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I’ve got an amazing personal story to tell you today, but first I want to set the stage. Here are two statements that were made by a man who had some very grave concerns about the people of the Church.
“Would to God, brethren, I could tell you who I am! Would to God I could tell you what I know! But you would call it blasphemy, and there are men upon this stand who would want to take my life”
“If I should reveal the things that God has revealed to me, there are some on this stand that would cut my throat or take my heart’s blood”
Who do you think said these statements? If you answered Joseph Smith you are correct. But what’s more puzzling is why he said them, and who he was talking to when he said them. Here we have a Prophet of the Church who is speaking at a meeting of the Church and saying something to his brethren, some of whom were general authorities (Apostles) of the church. These are extremely strong words.
It’s mind boggling to me that he who knew so much, had had so many visitations and manifestations would feel that his very closest brothers in the Gospel would try to kill him if he were to share with them some of the things that he knew.
Picture it, the Prophet of God, saying these things to them. It blows my mind.
Yet, we have other statements about the man where men like the Prophet John Taylor said:
3 Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated! (D&C 135:3)
Or the Prophet Brigham Young uttered this bold statement regarding Joseph Smith:
Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the veil in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians who have slain the Prophets and butchered and otherwise caused the death of thousands of Latter Day Saints… something that no doubt will mortify them – something that, to say the least, is a matter of deep regret to them – namely, that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are -I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation – the keys to rule in the spirit world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit world.
… Should not this thought comfort all people? They will, by-and-by, be a thousand times more thankful for such a man as Joseph Smith, junior, than it is possible for them to be for any earthly good whatever. It is his mission to see that all the children of men in this last dispensation are saved, that can be, through the redemption. You will be thankful, every one of you, that Joseph Smith, junior, was ordained to this great calling before the worlds were.
So why do you think Joseph Smith, this amazing man, this profoundly important man to everyone on this earth would speak to his friends so boldly and accuse them of seeking to take away his life? Why do you think he said that?
Upon further study of Joseph Smith I came across some other very powerful statements, these perhaps shed some light on why he was so concerned. As you read these quotes, try to measure where you stand in regards to setting up stakes. I’m not going to tell you what that means right away – I trust you’re smart enough to figure it out on your own.
“It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty.” (History of the Church, 5:529–30; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 13, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.)
“There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake. Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309; History of the Church 5:424).
“I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, You will come short of the glory of God. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions.” (History of the Church, 5:554; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 27, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards and William Clayton.)
“Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther. Did Abraham when called upon to offer his son? Did the Savior? No.” (Notes of James Burgess from a sermon in the temple grove 27 August 1843, The Words of Joseph Smith, p.243-248)
“There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40].” (History of the Church, 6:184–85; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Jan. 21, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 331)
Why did Joseph Smith say what he said to the other Church leaders? Because they had set up stakes, they had put God in a box and said, “God can do (will do) only so much, and that is as far as He will go and no further.” But Joseph wanted to share with them things that were way outside the boxes those men had set up – they had pounded stakes in the ground of their beliefs and simply would not believe any further.
Today my friends, I would like to share with you some stories that take place outside the box, and only happened because the parties involved were not bound by unbelief, and shackled by box thinking. With these simple stories I hope to illustrate today that living outside the box is truly the best way to live.
The first story is a personal story that someone called “The Claridge Miracle.” This story took place the last weeks leading up to the dedication of the Tucson Temple. Several months ago a good friend of mine asked me if I was interested in being an Ordinance Worker at the Tucson Temple. I thought that would be a really neat experience, but knew because of my marital status (Okay, let’s get that out of the way right away, it’s important to the story; I’m a divorced single man), I wouldn’t be allowed to be an Ordinance Worker in the Temple. So I didn’t pursue the idea. I didn’t talk about it to anyone, I didn’t ask anyone about it, I didn’t submit my name to my Bishop – I just assumed if it was going to happen it could only happen through the Lord.
