The Epic Life- Romans 7:14-15, Acts 9:1, 4-6

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

COMMENTARY

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord
And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks
Yesterday I mentioned that we might be kept from our great life only by a decision that we are unwilling to make. I suggested that we come across an action that is essential for us to do, but which feels like it would break us to make.
I believe Paul’s words describe that situation very aptly. “What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” These sentiments apply both ways between our spirit and carnal natures. These sides of us are in constant conflict, despising the actions of the other, doing the things that the other forbids.
Saul had a life as a persecutor of saints. He hated the gospel of Jesus, he spent all of his energy to destroy it. But through it all he “kicked against the pricks,” wounding his spirit, denying the epic life that he was meant to live.
For him to live that great life would require him cross that fundamental divide and break the man he was. He must become the very thing he hated: a disciple of Jesus. Amazingly he did it, and Saul (the part that hated Jesus and would not follow him) had to die along the way. Saul ended, and now began the great and epic life of Paul.

The Epic Life- Daniel 6:6-7, 9-10

Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever.
All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.
Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree.
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

COMMENTARY

Whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions
Yesterday we considered how David answered the call to live his great life. Today we’ll consider Daniel, who found his purpose under very different circumstances. Daniel watched as his people fell into the hands of the Babylonians, who were then defeated by the Medes. Thus he spent his time in the courts of two foreign nations, and he had to deal with laws and customs that defied his morals, such as this one prohibiting prayer to God.

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house, he kneeled upon his knees, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime
And what did Daniel do in this delicate circumstance? He ignored the king’s mandate and did what was right. He didn’t have to go to court and fight against the king’s presidents and princes, he didn’t make a public campaign, he didn’t raise armies to fight against the injustice. In a world that constantly shifted around him, Daniel’s great calling was to just remain constant. When all the world is breaking against us, the greatest of quests can be to simply hold still.
This same steadiness defines the key moments of Daniel’s epic life. He was steady in turning down the food that God had proclaimed to be unclean (Daniel 1:8). His cohorts Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego steadfastly rejected another king’s demands that they worship golden idols (Daniel 3:14). And here again Daniel steadily maintained his prayers in spite of a law that forbade it. Daniel and his friends had lost their nation but they would not give up their covenants. It would have been easy to. They could have said “our commitments were lost with Israel.” But they didn’t. It was their great life work just to steadily hold to their promises to God. In simply doing that they sent powerful ripples throughout all the kings’ courts they graced.

Calloused Hearts- Ezekiel 36:26

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

COMMENTARY

A new heart also will I give you, I will take away the stony heart, and give you an heart of flesh
I believe this verse captures exactly the difference I was describing when I wrote of a “calloused heart” and a “heart that was made alive.” Describing the unfeeling, spiritually cut-off, cynical heart as “stony” is perfectly fitting. Cold and hard and dead and unmalleable.
And this verse seems to make clear that a “heart of flesh” is something that is given of God as a sort of miracle. We don’t tenderize our heart into submission, we ask Him to replace it within us. God designed the first people and he designed them to dwell directly in His presence. But then humanity fell and now our hearts are formed within that fallen sphere. So we must ask Him to redo His act of creation in us. We need to stop trying to make our fallen heart into something it cannot be and have Him replace it for us entirely.

Leading to Water- Genesis 29:9-11, 18, 20

And while he yet spake with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep: for she kept them.
And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.
And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.

COMMENTARY

When Jacob saw Rachel, Jacob went near, and kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept
And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve seven years for Rachel
With yesterday’s passage we read Jacob’s plea to “come again to my father’s house in peace.” At the time, all he wanted was to go back home to exactly what he had before. But at that point he had not yet met Rachel. For as soon as he did meet her he stopped speaking of a hasty return to his father and instead committed to seven years of labor in a strange land so that he could marry her!
And when that dowry was doubled to fourteen years he prolonged his absence from home without hesitation! In fact, Jacob’s relationship to his childhood home becomes so unimportant that his story doesn’t recount anything more of it until he and Esau are burying their father after his passing (Genesis 35:29).

