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Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Gift of Charity, Part 3: Are You Guilty of Idolatry (And Don't Even Know It)?

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“We are, on the whole, an idolatrous people -- a condition most repugnant to the Lord.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, “The False Gods We Worship,” First Presidency Message, Ensign, June 1976, p. 6).
President Kimball wrote those words in and about we members of the church. That’s right: He wrote them to you and me.

We haven’t heard much about idolatry since then. In those 43 years, idolatry has been directly mentioned in General Conference a grand total of 12 times. But just because it hasn't been mentioned much doesn't make the doctrine any less important.

Quite the contrary, I believe we are far more deeply entrenched in idolatry than we were back then.

The only questions are, “how deeply entrenched in idolatry are you” and “what can you do about it”?

Why we, as a people, get in F in “Learning the Lessons of the Past”

“During the days of ancient Israel, the people of the Lord were an island of the one true God, surrounded by an ocean of idolatry. The waves of that ocean crashed incessantly upon the shores of Israel. Despite the commandment to make no graven image and bow down before it, Israel seemingly could not help itself, influenced by the culture of the place and time. Over and over again—despite the prohibition of the Lord, despite what prophet and priest had said—Israel went seeking after strange gods and bowed down before them.
How could Israel have forgotten the Lord, who brought them out of Egypt? They were constantly pressured by what was popular in the ambiance in which they lived. 
What an insidious thing is this culture amidst which we live. It permeates our environment, and we think we are being reasonable and logical when, all too often, we have been molded by the ethos, what the Germans call the zeitgeist, or the culture of our place and time.” (Elder David R. Stone, “Zion in the Midst of Babylon,” April 2006 General Conference).
Luckily, we latter-day saints are a bit wiser in that we don’t bow ourselves down to idols of wood, stone or metal. Right? I mean, we deserve a pat on the back for not building golden calves. And we've eradicated Baal worship so effectively, most members don’t even know what Baal worship is. So, yep, congrats are definitely in order.

Or...maybe not.

The idols in our lives

When you read Pres. Kimball’s article, you better understand what gods do we -- as church members -- worship:

“Modern idols or false gods can take such forms as clothes, homes, businesses, machines, automobiles, pleasure boats, and numerous other material deflectors from the path to godhood.”

While it’s true that we don’t physically bow down to idols of calves or goats, we, like ancient Israel, have succumbed to the allurements and enticings of all that is Babylon. Here’s what I see:
  • As I drive around areas with a high density of church members, I’m struck by the sheer size and cost of many members’ homes (it’s sometimes astounding, and profoundly disheartening, to learn who lives in such homes, despite assumptions of their reportedly meager lifestyles).
  • I enter their homes and see opulence and extravagance, the values of which could clearly have benefited scores of destitute families. 
  • I see their Facebook pronouncements, proudly proclaiming their gold, platinum, diamond and double diamond statuses. 
  • I see people cry over the destruction of a famous building, then mock and condemn the beggars across the street from a store.

The idols on our bodies

Over the years, we latter-day saints have repeatedly referred to ourselves as “a Zion people.” Here’s what Isaiah said about “the daughters of Zion”:

“Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:
Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts.
In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon,
The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers,
The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings,
The rings, and nose jewels,
The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins,
The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils.” (Isaiah 3:16-23)

It’s not just the daughters of Zion who wear the jewels of Zion. Men, too, are prone to wear needlessly expensive clothes, watches and cuff links to church meetings.

One need only take a three minute walk from the Salt Lake Temple to see Babylon in all her glory. Here are some images used in advertising the City Creek Center (enchanting, isn't it?):

Human idols

Time and again, the Lord commands us to trust Him and only Him.

"And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him [for many hours] I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste." (1 Nephi 8:5-7)
“Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5
“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” (2 Nephi 4:34
“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 28:31
“The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—” (D&C 1:19)
Despite these frequent commands, many members continue to ignore Him and instead put their trust in mere mortals, be it others or themselves. They revere, venerate, stand in awe of, extol, put on a pedestal and idolize leaders or celebrities. Even worse: They encourage their children and/or grandchildren to do the same.