That said, however, I did pray about it. I prayed about it often. I sought with diligence for favors from the Lord. I’d go to the Mesa Temple as often as I could (once or twice a week). And really tried to keep the covenants I’ve made with the Lord. I kept pressing the Lord. I kept asking Him if I could be a Temple worker. *crickets*
And then one day in late July I got a phone call from the Tucson Temple Recorder, he said that my name had been submitted and approved to work at the Tucson Temple and wanted to have me meet with the Temple Presidency. “Yeah, right! Is this some kind of a joke?” is what I wanted to say, but instead set up the appointment to meet with the Temple Presidency.
I’m not kidding. I didn’t believe it. I got off that phone and fell to my knees and thanked the Lord. Then I got up and shouted (literally) at the top of my lungs. I got in my car – a phone call wouldn’t do it justice – and drove to my parents’ house to tell them the great news.
I was the first Claridge in Tucson to be called as a Temple Worker! I was so ecstatic! I couldn’t believe it!
I went to the meeting, and met with the second councilor of the Temple Presidency. It was a short and simple meeting. He just wanted to know if I had any questions. I wasn’t about to rock the boat and tip it over so I kept my mouth shut – I just knew they had made a mistake, there was no way they were going to let a single divorced man be an Ordinance Worker. But I was wrong – he set me apart right there and then. Yippee!! I was an brand new Tucson Temple Ordinance Worker!!!
I got my schedule. I went and bought my temple clothing. I was on top of the world.
A week later the Tucson Temple Recorder gave me a call and told me they had made a mistake. After a closer look at the Handbook for Temple Presidents they found that I would not be eligible to be an Ordinance Worker. The Recorder said I would need to talk with the Temple Presidency. My heart was sick.
That evening there was a scheduled meeting with our Shift Coordinator for the first time, I decided I would speak with the Temple Presidency then. As I was putting booties on my shoes, the Second Councilor walked up to me and asked if he could assist me. I told him I was good, but I had a question, “I got a call from the Recorder today and he said there’s a problem, and that I’m not eligible to be an Ordinance Worker.”
He asked me, “Have you been divorced for more than 5 years?”
“Yes. Way longer than that.” I responded.
“Then you’re Okay.”
“Are you sure?” I questioned him again. I didn’t want to get my hopes up yet again, only to be dashed again. That has happened to me so many times as a divorced single man that I know the territory quite well, and see the warning signs pretty easily.
He assured me that everything was Okay and that I didn’t need to worry, and that I had indeed been set apart as an Ordinance Worker. He almost seemed a bit taken back that I didn’t take his word for it, and questioned him, and pressed him for reassurance.
But after that little interchange I felt relief and felt like my worries and concerns weren’t warranted. I was comforted by the Councilor’s reassurances. It was a great meeting with all the other temple workers.
Then the next day I got a phone call with an area code (801). I lived in Utah long enough to know that was a Salt Lake City area code, I didn’t know whose number it was, but I answered it anyway. It was the cell phone number of the Second Councilor of the Temple Presidency.
He said, “Brother Claridge, today the Temple Recorder brought to the Temple Presidency’s attention the exact policies in the Temple President’s Handbook, and I am so very sorry to have to tell you that you can’t be an Ordinance Worker. So I’m going to have to release you.”
I could tell he was heartbroken. He was taking the news way harder than I was – like I said, I’m used to it, as a single divorced man this certainly was not my first rodeo when it came to disappointment. He was very gracious, and loving and kind. He told me the Temple Presidency would love it I would come to the Temple often and volunteer, but I wouldn’t be able to be an Ordinance Worker.
See, I knew the “Mormon Box” all too well. I knew the rules. I knew it a week ago when I got that first call. I just knew. Divorced single men have a Scarlet Letter painted on them. I’ve been in the “Mormon Box” my entire life. I know how it works, and to think otherwise was foolish of me.
But my prayers that night weren’t angry. They weren’t even of heartache. I wasn’t having either of those emotions. My prayers that evening weren’t, “Why Lord? Why have you done me wrong again? Why?” No, that wasn’t the prayer.
