I want to post something specifically for my fellow Mormons today, as we embark upon this new year.
We Mormons, American Mormons in particular, tend to be fairly well off. The Church, thanks to the principle of tithing, operates completely in the black, and is constantly building elaborate temples, lovely meetinghouses, running schools and even investing in corporate endeavors. The average Mormon also tends to be better off financially than our peers,* perhaps due in part to fiscally conservative teachings by modern church leaders. However, the typical Mormon view of this prosperity is that we are blessed of the Lord. If that is indeed the case, we may be shirking our responsibilities, and now may be the time to repent.
The hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.
O that he would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!
O that he would rid you from this iniquity and abomination. And, O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!
Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:13-19)
If this is not counsel for modern followers of Christ, I don’t know what is. If we have sought our financial stability and affluence for the intent to do good, are we acting in good faith upon that intent, or are we justifying our greed with our pride? Are we free with our substance, or do we treasure our abundance?
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)
The Church recently launched an effort they’re calling “Hastening the Work.” From what I can see it’s an effort to get members to be more engaged in evangelism and temple work. As we should know from the story of Ammon and the Lamanites, and much of Jesus’ work in the New Testament, one of the best ways to preach the Gospel is through service. From one perspective, it could be argued that the Gospel IS service. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
All the Adversary needs to do is to keep us complacent in our contentment. If we maintain the status quo, keep following the normal, expected pursuits of Americans — managing our retirement funds, putting our kids through college, saving up for nice vacations — have we truly invested the talents we have been given, or have we hidden them in the earth? What kind of return do you think the Lord expects on His investment in us?
Perhaps we feel we are being generous with the abundance we have been given. After all, the majority of Mormons pay 10% or more of their income to the Church. Members generally have one or more callings to provide service in the congregation. The church has a highly effective humanitarian organization, funded through our tithing and direct donations. Not to mention all of the social safety nets we support with our tax dollars. However, we cannot delegate our responsibility to show love and compassion to those around us through service and generosity. Surely there is more we can do, though it can often be difficult to figure out how to go about doing it. I would like to offer some suggestions.
1. Consider changing your occupational goal. For those of us working outside the home, the vast majority of our productive energy is spent on our careers. Can you align that productivity to be more in-line with the work of the Gospel? Can you find employment in a company that is making the world a better place? If you are a manager or a business owner, can you make your employees’ work environment more family friendly? Can you organize service projects for your company? Are you in a position to be able to retire and spend your time more fully dedicated to service and family?
2. Take literally the counsel, “Give to him that asketh thee.” (Matt. 5:42) If you live or work in a big city, you certainly can’t escape people asking for money. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to give money. There are always gift cards to restaurants, granola bars, gloves, job offers, a listening ear or a smile — whatever you have that you think might benefit them — but given our roles as ambassadors of Christ, the one thing we should not be doing is ignoring them.
Maybe you don’t see panhandlers where you are. Consider applying the counsel to the various charities who are always sending requests. Perhaps change your outlook from deciding whether or not to give something to deciding how much to give.
3. Obey the abnormally nice voice in your head. You know, the one that suggests stopping to help someone on the side of the road, or talking to someone standing by themselves, or offering to make up the difference when the person ahead of you in the grocery line doesn’t have enough to pay for their groceries. You never know when that voice might be the Spirit. Prioritize kindness and generosity over work and punctuality.
4. Get “anxiously engaged” in a cause. (D&C 58:27) We run into societal problems and political challenges regularly. Rather than expecting other people to fight those battles, figure out what you can do to help solve the problem. Maybe there is an organization you can donate to or get involved with. Maybe you can start your own organization. Maybe you can just educate yourself and share what you’ve learned.
5. Simplify your life. Eliminate pastimes, projects, things that require more maintenance than they’re worth, and anything that consumes time without enriching your life. Hobbies and recreation are an important part of a balanced life, but when we feel compelled to make use of things because of the money we have spent or the time we have invested, it may be time to reconsider whether we should make such investments in the future.
6. Redefine “valuable” as applying solely to that which adds to our treasure in heaven. Everything else then becomes means of obtaining this kind of treasure. This kind of paradigm shift can have a powerful effect in our lives.
7. Pray for guidance. Once you’ve decided you want to make a change, and have considered some options, the Lord will guide you if you seek His help.
The prophet has said it is time to hasten the work. We have been laboring in the world to store up resources in good times. Perhaps the prophet’s call is the indication that it is time to open our stores and put those resources to work into reaping the harvest of the Lord.
