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Ordinances: the Three Tests of Life

And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen (Ether 12:41).

The names of the three members of the Godhead are invoked in three ordinances: baptism, sealing of a couple in marriage, and sealing of parents to children. The unity that They embody, the power that They convey, stand at the beginning and at the culmination of our covenant path. This Jesus whom we are to seek is to be found principally in the covenants, rites, and ordinances of His gospel. The Prophet Joseph taught:

All men who become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ will have to receive the fulness of the ordinances of his kingdom; and those who will not receive all the ordinances [and all that can be transmitted through those ordinances] will come short of the fullness of the that glory if they do not lose the whole. (TPJS p.309)

We find Him first in the waters of baptism when we are buried in the water as He was buried in the grave. He came forth to a new life and we come out of that watery grave born again by the water into the Church—the body of Christ.

We find Him as we follow the injunction to the receive the Holy Ghost at our confirmation. The first gift of the Spirit is the testimony of Jesus—that He is the Christ, the Son of the Father. That visitation of the Holy Ghost in our lives makes us born of the Spirit and justified—made right with God.

So often we are our own severest critics. We are uncomfortable saying that we are justified/just/righteous before God. We sing a hymn over the sacrament table: I Stand All Amazed. I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me—confused at the grace that so freely He proffers me—the strangeness of His acceptance of us—when we have not accepted ourselves so completely.

Why does He say we’re justified before Him when we know a thousand ways in which we are not all right?

We are confused that God seems to be more lenient towards us than we have been to ourselves.

Does He not know us as deeply as we know ourselves?

Can He have missed or passed over our weaknesses, sins, and failings?

Or do you and I have a more superficial view of the eternities—even of ourselves?

Does God see something in us that we cannot yet see?

Is the most difficult thing to believe and to accept in Christianity our own acceptance?

His ongoing presence in our lives through the presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives sanctifies us. The sacrament reminds us weekly that He was broken up like the bread for us, His blood poured out like water for us. That broken-up bread is passed to each of us and if we can be one, then it comes back together again as one loaf, one faith, one baptism, one Lord—Jesus Christ.

The water is passed to us, and with it we only promise to always remember Him— remember that He has infinite forgiveness, infinite grace coming from an infinite atonement. In taking the bread we promise what we will try to do—keep His commandments, always remember Him, and take His name upon us—join His family— take Him as our Eternal Father. In taking the water we only promise to remember what He did, does, and will do. He is the great I AM, not the Great I Was or the Great I Will Be. He is present for us now.

We find Him in the temple as we bind ourselves to act in the ordinances of ongoing sanctification by which we are cleansed by His blood.

Seek Him in the temple: Once we are brought to a ritual state of justification: washed from all our own sins by baptism and the sacrament, then we come to the temple and are washed of the collective sins of our generation. Then we are set apart and anointed to becoming sanctified rulers in the household of God. Then we are clothed and covered by Christ’s atoning sacrifice; so that by accepting His grace we can stand as just men and women before God. We are justified—made righteous by His merits, mercy, and grace.

Once that is done, then we can be endowed or given a gift. The endowment is such a gift. It is the pathway to sanctification. If we endure to the end on this path, then we will be made pure, holy, and without spot.

The temple endowment teaches us that we will be tested in three broad areas of our lives.

The first great test of life is money and the other material things of this life linked to it and the honours and approval of men. Do you have any money? All that there is in this world is tied to money, and Satan seems to be in control of it all. He reigns as far as we can see around us.

Yet the psalmist said:

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face…(Psalm 24).

Clean hands and a pure heart imply obedience. This is the first step in receiving the gifts of the endowment.

Obedience implies sacrifice—giving of oneself, one’s will. Sacrifice means a willingness to see the Lord as the Creator and Owner of the world and all of us. At best, we are stewards of His creation which He gives us to build His kingdom and to feed His sheep— to feed His lambs. At worst we are the world’s destroyers aligned with that one who can only destroy, who can never give life for he is the author of death and hell.

The outward manifestation of a proper inner stance on obedience and sacrifice is the payment of an honest tithing and making appropriate offerings to the Lord.

We must come to be a giver if we are share the mind and heart—to come to know the One who gave His life and the One who gave His son. For God so loved the world that He gave….

One who cannot give does not acknowledge God as His creator. One who cannot give is not following the genetics of godhood within him or her that would make of each woman and man a cheerful giver. There is the first great test— Do we love God? Are we a bit like Him? Will we be givers or hoarders of His gifts here on earth?

