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Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

May 10, 2011

  

 

"A Covenant Life"

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom

Presidency of the Seventy

Donald L. Hallstrom 

 


 

It is a significant privilege to be in Rexburg. It is one of those communities where I feel something very special—something unique and edifying—each time I come. That feeling is certainly due to having a temple, a House of the Lord, high on a hill as a beacon of righteousness. It is also reflective of the large number of righteous Saints who live here. But it is also in large measure because of you, the remarkable students and faculty of BYU–Idaho.

 

As we travel around the Church, we meet many who are connected to this school. We meet full-time missionaries who attended BYU–Idaho before their mission and will return. We meet current students who are in study programs or internships. We meet graduates who are attending graduate school or who are in their careers. We meet parents of current, prospective and former students. This university, housed in this small community, is immeasurably blessing many lives and indeed is a significant asset to the important work of the Church throughout the world.

 

I have an ongoing and treasured association with your university president, President Kim B. Clark. Ecclesiastically, I work with him as Elder Clark. He serves as an Area Seventy in the Idaho Area, for which I have some responsibility on behalf of the Presidency of the Seventy. Regularly, we communicate about his responsibilities. I observe his spirituality, his wisdom, his devotion, and his care for the leaders and members of the Church. We are blessed to have him, and his dear Sue, as Latter-day Saints, as leaders in the Church, and at the helm of this university.

 

When we gather in a meeting of the Church, like this one, we all have an important duty. Most may assume that I have the greatest responsibility; to give a talk that is informative and interesting, even entertaining. I fully accept my role and have prayerfully prepared; however, I share the success of this meeting with each of you. Some may leave inspired; others not. It really is your choice. You see, the true teacher today is the Holy Spirit. And each of us has access to the inspiration and revelation that can come to us directly, unfiltered by a speaker. All have different needs and circumstances, and the Spirit can effectively communicate with each of us.  Consequently, many different messages may be heard today. That is as it should be.

 

The Doctrine and Covenants states (and this was given by way of commandment) “that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act…upon the points of my law.”1 In the next verse it says “And thus ye shall…be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me.”2 We share the responsibility to instruct and be edified; but, the duty to act is ours, individually. And that is the key! When we participate with the intention to act (to improve), the Spirit has full access to our hearts and minds. “And it shall come to pass, that inasmuch as they…exercise faith in me” (remember faith is a principle of action and of power) “I will pour out my Spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together.”3 That is my hope for this meeting.

 

Today, I wish to speak of a subject of extraordinary importance. It has to do with things that matter most.  In the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read:

“And the greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.”4

In a document produced by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1995, slightly modified in 2009, and now contained within the new Church handbook, it is stated that the purpose of Church leadership is to “encourage every member to receive all essential priesthood ordinances, keep the associated covenants, and qualify for exaltation and eternal life.”5 Another section of the handbook says,

“In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities.  These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.”6

Everything we do, in one way or another, should be supportive to this purpose.

 

If we understand and believe the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the role of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in helping us achieve the glorious plan of God, then our priorities become clearer. However, we must relentlessly study the doctrine and exercise faith in the Savior as we live in a world that can cause us to forget who we really are. In our society, there are prominent voices that say money is of greatest worth, or position is of most value, or pleasure is our primary objective. Subtly or boldly, these voices are all around us and can be influential and effective.

 

But, we are not left in confusion as to what is most important, because (again) “in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”7 Today, I speak of those ordinances, and especially of covenants and of their power to elevate our lives above a merely temporal existence. I speak of these covenants as foundational and essential.

