I LOVE YOU! I have received your love for the past 15 years in this ward. Now I wish to give it back. I truly cherish the opportunity to speak to you today. It is not uncommon for speakers to make it clear that they would prefer not to be up here. Some may be joking, most are probably not. I, though, am very excited to be able to share a small part of the joy of the gospel with you – a joy that continues to grow within me the more I ask, the more I seek, the more I knock; the more I strip myself of my pride and jealousies and fears; the more I become as a little child – the more I learn to obey my Savior. Brothers and Sisters, the Gospel is truly glorious – glorious beyond my ability to express in words– but my heart knows. I pray that, through the spirit, I can effectively share with you today some of the joy and the vision that fills my heart.
I have been asked to speak today on Elder Hales’ talk from last April’s conference, “Stand Strong in Holy Places”. As I read this talk repeatedly, it became clear to me that Elder Hales is a good man, a wise man, a man who truly loves the savior.
Elder Hales points out something that should be very obvious to all of us – the world is growing increasingly secular, hedonistic and evil. Temptation confronts us everywhere we turn. Even the very faithful risk, if we are not diligent in seeking truth, being blinded by the philosophies of men. If we do not prepare ourselves to withstand the power of the destroyer, we will fall. If we do not build our houses on the rock of personal revelation, these houses will crash mightily in the coming storm.
Some of you know that I maintain a blog. It is an outlet for the things my heart knows. One of the topics I wrote about last year had to do with the church becoming “mainstream”. In it I made the simple point that, if becoming mainstream means that we must compromise the doctrines of the gospel in order to accommodate the world, then I don’t want anything to do with it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect and awe-inspiring. It is eternal and unchanging. The gospel overcomes the world – not the other way around.
I believe that, if we – you and me – are to receive the fullness of the gospel, we must adopt the same attitude in our personal lives. If the world departs from that which we know to be righteous and true– so be it. We, however, must never compromise our principles and doctrines. We must, in short, stand strong, and we must live in such a way that wherever we stand – in the temple, in our homes, at work, at play – we stand in a holy place.
I recently attended a lecture during which the speaker declared that if we are to be saved, we must become such that we meet the criteria for salvation. A sure way to do that would be to pattern our “becoming” after someone who has been saved. He then suggested that the ultimate example of one who has been saved is Christ Himself. By extension, then, we must become like Christ if we are to be saved.
In John 17:3, during the opening of Christ’s great intercessory prayer, the savior declares “This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”. Later in the same prayer, in verses 20-22, after praying for his apostles, he continues:
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be onein us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
In 3 Nephi 9:14, the savior says , “Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life.
In the sermon on the mount, the Savior commands us “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect” and in the sermon in Bountiful He said, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect”.
Note that between the sermon on the mount, and the sermon in Bountiful, Christ HIMSELF has become perfect. To complete my point, I quote 1 Nephi 3:7, where Nephi says that “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them”.
Clearly, we are commanded to become like Christ, to know Him, to become one with Him and, through Him, to become one with Heavenly Father. Equally as clearly, this is something we CAN do – but how? Elder Hales provides a very succinct formula in speaking of the Savior’s ministry: “He accomplished the work of the priesthood – teaching, healing, serving, and blessing and lifting others”. “He also stood for truth – whether with words or with dignified silence.” He further states, “In response to the Savior’s perfect obedience in standing strong, our Heavenly Father declared, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name”.
Brothers and sisters, we must rid ourselves of any thoughts that becoming perfect like Christ is not possible for us. That is a lie, and it is a philosophy of men, deliberately intended to deceive and distract us! On the contrary, we are commanded to become like Him, and He has shown the way. Not only that, but He has promised us that it is possible. This is the real “good news” of the Gospel, even the essence of life – to recognize that this is the purpose of our existence, and to embrace the opportunity – the challenge – with faith and hope, with obedience, with sacrifice when necessary, and above all with love for ourselves, for each other, and for Him.
A couple of weeks ago, Diana and I attended fast and testimony meeting in a small town in Southern Utah. We love this town and its people with all our hearts. It is beautiful and they are beautiful. Still, Diana recounted in tears afterward, as we were driving home, that only one of the speakers bore a testimony of the Savior. Almost every one of them bore their testimony that the church is true, and that President Monson is a true prophet, but only one mentioned the Savior. Why is this a problem, you might ask? Well, the church is true because it points the way to the Savior. President Monson is a true prophet because he points the way to the Savior. I would even suggest that if this weren’t the case, neither the church nor the prophet would be true. Until we understand that, we can only go so far in our journey home.
While we do well to follow the direction provided us by the church and by our prophet, we must undertake this journey ourselves. It is a singularly personal journey that no church and no prophet can undertake for us. It is a journey marked by the light of personal revelation, which only comes as the result of a constant, sincere and repentant effort to obey every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. It is a journey that is symbolically illustrated in the ordinances performed in the Holy Temple, where we are taught principles and examples, the ultimate manifestations of which must be pursued privately through personal revelation. These ordinances, if understood through the spirit, enable us to comprehend and embrace the greatest mysteries of the Kingdom of God, even the fullness of the gospel. Ultimately, it is a journey that leads us back into the presence of the Savior, where He stands, arms open, inviting us to “come unto Him”. The temple, brothers and sisters, points the way.
I close by quoting the words of Elder Hales: My beloved brethren young and old, let us glorify God’s name by standing strong with our Savior, Jesus Christ. I bear my special witness that he lives and that we “are all called with a holy calling” to participate in this work. Standing obedient and strong on the doctrine of our God, we stand in holy places, for His doctrine is sacred and will not change in the social and political winds of our day.
I add to this my personal testimony that Christ lives and that He sacrificed everything except his integrity – which is His glory – that we might have the opportunity to become like Him. All things point to Him, and His will is that we, in turn, should have all things – even the fullness of His gospel – that we should choose to become perfect like Him, and that we should choose to return to live with Him. He is my personal savior, and I love Him dearly. I know that someday, Diana and I will stand strong together in the most holy place of all – a place made holy by His presence. I testify of these truths in His holy name. Amen.