On Celestial Covenants
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We have taken upon ourselves Celestial Covenants. There are forces in this Telestial world that entice us to treat our covenants casually. We must be valiant in living our covenants by such things as attending church, fulfilling church callings, and living in love and harmony at home. Given Ward Conference of the Sterling Park Ward on Sunday 19 October 2008.
On Celestial Covenants
A Talk Given in the Ward Conference of the
Sterling Park Ward, Ashburn, VA Stake
By D. Calvin Andrus, Bishop
19 October 2008, Version 1.0
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This weekend deer hunting season opens in Utah. I want to share a deer hunting story that happened to me forty years ago from this weekend. I was 15 years old and going to high school in Northern Utah. At that time, deer hunting was such a big deal, the schools released a half-day early so we could get to our hunting sites. For a number of years, my dad, my brothers, and I had been going to Mount Nebo in Central Utah. We would go with our good friends from down the street and meet up with my uncle and my cousins. This annual activity was something we enjoyed immensely.
It was our custom to leave in the early afternoon. We would set up camp on Friday evening, then get up about 4:30 am on Saturday morning. We would hike to our favorite locations and be in place before the sun came up. We would hunt all morning, then nap in the afternoon, and hunt again in the evening. We would spend Saturday night in the mountains and then break camp on Sunday morning. We would return home by early Sunday afternoon in time to get cleaned up to go to Sunday evening Sacrament meeting.
This particular year, as we were getting ready to leave on Friday afternoon, my dad announced that we would be returning home on Saturday night. I asked him why. He explained that the Stake President had scheduled Ward Conference for Sunday, and as the 2nd Counselor in the Bishopric, he needed to be in attendance at church early Sunday morning. I asked my dad if the Stake President knew it was deer hunting weekend. My father responded that the Stake President did. I suggested that Stake President was crazy to schedule Ward Conference for Deer Hunting weekend, when he had to know that few people would be in attendance at church that Sunday. My father said the Stake President believed those who were faithful to their covenants would find a way to attend, no matter what weekend it was.
From that day forward, my family always returned from Deer Hunting on Saturday night.
Since that weekend so many years ago, I have pondered about just exactly which covenants the Stake President had in mind when he scheduled Ward Conference for Deer Hunting weekend. It has become clear to me that he was referring at least to our baptismal covenants. At baptism we covenant to keep the commandments, one of which is to keep the Sabbath Day holy. Another covenant we make at baptism is that we will come to church every Sunday and take the Sacrament.
Our baptismal covenant is a celestial covenant. This means keeping this covenant only makes sense in the context of our aspirations to go to the Celestial Kingdom. Deer Hunting is a telestial activity. When my heart was set on the telestial deer hunting, I thought the Stake President was crazy. Keeping my celestial covenants did not make sense. It was fairly easy to set aside my celestial covenants when I was pursuing telestial activities.
This is one of the great dilemmas of our time. We get so caught up in the telestial activities of our lives, we are tempted to excuse our inattention to our celestial covenants. Life is literally too short to trade our celestial inheritance for telestial pursuits. As we read in Alma,
- For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. . . for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. (Alma 34:32-33)
Let me give some more examples.
As I mentioned, our Baptismal covenants are the first Celestial covenants we take upon ourselves--and probably the easiest to abide.
- We might be tempted to abrogate our celestial covenant to attend church because Sunday is the best time to study for a master's degree. The professor would think us crazy if we didn't study on Sunday.
- We might be tempted to take extended leave from church attendance when a new baby arrives. A physician would think us crazy to take our babies into public any earlier than 8 weeks.
- We might be tempted to neglect church attendance because of vacations and weekend outings. Some in our extended families would think it crazy for us to go to church while on vacation.
- We might be tempted to stop paying tithing because our financial advisers insist one cannot get out of debt while paying tithing. These financial advisers think it is crazy to pay tithing.
We should not heed telestial advice from our college professors, our medical advisers, our extended family, and our financial advisers when such advice leads us away from keeping our celestial covenants. When we fail to attend church, partake of the sacrament, pay tithes and offerings, etc., we, like Esau, are trading away our heavenly inheritance for a bowl of oatmeal.
It is not easy to live in this world and yet not be of the world. Living by celestial covenants seems crazy here in the telestial world.
The Melchizedek Priesthood is received with an oath and a covenant, whereas the Aaronic Priesthood is not (see Hebrews 7:21). One part of the Melchizedek Priesthood covenant is to meet with our quorums. We do this by attending Priesthood meeting. In our ward, too many Melchizedek Priesthood holders leave church after Sacrament meeting. This is unbecoming of one who has been entrusted with the authority to act in the name of God. Rather than finding telestial reasons to skip Priesthood meeting, we should be anxiously finding celestial reasons to attend Priesthood meeting.
When we take upon ourselves the Endowment Covenants, we commit ourselves to sacrificing our telestial activities and consecrating ourselves to building up the kingdom of God here on the earth. We should never let our devotion to such telestial activities as sports, dance, drama, clubs, nights out with friends, or other hobbies interfere with discharging our church callings. In the temple we covenanted that we would sacrifice sports, dance, drama, clubs, hobbies and other telestial pursuits to build up the church. Endowed members who neglect their church callings for telestial activities mock the covenants they have made.
When we kneel at the alter in the temple and take upon ourselves the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, we are committing our whole being to live in love and harmony with our spouse. We also pledge ourselves to help our spouses and children return to the celestial kingdom.
- We all have known couples, contrary to the oath they made with Heavenly Father, to be discourteous, unkind, unforgiving, manipulative, intolerant, quick to both give and take offense, and be revengeful with each other. They often justify their behavior on the basis that their spouse started it. Or, on a few occasions, they justify their behavior on the basis of advice received from a licensed therapist.
- We can imagine couples in divorce proceedings, who -- on the advice of their attorneys -- have become misleading, evasive, and less than forthright when testifying before a judge on the subject of the division of property.
In the garden of Eden, Adam tried blaming his misbehavior on his wife, and Eve tried blaming her misbehavior on the serpent. It didn't work. When we appear at the judgment bar and try to justify our misbehavior on the basis that our spouse started it, or we were just acting on the advice of our therapist or attorney, it won't work. Having a bad spouse, or receiving Telestial advice from therapists or attorneys does not justify breaking Celestial Covenants.
Brothers and sisters. I have spoken very plainly. I have identified areas where we need to improve. The tone has been stern. I pray we may improve our adherence to our Celestial Covenants.
Let me conclude by complimenting those among us who do their very best to keep their Celestial covenants. I am aware of tremendous sacrifices to build the kingdom. I know people in our ward who have given up vacations, have given up new cars, have given up their hobbies, have given up the sports and drama that they love, and have given up their precious evenings and weekends to build the Kingdom of God here in Sterling. There are members of our ward who have consecrated everything with which they have been blessed to help prepare you and me for the second coming of the Savior. All of us in this ward are very blessed to live among such saints as these.
I am grateful for your prayers and support. I appreciate your patience. I know Our Father in Heaven lives, and His Son is our Savior.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.