Chapter 16 – The Media
Chapter 18 – The Word of Wisdom
 Chapter 19 – Responsibility
 Chapter 20 – School and Learning
Chapter 21 – Friends and Peer Pressure
Chapter 22 – Stewardship
Chapter 23 – Idolatry
Chapter 24 – Consecration
PDF VersionChapter_17.htmlChapter_18.htmlChapter_19.htmlChapter_20.htmlChapter_21.htmlChapter_21.htmlChapter_22.htmlChapter_24.html
Chapter 9 – Chastity
Chapter 10 – Obtaining Joy and Satisfaction
Chapter 11 – Fashion  and Modesty
Chapter 12 – Rebellion 
Chapter 13 – Church Meetings
Chapter 14 – Hypocrisy (Sunday-only Mormons)
Chapter 15 – The Sabbath
Chapter 16 – PornographyChapter_9.htmlChapter_10.htmlChapter_10.htmlChapter_11.htmlChapter_12.htmlChapter_13.htmlChapter_14.htmlChapter_14.htmlChapter_15.htmlChapter_16.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1shapeimage_3_link_2shapeimage_3_link_3shapeimage_3_link_4shapeimage_3_link_5shapeimage_3_link_6shapeimage_3_link_7shapeimage_3_link_8shapeimage_3_link_9
Chapter 1 – Understanding Isaiah
Chapter 2 – Leaders and Role Models
Chapter 3 – Gangs
Chapter 4 – Fasting
Chapter 5 – Victims of bullying
Chapter 6 – Bullying
Chapter 7 – HomosexualitY
Chapter 8 – DatingPreface.htmlIntroduction.htmlChapter_1.htmlChapter_2.htmlChapter_3.htmlChapter_4.htmlChapter_5.htmlChapter_6.htmlChapter_7.htmlChapter_8.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0shapeimage_4_link_1shapeimage_4_link_2shapeimage_4_link_3shapeimage_4_link_4shapeimage_4_link_5shapeimage_4_link_6shapeimage_4_link_7shapeimage_4_link_8shapeimage_4_link_9

     The term “idolatry” makes us think of people bowing down to statues instead of worshipping God, but at its fundamental level, it refers to messed-up priorities.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is nothing more than a simple commandment to us to keep God at the very top of our priority list.  Now that we’ve learned about stewardship from Isaiah, we have to learn about stewardship priorities. 

     Satan doesn’t want us to know about priorities of stewardship, and he will do his best to try to confuse us.  He will try to get us to put top priorities at the bottom and the lowest priority things on top.  He will start out by getting us to mess up our stewardship priorities just a little bit at a time until the consequences have caused such havoc in our lives that we can’t help but worship our stewardships more than God and even become completely blind to our idolatry. 

     To make this connection, in the sections that follow I am calling this priority mess-up idolatry.  There are many times in which it is not immediately obvious that a stewardship priority is being put before God, but keep in mind that if a priority is out of line, Satan will try to put it as high as possible on our lists.  If we can put them back in place, that ensures that what should be on top—the worship of God—stays on top.  Isaiah has a lot to say that can illustrate when priorities are out of whack and when they are not, so here we go!

The Temptation to Admire and Idolize the Wealth, Fame, Power, etc. that the World Praises

At that day shall a man look to his Maker,

and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.

(Isaiah 17:7-8)

     At that day shall a man look to his Maker - Knowing this reminds us that whatever we do with our stewardship, we must make sure the Lord approves of it.  If the Lord approves, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says.  Making sure the Lord’s approval is more important to us than anyone else’s approval will go a long way towards preventing all kinds of idolatry, both with our stewardship and with tons of other things.

     [A]nd his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel  - This scripture shows us what is most worthy of our admiration and respect.  First and foremost, always our God who created us.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. . . .Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. . .” (Exodus 20:3,5)

     The world practically worships those with wealth, power, and fame instead of the Lord, which is very silly, because all the wealth belongs to the Lord anyway, the Lord is the most powerful, and the Lord is destined to be the most famous (as someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ).

     If we have difficulty worshipping God, it is because we don’t know what He is like.  This is one reason why the scriptures are so very valuable to us; they are full of the prophets testifying of what God is like so that we know.  Isaiah in the above verse tells us two characteristics of God.  He is the “Maker”, and “the Holy One of Israel” - such tiny words that encompass enormous meaning.  It is an absolute fact that learning about and trying to be like God and His Christ increases our admiration for Them.  That is how we keep Them at the top of our priority list.

The Temptation to Love Money and Things More than People

I will make a man more precious than fine gold;

even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.

(Isaiah 13:12)

     Here we have a direct statement of priority, which is very helpful.  People are more precious than gold, so when our stewardships involve people, that is more important than our stewardships of stuff or money. 

     This scripture reminds me of Doctrine & Covenants 18:10: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”  Do you think the Lord considers us more precious to Him than any wedge of gold?  Of course!  And I bet that it has something to do with our potential to become like God.  Potential is the important word here.  People invest money because they see a potential for a big return.  Double your investment?  Triple it?  Well, Heavenly Father looks at each of us, dust specks that we are, and He sees the potential for us to become like Him–blinding  glory, power, holiness, the whole bit.  It’s an infinite return!  And this is just part of why He works so hard on us.  (The other part is because we’re His children and He loves us so much.)

     If we’re to become like God in all things and live up to our potential, the worth of souls must become great to us too.  If we consider the worth of souls great, how would that change the way we treat each other, compared to how we treat our stuff? 

     Here’s an example from my own life of when I didn’t consider the worth of souls to be great.  Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, I had a beta fish that I liked very much.  I had bought it with my own money that I had earned.  It was a light purple color with shimmery blue and green fins and a tail that flowed about when it swam around in its bowl.  I named it Poseidon, for the mythological Greek god of the sea.  (This should have been a tipoff that I was making a kind of idol out it.)  I would watch it for hours sometimes, enjoying the flash of the sun off its scales.  One day I came home from school and discovered my fish was missing from its bowl.  Did this mean it had suddenly evolved legs and lungs and walked away?  Highly unlikely, which meant someone must have removed it.  Tarnation!  Dogs of War!  I did what every self-respecting teenager would do—I got upset.  It was clear that one of my siblings had 1) been in my room and 2) had taken my fish out of its bowl, meaning 3) it was probably dead by now.  I started to interrogate my little brothers and my little sister at high volume with great harshness.  To make a long story short, the culprit turned out to be my little four-year old sister.  She admitted it was under her bed.  I went to look for my fish, and found it, all dried up, a poor, shriveled anchovy.  And its eyes had been bored out with a fork.  (!!!!!)  I was very sharp with my sister as I held Poseidon the Anchovy in my hand, and she dissolved into tears.  With heartbroken wails she ran to Mom for solace.  When Mom upbraided me for my unkindness toward my sister, I shed a few tears myself to demonstrate the profundity of my bereavement. 

     I am ashamed to admit that at that point in my life, I cared so much about my fish, that I thought nothing of committing the sin of unkindness against my sister.  I cared more for my fish than her feelings.  My priorities were definitely messed up.  I should have explained to her calmly and kindly why it was wrong to mutilate pet fish.

     My parents were good examples of considering the worth of souls great.  I can remember when I got in an accident and did some damage to my parents’ truck.  I came home, wondering how they would react when I told them what I had done to it, fearing that they would yell at me and take away my keys and ground me to my room for a month or put me in a convent or something.  After I told them what happened, the very first thing they said was, “We’re so glad you’re okay!”  That was music to my teenage ears.  Only then did they go out to look at the damage and decide what I should do to make restitution for my carelessness. 

     As you can see, if you love people more than your stewardship you won’t commit the sin of anger and unkindness against someone who accidentally or ignorantly or even deliberately destroys it.  The faster we learn to do this, the faster Isaiah’s prophecy about a person becoming worth more than a big wedge of gold will be fulfilled.

     We have now gotten to the point that we must focus on the principle of surplus and analyzing stewardship needs before we can finish pointing out forms of idolatry and out-of-whack priorities.  We have to know the truth before we can discern what is error. 

The Temptation to Think It Isn’t Necessary to Know the Difference Between Wants and Needs

14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign;

Behold, a virgin shall conceive,

and bear a son,

and shall call his name Immanuel. 

15    Butter and honey shall he eat,

     that he may know to refuse the evil,

     and choose the good.

(Isaiah 7:14-15)  

     These verses testify of Christ. He learned how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  He tasted both the butter and the honey.  He also learned how to tell the difference between something He needed and something He wanted. (I highly suspect that He didn’t have to make bad choices to learn about them; I bet that He observed people very carefully, watched them make all kinds of good and bad choices, and drew careful conclusions based upon what He saw.)