I got on the phone with my good friend and we talked – he’s always a great sounding board. I told him, “I’m going to bother them until they let me be an Ordinance Worker. I’m going to volunteer several times a week, and each time I see them, any of them, I’m going to ask them if they are ready to set me apart as an Ordinance Worker.”
He said, “Of anyone I know, you would do that!”
“You bet I would. And, I’m going to weary the Lord too. I wearied Him this much already, and He got me set apart once, He can do it again!”
I wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer. That’s the attitude I had. It was one of faith, not one of depression or giving up. I wasn’t going to throw in the towel. They were just men. I had the Lord on my side and if He wanted me to be a Temple Ordinance Worker, then by golly, I was going to be a Temple Ordinance Worker!
So I churned and churned and churned on it for the next few days. I came up with just about every argument I could think of. I researched the scriptures. I looked for any examples, even small where the Lord had gone outside the box. And believe you me, I found plenty of ammunition. But where could I use it?
I prayed about it. I pondered on it. What can I do? I had more questions. I wanted answers. But where could I get the answers?
I decided that I needed to talk with the Temple President himself. Not sour grapes. That’s not what I wanted. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t even hurt – although having gone through what I had gone through sure should have hurt. I don’t think I even shed a tear. No, it wasn’t hurt. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why!? I wanted to know if there was any wiggle room, any possibilities, anything I could do to persuade them to call me as an Ordinance Worker.
So I called the Recorder. I asked if I could get a meeting with the Temple President. Mind you, this was Thursday before the dedication. I did not expect to get an appointment until the week after the dedication – I was certain the Temple President was way too busy to meet with puny insignificant me. Boy, was I wrong, I got an appointment that very afternoon.
The meeting was great. But the meeting didn’t answer any questions. In fact, the meeting raised way more questions than it answered. The Temple President is a great man, full of love, and truly cared. He pulled up the Handbook for Temple President’s on his computer and read me the policy. Single divorced men over the age of 30 cannot be Temple Ordinance Workers – period.
He told me he didn’t understand the policy either. “That’s how the gospel is, we don’t always understand why, but we obey.” And that was that.
He shared with me that if that wasn’t the policy they’d set me apart in a heartbeat. They want me to be a Temple Ordinance Worker. They love my parent’s, have worked with them many times over the years. They know that I am worthy – that’s not the concern. I’m just a single divorced man over the age of 30. Dang!
So, my effort was foiled. No more answers than what I started with. But there was a strange emotion in me. I still wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer. I was still churning inside. I still wasn’t satisfied with the policy. It wasn’t right.
Then President Uchtdorf said in one of the dedications that the Church even wants newly called missionaries to be set apart as Ordinance Workers. I was like, “Great, single divorced men are the only demographic in the Church that can’t be Ordinance Workers. What’s up with that?”
I still wasn’t angry. I had this burning, gut wrenching, soul changing knot in my gut that wouldn’t go away. I wanted answers! And like I said, I wasn’t taking “No” for an answer either.
So I prayed. I prayed hard. I searched. I was determined to figure it out. That’s how it is when I get one of those knots in my gut. I’ve got to wrestle with the Spirit until that knot gets itself worked out.
On Wednesday, at about 11:00am, I was down at my parent’s house and talking to my Dad and got a phone call from the Temple Recorder again. He asked if I could come meet with the Temple President. I said of course and set the appointment for that afternoon.
I then said to my Dad, “The Temple President spoke with President Uchtdorf and I’m going to be called as a Temple Ordinance Worker.”
“Is that what he said, right now on the phone?” He asked me.
“No. But that’s what my gut’s been telling me for the past few days.”
“Well, let us know.”
I went to the meeting. The Temple President sat down at his desk and had a single piece of paper in his hand, and said, “The first thing I want to tell you is that this (holding up the piece of paper) is because of you Mike. This is dated today.” And then he read to me, and I paraphrase, that every Temple worthy member, regardless of their marital status, if approved by their Bishop and Stake President can be a Temple Ordinance Worker – and all time and age restrictions have been removed.
He said, “This is the most wonderful news I’ve ever heard!”