 

Ordinances are sacred ceremonies in which we make covenants. Covenants are commitments, promises we make with God. In order to connect us with heaven, and help us overcome the confusion of the mortal world, ordinances raise our view, providing a vision of the things of eternity. Baptism (in which we are born again, spiritually, and take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ), the confirmation (in which we become a member of the Savior’s Church and receive the incomparable Gift of the Holy Ghost), conferral of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood (whereby we obtain God’s holy power and promise to magnify our calling), the endowment (wherein we are given a gift of divine understanding), and the sealing (under which we are connected to our families in an eternal model); collectively bestow on us what is needed to fulfill God’s plan. The covenants made in these ordinances are part of what the scriptures call “the new and everlasting covenant.”8 The new and everlasting covenant is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It comprises all the covenants that God makes with man. The keeping of these covenants will allow us eternal life—“which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”9

 

Most in this congregation have received some of these ordinances; many of you have received them all. Each of us should earnestly work for all of them. Remember, they are essential for us to accomplish our eternal goal. However, they do not simply comprise a checklist so we can say “Done!” Covenants make the ordinances forever relevant in our lives.

 

With all respect to the beautiful facilities of this university, the supreme jewel of this community is the temple, because this is the place where the highest of ordinances are performed. A magnificent blessing was bestowed when the Rexburg Idaho Temple was dedicated on February 10, 2008. Some may have questioned the wisdom of building a temple so close to the existing Idaho Falls Idaho Temple. The impressive volume of work performed within the Rexburg Temple has answered any such question.

 

I was born in Hawaii. At that time (and I am not that old) there were eight temples in the Church, one of which was located on the north shore of the island of Oahu, in Laie. First known as the Hawaii Temple and now named the Laie Hawaii Temple, it was (appropriately) dedicated on Thanksgiving Day 1919. It was the first temple (save Kirtland and Nauvoo) constructed outside the state of Utah and was the fifth in the Church.

 

In anticipation of building that temple, Sister Ruth M. Fox wrote a poem and a melody was composed by Elder Orson Clark. This sweet anthem went:

“Sound forth your strains of gladness, ye islands of the sea,

And lift your hearts in praises, O Saints of Hawaii;

The Lord hath heard your pleadings, your long sought day is here

When to the great Jehovah a temple you shall rear.

A temple, a temple, in Hawaii!

Foreshadowing the glories and splendors yet to be.”

I grew up hearing stories of members of the Church from Japan and other countries of Asia who would sell everything they owned to travel to the temple in Hawaii. In my youth, it impressed upon me that the temple must be a place of monumental importance, and going there was worth great sacrifice.

 

Sister Hallstrom and I have served seven years in greater Asia, three in northern Asia in the countries of Japan and Korea. There we met many of the early converts who were endowed and sealed in the Hawaii Temple. Now, many decades later, it is evident that their spiritual stature was mightily influenced by their willingness to do whatever was required to go to the temple when they were young.

 

We served four of those years in the countries of developing Asia. It is interesting and sobering to note that the Hong Kong China Temple serves an area comprising one-half of the world’s population. Latter-day Saints from India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and many other countries sacrifice greatly for the blessings of the temple. For example, faithful members from Mongolia travel by train for three days, one way, through China, to get to the temple. Imagine, a roundtrip of nearly a week compared to a walk or drive to the temple for most here today of minutes.

 

The Rexburg Temple and the 133 others currently completed in the world, represent our eternal potential and help us see things “as they really are, and of things as they really will be.”10 Through sacred ordinances, and the keeping of everlasting covenants, a person can maintain a true perspective and ultimately can receive his “Father’s kingdom” and all that the Father “hath shall be given unto him.”11

 

Forty-two years ago, I went to the temple in Laie, Hawaii, and received the holy endowment. I remember the power and protection I felt as covenants were made, as if it were yesterday. That experience changed me. It elevated my understanding of the priesthood that I held. It guided me as a full-time missionary. It directed the kind of wife I would seek. It provided perspective of the life I desired. Over the ensuing four decades, seeking to keep those covenants has made all the difference in my life, in my marriage and in our family. Covenants are our guide, our “iron rod,” our never-changing standard.