     The butter can symbolize the surplus.  Just like a diet of fat will plug our arteries, an unending stream of surplus into our stewardship will choke our lives with too much stuff. 

     The honey can symbolize the special treat of getting something new and special.  This excitement is very sweet and enjoyable, but just like eating too much honey and sweet things can make you sick, getting new things all the time becomes less and less exciting and enjoyable, until you get sick of it and sick of shopping. 

     Just like it is necessary to know what is high in fat and what is not in order to have a healthy body, it is absolutely imperative to learn to discern between what we need and what is surplus in order to have a healthy stewardship.  The Savior learned how to tell what was surplus and we need to too.  In the D&C, when the Lord talks about consecration, He is always telling us to bring our surplus to the storehouse.  Unless we can identify what our surplus is, we can’t bring it. 

     I began to learn at a very young age (younger than twelve) that there were things I had that I considered indispensable and things that were not so necessary that I could easily part with.  My mom taught a family home evening lesson in which she told us all about how the pioneers left their possessions behind and took only what they could put in a wagon or a handcart.  My mom put a challenge to us to think about what we would take with us if we only had 15 minutes before we had to leave our house forever.  This challenge made a huge impression on my young mind and after the lesson was over, I went up to my room, found an empty milk crate, and proceeded to try to decide very quickly which of my toys I could take in the milk crate and what I could leave behind.  There was some stuff that I didn’t care so much about and I thought I could walk away from it forever with no backward glances, while there was other things that were my favorites that I thought I would be very unhappy without.  I thought, “Ah!  Now I see there is stuff I think is necessary and stuff I think is unnecessary, and now I can tell the difference between them!”   I decided that having the most necessary and favorite stuff and keeping very little else was a desirable thing. 

     You may think that it was silly of me to distinguish which of my TOYS were necessary and which were unnecessary.  After all, we think of toys as being something unnecessary.  However, I was a kid at the time, so my stewardship didn’t consist of much except for toys and clothes, my bed, and my part of the bedroom.  I was doing what I could with what I had, to learn about what was necessary and what was not.

     That lesson at such a young age laid a very important foundation for acquiring the ability to let go of stuff I didn’t use or need any more.  It taught me I could cut the fat from my stewardship and go lean.  As time went on, I continued to learn new things about how to tell the difference between stuff I needed and surplus, and I am still learning today.

     I want to extend the same challenge to you that my mom gave to me.  Look around at your belongings and decide in 15 minutes what you would fit in a handcart if you and your family had to suddenly leave your home and not come back.

     There are a variety of other thought experiments you can use to help you determine what is surplus and what is not.  The pioneer experiment is what got me started.  Some people find it helpful to ask themselves, “What would I not miss if my room was suddenly destroyed by a fire?” in order to identify what their surplus is.  Others ask themselves what their favorite things are and then donate everything that isn’t “favorite”.

The Temptation to Think That It Will Always Be Easy to Tell What Is Surplus

The Temptation to Think Anyone Can Recognize What Is Surplus Right Away

In measure,

when it shooteth forth,

thou wilt debate with it. . .

(Isaiah 27:8)

     In measure, when it shooteth forth – This little phrase tells us that surplus grows like a plant, quietly and imperceptibly.  You can only measure how much it has increased by remembering what it was before.

     [T]hou wilt debate with it – This tells us that in order to determine exactly what of our stewardship is surplus, we will frequently have to debate with ourselves about it.  When you are young and your stewardship is small (toys and clothes), the debate is not very complicated.  When you get to be a teenager, time, money, and space have to be considered too.  When you get to be an adult, you’ll have to consider property and employment and even businesses too.  You’ll have to figure out how to provide for your children without spoiling them.  (It becomes an external debate too, because then you have to talk to your spouse about what should be done.) The debate will get more complicated, so it is absolutely imperative to start practicing discerning what is surplus when you are young so that you can make the tough decisions when you are an adult.

     When I was very young, it was easy for me to tell the difference between my needs and my surplus simply because my stewardship wasn’t very large and I had developed very few talents.  And it was a good thing I learned how back then, because as time went on I built up all these different talents that required stuff to do them.  I learned how to play the piano, so I needed to have a piano and music to play.  I learned how to play several other instruments, which required instruments and music for them too.  I learned how to draw, so I got and filled up drawing pads.  I learned how to type and use a computer, and I started to need to type lots of papers, so I needed a computer to work on.  I learned how to ride a bike.  I learned how to roller skate so my parents got me roller skates and then I learned to roller blade and decided I liked rollerblading better than roller skating.  I learned how to sew with a sewing machine.  As my talents grew, so did my needs, and as a result, the pile of stuff I needed and used grew too.  It has become more difficult to decide what is surplus and what is not, so I have to have debates with myself about the stuff in my life and whether I need it for my stewardship or not.  I have to debate about whether the frequency of use justifies having it.  Here are the kinds of questions I ask myself (and I try to answer them as honestly as I can):

Is this adding to my ability to manage my stewardship?  (Anything that does not help actually hinders.)

How much does this help me build my talents? 

What do I use this for now?

How often do I use this? 

Could I use this in the future? 

When that time comes, will I think to use this? 

If life in the future is similar to the life I live today, will I use it?

What would I have to do to make this useful?

If I gave this away, is there something I could use instead that would work better? 

How do I feel about this, and why?

If this got lost or stolen, would I replace it?

     As a quick example of discerning surplus, when I learned to rollerblade, I decided I liked that better than roller-skating.  My roller skates became surplus, because I didn’t want to use them anymore. 

     Now, if you think it is hard to tell what stuff is surplus, it is more difficult to tell what money is surplus.  Why?  I’ll give you an example.  A piano is used for making music.  It has only one real use.  Money, on the other hand, can be used for so many different things that it is hard to tell when you don’t have a use for it.  It can be used to pay bills, or acquire a car, or pay for college, or to get an iPod, or buy a treat, and any number of other things.

     In order to tell what money is surplus, you have to know how much money you need to live.  This is where a budget comes in.  What a budget is supposed to do is help us predict our needs and plan for them so that we have saved enough to pay for what we need by the time we need it.  It also shows us how much of the money we make is surplus.  The sooner you learn how to make and use a budget, the better off you’ll be, the more in control you’ll be of what you spend, and the more the Lord will be pleased with you if you sacrifice to be generous to others.  Consecration is easy when you have only a fuzzy idea of how much you make and spend.  It’s when you know exactly where every penny is going that it gets hard, but if you sacrifice your own wants and even needs for the sake of others, that is when the Lord is most pleased and pours out more blessings.

     Elder Busche of the Quorum of the 70, in his book Yearning for the Living God,  wrote of a little, old, German lady named Sister Neuburg who would come to see him every year and give him $1,500 for the missionary department for poor missionaries. 

Once when she brought the $1,500, I asked her where in the world she got the money.  She told me, without any embarrassment, that she was making a special sacrifice, because, she said, “I want to show the Lord how much I love Him and how much I appreciate His atonement for me.”  She went on to explain that her father had left a small endowment for her to live on.  She lived in a little house where her parents had lived.  She saved the money for the missionary fund by not using any utilities.  She did not use any heating all winter but wore two big sweaters, a big coat, and a wool cap.  She did not cook any meals but ate raw or cold food.  She said, “It’s only a small thing I can do.  The Lord has done much more.”1

You may wonder what blessings the Lord gave her for such a “small” yet extraordinary sacrifice if her material needs were all met to her satisfaction.  Elder Busche noted that this woman had incredible insight to the point that she knew about many events before they even happened.  The Lord had told her about the flood of 1983 in Salt Lake City a few months before it happened; she had known there would be a river running down State Street.  (She told Elder Busche about it beforehand and he thought she had gone a little crazy, but when he saw the water channeled by sandbags, he gained new respect for what she said.)  She knew that the Lord was going to take Elder McConkie to Him before anyone even knew he was sick, and she told Elder Busche a bunch of other things the Lord told her, things that he didn’t write about in his book but hinted at.  She was even visited by angels that would talk with her about the plan of salvation.  Essentially, her material needs were met, so the Lord blessed her with spiritual gifts proportional to the faith and sacrifice that she demonstrated.  If anyone was free from idolatry and had their priorities in the right spot, it was her. 

The Temptation to Think Having Lots of Stuff = Freedom

Therefore my people are gone into captivity,

     because they have no knowledge:

and their honourable men are famished,

and their multitude dried up with thirst.

(Isaiah 5:13) 

     Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge - Without the skills of being able to discern what we need, we are held captive by our stuff in a sort of stewardship slavery.  We are held captive by the stuff we don’t need any more but can’t let go of, and even held captive by the stuff we think we may need in the far distant future, but aren’t using now.  If this sounds like it could be idolatry, you’re right; it is.   It is letting the past and the future take priority over present needs.  It prevents us from taking care of our stewardship as well as we could.

