In Mark chapter 10, Jesus comes across a good man, who is trying to figure out what else he needs to be doing.
The man runs to Jesus and asks, “what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responds, “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
It was too great a task for the man and he went away grieved; for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
I can picture a similar conversation with the savior. I can respond that I know and keep the commandments. And I feel the savior loves me, but I fear those words, “but one thing thou lackest”.
Now, I have been accused of being focused on money, but I don’t think that’s what at the top of the list for me.
A while ago I was called in for an appointment with the Bishop. I could tell I was going to be released and given a new calling. As the words came from the bishop’s mouth, “we’d like to call you to serve…”, I had already finished the sentence in my mind, “as a ward missionary”.
It’s not that I’m overly prophetic, but I have a testimony that callings are inspired and it was becoming painfully obvious to me that the area I needed the most work on was missionary work. If the Lord were to pick the item at the top of the list for Brother Virgin as the one thing thou lackest, it would be a love of missionary work.
I’m guessing it applies to more of us than just me. We don’t commit adultery, we don’t kill, we don’t steal, we don’t bear false witness, defraud not, we hopefully honour our father and mother. But one thing we lack. Eleven times in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord tells the saints to open their mouths.
“But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them.”
Am I embellishing the importance of missionary work? Can’t we be good and righteous without the unpleasant awkwardness of trying to share the gospel? We don’t kill or commit adultery, etc. etc. but still that phrase lingers in my mind: one thing thou lackest.
The first great commandment is to love God. The second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
I love God. Those who love him keep his commandments. Again, go down the list, we don’t kill or commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, we can even add to that prayer and scripture study. All those commandments we can keep without loving our neighbor.
Isn’t that what Jesus was asking the rich man to do? There are poor around you. Love them. Follow me and join me and my disciples as we teach the gospel and love our fellow man.
So forget I said the words “missionary work” and let’s just focus on that phrase, “Love your neighbor as thyself”.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I love everyone”. You may have even said it, so try not to be offended by this, but what would you think of a father who said he loved all his children, but didn’t spend even 5 minutes with any one of them during the week. “I love everyone” is not that same as “I don’t hate anyone”.
Love is an action. I believe it is also one of the most misused words in the English language. Let’s start where it’s easiest to understand.
Let’s look at something closer to home, the commandment Husbands love your wives and children. Fathers, do you care about their feelings, their comfort, their fears? I would hope so. If you do, how deeply do you care? Do you care enough to get off the couch and help when the dirty house is stressing your wife? Do you care enough to leave work early when your child needs you home to help with homework, or to stay later at work when your wife is stressed about money. Do you talk in a way that shows you are concerned and want to be involved? ? I would hope you answer yes to all of these.
There are so many various actions involved in loving your family. You cannot love someone while they are suffering and you are doing nothing. You cannot love someone without spending time on them somehow. Love requires action. It is no different when we set out to love our neighbor.
It reminds me of that old primary poem on missionary work.
“I love you, Brother,” thought neighbor John;
As he saw his neighbor mowing his lawn
He gave him a wave, last week was the same,
If only I could remember his name.
“I love you, Sister,” thought neighbor Nell.
“I love you better than tongue can tell.”
But work is no place to share gospel gladness
So Nell’s friend at work continued in sadness.
“I love you, Neighbor,” said little Fan.
“Today I’ll help you all I can.
she invited them over and made them a friend
and made sure that they knew they’d be loved to the end
It was often they talked when they came in her sight.
It was pleasant and often that they got an invite.
To help her in service or talk of life’s whirls,
Her neighbors felt love from this unafraid girl
“I love you, Neighbor,” again they said,
Three righteous saints going to bed.
How do you think that neighbor guessed
Which of them really loved them best?
That might not have been exactly how the poem was written, so I apologize to Joy Allison who may have had it originally leaning more towards mothers. But you get the idea, right?
So knowing that love requires action, how do we follow the commandment to love your neighbor? Really the same way we love our families.
Spend time with them
Care about them
I’m not great at this. I am setting goals on how I can spend more time with my neighbors, co-workers, and old acquaintances. And how I can be more concerned about them.
