Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Faith coaching for priests (pastors, rabbis, imams...)

This is the first in hopefully a series of quick coaching that I am directing toward priests of my faith, the Roman Catholics, but I also of course hope that not only any Christian pastor but also Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders will find this helpful. The focus will be how priests need to understand and strengthen their own faith while thus at the same time strengthening the faith in the truth for not only their flock but the greater community. The concern being addressed is the way that modern society (both values and supposed "intellect") erode believers' faith, seeming to have "strong arguments," when they are simply wisps in the wind and totally fallacious.

How do I hope you use this material by the way?
1. Understand it yourself and read the scriptures that illuminate the points. I am structuring this series to be a "we believe in the Bible and the word of God" versus the "the Bible's not true and just made up stuff anyway" problem.
2. Discuss it with your friends, family and colleagues and watch for examples of what I speak of in the press.
3. Be more open to, in addition to your pastoral duties, seeking ways to communicate your faith and how you refute (gently but firmly) such arguments, not only in sermons but wherever you find an opportunity (get to know media people, ha).
4. But do not become a media hound. Allow your better understanding to simply permeate outwardly from you. As your faith is strengthened through better understanding of the truth, like osmosis other people will better understand the truth and thus their faith increases.

Here is the coaching point I am covering in this particular blog posting.

1. Recognize modern intellectual hypocrisy and point it out. Do not be intimidated by it because hypocrisy is, of course, the weakest of all foundations for either intellect or spirit. It is not by coincidence that Jesus focused on pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his time.

I have selected a very pertinent and popular topic for the hypocrisy example. There is a fascination in modern society, one that is increasingly perverse and warped, with "living forever" or at least extended life to be centuries or more in length. You may not think this is a "hot topic," but priests, you must recognize the undertow of what seems like disconnected interests of moderns. The undertow, this belief that humans can in and of themselves find a way to greatly extend life and even eliminate death, is exhibited in seemingly separate events such as these, which have been going on for decades by the way.

1. Paid for legitimate research into "special techniques" for extending life. Probably the most well known is by scientists who have linked a kind of starvation diet (very low calories) to long life spans of I think some sort of worm.

Now, I am not being critical of proper science that tries to correlate life style and genetics with those who tend to live longer, and then postulate some sort of potential beneficial advice for humans. I am simply pointing out that this is a hot topic for legitimate research.

2. Marginal "popular" research for extending life. This is more dodgy type of research, often fulfilling the researcher's (usually a book selling author with products) life philosophy that long life, even indefinitely long life, is possible.

The most common examples are those who advocate certain diets or food supplements.

3. The dark fascination in the media's science fiction and fantasy genre with life that is very long, both good life but more often a life of "superior oppressive beings" that live forever and oppress the dummies under them.

The Matrix series is an obvious example. While presented as drama and entertainment, two generations of young people have grown up with the thoughts that "maybe" some "eternal or long living evil alien force" is "manipulating humans." A normal person kind of wants to shoot themselves in the head with depression after watching some of this "entertainment." I'm bummed out to the max even thinking about it. But many kids have a constant diet of this type of paranoia and disconnect from reality, that eternity is "possible" but that right now "bad aliens" have it (or maybe "good aliens" can 'offer it.')

4. The vampire genre that is like a cancer among young people today.

Do not mistake that under the sex and drama and teenage angst of these films is the temptation to believe that by drinking blood one lives forever.

See, these are four modern secular examples of the same underlying temptation, which is to 1) seek to extend human life to eternity by totally human means and 2) disbelieve the Bible. Where does the Bible disbelief come into play here? I'm glad that you asked :-) because that is where the hypocrisy lies.

If one wants to truly and truthfully study how human life is extended, and how eternal life is obtained, one must believe the truth that is already documented, which is the Bible.

Point number one:

Genesis 6:3
Then the Lord said: "My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh. His days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years."

Now, modern disbelievers (plus believers weak in faith) need to understand, as you need to understand, one simple point about this passage. The author of the Book of Genesis, Moses, knew what 'scientifically' no one knew yet at the time, which is indeed that the length of human life is capped at one hundred and twenty years (Wikipedia has a great tracking of the "oldest" human beings in various articles, such as the woman who lived to 122 years). This is a really simple example that you must remember yourself and share with others that thousands of years ago God told Moses something that neither Moses or anyone else could have known through scientific means or the power of observation, since people barely made it out of their thirties for most of their existence until the last one hundred years or so. (See my previous blogging about this topic).

So this is where a hypocrite who is fascinated with extending life must agree with a true believer that even if the hypocrite still denies the Bible and God "being real," that the Bible is accurate in this fact. Keep it simple: recognize that God in the Bible tells Moses that humans shall "comprise" (for the most part) be able to expect from within one hundred twenty years for their lifespan, and modern statistics demonstrate that that has been and continues to be true. Agree to agree there that the "Bible got that one right."

