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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Blessed Are the Covenant Keepers

Last night at 6:00pm, we were asked to speak in church. 

This morning at 11:48am we did. Church ends at 12:00pm.

We were the two concluding speakers with 15-minute talks. Needless to say, we rushed. 

Although I wasn't able to give my full talk, I wanted to keep a copy of it. (I pulled from a few talks and explanations.) 
I enjoy preparing talks for Sacrament Meeting because they help me reflect on various topics, and this occasion was especially true.

[Please note, this post is still In need of footnotes.] 

Good afternoon brothers and sisters. I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to you today, especially considering this is only my second week as a member of this wonderful branch. I love this beautiful island, and have already felt a special spirit in this branch; I am looking forward to meeting more of you.

Two weeks ago on Friday, I took a red eye from Salt Lake City to New York City with our 4 and a half year old daughter to begin our journey to Grenada. We had been preparing for the trip for months, and every last thing was in order. However, there was one place I needed to go before I left. The temple. I wanted a reminder of my covenants, the peace the House of the Lord brings, and the opportunity to pray in that sacred place. 

My close friend and I made plans to attend, and everything was in order as the day started. However, things quickly started to fall apart. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it, but through persistence and prioritization, I was able to attend and am grateful. 

As members of Christ’s Gospel, we know and recognize that God’s children have, since the beginning of time made covenants. The scriptures are full of evidence of the importance of keeping covenants and the consequences of what has happened when His children have broken them.

A covenant is a sacred agreement between God and a person or group of people. God sets specific conditions, and He promises to bless us as we obey those conditions. 
When we choose not to keep covenants, we cannot receive the blessings, and in some instances we suffer a penalty as a consequence of our disobedience. All the saving ordinances of the priesthood are accompanied by covenants.

We have the restored Gospel of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, here on the earth. When we receive saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants, the Atonement of Jesus Christ becomes effective in our lives, and we can receive the greatest blessing God can give us—eternal life (see D&C 14:7). 

Brothers and sisters, I testify that when make and keep sacred covenants, we are blessed. That is what I would like to focus on this afternoon, and I have broken my talk in to four areas. 

First: when we realize that we are children of the covenant, we know who we are and what God expects of us. 

Children of the covenant are baptized. 
The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are marked by covenants: Baptism by immersion in water, performed by one having authority, is the first saving ordinance of the gospel and is necessary for an individual to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Inseparable from baptism is its companion ordinance of confirmation—the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  
When we are baptized, we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. We also promise “to serve him to the end” (D&C 20:37; see also Mosiah 18:8–10).In return, Heavenly Father promises that if we repent of our sins, we can be forgiven (see Alma 7:14) and “always have His Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77), a promise made possible, in part, through receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. 
The ordinances of baptism and confirmation are the gate through which all who seek eternal life must enter (see John 3:3–5). Honoring our baptismal covenants leads to and is an important part of making the covenants associated with all of the other saving ordinances on the path to eternal life (see 2 Nephi 31:17–21). 
Children of the covenant partake of the Sacrament. 

Those who have received the saving ordinances of baptism and confirmation partake of the sacrament each week to renew those covenants. While partaking of the bread and water, we remember the sacrifice the Savior made for us. In addition, we ponder the covenants we have made to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. In turn, God extends the promise that His Spirit may be with us always (see D&C 20:77, 79). 
The ordinance of the sacrament is an opportunity each week to renew sacred covenants that allow us to be partakers of the Savior’s atoning grace with the same spiritually cleansing effect of baptism and confirmation. Church leaders have also taught that when we take the sacrament, we renew not only our baptismal covenants but “all covenants entered into with the Lord.”4
Children of the covenant attend the temple. 

The temple endowment is a gift that provides perspective and power. 
During the temple endowment we receive instructions and make covenants related to our eternal exaltation. Associated with the endowment are the ordinances of washing and anointing and being clothed in temple garments as a reminder of sacred covenants.6 
Temple ordinances and covenants are so sacred that they are not discussed in detail outside of the temple. Because of that, President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, advised, “It is important that you listen carefully as these ordinances are administered and that you try to remember the blessings promised and the conditions upon which they will be realized.”7 
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught that the key to receiving divine power to overcome opposition and move the Church forward “is the covenant we make in the temple—our promise to obey and sacrifice, to consecrate unto the Father, and His promise to empower us with ‘a great endowment.’”8

Children of the covenant are sealed in Holy temples. 

