Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Blog for Your Sabbath Day: Tithing

From the dawn of time, from the moment Adam and Eve hastily beat an exit from the Garden of Eden, Lucifer, the Adversary, understood the natural man and what a millstone that would be around our spiritual necks, weighing so many of us down, sinking millions to our spiritual deaths. Well, so did our Heavenly Father. He knew that Man, this spirit and body veiled away from his presence, would be wracked with insecurities, would be engaged in that great battle between Needs and Wants, where the wants become needs, and the needs get lost in the shuffle of life.

In the Old Testament--early in our human story--we see this very breakdown when Cain’s offering of the first of his field is rejected of the Lord. Cain has no faith in the future Atonement of Jesus Christ, spoken of by Father Adam, unlike his brother Abel whose faith is full in his offering of the firstling of his flocks to his Father in Heaven. But if Cain has no faith, why then is Cain making any sort of offering? Why not stay home and keep that offering and use it for his own personal needs? Because he’s showing off his wealth, and this is his downfall, the reason for his lack of faith in the Atonement. He’s proud and competitive for the product he’s toiled so hard to grow. For Cain, the public offering openly demonstrates to his family and his neighbors, his prestige. When the offering is rejected, he views this as a rejection of himself. Cain, as a son of God, becomes a son of man. His view of the world, his portion of it, is aligned with the power and wealth he has accumulated. Therefore he begins his infamous slide into depravity.

Leap ahead with me a few thousand years to the New Testament, where the Savior is observing the flow of pedestrians in and out of the temple treasury. Here the people of all social standings and incomes arrive to deposit their alms in these open metal containers. As this unfolds the Savior remarks to his disciples:
Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
This is a rather scathing commentary, but the Savior’s words are an apt description of the narcissism and the revelry that the ancient Scribes had in their personal wealth. They enter the temple treasury with their offerings and instead of dumping out their wares all at once and leaving, they stop to socialize. One at a time they toss in their coins, like feeding a slot machine, allowing the clatter of their wealth to compete with the clatter of their fellow scribes. Here, the Savior observes that in the midst of this wallet rattling--
There came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And [Jesus] called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
Compared to the rich, this poor widow gave a small pittance, but she gave freely of ALL that she had because her heart was not tethered to her money. She felt no fear of wanting or the arrogance that accompanies power. Like Abel, her faith was in her Father in Heaven. The wealthy scribes, like Cain, had no faith in God. Theirs lay in their ledgers, in their bottom line, a power they could show off to the world. The imbalance between needs and wants only shifts us from Our Needs into a prolonged chase for The Wants. The Adversary knows this. Yet, so does our Father in Heaven.

Let me take you back to Moses, where he is cautioning those who have walked the wilderness for forty years, reminding is wayward people how The Lord has kept and sustained them.

And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these...years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. …That he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord...
The trials of life are to humble and prepare ourselves to receive and embrace special instruction from our Heavenly Father. Money, even for the needs of life, doesn’t profit us anything if we are not exercising our faith. But Moses warns us:
When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
When The Lord blesses us, when our proverbial belly is full, we are admonished to give thanks and to not forget "the Lord thy God". If we forget to give thanks, those blessings of full bellies and "goodly houses" will corrupt our hearts. The herds, flocks, silver and gold will cause our hearts to "be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of...the house of bondage" and we will boast "my power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth." To avoid all this Moses lays down the law of gratitude:
Thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.
Moses warned the Israelites of a viral cycle of pride. As our good fortune increases we grow distracted by our possessions and those of our neighbors. This cycle repeats again and again in the stories in the Book of Mormon. One prophet of that sacred tome, Samuel the Lamanite, gave this warning to the rapidly degenerating Nephite nation:
...In that day [of judgement] ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us.
People like being rich. The Old Testament prophets knew this, so did the Apostles and Prophets of the New testament, as well as the prophets of the Book of Mormon; the proclivities of the natural man wasn’t lost on them. What people don’t like doing is sharing. They will argue that we’re only commanded to be humble, not poor. If so, is it possible to be wealthy and on the right hand of God? 

As a missionary serving in Southern California in 1986 my companion and I were driven to a dinner appointment by a local member in his Mercedes-Benz 300-series equipped with a $3,000 car phone. I only remember the make and model and phone because of what came out of his mouth--unsolicited on our part--a rationalization for having such an expensive luxury car and car phone.
“You may have to live with the turkeys but you don’t have to pick off the ground with the chickens.”
His meaning--I sensed at the time--was that you shouldn't feel guilty for how you spend your money because you work hard for it. But is that possible? Can you have a bank account stuffed to the rafters and still sit on the right hand of The Lord? For those who want the security that a healthy income can provide for your particular needs, the Prophet Jacob laid out this plan in nice detail:
...Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
No qualms there on the prophet’s part about the obtaining of riches. After all, what are they but bits of metal, paper and plastic that buy bigger pieces of metal and paper and plastic. But Jacob cautions that you need to first invest in your faith with God:
And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
The template for proper monetary perspective is there: seek only riches so that you may do good unto others. If you want the power that comes with wealth, you must center your heart and mind on all that is Christ.