     One example is clothes.  I have to say that I think we are very much held hostage by our clothes.  Some of us hang on to our clothes that are too small, because we intend to lose weight and fit into them again.  Some of us lose weight and hang onto our clothes that are too large, just in case we gain the weight back again.  I say, give them away, because not only are they taking up your space, but the sight of too small clothes triggers feelings of guilt and shame.  Why would you want to keep around something that gives you bad feelings?

     It is hard for us to realize how much fashion influences our attitudes about what we need until we really start to question it.  When we compare what we have with what others have (or what advertisements say we should have) in order to determine how much is enough, we are abdicating responsibility and giving away our freedom to choose.  We also lose the opportunity to learn mature analyzing and decision-making skills for our stewardships. 

     When I was a teen,  I saw that many of my friends had lots of pairs of jeans, so I thought that I should have lots of pairs of jeans too.  Yet all through my teenage years, no matter how many pairs of jeans I had, there was always just one or two pairs that I considered my favorites which I would wear all the time.  I have since decided that I should stop fighting the inevitable and just have two pairs of jeans, both favorites.  I am perfectly happy with this.  It is okay.  While one pair is in the wash, I can wear the other.  Now, I do not tell you this to suggest that everyone should only have two pairs of jeans.  What I do want to suggest is that we should evaluate what we need independent of society.  When we periodically re-examine our needs we may find that we don’t really need what society insists we need.  This is when we can escape some of the common priority mix-ups of society.

     There are very few times when we should hang on to something for the sake of possible future need, and that is when the prophets have said something on the matter.  Their counsel—have a year’s supply of food, a financial reserve for a rainy day, a 72 hour kit, and as much education as possible—gives us a guide by which to measure the necessity of keeping something.  You teens are probably saying, “But only the education thing seems to apply to me right now.  And I’m saving for college and a mission.”  Exactly.  At this stage there isn’t much you need to gather and save for the future except education and money.  

     If you are held captive by stuff you no longer use, you need to free yourself, because not only is it holding you hostage, it holds your space hostage too, taking up room that you could use for something you need more, or simply making your space feel cramped and uncomfortable.  It holds your time hostage too, because of the time it takes to clean it and store it and climb around it and shift it around and paw through it and sort it. 

     Once again, in order to learn what is surplus, we must have a debate about it and learn to reason according to gospel principles.

     Another way we tend to be held captive by our stuff is if we think its feelings would be hurt or that it would feel betrayed if we put it out of our homes.  But stuff does not have feelings.  It is inanimate.  It can’t think or feel.  

     Another way we tend to be held captive by our stuff is when we acquire souvenirs.  We acquire souvenirs because we want to remember things.  If you have good memories associated with your stuff, remember that the stuff does not store your memories, your brain does.  Stuff can only trigger memories, and the memories are the precious thing.  However, brains forget and memories grow fuzzy, which is why we have been commanded by the prophets to keep a journal.  Transfer your memories to your journal where they really belong and then you may be able to free yourself from the stuff.  Let your journal be the memory trigger it was meant to be.  Don’t wait until you have so much to write about that you don’t have time to do it.  This is also what photos are for.   

     If you are held captive by stuff with fetters of emotional attachment, you need to free yourself, because no matter how much you love your stuff, your stuff can not love you back.  People are worthy of your tender, fine feelings of emotional attachment, while stuff is not

     One example of something that held me captive with emotional attachment was a bracelet that a former boyfriend gave me for Christmas.  It was made out of a very delicate gold chain, with little gold hearts attached to the links.  I didn’t wear it anymore, because it was from a former boyfriend, but I couldn’t let go of it, because it was from a former boyfriend!  (Crazy, huh?)  Luckily I ran across an article on the internet that suggested writing about an object of emotional attachment.  The theory was that if there is an emotional attachment, then the emotions need to be validated and acknowledged, analyzed and recorded, because they are important too.  So that’s what I did.  I wrote in my journal about that bracelet and described it, and told how the bracelet symbolized triumph to me that some boy had liked me enough to buy me jewelry.  Once I did that, my emotions felt validated and I was able to let it go.  I haven’t missed it.  This technique has helped me deal with many things that I’ve been emotionally attached to, but have previously been unable to let go of, even though I knew I should, as they were of no use to my stewardships.  I know it can help you too.

     [A]nd their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst – Meanwhile, other honorable people, crowds and scads and multitudes of them, are in need of the very things you can’t let go of.  You may say, “But who in the world could possibly need this stuff?”  There are six billion people on this earth and the odds are that someone needs it, whether it is cardboard boxes, fannypacks, shoe shine, earrings, poster paint, or a goldfish bowl.  Someone needs it.  Let it go.

     If you happen to have a lot of things to write about, start on the largest things first, so that you can make the most progress of freeing up your space at the beginning.

     Finally, once you have freed yourself and freed up some space, don’t think that you have to fill it up again..  When you keep yourself worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, its influence expands to fill up your room, and makes the empty places into places of serenity.

     Now that we know how to analyze our stewardships to notice what is surplus, we are prepared to receive more of Isaiah’s help with resisting temptations to idolize surplus or our stewardship.

The Temptation to Get Into Debt

And he shall snatch on the right hand,

     and be hungry;

and he shall eat on the left hand,

     and they shall not be satisfied:

they shall eat every man the flesh of his own arm.

(Isaiah 9:20)

     This is a pretty gruesome scripture.  That last line in particular evokes a sense of cannibalism, and not only that, but a sense that a person is eating themselves!  It’s a good bet that Isaiah is being symbolic here. 

     Isaiah is using the arm to symbolize a man’s power and strength.  (There’s no body part that could express this better.  Think of a body-builder flexing their biceps and triceps.)  Back in Isaiah’s day, people provided for their families by doing manual labor farming or as craftsmen, so being strong was essential to make a good living.  When he says that people will eat the flesh of their arms, Isaiah meant that people will become so greedy and grasping in their consumption that they consume (eat) their strength straight from its source (the muscles) before it even does work.  This is exactly what we do when we go into debt to get something we want before we’ve worked for it, whether it is debt to our parents or anyone else.  We spend the money we haven’t yet worked to earn.

     Naturally, if we haven’t earned it yet, whatever we buy with borrowed money will not be as satisfying to own as it would have been if we had bought it with money we had already earned.  The only way to escape going into debt is to save up your money ahead of time for the things you want.

     And he shall snatch on the right hand – It is very interesting that the word used here is “snatch”.  It makes you think of someone grabbing something really fast.  When I was a teenager, every single time I can remember that I got into debt to my parents was because I saw something I wanted that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get if I had to take the time to save up money for it.  (Like seeing a $70 pair of sandals I wanted while on vacation in another state.)  I felt like I had to hurry and buy it or it would be gone. 

     Isaiah is warning us that being in too much of a hurry to get what we want causes us to go into debt.   Desire and urgency  begin to take priority over preparedness and planned use of our stewardships.  Possession starts to take priority over financial responsibility.

     What should we do instead?  One thing that helps me slow down is to have faith that by the time I have saved my money, even if I can’t find what I first wanted, I will eventually find something I like as well or better.  I don’t have to spend my money as soon as I’ve earned enough.  I can afford to hang on to it and wait for something as good to come on the market.  We can wait for the next sale.  We can wait for the next season’s fashions.  It doesn’t hurt to wait, no matter what the commercials and sales ads say.

     Another way we can escape going into debt for impulse buys is to realize that we want what we see.  Marketers everywhere know that if they can show us lots of stuff we will want at least something out of it all.  If we don’t put ourselves in a position to see a lot of stuff we might want, we will escape.  If I go to the mall just to look at stuff, chances are good that I’ll find something I want, but if I don’t go to the mall, I will escape wanting, which will save me from impulse purchases that put me in debt.  It’s the same with commercials.  If I avoid watching or listening to commercials, I’ll keep myself from wanting and save myself from debt.

The Temptation to Buy Things That Don’t Meet All the Needs They Should

The Temptation to Let Your Stewardship Crowd Out Your Life

For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it:

and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.

(Isaiah 28:20)

     This is another symptom of idolatry, when we buy things that don’t cover all needs they should.  The man in the scripture has gotten a bed and a blanket that are probably really cool-looking, but too short and narrow for him.  It would be just as bad if he had gotten a bed and blanket that were the right size, but which he didn’t like.  Another way we might do this is if we buy shoes that are comfortable but don’t look good, or buy shoes which look good, but aren’t comfortable.  When we buy, both our sense of the useful and sense of the beautiful must be satisfied.  If I buy a purse that is darling, but doesn’t hold everything I need, I find myself on the hunt again for a purse.  If I get a purse that holds everything but doesn’t satisfy my ideals of cute or cool, I’m back looking for a purse a few weeks later no matter how much I try and stop myself.

