history of mankind has so much of the word of the Lord been so readily available to so many. It is a marvelous blessing I hope each of us will recognize and cherish as a gift from God.
Faithful saints of all ages, who have been blessed with the presence of living prophets, have been anxious to listen and hearken to them, and undoubtedly gathered as they were invited to be taught by them and to feel the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the truth of their words.
One such gathering must have been in response to king Benjamin’s invitation to the people of Zarahemla as he desired to teach them before he went “the way of all the earth” (Mosiah 1:9). You will recall he commissioned his son Mosiah, who would become their king, to make a proclamation throughout all the land that the people should gather to hear his final prophetic words. Mosiah did as directed and proclaimed king Benjamin’s request that the people might gather themselves to the temple so he could speak to them.
Can you imagine the excitement that must have spread throughout the land? It might have been much like the excitement we feel as we gather on Temple Square and around the Conference Center for General Conference. The kingdom would be conferred on one of king Benjamin’s sons. Surely, they gathered to pay tribute to a king who had loved them, taught them, worked with and for them, and had “[spent his] days in [their] service” (Mosiah 2: 12). The people came in countless numbers — parents, children, and grandchildren — with “the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses” (Mosiah 2:3).
Two verses in the second chapter of Mosiah have particularly caught my attention as I have tried to imagine this scene.
“And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple, they pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, consisting of his wife, and his sons, and his daughters, and their sons, and their daughters, from the eldest down to the youngest … And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the doors thereof towards the temple” (Mosiah 2:5-6, italics added).
I have likewise contrasted this scene with one from the Old Testament describing the decision made by Lot, the nephew of Abram. Given the opportunity to decide where he would settle, Lot chose “all the plain of Jordan” (Genesis 13:11), while Abram then settled in the land of Canaan. We read that Lot “dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Genesis 13:12, italics added).
I believe these contrasting images — one multitude of faithful saints turning their tents toward the temple and their prophet king versus a man turning to everything worldly and wicked—merit some reflection on our part to determine the direction our own tents are facing.
We have been reminded on numerous occasions of the unique and singular opportunity each person has at this time on this campus, to witness the building of a temple, a house of the Lord. Its building is a literal fulfillment of prophecy. I do not know that ever again in my lifetime will I have the opportunity to be so close to observe the building of something so sacred. From our backyard and kitchen window we can see the temple spire and the Angel Moroni. The temple is visible for miles in all directions. Once the temple is dedicated, each of us will be but minutes from a building dedicated as a house of the Lord. Surely, this is the opportunity of a lifetime for each of us to “turn our tents towards the temple” and our backs to worldliness. Lance Fry, a former BYU–Idaho student, created an image of this concept, which looks like this.
In his first General Conference address following his sustaining as President of the Church, President Howard W. Hunter said, “I invite the Latter-day Saints to look to the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of your membership. It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple. It would please the Lord if every adult member would be worthy of, and carry , a current temple recommend. The things that we must do and not do to be worthy of a temple recommend are the very things that ensure we will be happy as individuals and families.”1
While I am certain there are many more, I would like to suggest five ways that the temple can be a “great symbol” of our membership.
First, the temple is a symbol of Heavenly Father’s love for his children, and a symbol of our love for Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
David, as recorded in Psalms said, “I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy loving kindness and for thy truth” (Psalms 138:2).
As we participate in the temple endowment, God grants to each of us a great gift of spiritual knowledge. President Brigham Young gave this definition of the endowment: “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.”2
While President Young made reference to a future event, there is great strength to be had in the present as we make and keep sacred temple covenants. Temple covenants qualify, edify, purify, and protect. They qualify us as explained by President Young. We are edified as we are taught sacred truths. We are purified as we strive to keep the covenants we have made. And finally, they serve as a protection from evil. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained in the October 2006 Ensign that “The power of your covenants is greater than the power of temptation.”3
Saints of God, and in particular the early saints in these latter days, have sacrificed to build temples in obedience to His commandments and as a gift to Him and His Son. Accounts abound of the sacrifices by many providing the materials, the means, and the labor to design, build, and furnish these magnificent and holy structures.