Ah, but now the hypocrite will say, "But who is to say that science and human 'genius' and 'development' cannot extend life? We will do it in the laboratory!" That's great, because you do not, as a true believer, disagree that very long life is indeed possible!

Point number two.

Genesis 5
5. The whole lifetime of Adam was nine hundred and thirty years; then he died.
8. The whole lifetime of Seth was nine hundred and twelve years; then he died.
11. The whole lifetime of Enosh was nine hundred and five years; then he died.
14. The whole lifetime of Kenan was nine hundred and ten years; then he died.
17. The whole lifetime of Mahalalel was eight hundred and ninety-five years; then he died.
20. The whole lifetime of Jared was nine hundred and sixty-two years; then he died.
23. The whole lifetime of Enoch was three hundred and sixty-five years.
27. The whole lifetime of Methuselah was nine hundred and sixty-nine years; then he died.
31. The whole lifetime of Lamech was seven hundred and seventy-seven years; then he died.
32. When Noah was five hundred years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth.

This whole section of the Bible, Genesis, including Chapter 6 which comes after it is so misunderstood yet it is so simple to understand when one has faith AND logical reasoning. If the Bible were "fiction," then it would be filled with wondrous stories of what those long lived guys were up to during their nine hundred plus years of lifespan! Instead, Moses dutifully recorded what is basically the faith genealogy, such as... they were named this, they had these sons, and they lived this many years. That is hardly the stuff of riveting fictional adventure. If dry elderly Jewish men recorded that someone lived to be 777 years old, then that guy lived to be 777 years old!

So here is the hypocrite's problem. He or she believes that "someday" humans can "overcome death" and live very long lifespans, yet he or she does not want to believe the evidence that you present, in the Bible, that this has indeed already been done! Most scientists are happy when they have valuable data from a time in the past that supports their hypothesis. Hypocrites do not like data that supports even their own ideas, if that data comes from anything associated with God. They fear that if they believe that part of the Bible, then they have to believe the whole "package."

So you can attempt to get such a hypocrite to, like in point one, to agree with you that the very thing they argue is possible is documented in the Bible as having already happened. You'd think they'd be happy to know that some humans did indeed live to be almost one thousand years old, no? ;-)

The reason most hypocrites will resist agreeing that even having Biblical evidence that extremely long life is possible is that 1) they don't want to accept the whole God package, since they'd rather be free to sin, thank you very much and 2) they are looking ahead to disagreeing with you about the reasons for possible long life, so that will be point three.

Point three starts with repeating point one's passage, since that is why I quoted all the ages from Genesis 5, because God now says, basically, that the gift of some having these incredibly long lives is 1) provided by me, God, personally and 2) is going to be taken from you.

Point three:

Genesis 6:3
Then the Lord said: "My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh. His days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years."

Thus God is explaining to human beings two things. One is that the reason that these select people have lived so long is that God's spirit was in them. Read carefully "since he is but flesh." What that means is that God has, like with all the other animals, a limit to how long humans can live because flesh can and will deteriorate and die. God's spirit within certain humans overcomes the falling apart of flesh and keeps the person vital and alive for those many centuries. Remember, the Bible does not say that everyone (such as the wives or all the relatives, or the rest of the community, or other human beings) lived those long lives! It does not say that all human beings lived long lives at all. Rather, specific people are listed, those who have the spirit of God in them and are essential links in the chain of faith history. In other words, God extended the lives of those who handed on the truth of faith and its authoritative knowledge of the one true God from generation to generation. These old guys had the spirit of God in them to provide oral continuity from generation to generation about God, his ways and his will. Remember there was no writing or cave painting or whatever in the generations after Adam and Eve. So God kept each link in the faith chain alive enormous lengths of time due to his Spirit within them so that they can keep the faith alive and well formed in each generation. Thus around the time of Noah is when God starts to warn that he will no longer do this routinely.

Now, I have to go off topic for a moment because anyone who is a hypocrite will force you off topic in Genesis 6 because of the "sons of heaven" who "appeared on earth" and were "heroes of old, the men of renown," sounding all like alien angels and super beings arriving on earth. Not exactly.

We are all adults here so let's try to wear long pants and think like adults. We all know that Adam and Eve were the first parents, but we also know that their kids went and married humans who were around. Every five year old asks in Bible school "If Adam and Eve were the first people, who did their children marry?" Generations of nuns have squirmed about that question, LOL. Adam and Eve were the first faith parents, the first to whom were raised up from the dust because God spoke to them. I know, I know, those of you who don't believe that one of God's tools for creation is evolution are unhappy with me, but you have to read the Bible and believe. Adam and Eve's kids did not marry lions, deer, giraffes or turtles. Adam and Eve's kids married other humans who were around.