     Why is this idolatry?  It is because meeting one need has taken precedence over meeting others that are equally valid.  It is settling for something that isn’t as good as it should be, just to have something.  You avoid this idolatry by making sure that what you buy is satisfying all the needs it should.  Like buying clothes that are attractive and modest.

     Another way to look at this scripture is that it illustrates a situation when our stuff has accumulated to the point that we don’t have enough space for everything or even for us.  I’ve heard of people who pile stuff on their bed “for now” and then, rather than put it away at the end of the day, just like this scripture, they sleep (uncomfortably) in the tiny space left to them.  Another way we can liken this scripture to ourselves, is by reading it this way:

For the room is too small that a teenager can live in it

And the closet and the dresser are too small to hold all the clothes thereof.

     Why is this idolatry?  It’s not because the room is small, but because the amount of stuff is so large.  Because it is an indication that having stuff has taken priority over day-to-day living.  (This isn’t just our treasures that have gotten out of hand, but our whole stewardship!)  Having stuff has even taken priority over the ability to keep it in order and get to it efficiently when we need it as part of our stewardship.  To properly use our stewardships, it is imperative to have a place for things, to have order, and to be able to quickly get to things we need, and to be able to quickly put things away in their place after we have used them.  When there is so much stuff that we can’t put it all away, we lose the ability to be efficient in our stewardships.  Valuable time is wasted pawing through all the other stuff and moving things around to get at what we need.  Then valuable time is wasted clearing space to work.  Further, if we can’t find what we need when we need it, we might as well not own it at all. 

     There are two ways of solving this problem of having too much for the space we have.  The world’s way of solving it is to move into a bigger place, or get a storage unit, or install more storage shelves.  The Lord’s way is the exact opposite: to analyze needs, determine what is surplus, then cast the surplus into the Lord’s storehouse, and find ways of efficiently storing what is left.  There is nothing so refreshing as a room that has room. 

The Temptation to Hang On To an Unproductive, Dysfunctional Part of Your Stewardship

Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath,

and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah.

(Isaiah 5:10)

     Ten acres of vineyard were only bringing enough grapes to fill up one bath-sized container, when it should have yielded many, many times more.  Clearly the vineyard is unfruitful.  A smart businessman, if he were in charge of this vineyard, would quickly tear out those vines and put something else in that would be more productive. 

     So here is another indication that something is an idol, there is a lot of it, but the benefit it gives is tiny in comparison to what it should be and tiny in comparison to the effort that is put into maintaining it.  If we’re keeping something like that around, it is usually because the prestige involved in just owning it is greater than the material benefit.  It means prestige of ownership is taking priority over productive stewardship.  (We have to watch out for this, because if Satan finds we love to give prestige priority, then he will look for ways to move prestige priorities higher and higher on our list until it tops God.) 

     Likewise, this scripture applies when we find ourselves spending more time doing maintenance on our stewardships than using them as they were meant.  For example, if you spend more time fixing your bike than riding it, it may be time to get a new one or get rid of the bike altogether.  As another example, if you spend more time repairing your car than you do driving it, it is time to find a better car that will do the job for which it was made – transportation.  I once made a necklace for myself that had a tendency to break apart.  It would break throughout the day.  I got rid of it.  The principle of priorities is that we can’t let “repairing” take too much time and energy away from the rest of our stewardships.  We work on being good stewards by not neglecting our stewardship, but if something breaks like crazy even when we’re being careful and fixing it all the time, the fault is no longer ours, but in the thing itself.

     One of the reasons why we have trouble letting go of those time-prohibitive, non-productive parts of our stewardships is because we paid a lot of money for them and we put all that work into them, and we feel a major sense of ownership because of that.  We also don’t want to admit that we made a bad choice. (Down, pride!  Down, I say!)  But it helps to remember that our stewardship isn’t really ours, but the Lord’s.  If acquiring the “money-pit” was a mistake, surely He would want us to correct the mistake as soon as possible.  

     Other times we may be dealing with something someone gave to us and we don’t have the means to get something that really works, in which case, by all means continue to jury-rig with duct tape, baling wire, and plastic wrap. 

     Now, don’t go and start getting rid of things just because they require maintenance.  Everything needs to be serviced and fixed and cared for to keep it working in its best condition.  It is too much maintenance for the benefit that is the problem and indicates idolatry.  We can determine this by noticing and counting up how much time we spend on maintenance, versus the time we enjoy the benefit.  Businesses call this a “cost-benefit analysis” and they really expect a return on investment.  The Lord does too.

     I’ll give you an example of a situation where something useful turned into an unproductive idol.  A few years ago, my husband and I bought an e-bike, a bicycle that had an electric motor and rechargeable battery attached to it.  We lived in Austin, Texas, where there are a lot of steep hills, and it was very nice to be able to use that motor when my husband and I went on bike rides together.  It helped me keep up with him.  We also used it nearly every day.  I would use it to bike to school one day and then he would ride it to work the next day.  Clearly we were getting a large benefit from this e-bike for the small level of maintenance it required.

     Then, we moved to Chandler, Arizona.  The situation was different.  Flat terrain.  It was so hot outside in the summer that my husband rarely liked to ride it to work.  There were all kinds of nails and spines and poky things in the road that would make the e-bike’s tires go flat nearly every time my husband rode, and the back tire inner-tube was a major pain to get to and patch, taking several hours.  He went through patch kits and bike tires really fast.  To top it off, the rechargeable battery went dead, and since then we’ve discovered that the company that made e-bikes went out of business so we can’t find a replacement battery unless we somehow custom-build it ourselves or custom-order it.  We still have the e-bike, dead battery and all.  It’s very heavy to ride with that motor and battery hanging on it uselessly.  Again, a smart businessman would immediately get rid of it and get a new, ordinary bicycle, or else scour the web looking for another rechargeable battery.   But we have allowed the e-bike to become an idol.  Ownership is more important to us than its functionality.  Sad, huh?  I’m going to have to talk to my husband about it. 

     Here’s another example of a dysfunctional tool of stewardship that might have become an idol but didn’t.  My sister had a dresser with drawers that were very difficult to open and close, because it would constantly come off the track.  Because the drawers were so difficult to use, my sister found it too much trouble to put her clean clothes away.  It was a beautiful dresser and matched the other furniture in her room perfectly… but it didn’t fulfill the function for which it was needed, which was to hold clothes in an organized, convenient way.   I finally had to call my mom’s attention to the dresser’s lack of functionality.  She found my sister a better dresser and got rid of the old one. 

     What if my mom or my sister had said, “But it’s so pretty and it matches the rest of the furniture; I couldn’t possibly replace it”?  Or what if my mom had gotten a new dresser and not gotten rid of the old one?  That would probably have indicated that the dresser had somehow become an idol. 

     What if my mom had found some way of getting my sister’s dresser fixed?  That would be good stewardship too, because it would be regaining the productivity and efficiency of a tool of stewardship.

     I hesitate to say this, but one tool of stewardship in particular that I fear is becoming too unproductive at large is the scrapbook.  The point of a scrapbook is to preserve memories with photos and print.  If the amount of area being taken up with decoration steals from the area that is available for the photos and text, clearly the scrapbook is not as productive or making as good a use of page space as it could be.  Not only that, but making excessive decoration for your scrapbooks wastes time, and buying excessive decoration for your scrapbooks wastes money.  Furthermore, you have to be very careful that the effect of your decorations doesn’t totally detract from the memories you are trying to preserve.  If someone looks through your scrapbook and says, “Wow these decorations are amazing!” instead of making comments about the pictures and text, then it is a good indication that the presentation has usurped priority over memory preservation.  It’s like making the jewelry box a bigger deal than the 30-carat diamond inside.

The Temptation to Fill Your Space with Treasures

Their land also is full of silver and gold,

neither is there any end of their treasures. . .

(Isaiah 2:7)

     These lines describe those of our homes and rooms where it seems like everywhere you look there is something breakable, something treasured, something that is only meant to be decorative.  It is natural to like to have a few things you treasure, that look cool, but when Isaiah points out there is no end to the treasures, he means when everywhere you look there are oodles and oodles of “treasured” objects that you can’t bear to part with, then there is something amiss.  Why?   If there is no end to those treasures that are too precious to use every day, where do you put the tools and resources that you do use every day?  It’s a good bet that there isn’t much room left for them.  This indicates that having treasures has taken priority over the day-to-day stewardship.