 

Now another temple in Idaho has been announced (the fifth in this state), making the total number of temples in operation, under construction, or announced at 160. Rejoicing occurs throughout the Church when another temple is completed. It is a sign of progress in the kingdom of God; the stone that was “cut out without hands…that…became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”12 The generosity of the Lord in providing temples, relatively accessible to the great majority of Church members, needs to make a difference in us. We need to become more reverent, more faith-filled, more refined in spiritual matters. Many of us need to become more focused on the ordinances and the covenants and to use the temple as a centerpiece in this essential process.

 

One of the identifying characteristics of the Lord’s people is that they are covenant-making and covenant-keeping. A revelation given to Brigham Young in January of 1847 at Winter Quarters states:

“The Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West: Let all the people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and those who journey with them, be organized into companies, with a covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God…And this shall be our covenant—that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord.”13

Are you a covenant keeper? Are you living your life by covenant, or simply by convenience? Are your covenants the basis for your decisions and the direction of your life?

 

Sometimes, when we are young, or young in the gospel, we view the keeping of covenants as difficult, maybe too difficult. We wonder, “Isn’t there an easier way?” There is not an easy way and as we understand the masterful plan of God we do not seek one. Living by covenant is the way we mature in gaining the attributes of Godliness.

 

During our spiritual development, there is a significant point we can reach when we recognize that our covenants are a blessing, not a burden. This brings great peace, even in difficult times. It also provides protection. It is common for us to pray for physical safety. In a dangerous world, that prayer makes sense and certainly is appropriate. However, I have come to even more fervently pray for something else—I pray continually for the strength to live true to my covenants. This provides spiritual protection. We should live wisely in protecting ourselves from physical harm; but, in reality, whether we live a long or short life upon this earth is of little consequence in the eternities. What really matters is how we live. Living the life of a covenant keeper is of highest value, as that is the only way for us to fulfill our eternal purpose.

 

On this very day, a renewed promise can be made by each of us to be true to the sacred covenants –indeed, to live a covenant life.

 

We have been speaking about eternal covenants, but please understand that the keeping of earthly covenants leads us to the keeping of eternal covenants. For example, you made promises when you decided to attend this university. These commitments may appear demanding and restrictive to those who attend most other institutions of higher learning. They deal with moral conduct, honesty and even dress and grooming. The Honor Code is wholly consistent with the covenants made in the ordinances and simply should be accepted and fully obeyed. Indeed, the atmosphere provided by an academic community with such high standards is an ideal setting for learning to keep promises. If you have not already done so, establish the pattern of a covenant keeper, now. It will bless you in your education, in your profession, in your Church service, in your marriage and as a parent, and in your relationship with God.

 

Let me tell you of a man Diane and I met in a small village outside of Hyderabad, India, in 2006. This man lived by covenant. Appa Rao Nulu was born crippled. His society taught him that his potential was severely limited. Likely, he could only become a beggar in the streets. However, as a teenager he met missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They taught him of a greater potential, both in this life and in the eternity to come. He was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church. With significantly raised vision, he set a goal to become an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood and a full-time missionary. In 1987, he was ordained an elder and called to serve in India, which was then part of the Singapore Mission. Walking was not easy. He did his best using a cane in each hand and fell often, but quitting was never an option. He made a commitment (a covenant) to honorably and devotedly serve a mission, and he did.

 

When we met Brother Nulu, nearly 20 years after his mission, he cheerfully greeted us where the road ended and led us down an uneven dirt path to the one-room home he shared with his wife and three children. It was a very hot and uncomfortable day, about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. He still walked with great difficulty, but there was no self-pity. Through personal diligence, he has become a teacher, providing schooling for the village children. When we entered his modest house, he anxiously took me to a corner and pulled out a box that contained his most important possessions. He wanted me to see a piece of paper. It read “With good wishes and blessings to Elder Nulu, a courageous and happy missionary; June 25, 1987; Boyd K. Packer.” On that occasion when then-Elder Packer was visiting India and speaking to a group of missionaries, he affirmed to Elder Nulu his potential. In essence, what Brother Nulu was doing was telling me he was living true to his covenants.

