The Epic Life- Matthew 16:21-23, Luke 14:26-27

From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

COMMENTARY

Jesus began to shew unto his disciples, how he must suffer, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
Then Peter began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be.
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.

If anyone has ever had a divine purpose to fulfill, certainly it was Jesus. He was born for a very specific cause and all the world depended upon his completion of it. Jesus needed to do what he was here to do or else all of us would be forever lost.
Of course one can see how Peter was well-meaning in his arguing against Jesus fulfilling that role. Peter’s perspective was limited. This was the death of his friend being talked about, and how could he be expected to approve of that? Peter was full of all manner of good intentions, but his suggestion that Jesus not go through with his calling would be the most heinous crime to humanity imaginable! Peter’s friend would be saved and the whole world would be damned.

If any man hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

As Jesus had testified earlier, it was essential for him to bear his cross and fulfill his role, regarding it higher than his brother Peter. And when Peter tried to dissuade him, Peter had to be reminded of the hierarchy of Jesus’s love. In the moment that Peter tried to pull Jesus off of his divinely-appointed path he was not a true friend.
Of course a disciple can have families and friends and love them. But Jesus’ point is that when we have found the wonderful, epic life that God has given us, when we have found the cross we must bear and the path we must follow, then friends and family must be made to understand that that is what we are going to do! And if they try to dissuade us in that, they must be made to understand that even if their intentions are good they are doing us no favors by trying to derail our destiny.

The Doing Muscle- 1 Corinthians 10:13, Matthew 6:33

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

COMMENTARY

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man
If there is anything that keeps us from doing the things we want to do, it probably exists under the umbrella of temptation. Temptation to go back to our old ways, temptation to procrastinate, temptation to just plain be lazy. If it weren’t for friction we would all do exactly what we intended to do, and temptation is the greatest source of friction out there.

But God is faithful, who will with the temptation also make a way to escape
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness
But fortunately for us, temptation has its cure. It’s easy to think that self-improvement can only be done by–well–the self. We assume that it is our personal cross to bear, unable to receive any outside help. However this isn’t the case. A change of heart does require effort from us, but it also requires a miracle from God.
And so the guidance in these verses is to seek the kingdom of God first. We should build up our connection to him, learn how hear His voice, learn how to invoke His blessings in our lives. If we build on that foundation first then we can work with Him on every other element of self-improvement together.

The Doing Muscle- Prevention vs Cure

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Apparently Benjamin Franklin was referring to fire safety when he gave the above quote, but I find it is applicable to many situations, including that of self-improvement.

We have examined previously in this study how our moral resolve is like a muscle, with limited capacity, and a need to exercise and grow before it is strong. But it might be stronger than we realize, if we just started directing it more towards an ounce of prevention than towards a pound of cure.

In addiction recovery they teach that the best way to have a strong moral resolve is simply to not test it. The best way to overcome temptation is to be tempted as little as possible. Consider an alcoholic who goes to the bar with his friends for social reasons, but now must struggle the whole time to not get a drink. He will be quickly depleting his reserve of grit. Once every so often he might be able to pull off some moral heroics and keep himself sober, but most nights he will cave. Consider how much easier it is, then, for him to instead say “I’m just not going to the bar,” and never face its temptations to begin with. He is more sober by not testing his sobriety.

There is still some effort in that, of course. He must look his friends in the eye and say he can’t go when he used to go before, but it is an easier thing to do than see the beer and smell the beer, but not taste the beer.

In my own life I found that once I identified the unnecessary ways in which I was expending my moral fortitude, and circumvented those situations, that suddenly I had far more energy for actually making myself a better person. God works in miracles, it is true, but He expects us to work in prudence and reason.

What Chance Do I Have?- Judges 16:6, 15-17

And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.

COMMENTARY

Tell me wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee
She pressed him daily, so that his soul was vexed unto death; That he told her all his heart
Samson had a weakness. But it wasn’t his hair, it was Delilah. Personally I’ve never been able to see Samson as some idiot who failed to recognize what Delilah was doing. Far more likely to me is that he was entirely aware of her malicious intentions, but even so he loved her, and was “vexed unto death” so that he didn’t care whether he lived or died anymore. In the end he could only choose life or Delilah…and he submitted to her destruction.
It might seem ridiculous to so willingly elect self-harm, but really it is all-too common. I’m sure we all know men who were noble and good, until they gave in to the bottle. And we all know women who were beautiful and confident, until they denied their bodies food and nourishment. I can honestly say that I have given into my weaknesses while fully knowing that they were destroying me.
In other words, we all have our personal weakness, our slippery paths that lead from greatness to brokenness. Even if we are strong as Samson, the opportunity yet remains to lose it all. No matter how spiritually powerful we may become, we never stop having to choose between life or Delilah.