     Here’s a strange example.  I really like colorful clothes.  One day as I was trying to find something to wear I was looking in my closet and I happened to notice that I couldn’t find anything to wear.  Yet I had a closet full of colorful clothes!  I realized at that moment I had somehow done a very silly thing—I was keeping clothes I didn’t wear because I liked how all the colors looked in my closet.  Part of my wardrobe had been reduced to the dubious status of “closet decoration”.  So I held an internal debate party over each article of clothing and did a closet purge; I knew clothes are meant to be worn.

     I think another one of the personal applications of this scripture that can be somewhat painful is “knickknacks”.  Once you get one knickknack, it is too easy to get another to keep it company.  And then another, because two of something together seems to look funny.  And then people start giving them to you, because they notice you collect them.  And so it goes until you have to get a curio cabinet to hold all the knickknacks to keep them from getting broken or dusty. 

     My little sister Tennille is a knickknack lover.  By the time she finished high school she had little figurines, a bunch of shiny rocks, and lots of other little trifles.  She also liked to collect boxes.  She had little tiny ornate boxes and she had bigger boxes that she thought looked cool.  She didn’t keep anything in them; she just liked to look at them.  When she had to go off to college for her first year, she only took two of her little boxes with her. 

     During college she learned how much she appreciated an uncluttered room.  When she got lonely for her knickknacks she would go to other girl’s rooms and look at theirs.  She observed that one girl had brought a whole bunch of knickknacks with her and often accidentally knocked them over.  (“Hmmm.  Knickknacks get in our way..”)  When my sister came home she had a major knickknack purge session, going through all of them and getting rid of a substantial number of them.  She did a lot of it while she was on the phone with me, and it was really fun to listen to her happily making decisions about which were important to her and which were not.

     In order to make sure that your treasures (knickknacks and otherwise) are not usurping priority over your day-to-day stewardship, it is first helpful to evaluate how and where you are storing the stuff you are using everyday and how easy it is to access it and make sure that your knickknacks never make it hard for you to deal with your usual stewardship.  I’ll give you an example.

     I noticed a few months ago that the clothes I was using the most were the deepest, farthest back in my closet and I really had to dig for them.  I had a set of drawers, but I used them to store sweaters that I loved but which I didn’t wear for months at a time.  It finally hit me that this was backwards.  I needed the clothes I used most often to be in my easily accessible dresser drawers, and those sweaters I hardly used to be in the back of my closet.  So I took about thirty minutes and did a move operation.  When the seasons changed and I needed the sweaters, I moved them to the front of my closet, and the stay-cool clothes to the back.

     Here’s another example.  I made some stained glass to decorate my windows.  I lean them on the window sill up against the window.  If I often opened my window to let in cool breezes, I would always have to move my stained glass somewhere else and that is an example of how my treasures would be getting in the way of my day-to-day stewardship and normal living.  Fortunately, I hardly ever open my windows, so my stained glass is just fine where it is. 

     Something you can do to stop your decorative treasures from taking over is take everything down from the walls and off the shelves so that you can see what your space really looks like without it, and THEN, piece by piece, put back just those things you like the most that make the space more attractive.  Don’t put something back just because it fills up an empty spot; only put it back if it makes it look better than before.  The sign of the artist is the ability to tell exactly when to stop adding to a work of art, and the sign of an artistic steward is the ability to tell exactly when to stop adding treasures to a space.

     Once you have done this, what will you do with what’s left over?  What you have left is surplus.  Avoiding idolatry is all about learning to stop setting our hearts on our surplus and instead setting our hearts on the Lord until we get to the point that we become able to consecrate our surplus.  Read on; there’s more to learn that can help us loosen our grip and make wise decisions about our stewardships.

The Temptation to Fill Your Garage with Multiple Methods of Transportation

. . . their land is also full of horses,

neither is there any end of their chariots. . .

(Isaiah 2: 7)

     [T]heir land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots – The whole point of having horses and cars (chariots) is to use them to go someplace or pull something somewhere.  I’m going to speak plainly here, so get ready.  When there are more cars than there are drivers, there might be a problem with idolatry.  When you have 15 million methods of getting from point A to point B in the garage, there might be a problem with idolatry.  Notice, I said there might be.  To make sure there isn’t, you have to have that debate with yourself about what you really need and how much and then give away the surplus so someone else who needs it can use it.  Bikes, motor scooters, go-carts, jet skis, boats, airplanes, horses, gliders, helicopters, buses, rollerblades, skateboards, roller skates, jet packs, whatever it is…  transportation is for transportation, not for gathering dust when there’s no one to use them.  Don’t let having transportation take priority over using transportation. 

The Temptation to Worship Your Crafts

Their land also is full of idols;

they worship the work of their own hands,

that which their own fingers have made:

(Isaiah 2:8)

     Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made - This is a definite sign of idolatry – when something you made for yourself has ceased to be of use to you, but you are not able to get rid of it or give it away, because you made it.  Pleasure in craftsmanship and feelings of accomplishment are taking priority over usefulness.  Oh, heavens!  How well I know this kind of idolatry.  I suffer from it myself.  Usually the only reason I make something for myself is because I really needed it and wanted it.  And I very much enjoy using it.  But there comes a time when I find I have stopped using what I made for myself, and then when that giving part of me wants to give it away so that someone else can enjoy it and make use of it, that idolatrous part of me says, “NO!  I MADE this!!  It’s SPECIAL!” 

     I’ll give you an example.  I took several semesters of a stained glass class at BYU, in which I made some stained glass to decorate and beautify my windows.  (They are essentially glorified knickknacks.)  There was one project that I found myself frequently annoyed with.  What annoyed me about it?  First, it annoyed me that I had made it so large that it was difficult to move without cracking it somewhere.  Second, it was from my first semester taking the class, when I was ignorant of the finer points of stained glass design, so its lack of refinement grated on my sensibilities every time I looked at it, because I could see how I should have designed it.  But if the thought even came up that maybe I should give it away, that frizzy-haired, idolatrous part of me screamed, “NOO!  I made this!  My blood, sweat, and tears went into it!  Remember that all-nighter working on it?  It’s a symbol of my work ethic!”   Well, the day finally came when I was just sick of it, and I told my idolatrous self, “The window must go!”  And I gagged the idolater, tied her up, stuffed her in my closet and dropped the window off at Deseret Industries.  It was a relief to be rid of it. 

     Here’s another example.  The summer before my fourth year at BYU, I decided I wanted to make myself a quilt.  I created a great design, I got the material, meticulously cut out the pieces, sewed it together, and got the cover and batting together just before I went back out to BYU.  My mom sent my quilt after me to work on, and I worked on tying it from time to time.  I got married after my fourth year, and my quilt was still unfinished.  And not only was it unfinished, it was no longer the right size for my bed, because I was now sleeping in a king-sized bed with my husband.  And not only that, but his family had given us two hand-made quilts for our bed that were the right size.  Well, I didn’t know what to do, because I still wanted to keep my quilt.  I kept working on it, little by little, and finally, the day I finished it, I put it on the bed hoping that it would have magically grown to fit it.  After seeing again that the quilt was most definitely too narrow, I had the same old argument with my idolatrous self. 

     “Self, we can’t keep this quilt.”

     “But we MADE it!”, the idolater whined. 

     “Self, we can’t use it, it doesn’t fit on our bed.  We live in Arizona now where it is far too hot most of the year for something this big and fluffy and heavy.  We must give it away.  Someone else will love it just as much as we do.”

     The idolater snarled and stamped and fumed, but I was firm, and the next day we took that quilt to the ward swap meet, at which our bishop’s daughter pounced on it with great joy and excitement exclaiming it was absolutely gorgeous and she couldn’t believe we were giving it away.  It made me very happy to see someone so excited about it. 

     As you can see, it takes a great amount of effort to keep usefulness priorities over craftsmanship and achievement priorities. 

The Temptation to Collect Stuff

Woe unto them

that join house to house,

that lay field to field,

     till there be no place,

     that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!   

(Isaiah 5:8)

     This one seems to be so plainly about land monopoly, but it can still be applied to teenagers, if we interpret it more generally, in terms of collecting—collecting something that you don’t really need for your stewardship. 

     Isaiah is condemning the attitude of “collecting so that we can be the only one around with (fill-in-the-blank)”.  When this kind priority mix-up happens, things are seriously wrong.  1) It means we have noticed that certain kinds of collections get approval in the world, and we are letting “collection prestige” take priority over stewardship productivity and usefulness.  2) If we are collecting something pretty, having something pretty is also taking priority over usefulness.  3) We want a collection to have something we can be proud of.  Gratifying pride has taken priority over consideration for whether other people would also want or need what we are collecting.  4) Not only that, but when collections get really big, even the tiniest of collected objects take up space, which means space for a collection takes priority over space for the rest of our stewardship.  As you can see, this indicates a bunch of messed up priorities, and it is a big step towards worshipping stuff more than God.