And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her
Jacob had a love of his own now. And through that love he found a new vocation and a new home. While his father and grandfather had been well-diggers, he became an accomplished herdsman. While his father and grandfather set their roots in Canaan, Jacob took an extended leave of absence to Padan-Aram. In short, Jacob had become his own person. It was a hard thing for him to leave the nest, but truly it led him to spread his wings.

Give Thanks- Passion

I am grateful for passion.

People have an amazing capacity for doing extremely difficult things, so long as they are motivated by a pure desire. While having a hardship imposed on us by another is a terrible thing to bear, imposing our own hardships to accomplish something we are passionate for is a privilege!

Our greatest desires are a joyful irritant, they constantly discontent us with things as they are and convince us that they should be made better. From this restless desire for improvement has come the idea that a country could be run by a democracy, that a better painting material could be derived from oils, and that people could fly in machines. And while these accomplishments were the greatest revelation anyone could hope for in their day, the next generations were restless again to improve on them.

And so democracy is extended to people of every race, hospitals develop better sanitation, and technology connects more and more people together. We take the good that we already have and are driven to push it farther. Just because we want to. Just for our own personal satisfaction. What a wonderful system has been written into each of us, that we make the world a better place just by pursuing the most genuine desires of our hearts.

#givethanks

Dealing With Failure- Mosiah 4:27, Isaiah 28:10

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:

COMMENTARY

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order
It is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength
Line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
I greatly appreciate the pragmatism in these verses. There is sincerely committing to improving ourselves one step at a time, and there is overextending ourselves with unrealistic promises.
When we start to feel the reality of God manifesting in us it is a very exciting experience, and we can easily get carried away with all the good things we intend to do. In a moment of rapture we might very well promise God everything. We will be His perfect, faithful child now, never to stray again. And in that moment we fully believe we can deliver on such a promise. To be fair, if we were to maintain that same state of rapture forever, we probably really could keep that promise, too!
But we don’t…and we don’t.
No, after each spiritual awakening there follows an awakening back to the old us. And it is that old us that needs to be changed. And that change is not accomplished by demanding perfection at once, but by line upon line. Yes, demand change of yourself, but also be practical about it!

Dealing With Failure- Personal Example #1

I want to explain a little more of my personal experiences, and the two conundrums that inspired this particular topic of study. The first of these deals with the steps of repentance I was taught to follow as a child.

I understood that to repent I must sincerely feel sorrow for what I had done wrong, confess my wrongs to God and anyone else I had harmed, make restitution as possible, and then not do that behavior anymore.

Now I actually think this description for repentance is fine, when understood as a process, and not a singular event, particularly in regards to that last step. I do believe that there are times that you can swear off a certain behavior forever, but far more common is that even when I feel genuine sorrow for my wrongs and wish to never do them again…I probably will at some point.

Thus there were times that I was told I needed to repent of a misdeed, and if I did it again, was asked why I hadn’t really repented, as I was still showing the same wrong behavior. And this was quite disheartening, and eroded my confidence in my ability to repent and become a better person.

Yes, at times, I needed to be more sincere in my efforts to improve, but also there were times when I actually was improving, I simply had not attained perfection yet. In those moments I believe I would have been greatly helped by an understanding that sometimes repentance means not repeating the wrong behavior…eventually. It means we try again and again, recommitting after each slip, doing the wrong thing less and less, soldiering on through the process of letting God change our hearts, until finally we no longer are subject to that sin.

Our Own Reality- Summary

One of the reasons this study occurred to me was the deep conflict of opinions I have seen in the world recently. People has always found it simpler to vilify those that embrace a different reality from their own, rather than accept that “the other side” might have legitimate reasons for the reality that they perceive.

In my experience, though, the first step to improving world problems is to consider one’s own failings in that regard. Before I can try to bridge the gap between other peoples’ realities, I have to be able to understand my own reality, the reasons why I hold it, and whether it is valid. Because yes, some of my perspectives have been detached from truth, and I’ll never be the one to judge right from wrong until I have taken any beams out of my own eye first.