Create Real Friendships
When we talk about missionary work, there is sometimes a commitment to reach out to our neighbors so we can convert them. That is not what I’m proposing here. I’m proposing that to love our neighbor, we need to develop friendships. Again, when I say neighbor, it is those around us, not necessarily our next door neighbor. No hidden agenda. It doesn’t matter if they have zero interest in religion or our church. The goal is to love our neighbor. Some of us are talented at gaining friendships, I’m not that great at it. But if you care about someone, you talk to them. You ask them how they’re doing. You spend time with them. It not might be smooth, but I think I can care about my neighbor and they’ll feel that love.
Home teaching is a great excuse to make friends. Regardless of the forced nature of that program, the friendships that are created are real. The same can be true of friendships we want to cultivate with co-workers or neighbors. The basis of the friendship is less important. We can simple say, “I need more friends”, or “I want to know my neighbors”, or “do you mind if we talk occasionally? I hate the idea of living down the street from someone and never knowing anything about them”.
Then, as we care about them as friends, real friendship develops.
This part of loving our neighbor stands by itself without any tie to missionary work. Will they know we are LDS? Yes. Will they occasionally get invited to activities or even missionary discussions? Yes. But the friendship is the first priority. That friendship should be the goal and what we value.
My brother-in-law, Steve, is a great neighbor. He just really cares about the people around him. In his old neighborhood, I remember a man across the street came out of his house and sat down in a chair in his driveway. Steve turned to me and said, “he wants to talk. He always sits in his driveway when he wants to talk to someone.” After a while, Steve went over and talked with him and spent some time as his neighbor unloaded what was on his mind. Even though he’s moved, his old neighbors come to visit and he visits with them fairly often.
I, on the other hand, am a horrible neighbor. I couldn’t pick up on a clue like that if my life depended on it. But I’m going to try to change that.
So the goal here is to be a friend to those around you. Actually care about people near you. Might not be a challenge for some of you, but for me this is something I’m lacking.
Making Appropriate Invitations
As we increase our capacity to love others, we will have desires to invite people to come unto Christ. For our friends who know we care about them, these invitations come easily.
As I was helping a friend sell her house, she was overcome by the stress as no offers came, then very low offers came and everything seemed to take much longer than expected. As I felt she was slipping into a depressed mood, I suggested she pray. I gave her some examples of when and how I pray. The invitation wasn’t extended the way the missionaries usually extend an invitation, “Would you accept our challenge to pray…” I extended the invitation as a good friend would extend the invitation, “You need to pray about this! You need to ask for the Lord’s help.” She knew I was right and she said she would and in the Lord’s time, everything worked out.
With our close friends, it’s important that they know that our friendship is more important than their religious attitudes. Clayton Christensen in his book “The Power of Everyday Missionaries”, talks about “de-coupling” invitations from the friendship. Friends don’t want to offend us by refusing an invitation, but we should make sure we’re not straining our friendship with an invitation they’re not comfortable with. We can de-couple the invitation from the friendship with a statement like, “I have church activities all the time. If I invite you to something and it doesn’t sound fun, please just say no, okay? With that said, we have a beach party next Wednesday…” Giving your friend a way out takes a lot of strain off the invitation.
There can be some golden moments when someone you care about seems open to attending church or talking with the missionaries. But often, the easiest way to bring family and friends closer to Christ is through service. And all good people want to help in service. When the Hansen’s were moving, I asked my next door neighbor and another friend who is not a member if they could help. They both agreed and they were a big help in the move. We all felt good about the service we had performed. I appreciated it, and they appreciated it.
I get involved with service in church, but I also know I need to be more involved in service outside of church. I have a goal to start service projects for my street. I want to invite everyone on my street to join me as we visit a women’s shelter in Santa Ana. Through this service, I can come closer to Christ, my neighbors can come closer to Christ. I’m pretty sure I can get a few of them to come and help. I’d recommend you consider inviting your friends and neighbors to come closer to Christ by giving them opportunities to serve.
Clay Christensen gives a personal story that I liked. He was the home teacher to an elderly woman who had received a case of grapefruit and placed it in her basement refrigerator. Later she had forgotten about them and unplugged the refrigerator. The mold spread through the refrigerator, destroying it, and caused a stench that finally got her attention. She called Brother Christensen to ask for help. He phoned through the ward list, but was unable to find help. Desperate, he called a nonmember neighbor, Jim. He had invited Jim numerous times to learn about the gospel, but Jim had always politely declined. But to this call for help, he readily responded. From Brother Christensen’s account, I read…
Not only was it hot and humid that day, but the task took two hours of hard work. The old fridge was heavy – made of cast iron, as best we could tell. It was wider than Julia’s rickety basement staircase, which had two right-angle turns in it. So we had to take off the railings, and with WD-40 we got the door off the fridge. Soon our clothes were soaked with perspiration. When we reached the first turn in the staircase and had balanced the fridge on the landing, Jim said, “So tell me about the Mormon Church”.