     I’ll give you an example.  Recently I was a guest at a meeting of the Arizona Desert Bells Association.  These were people who collected bells.  Out of curiosity I asked them how many bells they had and the person with the fewest number of bells owned about 300, while the person there with the largest number of bells had 3,000!  I listened to them talking about the challenge of cataloging them all and storing them and displaying them so that they wouldn’t get dusty.  I listened to one woman tell how when she moved she decided she would catalogue each box of bells as she brought them into the house.  Her garage is still full of boxes of bells.  If they gave handbell concerts, I could understand the desire to acquire more bells for that, but as it was, it smelled like a major priority mixup.  Maybe if they got together, made a bell museum, opened it to the public, and used it to educate people about bells then the bell collections would not be an idol anymore.

     I’ll give you another example, one not so extreme.  I had a box with a bunch of shells that I had collected from a beach on vacation.  I thought I could do something cool with them, but I didn’t know what.  So the shells sat in the box for a few years and I would take them out every once in a while and look at them.  I didn’t even know what kind of shells they were.  I tried to see if I could drill some holes in a few of them and they broke.  Some of the shells I really liked and I found I could drill holes in them and I put them on a necklace as nice danglies.  I made some necklaces for other people with them too.  Essentially, I made those few shells a productive part of my stewardship.  The shells I didn’t use and didn’t know what to do with but kept anyway had become idols. 

     My idolatrous self thought of the shells as the honest fruits of the labor of searching for them, and said, “If you get rid of them, all your searching for shells would be all for nothing!”  I told my idolatrous self that if it had been work, it had all been for fun anyway, and I would still have the happy memory of searching, because I had written all about it in my journal.  I further told my idolatrous self that the collection was serving no purpose and therefore was not justified, and it was no use saying I might find a use for it someday, because if there had been one, I would have found it long ago.  After several struggles with my idolatrous self, I eventually managed to get rid of them.

     We are allowed to judicially acquire what is needed for our stewardships, but we must be constantly alert to notice what is surplus and dispose of it, otherwise we risk falling into idolatry.  We can call these acquisitions that we need “useful collections”.

     My mother-in-law has a closet full of piano music.  She is a piano teacher.  If she discovers some of her music is less effective in teaching her students or that her sheet music isn’t liked, she can consider that surplus to donate. 

     I have a little useful collection of beads and things, because I like to make jewelry.  If I can’t find a way to use up the last few beads of a pack, I don’t need to keep myself from buying new beads.  I can donate those surplus beads. 

     My husband has a useful collection of computer cords and peripherals.  He is a “computer geek”.  If he has surplus computer hardware lying around unused, then that is surplus he can donate. 

     I have a useful collection of books.  I am an avid reader, and I read my books over and over again.  If I find that I have acquired a book that I don’t want to read more than once, then that book is surplus and should be donated. 

     I have a useful collection of piano music, but I don’t teach piano.  It is my responsibility to make sure that every piece of music I keep is one that I enjoy playing over and over again.  I have even gone so far as to tear out from my music books the songs that I don’t like to play (if the book has mostly good songs in it) or to tear out the few songs I want to keep and get rid of the rest of a music book, if I dislike most of the songs. 

     It is important for us to know what happens to our collections when we die.

9 In mine ears, said the Lord of Hosts,

of a truth many houses shall be desolate,

and great and fair cities without inhabitant. . . .

17    Then shall the lambs feed after their manner,

     and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat. 

(2 Nephi 15: 9,17)

     Then shall the lambs feed after their manner, and the waste places of the fat ones shall strangers eat – This shows us that three things will happen to our useful collections.  First, the young people (lambs) who don’t have what they need or have the means to acquire it yet will pick out what they need from what we’ve gathered.  (“the lambs feed after their manner” being nourished by their elders’ “milk”)  Then the grownups will graze over what is left, picking and choosing what they most like.  Finally, the rest may be auctioned off or donated, meaning strangers will “eat” what is left of a fat useful collection.

     Knowing this should help us resist any temptation to require our future descendants to do anything so silly as keep an entire useful collection together and not let it leave the family.  Nobody has room for an entire useful collection to be given to them straight off, neither do they have the time to make use of it all immediately.  People grow slowly into a full measure of stewardship, acquiring as each need arises.  Further, not all the parts of one person’s useful collection are going to be appreciated by others at the same level as the person who collected it.  We can’t let collections take priority over usefulness.

     Now, I’ve told you this perhaps wrong way first, but now that you see it from the elderly perspective, perhaps you can see it more wisely from the perspective of the young, as you will eventually inherit things when grandparents die and then when parents die. You may or may not have a large amount to choose from.  You may or may not be given a choice.  Think ahead as to what might be most important for your stewardship.  When my grandpa died, at the funeral there was a box of his personal items that we grandchildren could choose from.  I chose a book on electrical engineering.  It was a pathetically silly choice, but there wasn’t much left that was any better.  I had no use for it, and eventually I just had to give it away.  As I think today about what would have been something good to inherit from my grandfather, I would have liked one of his journals.  

The Temptation to Love Gifts Whether They Are Useful or Not

Thy princes are rebellious,

and companions of thieves:

     every one loveth gifts,

     and followeth after rewards. . .

(Isaiah 1:23)

     We are going to assume that this scripture means princesses as well as princes.  In Isaiah’s day, “gifts” referred to bribes given to those who judged lawsuits, but we can apply it to ourselves to mean any gifts we receive. 

     Let’s focus on the phrase “every one loveth gifts”.  Loving gifts becomes idolatry when we love to give gifts without thinking about whether they are what someone really wants or needs, and when we love to receive gifts whether or not they are what we want or need.  It’s making giving and receiving a higher priority than giving and receiving something useful, wanted and needed.

     There is the well-known admonition, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ that discourages recipients from inquiring too carefully into whether an offered gift is right for them, and the old saw “Beggars can’t be choosers” which is used to keep people from asking for what is really needed and wanted.  (Those sayings also are used by givers as an excuse to give damaged, thoughtless, and even burdensome gifts.)  It is my feeling that we must look a gift horse in the mouth if we are to be wise stewards, and that we must allow beggars to be choosers if we are to be generous stewards.  If we don’t, we mock the giver of all gifts – the Lord – by feigning gratitude and pretending charity.

     How does this indiscriminate love of gifts start, anyway?

     When we are very young, we usually get gifts only from family members and very close friends who know exactly what we want because we tell them or tell Santa Claus.  Getting gifts is very fun, because nine times out of ten it is something we want. 

     As we get older, things change a little and soon we begin to get gifts from people who don’t know us so well and don’t know what we’d like.  And the gifts start to be little things like knickknacks or candles or lotion or a random CD or something.  Furthermore, the social pressure to give gifts to more people begins to make itself felt, and it is made worse by commercialism.  Then the pressure to give more fancy and costly gifts begins to intrude.  And it quickly transforms itself from a one-time practice into an obligation.  This is how adults sink into the practice of giving meaningless gifts to acquaintances (giving a gift has become a higher priority than making sure the gift is useful and wanted) and how it happens that people have a hard time letting go of gifts given to them even though they can’t stand them and don’t use them.  (Keeping a gift has become a higher priority than using it.)

     I have learned that Heavenly Father wants us to avoid this kind of idolatry, both in giving and receiving gifts.  It is especially hard to be a giver when you are assigned to gift someone whose personality and interests you don’t know, but Heavenly Father knows whom you are gifting, and He can lead you to good gifts.  I know this, because I have experienced his guidance many times. 

     One year I was assigned to be Secret Santa to my youngest brother Trent, who at the time was in seventh grade.  You’d think I would know my own brother well enough, but I had no idea what to get him.  Before going Christmas shopping, I prayed very fervently that Heavenly Father would help me find something that Trent would really love, and let me know, even if it was something that I didn’t think was a great idea.  After a long search, I settled on a very fuzzy Santa hat and sent that as my gift.  After Christmas I found out that Trent was absolutely ecstatic about getting a Santa Hat and he had wanted one very badly.  When I went to visit my family in the summer, I found Trent was still wearing his Santa Hat.  Mom told me he wore it everywhere, everyday, even to school. This experience cemented in my mind that Heavenly Father knew much better than I did what gifts people would like. 

     It has recently occurred to me that it is also possible to ask Heavenly Father to guide people to give us simple gifts that we will appreciate.  If Heavenly Father cared enough about Trent to guide me to something he would like, the Heavenly Father cares the same for all of us and can help others find something we’d like.  I look forward to experimenting on this. 

     There is also the direct approach, which is to ask someone what they would like, and to tell what we would like.  I have realized that when someone asks me what I would like for Christmas, I must carefully consider my stewardship before I answer, and also try not to ask for something that that would be too much of an expense and more than what I’d be willing to give if I were the giver.

