I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Archive for May, 2010

Resisting Temptation

I had a discussion recently about the temptations of Christ. Not the movie. But the temptations we actually have recorded in scripture.

Christ is the example. He’s shown us the way in all things. It’s a nice principle to think of, but it’s also one we need to study for it to be of any worth. It is one thing to say He leads us; it’s another entirely to understand enough to use it.

Christ spent forty days in the desert fasting (Matthew 4:1-2). At the close of this spiritual preparation, Satan appeared and tempted him three times. The first temptation used his mortal frailties against him – he told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by turning the rocks to bread (v. 3). Christ responded by quoting scripture (v. 4). Then Satan told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple (v. 6). Again Jesus quoted scripture (v. 7). Finally, Satan told Jesus he would give all the kingdoms and riches of the world if he, Jesus, would worship him (v. 9). Jesus told him to go away, and backed it up with scripture (v. 10).

The first, rather obvious, example that comes to us here is to read the scriptures. In all three instances He quotes scripture as part of his rebuttal. That alone is a way to counteract the temptations of the devil. When we read scripture we can feel the presence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit’s presence can go a long way to removing the feelings of temptation and replacing them with better feelings.

But He doesn’t just quote random scriptures. He quoted scriptures that were relevant to the situation and the deeper situation. When tempted to turn stones to bread, he quoted what is now Deuteronomy 8:3 “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” This is, at the very least, a witty response, to quote a scripture about bread when tempted to abuse his godly power to create bread. It shows a deep familiarity with the scriptures. But even more so, the passage in Deuteronomy is talking about when God created manna for the Israelites ─ when bread was miraculously created for them in the desert. Christ knew, this of course. He was showing that he understood why this would be an abuse of his power. He was aware of the context and the similarities, and He knew when it was appropriate and when it wouldn’t be to use his power. Clearly, He was able of surviving without having bread right at the moment. Yet after forty days without food, can we really argue that He didn’t have a need? At the very least, a compelling want.

Throughout these temptations, the challenge is very explicitly to the faith Jesus had in his calling. Was He truly the Son of God, Savior of the world? If so, prove it! Satan is casting doubt, much in the way a child would on the playground. When they are at the pinnacle of the temple, he says “If you’re the Son of God, then God won’t let you get hurt. Jump off and angels will catch you.” He even quotes scripture to back it up ─ a passage from the ninety-first Psalm, which is a prophecy about Christ.

Christ is equally sly in his response, however. He quotes a passage from Deuteronomy again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord they God (6:16). The passage refers to when the people made a golden idol to worship while Moses was receiving the ten commandments. They “tempted” the Lord in that they were testing the boundaries. How far could they go before there was some sort of punishment. In Deuteronomy the Lord tells them not to do that sort of thing. Don’t test where the line is, just stay well within it. Would angels have caught Him? Well, sure. But Christ didn’t need to prove his divinity, least of all to Satan. Not even to Himself. He knew who He was and didn’t need a miracle to prove it. Some say that faith precedes the miracle, but in some cases, faith might preclude the need for a miracle.

Last is the temptation that I, personally, understand least. Satan offers Christ, literally, the world. Now, I have no doubt that Satan was capable of delivering. At least in the immediate sense. If he couldn’t, that would have been the most incredible bluff ─ which hardly disqualifies the possibility. Satan is, after all, the father of lies. But it was a question of patience. Christ framed the world. It was all his anyway. All the rulers in the world reigned at his sufferance. I think that this temptation was more than just a test of patience. It centered on the Atonement itself.

In his mortal life, Christ descended below them all, and as a result, He was crowned with glory, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But in order to return to His Father and receive His reward, He had to fulfill His mission. He had to suffer more than any mortal man could bear. Satan was hoping that by offering Jesus the kingdoms and riches of the world, he could make Jesus think he would bypass that suffering and receive the reward.

Christ is better than that. And this time, he doesn’t just quote scripture. And when he does it’s more abrupt ─ no clever explanations, simply “Thou shalt worship the Lord they God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Straight up, one of the ten commandments. A simple “That would be wrong.” But He preludes the scripture with “Get thee hence.” No more indulging the temptation. “Go away!”

I confess that I think a little of Smeagol when I think of this. “Go away, and never come back.” But it’s a useful comparison. Too often do we indulge the temptations that beset us, and then bemoan the fact that we succumbed. And then we often even have the gall to wonder why we succumb to temptation. We succumb because we let it stay on our mind!

Well could we learn from the example of the Savior and say to our temptation “Get thee hence!”