And from that time forth there were wars and bloodshed among them; but the Lord came and dwelt with his people, and they dwelt in righteousness.
The fear of the Lord was upon all nations, so great was the glory of the Lord, which was upon his people. And the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish.
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:16-18)
We need Zion. We must build it. Each of us has something to contribute. Let’s hasten the work.
(Reposted from my old blog…)
As members of the LDS Church, we are frequently encouraged to be more actively engaged in “member missionary work.” Interestingly, although “member referrals” are the largest source of converts for the church (yes, the church does track this – rather carefully, actually), and we have one of the largest missionary populations of any religion, we, as members, are still not very good at being missionaries in our daily lives.
The problem IMHO, it that there is a perceived conflict of interests between being a friend to someone and trying to proselytize to them. It is very difficult to, say, ask a friend if they want to listen to missionaries from the church without it coming off a little weird or forced. Depending on the relationship, some people might even take offense. Obviously, we want to avoid offending or even sounding weird to our friends. However, without such an invitation, a friend is not likely to ask if you wouldn’t mind sending missionaries over to their house.
The church leaders have recognized this issue, and for many years have focused on encouraging members to ‘prepare’ your friends to hear the gospel. This is exactly what needs to happen. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to determine what you need to do to ‘prepare’ your friends for this type of thing. So, naturally, the church (as it has done with many other things) has prepared a curriculum of sorts: a list of things you can do to prepare someone to hear the gospel, one of these tools is known as the ‘set a date’ program.
The merits of ‘set a date’ program and other lists of suggestions aside, I have never known this type of planned approach to be successful except anecdotally. The reason is because it does not address the issue BEHIND the perceived conflict of interest.
What is that issue, you ask? It is that it is extremely difficult to integrate a perceived ‘normal’ external appearance with our beliefs as members of the Church. Our beliefs just don’t ‘fit in’ to the regular hubbub of modern society – especially when you are speaking to people who are not members of the Church.
I’m not talking about devotion or balance or anything about how we live as active members of the church. Most of us are very good at being religious in that sense. It’s more about how we integrate the gospel into the fabric of our inter-personal relationships, about making our beliefs known to others, not because of any agenda we have to ‘be an example’ or ‘share the gospel’, but because it is an important part of who we are.
I started to recognize when I was in college, that I didn’t really have any really close friends. Most of my friends were of other religions or no religion at all, and I did not have any daily contact with any other members. I realized that part of the reason I did not have any close friends was that because the gospel was such an important part of my life and my identity, and I treated it as something ‘special’ to be shared only in certain circumstances, that nobody really understood me well enough to be a truly close friend.
As I realized this, I made steps to correct it. It’s not like I had been hiding my religious beliefs before. On the contrary, I would gladly talk to people about the Church, and even made a lot of effort to give away a number of Books of Mormon. However, I started to approach my sharing of my beliefs not as a duty or as a missionary tool, but as a way to help people get to know me, and as a way to try to relate to the world and the beliefs of others.
By the end of my college years I had gained two very close friends. Both are not Mormon to this day. However, I was able to talk openly about the church with both of them and invited them to do a number of things that they would not have been likely to do otherwise, and which did not affect our relationship negatively in any way. On the contrary, it is because I was “spiritually intimate” (for lack of a better phrase) with them that we became so close. Inviting them to church or to read the Book of Mormon was just another part of our relationship.
Now, I’m not saying that we need to become best friends with people before we can invite them to listen to the missionaries or to church. What I’m saying is that if you create your relationships from the beginning on a foundation of openness about your own beliefs, it is much easier to open your mouth, when you suddenly feel prompted to say, “you know, I think you might enjoy coming to [such-and-such activity] with me,” or “this reminds me of a scripture from the Book of Mormon where…” or “why don’t you come to church with me Sunday?”
I often think of gospel parallels and insights when speaking to others that I often ignore. Even when speaking with other members, there is a tendency to filter out anything that might not be in-line with standard doctrine. It is important for all of us to learn to communicate openly about all of our beliefs. Often we have similar questions to those around us, and someone may be able to help us work out answers to those questions, or we can help someone through our insights. However, if we do not open our mouths and say what we think, feel and believe, we isolate ourselves a little more from those around us.
It’s really more about being comfortable being a ‘peculiar people.’ We need to embrace our beliefs and have the courage to be a lone voice for anything we believe to be true.