The Temple: The University

I have recently begun teaching a few lessons of the Temple Preparation Course for a couple of people preparing to enter the sacred Temple. It has been a great opportunity for a number of reasons: I have had the chance to reconsider my commitment to covenants made in the House of the Lord, I have been able to share my testimony of the important ordinances that we engage in at the Temple and discussing the scriptures and quotes from General Authorities linked to this holy place.

I was aware of this quote by Elder David A Bednar which says “There are pre-requisites in many forms of life. You cannot take advanced courses in chemistry until you have mastered the basics. And the same thing is true of the Lord’s university. You have to meet the pre-requisites. Anyone can come if they are willing to abide by those commitments.” As we were discussing the importance of the ordinances and covenants in the Temple, we were beginning to discuss how the Temple provides an opportunity for higher learning, further education and greater blessings. As we went down this train of thought, the understanding of the Temple being the Lord’s University rang ever more true to me.

In our educational lives as children we begin in settings where we are almost led by the hand in our learning. Yes, of course, we are encouraged to search certain things out for ourselves but we are given a lot of models for learning – for example, teachers model how to read, how to count, how to write and so on. We can compare this to when we take our first steps towards baptism and then those first few steps as a new convert.

As we progress in the educational world, we advance until we reach a higher level of schooling – secondary school in the UK, maybe middle and high school in the USA and other equivalents across the world. In these settings, we are still expected to attend. We are taught a curriculum. However, we are expected to progress ourselves and identify areas where we are to improve. The equivalent in a Gospel sense is when we progress through from being a new convert towards to the time when we are preparing to enter the Temple. We are still supported and led by caring leaders towards our next destination – the Temple but we are expected to take on more – such as home/visiting teaching, callings and other duties.

After this, in the education system, you then make the step to higher education – university. At this level of learning, you are given some input but suddenly you are expected to be even more self-sufficient. You could not turn up to lectures, do little study and still get some sort of result. However, the level of your achievement will likely correlate with the amount you put in whether you attend sessions, whether you engage in wider reading and so on. And so is the same with the Temple. Once you have received your endowments and other covenants from the Temple, you could make it through the rest of your life without ever attending again, not fully engaging in your covenants and do ok. However, if you attend the Temple more, live your promises fully and so on – we receive more light and inspiration. The Temple is the Lord’s university because, yes we receive great knowledge, but also it is down to us to engage and learn as much as we can.

I was grateful for this discussion – it helped me open my eyes more to the importance of the Temple and the blessings in store as we enter those holy doors more.

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Separation and Unification

Recently I was led to study the principle of unification and separation within the Gospel of Christ. This was something taught in recent Ward Conferences in my Stake but I have looked into this more and will try and explain my ramblings in some sort of sensible order!

What is Separation?

Separation is defined as “the action or state of moving or being moved apart” or, even better “the division of something into constituent or distinct elements”. Separation means that things, or objects that were previously together are broken into different, unique parts of the previous whole.
Separation takes a number of forms and happens in a variety of ways in the world we live in. Examples of separation include, but are not limited to:

  • National separations
  • Separation within countries of language
  • Race
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Generations

In most of these circumstances, separation can be seen as a hurdle or a barrier between quality relationships. For example, the people of Mosiah were taught by King Benjamin about Christ and they had all covenanted to live a Gospel life – however this standard was not upheld by all of the rising generation (another example of separation between generations). We read “And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 26:4) The people began to be separated in their faith. As such they had more contention and problems which led to Alma leaving his judgement seat he was voted to in Alma 1 to go out and preach the word of the Lord.

However, there is more to separation and it’s opposite, unification.

How does Separation Fit into the Plan of Salvation?

Separation plays a key role in Heavenly Father’s plan for his children. From the very beginning we were with Heavenly Father but we decided to become separated for a future goal, which will be brought forward later. This physical separation from our Heavenly Father was important. We now live on this Earth with a physical body which houses our spirit (unified together).