He told me at least three more times during our conversation that this change, made in every single Temple for every member in the Church was because of me. I was blown away. I still don’t quite fathom the ramifications of it all.
He set me apart right then and there. I was walking on clouds the rest of the day.
My sister has some friends that have had some difficulties regarding these very issues. They are Temple Ordinance Workers in the Hawaiian Temple and my sister told them the story. This was their response:
“I knew that rule and that sister’s were allowed to serve after a five year waiting period which I thought was unfair to the brothers! I think it never hurts to ask why policy is the way it is as some things just need to be revisited! Like this rule!!! Give your brother my love!
Our temple presidency received the letter yesterday and have already called two over thirty divorced brothers. Thank your brother. Thank your brother for being the kind of fine man he is to prompt this marvelous movement! I love him and you!
This morning I remembered what else I needed to add! Our temple presidency was agonizing about a young brother Ordinance Worker who was turning thirty this week and how to release him! Miracle of miracles the now referred to in our temple as the “Claridge Miracle” the release is no longer necessary. What a blessing your dear Mike and temple president made that task unnecessary!”
I didn’t set out to make this change. Heck, I was stuck in my “Mormon Box” and figured it was impossible. But our Lord knew better. He knew that I’d question. He knew how I’d churn, and how I’d wrestle with this. He knew I wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. He knew I would approach this with humility. He knew I wouldn’t speak evil of the Lords anointed. He knew I would handle this the way I handled it.
I’m so grateful that I am now a Temple Ordinance Worker. What an honor! What a privilege! But more, what a profound honor it is to know that the Lord used me to bring about this change – this miracle – that will bless the lives of so many good men throughout the Church. I’m at a loss for words to describe the awesome gratitude of my soul. There aren’t words. Thank you Christ. Thank you.
The next story I would like to tell in some ways is just the next chapter in my schooling of how the Lord likes to do things. I was at my very first prayer meeting as a new Temple Ordinance Worker and the Temple President spoke about the Tucson Temple being one of only three Temples that do not have any guidelines, or instruction books, or handbooks for Temple Workers.
He said they want us to “follow the Spirit,” and “use common sense,” and “get away from being rigid, inflexible and unbending” in what we do in the Temple. He spoke quite extensively about how handbooks and guidelines cause people to do things only one way and it limits the Spirit. He wants the Tucson Temple not be that way, but to have the Spirit to always flow freely throughout the Temple.
So the other day, I was working in the Baptistery. A ward had brought around 30 young men and women to do baptisms. They were about half way through. I was recording for the baptisms, putting the names on the screen, and marking them with they were done. A Brother had brought his son and daughter to do some family names.
They gave the Ward a small break, and the Brother got baptized for 5 names, and then he stayed in the font and baptized his daughter and son (5 names each). I expected to go back to the Ward’s names and continue there, but the Second Councilor in the Temple Presidency came up, grabbed the names of that good Brother, pulled up a chair and set it right at the edge of the font, and that good brother (sopping wet, with a towel draped over his shoulders) confirmed his son and daughter (sopping wet too) right then and there.
The Ward that was either waiting to be baptized, or waiting to enter the confirmation room just froze. Nothing was announced. Nothing was said. The Spirit just entered the room like a rush of wind and it went silent.
I have never witnessed anything quite as beautiful as that moment. I have been going to the Temple for more than 30 years and I have never had quite such a powerful experience as witnessing that. All around me, there were tears streaming down people’s faces as they witnessed what was happening.
No, the confirmation room wasn’t full – in fact, it was empty. No, there’s not a “new rule,” remember there’s no guidelines or handbooks in the Tucson Temple. This was spontaneous. It was the Temple Presidency being guided by the Spirit, thinking and acting outside the box – and it was beautiful!
Friends, I hope these stories have illustrated how the Lord works. It’s how Joseph Smith wanted to be with the men of his day. It’s how God wants to be with you.
Pull up your stakes. Get out of your boxes. Let the Lord show you something wonderful! And maybe you can have a miracle named after you too!