Saturday, September 5, 2009

Providing in the Lord's Way

A year ago I was asked by the stake presidency to prepare an outline for the monthly high council speaking Sunday. The topic: "Providing in the Lord's Way." All around the Church there has been an emphasis as the economic realities of the times we are living in have become more acute.

I am routinely amused by Robert Kirby's articles in the Salt Lake Tribune. His wit always gives welcome relief from taking ourselves too seriously, even in hard times. His column yesterday about serving in the Bishop's Storehouse, is particularly noteworthy. Brother Kirby, once a recipient when he struggled to feed his own family is now serving to lighten the load of others, and he recounts his experience with customary humor and goodwill.

Living providently has never been a more timely topic than it is right now. We have children who have mastered this art from their mother, who manages to stretch dollars farther than any woman I know. We have had few dollars even to stretch for many years, yet she has helped us survive temporally in a miraculous way. While homemaking skills are vanishing, these present circumstances will no doubt re-enthrone bread baking, cooking, sewing, home canning and bottling like no amount of encouragement and classes on the subjects ever could. In our present circumstances as a family we have lived on food storage and never gone hungry. We long for the days to come when we will once again be in a better position to help and encourage others as we have been helped. The wheel turns in life -- sometimes we are at the top, and one more roll puts us on the bottom. Life is learning to live comfortably in either circumstance, I believe.

The genius of the Welfare Plan as originally conceived in the Church in the aftermath of the Great Depression was to become independent agents, free from government intrusions into our privacy, our agency and our dependency. The principles are timeless, and they are timely.

The title "Providing in the Lord's Way" is taken from instruction for priesthood leaders in the Church’s downloadable publication of the same name.

Other useful downloadable pamphlets to study are: All is Safely Gathered In, and Family Finances. Since last year, all these links have been updated with new revisions to each pamphlet.

Everyone in the Church may now familiarize themselves thoroughly with the governing principles contained in Providing in the Lord’s Way, a current leaders’ guide to the Church’s Welfare Plan. For bishops, welfare needs of their members provide some of the knottiest problems they face. Often, confusion over the expectations of what is offered by the Church is the biggest problem. Educating ourselves collectively can help alleviate many of those communication problems up front and lower tensions between members and their leaders when needs arise to access the Bishop's Storehouse. It is also a useful study for those outside the Church to learn how it is the Mormons seem to do such a good job of taking care of each other.

Without belaboring the obvious, it should be abundantly clear we are now living in the time foretold by Moroni, when destructive secret combinations have gotten above us (see Ether 8:20-26). The two most egregious examples are the artificially manipulated price of crude oil and the sub-prime mortgage market meltdown.

The infant Church in March, 1832, was instructed to establish "the storehouse for the poor of my people," and was promised, "that through my providence, notwithstanding the tribulation which shall descend upon you, that the church may stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world." (D&C 78: 3;14). My suggestions last year to our high council were:

· It’s time to “awake,” and prepare our families as the living prophets among us have been counseling ever since the days of the Great Depression.
· While interesting, the history of the Welfare Plan and the organization chart are not the preferred ingredients for your study. (Harold B. Lee is rolling over in his grave ;-)
· Rather, the wards in the Church today are filled with members who are struggling right now to make ends meet. As they consecrate themselves more deeply they will be blessed more – it is an eternal truth.
· Encourage each other to donate a generous fast offering for the benefit of those who are suffering. The concerns of stake presidencies worried about their stakes not being self-sustaining can be eradicated overnight by the increased fast offerings of the members.
· The underlying principle to emphasize is a call to greater consecration. (See scriptural references at the end).
· Correct principles will establish correct expectations in the hearts and minds of the members and underscore all Church programs.
· Consider teaching and re-emphasizing the principles of the fast day and the fast offerings.

Some key principles:

“The assistance given by the bishop is temporary and partial. Remember, Church assistance is designed to help people help themselves. The rehabilitation of members is the responsibility of the individual and the family, aided by the priesthood quorum and Relief Society. We are attempting to develop independence, not dependence. The bishop seeks to build integrity, self-respect, dignity, and soundness of character in each person assisted, leading to complete self-sufficiency.” (President Thomas S. Monson, Providing in the Lord’s Way, 20).