 

On this visit to the Nulu home, we were accompanied by the mission president. He was there to interview Brother Nulu, his wife and his children; for the parents to receive their endowments and be sealed, and for the children to be sealed to their parents. We also were able to present them with the financial arrangements for them to travel to the Hong Kong Temple for these ordinances, a gift made possible by generous members of the Church. They wept with joy as their long awaited dream was to be realized.

 

Weeks later, they arrived in Hong Kong; it was the first airplane ride that any member of the family had ever taken. Their excitement quickly turned to disappointment when immigration officials would not let them enter Hong Kong. Although they had secured visas, a judgment was made by these officials that this family may not return to India. After six hours of being held in a secured room at the airport and repeatedly being told they could not stay in Hong Kong and that they would immediately be sent back to their home country, the Nulus’ prayers were answered. An official finally called our Church headquarters in Hong Kong and verified the purpose of the family’s trip and a guarantee was made that they would return to India. They were allowed into Hong Kong based on the goodwill the Church had established. Imagine the emotion of working so hard to reach a goal and then to have it seemingly denied, only then to have it granted. 

 

With that backdrop, the next day the Nulus entered the temple. In the Lord’s divine management, Diane (the only person they knew in Hong Kong besides me) was working in the temple that day. When Sister Nulu unexpectedly saw Diane, she tightly embraced her and sobbed with joy. Diane was able to serve as Sister Nulu’s escort during the endowment and she observed the sealing of this faithful couple and then the children to their parents. Their happiness was unspeakable. This represented an accomplishment of deep and abiding significance.

 

The premier example of a covenant life is the Savior, Jesus Christ. When Heavenly Father’s glorious plan was presented and there was need for a Redeemer, Jehovah’s covenant-making response was “Here am I, send me.”14 Understanding the plan, He said,

“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.  And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon…and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads forever and ever.”15

As a model, Jesus was baptized and taught us the importance of ordinances. “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him,

“Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”16

In His most exemplary act, the Atonement required Jesus to descend “below all things”17 and suffer “the pains of all men.”18 During this incomprehensible experience, He pled to “remove this cup.”19 However, honoring His covenant with the Father motivated the profound statement “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”20

 

Men on earth hold the holy apostolic authority, with the inherent keys of the priesthood. This allows that which occurs in the ordinances to having everlasting effect.As the Lord directed Nephi, the son of Helaman, “Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven.”21

 

Dear brothers and sisters, your presence at this devotional this day is a sign of faith. We thank you. We respect you. We love you. But, for some, perhaps many of us, where we are, spiritually, is not where we need to be. What does the Lord ask of covenant keepers? “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.”22 The “heart” is symbolic of love and commitment. A “willing mind” suggests our best effort, our finest thinking, and seeking God’s wisdom. I ask each of us to consider at least one thing we may have felt about our personal covenants in this meeting today and to act upon it. If every one of us improves in some (even modest) way, this meeting will have accomplished its sacred purpose.

 

A final word to you young students married or yet to be: your commitment to a covenant life is of monumental importance. Not just to you, but to your generations that will follow. Firmly establishing your relationship with God will be the supreme legacy you can provide your posterity; and now is the time!

 

On this devotional occasion, I bear witness of these “plain and precious parts of the gospel”23 in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 


1 Doctrine and Covenants 43:8

2 Doctrine and Covenants 43:9

3 Doctrine and Covenants 44:2

4 Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-21

5 Handbook 2, Section 3.4

6 Handbook 2, Section 2.2

7 Doctrine and Covenants 84:20

8 Doctrine and Covenants 132:6

9 Doctrine and Covenants 14:7

10 Jacob 4:13

11 Doctrine and Covenants 84:38

12 Daniel 2:34-35

13 Doctrine and Covenants 136:1-2, 4

14 Abraham 3:27

15 Abraham 3:25-26

16 Matthew 3:13-17

17 Doctrine and Covenants 88:6

18 2 Nephi 9:21

19 Luke 22:42

20 Luke 22:42

21 Helaman 10:7

22 Doctrine and Covenants 64:34

23 1 Nephi 13:34