The temple ordinance referred to as “temple marriage” or “being sealed” creates an eternal relationship between husband and wife that can last beyond death if the spouses are faithful. Parent and child relationships can also be perpetuated beyond mortality, linking generations together in eternal family relationships.  
When an individual enters into the covenant of marriage in the temple, he or she makes covenants with both God and with his or her spouse. Spouses promise faithfulness to each other and to God. They are promised exaltation and that their family relationships can continue throughout eternity (see D&C 132:19–20). Children born to a couple who were sealed in the temple or children who are later sealed to their parents have the right to be part of an eternal family. 
As in other ordinances, individual faithfulness to our covenants is required for the earthly ordinance to be sealed, or made valid, in heaven by the Holy Spirit of Promise.9 Individuals who keep their covenants—even when their spouse does not—do not forfeit the blessings promised in the sealing.

Secondly, knowing the expectations God has for us helps us recognize examples of covenants and covenant keeping people. 

While speaking to the church in General Conference in October 2011, Elder Russell M. Nelson pointed out that "Through the ages, God has made covenants with His children.5 His covenants occur throughout the entire plan of salvation and are therefore part of the fulness of His gospel.6 For example, God promised to send a Savior for His children,  asking in turn for their obedience to His law.8”

The scriptures are full of evidence of Children of the and the blessings that come from following covenants.

In the Book of Mormon we read the account of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s. In Alma 24 we read the account of the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi,

"17 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.

18 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.

19 And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin; and thus we see that they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace."

In these three simple verses we read the covenant and the commitment with which the covenant was made; they would die before committing sin. As we read on we learn of their unmoving faith. 

20 And it came to pass that their brethren, the Lamanites, made preparations for war, and came up to the land of Nephi for the purpose of destroying the king, and to place another in his stead, and also of destroying the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi out of the land.

21 Now when the people saw that they were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword.

22 And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God.

Refusing to commit sin, one thousand and five of these faithful saints gave their lives for their covenants. We read that they were blessed for they had gone to dwell with God, but what comes next to me shows the true blessings of covenant keeping.

23 Now when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee from the sword, neither would they turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but that they would lie down and perish, and praised God even in the very act of perishing under the sword—

24 Now when the Lamanites saw this they did forbear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them for those of their brethren who had fallen under the sword, for they repented of the things which they had done.

25 And it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for the murders which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying upon the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.

26 And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved.

27 And there was not a wicked man slain among them; but there were more than a thousand brought to the knowledge of the truth; thus we see that the Lord worketh in many watts to the salvation of his people.

Refusing to commit sin, one thousand and five of these faithful saints gave their lives for their covenants—but they. were. saved! And what’s more, their covenant keeping brought more than the number that were slain to a knowledge of the truth. 

Nephi taught: “After ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. … “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.

Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”7

Thirdly, pressing forward is not always easy, and the refiner’s fire often precedes the blessings of the Lord. 

In a talk given in October 2013 conference, Sister Linda Reeves from the General Relief Society Presidency spoke on claiming the blessings of our Covenants. She noted the trials that precede the crowning glory, she said:

"Almost three years ago a devastating fire gutted the interior of the beloved, historic tabernacle in Provo, Utah. Its loss was deemed a great tragedy by both the community and Church members. Many wondered, “Why did the Lord let this happen? Surely He could have prevented the fire or stopped its destruction.”

Ten months later, during the October 2011 general conference, there was an audible gasp when President Thomas S. Monson announced that the nearly destroyed tabernacle was to become a holy temple—a house of the Lord! Suddenly we could see what the Lord had always known! He didn’t cause the fire, but He allowed the fire to strip away the interior. He saw the tabernacle as a magnificent temple—a permanent home for making sacred, eternal covenants.4

My dear [brothers and] sisters, the Lord allows us to be tried and tested, sometimes to our maximum capacity. We have seen the lives of loved ones—and maybe our own—figuratively burned to the ground and have wondered why a loving and caring Heavenly Father would allow such things to happen. But He does not leave us in the ashes; He stands with open arms, eagerly inviting us to come to Him. He is building our lives into magnificent temples where His Spirit can dwell eternally.

In Doctrine and Covenants 58:3–4, the Lord tells us:

“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.”

When we keep our covenants, we receive the promised blessings from our Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Finally, covenant-center lives will make us called the Children of Christ. 

As we understand and follow God’s expectations of us, as we follow the examples of covenant-keeping people, and as we press forward, we will be called the Children of Christ.

In Mosiah 5:7 we read, "And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.”

Brothers and Sisters, I testify to you that this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Redeemer of Mandkind. I testify that He came to this earth and that at Baptism we covenanted to follow Him. Through consecrating our lives and making and keeping sacred covenants that mark the path, we can return to our Father in Heaven and ultimately be saved. Brothers and sisters, we. can. be saved.

I testify that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the True Gospel of Jesus Christ, that it was restored by Joseph Smith, that it is led by our Savior, and that Thomas S. Monson is His Prophet on the earth. I testify that the Book of Mormon and Bible are the word of God, and that as we discover the plan of Happiness in the Scriptures, we can more perfectly follow Christ. I testify that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World. And I say this in His name, Amen.


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