Likewise, as the faith grew and generations had fruitful future generations being born, they started bumping into other humans, nonbelievers (since they did not yet know God), those who built early human empires and who had made up mythologies.

Genesis 6:1-3
When men began to multiply on earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of heaven saw how beautiful the daughters of the men were, and so they took for their wives as many of them as they chose. Then the Lord said: "My spirit shall not remain in man forever, since he is but flesh. His days shall comprise on hundred and twenty days."

What is happening here is clear if you just slow down and stay rooted in reality. People began to do pretty good, having many healthy children, and so they expanded, looking for husbands and wives for their growing brood (plus remember, not being in Eden they had to migrate and toil for their daily food). They bumped into marvelous people, calling them, as we do today, "heavenly." I mean, duh! The Bible does not say that flying saucers landed. If they had the Bible would say so, since God has nothing to hide. Notice that God immediately speaks in the now three times I've quoted line about the lifespan of mankind. Why does God explain to Moses (since this was all way before Moses' time, so he got all the information about Genesis directly from God) that the people started intermarrying "heavenly" people and that God was now going to withdraw his life extending spirit? Because now the people had to encounter and intermarry pagans and bring them into the faith. I mean, duh! It is what it is in the context of the times, not what fervid overactive modern imaginations make it to be. You'd understand it quite well if it read like this:

People began to have so many children, plus they had to migrate to find land and food, that they started bumping into some really tough and awesome people. They had some great treasures and incredible inventions! They thought our women were hot and so they eagerly intermarried. God then said, "Well, there you go, be fruitful and multiply. It's up to YOU to now educate the pagans about me, because I'm not going to make these old guys live to be nine hundred years old just to keep the faith alive from generation to generation." As soon as people started intermarrying these awesome heavenly people, other groups of new folks also came along ["the Nephilim appeared on earth" Genesis 4:6] and they explained that they came from the gods Bozo and Fifi who were filled with awesome sword swaggering deeds."

Um, duh, as the believers, the descendants of Adam and Eve, intermarried pagans, their kids eagerly picked up on all the local mythology and hero excitement of the new folks' histories (both real and imagined). So that's why when skeptics snicker that the Bible "includes mythology," well, duh, the people intermarried with people with mythology. Sometimes it just is what it is. And when "sons of heaven" "appeared on earth," that means some presumably God sent awesome dudes and chicks were bumped into that they had never met before around the next mountain range. When people say "appear on earth" they don't mean what moderns mean, which is to drop out of the sky, I mean, duh. People who had never traveled more than ten miles in their whole life consider anyone they met while migrating fifty miles or a few hundred miles away as "appearing" "on earth."

So point number three to make to hypocrites, which is usually a point of genuine confusion for many of the faithful, but also a great red herring for those who have an "alien believing" and "non all powerful God" agenda, is that there is an easily understandable progression of events that follows both what the Bible says and also human nature as we know it. God gave certain faith bearing humans really long lives, but as the human species got fruitful and on their way, God said, "You're on your own now, and you have to encounter nonbelievers and intermarry."

But see, how well did that turn out?

Genesis 6:5, 11-2
When the Lord saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved...In the eyes of God the earth was corrupt and full of lawlessness...all mortals led depraved lives on earth...

The Bible agrees with human history since it is human history. Believers fell astray all on their own (think of Cain, for example) plus they obviously fell down at bringing the faith to the pagans, and instead, adopted lives of depravity and lawlessness.

I'll leave this important, but a tangent, to our basic purpose of discussing the hypocrisy of the long life interest but denying Biblical evidence, and hope that you better understand that you have to read the Bible in context, how people were in those times and how God spoke to them accordingly. A modern thinks that "heavenly" means from the sky, while an ancient believes "heavenly" means sent by God (and that could be just some hairy pagan sent by God from across the street). "Appeared on earth" means to a modern that it wasn't on the entire globe terra before, and thus came from the sky, while "appeared on earth" to an ancient means "Wow, I just encountered something entirely new."

Point four:

Genesis 9:29
The whole lifetime of Noah was nine hundred fifty years; then he died.

God made clear that he was weaning the faithful away from having very long lived humans who acted as faith links across many generations, and so Noah becomes the last one mentioned in this way. If you read all of Genesis 10 and 11, notice two things. No longer is anyone mentioned as having long lives. Second, the geneologies start to mention the faith fathers having children at ages of twenties and thirties, not the very ancient ages of before.

Genesis 11:25-6
Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years after the birth of Terah, and he had other sons and daughters. When Terah was seventy years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.

So now a life of 119 years is extraordinary, rather than the nine hundred plus years of life. Right on target of the expected maximum age, based on flesh, not God's spirit, for humans. Nahor is the grandfather of the man who became the Patriarch of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, Abram (renamed Abraham by God).