In doing so, they are easily deceived by crafty people (or themselves) who profess a great love of God and  humanity while advocating programs and perspectives that are not of the Lord. Even today, news headlines trumpet far and wide those who were trusted by others while they were simultaneously committing gross indiscretions and criminal violations for which they will serve many years, even decades, behind bars.

To know who truly represents God, we must turn to His word, the Holy Scriptures, and compare what is said by the mortal with what’s found in His word:
“If you want to measure truth, measure it by the four standard Church works. … If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know the standards, you have no adequate measure of truth.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 148–49). 
"Search the Scriptures—search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory, nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how he will save them." (Joseph Smith, HC v1, ch 20, p. 282; emphasis mine).

The idols of our money and time

In Exodus 32, the Israelites grew tired of waiting for Moses. They wanted to move on into the Promised Land without him. So acting on their own self interests, they created an idol -- a golden calf -- to get them there. The golden calf represented their desire to have God, but on their terms. Their treasure was a god of gold, and the one true God judged them according to their heart.

What about your heart? Do you, also, desire to have God, but on your own terms?

Let’s look at two things you can control: your time and your money.

Money: How much money do you devote to that which is temporary and transitory? Do you invest in “uncertain riches” (1 Timothy 6:17), hedging your portfolio or appropriating your discretionary funds on things where moth and rust doth corrupt (3 Nephi 13:19-20; Matthew 6:19-20)?

Now compare those funds with what you've spent directly on humanitarian needs -- charities, the poor, the sick, the uneducated, in both the gospel and otherwise. What’s the difference? The reason I ask is because:
"For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted." (Mormon 8:37
"Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?" (Mormon 8:39)
"Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way, that they may also be fruitful. Instead, we expend these blessings on our own desires, and as Moroni said, ‘Ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not.’ (Mormon 8:39)” (Pres. Kimball, Ensign, June 1976, p. 4)
Time: We’re told, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). I think you’d agree that one of our greatest treasures is time.

God constantly tells us in His Word to love Him first with all of our mind and being. Does your average day demonstrate that devotion?

While it’s true that your conscious hours must be filled with necessities (work, school, raising kids, etc), you likely do have discretionary time, when you aren't required to be somewhere or to do something. It’s your time.

How much of that discretionary time is spent in front of the TV, on games or the Internet, as opposed to blessing others’ lives or studying the word of God? Now, compare the difference. Which got more of your time, and why?
“If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.” 
"For the idler shall be had in remembrance before the Lord" (D&C 68:30
“They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16).
I witness people spending a lot of time and money on things which are clearly transitory, temporary and temporal. A week, a month, a year later, all that time, money and effort are often a forgotten memory. Eventually, when the earthquakes, droughts, pestilences, wars, mobs, floods and storms of the pre-Millennial tribulations utterly destroy the works of men’s hands, many will be left regretting that they hadn't invested their time and wealth into things like wells, schools, medicines and more for the poor, the sick and the afflicted.

(In my opinion, I don’t believe that God expects us to devote all our discretionary funds and time to Him or to others. However, when these inequalities or amounts are significant enough to erode our relationships with Him and the less fortunate, our spiritual standing is increasingly jeopardized).

One foot in, one foot out

You’re deceived if you think you can train your focus upon, and even perpetuate, idols -- people and things that stand in between you and God, or God’s will -- and call yourself a believing Christian.

You’re deceived if you think you can simultaneously have a summer cottage in Babylon while counting on a future residence in Zion (see Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light [1990], p. 47). In such cases, because you’re neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm in your devotion to Him, He says, “I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

You’re deceived if you believe you can legitimately enjoy your time and money while casting a blind eye on the poor and needy. Your destiny: You “shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” (D&C 104:17–18; see also D&C 56:16–17). You’ll also be denied manifestations of the spirit (D&C 70:14; see also D&C 49:20; 78:5–7).

If you’re not eliminating your idols now, how can God justify your living among those who do exemplify non-idolatrous qualities in Zion?

Cast the idols from among you

To me, Pres. Kimball’s analysis that “We are, on the whole, an idolatrous people -- a condition most repugnant to the Lord.” is just as true today as it ever has been. And with more advanced technologies and things to idolize, I’d even posit there’s a pretty good chance that we’re even more idolatrous than we were in 1976.