The second great test of life is how we treat each other. Loving neighbour as self

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? (Matthew 25:34-39)

The outward manifestation of this is do we feed the sheep? Are we the Lord’s under shepherds? Do we visit the widow and the orphan? Do we mourn with those that mourn? Do we rejoice with those who rejoice?

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Peter 5:2-4).

This is living the laws of the gospel. It is practiced in our families, with our friends and all whom we encounter in our daily lives, and those with whom we have been carefully placed in the wards and branches of His Church.

Or do we speak evil of the sheep, gossip and undermine the sheep, bully the sheep, swear at the sheep, hit the sheep, take advantage of and exploit the sheep, defraud the sheep, steal from the sheep, or eat them alive?

As we deal with our brothers and sisters, we will find in them the face of Christ. How we treat them will determine how much of Him we will see. If we truly seek Him, then we must treat them as He would—love one another as I have loved you—the new commandment.

The third great test of life is sexuality and gender. What will we do with whatever we have been given?

The outward measure for this test is the law of chastity. Do you live the law of chastity?

That’s a deeper question than it might appear of the surface? Just as sex is more than its expression in sexual acts between two people or alone in some masturbatory fantasy, so too chastity is more than just abstinence from such activities. Gender too has a far broader significance in this and in our future lives than merely a matter of choosing our pronouns and finding or creating a welcoming and affirming community.

Sexuality is the driver for different things at different points in our lives. When we are young it pushes us towards the physical experience and towards emotional intimacy. The questions that stir us are things like: Does he/she love me? Am I acceptable? Will anyone ever love me? The temptation is to over suppress our feelings or to over express them outside of the moderating course set by the covenants.

Shiblon was told to bridle his passions so that he could be filled with love. This is a riding the horse metaphor. We should understand that around here. You don’t get anywhere with the horse of sexuality if you pen it up, tie it up or shoot it dead between the eyes, thus affirming that you’ll never use it. It’s very safe to sit astride a dead horse, but it won’t take you anywhere.

At the other extreme, if you jump on the untamed undisciplined animal with no reins, grab onto its mane and yell, Yahoo! You might get an exciting ride, but it is very unlikely that you will arrive where you wanted to go. You will end up somewhere else, and you and others will likely be injured in the process. Sex is never casual.

You need to use your sexual feelings and that sexual nature within you the way it was intended—be attracted to people, get to know them, go out and keep your eyes open, get engaged, get married, use and explore all that the gift can give you. You need to take the reins, learn bounds and use discipline. Learn to let sex take you somewhere as you steer it within the bounds the Lord has set. Riding a horse properly will take you where you want to go with greater speed and power than would have been possible on your own. You can use the power of the horse, the power of your sexuality to multiply anything that you might do without it. Figuring this out for you in the circumstances of your life is the work of a lifetime. It certainly doesn’t end with marriage—that’s only the beginning in many ways. Don’t think you understand sexuality now. You don’t really know much about it yet.

What you might see in movies or on the internet about sexuality is a counterfeit.

Sexuality is an important approach to learning about our relationship with Christ. If you misuse sexuality, you don’t just get regrets, damaged feelings, abandonment, unwanted pregnancies, or sexually transmitted disease; you miss learning how you are to relate to Christ. You won’t understand His power—His fierce constancy—His absolute fidelity. I can read about His love and His faithfulness to me, but I can experience it daily in my marriage. Throughout the scriptures Christ used sexuality as a metaphor for His relationship to the Church. He is the Bridegroom and gathered Israel or the Church is always the bride. Apostasy or leaving the Church was always marital abandonment— cheating—adultery—whoring after other gods.

Stay on the path. Pornography, masturbation, acting out sexually are false paths to real sexuality. They are dead ends—they stunt, blunt, and hobble real sexuality. These sexual detours take the Spirit from you and just increase your chances of not having sex take you where it needs to.

In working out your own sexuality, don’t drag others down. I know that young women can lead young men astray, but it is often the men who are the instigators of this misuse. You young men (especially those who’ve been missionaries and have taught these principles to others and committed them to live them)—whose role are you playing if you come home and try to push past the bounds the Lord has set.

If you are with a young woman, trying to persuade her to compromise her covenants and your covenants, then…

Who are you—really? the young woman might wonder.

I’m your brother—just here for a nice time with you—just relax—this will be nice. It will feel good.

You say you’re my brother, but you’ve come here to persuade me to disobey our Father in Heaven?

