Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked

Standard

14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue [from the Greek vomit] thee out of my mouth.

17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (Rev. 3:14-22).

John covered a lot of doctrine in these verses. I want to focus mainly on verses 17 and 18: “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”

The church members in Laodicea were prideful. They believed they were wealthy because they had worldly riches. They are oblivious to the fact that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. How can they [we] not know that they are wretched?

The prophet Alma taught his son: “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness. And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.” (Alma 41:10-11).

When we are doing things that are contrary to the nature of God, when we are not striving to like a godly life, we are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness. We cannot be happy, at least not truly happy. It is simply not possible. Now, we might lack insight about our unhappiness but we, in our sinful states, are unhappy all the same. The converse of this is not true – not all sorrow or unhappiness or depression is caused by sin – but if we believe the scriptures, we know that those who sin (particularly if they are not sinning in ignorance) are living in a state contrary to the nature of happiness and are wretched and miserable.

What does all this have to do with the Laodiceans and their worldly wealth? The prophet Moroni watched his civilization crumble because of wickedness. He watched culture and religion decay into wildness and anarchy. Why did this happen? Pride. “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. 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.” (Moroni 8:36-37).

We learn in the New Testament a similar connection between pride, money, and wickedness: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11).

The cure for this cancer of pride and wickedness is to flee from the love of money. We must flee from pride just as Joseph fled from Potipher’s wife. We do not just run away, we run towards Christ and His Atonement; we run from evil towards good. That is the only way to avoid being “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” even if we have worldly wealth. Sin blinds us to our condition. We, as I wrote earlier, in our sinful states do not realize that we are blind. We follow blind guides instead of reaching for Christ, who can heal our blindness. Those who repent, those who follow Christ will overcome the world just as He overcame the world. Those who are righteous will be able to sit with Christ in His throne, which is His Father’s throne. Those who overcome can become like Christ and inherit what He has inherited. Do we sell this eternal inheritance for a worldly bauble? Do we give up a throne for a minute of amusement?  The only true and happy way is through Christ.

The Beast in the Shadow

Standard

This post is something I wrote for a political blog I (infrequently) write. I am posting it here with only slight edits because of the our recent holiday – Thanksgiving – and the juxtaposition with the consumerism of Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the “holiday shopping.” Today in our secular world, holy-days are little more than vacations from work. While family and giving are generally important, there is a huge focus on money and consumerism and other worldly things. Now, this is not necessarily bad but when our main focus becomes money and stuff, we have lost sight of what really is important, even if that money and stuff ostensibly is for our family. And so, here is my post. It is considerably more economic and political than typical posts on this blog but I feel it is am important topic; additionally, I have kept it as neutral politically and economically as possible. This post has influences from Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion, in which Nibley is very critical of consumerism.

I have very mixed feelings about Black Friday. On one hand I enjoy finding good deals on things. When I can purchase items for significantly less than their actual retail value, I always have a feeling of satisfaction. While I like to buy frivolous things sometimes, I also enjoy finding deals on everyday items – toothpaste, toilet paper, diapers, and so forth. I’m also a believer in many of the tenets of capitalism and consumerism, although I certainly don’t canonize those beliefs. I save money but I also believe that money is more useful when it is spent. Spending money directly on services or goods benefits both buyer and seller. On a macro level, money has to be spent to grow an economy. The old mantra of business – you have to spend money to make money – is true (generally and within the realm of legitimate business operations; there are those who illegally {or even legally} prey on others and unethically profit with little or no effort on their part).

I enjoy finding deals on Black Friday. I also don’t mind doing my part to help businesses become profitable and to stimulate the economy in my own little way; after all, businesses employ people and provide goods and services. All savings without any spending does not help the broader economy. Saving money for retirement, unexpected expenses, expected expenses, and so forth is necessary but saving all your money and spending only the bare minimum might not be in the best interest of the broader economy. That is, unless you do not make enough money to afford any of your wants beyond your basic needs. The problem is that so many of us have our needs and wants mixed up.

