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Ancient Testaments: The altar is where we set sacrifice

Even if I were a genius, and tried my whole life to concoct a wonderful

religion, it would not occur to me to invent a religion of keeping

promises.

But God has made salvation absolutely dependent upon gospel integrity —

keeping our word. And though we show up at work and pay our bills,

gospel integrity requires something far more.

God stipulates what promises to keep. He watches the story unfold in

each covenant life. Promises kept are triumphs; promises broken are

tragedies.

The best arrow is the one that flies true after leaving the bowstring.

The finest life is the one that stays true to covenants. By this special

integrity, we climb the stairs to our heavenly home.

I would never have dreamed up sacred places and sacred times for making

sacred promises. I certainly would not have invented altars — places

where the stairway connects with mortal life. Sacrament tables and

temple ordinances come to mind.

Altars are crucial landmarks for a disciple's journey. The story of our

great predecessor Abraham — \"father of the faithful\" — is such a

journey. His life moved from one altar to the next.

The word \"altar\" derives from a root meaning a high place. A related

word is \"altitude.\" Indeed, we get a special kind of altitude from

altars.

Is there on the horizon — the horizontal line that insulates earth from

heaven — a spiritual high place, an exit or vertical means of escape?

Not unless heaven presents us with an upward way, an elevator door on

the ground floor, a right angle along the mortal plane.

Such an opening has in fact been provided in the horizontal veil.

It is an altar. If it is ordained by God, the altar can connect us with

him and join us with heavenly beings. The stairway to heaven begins with

an altar.

And if we have access to one of his altars — then what? Then we may take

two simple actions that change eternity and move us toward his presence.

First, at an altar we present certain gifts to our Father. A sacrifice

passes from our hands into his, ownership is transferred from us to him.

It is not an offering we design but one of his choosing. Only if he sets

the terms is it a sacrifice.

An altar is where we seek him out, where we come unto him, where we

comply with his program — not where he complies with ours.

Whether in ancient times of animal sacrifice, or in later dispensations

such as ours, the gospel calls for what Elder Neal A. Maxwell called

\"real, personal sacrifice.\" He pointed out that this \"never was placing

an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal

in us upon the altar!\"

Sacrifice leads to the second purpose of an altar. It is a place for

making the promises outlined by God. We assure him that we will do

certain things, no matter what. We quietly give our word. In return, he

gives his, for he, too, makes promises.

What goes on at an altar is not merely the \"two-way promise\" of a

business deal, where cautious and wary acquaintances enter a venture for

personal gain. Rather, it is the generous flow of gifts and vows between

devoted friends, who each have at heart the welfare of the other. They

come to the altar offering their all to an everlasting companionship.

So it was with the altar-visiting, promise-keeping man called Abraham.

And so it is with the children of Abraham.

(References: Doctrine and Covenants 138:41; Ensign, May 1995, 66;

Abraham 1:17,20)