In the dedicatory prayer of the Sacramento California Temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley said. “We ask that Thou wilt accept it (meaning the temple) as a gift of love for Thee and for Thy Son … Father, this house has been made possible by the tithes and offerings of Thy people throughout the world. Keep Thine ancient promise unto them. Open the windows of heaven and shower blessings upon them, such that there will not be room to contain them. Bless them for their faithfulness.”4
Has it ever occurred to you that as you faithfully pay your tithes and offerings, you do so as a gift of love to God and the Savior? And that you are literally contributing to the building of temples around the world? Surely the Lord will bless the faithful saints who willingly and faithfully pay their tithing — even and especially when it requires great sacrifice.
Second, the temple is a symbol of learning.
In the temple, great teaching takes place. We learn of the divine plan of salvation. We learn of the completeness of God’s plan for His children. We learn of the central role of the Lord Jesus Christ in our eternal destiny. We come to understand that by attending the temple worthily and regularly our lives will be filled with light, knowledge, and truth. The temple is a house of revelation. Often we may go weighed down by life’s challenges and struggles. In the temple, there is peace. In the quiet reverence of temple worship, God can give us answers to our prayers and speak peace to our souls. I have felt this peace on many occasions and bear witness that in the temple we can feel of the Lord’s love and mercy in rich abundance.
We also must understand the vital importance of personal spiritual preparation. In his book, “The Holy Temple,” President Boyd K. Packer teaches, “What we gain from the temple will depend to a large degree on what we take to the temple in the way of humility and reverence and a desire to learn. If we are teachable, we will be taught by the Spirit in the temple.… The temple itself becomes a symbol. If you have seen one of the temples at night, fully lighted, you know what an impressive sight that can be. The house of the Lord, bathed in light, standing out in the darkness, becomes symbolic of the power and the inspiration of the gospel of Jesus Christ standing as a beacon in a world that sinks ever further into spiritual darkness.”5
Third, the temple symbolizes the most sacred, eternal and exalting covenants we may make in mortality.
President Hinckley has said, “These unique and wonderful buildings, and the ordinances administered therein, represent the ultimate in our worship. These ordinances become the most profound expressions of our theology. I urge our people everywhere, with all of the persuasiveness of which I am capable, to live worthy to hold a temple recommend, secure one and reguard it as a precious asset, and to make a greater effort to go to the house of the Lord and partake of the Spirit and the blessings to be had therein.”6
In the temple, we view our lives through the infinite and limitless lenses of eternity. It is the connection between heaven and earth. In the temple, we become candidates for exaltation as we participate in the endowment and sealing ordinances. It is there that the crowning blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are pronounced upon us. It is only in the temple where eternal family units can be and are created and we know that “…the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”7
Now, brothers and sisters, please listen to this next statement made by President Boyd K. Packer. “The very purpose for the Restoration centers on the sealing authority, the temple ordinances, baptism for the dead, eternal marriage, eternal increase — centers on the family!”8
Given what President Packer has taught and the doctrine contained in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, is it any wonder why Satan is attacking marriage and the family at every turn? We know that marriage is ordained of God. Satan will never have a marriage of his own, so he would do everything in his power to create roadblocks, obstacles, and attitudes that would dissuade young Latter-day Saints from anxiously pursuing the good cause of marriage. He seeks to destroy traditional marriage through ill-inspired legislation and social activism. He makes it fashionable to “come out” as homosexual couples. We know that “children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalms 127:3). The Adversary will never have the privilege of being a father and experiencing the supernal joy that comes from parenthood. How does he react? He teaches that children are a bother, that career matters more than building the character of a young child. He would have people believe that day care providers can nurture a child just as well as a loving mother. He teaches that same-sex couples can raise children just as successfully as homes where there is a mother and a father who “honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”9
I was raised in a part-member family, born to a faithful Latter-day Saint mother and a supporting and loving but not-baptized-in-this-life father. What I longed for the most growing up was to have a father that could baptize me, ordain me to priesthood offices, give me priesthood blessings, and parents to be with me in the temple when I was endowed and married. Neither of my parents was with me on those days, and even though my mother waited outside the temple for her only child’s wedding, she would have had it no other way. Many of you may have been born in to faithful Latter-day Saint families. Others may have been raised in families similar to mine. Still others of you may be the only members of the Church in your family. What I determined as I contemplated the family I would have someday is that I would settle for nothing less than a temple marriage, that I would have an eternal companion from the very first second of my married life. How blessed I have been because of that decision. My wife, Alynda, is my best friend. I cannot imagine life without her, our children, and grandchildren in this life or in the life to come. As parents, we are grateful for the eternal marriages of each of our children. If temple blessings have not yet been a part of your life, you can begin to have them with the covenants you will make as you establish your own families.