Image by hradcanska: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hradcanska/2361030629/

Then there is the other part of me that dislikes the barely suppressed or outright greed that is rampant on Black Friday. Black Friday is the paragon of consumerism, it is when many people openly and gaudily worship at the altars of Mammon by selling their messes of pottage for trinkets and trivialities. Occasionally in the pursuit of such idle pleasures and worldly possessions, a streak of egocentrism with apathy and violence towards the Other is revealed. How abhorrent that some people are so callous that their desire to consume results in the extinguishment of a human life! Yet, all is not gloomy. I witnessed kindness while shopping – people sharing a deal or helping others. Even those who were not Other-focused were patient and civil. The extremes just capture our attention. While violence that is performed by the hands (or feet) of the worshipers of Mammon is relatively rare, it reveals a dark and vicious beast lurking in the shadows of consumerism.

Another disconcerting aspect of Black Friday and the holiday season in general is the commercialization of it. Everything is about spending money and buying the fanciest toys for children, friends, family, and loved ones. Many people go into significant debt during this time of the year. According to one article, “One survey suggests that while 30% of Americans pay off Christmas debt within three months of Christmas, another 25% carry it for over a year” (Source). 25% are paying off Christmas debt until the following Christmas! And some people wonder why the U.S. government has a spending problem. How can we expect fiscal responsibility from Congress when we are not a fiscally-sound people? This whole holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day has become one big spending spree. Much of the original meanings of those holidays has been lost to the constant stream of consumerism (the recent mortgage crisis is also evidence of this).

With all the focus on consuming, it’s no wonder our country also faces an obesity epidemic. The two – irresponsible spending and eating – go hand in hand. We are a country of extremes and impulsivity. The shadow beast of consumerism is greed. It has claws of irresponsibility and fangs of self-centeredness. It preys upon all who stand in its way; in the end, the beast eventually turns on its owner and consumes him. We need to have moderation and responsibility of our personal habits if we hope to tame or slay this beast. We also have to gain control over our personal lives and habits if we expect to have a more fiscally-responsible government. We cannot afford to live beyond our means.

While it is appropriate to go into debt to purchase a house or a modest (and needed) car or to finance an education, we should not go into debt for other reasons. Elder Wirthlin cautioned against going into debt in the April 2004 General Conference:

“I would like to talk about our heavenly debts and earthly debts. The Gospels record that nearly everywhere the Savior went, He was surrounded by multitudes of people. Some hoped that He would heal them; others came to hear Him speak. Others came for practical advice. Toward the end of His mortal ministry, some came to mock and ridicule Him and to clamor for His crucifixion.

“One day a man approached the Savior and asked Him to intervene in a family dispute. ‘Master, speak to my brother,’ he pleaded, ‘that he divide the inheritance with me.’

“The Savior refused to take sides on this issue, but He did teach an important lesson. ‘Beware of covetousness,’ He told him, ‘for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.’1

“Brothers and sisters, beware of covetousness. It is one of the great afflictions of these latter days. It creates greed and resentment. Often it leads to bondage, heartbreak, and crushing, grinding debt.

“The number of marriages that have been shattered over money issues is staggering. The amount of heartbreak is great. The stress that comes from worry over money has burdened families, caused sickness, depression, and even premature death.”

Elder Wirthlin also quoted Pres. Heber J. Grant: “From my earliest recollections, from the days of Brigham Young until now, I have listened to men standing in the pulpit … urging the people not to run into debt; and I believe that the great majority of all our troubles today is caused through the failure to carry out that counsel.”

Finances strain most people. We shouldn’t allow poor decisions to result in severe strain. To avoid debt, Elder Wirthlin suggested these strategies:

  1. Pay your tithing [I will not discuss this here but this is an absolute must!]
  2. Spend less than you earn
  3. Learn to save
  4. Honor your financial obligations
  5. Teach you children to follow your example

I will not discuss these more right now, Elder Wirthlin covered them well in his talk. I just want to add that we should not only avoid debt but we should also avoid what usually causes debt – greed and pride. I know there are extenuating circumstances – loss of a job, emergencies, and tragedies – but those are more rare than not. When we love money, we worship it instead of God. We should not give home to the shadow beast of greed.

If you are struggling with debt, the Church has many resources available to help you work your way out.

The LDS Church and City Creek Center

Standard

Jesus told the following parable.

14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.
  15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
  16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
  17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
  18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
  19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.
  20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
  21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
  23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
  24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:
  25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.
  26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:
  27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.
  28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
  29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
  30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:14-30).