As we go through life, we will eventually experience the opposite, death. Death is defined in the Bible Dictionary as this:
Two kinds of death are spoken of in the scriptures. One is the death of the body, which is caused by the separation of the body from the spirit; “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). The other is spiritual death, which is to die as pertaining to, or to be separated from, righteousness—to be alienated from the things of God (Alma 12:16, 32; 40:26).

We had to leave the presence of the Father in order to progress. In the same pattern, Adam and Eve had to fall (become separated) from the Garden of Eden in order for mankind to live and have joy. Also, once we reach the end of our mortal probation, it is true that we all will die physically, which involves a number of separations: body and spirit, family members and separation from the Earth are just some examples. Separation plays vital parts in Heavenly Father’s plan.

Is Separation Necessary?

The short answer – yes. There are a number of times, linked with the Plan of Happiness but also for other reason, when separation is needed.

In Alma 3:14 we read of the example of the Lamanites and Nephites. These two great nations were constantly at odds with one another. From the inception of the two separate groups, there was always a clear reason why this separation had to happen. This is what we read “Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.” In this case, this very literal and physical separation was to protect the Lord’s covenant people. There is some issue raised about ‘the mark’ that the Lord placed upon the Lamanites and what this means about race. Whilst others will have their view and continue to voice that, I take this as simply an example of pragmatic guidance from the Lord. Simply – see those people that look different to your people, avoid them because they hate your people and also their traditions would lead you away from the Gospel path. Here – the separation protected the Nephites physically but also spiritually.

In Alma 5:57 we read of a much more figurative, or spiritual, application to the necessity of some separation. Alma teaches “And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;” The people taught by Alma were not only encouraged to separate from the wicked but told to be separate and touch not their unclean things. Now of course, it would be difficult for the believers to physically gather away from all non-believers – perhaps this refers more to the state that we are expected to live in today, being in the world but not of the world. However this guidance was implied, it is another example of where separation is needed.

The above applied also when the Saviour came to visit the Americas. He said to them “But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.” (3 Nephi 15:19) This is similar to the other two examples but another example of when separation is used in the Lord’s ministering with His children of the covenant.

Perhaps the most drastic example of separating covenant people from the wicked is the people of Enoch who were literally taken from the Earth to dwell in the presence of the Lord. We read of this in D&C 45:12 “Who were separated from the earth, and were received unto myself—a city reserved until a day of righteousness shall come—a day which was sought for by all holy men, and they found it not because of wickedness and abominations;” This and the other examples show that separation does not always mean a negative thing completely. However, in every example found in the scriptures, separation was only used to protect the righteous from the wicked. On a personal level, separation is not good news.  

How is Separation Overcome?

We need to avoid separation between nations. Separation can lead to weakening of the whole. We see an example of this in Alma 31:2 when Alma was sorrowful with the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites. We read “For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.” Alma was sorrowful because of this separation. He knew that it would have a negative impact on the Nephites (probably due to the degenerating spirituality of the Zoramites and the danger of them joining the Lamanites) and the negative impact on the individual Zoramites themselves. Separation can be a danger to both sides.

We need to avoid separation between neighbourhoods. We need to avoid separation between families. However, more importantly, we have to avoid separation within ourselves. One important way we have to avoid separation is between our thoughts and where we are at now, where our body is if you will. For example, if we are at a sacrament meeting and renewing our covenants, our sacred promises with the Lord where we can receive great spiritual promptings, but our mind is elsewhere then we miss out on a great experience.

However, the most dangerous separation we have to overcome is that of the separation of body and spirit. We know from D&C 93:34 that “And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” Of course, fortunately we do not have to overcome this separation ourselves. Our merciful Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that we will have our spirit and body unite again.

However, what can we do to unite our mind and body, our families and those around us? We have to work at it. The interesting thing about separation and unification is that one of them happens naturally, and it is not unification. Unification takes effort, separation can happen naturally in a degenerative manner. So work at unifying your family, your friends – because unification brings power and strength. 

