Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fruits of the Holy Spirit(3): Continence (II)

We have just learned what the first fruit of Continence is, by studying two people who totally lacked it, Adam and Eve. This is called learning by "negative example," where you first learn the definition of something by studying something that lacks that quality. In that way you see the consequences of not having it. Now we will look at the one person who had total, perfect Continence, the anti-Adam of Continence, and that would be Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the model of what perfect Continence (which no person can ever achieve) looks like. Jesus Christ alone has the perfect gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit because he was conceived of the Holy Spirit, and thus he has not only the perfected nature of the Holy Spirit but also the Holy Spirit's indwelling. Here is the scripture where he demonstrates perfect Continence.

Before we start, let me point out two things that now that your eyes are open, you will notice anyway. One is how this event was just like the Garden of Eden, except Jesus is now demonstrating how Adam and Eve should have behaved in that situation. The other point is to answer what some ask, which is how Jesus, being perfect, could be tempted? He was not tempted in the sense of ever considering anything anyone says that takes him from his perfect will to God, of course. The Holy Spirit took him to the desert so that generations after him can study what Adam and Eve should have done. In other words, the devil is doing the tempting, but simply because Jesus is being "tempted by the devil," this is not an open ended tempting whereby Jesus ever would consider doing what the devil suggests. Jesus did all this in order to "rewrite" history, in a sense, as the Redeemer, Jesus demonstrated what Adam and Eve should have done.

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led into the desert by the [Holy] Spirit, to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread." But he answered and said, "It is written, Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God."

Then the devil took him into the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If thou art the Son of God, throw thyself down; for it is written, He will give his angels charge concerning thee; and upon their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." Jesus said to him, "It is written further, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. And he said to him, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou worship and him only shalt thou serve." Then the devil left him; and behold, angels came and ministered to him.

We need not discuss here all the vast richness of this event in the life of Jesus for all its teachings and meanings, since they are well covered by preachers and in previous postings. Just look at the amazing and perfected example of the fruit of the Holy Spirit of Continence, demonstrated by Jesus.

1. Adam and Eve already had food aplenty, with no effort, the company of God, the servitude of animals and the promise of dominion of the world, and yet they so lacked self control that they accepted the offer of the devil for something they did not even understand (they wanted to know evil without even knowing what it was! Duh!)

2. Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights (try that out sometime, most humans would be dead of course), Jesus was alone as he had not yet chosen his Apostles and, further, he did not take angels along to minister to him, and Jesus had no earthly prestige at all yet, even though his was the actual King to come of all the earth and beyond, of course. So lacking at the time everything that Adam and Eve actually had surrounding them, Jesus demonstrates perfect Continence on the opposite side of the spectrum from Adam and Eve. In his extreme privation and isolation Jesus never once considered anything that the devil (or anyone else) seriously or even jokingly as a diversion from his ministry to come.

No one can be like Jesus, of course, but the reason the Holy Spirit led Jesus to the fasting and encounter in the desert is so that believers in the world can see and marvel what the perfected fruit of the Holy Spirit of Continence looks like. Jesus had total self control and containment of both his needs and his desires and thus demonstrated perfect Continence.

Continence thus also needs to be understood as an appreciation of timing, and also of trust in God. Adam and Eve failed in both respects, as they believed Satan equally as they believed God and thus gave Satan's temptation serious thought and merit, but they also, incredibly, had no patience, even though they had everything in front of them already. Patience is another fruit of the Holy Spirit, and we will discuss it in due turn. My point is that Continence is a friendly partner with Patience, because people are able to be more self restrained and thus Continent when they are willing to not only deny themselves something whose time has not yet come or is not good for them, but also to wait for what God genuinely intends for them.

Adam and Eve do not have the excuse that they did not know what God intended for them because they were already living it. The only thing that had not yet occurred was them having children and them inheriting the earthly Garden of Eden. It would be far more understandable if Jesus had been impatient, as he had fasted alone for forty days and nights, and had not yet surrounding himself with his followers, yet of course it was Jesus' timing as much as God's. Jesus and God had, of course, perfect agreement in timing and the order of things, always with eternity in mind. No, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to have the dueling scriptures with Satan in the desert so that people who have now, of course, well known through the scriptures the history of the failure of Continence (and obedience) by Adam and Eve could now see "how it should have gone." This is one reason that some have given the title to Jesus of the "New Adam." Not because there is any comparison, of course, but because Jesus role models how Adam, on his much smaller scale, should have behaved.

Thus Jesus demonstrated how the perfected ripened fruit of Continence looks, having been grown on the perfected tree of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fruits of the Holy Spirit (2): Continence

When I discussed with you the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I presented them in a particular order because there is an order from foundational to ultimate that is a logical progression in likely receipt of the gifts. For example, one is not likely to receive any of the gifts if one is not first in receipt of and in appreciation of Fear of the Lord. The scripture teaches that Fear of the Lord is the foundational gift.

I'm going to present to you the different way that one must use understanding (a gift of the Holy Spirit! :-) to perceive the fruits of the Holy Spirit. That is I am going to follow closely in the scripture the actual development (or failure) of people to receive and develop the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Thus the first fruit of the Holy Spirit we will discuss, and understand to be the foundational fruit, is not Charity, as one might guess, but Continence.

The definition of Continence is the ability to contain something successfully, and in behavior terms it is often best understood as the ability to have "self control." Most people have heard the term continence in the medical context, where to have incontinence means that one cannot control one's bladder or bowel movements. But naturally as you would expect the term continence has a traditional meaning that is much more spiritual than whether one can wait to go to the lavatory!

Continence can be best thought of as the ability to exercise self control of one's needs and desires, and not in a repressive and suppressive way. Continence has the tone of a person who is also able to be moderate and temperate in their needs. So Continence is not to be understood as someone who can, for example, jab needles in their arms and not flinch from the pain because they are "in control." Rather, Continence means to be serene and moderate in the satisfaction of both one's good desires, but also to rebuff temptations. To use a simple example, someone is demonstrating Continence if they really, really, REALLY enjoy a particular item of food, beverage, or activity, such as a sport, yet you would not realize that unless they told you because they do not hoard or over-indulge in anything, even if they really enjoy it. As you can imagine people with the fruit of Continence are not addicts because no substance or activity overcomes their discernment of 1) whether it is good or bad for them and 2) even if it is harmless, it does not ever have control over these people by immoderate usage. A person with Continence can indeed have one piece of a favorite food once in a while, but does not need to tuck into that food in huge quantities on every occasion. A person with Continence might even love a food, sticking with these secular examples, yet not even indulge in it at all, or maybe once a year for special occasions!

Thus a person with spiritual Continence is moderate and in self control in not only secular matters but also spiritual matters. People with the fruit of Continence are not power hungry, for example. And now I imagine you know why I started with this fruit to be in discussion.

Genesis 3:1-6
Now the serpent [Satan] was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, [Eve] "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" The woman answered the serpent, "Of the fruit of all the trees in the garden we may eat; but 'Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden,' God said, 'you shall not eat, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'"

But the serpent said to the woman, "No, you shall not die; for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Now the woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for the knowledge it would give. She took of its fruit and ate it, and also gave some to her husband [Adam] and he ate.

Naturally generations of preachers have spoken about the great tragedy and fall of humankind, just as it had been created in the forms of Adam and Eve, through simple disobedience of an almost incomprehensible foolishness. Here Adam and Eve had everything they needed, including the actual presence of God in the Garden, and they had the promise of children, of dominion over the world, and of peace of mind. With everything that modern humans cannot even imagine having been given to Adam and Eve, how on earth could Eve have been with a single sentence of suggestion been so easily fooled by Satan to eat of the one fruit tree that had been forbidden to them by God? Eve lacked Continence, and so did Adam.