Day 1: It All Starts with God

Being LDS, this chapter grates a little. Not a lot, but the feeling is probably why I didn’t get further than the first chapter the last time I tried this.

Not that I disagree with any doctrinal point I can indicate here, at least, none which comes to mine. It’s the tone it strikes. (Also, I have a strong preference for the King James Version of the Bible — it’s what I’m comfortable with and I think it sounds better than any of the modern versions, which sound silly to me.)

No, I think the biggest thing that gets to me is this string of six words: “It’s far greater than your family.” And on the surface, that’s true. Ultimately, the Plan of God is much greater than my family. But what that sentence connotes is pretty disagreeable.

God’s purpose for me is inextricably intertwined with my family. Whatever ultimate plan He has for me, what He wants me to do, will have to do with my family. Yeah, it’s not just my family. But starting off with saying that it’s far greater than my family seems to turn my attention too far away from my family.

Also, our desires and interests are involved with the purpose God has for us. Our talents and abilities and passions can be used for God’s work, and there’s hardly a reason why he wouldn’t use that. Certainly we are required to align our will with the Lord’s, not the other way around. And if our values don’t match His, we have the wrong values. But when our hobbies, interests, and skills do not contradict His commandments, why wouldn’t an omnipotent Creator seek to use those abilities rather than have us ignore them? They’re part of the spiritual gifts He has given to us, after all.

However, a lot of that can seem like picking at nits. The main thrust of the chapter is to find our purpose from God. Just because I take issue with the feeling of his tone doesn’t mean that Warren is wrong in his meaning.

He’s right of course that unless the help is grounded in God’s plan, self-actualization isn’t going to get you to your purpose. He’s right that focusing on our own plan and will isn’t going to get us to fulfillment. If they are saying “I think” or “I believe” it’s not really coming from God’s word. And, in the end, his point to ponder is a good one. “It’s not about me.” It really isn’t.

Maybe I’m just a cynic, but the reasoning in the chapter is weak. The examples, while sometimes illustrative, aren’t very meaningful. And that’s irritating, because this chapter could have been so powerful. “There is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation.” That’s very strong. The word of God is powerful and sharper than any sword. Using it would be a lot more helpful than the simplistic examples I see here. Instead of telling us a story about being lost on a mountain to introduce a cliché phrase — skip the cliché and just tell us. Also: go light on the exclamation points. Putting one in doesn’t add power to your writing. It makes us think you wanted to add power, and if we don’t feel that power from the words themselves, we’ll be disappointed.

This is my problem. I read everything from a good writing analysis. And Warren is, honestly, not the best writer. And it’s hard for me (personally) to ignore when the flaws with his writing are so intimately connected with his message.

So now that this is out of the way, what about actual response to the message of this chapter?

The message is that it is futile to begin your search for meaning in any place but with God. You can achieve success, but not fulfill your purpose by looking elsewhere.

And I agree. I’m not sure that I’ve been the best practitioner of this concept however. I am very self absorbed. I look at my fulfillment primarily in my writing. This might not be the worst thing, but it doesn’t start with God, and it’s short lived. If I’m looking for long lasting change in how I feel about myself, I probably need to look more specifically at how God wants me to use this talent. What can I do to learn more about it.

Point to Ponder: “It’s not about me.”
Clearly, my attitude in the past has been, consciously or unconsciously, that it is about me. After all, it is me. I don’t expect anyone else to think it’s about me, but for me, it has been me. I’m going to make a conscious choice to try and look outside of me for purpose. Maybe it will make working easier, since I do that primarily for my wife and kids. But then, that’s still not thinking about starting in God, completely. It’s just a step closer than where I am. I’m hoping that the next 39 chapters will help me look to find other ways to make it less about me.

Verse to Remember: Colossians 1:16 – “all things were created by him, and for him.”
Note, I’m rendering these in the KJV, for my own reasons
Well, for Him, but didn’t He create the earth as a place for us to learn and grow? It’s to fulfill His plan for us, to save all His children. I guess I should see it as He didn’t create the earth just for me, but for all of us. And he has created so much more than just this earth. He cares for me, but as a specimen of His children, I’m a very small part of it all. He wants me to be there, but He wants my function to be about more than just me.

Question to Consider: “In spite of all the advertising around me, how can I remind myself that life is really about living for God, not myself?”
It’s a good question, and I don’t have an immediate answer. Prayer, however, is always an obvious answer. Praying as an act in itself should be a reminder of God’s presence in my life, and if I’m praying about His will, that should be a constant reminder that it’s not about me.