But if human history has demonstrated again and again, in the love of wealth, in the high of accumulation, in the excitability of vast ownership, how do we protect ourselves if the Adversary freely pushes our anxiety and envy buttons? What cure does Heavenly Father have for us that can break the bonds of wealth’s allure and greed’s grasp? It’s tithing, ten percent of your increase.

When Heavenly Father wants ten percent of your increase, and you hand that over to him, the very act of divorcing yourself of it will go a long ways to break the necks of the greedy-grabby monsters that live inside of all of us. And they do. Yes, you get to keep the other nine tenths, but if you’re willing to hand over that one-tenth, with the caveat that all will be well with you, what undesirable affection you have towards the accumulation of wealth will be seriously dampened.

But why does God himself need ten percent of our income? He doesn't need money. Let me blunt: our Father in Heaven forged the universe. Bobbles, cash, credit and debit cards--no need he has of these. What he wants, as Jacob put is, is to break your desire for the elusive and unpredictable comfort that the rest of the world seeks in riches. He wants very much for you to personally develop an unwavering faith in him. That's why he wants ten percent of your money, and not ten percent of anything else. Not your books, not your furniture, not your property but for you to hand over that which has allowed you to have the creature comforts that sustain you.

Let me elaborate further. Money is the gateway to the world. Money fuels your cars, buys groceries, purchases clothing, supplies blankets, procures furniture and appliances, insures vehicles, keeps the utilities of water and electricity flowing and the roof of Home over your Head. Case in point: The Internet, once a utility of want, has now transcended to a level of need as personal computers have become deeply imbedded in our lives: desktops, laptops, iPods, iPads, tablets and that device we keep in our pocket, the phone. The line between what we need and what we want grows quite blurry when you realize that your iPod is out of date and you don't have the new one but everyone else does. Sure it retails for hundreds of dollars. But if only we just had a bit more money. Oh just a bit more, boy we could get it, and quite possibly this and that and the other thing. Right?

Right there, we can see how the adversary can manipulate the popular culture and add extra emphasis on that need for an quick upgrade. President Spencer W. Kimball once reflected:

“Some time ago a sister said to me, ‘Why is it, Brother Kimball, that those who do the least in the building of the kingdom seem to prosper most? We drive a Ford; our neighbors drive a Cadillac. We observe the Sabbath and attend our meetings; they play golf, hunt, fish, and play. We abstain from the forbidden while they eat, drink, and are merry and are unrestrained. We pay tithing and other church donations; they have their entire large income to lavish upon themselves. Our meager income is always strained and never seems adequate for necessities, while their wealth seems enough to allow them every luxury. And yet the Lord promises blessings to the faithful! It seems to me that it does not pay to live the gospel—that the proud and the covenant breakers are the ones who prosper.’ Then I said to her, ‘Yours is an ancient question. Job and Jeremiah made the same complaint.’ ...Then I said to the disconsolate sister, ‘...You have many blessings today. You have your family of lovely, righteous children. What a rich reward for the so-called sacrifices! The blessings that you enjoy cannot be purchased with all your neighbor’s wealth.’”
This is where tithing comes in to rescue us from the perceived injustices that we heap upon ourselves. If we’re in tune with the spirit, tithing reminds us of just who the author is behind all of our successes and rewards. In this regard it's not unlike the sacrament. The bread and water reminds us who suffered and died so that we might be able to repent and have forgiveness of our sins and gain peace and eternal perspective in a tumultuous world. Likewise, tithing has the same transformative effect on us. We can go from drooling for a lifestyle upgrade to handing over to Heavenly Father an entire one-tenth of our increase and we can do so with faith and love. When we pay an honest tithe we are breaking the bonds of that weighty chain that drags down the lives of our neighbors and countrymen, that sours their hearts and devours the homes of widows. Tithing corrects us, refocuses our desires.

Think on the widow who entered the temple treasury, who with her pittance, waded through the clatter and clanging of the wealthy scribes, who gave freely of all that she had without hesitation so that others may be blessed. Make your hearts pure like hers. In the face of what may seem insurmountable uncertainty, your Father in Heaven asks for your faith, to trust in him, and in return he will shower you with blessings that you will have no room to receive. Who could need more than the widow who gave all?

As it turns out, she didn’t have needs for money in what seemed to be a state of abject poverty. Her cup was already overflowing. What a miracle tithing provides.

No comments:

Post a Comment