What is Unification?

The power of unification is potent. Mosiah 18:21 describes how people who take upon themselves sacred covenants can unify together. Alma taught “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” This is the template for congregations in the Church. We often debate how wards can be stronger in love and service. This is it. Of course, seeing it in practice is much more difficult but this is the target. The covenant of baptism is a call to unite “And it came to pass in the seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized. And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.” (Alma 4:5) We can keep the commandments, study the scriptures, worship at the temple all we can. However, if we do not unite, support and love one another in these activities we are missing out on great blessings.

As I was studying the Topical Guide for the word ‘Unification’, I came across this reference in Helaman 1:6 which says “And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.” This intrigued me. I wondered how this reference could shed any more light on unity. As I pondered over this I realised that this shows an example of how unity can bring peace. In the experience we find this reference, the Nephites are at a crossroads. The great war between the Nephites and Lamanites had passed and the chief judge that had led the way, Pahoran, had passed away. They needed a new chief judge and three of Pahoran’s sons vied for the position. When the victor, Pahoran (Jnr), was voted by the voice of the people, Pacumeni decided to unite with the voice of the people. He chose unity. Had his action been reciprocated by the other forerunner then the Nephites may have lived a very different lifestyle in the years to come. However, Paanchi did not, he chose separation. He called upon Kishkumen, an assassin presumably, and killed Pahoran. As the account continues, this Kishkumen becomes the original leader and initiator of – the Gadianton robbers. We will come back to this band at the end.

How does Unification fit into the Plan of Salvation?

As with separation however, I wanted to look at how unity or unification is used in the great plan of happiness. Recently in my studies and worshipping at the Temple I was thinking about this and the examples of unification are rife within the Plan of Salvation – more so than separation. In Genesis and the book of Moses we read the Creation account and the account of the Fall. I list just a few examples of unification here in these processes:

  • “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2) We also know the Earth itself was created out of matter, not just out of thin air, and this matter had to be organised, or united together
  • “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:9-10) Unifying of waters and land
  • “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind…” (Genesis 1:21) Unifying of creatures on the Earth to gather together, each after their kind
  • “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24) This was a very interesting one. Again, I do not fully understand how man and woman were formed. Was it literally a rib from the side of man? I don’t profess to understand yet. However, there is this we can gather – there was a separation and then unification. Separation of ‘rib’ from man and then unification of man and woman – this unification is important for us each individually for eternal marriage and families are part of God’s plan

I could go on with this example but I have picked out a few that stood out. The Creation and the Fall make up two pillars of this Plan of Salvation. The third and final intergral part is the great unification, the grand reconciliation. In fact, the Plan of Salvation itself is an example of “Unification -> Separation -> Unification” for after the adverse effects of the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes all things possible to be brought together in the end. In Alma 11:45 we read “Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” This is why we worship our Saviour, our Redeemer. He makes unification between us and God, us and our families and us and our bodies possible. Without His great sacrifice then separation would become permanent and whilst separation is sometimes necessary in God’s plan, it is ultimately a state we wish to avoid.

When is Unification Dangerous?

Of course, as unification is so powerful, it is something that the adversary, along with every other useful and good thing that he can, uses to try and shake us from our faith. In 3 Nephi 6:27-28 we read of an occasion (and this is not the only example in the history of the Earth and mankind) where a unification happened that caused danger for everyone else involved. We read “Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law. And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness. Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.” This unification caused monumental issues for the people of the Americas. In fact it caused the Nephite government and civilisation to crumble and separate into tribes rather than one united people.

If we are not careful, then we can allow the adversary and his followers to unite against us and separate us from our Saviour. However, we can use the principle of unification to combat against this foe. We find this just a couple of years later in the same people mentioned before who had Christ visit them. “And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.” (3 Nephi 27:1) As we unite as disciples of Christ and strive to live a life patterned after Him, then we can find the strength to resist the wiles of Satan and overcome the world – but unifying will be vital for this to happen, not becoming separate.