There is no more striking example of a lack of Continence than Eve and Adam in all of human history, of course. It is the classic example of "wanting more" when one already had absolutely everything that there was to have. This is so far from someone just being greedy and out of control over something that one really wanted and/or needed. Adam and Eve had everything that a human could possibly have, promised by God, within their reach and their destiny (ample food, shelter, dominion over the world, the presence of God by their side, and peace of mind), so it's not like Eve wanted for example "more" food, or "more" dominion, or "more" of God's company, or "more" peace. They were the starting point of having it all. Yet within hours of creation Eve at only one sentence from Satan threw it all away, starting with peace of mind.

You see, when a human has knowledge of good and evil, that human loses peace of mind. While Eve believed Satan thinking that she and Adam would "gain" something to be "like God," what they did not realize is that what God can "handle" is a net loss to humans. When Adam and Eve learned about evil, they lost their peace of mind. Rather than having "more" of God, they lost what they had, which was already the most and everything that a human could have!

Contrast this, now, and I'll discuss it later under a different fruit of the Holy Spirit topic, with the sin of Satan and the angels who followed him when they were created by God and then given the choice to serve God or not. Eve followed by Adam made a sin of lack of self control. The angels who refused to serve God did not lack self control, they lacked humility. At a glance you might think these are similar, but they are not, and that is why I will explain them as being linked to the lack of two different fruits of the Holy Spirit.

So Eve and Adam did not have inflated egos as did the disobedient angels. At first glance one might think that as it seems as though both Adam and Eve and the disobedient fallen angels want to be "like God." But Eve did not think she would be completely like God in every way. Eve thought that she would gain a talent, some knowledge, that being the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve did not have a clue what evil was at all. They thus thought it was something that they could own, that knowledge, just "like God." They never dreamed that they would through this knowledge supposedly be "like God" in total. No, Eve and then Adam lacked Continence. They already had everything imaginable yet they lacked even the tiniest will power to just say no to Satan who offered them something they didn't even understand, when they already had everything that humans could ever have desired or possessed, including the day to day presence of God by their side. The disobedient angels, on the other hand, refused to serve God, but like Adam and Eve they did not of course kid themselves that they would ever be like God or equivalent to him. That is something Adam and Eve and the fallen angels share: they knew full well that they would not become God or godlike. Adam and Eve thought they would have a piece of knowledge (what evil is) that God had, and thus be like him in that respect, while the disobedient angels thought that they were "as good" as God in the sense that they did not have to humble themselves to him and serve him. Neither thought they would actual be step-ins or mini versions of God himself in any way, shape or form.

Adam and Eve simply could not push themselves away from the table that was already groaning under the weight of everything good for humans imaginable, and say "No" to Satan offering to put the one forbidden thing on their plate, which would be knowledge of evil. Adam and Eve of course already knew what good was because they were in the presence of God and God gave them everything good already. So how does one best understand the knowledge of "good and evil?" Here is an analogy. Suppose that you were created and lived in a world that was only one color, let's say blue. You would not understand that blue is "blue" because you don't even realize that it is only one of a choice of thing called "colors." So such a person would of course know totally the experience of being "blue" as they and everything around them is blue, but they don't realize that it is "blue" because they do not know a second color at all, and that color choices exist. Thus Adam and Eve did not need to find out what "good" was since they were living it; they just did not realize it. Once they ate the fruit and knew that there is a second choice, called "evil," now it all snapped into place where they realized that everything they already had was "good," but they now also know what "evil" is and how it can be achieved. They saw and were the victims of the first evil, which is human deception.

Adam and Eve would never have heard a lie or have been deceived, since they lived within the goodness of God's total truth. Their children would have been born, and their children, and their children, never even thinking of the concept of lying or deceiving. Once Eve and then Adam ate the fruit they got a crash course in 1) what evil is 2) that they had good all along and didn't realize it since they knew nothing of evil to compare it to and 3) the first example of evil, being the willing victims of Satan's deception. Then, in immediate hindsight, they would have realized the second evil to happen in sequence, which is disobeying God.

So the fruit of Continence springs from several gifts of the Holy Spirit. Before we list them, let us recap what Continence means and implies:

1) self control
2) a preference for all things in moderation
3) understanding the genuine value of limitations

In both secular and spiritual matters, therefore, you can see that a fruit of the Holy Spirit is born and yielded by a tree of the Holy Spirit that is comprised of the gifts of Fear of the Lord, Piety, Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom.

It is not a one-to-one match where a certain given "gift" of the Holy Spirit yields a certain or given specific matching "fruit."

You can understand this by looking back at Adam and Eve. What would have prevented them from listening to Satan? If they had great Fear of the Lord, the fundamental gift of the Holy Spirit, they may well have trembled at the very first mention of disobeying God's order not to eat fruit from that one tree of the many they had. In other words Fear of the Lord alone may well have been enough to yielded the fruit of Continence, and thus given them pause to have self restraint. Suppose they did not have Fear of the Lord (since there was no reason for God to have given them that need, since he was as yet not having to demonstrate any admonishment or punishment in righteous wrath, since they lived in the perfection of the place he had created for them as humans)? They had the gift of Knowledge because God explained not only all the world to them but they also were given the Knowledge of the one unbreakable rule, which is not to eat of the fruit of that one tree. So Adam and Eve were not gift-less, they did not lack the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They had an abundance of the gift of the Holy Spirit of Knowledge.

Those of you who followed my series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, though, remember that one rung up from Knowledge is Understanding. By one rung up I mean that one can have Knowledge as the groundwork but still lack Understanding and Wisdom, and that was the stage of development that Adam and Eve were at. If they had asked God, "Please tell us why you do not want us to eat from the fruit of the tree," God would have truthfully answered them, and they would have gained the gift of the Holy Spirit of Understanding. Thus even if they did not have Fear of the Lord (and may never have needed it), if they added Understanding to the abundant Knowledge that they had, they would have through this second scenario avoided disobeying God and losing it all by eating the fruit from the one tree that was forbidden to them.

If they had by one scenario or the other avoided disobeying God, they would have had children in Eden. They then would have raised and taught their children about God. That would have been the third rung, which is they are now the sources of Wisdom, as one cannot have Wisdom without first Knowledge (the "facts") and then Understanding (the "comprehension.") Wisdom is the synthesis and the culmination of facts plus comprehension plus experience and inspiration. If Adam and Eve had reached within Eden the gift of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, they would have fully understood why not to disobey God without ever having to "know" what evil actually is and the literal pitfalls of knowing about evil. To go back to our color analogy, they would have known and understood that "blue" is their totality of experience, and that to expand that experience would be a diminishment rather than a gain. They'd never have needed to lose their peace of mind by actually knowing what evil is and that it exists. Imagine what the world would have been like. *sigh,,,,*

So the most fundamental, the "first fruit" of successful receipt and cultivation of any of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is Continence.

Fruits of the Holy Spirit (1) introduction

This is a new series, the follow-up to my series about the "Gifts of the Holy Spirit."

In the previous series I listed the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and their scriptural references and commentary.

In this series I will do the same regarding the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.

First, let me put this in a context for you to understand two things: why God organizes spirituality and sanctity to follow any sort of list of personal qualities, and what the differences are between gifts and fruits, and how are they related.

There is not a list of these gifts or fruits in the Bible, dictated by God, as God provides in the obvious example The Ten Commandments or Jesus provides in The Beatitudes (the blessings). But that does not mean that they are not "from the Bible," because they are. From the earliest times both Jewish and Christian students of scripture and thus their teachers have distilled from the Bible the lessons and insights that can be gleaned.

For example, the first and most fundamental gift of the Holy Spirit, "Fear of the Lord," does not appear in a list of gifts, but there is repeated reference throughout scripture that Fear of the Lord is a gift from God, that it is basic and essential to faith and truthful knowledge of both God but also the world, and the benefits of Fear of the Lord.

Scholars have combed through the scriptures and very early on gleaned what gifts God, through his Holy Spirit, provides to humanity as a whole, that can and must be cultivated by each recipient. Therefore I provided in the series the Gifts of the Holy Spirit the most obvious places in scripture from which scholars studied and cited to recognize each of those seven gifts. So that is why God organized what humans have put into a list format. It is not a "performance check list" by any means.

