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Monday, July 29, 2013

Stand Ye in Holy Places

Here is my talk I gave, in lieu of a high councilman, on July 28, 2013 in the Jordan Willows 4th ward:

Stand Ye in Holy Places

When they asked me to speak today on the topic "Stand Ye in Holy Places" I immediately rejoiced in my heart.  Before being called as the Stake Primary president, I served as the Beehive counselor in my ward.  I loved that calling immensely and the theme for the youth this year is "Stand Ye in Holy Places."  "This will be easy!" I thought,  “I know exactly where to go to get all the resources I could possibly want!”  When I think of holy places, my mind immediately goes to the temple, church, my home.  But when I got to the youth website, while I found some references to the temple and home, the majority of topics were things like the Plan of Salvation, the Godhead, and the Atonement.   There was a beautiful video of a youth group in Las Vegas teaching the message that even in Sin City, you can bloom where you are planted.  And while all of these are wonderful topics that I'm glad the youth are learning, they weren't what I expected for a site dedicated to the theme "Stand Ye in Holy Places."

I decided to read the scripture the topic came from, D&C 87:8.  "Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord.  Amen."  The part that stood out to me most was, "and be not moved."  If this scripture is only referencing the holy places that immediately came to my mind, the temple, churches and home, then I'm going to live a very boring life, as I apparently not even supposed to move in between those places.  Clearly the instruction to stand in holy places and be not moved cannot solely apply to singular, stationary places.

In the October 1994 General Conference, Elder Lance B. Wickman of the Seventy said, "through the years I have come to appreciate the wisdom of a dear friend, a patriarch and temple sealer. “Lance,” he said, “the joy I receive is more than just being in the temple. The temple is in me! And when I leave the temple, its peace goes with me.”  So it can be for every righteous soul. When we visit the temple as often as distance and individual circumstance permit, the temple will be in us. Then, despite the buffetings of life, we will always be in a holy place."

By attending the temple often we can make our lives holy, no matter where we are.  Striving to live temple-worthy lives will also help us to always be in a holy place.  With this new definition of holy places, "be not moved" does not mean to physically not move, but rather to not move your standards, your actions, or your morals from your holy place.

Standing firm in your holy place, by nature, is difficult, for the natural man is an enemy to God. It's easy to come home from church, having learned something you need to apply to your life, then make a declaration to live by that principle.  What is infinitely harder is to actually make the change.

In grade school I participated in the D.A.R.E. program, which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.  As part of the program we had to decide right then to never take drugs or alcohol.  We were taught that by making a decision now, before the temptation arose, it would be easy to "Just Say No" when the offer did come.  I’ve learned to apply that same principle to many aspects of my life.

For example, when I was growing up, I went through a period of time where I had to figure out what my dress standards would be instead of just living my parents’ standards.  I eventually chose to always have a wardrobe that would cover temple garments, whether or not I was yet endowed.

Years later I went to China to teach English.  Some girls in my group discovered a photography studio that thought it was great fun to dress up the Americans and do glamour shots.  My roommate and I decided that we wanted to do it as well, so one day we joined a group of other girls and went in to be glamified, Chinese-style.  At first it was all great fun.  Getting ridiculous makeup put on, then laughing as they tried to figure out what to do with my very thick, very coarse hair.  Then they started to dress us up.  My roommate and I quickly realized that most of the dresses were off-the shoulder, spaghetti strap, or completely sleeveless.  We exchanged horrified looks as our dilemma settled in our minds.  We had already paid for our photos and we already looked rather ridiculous.  We didn’t want to just walk out if we didn’t have to, so we tried to explain that we wanted our shoulders covered.  Now we didn’t speak Chinese and they didn’t speak English, so we played a grand game of charades trying to communicate our standards.  What made it even more difficult was that up to that point, no one else had requested to have their shoulders covered.  Even the girls we went with didn’t have any problem with it.  The common justification was that it was a costume, and thus didn’t need to stand up to their normal dress standards.

We spent probably 10 or 15 minutes trying to get our point across.  Several times I considered just giving up for the sake of convenience.  They didn’t understand our dress standards, so what would it really matter?  None of the girls in my group would judge me.  In fact, I feared many were judging me for making such a fuss about it.  I wanted the other girls in the group to like me, but having made the decision years before helped me realize that my standards were more important than what some random Chinese photographers or even the girls I was to live with for the next 3 months thought of me.  Both my roommate and I stuck it out and eventually they understood that we wanted our shoulders covered.  They were obviously confused, but they found some dresses with off-the-shoulder sleeves that fit well enough and figured out a way to pull the shoulders up.  We ended the shoot exhausted, but happy that we managed to figure out how to stand firm in our resolves.

Look into your own lives.  Is there an area in your life that is not as holy as it should be?  Decide now to stand firm and to keep your holy place strong.  Satan and others will try and tempt you to weaken your guard, to break your promise.  At first it will be difficult.  At times it may seem impossible.  We live in a world where your word of honor or a promise don't really amount to much.  Who is it really going to hurt if you slide a little, just this once?  Do not compromise your integrity and your word of honor.

Karl G. Maeser, former president of Brigham Young Academy once said, "I have been asked what I mean by 'word of honor.' I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls--walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground--there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I'd die first!"

His conviction is astounding to me.  Really consider that quote.  Your word of honor, to others, to yourself, to God, is less physically tangible than a chalk circle drawn around you.  In most instances, no one will know if you put a toe over the line.  However you will know, and God will know.  If your integrity and honor are worth so little to you, how can God trust you with His pearls of great price?  How can you build a holy place around you and be not moved from it if you are so easily moved from your circle of honor?