This post is about charity. It’s a fact that you can’t have true charity towards others, yet love the world. You must “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:14–15), because "that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15).

But how do you effectively do that? Go to God in prayer. Why?
“The right way to repent of sins is by going before our Maker in secret prayer, identifying the specific transgression, confessing it, forsaking it, and continuing in the Lord’s Spirit. As the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph: “I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment—that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer.” (D&C 84:61.)" (Franklin S. Gonzalez, "Repentance: A Daily Pattern", Ensign, August, 1980)

Return and Report

This mirrors a statement Elder Henry B. Eyring once said:

"One of the questions we must ask of our Heavenly Father in private prayer is this: 'What have I done today, or not done, which displeases Thee?  If I can only know, I will repent with all my heart without delay.'  That humble prayer will be answered." (Henry B. Eyring, “Do Not Delay,” Ensign, Nov. 1999)

I believe this situation mirrors that of something Elder Bednar spoke of in General Conference.  He said:
"Consider this example: There may be things in our character, in our behavior, or concerning our spiritual growth about which we need to counsel with Heavenly Father in morning prayer. After expressing appropriate thanks for blessings received, we plead for understanding, direction, and help to do the things we cannot do in our own strength alone. For example, as we pray, we might: 
  • Reflect on those occasions when we have spoken harshly or inappropriately to those we love the most.
  • Recognize that we know better than this, but we do not always act in accordance with what we know.
  • Express remorse for our weaknesses and for not putting off the natural man more earnestly.
  • Determine to pattern our life after the Savior more completely.
  • Plead for greater strength to do and to become better. 
Such a prayer is a key part of the spiritual preparation for our day." (Elder David A. Bednar, "Pray Always," October 2008 General Conference).
Pres. N. Eldon Tanner once stated:
"I can never begin to express my gratitude to my parents for teaching me this important principle. My father really knew how to talk to the Lord, and made him seem so real and near to us. He would pray in the morning: "Let thy blessings attend us as we go about our duties, that we may do what is right and return tonight to report to thee." (N. Eldon Tanner, "Importance and Efficacy of Prayer," Ensign, Aug. 1971, 2
"This always gave us greater strength to meet and overcome temptations for we knew that we would be reporting to the Lord at night. I am going to report to the Lord tonight, I used to think. And this thought helped me to live a better life during the day." (N. Eldon Tanner, "Reporting to Father," Friend, June 1973, p. 8)
During these Return and Report sessions,
"We can monitor our own progress and discern the gains we make and the patterns in which we are vulnerable to temptation. I am indebted to a wise old friend (both in years and in association) of another faith who taught me to take an active interest in learning about the patterns in my life and how temptations occurred. He struggled a long time with some of his temptations and finally decided to take a proactive interest. He tried to anticipate where in his life he might encounter that "old trickster devil" again. He became a good scout. He watched the terrain of his life and could tell where it looked like his own form of quicksand might be. He rerouted and gave up trying to see how close he could get to that quicksand without getting caught." (Marie Cornwall and Susan Howe, eds., Women of Wisdom and Knowledge: Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences, p.114)
As we do this, we not only draw closer to the Lord, but we also find ourselves becoming more empowered to forsake and overcome sin. As President Ezra Taft Benson stated,
"We find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord" (President Ezra Taft Benson, “A Mighty Change of Heart”, Ensign, Oct. 1989, p. 5)
-- thus fulfilling the promise made in Ether 12:27:
"… if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.… my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." 
"As you kneel in humility before our Father daily, tell him openly of your progress, and also of your fears and doubts. As you draw near to Him, He draws near to us. He gives us peace and encouragement. He heals our souls." (Bruce D. Porter, "Searching Inward," Ensign, Nov. 1971, 65; emphasis mine)
What Alma said in Alma 37:37 is true:
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, . . . and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”

Who You Worship in Life Echoes Through Eternity.

It's my testimony that you have it, within yourself, to draw so close to the Lord, that you'll have no desire to gravitate to the things of Babylon. You can accomplish this in your daily life, if you seek it with all your heart.  As we read in Deuteronomy 4:30-31:
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. 
“When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; … He will not forsake thee.”