Rather, let's think of it in computer terms, where the list of gifts is like a "shortcut" to access an application that runs on your computer. Rather than entering a bunch of commands to get to the application, you have an icon that gives you a direct route to the application. The icon itself is not the application, but a picture of it that takes you to the application. Likewise the gift "Fear of the Lord" is a lengthy application, which one must humbly receive and cultivate from the Lord. Putting it on the list of "Gifts of the Holy Spirit" is simply the pointer that scripture discusses that this gift exists and it is essential to both faith and truth. So God, in order to make himself more understandable and to uplift humans to their genuine potential under his holy guidance, provides a great deal of sacred verbiage in the scriptures, organized in a way that people can be open to applying, such as "Fear of the Lord," "Piety," or "Fortitude." A gift from the Holy Spirit is not like having an object or a talent given to you, poof, just like that. So let us now move into explaining how to best think of the gifts and the fruits.

Let's start with analogies. A gift of the Holy Spirit is like learning how to play a musical instrument. While some people are born as prodigies and fast learners, even they must recognize that a musical instrument exists, and they must become proficient in its use. Some people learn by imitating other musicians in their family, others learn by steady and frequent practice, while others learn by responding to their ear where what they play sounds good to them and others.

A fruit of the Holy Spirit is the benefit that is achieved for both one's self and the world as a whole by using appropriately what was given to them as a gift. Using again this analogy a young person who learns to play a musical instrument might receive fruits as a result of that gift in a number of ways, individual and personal to them. They might not ever do anything with that instrument other than enjoy a few years in band or other activities in high school. They might continue to play but only for their own enjoyment or their family's or friends'. They might use that instrument in church services or other faith or secular events. They might become a teacher of that instrument. They might become a talented amateur or they might become a talented professional. They might use their knowledge of the instrument to better manage the careers of other musical professionals. See? The gift is not "standard" to any one person any more than the resulting "fruit" is standard to any one person.

Likewise you cannot jump to conclusions about who "uses" their gifts "best" or is most "worthy" of those gifts. That is a severe error that is one of human beings' most disastrous flaws. It can be best explained by an example.

Two people each receive the gift of music, sticking to our analogy. They reach equal levels of proficiency. One goes on to volunteer her musical instrument talent to the church choir, and thus dedicates much time to donating her gift. Her fruit is that she is an essential part of the church services that many benefit from.

The other person does nothing with her musical instrument and it sits in the closet. Ah ha, you are thinking, she "wasted" her gift. No..... that's the great error I am going to point out to you. One day years after her musical lessons were received and the instrument has been untouched, her grandmother is dying of an illness. That woman brings her untouched musical instrument out of the closet and plays for her grandmother to ease her pain, and to help her pass the time remembering the good things in life. The fruit of this woman's gift was just as precious as the one who weekly donates in choir practice.

I hope that you have found this helpful and I look forward to working on this series with you.

FRUITS of the Holy Spirit


understanding Bible: sin definition case study

I started out planning to blog about something else (which I will), but I came across this historical information that will help you in your faith & reasoning development. In the past few postings I've mentioned how the Bible states that even foolish thoughts, and then of course obviously mean and unrighteous thoughts, are sins, even if no one takes action on them. I explained that and gave the scripture references in previous posts some time ago.

Well, I know that one of the things you need to think about is: how has accurate and complete understanding of the Bible diminished so much over the two thousand years of Christianity that my explaining the Bible has this information has become a news flash? Something that very, very, VERY few pastors and other moral leaders know about or if they do, even mention? Why does no one warn their flock that even foolish thoughts are considered by God to be sins?

Before you, or anyone, can answer that question, you need to "fact find." Young people (yes, hi there, I think of you fondly as always), the scientific method and the use of problem solving logic means that like a detective, you trace how far in history from the time of the Bible writings to the present that awareness of this particular admonishment in the Bible exists in both the religious and secular consciousness.

Thus I want to give you an example of how, while leafing through my prayerbook, I came across written evidence that just over three hundred years after Jesus Christ lived that people still knew full well and embraced the Bible teaching that foolish and sinful thoughts are actual sins. So while I'm not planning to spend time studying this for you, I thought, hey! What a perfect example to show you how to reconstruct how modern thought has gone so wrong. So the first step is to trace since the time of Jesus, using impeccable written factual sources (not imaginings of false prophets and 'psychics') what people actually thought and did regarding the topic that you are studying, in this case how the Bible states that foolish and sinful thoughts are sins, even if no actions follow.

Here is some background of the person I am going to quote. Ambrose was born around the year 320 AD (and thus was born nearly three hundred years after Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected) into a upper class family in the Roman Empire. Ambrose's family had been Christian for several generations. Ambrose had in his family tree, in fact, a Christian martyr, St. Soteris. Ambrose and his family received classic legal education, so they were well educated and prepared for high civil office, so Ambrose became a lawyer and a governor. When a local bishop died, Ambrose was sent to help sort out arguments among the people about who should be appointed bishop in the place of the deceased. As he addressed the crowd on this subject a child in the crowd called out that Ambrose himself should become bishop! The crowd agreed and the two arguing sides with their respective candidates fell into agreement about Ambrose (who was shocked and did not want to be the bishop). He was well on his way up the lawyer and government "career ladder," and was still studying and deepening his own individual faith. But because the people wanted him so badly and basically drafted him, he was baptized, received the holy orders of priesthood, and was consecrated Bishop of Milan (Italy) all within a month of time! He was very obviously a pious and sanctifying man from the start (the people's instinct was correct!) He gave to the Church and the poor his considerable personal wealth, he sorted through the problem of the genuinely poor from those who were shams, he studied scripture and doctrine for twenty three years, was a prolific author and being a priest, as all bishops are, Ambrose celebrated Mass (the Holy Eucharist) every day. He even raised the three grandchildren of a friend.

With that as background, seeing this was a holy man who didn't even in fact seek out fame or a livelihood due to his sanctity, here is what he wrote, with his opinion of his own sinfulness! This is a long prayer he wrote that he recited before celebrating the Holy Eucharist (the "Lord's Supper") in daily Mass and I include here the opening of the prayer and the places where you see evidence of the realization of those times that all people are considered prone to sin, including of mere thoughts that are foolish or unworthy:

O Gracious Lord Jesus Christ, I, a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting to Thy mercy and goodness, fear and tremble in drawing near to the Table on which is spread Thy Banquet of all delights. For I have defiled both my heart and body with many sins, and have not kept a strict guard over my mind and my tongue....

...To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. I know that my sins are many and great, on account of which I am filled with fear. But I trust in Thy mercy, for it is unbounded...

...Hearken unto me, for my hope is in Thee; have mercy on me, who am full of misery and sin, Thou who wilt never cease to let flow the fountain of mercy. Hail, Thou saving Victim, offered for me and for all mankind on the tree of the cross...

Remember, O Lord, Thy creature, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Blood. I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done. Take away from me therefore, O most merciful Father, all my iniquities and offences, that, being purified both in soul and body, I may worthily partake in the Holy of Holies...

...I purpose to partake, may be to me the full remission of my sins, the perfect cleansing of my offences, the means of driving away all evil thoughts and of renewing all holy desires, and the advancement of works pleasing to Thee...

Do you see how often this obviously holy man (remember, the crowd proclaimed him when he had no clue of wanting to leave a high career for the sanctified priesthood) emphasizes and repeatedly confesses and asks for help for his sins of thoughts????

If you ever wonder what holy people confess to God, that is what it is. Truly holy and sanctified people continue to "renew all holy desires" by acknowledging that all humans have foolish, evil and sinful thoughts. This is the genuine humility before God that ALL believers should have, which is the acknowledgment that even the holiest of people have, due to being broken vessel human beings, regardless of their level of faith, have to mindfully struggle against having even silly and mean or vain thoughts, say nothing of how profound a sin that thinking, even idly and fleetingly, thoughts about sinful matters are.