Point four, then, to show to your hypocrite friend, is that just as humans are prospering, and presumably eating better and having better hygiene and medicine, the incredibly long lived examples disappear. This is the heart of where your disagreement with hypocrites will be exposed because they will resist knowing that what they want is "possible" but it has already been done, since it is not works of humans that result in incredibly long existences of individual lives, but only the firsthand occupation of that flesh by the Spirit of God, which overcomes while the Spirit is there the inevitability of the limits of human life. Remind them we are not discussing "spirituality" or "holiness," but the actual raw, full Spirit of God keeping them alive, something God has not only said but demonstrated that after Noah he will no longer do.

God promises Abram that his descendants shall be as numerous as stars (Genesis 15:4), not the years of his lifespan, or of anyone else's. But this man obviously was filled with so much grace from the Lord that his body could not help but respond accordingly:

Genesis 25:7-8
The whole span of Abraham's life was one hundred and seventy-five years. Then he breathed his last, dying at a ripe old age, grown old after a full life; and he was taken to his kinsmen. [That means both buried in the family place and also with those who had died before in heaven with God. Jesus confirmed that Abraham is in heaven with God in Luke 16.]

So you have to point out that if the Bible was just self glorifying made up stuff, why would not the longest "made up" life be assigned to the man who was the Patriarch of the three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam? I mean, why would the fictional authors of the fictional Bible assign really long made up ages to men whose names are mentioned only that one or two times and had no great deeds, while Abraham is expected to be characterized as the role model of the God given full life in his service and actual physical presence of "only" 175 years? Because it really is just as it is. Abraham is the example of how the Spirit of God filled this one man, after the others, when God would no longer do this to keep faith guardian continuity, and yet achieves indeed eternal life by being with God after a full life on earth.

As an aside, many Christians totally miss that Jesus in Luke 16 is mentioning by name how the Patriarch Abraham is alive in God in heaven, not asleep: "When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld where he was in torment, he raised his eyse and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side...Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received only what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented..."

Here is the point, the crux of what you must testify to non-believers, but also understand for your own faith. What is the reward for the man who singularly was the great Patriarch, who walked with, served without question, dined with, and advocated on behalf of sinners to God? A full (but not extraordinary) life but eternal life in God, where is he is seen, active, speaking and very real in life in heaven's eternity. So yes, we agree that long life is biologically possible, but not through human deeds in the laboratory.

Point five:
We agree that it is possible to live forever, but not in the laboratory and not because of aliens, but because when the flesh passes believers who have served God will have eternal life with him in the Spirit in heaven.

Hypocrites imagine "storing one's memories and identity" in a computer and then "loading it into another body," and THEY view THAT as a real "possibility," but they think the Bible, which affirms the immortal soul that is "transfered" upon death out of body to either heaven or hell, the spiritual realm, as "fantasy." That is the heart of the hypocrisy. Which is the sound of truth, the believer who has evidence in the Bible of the eternal soul, or someone who wants to become a parts junk yard for people who want to cling to some sort of "life," yet thinks only of earthly memories, personalities and nutty theories of recycled souls to load into some manmade flesh, and what, then, of the real soul, the one and only one given to each person by God for their one and only life? It's just not going to happen, friends. Not only because God has promised that it will not happen, but because life just does not work that way. Eternal life in fake bodies and you can't deal with AIDs? Swine flu? Feeding the starving? Keep a vaccination record for your kids so they don't get diseases that were defeated decades ago? And how about a world of robot ADHD people, with their bipolar and whatever? They don't seem to handle three decades of life well, say nothing of be "ready" for theoretical manmade "eternal life." A society that does not consistently wash their hands for hygiene sure does not have to worry about having eternal life in a body on earth, LOL.

Do you see the fulness of validation and logic for all that is in the Bible? Just as those few patriarchs had actual Spirit of God in them to prolong their life and their witness to their children and the other generations, upon death the faithful enter into the Spirit of God in heaven. On earth God infused each of the long lived patriarchs with his Spirit. In heaven they are alive eternally because they are put into the Spirit. It is only the Spirit that is the source of either eternal life after death, or of extraordinary genuine life on earth, but God has said he will no longer do that and of course that is true. It is up to humans to do the best they can do with having full lives, and allowing their neighbors to have full lives too, and to witness to the faith while they await eternal life that is promised to them in heaven, or eternal punishment if they profane God's gift of human life and thus lose eternal life in bliss.

Kids need to understand that the reality is much more beautiful than the fiction. Why does blood drinking "eternal" vampires seem so romantic? Because they have lost access to the true joys of life, of the type of joy that a man like Abraham had, in true family and kinship and service to God, and yes, decent adventure too.

Dear priests and other friends reading this blog, I hope and pray that you have found this to be helpful in your faith and to support the true faith of those who need it in these modern times.