Day 0: response to a friend

I started this partially to work with a friend, who needs some purpose and direction. I reckoned, I do too. I don’t feel at liberty to quote the letter, and I’m editing what I wrote for this blog.

One of my favorite hymns (my father’s as well) is “Lead, Kindly Light”:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Sometimes, you can’t see the next step. You just have to trust and put your foot forward. We don’t know all God’s plans for us, even when we understand our purpose. I prayed to ask if I should marry Kirsti, and I received an answer that I have never ever been more sure of in my life. And then, a couple weeks later we broke up. I never doubted that answer, but one night, I was pretty despondent about it. I just told God in my prayer that I didn’t understand what what going on or how to reconcile my answer with what was going on, but that I was going to trust him. Well, it worked out in the end. But even if Kirsti and I hadn’t reconciled, I was finally at peace with it in that moment. Even when I didn’t understand what was going on, and it didn’t seem to make sense, I had chosen to trust God. I think that was my moment of Abrahamic trial. It was hardly my first born son, let alone one I’d been promised for decades, but it was pretty important to me, and I don’t think I have the faith of Abraham anyway.

I’m sure your familiar with the scripture where Paul says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (I prefer the KJV, though I suppose if you prefer NIV there’s “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There’s a Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, who says “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” Very similar sentiments. Using those as the basis for understanding, I want to look at what you said. “I really do believe and have faith.” You accept that God lives, you don’t doubt it. You accept, as well, that Jesus is your Savior (I’m inferring that, but it’s true, correct?).

That’s pretty much where I stand, myself. I have never wavered in my acceptance in the reality of God, nor in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. A lot like Joseph Smith said, “I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it.”

Have I always trusted him? Not really. Rather than trust a relationship with God, I have in the past sought out one of the more insidiously deceitful forms of false intimacy. While doing that, I wasn’t hearing anything from God. I’m sure He tried to speak with me, through others and through the Holy Spirit, but I was beyond hearing it.

When I finally made the choice to let Him lead me back to him, things changed dramatically in a short amount of time. I’m amazed at how I was able to become so resistant to the whispers of the Holy Ghost. Amazed at how awesome listening to God’s guidance can be. I’ve still got a long way to go, but those first few steps were very impressive.

There’s a book that’s popular among LDS people called Believing Christ. I’ve never read it, myself, but I bring it up because it draws a distinction. See, there’s also an LDS hymn called “I Believe in Christ.” Very stirring. But there’s a difference in those two titles. They both seem to be declarations of faith, but there’s a big meaning shift from believing in Christ, to believing Him, believing what He said and what He’ll do for you. Another Book of Mormon scripture comes to mind. When Christ was crucified, there were terrible storms, earthquakes, and destruction in the New World, which were followed by 3 days of darkness. During the darkness, the survivors heard the voice of God speaking to them: “And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.” He wants to protect us, to hold us close. But He waits for us to choose to do so.

There’s a lesson in the Old Testament about this. When the Israelites wandered the desert, there came a plague of poisonous snakes. The venom was deadly and many were dying. The Lord told Moses to raise a staff with a brass serpent on top of it. Any Israelite who looked to the serpent lived. Those who did not died. (That’s in Numbers 21). And because it was so easy to do, or for whatever stubbornness, many didn’t look. But those who looked, not knowing how that would work, they lived.

I think there’s more to faith than just believing. There’s an element of trust in it as well.

If I may be permitted to draw on the Book of Mormon again, The prophet Alma (the same one I mentioned above) made a comparison between faith and a seed (yes, the Savior did too, but this was a more detailed explanation than what we have in the New Testament). He says you plant the seed. You take care of it. Then it grows. and then it stops being faith. It grows, so you know it’s a true principle. It’s not faith anymore because you know. Takes a long time to get to that point. How do you develop faith into knowledge when you don’t have the faith to start with? Alma asks us to “exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.” That’s all it takes. A “mustard seed” of faith indeed. You don’t have to have faith to part the Red Sea. You just have to have enough to take a step.

But the Lord does require us to take that step, spiritually. We don’t have to change everything. We just have to open a little to see if something will come inside. The rest comes latter.

I guess, to shorten it up, what I’m saying is that you don’t have to be a spiritual equivalent of Superman to let God in and begin a relationship. And you can’t have a deep relationship without starting one first. So just open up and be ready to shake God’s hand. God actually arriving in your life is what He will do, you don’t have to get him a ride. Just crack the door.