So, young people, and others, this is how you can see that no, we don't "lack evidence" of "what the church was like" and "what people believed" "back then" in "Biblical times." This lawyer/governor who became priest/bishop only a few hundred years after Christ left plenty of written evidence of his thoughts and what the people believed, and what they retained of their understanding of the Bible, both Old and New Testament. The notion that even idle, foolish and sinful thoughts are actual sins (as the Bible states) was a hot forefront belief several hundred years after Christ.

Thus, young people, and others, you now have a piece of your investigation, if you were doing so, that for certain in the four century that the knowledge that bad and foolish thoughts are sin was well known and frequently meditated about and prayed regarding, including DAILY by this Bishop of Milan, Ambrose.

Those of you new to studying the saints, let me explain that they were not tucked away in a corner. Ambrose, while he was living, was studied by many who would become great saints themselves. Further, while there was no email, ha, or post office, there was indeed snail mail and these people were all in correspondence. So if you continue your investigations you will see that a writing by a priest or bishop was never a "personal" so called "interpretation of scripture." This was the prevailing belief, kept intact from Old Testament times and the times of Jesus, that foolish and bad thoughts are indeed sins.

I hope that you have found this helpful both in further understanding what I have been reminding people about what the scriptures actually say, but also as you can see that you don't have to imagine and make stuff up, but you can look at written agenda-free evidence to deduce what people knew and believed, and how the word of God is preserved, and when parts of it started to fall out of public consciousness. Here we have filled in the blanks of several hundred years, knowing that the early Christians were keenly aware of what the Israelites knew and what those who followed Jesus knew, which is that God states that foolish, bad, mean and/or sinful thoughts are indeed actual sins, whether actual action follows or not.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Faith case study: importance of intentions

Hi and especially to young people (!) I have you in mind most particularly and affectionately as I thought of this idea for a blog this morning. I'm going to concentrate on this case study with you because I think it is more important that you understand than my listening on radio, twitter, news to the verbal and mental diarrhea that spews unabated, it seems. *sigh* So I continue to listen but with only one ear (because listening to the crap helps me to understand how urgently I must explain sanitation over and over again, ha).

Here is the case study I want to present to you today. The purpose is to help you try out through faith and logic (reasoning) why two basic truths exist. One is that God knows the intention of a person's heart and soul in everything that person thinks, feels and does, and that intention makes a difference to God. For example, a person can present themselves as the most lovely and spiritual person on the outside, but if they are full of mean crap on the inside, all the "good deeds" and "popularity" and "spirituality" of the person on the outside is pointless because God knows that the person is insincere and even malevolent on the inside, and that person will be judged accordingly. Thus some really "sweet" and "popular" people on the outside do indeed end up in hell, since God knows the motivations of their heart and soul.

The second truth, then, is related to and indeed derivative from the first truth. As a result the Bible clearly states that having an evil heart is sinful (by evil I mean not only flat out evil but also a begrudging, mean, lying, hypocritical and bullying heart, say nothing of being idolatrous) but the Bible also states that all bad thoughts, including ones that are simply foolish, are sins. I blogged about this a while ago, citing the scripture, and commented on it, check and see if you can find those postings under the label "sins," in case you've not read it before, or need to take another look. I'm sticking to doing a logic case study so I'm not going to cite previously cited scripture in this particular post.

So here I am going to give you the case study: Why if, in theory, two people advocate the same action, does it matter if one person is evil (or has evil intention) while the other person is faithful to God and has good intentions? In other words, let's say these two opposite people each agree on some government policy decision... why does it "matter" in the health of their soul, where one will be favored and blessed by God, while the other will not?

As a corollary to this, remember this is a favorite argument of atheists who are "moral" "ethical" and "peaceful." They figure if they advocate the same good things as the believers that they are "the same" in intention and thus in worthiness. Let me tackle this one first as a prelude to the main case study.

Here's the problem with intentions in the atheist example. Bad intentions can hide the truth from you, which affects things in both a specific decision but also one's whole life. Here is the analogy to understand that. Suppose two people, one atheist and one a believer, each rent an apartment from the same landlord. These two people get together on their job (let's say they are peace activists) and they work together on some good project to promote peace. The atheist would argue that because he or she agrees (without the "need for religion") with the believer on a good sound project to promote peace that he or she is as worthy and ethical and moral as the believer work partner. OK, so after work they go back to their own apartments, and the rent bill is due. The believer goes to pay the rent, handing the landlord the cash. The atheist ignores the bill because he or she does not believe the landlord exists. When the atheist is, after repeated bills from the "imaginary" landlord is finally thrown out into the cold, the atheist says, "Hey, how come you aren't throwing out the believer?" The atheist thinks that "equivalent" ethical actions means they are in the same position as the believer, and that of course is not true because the atheist in our analogy thinks that the landlord does not exist and he or she can just ignore bills for their monthly rent. This is an example of how an alliance of actions (the peace project) does not yield equivalent results, because of the intention of each person differs, not only their conscious inner thoughts but of course the entire context of their life and faith philosophy. Interestingly the analogy implies that the atheist renter would continue to not believe in the reality of any landlord, so where would he or she turn to, in our analogy? I guess he or she would find shelter in houses of those who also do not believe in landlords. This is why a person can continue in their whole life without believing in the reality of God, while still doing "equivalent" "good deeds," and only find out there is a landlord indeed when it is too late and he or she had died and is judged unworthy of heaven, and thus ends up in hell. All the "good deeds" and "good intentions" mean naught because the atheist refuses to acknowledge existence of the landlord and pay what is due.

So that is the first part of the case study. Here is the secular part of the case study. I am thinking of this secular case study (as I write it here) so that everyone, regardless of the condition of your faith (or lack of it) or religion/spirituality can understand the practical "bread and butter" secular life reasons that intentions DO matter even in "equivalent" ethics and deeds. To keep this easy to understand I'm going to choose a commodity that is not controversial, such as alcohol, and instead use an imaginary candy, a sweet, a dessert, as the analogy.

Suppose there is a very successful candy, a wrapped single serving sweet, that is found to contain an incredibly high amount of sugar, fat, and thus a HUGE amount of calories with each bite. Let's say that one of these candies had 3000 calories in it, more than most people should have in all their food in a day. So a whole bunch of people with various intentions get together and advocate that this candy be banned. On the surface it seems that everyone is in agreement with a "good cause" to "protect the public" from an "unhealthy" food. They pass a law banning this candy in whatever country or state that they have this influence. Now, let's think about why differing intentions can lead to vastly different results (and worthiness, both in practical life and in spiritual matters) by making a list of people and their intention frameworks and their implications. I'm just going to do a few here to show you how it is done, and you can think of some of your own! :-)

1. A woman is a nutritionist and really, really, really believes that this candy would destroy the health of many people, so she favors the ban.

Here intention is good, but one sided. If it tasted so wonderful and was such a popular sweet, could she not have used her nutrition expertise to help the manufacturer develop a sweet that tastes the same but has less calories? Or suggest to them a way that a person could once in a while have the sweet, but on high activity (like sports or exercise) days? By having a scolding and forbidding orientation, even though there is "good intention" (to preserve some ideal of diet and nutrition), it would never occur to her to have both, by using her expertise to modify the product and avoid a ban of such an innocent and fun sweet.

2. A man is an "expert" in consumer safety, and feels the sweet is just one of a list of things where the public must be protected from "unintended dangerous consequences."

Ahhh.... interesting. The "professional" "consumer safety" guy. Here is it nothing personal, because he's not against the candy and only the candy. He is against anything that the public is "ignorant" of possible "dangerous consequences." Again, many people would think that is a worthy calling. But is it? It sure is when there is a clear and present danger, such as toys that could choke a young child. His "intention is good," most particularly when he is indeed protecting the public from a built in hazard in a toy or product that could harm a child, for example. But he has two blind spots due to his intentions. One is that he stops thinking about each item and rather view them as a continual conveyor belt of "danger" that a continual conveyor belt of "ignorant" public might be harmed by, and thus he is in the taboo business, of looking continually for things to ban. So he has the error of thinking that all items he considers are dangerous deserve the same banning remedy AND he assumes a continual level of public ignorance (none of them are ever smart enough to pick their "dangerous" product). So his intention while certainly "good" on a certain level (dangerous toys for young children, for example) but is very slippery because it has made a factory of demonizing both products and the intelligence of the public.