In this study I considered ways to recognize truth from error, how to correct my flaws, and how to know when I stand on truer ground. Here are a few of the principles I learned along the way.

Reality is Personal

The first thing I have come to realize is that the reality I perceive is far from objective. It is extremely biased. In fact I tend to view the world with the same lens as the one I view myself with. Thus the entire world becomes a place of deceit and suspicion when I am hiding personal shame, and the entire world becomes a place of potential and grace when I am forthcoming.
But of course coming to this realization is a tricky thing to do. Most often we deny that there is any bias to our perspective whatsoever. Our perspective, we maintain, is one based on common sense, the natural truth that anyone can see for themselves if they would just look. And anyone that disagrees with it must therefore be delusional or a liar, for they are denying fundamental truth.
Taken to the most extreme, we feel a deeply personal attack whenever another disagrees with our perspective, and then there is no greater cause than to get them to understand just how very, very wrong they are.
Matthew 7:4- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Proverbs 21:2- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

A More True Personal Truth

Fortunately, there is a way to live other than in this war of isolated realities. Because the way we view the external world is based on how we view our inner self, we can cultivate a truer perspective by first cultivating a truer inner self. In fact, putting our focus on the self first is the only way we’ll ever achieve a proper view of the world.
So if I want to see reality in a way that is objectively true, I need to cease living as a contradiction. Not only a contradiction in how what I do differs from what I say, but also in how what I do and say differs from what I think and feel. In short, I need to live with integrity.
The more aligned I become with that spark of divinity God put in me, the more I am living in harmony with my conscience, the more I am consistent in every facet of life, the more I will start to see the world in a way that is actually true. I will start to see the world the same way that God sees it.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Psalm 24:3-4- Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

Reality as a Choice

And so the reality we hold is ultimately a matter of choice, not of chance. It is a matter of choice in that the environment we choose, the sources we listen to, and the patterns we implement will all bleed into how we view the world. Whether we choose those thoughtfully or not, still we are choosing. And if we don’t make a conscious choice of it, then we are making an unconscious choice, one that is heavily influenced, and influenced by others that do not necessarily have our best interests at heart.
But also there is another way in which we choose our reality, too. For while our perspectives are usually altered slowly and imperceptibly, there are also key moments where we make a dramatic and conscious decision for what reality we will pursue.
These might come after our daily practices have softened our hearts to the point that we can accept a reality we had previously been averse to. It might come when we encounter a testimony that moves us powerfully, and makes us reconsider other long-held beliefs. These are critical junctures in life, and though we might make up all manner of reasons in them to not follow our conscience, we must be true to our better nature or else our growth will come to a stop.
Acts 26:27-28- King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

Alma 18:24, 33- And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

Our Own Reality- Proverbs 13:20, 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

COMMENTARY

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
Some of us believe that the company we keep won’t affect who we are, neither the media we consume, nor the interests we pursue. We believe that we can give an ear to corrupt minds, yet still retain our pure convictions. We believe that we can take mixed entertainment, yet look past the depravity that comes with it. After all, Jesus was a companion of sinners, wasn’t he? And he still retained all of his morals, didn’t he?
That is true…but also Jesus never succumbed to temptation, a feat that none of us can claim. Also there is quite a difference between lifting those in the world versus being a part of that world.
The simple truth is that we are far less impervious to our surroundings than we might imagine. For better and worse, the environment we dwell in does become a part of us. You might not be paranoid now, but spend your time researching conspiracy theories, and sooner or later you’ll start to believe them. You might not feel very spiritual now, but spend your time among the devout, and sooner or later you’ll start seeing the hand of God around you.
Thus a thin man might eat a fatty meal one day and look himself in the mirror and say “I am still thin…clearly fatty food has no effect on me.” Or an obese man might eat a lean meal and also see no effect. But if they continue with it over time, gradually the fat will become the first man and the lean will become the second. For reality becomes our repeated experience.