FHE: Prophets

This is the first in a series of attempts to record “Spiritual Experiences” which I can draw on later in my life as I’m required to minister or build my own faith. I’m hoping this will help me to look out for more spiritual experiences and blessings which know happen but sometimes life is so hectic I don’t stop to consider them. They will be quick and short so I can record many. So almost more like a personal journal of sorts within my study journal. Not all will be visible to public if they are more personal.

Today for FHE we were looking at prophets and learnt about the story of Samuel the Lamanite, after watching a clip of President Monson from this weekend’s conference. We went out into the garden (which was now nice and tidy after a beautiful day) and J and E stood up on their toy castle. They had to try and tell me and C important things about Jesus. They shouted things like ‘Jesus says be good’ and ‘Jesus loves you’ but me and C threw ‘arrows and stones’ (aka chocolate coins) at them and shouted. We obviously missed.

J and E loved this. We then asked if they thought Samuel the Lamanite would have liked this in the story. J suddenly then had a ponderous face and said ‘No he wouldn’t’. We asked him why and he said that he was saying important things. We learnt that we should listen to the prophet because he relates very important things to us.

Active Involvement in Family History

I want to share the story of someone who probably none of you know and not many (if any of you) have heard his name. His name is Michael Cowan. Michael was a young man when the First World War ravaged many areas of Europe and threatened many countries in becoming battlefields. As the number of casualties that had affected the Great British army were far outweighing the number of volunteers, an unpopular but seemingly necessary decision was made – to introduce conscription, compulsory active duty. All males between the ages of 18-41 were given three options when the Bill became enforced:

  1. Enlist at once

     2. Attest the decision at once (publicly refuse)

     3. Or on 2 March (just two months later) be automatically enlisted.

Michael Cowan was about 17 years old when the conscription act was enforced. However, like many other young men at that age, he went to sign up. Of course, he was not old enough. Therefore, he went to a different parish and lied about his age, making him 18 years old. Now, whilst I am not condoning lying on official government documents, what is inspiring about Michael Cowan was his desire to defend his family and his country. He was dedicated and showed a strong desire to serve others.

What makes Michael Cowan’s experience even more remarkable to me, is that he is my great-grandfather. This is part of the blessings of active family history. If it were not for the blessing we have in this day and age to have access to all the genealogical records we do, then I would not even know about Michael Cowan’s existence…

We did not know much about my Dad’s family – only his mother and his brother and sister. My Dad was always told that his father passed away and never had any reason to question this. However, as the months rolled into years and then to decades, my Grandma passed away in 2005. My uncle decided to do a little research and look for the grave of their father, to find their roots. Whilst he was looking in a graveyard close to the supposed area where he grew up, a lady approached him and asked if he was looking for anyone’s grave in particular. When my uncle gave my Grandfather’s name she apologised and said that she thought my uncle was looking for a grave…not a living person…this of course completely threw my uncle. For their whole life, my Dad and his siblings had thought that their father was dead, when it turns out he was alive. Unfortunately, he was battling cancer and died a few years later and in this time he wasn’t up to meeting a whole other family he wasn’t aware of. As such we didn’t learn a lot of information but we were able to gather a few bits and pieces about both my Grandfather’s family and Grandma’s family. This led us to Michael Cowan.

We have learnt from scripture and many modern day leaders about the need to discover our ancestors.
Elder Russell M Nelson: While temple and family history work has the power to bless those beyond the veil, it has an equal power to bless the living. It has a refining influence on those who are engaged in it. They are literally helping to exalt their families.

Elder William R. Walker: It would be a wonderful thing if every Latter-day Saint knew the conversion stories of their forefathers.

President Boyd K Packer: No work is more of a protection to this Church than temple work and the family history research that supports it. No work is more spiritually refining. No work we do gives us more power. No work requires a higher standard of righteousness. Our labors in the temple cover us with a shield and a protection, both individually and as a people.