3. A woman pretends to be a "concerned mother" and "homemaker." She secretly holds stock in a competing candy and sweet company.

Need I say more? That is obvious where the hidden intention is to hurt the successful competitor of a company whereby she holds a hidden financial stake. But let's examine this because my not so hidden intention is to tell people that they are harming themselves when they do not come clean with their own intentions. This woman would justify, I suspect, her advocacy of banning the sweet under consideration because she would say, if confronted, word for word, the following: "Well, even IF I didn't hold stock in the competitor company, as a mother and a homemaker I'd be against that unhealthy and dangerous candy!" Oh my. "Even if." Really? Only God knows how people would have behaved under alternative future scenarios. She is kidding herself, perhaps even honestly fooling herself, actually thinking that she'd be hoisting the banner and flag of advocacy against that product if she didn't have a dog in the fight. Odds are that if she did not have stock in the competitor product that the whole dangerous sweet controversy would have, in that "alternate future," just been a news story that she sees on TV or in the newspaper and like dozens of other stories, leave it to other people to sort out and act upon, as she'd have other interests and concerns. Having the competitive stock makes her more sensitized for both sinister (hurt the competitor company) and innocent (she's paying attention to products of competitors and news about them) reasons. There is no "even if" because humans are not single line entities where everything in their life goes the "same" "even if" "just one thing" were "different."

4. A wealthy woman really believes the product is dangerous and puts her money into the cause of having it banned.

So she is sincere in believing it is dangerous..... and she has the money (and thus influence) to do something about it. Hmm. Sounds good so far, right? A celebrity or an industrialist or media figure "putting good money to the cause!" Maybe so. But here are the different forks in the road of different intentions. 1) She has lots of money and thus bans it for everyone else, but stockpiles the candy for herself, figuring that it's a "dangerous" treat that "she can handle." 2) She really does believe it is dangerous and doesn't want the candy, but her success in this power play goes to her head. She looks for other "causes" that she can provide the money as "fuel" to muscle through people's agendas, both "good" and maybe "bad" ones. She gets hooked on being a power maker. The problem is that she becomes hooked on the power she has rather than the genuine worthiness of the cause, because of her intention to "make a difference." How many times do we hear those words: "I have the money to 'make a difference.'" Automatically that attracts such a person to causes that are able to be purchased, and in all innocence may not see causes that just need a pair of hands and a willing and open heart. Her "good deeds" become skewed and ultimately blinded and invalid because the motivation, the intention, is to use money and power as a lever.

Can you think of others? I could but I'm bummed out enough at always having to point out the faulty spiritual and secular reasoning that so very many people follow, without thinking of even more for you here, ha.

So think of other ones. Here's a hint (think about people who are killjoys because they were deprived in some way in their childhood or whatever....they can and do kid themselves that they are protecting others, while just begrudging what they did not have themselves).

After you've added one or two other examples to my list, now imagine the wrap-up. All these people agreed to a single "good deed" of "consumer protection from a dangerous product."

A. All people engaged in the same activity and got the law passed, banning the sweet.
B. Each person had a totally different motivation and hidden intention.
C. If they were honest about their intentions, many of them would have changed their minds about the law in the first place.
D. Better alternatives than the flat out ban are never even considered.
E. Alternative better actions are totally missed, so there is a high "missed opportunity" cost.
F. When one is not honest about one's inner motivations and intentions, one becomes the willing or unwilling slave to those intentions, continuing to act in that intentions mindless "service."
G. Serving those intentions results in missing other sets of priorities as one seeks out repeated gratification of those intentions in all things.
H. Hypocritical and coveting temptations have a greater and greater hold.

So now by expanding this analogy into faith, it is not at all difficult to see how God at the time of their personal judgment will place in front of each of these people, who agreed on one action (the banning of the sweet), how worthy or not their lives actually were, and how widely divergent all of these people will be. Same action but different intentions yield not just later but in the immediate wildly different results.

Ha ha, I can't resist, so here's another example, if you've not thought of it already.

5. A lawmaker is the author of the law banning the candy. He thinks it is unhealthy and dangerous.

OK, sounds like a responsible consumer advocate legislator, right? Yeah, but what if he knows that it will get voted down? He is trying to look good for the voters by banning the "unhealthy candy" but he knows it is "win-win" because if it passes, sure, that "bad candy" got banned, but if he is voted down, "well, he tried to do the right thing" and that ends up in his campaign ads. So at heart he cares neither if the candy really is dangerous (or he'd try hard to get all the votes lined up in favor of his banning law) or if the dangerous candy ban loses, and people keep legally eating it.... he's "won" either way as he looks like either the victorious, or losing, "hero."

Now, think of those intentions in the faith context. Some of the people above are flat out lying, sinful, coveting hypocrites. How will God judge them? It will be quite obvious that they will be harshly judged.

So this case study shows you how 1) even if you omit God from the situation under discussion that the same action can and does result in wildly different outcomes depending on the totally individual conscious or unconscious intentions and 2) since God IS in this and every situation, God knows not only the worthiness of the intentions (their genuine or not benevolence) but God also knows all the subsequent life directions and implications of letting those intentions rule.

I hope that you have found this helpful!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark is still buried and hidden. Like Moses' body it is not going to be found. Even if it were found (which it will not be) it has no power in it, I mean, DUH, because God is no longer indwelling in it. Like the tent that the Israelites pitched so that God's presence in the cloud could be seen as being present among the Israelites, the Ark is the same thing: only a place to increase the people's faith by SEEING and thus believing that God is with them. Once Israel started to fall and was afflicted, with God's permission, by enemies, the Ark was hidden and of course God no longer indwelled in it, duh.

The ark in Ethiopia is a copy. Stop the ridiculous fantasizing that any King of Israel would give the ark to some woman he had nookie with.

Remember, Solomon's life was CUT SHORT by God as punishment for building worship places for idols to please his pagan wives and concubines. You have to stick with what is in the Bible, friends (and the Qur'an). No where does God permit the Israelites to do something as ridiculous as give away anything from the Temple, certainly not his seat. Solomon was punished in his old age as he became a fool and collected women like baseball cards, and thus collected idols accordingly. His foolishness was cut short before it became any worse than that. But even in his greatest folly, and that of his descendants, no one would even think of giving the ark away. Rather, people would have died around it if it came to that.

No, as you know in the Bible holy things are hidden under siege. That is what was done. It was well within their skills to make one or two copies to fool occupiers.

Qu'ran Reading 9:69

Like those before you; they were stronger than you in power and more abundant in wealth and children, so they enjoyed their portion; thus have you enjoyed your portion as those before you enjoyed their portion; and you entered into vain discourses like the vain discourses in which entered those before you. These are they whose works are null in this world and the hereafter; and these are they who are the losers.

Qu'ran Reading 8:69

Eat then of the lawful and good (things) which you have acquired in war, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

understanding Jesus: numbers not important

I've been meaning to blog about this since Sunday when the scripture I will reference was discussed in Sunday school. Here are the scriptures describing the two separate occasions when Jesus fed thousands of people by miraculously multiplying a tiny amount of food.

Mark 6:39-44

And he ordered them to make all the people recline in groups on the green grass. And they reclined in groups of hundreds and of fifties. And he took the five loaves and the two fishes and, looking up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and the two fishes he divided among them all. And all ate and were satisfied; and they gathered up what was left over, twelve baskets full of fragments, besides what was left over of the fishes. Now those who had eaten were five thousand men.