Individual Trials- 1 Corinthians 10:13, Alma 26:12

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

COMMENTARY

God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape
Does God never allow us to be tempted more than we can bear? Or does He never allow us to be attempted more than His escape can overcome? As I consider this scripture under the context of other passages, I believe that it means the latter. God does allow us to be tempted with more than we can handle by ourselves. But He does not allow us to be tempted with more than we can handle with Him.

As to my strength I am weak; but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things
The purpose of our life-defining trials is not for us to solve them. In fact they are specifically given to us for the very reason that we can’t solve them on our own! They are designed to just be too big for us to handle.
Because the real purpose of our life-defining trials is for us to let Him solve them. It might take some humbling before we are ready to accept that. Many of us will break ourselves in two trying to move those mountains first. But hopefully, after being sufficiently humbled, we’ll finally submit, and tearfully ask God if He will do it for us. And He will.

Free Will vs God’s Control- Personal Example

There are those that fall into sin, and then wonder how they were ever expected to prevail given the hand that they were dealt. There are also those that have remained faithful while those around them fell into sin, and then feel a sort of survivor’s guilt for it and wonder why they were kept hedged safe.

Predicaments such as these serve to test our faith in free will. It is far easier to say that you were made to be good or made to be bad, rather than to take responsibility for your actions. On the one hand you don’t want to be boastful, and on the other you don’t want to condemn yourself, and so you assign the responsibility elsewhere. But false modesty and false accusation are still false, and ultimately get us nowhere.

We do ourselves a terrible discredit when we deny our own power. Any time we fail to take ownership for our own actions, we cut our feet out from under us. I have certainly done myself that disservice, both in terms of not wanting to accept responsibility for my sins, nor for my obedience. A large part of my discipleship has been learning to give myself my fair due.

And so, I have done things that I am ashamed of, and I have done other things that I am proud of. It is true that I was enticed towards each of these. In fact the thoughts to do them did not necessarily originate in me, on the one hand being inspired by Satan and on the other inspired by God. Thus one can say that those beings are the authors of my choices, but they are still my choices. I take full ownership of them. Neither God or Satan has ever wrested control from me. I have only ever done what I have done.

The Differences Between Knowing, Doing, and Becoming- Matthew 4:6, 27:40, 3:17

And when the tempter came to him, he said…If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.

If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

COMMENTARY

Previously we discussed that’s Peter test was to be challenged in his commitment to his identity. He called himself a disciple of Jesus, but when pressed by fear he then denied that. It is tragic, but also very relatable. For many of us our crisis of faith involves us similarly questioning who we really are.
Maybe we feel we don’t know as much as we should and maybe we feel we don’t do as much as we should, but where the guilt of these failings comes to their full agony is when they make us feel that maybe then we aren’t the person we should be. At one point or another we have all asked: Am I really a child of God?

And when the tempter came to him, he said…If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down…
If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.

In these crises of identity it may be helpful to recall that Jesus was tempted in the exact same fashion. Very early in his ministry Satan came to tempt him, and Satan’s attack was immediately to cast doubt on Jesus’s identity. If thou be the Son of God.
But the accusations did not end after that initial temptation. In fact, in the Savior’s final moments on the cross the exact same doubt was cast by the people at his feet. If thou be the Son of God.
The similarity between these moments are astounding. In fact each calls for the same action: come down. It is the same demand made of each of us. Stop thinking you can be a worthy son or daughter of God, come down.

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Fortunately there is another voice as well, and one that repudiates the tempter. God knows our identities are challenged, and He speaks to reaffirm our worthiness. This is my beloved Son. He establishes identity, being, and character.
I am convinced that of all the truths God wants me to have faith in, this is the one He wants most of all: You are my son. If I allow myself to be His son, then the knowing and the doing will just naturally flow from that.