Temple/Prodigal Son Analogy

Recently I’ve been able to consider my feelings about the Temple and how important it has been in my life. It really is a place where the Spirit of the Lord can feel so close and where peace can be found.

One thing that has been highlighted to me once more is the importance of symbolism. The Temple is a wonderful place to learn but a lot of the lessons taught are symbolic and require guidance from the Spirit to support our understanding. I explored a little into Parables – these are great examples of the way that the Lord teaches through examples, symbols and analogies.

We know the parable of the prodigal son begins with children who are due an inheritance from a wealthy father. The prodigal son asks for his inheritance early and then goes and spends it all on material, temporary possessions. I want to focus in on this part of the parable as an example of the Temple and how it can play a comforting and integral role in our lives. In Luke 15:17-19 we read:

“17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”

We often may feel like this. I was asked to prepare a talk about being worthy to enter the Temple. Of course it was important to cover the necessary conditions that are required to enter the Temple. The Lord’s House is set apart, sanctified, to enable it to be such a spiritual place for a reason. However, I was also keenly aware of the need to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that we cannot be good enough. I think this is sometimes more of an issue. I have met so many people who feel that they are not good enough to enter the Temple but often it is because they are comparing themselves to the Lord’s perfect standard. We are not required to be perfect yet. We need to be living our covenants and striving to keep the Lord’s standard but, if we can answer the questions the Lord has set as the yardstick to enter the Temple, then we are good enough.

We must make the decision to enter as soon as we can. The words of the parable continue (Luke 15:20-21):

“20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”

Once we have the faith to act, we go before the Lord’s appointed servants and the Lord Himself and aim to go to our Father’s House. We return back home. We see the Father’s (and I imagine our Father’s) reaction in the following verses (Luke 15:22-24):

“22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”

I can imagine this. Our Heavenly Father seeing His children gathering at His home and welcoming them all. We feel of this ‘best robe’ when we enter the welcoming, warm entrance to the Temple. It is almost as if He wraps us in His arms of comfort when we enter for those blissful hours we worship in that Holy place. The prodigal child returns – as we enter back into His presence to make the decisions and covenants we make in the Temple.

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Temple/Sabbath Connection

The Sabbath Day is a wonderful thing. However, it is one of those aspects of living the Gospel of Christ that can be either be missed out on or bring great blessings. The concept of a holy day in religion is almost universal and clearly has importance to a number of groups of faith and again, is observed differently by various cultures.

The Sabbath Day

The law of the Sabbath has been in force since the time of Moses and probably even further before. We read in Exodus 20:8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” The Sabbath Day has been recognised since the creation of the Earth. This will be why many religions observe a ‘holy day’, whichever day that is for them.

Typically, the Sabbath is a day of devotion to spiritual matters. Often referred to as a day of rest (“Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest…” Exodus 23:12), we are encouraged to avoid our work in our career on the Sabbath – as much as possible, of course some jobs require working on the Sabbath. However, every possible effort should be made to avoid it. Also, the Sabbath is an opportunity to focus on the things of the Lord. The Lord told us that people would be blessed “that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it…” (Isaiah 56:2). Considering the imagery used of ‘keeping unspotted from the world’, this applies to focusing activities on the Saviour or with the family.

Recently I was shown this connection between the Sabbath and the Temple also. In D&C 109:13, we read this plea to the Lord in the Kirtland Dedicatory Prayer ” And that all people who shall enter upon the threshold of the Lord’s house may feel thy power, and feel constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, and that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.” From this extract of this important revelation, we learn that the House of the Lord is sanctified. To ‘sanctify’ something means to set apart as or declare as holy. The Temple is a sacred, holy place where the Spirit of the Lord can be truly unrestrained. Worshipping in this sanctified place enables us to come a little bit closer to our Father in Heaven.

We can then link this right back to a verse from the Old Testament, right back to when the Sabbath was first ‘set apart’. In Genesis 2:1-3 we read “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The seventh day – the day of the Sabbath – was sanctified and set apart to represent and give thanks for the Lord and His mercy to create the Earth in which we live.

