New Duty to God

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The new Duty to God program is an example of the Lord “raising the bar” for our youth. With this renovation of the program young men are provided opportunities to act more as agents for themselves unto the Lord rather than be acted upon as passive participants in and partakers of the gospel. What do I mean by this?

When I was a young man the Duty to God program was this: go to church, go to seminary, give talks on occasion, be involved in your quorums, and be a worthy bearer of the priesthood. Those are all wonderful duties but there was little choice in the program – either you did it or you didn’t. In an interview just after I turned 18 my Bishop said, “You did everything for Duty to God” and I received the award. I really didn’t have to go out of my way to earn it. Because there was little choice in the program, it was what I call a GPS Duty to God program – do this, turn here, drive 6 years, merge right, and arrive at your destination. You didn’t really have to think or act for yourself; you in some ways were acted upon. Then the Duty to God program changed. There were checklists and projects and “choose 8 of the following 13” activities to do. The program was very involved and, frankly, sometimes overwhelming – manageable, but overwhelming. It was inspired and taught the young men a lot of good skills and traits but it was still basically a GPS Duty to God program – you drive along and turn when the pleasant voice tells you to turn. There were a few more choices but the program was largely set and scripted.

Now we have the new program. The new Duty to God program takes away the step-by-step directions and leaves much of the decision-making to the young men as they follow the Spirit and seek input from parents and leaders. The destination is known and there are guideposts but the GPS is turned off; it is up to the young men to create their own paths. With the new program the preparing, planning, and travelling of the journey are as important as arriving at the destination. It doesn’t matter if you drive a Porsche or a Pinto or if you take a freeway or a scenic byway as long as you drive the Lord’s way. The goal is to build righteous men who are independent agents and who know and serve the Lord.

The new Duty to God program is founded upon the Lord’s principles of learn, (plan and) act, and share. You learn something, do something about what you learned, and then return and report.  That’s like life – I don’t just mean our mortal life. In the pre-earth life we learned, in this life we are doing, and in the next life all of us will return and report on our activities of mortal life. That is the Lord’s pattern of growth.

Now that we’ve learned, let’s move on to action, or at least plans for action. Quorum meetings and mutual activities are a great time to help young men learn and fulfill their duties to God. Ideally, what we talk about in quorum meeting on Sunday will be reinforced in some way during mutual. This is not always possible but with planning ahead the young men should be able to fulfill a Duty to God activity: learning, acting, or reporting about their actions. We need not make the Duty to God program the entire focus of mutual but we can easily devote at least one activity per month to it.

How can we accomplish this? First, I’d like to borrow a question from Elder Bednar about planning mutual activities. When planning we should ask: “What are the things that should happen to the [young men] as a result of this activity?”1 In other words, what is our goal – our desired outcome – for the activity? Even more than that – what is our goal for the young men? This is where the Duty to God program enters in – it provides such goals as: serve others, live the Word of Wisdom, learn about careers, learn about missionary work, and so forth. But in order to answer Elder Bednar’s question we phrase the goals differently. For example, if we want to have an activity focused on the Word of Wisdom, the goal for the activity could be to have the young men make a strong commitment to live the Word of Wisdom. Now we have our desired outcome. With the destination in mind, it should be easier to think of ideas for activities. Here’s one quick idea: the young men could play basketball or some other game but with modifications. The “smokers” can only play on their knees; the “drinkers” have one arm tied behind their backs; the “fruits and vegetables” get an extra point for every basket they make; and so on. This might be slightly cheesy but my point is that with a goal in mind a fun activity can also be memorable, educational, and even converting if it invites the Spirit. Leaders need to be “clear about the ultimate objective and the target and the mission”1 so that the young men can better plan and plan better mutual activities.

Elder Hales said, “Church leaders regularly plan priesthood activities and Scouting pow wows and encampments—but do those activities always accomplish their most important purpose? I have learned that what makes a priesthood or Scout activity most meaningful to a boy is not just getting a merit badge but having the opportunity to sit and talk with a leader who is interested in him and his life.”2 Are we focusing on what’s important?

The Duty to God program is about effecting change in the lives of the young men. After all, nothing in the Church is about the programs – it is about the people. A stake priesthood meeting, for example, is not done so the stake presidency can check an item off their to-do list; that meeting is held so all can learn their duties as priesthood holders. People, not programs, are the Church. The Duty to God program was made for the young men; they were not made for it.

The Lord said, “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99-100). So we must all learn and act and I will add, share in order to be found worthy to stand.

