Tonight I had a dream. It was of little consequence other than the opportunity I was given within the dream to say why I believe in God, in Jesus, and in the Mormon Church. In my dream, I was very eloquent. I have gotten out of bed, hoping that some of that eloquence will remain with me, as I feel that it is something that needs to be said persuasively.
I get it. There is a lot to be cynical about with religion today. There are plenty of bad actors out there, who want to use religion as a tool of control. It is a very effective tool for that purpose. But, just like technology, it can be used for both evil and good.
Nobody can prove the existence of God through science. It is one of, I daresay the most important of, a whole class of questions that can neither be proven nor disproven. Science generally considers these questions useless, as they don’t fit into the framework of the scientific method, where knowledge is gained by repeatable experiment. So, some scientists ignore the question, or worse, assume the proposition false, and refuse further consideration. There is no question more important.
So then, we have a choice. What do we choose to believe? Do we choose to believe that life is random, that the only purpose in life is what we make of it? Or do we choose to have hope that a loving God gave us life, that we have been sent to this world for a purpose, known to Him, and that He can guide us through to find peace and joy amid this otherwise chaotic world? I chose the latter long ago.
Something interesting happens when you choose to believe — you find reasons to believe. Some would dismiss this as confirmation bias. Undoubtedly, much of it is that, maybe even most — at first. However, as you learn about Jesus, you will discover that He is goodness incarnate. Philosophers may argue semantics and methods and perspectives all they like, but when you see the life Jesus lived, you will understand what goodness is. I want to be like that. There is no bias there.
I am trying to follow Jesus. It’s very hard; I fail frequently. I need to read the scriptures — particularly the New Testament and the “newer” testament, the Book of Mormon — daily. They remind me of the things I need to do to follow Him. I need to pray daily, as it gives me an opportunity to assess myself and consider who I want to be.
I also need to go to church every week. I need the support system of others who are doing their best to follow Jesus. I need the opportunities to serve them that arise through that community. I also need an outside, friendly perspective, on occasion, to break me out of the ruts I so easily sink into. They need me, too.
Through my experiences with these things: studying the life of Jesus and the Scriptures, prayer, service to others, and church attendance I have learned and grown as a follower of Jesus. I no longer hope that God exists. I know that God exists. I know Jesus.
While not a repeatable experiment in the traditional scientific sense, my experiences have been repeatable to me, and are evidence enough to me. I know many others who have gotten the similar evidence. I do not know why some people don’t seem to find the evidence convincing. Maybe they are doing the experiment wrong. I can only speak to my experiences, and God has proven His existence to me.
Jesus lives. I know this not because of a single spiritual experience. I know this because He is part of my life every day. He lives in my life. He lives in the lives of so many other good Christians out there. I know this. I also know this is not the literal life that we usually talk about when we say someone lives, but there is an undeniable power in the life of Jesus that exists in my life, and connects me with my family, friends and community.
I also know that Jesus really lives — that He is God, and hears my silent prayers. Yes, this brings me back to that un-provable question. However, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provided additional doctrine to that found in the Bible. Through the combined doctrine, I have been able to construct a viable and consistent mental model of reality that both matches reality as understood by modern scientists and which allows for miracles to be real. This may not sound like a big deal, but for me, it is.
Reality is what is. If my religion could not be consistent with it, I might be a member, but not a follower. There is a powerful motivation that comes from having a consistent perspective on reality, life and who I am in relation to God, and it helps me maintain both my sanity and my efforts to follow Jesus.
This modern world is hostile to religion in many ways. To disregard God and religion because they are misunderstood and misused by many is unwise. To assume that all those who “cling” to religion are doing so blindly is plain wrong. My faith is what it is because I see. I understand what goodness is. I understand my own failings. That knowledge is because of religion, not despite it.
I am grateful for the path of my life that has lead me to where I am today. I am fully aware of how fortunate I am to have had the privilege and opportunity to learn of Jesus and follow Him. I don’t expect I would have come to this religion if I had not grown up in it. There is too much of it to understand before it makes sense in the way that I have needed it to make sense. At this point, to me, it is my reality. To abandon it would be to abandon everything that I am.
Through believing in God, I have found peace. Through following Jesus I have found joy. Through membership in the Mormon church I have found hope. These things are real. They are not delusions or bias. They are the natural consequences of the laws of the universe, and of the laws of God. They are available to everyone, but they are not free. They require that we choose them and work toward them.
My hope is that by sharing this perspective, I might open some few hearts and minds that are currently shut to faith. Please see that there is value in faith. Please understand that un-belief is a choice, and so is hope. I chose hope. I hope you will too.
So, an interesting thing you might not know about me: this past year I taught the primary class at church for the kids who turned 9 in 2017. Sunday is my last lesson with this class. This year we were assigned to teach church history. So, I want to ask them what they’ve learned this year. I also plan to tell them a little about what I learned.
I have been changed by what I learned this year. Not by the facts – those were all at least vaguely familiar. No, it is the recurring theme of sacrifice that changed me. As we talked about the sacrifices made by the early members of the church, and how the history of the church is really a story of sacrifice upon sacrifice. Whether it was to leave home to gather with the saints, laboring on the temples when people did not even have their own homes built, leaving wives and children to preach the Gospel in far-off places, crossing the plains on foot, or even giving their lives rather than betray their beliefs, sacrifice was very much a part of what it meant to be a member of the church.
I think that in many ways, we’ve lost sight of the role of sacrifice in our worship today. It was because of the sacrifice of those members that they witnessed the miracles they did. Sacrifice has the power to build us spiritually in a way that cannot be replaced. Many modern Mormons look back on those pioneers with gratitude that we are not asked to do anything quite so physically difficult. I think that sentiment misses the mark.
We live (speaking of the average American) in a world in which there is almost no need to sacrifice anything of consequence, ever. As members of the church, a little more is asked of us – tithing, fast offerings, serving in church callings, etc. Rarely, however, do these “demands” interfere significantly with everyday life. Some might think of it as heaven. I have begun to see it as a missed opportunity.
We have been blessed in abundance. The challenge set before us as members is, can we voluntarily sacrifice sufficiently to produce the faith and spiritual growth to match that of our pioneer forefathers? There is need all around us, if we open our eyes. If we stop judging others and causes to first determine their worthiness of our help, and just help all our brothers and sisters with the gifts we’ve been given, opportunities to sacrifice will be abundant.
It does not matter if our sacrifices make a material difference in others lives, though we hope we can make their lives better. No, the reason we serve is because that is the example the Savior gave us. There is no instance in scripture where Jesus was petitioned in vain. He did not always do as asked, but he always served.
My hope and prayer for the new year is to find more ways to sacrifice, and to help those around me to find joy in sacrifice and in the service of others.
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.