Well, whose role are you playing? We’re back in the garden here. If the girl can be taken to be Eve—the mother of those not yet living—you are certainly not playing the role of her Adam. Don’t go over to Satan’s side mouthing his lines so easily—have a bit of respect for yourselves—you’re better than that.

At later times in life our sexuality will ask us: Should I marry? When should I marry? What will happen if I don’t marry? Should I have children if I don’t have an opportunity to marry?

Once married you might wonder: Should I have children? How many children should I have? The temptation here is to decide without taking your partner’s agency and feelings into account. This is a time to counsel and labour together in love. This part of sexuality can be hard work and will require kindness, patience, meekness, and longsuffering.

At other times for other people the questions might be: What is sexuality for me if don’t yet have the physical experience, or what if I never have the experience? What can I continue to give? What can I legitimately admire in others? What does sex have to do with friendship and community? Can I be whole without a sexual component to me that finds expression in marriage? Does this mean that I have to express it in some other way? How can I do that and keep the law of chastity?

The temptation then is to feel that chastity is too high a bar. I can’t live without some sexual expression, so I have to abandon my covenant. The other extreme is to isolate oneself and to become more and more self-sufficient not needing anyone or anything beyond what one can do for him/herself—to become an island in the sea of humanity. Watching but not getting too involved in anyone’s life or emotions.

Living the law of chastity doesn’t just demand abstinence from forbidden practices, it demands community, creativity, friendship, play, and personal wholeness. If we approach it by simply amputating parts of ourselves then we are going in the wrong direction with it and the purposes for which it was given to us.

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion (D&C 59:18-20).

During the latter part of Jesus’ ministry, He passed a blind man, and His disciples asked Him:

Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him (John 9:2-3).

With whatever hand sexuality has dealt you or me, neither you nor those who went before you sinned. We are born each with various gifts and various deficits. All are given or withheld so that the works of God can be evident and visible in us.

The proper question is: How can I live the law of chastity and make my sexuality a blessing to others so that I am seen as an example of how God works in the world.

God blessed me and you and He has shared a small portion of His creative potential with me?

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth… (Genesis 1:28).

That is far more than just peopling the world with as many children as we can push out in our fertile years. Can we look at what we have done with our creative powers, our sexuality, during each of the creative periods of our lives and say:

And I, God, saw everything that I had made, and, behold, all things which I had made were very good (Moses 2:31).

I may have made children, a marriage, a family, an extended family. I may have written books, painted paintings, created a safe haven for elderly people, for animals. I may have created a little garden of Eden in my garden—tilling and caring for it. I may have been a great teacher and helped many people. I may have excelled at a trade or profession. I may have been a good mechanic and maintained a car that was an expression of my soul. I may have been a helper to many people. I may have operated a soup kitchen. I may have served a mission. I may have indexed thousands and thousands of family names.

But with all these things, I must build a life based on the covenants and the rock of Jesus Christ.

If I can look back on the things which I have done with the creative and generative energy within me and see that it has been a blessing to others, then all things which I had made were very good.

If we can say those words of the Creator Christ, then we have not sought Him in vain.

As we face these three tests: money, people, sexuality; we will meet adversity.

Joseph Smith alluded to Isaiah in describing his calling and the role of adversity in polishing him in preparation for all he had to do.

I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force…all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty, who will give me dominion over all….

Others who oppose God’s commissioned work by His servant are marred because the word of God coming from God’s servants’ mouths makes their mouths like a sharp sword. This is the two-sided sword which we meet in scripture. It's a sword that cuts both ways: to clear our way forward as we support the truth, but it also cuts us down if we oppose that word of truth. We are all either polished or marred by the process of coming into contact with the truth of God in the three main trials of this world. The option that we don’t have is to be unaffected by it.

These are the three tests of life: what will we do with money and things; how will we treat others especially when we have power over them, and what did we do with the sexuality and gender that we were given.

Given Christ’s infinite grace, given His fierce persistence in shepherding us, what do we need to do: Pay your tithing, attend sacrament meeting and the temple, live the law of chastity. These are the outward things that we are all tempted not to do. If you do those things, you will be fine. The Holy Ghost will always be with you, even when you don’t know He’s there. You will be on the covenant path. Your walk on it, and that will allow God to say to you and to me:

Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord (Matthew 25:21).

Then that Jesus and His grace that we seek will be in us and abide in us forever and ever.

T. C. Smith

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