How blessed we are to have living prophets to teach us the truth — watchmen on the tower who teach that the great plan of happiness allows us to qualify to one day be exalted with our families for all eternity as we faithfully keep the covenants we make in temples. It is only in the temple where these ordinances can be received and these covenants made; thus, participating in them and making them becomes vitally important. Our ability to enter one day into the presence of God is forever linked to these covenants, ordinances, and worthy living so the Holy Spirit of Promise can seal them upon us.
President Hinckley has also noted a comment made by Brigham Young that if young people really understood the blessings of temple marriage, they would walk all the way to England if that were necessary.10 President Hinckley went on to note that he hoped our people would not have to go that far.
As I neared the end of my missionary service in the Guatemala-El Salvador Mission, my last area was in Santa Ana, El Salvador. The branch where I was serving was presided over by a humble and faithful man who was a tailor by trade. He and his wife earned a living by making dresses, pants, and suits. They spent their days using foot-powered, pedal sewing machines. Electric sewing machines were just too expensive – and I assure you when I was a missionary it was well after the discovery of electricity!
At the time, the closest temple was in Mesa, Arizona, and each year the mission organized a bus trip so members could come to the temple. Anticipating this was to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, they came at great personal sacrifice. It would take years for them to save enough to make the trip. They traveled by bus day and night for five or six days to arrive in Mesa. They would spend four or five days in the temple, working day and night, doing as much temple work as they could. Then they would get back on the bus for five or six more days back to their homes.
One day, we were visiting with the branch president. He told us he had nearly enough to bring his wife and small family — it seems to me he had three or four children — to the temple on the upcoming trip. He said, “I am very close to having all the money I need for the trip, and I will sell my sewing machines, if necessary, to have enough.” I said, “President, if you sell your sewing machines, you’ll have no way to earn a living when you return. What will you do?” With faith and a smile, he said, “I will gladly sell my sewing machines, and then I will find other ways to support my family when we return. I know the Lord will bless us if we make the sacrifice.”
I concluded my mission about two weeks before the annual temple trip. I traveled to Mesa and stayed with a friend from the mission. We were at a multi-stake center near the temple when these wonderful saints from Central America arrived. One by one, we greeted them as they got off the bus. Finally, we saw this humble branch president, a smile filling his face, step off the bus with his wife and his children. He had saved enough because he had sold every one of his sewing machines to make the trip. Truly, this was a family who understood the importance of temple blessings and had their tent turned toward the temple.
Fourth, the temple is a symbol of service.
I would imagine that on more than one occasion you have spoken the words, “I can’t wait.” It may have been, “I can’t wait until I can drive.” “I can’t wait until I can date.” “I can’t wait to go on my mission.” “I can’t wait to start college.” “I can’t wait to graduate.” Or it may even have been, “I just can’t wait until Brother Kusch is finished with this devotional address!” But, how you would feel if you had to wait 100, 200, or even 300 years for this to happen?