Mopping my brow, I responded, “Frankly, Jim, like it or not, this is the Mormon Church”.
It’s true that for all the true doctrine we possess, most of the blessings we receive are from service. It’s the easiest and most basic instrument to bring people to Christ.
By being a good friend, you can help bring those you love closer to Christ with your example, your sharing of gospel principles in good conversations and invitations to do good.
Open your mouth
The Lord expects us to be good friends to those around us. And the gospel can be shared and the Lord’s work continued through those relationships. But there are many more people that need to hear the gospel message from us that are not our close friends, they’re just people we run into. I’m getting better at this.
Yesterday afternoon, I was at the beach with Kenny, Megan, and Jacob Hansen. As I sat on my surfboard in between sets, some of the other surfers were making idle conversation. I threw out the comment that I only had a couple hours because I still needed to prepare a sermon that I was giving in church tomorrow. The other surfer mentioned that he actually worked for an Episcopalian church. I told him that I was LDS, but that I had actually worked for the Catholic church at one point. Interesting, he replied, then he caught a wave in, and he was gone. I don’t think he wanted to talk about it. But I made an invitation to talk about.
This is one of the great points that Clayton Christensen makes in his book. We are successful when we invite others to come unto Christ. Not necessarily just when people accept our invitations. This fellow surfer had the opportunity to ask any questions about the gospel of Christ. He knew I was LDS, I had given him a soft pitch by telling him I had to prepare a sermon. All he had to do was ask what the sermon was about, ask what the church was like, really he could have asked anything about the church in a very non-threatening environment. He didn’t, but there was that underlying invitation there.
My daughter’s applying to BYU. I speak German because I served a mission for my church in Germany. I did my graduate work at UCI and I did my undergraduate work at BYU. I have a friend in Mexico/South America/Africa/the Midwest/Europe/Asia on a mission for our church. These are my “I’m Mormon, ask me about it” invitation phrases. You don’t need to steer every conversation to religion, but dropping these invitation phrases allows someone who has questions about the gospel to recognize that they can ask you.
Whether it’s a close friend or a stranger you met at the market, if you are sharing the gospel in word and deed, eventually, someone will want to know more. In those situations, tell them about the missionaries and invite them to meet with them (meet with them in your home if you know them well enough). And remember that it is the invitation that is important, not necessarily their response. By extending appropriate invitations, we are expressing our love towards our fellow man.
Invite friends to participate in service opportunities and other Christ-centered activities
When appropriate, invite them to learn more, and if needed, use de-coupling comments so they know the friendship is most important.
Open your mouths and talk to people you run into, and drop invitation phrases so they know you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and can ask you about it.
Be aware of when they might have desires to receive an invitation to meet with the missionaries.
Going back to the words of the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths… mine anger is kindled against them.”
Why would the Lord be upset if we don’t open our mouths? There are people who need to hear the gospel. People who are searching for truth. The Lord can direct those people to us, He can inspire them to go to the barber shop the same time as us, He can put them on a plane seat next to us, He can put them on a surfboard next to me at the beach. But he won’t if he knows we’re going to sit there motionless and quiet. He wants to guide those pure in heart to the truth, but what good does it do if he puts someone right in front of us and we put our head down into our smartphone.
We need to be consistent. We need to get to the point where the Lord knows that if He has someone He wants to direct, He knows that He can put them next to us in line and the person will at least hear a clue that we’re LDS.
What difference would it make if we got really good at being a friend. I’m meaning really having a love for our neighbors? If we had a lot of friends and they all knew who we were and what we stood for and worked alongside us helping others in society?
What if every person we met knew that they were talking to one of those Mormons and could ask any questions they might have?
More important than the impact we could have on society and our neighborhoods, if we did these things, the Lord could begin to trust us. He could send those who are searching for the truth and He would know we would reach out to them. And He would bless us with His spirit so that we would be inspired to teach and invite.
But one thing thou lackest…
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Invite them to serve with you.
Open your mouths to people around you so they know who you are and what you represent.
Gain the trust of the Lord, so He can use you in His service.