What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Socrates and the Buddha

Socrates opened the minds of his followers to just how little actual knowledge anyone really has. He pointed out to them how so very much of what we say we know, is just things that we think to be likely, or are taking on authority. In fact, the only piece of information he claimed to really know, was the fact that he knew nothing.

Socrates had a point. As I think about it, there are extremely few things that I really know directly. I only take it on faith that the atom, Australia, and the 1970s exist(ed). I have never personally seen, measured, or witnessed any of these things. I do not doubt their existence, but I admit that all information I have of them is strictly secondhand.

The Buddha similarly cautioned against relying upon secondhand knowledge. Even as he presented to his followers the path to Nirvana, he instructed them not to take his word for it. To do so, he explained, would be insufficient. Rather than only being told the right way, one had to possess what he called “direct knowledge” of it. It was this direct knowledge that had led him to his own enlightenment, and also it was the only way for any other to reach enlightenment.

When one is willing to confess their ignorance, and let go of all the many things they do not know, they often discover that not everything is taken away. There still remains a nugget or two of the eternal. When we are no longer cluttered by the things that we think or assume, then we can discover the penultimate truths that we actually know.

This is a knowledge that surpasses mental cognition. It is a spiritual knowledge, one imprinted within us by God from before we were born. In our hearts we know, and we know firsthand, that God is our Father and that we are His children. We know that He is good, and that we are good, too. We know that He loves us, and that He wants us to be with Him. We know that He is happy, and that He desires us to be happy, too. These are eternal truths, and the direct knowledge of them are our most precious possession.

Indeed, when I consider how deeply rooted this knowledge is within me–so much more than anything else–I find it hard to accept that I know anything else at all.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- John 19:35 (NIV), John 3:11

The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

COMMENTARY

The man who saw it has given testimony, and he knows that he tells the truth
We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen
How did John know that his record of Jesus’s crucifixion was accurate? He saw it, and testified of that which he witnessed directly. Why was Jesus so bold in teaching new doctrine to Nicodemus? Because he was speaking that which he knew, testifying of things he had seen.
When one grows up in a faith-based community, it is easy to feel pressured to already know the realities of God and his gospel. We hear other people say that they know, and feel that something is wrong with us if we do not as well. We assume that because we have been taught about the gospel, we have a testimony of it. But to have been told something is not to know it.
I was told of God’s grace many times, and I believed in it. But that belief was nothing like the knowledge I obtained after I personally witnessed the power of Christ being used to forgive my sins and change my nature. So now I do not only believe, I even testify of its truth. At the same time, I honestly have not yet had any great spiritual awakening from fasting. I hear others say that it is a spiritually right thing to do, and so I have faith in it…but I cannot claim a testimony of it at this time.
Accepting that there are some aspects in which we lack a testimony is alright. We are, by our natures, born with the capacity for faith, but not with testimony. Testimony comes only by experience, and some things we just haven’t experienced yet. It is to be expected that we are still developing our direct knowledge, all that is required is that we foster the opportunities for it.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- 1 John 5:1-3, Luke 16:13, Revelation 3:15

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

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

COMMENTARY

We keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous
There are two types of disciples: those that are social disciples and those that are actually disciples. Social disciples maintain a connection to the environment of the gospel. They like the culture that surrounds it, but they aren’t very devoted to the actual doctrines being taught. They are afraid of judgment, and because of that try to keep the commandments, but have little love for them.
I have certainly been one of these social disciples. I was raised in a gospel-centric home, and that made it easy to take my beliefs for granted. Of course I was a Christian, it was all I knew, how could I possibly be anything else?
But then passages like this one from John stuck with me, because absolutely there were commandments that felt grievous to me. Since I was convinced that I was already best pals with Jesus, I didn’t feel any need to know him better. And because I wasn’t actively trying to know him better, there were all manner of vices that I was susceptible to.

No servant can serve two masters
I would thou wert cold or hot
For a long time I was too terrified to admit that I wasn’t really a Christian in my heart, just someone who happened to have a lot of trivia knowledge about Christianity. But frankly, once I was able to admit that I was “cold” in my discipleship, then at last I could begin looking for ways to bring my temperature up.
Furthermore, I found that God wasn’t disappointed by my admitting that I wasn’t following him very well. Quite on the contrary. He was already abundantly aware of my tepidness, and thrilled that I was finally ready to do some honest work.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- 2 Kings 5:10-13

And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?

COMMENTARY

My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?
Yesterday we examined Peter, who felt he was ready to lay down his life for Jesus, but stumbled when the actual danger arose. Peter had something in common with Naaman: both believed that they were ready to undertake some “great thing,” and openly invited a test of their resolve. Where their paths diverge is that Peter was actually invited to risk his life, whereas Naaman was only asked to do something small and basic.
Peter fell short of the great sacrifice, but even Naaman almost failed to do the small and simple thing! The fact that he was almost tripped up by the little thing makes me suspect that he, like Peter, may not have been as ready for the greater sacrifice that he thought he was. I once had a missionary who firmly avowed that he would gladly die for Christ’s gospel. At the time I couldn’t help thinking “but you and I are struggling with even the basic missionary rules right now, so why would either of us be ready for a sacrifice like that?”
I love the scene from the Karate Kid, where Daniel expresses his frustration at his teacher. He came to him to learn martial arts, but instead he has been assigned many menial chores. He does not yet realize that it is in the small, repetitive tasks that the reflexes of a warrior are being developed within him.
It is easy to view scripture study, prayer, acts of service, and obedience to the commandments as meaningless chores, things which have no bearing on one’s ability to undertake great spiritual causes. But in truth these practices are absolutely essential and fundamental, the little things that make all the difference.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Matthew 26:33-35, 73-75

Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples.