The Aaronic Priesthood holders here in this room will be among the future leaders of the Church. How can they lead if no one teaches them? Elder Ballard recently said this to church leaders: “We try to teach every leader that one of your primary responsibilities is to raise up those that’ll be…better leaders than you ever were”3. This is where the Aaronic Priesthood and the new Duty to God program come in. Just as 40 years in the wilderness prepared the Israelites for the fruits of Canaan, just as the Mosaic Law prepared the Lord’s people for the coming of the Messiah, just as John the Baptist cried as a lone voice in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Savior, the Aaronic Priesthood prepares young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is the forerunner – the schoolmaster – that helps train young men to be faithful followers of Christ. The Duty to God program is designed to help prepare young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood and the blessings of the temple because these things lead them to Christ. I pray that we take the things we learn in this meeting and from the Spirit and share them with others in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

1)   http://feeds.lds.org/~r/EnrichmentSeries/~3/2vvN-EZMJlQ/hr-2010-02-leadership-elder-david-a-bednar-conversation-eng.pdf

2)   http://beta.lds.org/liahona/2010/05/our-duty-to-god-the-mission-of-parents-and-leaders-to-the-rising-generation?lang=eng&format=conference&view=speakers

3)   http://www.lds.org/gospellibrary/leadership/2010-06-003-leadership-workplace-counseling-conversation-eng.pdf

Our Duty to God

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Because I am involved in the Young Men’s program in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I am involved in helping the youth earn their Duty to God awards (the link goes to the Church’s new Duty to God program website). However, much of the time there is not much I can do to help the youth along other than encourage them and work on the quorum activities. Much of the responsibility for the program fall on the young men and their parents. That is not what I wanted to write about though; I wanted to write about what duty to God means. The idea from this post was spurred along by Bishop McMullin’s most recent LDS General Conference address entitled Our Path of Duty. Bishop McMullin answers the question, “What is this thing called duty?” Here is his answer:

“The duty of which I speak is what we are expected to do and to be. It is a moral imperative summoning forth from individuals and communities that which is right, true, and honorable. Duty does not require perfection, but it does require diligence. It is not simply what is legal; it is what is virtuous. It is not reserved to the mighty or high in station but instead rests on a foundation of personal responsibility, integrity, and courage. Doing one’s duty is a manifestation of one’s faith. “President Monson said of it: ‘I love and cherish the noble word duty.’ For members of the Church of Jesus Christ, our path of duty is keeping our covenants in daily life.”

I love the line “It is not simply what is legal; it is what is virtuous.” Duty is doing what is right simply because it is right. When I think of duty, I think of General Douglas MacArthur’s great speech at West Point: Duty, Honor, Country [all quotes except scriptures come from Gen. MacArthur’s speech]. We belong to God and Christ. Jesus Christ is our King. We fight in a war against Satan and his army. It is in that sense that much of what Gen. MacArthur said to those at West Point applies to us, Christian soldiers who march on to war. He said: “Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.” Duty gives us courage and faith in the tempestuous battles of adversity. Duty is the fortitude to face any opposition. Gen. MacArthur continued:

“[Duty, Honor, Country] build your basic character…. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life.”

I think Gen. MacArthur summarized what duty (and honor) means best when he said: “The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong” (emphasis added). In the Book of Mormon we read of another military leader pleading with the people to do their duty.

“12 And it came to pass that [Captain Moroni] rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.

13 And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land—

14 For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church.

15 And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come.

16 And therefore, at this time, Moroni prayed that the cause of the Christians, and the freedom of the land might be favored.

17 And it came to pass that when he had poured out his soul to God, he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south—A chosen land, and the land of liberty.

18 And he said: Surely God shall not suffer that we, who are despised because we take upon us the name of Christ, shall be trodden down and destroyed, until we bring it upon us by our own transgressions.

19 And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice, saying:

20 Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.” (Alma 46:12-20; emphasis added).

It is the time to take up our banners, our titles of liberty. It is the time to stand up and fight against the rising tide of wickedness and moral degeneration. We must cleave unto God in faith and righteousness. We must join ourselves with His forces and fight the good fight; we must finish the course and keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). The Lord needs soldiers of strong courage and firm morals. He needs us to stand resolute and immovable in our faith. We must answer His rallying call “To arms!” It is time to do our duty to God.

At the end of our lives, whenever that might be, I hope that this can be said of us: “I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.” I pray that we might not only be willing to die for the gospel of Jesus Christ but also live for it by always doing our duty to God.