I believe there are many millions on the other side of the veil who also may very well be saying, “I can’t wait.” “I can’t wait until someone is baptized for me.” “I can’t wait until someone is endowed for me.” “We can’t wait until faithful Saints kneel at an altar and are sealed for us.” Often, as I go to the temple, I am doing work for someone who was born or died 200 or 300 years ago. That is a very long time to wait for something so vital and important. Truly the eyes of heaven are upon us, waiting for our redeeming efforts.
As with all of the saving ordinances of the gospel, we only receive them for ourselves once. After that, each time we participate in those ordinances we do so in the temple, providing them and making covenants on behalf of people who cannot do it for themselves. They are dependent on us. It is godly service. It is Christ-emulating service. It is an example of king Benjamin’s teaching that “…when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17).
The Prophet Joseph Smith described our efforts with temple and family history work as being “saviors on Mount Zion,” referencing the phrase from Obadiah in the Old Testament (Obadiah 1:21). He further taught as he expounded on Malachi’s teachings in the fourth chapter of Malachi, “The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion. But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead.”11
Every one of us can be involved in temple work as saviors on Mount Zion by performing family history research and by going to the temple to act as proxy for those now dead. There may be some of you who have been called to serve in your stakes as family record extractors. You are performing a valuable, though not highly visible service. Please remember what happens with these names. You are preparing them for temple ordinances. When you spend time in this worthy calling, you are acting as a savior on Mount Zion.
Fifth, the temple is a symbol of purity.
When a temple is dedicated, it literally becomes the house of the Lord. A recommend is required for entrance, granted after a searching interview. The standard of worthiness is high, given by the Lord. After all, it is His house we are entering. As Elder Henry B. Eyring taught, those who enter in, “have to be pure enough to go where the Lord himself can go.”12
In the temple, we dress in white clothing to symbolize the purity and worthiness that must be a part of our lives. There we are all the same, regardless of position, social status, or wealth. The temple represents everything “virtuous, lovely, [and] of good report, [and] praiseworthy” (Articles of Faith, verse 13). But even more, it represents everything godly, everything perfect, everything exalted, and everything celestial. There are no places on Earth more pure, more perfect, or more holy than the temples that have been built and dedicated as houses of the Lord. Each temple bears the inscription, “Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord.” Surely, our lives must reflect that same purity and holiness.
Now, how do we turn our tents toward the temple and all that it symbolizes? And what does that really mean? We cannot be facing two directions at once. So, as we turn toward the temple, we turn our backs to worldliness. We might think of it as daily repentance. We read in the Bible Dictionary that “repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined” (Bible Dictionary, page 760). The scriptures are filled with invitations to turn and come unto Christ, to put off the natural man, and become saints through yielding our hearts to his will (Mosiah 3:19).
My suggestions as to how we might do this are not unique, new, or even clever. They are so simple and oft repeated that you may dismiss them. But it is my witness and my testimony that, when applied, these principles will, indeed, help us in our progress toward becoming, “[saints] through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).
So, my final list of suggestions:
First, sincere and humble daily prayer. It was the prayer of a young boy in 1820 that unlocked the heavens and began the marvelous events of the Restoration that we are privileged to enjoy today. We are commanded to “[do] all things with prayer and thanksgiving” (Doctrine & Covenants 46:7), to, “counsel with the Lord in all [our] doings” (Alma 37:37), to “pray always, that [we] may come off conqueror[s]” (Doctrine & Covenants 10:5), and that if we are humble the Lord “shall lead [us] by the hand, and give [us] answer to [our] prayers” (Doctrine & Covenants 112:10). In the very same way heaven opened to Joseph Smith, it can be so for us today. It will likely not be through the type of experience Joseph had in the sacred grove, but it will be personal and specific to our individual needs, of that I am certain.