And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.

COMMENTARY

Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man
My general assumption is that Peter was not lying when he avowed he would follow Jesus to death. I think it is perfectly believable that he really thought he would be faithful to the end. But as he learned, the imagination of martyrdom is far different from actually being faced with it. It is easy to be a hero in one’s imagination.
Not all things in life are worth dying for, but some are. Liberty, truth, and the lives of others to name a few. It is good to be willing to sacrifice anything for these virtues, and those that can do so are extremely noble.
But when we say that an action is commendable, it does not necessarily mean that the inability to perform that action is condemnable. We should not be too hard on Peter for shirking when his great test came. Yes, he was lacking, but he was not bad. He was simply a work in progress.
Being willing to do all things for God’s cause only comes after years of exercising our faith. If we are not there yet, if we are still lacking in any way, if there are commitments we are not yet ready to make, then we can attest that we are still a work in progress, too. And yes, hopefully we are authentically working to make that progress, but if so, then it is alright to not be perfect just yet!

What Sort of Disciple Are You? -Question

Whichever belief system you subscribe to, are you a good one? Do you believe in it wholeheartedly? In my youthful years I was convinced that I was as devout a disciple as there could be! Later I came to appreciate how little I really knew in my heart. This moment of self-doubt led me to explore my faith, and I would say that as I result I am a stronger disciple now than when I was young…though also far more tempered in how I describe that spiritual strength.

Of course there are also those that think they are weak in their faith, but when tested are surprised at how well it holds. Also there are those that are a disciple in name only, openly admitting that they don’t really follow the teachings they have been given.

Honest self-appraisal is the first step towards changing oneself, and no matter how positive or negative the outcome of that appraisal, one is progressing just by having done it. So long as one remains deluded about the convictions of their own soul, there is nothing for them to do. With this study I’d like to consider how we can take an honest inventory of ourselves, and work on what we find.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about the development of your own spiritual maturity. What dramatic shifts have you had in your perceptions of your faith-commitment? What events caused you to see yourself more clearly? How did that awareness enable to you to reach for something more?

Respect in Our Differences- Summary

When I first began this blog, I did have a list of specific topics to cover with it. I never had any intention of stressing the need for unity so heavily, but over the months it has certainly become a recurring theme for me. My studies just keep coming back to this idea over and over. Perhaps it is a message I really need to share, or perhaps it is a message I really need to hear.

I certainly haven’t grown tired of promoting it, though. The more I think about it, the more I see the gospel as a vehicle of unity. Unity between us and God, unity between each other. If we could remove our divisions from our fellowman, we would no longer sin against each other. And if we could remove our divisions from God, we would no longer sin against Him either.

In this study I wanted to focus on a specific division that so often falls between us: that of different religious beliefs. I wanted to advocate for holding to your own beliefs, for maintaining your confidence in your own truth, but also for being gracious to those that disagree. Here are a few of the main points from this study.

We Are a Bigoted People

To our society’s credit, we have made great strides in breaking down some of the walls that divide us. It is generally accepted that I should not look at another person’s skin color, gender, income level, or educational degree, and judge them as inferior.
These are wonderful developments, ones that break down the mentality of “us” and “them.” It allows us to truly view one another as brothers and sisters, and to work together for our common good.
Unfortunately, the same progress can’t be claimed when it comes to differences of opinion. People might be accepting of outward appearance, but they cannot tolerate someone that thinks differently from themselves. Once you call yourself a conservative or a liberal, you have made enemies. Once you disclose that you are spiritual or atheistic, people start labeling you as an idiot. Once you speak for or against any social clause, you are recognized as fundamentally flawed forever.
3 Nephi 11:29-30- For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

We Are on the Same Side

To be clear, I absolutely believe that there are forces of evil in this world. I see wolves in sheep’s clothing, trying to lead flocks astray. I fear that certain social movements have the express intention of undermining the foundation of good that Christ has given us.
But I see all this, and still believe that we are far too quick to label our brothers and sisters as servants of the devil. The fact is, most of those that disagree with you also want the exact same things as you: to spread good through the world. Just because another ideology does not use the right name, or emphasize the right focus, or worship on the right day, does not mean that it is a force of pure evil!
Human beings are basically good. They are all born with the mark of divinity within them. Yes, they are all flawed, but they are also all tended towards good by default. Take any person off the street, and it is almost a certainty that that person is your true brother or sister in their heart. Yes you have a few differences, but you also have so much more in common.
2 Kings 6:16- They that be with us are more than they that be with them.
Luke 9:50- And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.

Who Are You Fighting?

I believe that all of Satan’s attacks fall into one of two categories. The first is to challenge our belief that we are truly sons and daughters of God. The second is to challenge our belief that our brothers and sisters are also sons and daughters of God. He breaks many of us with the first assault, and catches many of the rest with the second. Those that fall to the first assault will sin against God. Those that fall to the second will sin against their fellowman.
When the young ruler came to Jesus, he attested that all his life he had kept the commandments, and had done his due diligence to God. Jesus did not dispute this, but pointed out that the man could do better by his fellowman.
Peter tried to diminish his obligation to his fellowman when he asked Jesus whether seven times was not enough to forgive one that had wronged him. Jesus immediately suggested that Peter try 490 times instead.
A lawyer asked Jesus what was necessary to obtain eternal life. Jesus said to love God and love one’s neighbor. The lawyer did not dispute the first half, but trying “to justify himself,” asked for clarification as to what qualified another as his neighbor. Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, by which he meant that all others are our neighbor.
So which side are we on when we condemn our fellowman? Whose war are we championing? What way would Jesus have you treat your brother or sister, even one that is flawed? The same way that he has treated you.
Luke 11:17- But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.
John 13:35- By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.