There is a link here between the Temple and the Sabbath. Both have been sanctified for our benefit. Both are set apart for worship and sacred ordinances (this is vital). Both are for us to align our lives and wills in line with the Lord’s life and will. As we strive to live the Sabbath Day more fully, with just as much focus as we do to be ready to enter the Temple, then we can find great strength and guidance from the Lord.

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.

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.

I Love to See the Temple

In 2017 we have been invited by our Stake Presidency to make the Temple the central focus of our year. We are promised in scripture if we do this then we will be immensely blessed. We read in D&C 109:17-19, 22 “That all the incomings of thy people, into this house, may be in the name of the Lord; That all their outgoings from this house may be in the name of the Lord; And that all their salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with holy hands, uplifted to the Most High…And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;” These guidelines and promised blessings are given at the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple and apply to all saints who worship at the temple. We know that as individuals and families come closer together around the temple they will be brought closer together.

As a family we have set a goal to gather at the temple once each month. Obviously myself and my wife will be striving to visit on a regular basis to enter the temple and worship there. However, we felt it was important to involve our 4yo and 2yo children somehow. This is due to a scripture in Moses 7:18 “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” We want to have the blessings and peace of the temple reach the heart of all our little family, not just us as parents.

So once a month, all of us get together quickly after a busy day at school and work, hop in the car, grab a McDonalds (or in the case of our strangely healthy 4yo boy, a healthy dinner bag from Dunelm Mill Coffee Shop!) and drive up to the Temple. On the way we talk about our day, how things are going at school and why we’re looking forward to going to the Temple. The kids love it. We love it except the rush hour traffic but when we come off the exit off the M61 at Chorley and see the welcoming site of the Temple on the hill it makes all the jostling through vehicles worthwhile.

Usually our daughter falls asleep on the way and so she wakes up when we arrive. Each time she’s woken and seen the Temple, she always lights up and says “Oh, Temple!” We get out and hold hands and enjoy a walk around the Temple and grounds. Our son talks about Jesus being there, our daughter points out Moroni and we talk about the precious nature of the Temple and the blessings it has brought and will bring to our family.

At the end of each visit we all put our hands on the Temple and promise that we will return. This has seen our children become excited about the Temple, but I don’t think it’s just the fact it is a sacred place – whilst that is important. What is also happening is the memories we are building, the peaceful sacred time together. We love to see the Temple and will continue to do so in 2017!

Family History Urgency!

This is a short extract from the October 2009 Ensign which I liked, just to highlight how there is a need for everyone to engage with the work of salvation for the dead, and no excuse not to!

All Done?

Some say, “My family history is all done.” Others say, “Uncle Fred is doing it all.”

That’s a bit like saying, “I don’t go to Church, but that’s okay because Uncle Fred goes for me.”

The fact is that we need to be personally engaged in family history so our hearts will be turned to our fathers. Then we will forge that welding link between our ancestors and us that is so important to the Lord.

Think about it. We each have four grandparents and that doubles each generation. In 10 generations we have 512 “grandparents”—not counting the thousands of other family members they bore. In 16 generations, we have nearly 33,000 direct ancestors. Our family history hasn’t all been done—I guarantee it.

Liberty Jail/Temple Experience

This is based on a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R Holland at a CES Fireside in September 2007.

One of the most difficult and depressing times for the Prophet Joseph Smith was the winter of 1838-39. Persecution in Missouri had become so terrible that the Saints had to travel, through the cold of winter to Illinois, a treacherous trek. Not only that, but the Prophet and other brethren were falsely accused of crimes and unjustly incarcerated in Liberty Jail. Elder Holland describes the horrific ordeal as such – “Surrounded by stone walls four feet thick, the floor-to-ceiling height in the dungeon was barely six feet…When they lay down , it was mostly upon rough, bare stones of the prison floor covered here and there by a bit of loose, dirty straw or an occasional dirty straw mat…
The food given to the prisoners was coarse and sometimes contaminated, so filthy that one of them said they “could not eat it until they were driven to it by hunger.” On as many as four occasions poison was administered to them in their food, making them so violently ill that for days they alternated between vomiting and a kind a delirium, not really caring whether they lived or died.” Such were the conditions the Prophet of God and his brethren found themselves in that wretched place. Not only that but the guards were abusive and blasphemers – making every aspect of that prison terrible.