Mark 8:1-9

In those days when again there was a great crowd, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples together and said to them, "I have compassion on the crowd, for behold, they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat; and if I send them away to their homes fasting, they will faint on the way for some of them have come from a distance." And his disciples answered him, "How will anyone be able to satisfy these with bread, here in the desert? He asked them, "How many loaves have you?" And they said, "Seven."

And he bade the crowd recline on the ground. Then taking the seven loaves, he gave thanks, broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few little fishes; and he blessed them, and ordered them to be distributed. And they ate and were satisfied; and they took up what was left of the fragments, seven baskets. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And he dismissed them.


Alright, there are so many things that one should discuss and understand about these two miracles, but I have found that a very common error in approach to understanding these miracles derails most of the modern discussion of these events away from their core spiritual and literal meanings. Sure enough, right after reading one of these passages our Sunday school teacher (who I really like, so this is no criticism) almost immediately fell into the derailment by reading what all these highly educated commentators have said about these miracles: *I'm rolling my eyes* .... "the symbolism of the number of loaves and fishes".....*I'm rolling my eyes again, as I can't even repeat this without being frustrated, argh*

He then starts to repeat what "they" (the wonderful commentators) have "analyzed" about the "meaning" of how many loaves and fishes they were, and what holy numbers they symbolized, blah blah blah. I interrupted him right there and said something like, "I know all the commentators discuss it but they are wrong: there is absolutely no symbolism in either of these miracles by Jesus." I briefly stated why and here I will explain it to you.

First of all, let's discuss why people get so easily misled into missing the events and then worthy analysis of the miracles' greater meanings (not "symbolisms" as a greater meaning is different than "symbolism.") One cannot discuss a greater meaning of these events without first agreeing on the facts. So that is what Mark and the other gospel writers set forth when they wrote about Jesus: first the facts, then what Jesus actually did, and then any greater meaning (John's Gospel tends to include more of that kind of thought), including any explanation of how/why that Jesus provided. There are two reasons modern people are so easily mislead into discussing ridiculous things like the "meaning" and "symbolism" of "how many" loaves and fishes were used by Jesus. First of all, people today do not understand why such trivial data is supplied, unless it has a "deep" and "heavy" "symbolic" "meaning." That is because they no longer understand that detailing such small items (which happens throughout the Bible) is what people were taught to do, back when only oral history and verbal contracts existed, which is to "bear witness." I include the label here "witness" where I have previously explained this.

So what modern people think is either a trivial point (who cares if it was five loaves) or a big heavy "symbolism" (ooooh, it must have been "five" for "a reason," yeah, a "mystical reason..." followed by profound and eerie music and nods of agreement by the scholars who are paid and make names for being so smart) the reason it was recorded down to the number of loaves and fishes is that.... that is what actually happened, and the people of those times were all taught by their families and teachers to be scrupulously accurate in bearing witness to great events. It's part of the accuracy record, to them, and that is the automatic mindset.

One reason it is important to be accurate is so that readers (or those who hear the Gospel verbally) understand exactly how big or small an event just took place. Look at the two extremes in an analogy. If Jesus fed 5000 people with let's say 1000 loaves, that would not be such a huge miracle, would it? On the other hand, if Jesus fed people with no loaves, making the loaves out of thin air, it would be a huge miracle (but not more huge than what actually happened.) What, you say... why is that? Why would in theory no loaves be equally as miraculous as feeding from five loaves? Remember the Exodus, when Moses asked God to feed the people and manna fell from the skies. The Jewish people would all have been VERY mindful of that seminal miracle in their faith history, when God provided the bread of manna out of nothing, as it rained down from the sky. They thus would have viewed Jesus as having done the same thing, mediating between the hungry people and God, who provides for them out of nothing. So anyone alive during that time who carried witness either verbally or in writing would have routinely recorded how many loaves and fishes because it allowed the listener or the reader to put what happened in the proper context with the facts.

The second reason modern people, including supposedly smart scholars, fall into the trap of putting numinous and irrelevant meaning on the number of loaves and fishes is, well, there is no subtle way to put it, they are a bit weak in their faith. Either consciously but (to give them the benefit of the doubt) unconsciously, they tend to think that the number is important because it is contrived. I'm not saying they full out think this is a made up story, but there is always the temptation to disbelieve something so incredible, always nibbling and gnawing in the back of the mind. So these commentators figure, "Well, just in case this actually did not happen, we can still derive a 'greater spiritual lesson' by 'analyzing the meaning' of what the 'authors' (not God) did 'present.'" You see what I mean? When there is even a five percent of doubt of the literal accuracy of the Gospel in one's mind, no matter what a believer and a "scholar" you are, your understanding of the plain words will be mislead and warped. Previous generations could discuss "meaning" and "symbolism," sure, but they did so on the firm basis of 100 percent believing the facts of the miracles: that is the sad difference between then and these smarty pants modern times.

So how did I bring an abrupt halt to that line of thought? I will explain it to you now and offer it to you as a faith and reasoning case study. I said something like this. Well, if the numbers are so "symbolic" and "mean something else," does that mean that if only four loaves were there instead of five, Jesus would have hit his forehead and said, "Darn! Now I can't do the miracle! It's the wrong symbolic number of loaves!" Or if they had loaves but no fishes, would Jesus have said, "Wish I could help, but it's just not the right holy symbolic numbers of ingredients." Ha ha ha, yes, my readers, I did see a few fellow Sunday school members narrow their eyes at me ha ha when I said that ha. But they have to see in parody, sometimes, how silly they are being (or how easily misled). I mean, this is deadly serious: Jesus Christ, born of God by the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Blessed Virgin Mary, healed, performed miracles, and conquered death, resurrecting after being crucified and ascending into heaven. The facts are mighty just as they are, I mean, duh. The facts don't have to also be "symbolic" of like lucky numbers or something. The way to detox from such thinking (that there is some "formula" or "bigger meaning" to the small facts, the insignificant number of the loaves and fishes) is to test the theory that the number of each item is instrumental to the miracle taking place. That is what I did, by making the people answer, "Well, if those numbers are so symbolic, does that mean Jesus could or would do the miracle only if a certain number of the items were there?"

Would Jesus "not be able" to do the miraculous feeding if there wasn't the "holy symbolic" number of items? Of course not. Jesus could do it with zero loaves or 1000 loaves.

Would Jesus refuse to feed the hungry people because there isn't the "right number of 'holy symbolic' items there?" Imagine that, Jesus saying: "Oh oh, there is supposed to be five loaves because that's a really holy important number, and you have only four loaves, so sorry, I'm not going to do the miracles and you have to walk home hungry, hope you don't hit your head on a rock while you are faint with having followed me for days." Obviously not, and I included the passage where Jesus states his concern for the health of people who had been fasting for so long already (and that is the motivation for the miracle, not to demonstrate his power and authority).

You see, that is what people ought to be gleaning from their personal reading of the Bible, the facts, the context, Jesus' words and explanations, and the Gospel writers words and explanations. Young people who use computers, you know WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). The Bible must be read and understood that way, that what you see is what you get, and also "it is what it is." Jesus was followed by many people, on two different occasions, to remote areas for several days where there was no fresh food to gain after what people had brought with them had run out. Out of concern for them Jesus takes whatever is found and turns that through his miraculous God given ability into much food for the multitude. All that is documented so that the listeners and readers of these events comprehend how big and precise a miracle this was, so that they get it even though they were not there.

The key to the miracles is that Jesus demonstrated he can make do with what people provided. If it was no loaves or many loaves or, as in the reality, just a very few loaves, Jesus can and did work with whatever people had.

That, then, is the larger meanings of these miraculous events because yes, sure, there are the events and then there is the larger meaning to glean from it, but it's not "magic" or "holy" "numbers" kind of meanings. I can write more about them some other time as I really want to keep this confined to the case study of understanding how to avoid the pitfall of missing the really important facts and points of a Biblical event by derailing on something unimportant and thus not seeing the outline of what one should indeed contemplate. So here is in closing just a list of how to mindfully approach the "bigger and greater meaning" of the miraculous events.