At times the commitments we make by living the gospel are hard, plain and simple.  Sometimes we don't understand why we have to do it.  Sometimes the pressure just seems to great.  Sometimes we feel like Job and that despite everything we are doing right, everything bad is happening to us.  Sometimes the peer pressure and ridicule we get are too much to bear and we want desperately to just be liked and accepted.  While those may seem like justifiable reasons to slip from our commitments for a time, they are not.  We must stand firm and strong.

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Twelve has said, "We are not authorized to negotiate the conditions of that eternal plan. Remember Nehemiah, who was charged with building a wall to protect Jerusalem. Some wanted him to come down and compromise his position, but Nehemiah refused. He was not intolerant of others; he simply explained, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease … ?”

“… Ironically, standing strong sometimes means avoiding and even fleeing from the world. The Savior declared, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Joseph of Egypt ran from the temptations of Potiphar’s wife, and Lehi left behind Jerusalem and took his family into the wilderness."

As Elder Hales pointed out, sometimes we must flee in order to not be moved from our holy place.  While the notion seems a little ridiculous, we must realize that the key to having a holy place is to have the Spirit reside within us.  When we are places that drive the Spirit from us, our holy place is also driven from us.  We move from our holy place the moment we put ourselves in a position to compromise the companionship of the Spirit.  The only way to return to our holy place and "be not moved" is to flee.  Whether that's fleeing from a party, from a rude joke, or to flee more permanently from a job, a group of friends, or a bad habit, we must flee as quickly as possible.

During my elementary and middle school years I had the same group of friends.  I grew up in a very small town, so it was common to keep the same friends from preschool to graduation.  At the time, I was happy with my friends and saw no problems.  Looking back I can see how they were a very bad influence on me.  I recall conspiring with some of the group to come up with a truly awful nickname for one of our friends that we were mad at at the time.  We even came up with a nickname for the bad nickname so that we could use it in front of her without her suspecting.

When I started high school, I ended up taking classes with more of the girls I knew from church than the group of friends I had grown up with.  Without conscious thought, I transferred from my old group of friends to my church friends as my main friends.  It wasn’t long before I realized the difference it made in my life.  Where before laughing at others was a main form of entertainment, I found myself surrounded by people who spent their time helping everyone around them feel good about themselves.  As soon as I realized what was happening and the effect it was having on me, I quickly let go of the remaining ties I had with the old group.  I was still friendly with them, but I very rarely spent large amounts of time with them.

Now I can look back and see the long-term effect of my unintentional drift and then intentional choice.  The old group of friends have never gone to college.  Most are single moms, some divorced and some never married.  None are active in the church.  Most spend their free time in bars and partying.  In contrast, my church friends are all still active in the church.  All have temple marriages.  None have been divorced.  I am so grateful to the Lord for nudging me in the right direction, then allowing me to see that I had a choice, allowing me to chose to flee in order to stay in and build my holy place.

Spiritual Habits
Now that we know how important it is to stand in our holy places and be not moved, how do we build our holy place to stand in in the first place?  We first must start building our holy place on a strong foundation.  Helaman taught his sons, "And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."

If we build our holy place on the "rock of our Redeemer" and draw our circle of honor around it, we will never be moved.  No matter what Satan throws at us, no matter the peer pressure, no matter the temptation, we cannot fall.  But how do we build upon the rock?  It is one thing to think of theological analogies and see that we have room to improve.  It's quite another to figure out what the realistic steps to achieve that ideal actually are.  But I'll tell you a secret—there is no magical formula.  There is no complicated path we must follow.  The gospel is one of simplicity.

We are taught from the time we are young what we fondly know as "the Primary answers".  We tend to dismiss those as the “easy answers.”  However, those simple and pure answers are the path we must follow.  They may seem simple, yet I'm sure we can all agree that doing the simple things continuously is often harder to do than if we were asked to do one hard and complicated thing once.  Sincere prayer, studying the scriptures, attending our church meetings, attending the temple often, bearing our testimonies, you know the list.  Individually and once in a while, none of these are hard.  But all together and regularly?  Much more difficult.  But all are necessary if we are to always stand firm in our holy places.

President Monson taught us in October 2011 conference: My beloved brothers and sisters, communication with our Father in Heaven—including our prayers to Him and His inspiration to us—is necessary in order for us to weather the storms and trials of life. The Lord invites us, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me.” As we do so, we will feel His Spirit in our lives, providing us the desire and the courage to stand strong and firm in righteousness—to “stand … in holy places, and be not moved.”

The only way to build our foundation upon the rock of our Redeemer is to draw near to Him and allow Him to draw near unto us.  We cannot build upon something far away or upon something we do not know and understand.  We do so through those simple, repetitive Primary Answers.  The goal of the gospel is not to prove that we can overcome insurmountable trials.  Our purpose on earth is to cement in ourselves Christlike attributes that make us good and righteous people.  We do so by living the simple principles during the good times and the hard.  By staying true to our standards, no matter the cost.  It is through constant repetition that we firmly set those Christlike attributes into our very soul and draw closer to him, all the while building our holy place around us.  That is how we gain the integrity to stay in our circle of honor.

I bear you my testimony that it is through the small and simple things great things are brought to pass.  Christ is aching to draw near to us, to help us build our foundations to house our holy places, if only we will draw near to him first.  Every time we do Hard Things and stand firm in our standards, it becomes a little easier.  I testify that when it becomes too hard for us, we can cast our burdens upon the Lord and He will give us rest, allowing us to pass through our trials and come out the victor.

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