So why call Liberty Jail a prison-temple experience? This term was first used by Elder Brigham H Roberts in recording the history of the Church. Surely what those brethren endured there was the extreme opposite of a temple.

We are entitled to receiving sacred, revelatory experiences in any situation you’re in: at home, at Church, in the Temple – but also in the most miserable situations of your life. In fact, that’s probably when you’re most likely to receive the most profound experiences and learn the greatest lessons. We all will face our ‘Liberty Jail’ at some point in our lives – not physically but spiritually of course. From all different sources for all different reasons, adversity will come to everyone – God’s plan for us wasn’t for life to be perfect but to have opposition to learn and grow (see 2 Nephi 2:11). Through God though – as will be discussed – we can find warm, comforting arms in those times. Joseph Smith found such comfort from on high – the D&C sections 121-123 were all revelation received during the prison-temple experience and they are powerful words. There are three lessons learnt that Elder Holland highlighted.

The first, having already been mentioned, is that all face struggles in life – the rain falls “…on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) and when this does happen, we will feel like Joseph Smith, crying “O God, where art thou?…How long shall thy hand be stayed?” (D&C 121:1-2). We might feel God has abandoned us and that all is lost. We need to remember however that God is always with us, that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able…” (1 Corinthians 10:13) and I firmly believe that God works the same way with our trials – we will not be tested above that we’re able to endure with God’s help. Remember God’s answer to the Prophet “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment: And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7-8) – all these things we face will end, they are for a short season. The Lord has promised us “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgement thou shalt condemn.” (Isaiah 54:17) and so we need not fear trials.

The second lesson is that, because you are in a trial – it doesn’t mean you have necessarily sinned – although some sins do lead to a greater amount of trials to face. In fact, often the most righteous suffer the most – just look toward our Redeemer! Joseph Smith himself had to be reminded “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8) – the most perfect person to walk the Earth was also the one to suffer the most. “However heavy our load might be, it would be a lot heavier if the Saviour had not gone that way before us and carried that burden with us and for us,” said Elder Holland. Through the Atonement, we can find relief from our burdens and comfort because Christ has suffered it all for us already – we just need to accept the gift. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) – as we come unto Christ by accepting His Gospel, we find rest. We are not greater than the Saviour, therefore we are not entitled to perfect lives with no suffering – and it would have been far worse without the Atonement of Christ, something we can truly be thankful for. This also doesn’t mean we should go looking for trials – for they will come anyway. Also do not pray for them – God does answer prayers – but do pray for guidance for the strength-building experiences when they do come.

The third lesson highlighted by Elder Holland from the Liberty Jail experience is remembering to act in harmony with the teachings of God. “…The powers of heaven cannot be controlled or handled only upon the principles of righteousness,” (D&C 121:36) – therefore, we should not act in anger or vengeance. It takes a true disciple of Christ to take on trials with humility, meekness and continual charity. The true test comes when we’re at our lowest. Christ, Himself, again showed this principle in action. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Christ in His most agonising moments had the charity towards those who lifted Him onto the cross to forgive them. Only then does the meaning of D&C 121:45 – received in the prison-temple – ring true; “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men…then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” Only once we endure our trials with the patience and love required by the words of the prophets, then may we feel we have won the fight.

These three principles are three gems excavated from the prison-temple, however the final counsel given from the Lord to the Prophet is powerful too. Joseph Smith was writing these words for the saints, and he said “…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (D&C 123:17). These are motivating words…however, when we remember what conditions he wrote these in, they can have a larger impact on us. He was still in the prison-temple, the time he’d be let free was still unknown – meanwhile the saints were also at their lowest, being driven from Missouri to Illinois. What a great attitude to have in troubling times, to cheerfully do all things in our power.

I know, with Elder Holland, that trials are a part of life. “The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.” (2 Nephi 22:2) – as long as I trust in Him, I will be cared for, as He is always there.