1. Notice the circumstances and think about them. People obviously were so committed to hearing what Jesus said that thousands followed him into barren areas with no thought of their food or water.

2. Notice Jesus' motivation for the miracles, which is simple plain love and humanity for their plight, after showing such commitment and attention to him. This is far away from the nagging scribes and Pharisees, so Jesus is not performing these miracles in order to demonstrate his God given authority. It is plain and simple loving need.

3. Notice that Jesus uses whatever is available, for he has the might of God with him, and lots of bread and fishes or no bread and fishes, God can do anything.

4. Notice that Jesus gives thanks and don't slide over that thinking that is like saying grace before food, for it is not a pre-meal prayer of thanksgiving to God. Jesus is thanking God for the ability to perform what, only through God, he is about to do, which is feed the people. Jesus is thus both on his own thanking God for what is about to occur, but also giving the people a role modeling of how always to be so whenever one uses one's God given abilities, to be thankful first and foremost to God.

5. Notice that Jesus gives the food to the disciples to distribute. Of course some of that is logistics, as many hands can distribute the food faster. But the greater meaning is that Jesus is a) preparing the disciples and the people for the time when they can do some of this themselves, for remember all the Apostles and original disciples became able to perform miracles and b) that the word of God needs to be carried and spread by everyone, not just, as we would say today, the "guru." Jesus is always modest and that was a sincere modesty because he never for a second of his life forgot that everything he was able to do was directly from God the Father. Thus Jesus did not have to "showboat" and hand out the food himself so people would be grateful to him and impressed by him.... Jesus always demonstrated that a) all power and glory go to God alone and b) his disciples were extensions of him and Jesus did not always need to be "the one." Remember that Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples baptized their followers. Jesus was always showing how the faith community was to come together and function, as it would have to when he was no longer there.

6. Notice that they record what fragments remain. This is part of what I explained about the witnessing to the facts of what happened. It is also OK and valid to ponder the greater meaning that even after Jesus through God provides all that is needed, there is even more leftover. God's grace is always more than expectations and there is always more than the bare minimum of human needs.

I hope you have found this helpful! Do not be afraid to discover that even wise experts, in these modern times in particular, miss the forest through the trees. (That's an old saying, for those of you who are English second language or may not have heard it, meaning that some people are so obsessed with details that they notice one or two trees without ever realizing those one or two trees are accompanied by many trees in a forest all around them.) Glomming onto an imaginary importance of how many loaves is like missing the entire event because your mind is hijacked into thinking it's all about those loaves "conveying" a "numeric" "message" "from God," and thus you don't get points 1-6 at all as you look just at that diversion.

*Sigh* Like I said, much of this comes from lack of understanding the simpler times when people really did just write down the facts without an agenda.

Oh, that makes me realize something I can add quickly here, which is "spotting agenda." Here is a quick example that merits a huge amount of writing elsewhere.

OK, you've seen Jesus, and his Apostles, and all the events that took place. Maybe you are a distant relative of one of the disciples. The focus would be entirely on documenting exactly what happened. No one would have an agenda (except, as we saw, the Jews and Romans who put Jesus to death, for they covered up that he resurrected by bribing the guards and spreading the story that his body was removed and "hidden.") So the Gospels and the Epistles (the letters) of the New Testament are all agenda free because people in a really verbal and oral culture were attempting to get precisely in writing exactly what happened. What happened was so detailed and astonishing that for brevity much is left out that is repetitive. By that I mean that for example Jesus performed thousands of individual miracles, but the means to write down details of every one of them would have been impossible then. People memorized and shared the data of the essentials, writing down what people needed to know for the faith that had factually occurred.

But now let's imagine that some hundred years or more has gone by. Someone in your family may have been that relative of a disciple I mentioned (imagine if you belonged to Judas Iscariot's family descendants!) Now you have to watch for agenda. This is the problem with so called Books that people wave around once in a while and claim that they are "true" and "give the real story" of "what happened." These are well known, and a few years ago media manipulators tried to get everyone all excited about the Book of Judas with claims that he and Jesus had an agreement, blah blah blah. The same has popped up about Mary Magdalene and others. There is of course more pious versions such as the stories of the Blessed Virgin Mary and how Joseph selected her (or she him) with like a flowering wand or something like that. These are all written many years, often centuries, after Jesus, of course, was actually alive, by people who were not there.

How do I know they weren't there? Use logic my friends. If they were there it would have been in the Gospels, Acts and Epistles, duh. People were doing agenda-free documenting of all that needed to be known about Jesus (we don't know what side he slept on or what cereal he liked best) but we know absolutely everything about his ministry and the nature of the New Covenant with God. So anyone who actually had been on the scene and had a significant role would have been documented accordingly.

So through dating but also pure logic we know that all these extra books are ancient but not comtemporary with Jesus. Anything that pops up centuries later and claims to contain secret or "real" information is bogus because no one had any need to "hide" anything when Jesus was alive (except the Jewish religious authorities after he resurrected, ha). Jesus lived an entirely open life surrounded by hundreds of people constantly, and Jesus was doing a continual stream of teaching and role modeling, preaching and ministry at all time: there were no secret deals or any such imaginings. That would have lost the entire point anyway. Jesus did not have to arrange with Judas to be betrayed (it would be funny if it was not so faith warping) because, duh, the Gospels document how often Jesus had to flee or dodge people who wanted to kill him right then and there (even in his hometown).

So this is why you have to use a little common sense to discern agenda. The Gospels and rest of the New Testament had no agenda except to document and communicate the marvelous events that had happened, plus the teachings of Jesus. Anything from a later date that is not part of the Christian community communications via letter, sermons and so forth is going to be a combination of two very modern phenomena: 1) Spin doctoring by people who wanted to get their piece of celebrity action, so like I said, I bet Judas' descendant family members would have wanted to write a 'he didn't do it' saga and 2) Genuine remnants of memories of things like the life of the Virgin Mary, but now glossed with all sorts of sentimental fiction to romanticize her genuine purity and virtue (in other words, the "cute meet" story between her and Joseph that is supposedly preserved).

Thus remember, which is why I brought this up, the disciples had no agenda as they authored the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles, and Revelation, rather than to record precisely what had occurred as this was a nearly total verbal culture and society in the world. The model for such precision in writing was of course the Torah and all the books of the Old Testament. People used witnessing to get the facts in writing to reach those areas they could not achieve through travel, and also to preserve and hand down the information to the next generations of what had actually happened. Likewise God had no "agenda" other than send his Son, the Savior and Messiah, to do what he did. God did not have to plant "significant numbers" or "hidden meanings" or any such thing because that is self defeating and remember that God is all perfection. God is what he is. So don't get diverted thinking there is hidden or arcane meaning to be "gained" in the scripture, since, well, think about it, God seems to have to hit humans over the head again and again and again with the simple truth. Subtlety is lost on humans and God would have no reason not to make things very, very, VERY plain over and over and over. Points 1-6 rather than "oooooh, the number of loaves 'means something!'" Finally spot agenda before it spots you. Use common sense to discern the difference between people who were part of the fact checking witnessing of the group of disciples who were actually there versus writings by some sort of imaginary hanger oners years and centuries after the fact who have obvious "My grand pappy's neighbor's shepherd knew them too!" types of motivations (or like Judas Iscariot's poor family descendants, ugh, who would want to have been them?)

I hope this helps.

Monday, January 18, 2010

understanding God: a bit more about his name

Much of the previous blog post included discussion of God's name and why exactly it is holy. I just want to list a few more observations to make, now that you've had time to think about this extremely important topic. I felt very happy today whenever I thought about how helpful that information from yesterday might have been to some people, and every person whose faith is strengthened is its own reward, to me.

So here are just some random observations:

1. Muslims and Jews are the ones who have retained the greatest continuity of understanding of the holiness of God's name to modern times. Even secularized Jews are very cautious about lightly utilizing God's name. So you can understand, then, that Christianity is the faith that has lost the most of this fact based reverence and connection for God's Holy Name.