     In gift-giving, we only have control over ourselves.  We can’t control other people, because everyone has their agency.  If we are the giver, we have no control over whether the recipient of our gift likes it or not.  Asking for Heavenly Father’s help or the recipient’s help in choosing the gift increases the chances that it will be appreciated and used, but in the end, the liking or disliking is left to the recipient’s agency. We only have control over what gift we give and the manner it is given. 

     If we are the receiver, we have no control over what gift will be given to us, because that is the sole discretion of the giver.  Telling the giver what we’d like and praying that Heavenly Father will help a giver know what to give us increases the chances that we will be given something we like and use, but in the end, we can only control our own reaction and our own stewardship. 

     What should we do if people give us something we don’t want or won’t use for our stewardship?  The best thing we can do is to thank them for their thoughtfulness, because at least they cared enough to gift us.  We then have two choices: return the gift to the store, or give it away. 

     What should we do when we have given a gift and we find that it isn’t appreciated and used like we hoped?  What if we find out the recipient has given away our gift to someone else? We can be pleased that the person had the discernment to see that the gift wasn’t a good addition to their stewardship.  Also, even if a gift trickles down through a number of people before it comes to someone who needs it, that is a bunch of people trying to thoughtfully give a gift, and a bunch of people feeling that someone cared enough to give them a gift.

     Another thing we have to be aware of is that others may actually give us evil gifts, unclean things that will corrupt us.  Moroni recognized this, and it probably happened to him as he lived among the wicked Nephites before they were completely destroyed, so he wrote, “And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing”  (Moroni 10:30).  If ever you are given an evil gift, you are completely justified in throwing it straight in the trash, or even burning it.  I had a roommate give me a thong for Christmas, and I found this was an evil gift, because it put pressure on my anatomy in certain places which caused impure thoughts to come to my mind.  I threw it out. 

     Some people may think that it is a cop-out to ask for what we want and ask people what they want us to give them.  However, Heavenly Father does this, though he knows exactly what we need and want.  He commands us to tell him what we need and want when we pray, and—get this—He wants us to be specific.  I think He does this so that when He blesses us we know it immediately and recognize exactly who was behind it.  This opens the way for us to recognize His power and learn to respect Him and trust Him.  It also help us toward a testimony that everything really is His to give or take away and that He will provide for us if we do things His way.

The Temptation to Consider Only Yourself When You Acquire

The Temptation to Buy Just Because It’s On Sale

14 The LORD will enter into judgment

     with the ancients of his people,

     and the princes thereof:

          for ye have eaten up the vineyard;

          the spoil of the poor is in your houses.

15         What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces,

          and grind the faces of the poor?

saith the LORD GOD of hosts.

(Isaiah 3:14-15)

     The LORD will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof – In Isaiah’s day, the ancients and the princes (nobility) were the ones that had the largest accumulation of worldly goods.  Isaiah told them they would be judged by the Lord for how they were using their stewardships.  In the same way you teenagers, who live in the richest parts of the world (like America, Europe), will also be judged by the Lord by how you use your stewardships.  How rich are we?  We are so rich that someone has noted that some of us will pay real money to buy imaginary money so that we can buy imaginary candy that only our imaginary self can eat in the games we play on the Internet.  And we actually have time to play games!  And we have games to play!  Meanwhile, much of the world can’t afford for anyone in their family to even go to school, because each person is needed in the struggle to earn the money to feed the family.  If the estimate of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is accurate, 1 billion of the earth’s population scrapes together an existence on $1 or less a day.2

     [F]or ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses – In Isaiah’s day, one of the ways people would provide for the poor was by not fully harvesting their fields and vineyards and letting the poor glean what was left.  When Isaiah says, “ye have eaten up the vineyard”, he was pointing out that his people were being so greedy as to harvest everything and leave nothing left in the fields. 

     We may excuse ourselves from this scripture thinking, “I haven’t stolen from the poor!”, but it is true that we do.  If we ever see something on sale at a deep discount and buy a whole bunch of it even if we don’t need it, we steal from the poor.  And again, any time we collect more resources than we need we are also stealing from the poor.

     Here’s another way we steal from the poor. We look about the world and we see or hear of so many people without decent clothes to wear, who are starving, who live in huts with dirt floors, without running water or good sanitation, crowded together in a tiny space, and we say, “These people are poor.  They do not have what we have.  There is not enough to go around.  There is scarcity in the world,” and then we go back to our warm homes with our closets bursting with clothes—two thirds of which we don’t wear because they are out of style or the wrong size or the wrong season—and our iPods, and our video games, and our computers, TVs, our super-sized fast-food meals, our vacations, our malls, and we don’t realize that we are causing the scarcity ourselves by acquiring (and requiring) so much!  By causing scarcity, we have stolen from the poor.

     Just the other day I saw an advertisement from Bed Bath & Beyond that showed a purse rack designed to store about twelve different purses behind a bedroom door.  I looked at that, and I wondered, “How many girls would be able to have a purse if every girl just had one?”  If 500 girls each had 10 purses, and they each decided to just keep one of them and give nine away, that would mean 4,500 more girls could have a purse.  Or consider this: Let us assume that half of America’s population of 300 million are women (that’s 150 million) and that all of them have 10 purses.  If they gave away 9 of their purses, then 1.35 billion women in the rest of the world could have a purse. 

     Guys, what about your ties?  (Hey, that rhymed!)  How many of you have ten ties or more?  Just think, if the approximately 150 million guys in America had 10 ties each, and each decided to keep just one, 1.35 billion other guys in the rest of the world could each have a tie. 

     Or what about your gizmos and toys?  I’ve read of guys who have every Nintendo system ever made or every modern game system in existence.  How many video game systems do you have?  Game Boy?  Xbox?  Playstation?  Wii?  Nintendo?  Sega?  Atari?  How many other teens could have one if you kept just one?  And what’s to prevent us from swapping with someone if we get a little tired of what we have and feel like a change?  Then we wouldn’t feel like we need to own so much.  (We could be rich without having to own a lot!)

     What about our clothes?  How many shirts do we really need?  Seven days?  Fourteen days? 

     The Lord has revealed in modern revelation: “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves” (Doctrine & Covenants 104:17, emphasis added).  Plainly the Lord makes sure there is plenty to go around, and then we get to choose whether to accumulate or disperse abroad, whether to take or give, whether to buy or sell or just swap.  We can choose whether to be generous or not, so we can develop the ability to give like He does.

The Temptation to Worship Images and Statuary

Ye shall defile

     also the covering of thy graven images of silver,

     and the ornament of thy molten images of gold:

thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth;

thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence.  

(Isaiah 30:22)

     In this scripture, Isaiah is prophesying that we will cast away all our idols by determining what we really need for our stewardships and letting go of what we don’t need.

     [T]hou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth - Girls, you know exactly what Isaiah is talking about here.  You know that mental “Ewwww”, and that little “Yuck” face you make when you do throw away the you-know-what.  And probably all the guys are grossed out right now too, because I’m discussing the subject.  Well, Isaiah says we will toss out all the stuff we worshipped and hung onto for far too long, and he says we’ll do it with that perception of it being the same kind of gross and dirty job—like cleaning the dust ninjas out from underneath the couch.

     Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold  - You may think that people don’t worship images and statues anymore.  Wrong!  We each tend to worship the trophy awards we’ve gotten.  We’re so proud of them and we show them off and everybody oos and aahs, and shows us more respect for it.  Some of us have glass cases in which we store our trophies.  Isaiah says in the above verse that at some point we’ll realize that trophies and awards just take up space and gather dust, that they’re merely glorified paper weights.  We’ll “defile the covering” or open whatever we use for trophy storage, and “cast them away”, or get rid of them at a garage sale, or donate them to thrift stores like Goodwill or Deseret Industries or Salvation Army, or just toss them in the trash.  (If we can’t bear to lose the memory, we can always take pictures of them, write about the experience in our journal, and keep those instead.)

     Here’s a whole different application of this scripture.  My roommate my second year at BYU had an attitude about money that I had never encountered before in my life.  I went to Shopko with her, and we went around looking at stuff and from time to time we would pick something up that we liked, intending to buy it.  When it came time to go buy the stuff we had chosen, my roommate proceeded to tell me that she was so blessed already just to be at BYU and her parents were working so hard to pay for her tuition and her parents used to be so poor they would wash out their plastic sandwich bags to reuse them and she hated spending money, and gradually she convinced herself to put back every single one of the items she had picked up!  To borrow a Book of Mormon phrase, I was astonished.  Here was a girl who hated spending money!  It had never ever occurred to me that it was possible to convince oneself that one didn’t need or didn’t want the things one was thinking about buying.  Basically my roommate was casting away those idle (idol) purchases that she realized she didn’t need and which she realized she could do better without.  And she was doing it in the store, so that she wouldn’t buy them, saving both time and money!  Such a brilliant plan.  I wish I had thought of it myself.  Her example made a huge impact on me and it caused me to change the way I went about buying things.  I grew less impulsive and I started to look for reasons to not buy things that I got interested in. 