Second, sincere and daily study of the scriptures. Feasting upon the words of Christ, likening the scriptures unto ourselves, and studying and applying the principles and doctrines found in the scriptures are vital in our efforts to have our hearts and natures changed on our journey toward greater discipleship. Here are a few things I have found particularly helpful in my own scripture study. Every week, I read and prepare the weekly Sunday School lesson. I find that when I make the designated curriculum of the Church a part of my regular scripture study I have been blessed beyond measure in the things the Holy Ghost has taught me. I keep a scripture journal where I write down the important lessons I am learning, and the impressions I receive as I study—impressions of things I need to be doing that often may not have any relationship to what I am studying. Now, you may be saying, “Brother Kusch, I don’t really have time to study the scriptures in great depth. I have homework, I work, I need to exercise, and what about my social life?” I would just say this: If you will demonstrate your desire for greater discipleship by making a free will offering of your time to learn spiritual things, you will be blessed and your schoolwork will not suffer. It is entirely possible that you may not have all the time you might like to study the scriptures. It might only be ten or fifteen minutes on any given day. Begin your study with a brief prayer and explain your situation. “Heavenly Father, I only have fifteen minutes to study today, but please allow the Holy Ghost to teach me something.” I am confident that if your desires are sincere, you will be taught, even if a few short minutes are all you have. I bear witness of that based on my own personal experience.
Third, find ways to serve. Be the very best you can be in your Church assignments. You will recall that President Clark admonished us to do just that in his devotional remarks this semester. Many of you will not have major callings in your wards that are overly demanding and time-consuming. Look for other ways to bless and lift those around you. Pray that the Lord may show you opportunities, and most important—when he does, act upon them right away.
Fourth, be obedient without rebellion. Great blessings are promised the faithful Saints. As we yield our hearts to God and offer our whole souls as an offering, we qualify to receive the sanctifying and purifying blessings of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If you have already made temple covenants, be diligent and faithful in keeping them without compromise. If you have not yet made them, become a person preparing to make them by strictly obeying the covenants you have made. Realize, too, that those who truly understand the purpose of the Honor Code will see it is to help us obey the higher law, and that it is a preparatory and refining step for making more sacred covenants in the House of the Lord. How can we qualify to make exalting temple covenants when we chafe at the simple things we are asked to do?
Finally, let’s take the garbage out of our lives. Let’s have the courage and the faith to stop participating in things that harm us spiritually and that cause the Spirit to withdraw. To successfully navigate life’s turbulent waters, we need the inspiration, guidance, and personal revelation only available through the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Recall what Elder David A. Bednar taught in the April 2006 General Conference: “The standard is clear. If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing.”
We are a people of faith, living in a mostly faithless world. The Lord is counting on us to be everything we have promised we will be. We know what we should do. I pray that we might possess the integrity and the desire to do it.
I express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the rich blessings of the gospel. I am grateful for the unique experience of witnessing the building of a temple. I am anxious for the spirit it will bring to this community and into our lives. I am humbled to know it is a place the Savior Himself may visit. I am grateful for all the temple symbolizes, for the eternal covenants that bind me to Deity, to my parents, my wife, my children, and my posterity. I encourage each of you to live worthy of and carry a temple recommend and never be without one, no matter how close to or how far from a temple you may be.
Even though she knew she would never be able to use it, I will never forget the experience of interviewing a young mother for a temple recommend just days before she died. She had terminal cancer, but was determined to leave mortality worthy of and with a valid temple recommend. Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Presidency of the Seventy counseled us in our recent stake conference that the temple needs to become a larger part of our lives. I pray that it may be so as we indeed turn our tents toward the temple — not only as we prepare for the dedication of the Rexburg Temple, but throughout our lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1Howard W. Hunter, "‘Exceeding Great and Precious Promises'," Ensign, Nov 1994, 7
2Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941), 416
3Jeffrey R. Holland, "What I Wish Every New Member Knew-and Every Longtime Member Remembered," Ensign, Oct 2006, 10-16
4Church News, week ending Sept. 9, 2006
5The Holy Temple, 42
6Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1995, 51
7The Family: A Proclamation to the World
8One Pure Defense, An Evening with President Boyd K. Packer, Feb. 6, 2004 9The Family: A Proclamation to the World 10Ibid and Journal of Discourses, 11:118 11Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, 330