President Packer’s comments are particularly powerful – this family history principle is not being pushed so we can try and fulfil numerical targets. It is not so we as members can be kept busy in a world which constantly tries to pull our attention away from things that matter most. It is life-saving, not only for the deceased, not but also for those who engage in it with their energy of heart because it provides power.

How can we not be a part of this great work? We are blessed, our families are blessed and those who previously had no hope, are blessed. So what is stopping you?

There may be many reasons – I mentioned in a talk recently that I received my Patriarchal Blessing when I had just turned 16 years old. I had been prepared, I was ready to receive, yet I wanted one thing not to be included – that I would seek out my ancestors. At the time, I suppose it was because I viewed family history as something that wasn’t for me at the time (I am reluctant to say I thought it was for the older generation – but that may be true). Sure enough, I went to receive my blessing and it was indeed revealed that I would be blessed with the Spirit of Elijah and seek out my ancestors. I then went on my mission two years after and it was forgotten about for a while.

So, some do not feel it is for them – some feel ill-equipped to be able to do it themselves. To those, please just try and if you struggled the first time, try again. You will get there, the Lord will provide a way.

My active involvement in searching out my family history begun in the extra-long summer I got as a student, just before our first child, Joshua, was born. Maybe it was coincidence that I began to catch the fire around the time I was about to become a father myself? However, the need to look towards my ancestors became stronger. Perhaps I hoped that, as I wanted my children to learn from me and develop a strong bond, I recognised more than ever that I needed that bond with those that had gone before me. This is a literal fulfilment of what we read in the well-known verses in Malachi 4, the hearts of the children must be turned to the fathers and the fathers to the children.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

Due to the sanctified work that followed – Michael Cowan and others were discovered and have received life-saving ordinances. What’s more, I have been privileged to witness and been a part of a number of faith-building experiences. I have witnessed live members of mine and Chrissie’s family be sealed to their parents. These are treasured moments that the temple are all about. As I now have engaged in family history work, I am in a position where I can share with others how to take part in this vital work, which is part of the Work of Salvation. This has been a great opportunity I’ve been able to have with some YSA in our Stake but even more so with my Dad.

One Sunday afternoon recently, my Dad came to me and said that he should probably begin trying to take part in searching ancestors. I said I was more than willing to help. As we sat down together to begin, I mentioned to my Dad that my wife and I over time had managed to make a number of discoveries, but we had been still struggling to make a breakthrough with his father’s parents. We felt impressed that we should focus there despite the fact that my wife and I had occasionally looked for the past three and a half years in this branch but had no success. So, I showed my Dad how to use FamilySearch and link up with the popular site, Ancestry, to search a multitudes of records. Then the miracle occurred. We found a link! We then realised that my Dad’s grandparents were called David Edward Roberts and Mary Ann Jones. We found a number of pieces of information, including more children, who in turn had children of their own (aunts and uncles and relatives my Dad never knew existed). We didn’t stop there! We went another generation further and found my Dad’s great-grandparents (and this is where things get even more remarkable). My Dad’s great-grandparents were called Peter Roberts and Mary Elizabeth Hughes…and the family links became apparent. My Dad’s middle name is Peter and his sister is called Elizabeth. We were truly finding generations that could be linked with love. Half an hour of what was going to be a brief tutorial by me became over two hours of discovering new family links and family names.

As we finished (with many new names to bring unto Christ) I reflected on this experience. Yes, that evening the hearts of the children turned to the fathers. We learnt about our ancestry, we learnt more about where our family had come from and some of the heritage there. However, I learnt a different aspect to the promise found in Malachi. My heart and the heart of my father had been turned toward each other in a unifying goal – to seek out our loved ones and bring them on our shoulders together. Exaltation is a family matter. And that is the major motivator in those who have caught the vision of this work – to be together for eternity with those they love.

This may seem like a trivial experience on the outside – a father and a son sitting together for a couple of hours on some research. However as we read in Alma 36 (small and simple things) – and it is those glorious moments that can stay with us for the rest of our lives.