The Temptation to Confuse Visible Affiliation with Faithfulness

The Temptation to Confuse Visible Possessions with Security

7 But if thou say to me, We trust in the LORD our God:

is it not he,

whose high places

and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away,

and said to Judah and to Jerusalem,

Ye shall worship before this altar?

8 Now therefore give pledges, I pray thee,

to my master the king of Assyria,

and I will give thee two thousand horses,

if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.

9 How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain

of the least of my master’s servants,

and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?

(Isaiah 36:7-9)

     Here is the spokesman for the king of Assyria and his invading armies mocking Israel for what seems to him to be their strange seemingly insulting way of worshipping their invisible god, and mocking them for their poverty and lack of preparation.  He even bets 2000 horses that Israel doesn’t have 2000 men to ride them, and questions that they could ever have the strength to vanquish even the least of the Assyrian armies. 

     This attitude is very much like the world’s attitude today.

     But if thou say to me, We trust in the LORD our God: is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem,

Ye shall worship before this altar? – The Assyrians thought that if one altar was good, more must be better.  Just like the Assyrians were confused by the removal of all altars except for the one in Jerusalem (to minimize the risk of the Israelites worshipping false gods), the world’s denominations of Christianity confuse our “man-can-become-like-God”  doctrine for rank blasphemy and disrespect for God.  (Good thing we know from Moses 1:39 that bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man glorifies God instead of degrading Him, huh?) 

     Members of other Christian faiths are also confused by our claim to be Christians without exhibiting the sign of the cross on our churches.  One of my friends is Russian Orthodox and when I told him the story of Joseph Smith’s first vision, he was absolutely convinced that Joseph Smith was deceived by a devil, because the sign of the cross hadn’t been involved somehow in that manifestation!

     The Assyrians were confused by Israel’s methods of worship because they confused the trappings for the real thing.  We may get close to acting the same way if we ever assume that another member of the church isn’t faithful simply because we don’t see them wearing a CTR ring or displaying gospel art on their walls or going to EFY or Education Week or some of those other outward things that are nice, but which cost money and are not part of hardcore church doctrine.

     It’s also too easy for us to worship church programs or even our favorite doctrines instead of worshipping God.  As a personal example, I have to be careful that I don’t let my love for the Book of Isaiah and writing this book get in the way of my worship of God.  I still have church callings I have to do, and I still have other service I must give that can’t be neglected.  Putting too much emphasis on any good thing more than God turns that thing into an idol. 

     Now therefore give pledges, I pray thee, to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them. How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants[?] - Just like the Assyrians thought that a large standing army was indispensable to national security and scorned Israel for not having at least 2,000 fighting men (strippling warriors, anyone?), the world thinks that a large bank account and lots of investments and a large house and lots of fancy toys are necessary for financial security and success and happiness and they scorn those who do not have them.  Strangely enough, the Lord’s answer to the world’s idolatry and scorn for apparent insecurity lies in the Law of Consecration.

     The principles of Consecration are higher teachings than the wisdom of the world.  They emphasize trusting in God, rather than trusting in the wallet of the flesh.  It is wisdom of God that seems like foolishness to the world, but it ends up confounding their wise men.  It consists in the faith that the Lord will provide for us if we work hard and are wise and generous with our stewardship and let go of our idols.

     Be aware that those who trust in the Lord are considered very peculiar to the world, and even to the church.  Remember the story I told you about Sister Neuburg, who sacrificed her heating in the winter to pay an offering to the missionary fund?  She was misunderstood even by members of the church.  She had to give that $1,500 to Elder Busche, because her own bishop didn’t think she could afford it and would not accept it.  Even Elder Busche had qualms about accepting it.  She didn’t get home taught because her home teachers were scared of her and thought she was a little crazy.3  They didn’t see that even though she looked poor, she was far richer than they were.  She gained wisdom from God about events that hadn’t yet occurred, and that wisdom astounds and confounds us all. 

     By living the higher law, we will be far more secure and successful and happy than the world can ever imagine, even though we may not look secure.  It is also the way to attain the same spiritual gifts that Sister Neuburg acquired.  We will be secure not just in this life, but even more in Resurrection.  Secure, because the Lord will back us up and provide for us, successful because we will have succeeded in putting off the greedy, idolatrous, natural man, and happy from a certain knowledge that we are pleasing the Lord.  The next chapter will tell you all the nifty details of how it works. 

     But first, what have we learned about what Idolatry is from Isaiah?  To escape idolatry, we must:

Respect our God more than anything or anybody else.

Consider a soul more precious than gold.

Learn the difference between what we need for our stewardships and what we don’t need.

Learn how to have a debate about your stewardship and reason according to gospel principles to decide what you need.

Realize that if you can’t let go of something when you know you should, you are held captive by it and you must look for ways to free yourself.

Realize that there is probably someone in the world who needs what you can’t let go of.

Save up ahead of time for what we need and want (avoiding debt)

Not be in a hurry to get what we need and want.

Make sure what we buy satisfies all the needs it should, so that having doesn’t get in the way of meeting our needs.

Make sure having doesn’t crowd us out of where we must live and get in the way of our lives.

Be able to let go of a part of our stewardship that is unproductive compared to the effort we put into it.

Not fill our spaces with treasures

Not fill our garages with many modes of transportation

Be able to let go of our crafts when they are no longer useful to us

Not create artificial scarcity by collecting what we do not use.

Collect only what is useful for our stewardships and when give a choice of someone else’s collection, pick out what will be most useful and important to us.

Learn how to give good gifts and ask for good gifts we can use.

Buy only what we need of low-cost goods.

Consider the scarcity we are creating in the world before we keep extras.

Cast away our idols, abhorring them.

Make sure we don’t surround ourselves with the trappings of religiousness without the works too.

Not confuse visible possessions and resources for security.


1 F. Enzio Busche, Yearning for the Living God, ed. Tracie A. Lamb (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004),189.


3 F. Enzio Busche, Yearning for the Living God, ed. Tracie A. Lamb (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 188, 191.

 Chapter 9 – Chastity
 Chapter 10 – Obtaining Joy and Satisfaction
 Chapter 11 – Fashion  and Modesty
  Chapter 12 – Rebellion 
Chapter 13 – Church Meetings
Chapter 14 – Hypocrisy (Sunday-only Mormons)
 Chapter 15 – The SabbathChapter_9.htmlChapter_10.htmlChapter_10.htmlChapter_11.htmlChapter_12.htmlChapter_13.htmlChapter_14.htmlChapter_14.htmlChapter_15.htmlshapeimage_6_link_0shapeimage_6_link_1shapeimage_6_link_2shapeimage_6_link_3shapeimage_6_link_4shapeimage_6_link_5shapeimage_6_link_6shapeimage_6_link_7shapeimage_6_link_8
 Chapter 16 – Pornography 
 Chapter 17 – The Media
 Chapter 18 – The Word of Wisdom 
 Chapter 19 – Responsibility
 Chapter 20 – School and Learning 
 Chapter 21 – Friends and Peer Pressure
Chapter 22 – Stewardship
Chapter 23 – Idolatry
Chapter 24 – ConsecrationChapter_16.htmlChapter_17.htmlChapter_18.htmlChapter_19.htmlChapter_20.htmlChapter_21.htmlChapter_22.htmlChapter_24.htmlshapeimage_7_link_0shapeimage_7_link_1shapeimage_7_link_2shapeimage_7_link_3shapeimage_7_link_4shapeimage_7_link_5shapeimage_7_link_6shapeimage_7_link_7shapeimage_7_link_8
Chapter 1 – Understanding Isaiah
 Chapter 2 – Leaders and Role Models 
 Chapter 3 – Gangs
Chapter 4 – Fasting 
Chapter 5 – Victims of bullying
 Chapter 6 – Bullying 
Chapter 7 – HomosexualitY
Chapter 8 – DatingPreface.htmlIntroduction.htmlChapter_1.htmlChapter_2.htmlChapter_3.htmlChapter_4.htmlChapter_5.htmlChapter_6.htmlChapter_7.htmlChapter_8.htmlshapeimage_8_link_0shapeimage_8_link_1shapeimage_8_link_2shapeimage_8_link_3shapeimage_8_link_4shapeimage_8_link_5shapeimage_8_link_6shapeimage_8_link_7shapeimage_8_link_8shapeimage_8_link_9