Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Holy Temple

Today I attended two sessions of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple dedication via satellite broadcast. Both were beautiful experiences. I was deeply grateful for the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord which I personally felt. The temple has and continues to play such a significant part in my life that participating in the dedication of a new temple fills me with excitement, especially for those who will now be able to use it.

The dedication of a temple is the culmination of concerted efforts and preparations by many individuals. Each temple is a House of the Lord, a place where His children may go to learn of Him, draw nearer to Him, and prepare to return home to Him. The Spirit and power of the Lord may be felt there because of the merciful blessings of our Eternal Father, but the temple is only a temple because we make it so.

Like the covenants we make in the temple, the House of the Lord is a partnership. We prepare a place in our lives where we can go to be instructed in the word of the Lord and receive necessary covenants and ordinances for our eternal salvation. When we do so, and when dedicate both the edifice and our hearts, the Lord can bring a special power into our lives that makes it possible to overcome every trial and difficulty that may stand in our way of returning to Him. The power comes solely from him, but is only possibly as we invite him into our lives. This invitation is evident in Revelation 3:20, which reads, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Unfortunately, a temple also has the potential of losing its saving power because of our individual choices. Temples such as those of Solomon, Zerubbabel or Herod in ancient Israelite history were suffered by the Lord to be desecrated because the hearts of His people were not pure. Similarly the temples in the ancient Americas, or even Kirtland and Nauvoo were destroyed or lost to those who originally built them because of their own weaknesses and imperfections. The Holy Temple has endearing power when we turn our hearts towards it, and not just the edifice, but to the place we make for the Lord to come to us – a place that allows us to open the doors of eternity, starting with our hearts.

A little over a week ago, my wife and I decided to go to the Salt Lake Temple together. Due to my fault, we ran late and missed the time for the session we had planned to attend. We then chose to spend a few extra minutes outside the temple to talk and collect our thoughts, particularly to make sure we were no longer rushed and that we were properly prepared to enter in. As we did so, we noticed a group of women standing near the reflection pool on the east side of the temple. Observing that they were about to take a picture, we offered to take it for them so that each of the ladies could be in the photograph. Afterwards they thanked us and remarked that they were going to dinner near by. One lady stopped and asked me, “Can we go inside?” An interesting question I thought. I then asked if she meant inside the walls of Temple Square or inside the temple itself. She was interested in both. I pointed towards the large gated entrance to Temple Square where all visitors are welcome to go and described what she would find there, after going to dinner. I also explained that there were some additional steps that one must take to enter into the temple and that some missionaries inside Temple Square could explain more. She thanked me again and left to catch up with her friends for dinner.

I believe that one of the reasons that each of us must prepare to enter the temple is very much tied to the temples that have been desecrated in past history. If we are not prepared to go to the temple, certainly Father will not share all that He has with us. He will know when we are ready by the manner in which we answer His knock at the door, or rather, the stirrings in our hearts. If our hearts are properly turned towards Him, we will be willing to do whatever He requires to show that we love Him more than all else.

Consider the temple worship of the ancient Israelites. Their temple worship included sacrifices as described in the Law of Moses. They would bring the designated animal to the priest who would then offer the animal upon an altar to the Lord. While sacrifice by the shedding of blood was ended with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I often ask myself the question when I go to the temple, “Am I going to the temple to offer or take?” For me, there is a difference in going to merely participate and receive than to go with the intent to offer something. Even if I only go to offer my heart, it is enough.

Following His resurrection, Jesus visited the people in the ancient Americas and told them that He no longer required them to offer the sacrifices they had made previously. Instead, He required an offering that is much more personal. He said, in 3 Nephi 9:20, “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” While the sacrifice is less visible, I believe it is much more difficult to make than offering one’s possessions. Our heart is the monitor of life. It keeps us moving, supplied with the nutrients we need. Symbolically, the heart is the receptor of our emotions, the container of our desires, and the lock to all that is dear to us. To offer this gift on the altar requires full submission.

A broken heart may bring a few images to mind that will help us to change. Broken may refer to a heart that has been injured by sin, or damaged by pride. Like a bone, it is ready to be mended with set discipline and a willingness to follow a strait and narrow path. Like a wild horse, perhaps it is ready to be tamed and sanctified by being broken, or a willingness to break the ties of sin that previously mastered the heart. Whatever the image, it must be coupled with a contrite spirit, or a desire to do the will of the Father in all things. It is this desire that invokes the power Father wishes to endow us with.

King David likewise gives us some instruction on how to enter the Holy Temple. In Psalms 24:3-5 he asks, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Is it not vanity for us to want the blessings of the Lord without the necessary preparation and offering that He requires? Like the sons of Aaron who were to be washed at the door of the tabernacle before performing their work, each of us should wash ourselves from the sins of the world before going to receive a blessing at the hand of the Lord. Then will we be ready to receive that which is sacred and place it carefully in our hearts.

The invitation to go to the Lord’s House is open to all. Everyone is welcome to become clean and enter in. The Lord stands at the door and knocks to whosoever will let Him in.

It may not be easy to clean our lives and our hearts to be worthy to enter the temple, and eventually return to our home in heaven, but it is most certainly worth it. We may experience tribulation within our own hearts to accomplish this, yet this is the reason we are hear – to become clean through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, and receive the necessary covenants and ordinances that will empower us on to perfection.

The Lord not only commits to help to those who are faithful, He promises great blessings. As recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 58:3-4, the Lord tells Joseph Smith, “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.”

If we can just trust the Lord to keep His promises, He will help us. We need not worry about the process or how long it will take, only that He will help us see it through. That is His only focus. Everything He does is for the benefit of His children.

The Lord has established a minimum level of worthiness for His children to enter into the temple. With this comes certain and specific blessings of peace, comfort, strength, and knowledge that will aid us in our efforts to become true saints and disciples, not just by name, but in every action. Knowing this, and knowing that we cannot behold at the present time the great blessings He has ready, we should hope for greater things, and prepare ourselves to receive the blessings He has prepared for us.

If minimal worthiness yields minimal blessings, what more can I do to fully benefit from temple worship? I believe I must ask what I need to do to prepare to worship. What must I do to become clean before I go? When I go to the temple, what am I willing to offer? If I go to the temple to feel the influence of the Spirit of the Lord and receive needed peace, do I spend sufficient time pondering, praying, and thanking the Lord after my work in the temple is done? It is near the end of our worship there that I believe the greatest blessings come. It is there that I often feel closest to my Father, as well as feeling a reluctance to leave. It is essential that we make a place for Him. Then He will heal us.

How blessed we are to have a place prepared for our worship – a place where we can feel the power of God and become purer. I know I am more successful when I have properly prepared and I go with an offering for the Lord. This takes time and effort, but it is so rewarding. The temple is holy both because the Spirit of the Lord dwells there, and because we make it holy through our preparation.

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