“The care of the poor is in the hands of bishops of wards — those Church officers who are nearest to the members and most intimately aware of their needs. As you well know, the funds to administer such aid come through a simple, divinely inspired program — what we call fast day and fast offerings. The millions of dollars which are needed for this purpose each year really cost no one anything. It is not a sacrifice for anyone to go without two meals a month and give the equivalent cost, and even more, to his or her bishop for the care of the needy.

“Think, my brethren, of what would happen if the principles of fast day and the fast offering were observed throughout the world. The hungry would be fed, the naked clothed, the homeless sheltered. Our burden of taxes would be lightened. The giver would not suffer but would be blessed by his small abstinence. A new measure of concern and unselfishness would grow in the hearts of people everywhere. Can anyone doubt the divine wisdom that created this program which has blessed the people of this Church as well as many who are not members of the Church?” (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Providing in the Lord’s Way, 22).

“No member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who has canned peas, topped beets, hauled hay, or shoveled coal in such a cause ever forgets or regrets the experience of helping provide for those in need. Devoted men and women help to operate this vast and inspired welfare program. In reality, the plan would never succeed on effort alone, for this program operates through faith after the way of the Lord.” (President Thomas S. Monson, Providing in the Lord’s Way, 28).

“Let’s also teach our obligations relative to the law of the fast. Each member should contribute a generous fast offering for the care of the poor and the needy. This offering should at least be the value of the two meals not eaten while fasting.

“’Sometimes we have been a bit penurious and figured that we had for breakfast one egg and that cost so many cents and then we give that to the Lord. I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous. . .

“’I think we should. . . give, instead of the amount saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more — ten times more when we are in a position to do it.’ (President Spencer W. Kimball, CR, October 1974, 184).

“Fast offerings have long constituted the means from which the needs of the Lord’s poor have been provided. It has been, and now is, the desire and objective of the Church to obtain from fast offerings the necessary funds to meet the cash needs of the welfare program, and to obtain from welfare production projects the commodity needs. If we give a generous fast offering, we shall increase our own prosperity both spiritually and temporally.

“Brothers and sisters, with these thoughts in mind may I urge you to go forward in this great work. So much depends upon our willingness to make up our minds, collectively and individually, that present levels and performance are not acceptable, either to ourselves or the Lord." (President Spencer W. Kimball, “And the Lord Called His People Zion,” Ensign, August 1984, 2).

“The ward welfare committee. . . includes the priesthood executive committee plus the Relief Society presidency. This committee meets at least monthly, again under the direction of the bishop, to consider the temporal needs of ward members. Only the bishop may allocate welfare resources, but the committee helps care for the poor by planning and coordinating the use of ward resources, including the time, talents, skills, materials, and compassionate service of ward members. In this and in other committee and council meetings, delicate matters often are discussed, requiring strict confidentiality.” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Providing in the Lord’s Way, 23).

“Parents, teach your children the joys of a proper fast. And how do you do that? The same as with any gospel principle — let them see you live it by your example. Then help them live the law of the fast themselves, little by little. They can fast and they can also pay a fast offering if they choose. As we teach our children to fast, it can give them the power to resist temptations along their life’s journey.

“How much should we pay in fast offerings? My brothers and sisters, the measure of our offering to bless the poor is a measure of our gratitude to our Heavenly Father. Will we, who have been blessed so abundantly, turn our backs on those who need our help? Paying a generous fast offering is a measure of our willingness to consecrate ourselves to relieve the suffering of others.

“Brother Marion G. Romney, who was the bishop of our ward when I was called on a mission and who later served as a member of the First Presidency of the Church, admonished: ‘Be liberal in your giving, that you yourselves may grow. Don’t give just for the benefit of the poor, but give for your own welfare. Give enough so that you can give yourself into the kingdom of God through consecrating of your means and your time.’” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Law of the Fast,” Ensign May 2001, 73).

Scriptures: Mosiah 4:26-27; 15-23; 2:41; D&C 70:14; 7-10; 78:3-7; 14; 82:14-20; 42:30-39; 51:2-19; 58:35-37; 49:20.

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