In summary, a man had three servants to whom he gave different amounts of money. One received five talents, another two, and another one. What was important was not how much the servants were given but what they did with what they had. The servants who took their money and increased it were praised and given more when their master returned. One servant hid his money, doing nothing with it, and certainly not increasing it. This servant was punished for his wickedness and sloth.

This parable is not really about money but I’m going to draw some monetary parallels. Some people criticize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for spending as much money as they are on the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Would not this money be better spent on the poor? First, any who criticize The Church for not doing as much as they can to care for the poor is being disingenuous. Besides, does all money The Church has have to ‘help’ the poor?

We read of a time when Judas criticized the use of some expensive ointment when he thought it would be better to sell that ointment and give the money to the poor:

“1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.
2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.
3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,
5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?
6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.
8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.” (John 12:1-8).

Now how is City Creek Center like this example? There are times when it is appropriate to not just spend Church money on the poor. There are more ways than one to build His Kingdom.

I’ll share one last example. Let’s say that I loan you $100. What are you going to do with it? Will you spend it on some new clothes? Will you pay your cable bill with it? Will you repay part of a student loan? Will you give it away to help the poor? Are any of those things bad? No, they are not. Helping the poor with the money is wonderful. However, what if you decided to invest that money or take it and buy some supplies that you use to make something else and sell for a profit. Pretty soon, with your ingenuity and diligence, you have $1000 where before you only had the $100 that I loaned you. Now you have enough money to pay me back and to continue to grow your wealth. As you continue to make more money you never stop helping to poor but soon you have enough money to build an entire orphanage. You have enough money to teach indigent farmers around the world how to improve their crop yields so they no longer are merely and barely surviving but are able to have an excess of food.

So what is a better use of money? Giving all of what you have away or using the money to increase what you have so you can be in a secure financial position to be able to help more people? Do you hide your money away or even give it all away, or do you work hard and increase it?

The LDS Church is in a similar position. It has tithing funds that are used to build temples and church buildings, to fund the upkeep of those buildings, and to help the poor and needy, among many other things. There are fast offerings that go to help the needy – both in and out of the Church. There are humanitarian funds that go to help the needy worldwide. The Church has an education fund that loans money at low interest rates to people so they can get the education they need to pull themselves out of poverty.

Then there are the commercial arms of the Church, like Property Reserve that is paying for City Creek Center. With this massive expenditure the Church is renovating downtown Salt Lake City. This benefits the businesses in the area, it benefits the people of Salt Lake, it beautifies the surroundings, and it is a good investment for the Church. They will be able to continue to grow their real estate holdings. The Church is trying to take its talents and increase them.

Simply giving money to the poor is not always the best way to help. I’ll end with some words by Arthur C. Brooks, who gave a forum address at BYU in 2009. He said:

“Rockefeller was famously quoted…as saying, ‘God gave me my money ‘…. Now, that’s sort of troubling to Christian people. God gave him his money? Some have used the quote as evidence that John D. Rockefeller was a bad man—that he believed he deserved to be rich when other people were poor. But that’s not actually what he meant.

In 1906 Rockefeller went on to tell a newspaper reporter for the New York American: “I believe the power to make money is a gift from God
. . . to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind”…. What Rockefeller meant was this: He believed that he made money because he was charged with helping others with his money, and he honestly believed (as he wrote at other times) that if he stopped giving his money and giving it in the right way, then God would take his money away.

Now, that still might trouble you theologically that God would intervene in the direct finances of John D. Rockefeller, but you have to admit that it doesn’t sound so weird at that point. John D. Rockefeller believed that he was rich because he gave so much, and throughout his life, before he was a rich man, he gave a lot. He was a charitable person.” (Source).

There is charity and there is charity. What I mean is that where some would simply give all their money away – again, not that that is bad – others will increase their talents and strive to help more and more people as they grow their holdings. You can help as many or even more people through business as you can through donations. I am not advocating we all become business owners but for good or for ill, businesses are at the heart of our world.

This post isn’t meant to be a commentary on economic theory. It is simply my opinion on matters of LDS Church spending. Critics will find any way they can to attack the Church. You might disagree with what the Church does but it is the Lord’s church. He directs the Church. This does not mean that leaders do not make mistakes but even if they do, it is not our place to be critical of them. Instead of attacking we should be building up the good we see in all around us. The LDS Church is doing many great things all over the world – things that benefit people both temporally and spiritually. This is the Lord’s work and He works in diverse ways and through diverse means.