2. Understanding the continued reverence for God's Holy Name among Muslims and Jews, you can now understand a touchy topic in each of their faiths. This is why Jews, who write in English, for example, will not letter all the alphabet of God's name, GOD. Rather, they will leave out the middle letter, inserting a dash, G-D. This way they do not feel they have written God's name, but have referenced him so that the reader knows God is being spoken of. And mind you, this is true even though they are using their everyday speech with that language's word for God, not the actual Hebrew language biblical spelling of God's name... yet they are still cautious and respectful of the power of God's name. That is to be admired and it also helps you to understand how the people God chose retain unbroken that understanding of what God told them about his Name, to keep it Holy and not to use it in vain.

3. Thus you see that Muslims have an identical sensitivity regarding the name of God, but that is more easily managed because the Arabic word for God, Allah, is the "protected name," rather than every language's translation of God or Allah. Don't get me wrong, as I'm not saying that any Muslim speaking any language would use the name of God in that language lightly, but Muslims tend to carry the Arabic name, Allah, throughout the linguistic world as their reverential name of God, as this is how God presented his name to them. Thus, this is why Muslims are so very sensitive and adverse to Christians who wish to use the word Allah for God in various languages for Christian materials. It is not simply a matter of translation because, like the Jews who are not comfortable with lettering all of English language "GOD," Muslims feel that if Christians use the word Allah they are not only co-opting their understanding of their scriptural God as defined in the Qur'an, but they have lost control over respectful use of the Holy Name of Allah. I cannot say that I blame them for that point because as you've all thought about what I wrote you realize that there has been an enormous breakdown in Christendom regarding reverential use of God's Holy Name.

4. Because Jesus Christ, as the Son of the Father, arrived with the full authority that was given to him by God, the name of Jesus Christ is thus also considered Holy, a Holy Name. Remember that one reason that God's Name is Holy is that He IS the One and Only Holy that exists, so the name is not only God's form of address to speak to him, it is also his spoken, written or thought "job description." God is God in terms of that is the name he responds to, but God is God because he is also the only God who is and always will be God, with all the perfection that contains. Thus, Jesus as Savior and Messiah has a name that is Holy not only for its form of address to Jesus, but because "Jesus Christ" is the "job description," the perfection of his being as Savior and Messiah.

It is important for you to understand this point, that it is not the letters in that string of combination J, E, S, U, S, C, H, R, I, S, T that is Holy, nor the sound that it makes when it is pronounced. Jesus could have been named Moishe and then that name would have been his Holy Name, or any other name given to him... except we know that could not have happened, because his name was given to him in prophesy, which fulfilled the scriptures. In other words, it was prophesied and Mary was told what to name Jesus.... Mary and Joseph did not just pick any name out for Jesus; they selected what they were told was his name (and of course, thus, by implication, his mission, his "job"). But I include this section to explain to you that it is not the desirability or "meaningfulness" of the letters or sounds of the name Jesus that makes it Holy, but, rather, it is the fact that it is his God authoritative name.

The angel appeared to Mary at the Annunciation, and after explaining that Mary has found grace with God (is filled with grace) and will conceive a son, said "and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will given him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" Luke 1:31-33.

You see? The angel tells Mary the name that Jesus already has, that God has given him that name already, and then immediately cites the spiritual lineage and mission of Jesus. Once again you see that the Holy Name is linked to the Holy "who." This is my point that you need to understand that there is no magic or presumed "spirituality" or "holiness" in the lettering and sounding of names, since Jesus was a name already in use, so it's not like God made up an uncommon or "powerful" name for Jesus. That is what I mean when I say Jesus could have had the Holy Name of Moishe or something else, if God had said that the son Mary would bear is to be named Moishe.

When the angel next appears to Joseph, Mary's spouse, in order to assure Joseph that Mary is pure and with child in purity from God's Holy Spirit, the angel tells Joseph exactly the same ordering of name and purpose, "and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). St. Matthew, when he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, provided for his readers the scriptural reference that prophesied the naming of Jesus:

Now all this came to pass that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [he means Isaiah in the scriptures of the Book of Isaiah] might be fulfilled, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Emmanuel" which is, interpreted, "God with us" (Matthew 1:22-23).

Thus Matthew informs in his Gospel letter all those who read it that of the prophet Isaiah's foretelling of the name and the mission of Jesus. In other words, a reference to what we today call the Old Testament Book of Isaiah is provided by St. Matthew. Jewish readers of the Gospel would, of course, immediately know the Book of Isaiah quite well, but would now look back on that reference with new eyes. Non-Jews, however, have no information about any of the prophets, of Moses, or indeed of any events in faith history, including the creation of the universe by God, of Adam and Eve, the flood, the slavery in Egypt and so forth because that was all Jewish history, not part of the rest of the world's knowledge. The rest of the world was worshipping their local pagan gods, as the Gentiles did of the Greek and Roman gods. Matthew thus, with one sentence, points the informed Jewish reader to the Book of Isaiah, while he tells the uninformed pagan reader that a prophet had a long time ago recorded God's words prophesying Jesus' virgin birth, name and mission.

5. I will close these particular thoughts with one excerpt from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, that has summed up what I have explained about God's Holy Name being not only his form of address, but the first step in the work of fruitful communion with God.

2808. In the decisive moments of his economy God reveals his name, but he does so by accomplishing his work. This work, then, is realized for us and in us only if his name is hallowed by us and in us.

This is worded a little awkwardly, but oddly enough, might resonate with modern ears if one is careful to understand the word "economy" (with would be an English translation from the Latin that the Catechism is written in, in its original form). What this paragraph is explaining is that God conducts transactions of communications with human beings throughout the scripture, and that expressing his Holy Name is often a part of his particular transaction or interaction. But remember that it is not the stating of his identity and name that makes something "happen," as the Name is not to be used for presumed magical use, and the Name has no meaning separate from God, of course. Rather, when God is "at work" he is stating, obviously, his Name, since the Name is both God's form of address and also "God being God." Even if God never stated his name or who he was, obviously God is still God. But God reveals his name at crucial moments in faith history, and he is continually referred to by his name throughout scripture, because the Holy Name of God is also that taking action of God, of God being God. If you do not respect the Holy Name of God, then obviously you do not respect God's work and actions, since the Holy Name of God is the statement of his work and actions: of God being God. This is why the Catechism provides such an interesting, but a bit dense, verbiage to explain what I have been expanding for you in these past two blog postings. If one does not keep the Name of God hallowed (which means holy) in one's heart, belief and demeanor, one is from the very beginning sabotaging and denying God's work, since God's Name is also his Work.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

understanding God: where's he & hearing him

I think one of the most frequent faith experiences and challenge that most humans have is wondering where God is? Not in the sense of where he "resides" or "spends his time," but, rather, is he in touch with what is going on with the humans alive on earth? Basically people wonder if God exists, then how much is he involved, if at all, with the day to day details of life. People of great faith wonder this, and people of no faith wonder it too (though they won't admit it because to wonder means to admit God's possible existence, ha, would it not?) So do not feel bad if you have felt this way, whether fleetingly, such as in times of great unhappiness and stress ("Where IS God? Doesn't he care?") or if you have often felt this way (for example, you only "feel God" when you view a landscape of grandeur, such as mountains) or if you have always felt that way (in other words, you are in total spiritual aridity, where you believe but do not feel God and thus you are somewhat like being in a desert, believing that water does exist, but not seeing any or feeling its comfort. No, do not feel bad because this is one of the basic challenges of faith and the human condition.

I must chide you some, though, because to use an analogy such as having an untreated illness, one is not meant to just suffer and let it worsen without an attempt to seek medical help. Faithful and rational believers have also gone through this in the centuries of faith history, and like with an illness, there is no reason to not seek out the advice of those who have had this before you. This is one reason I regret very much that reading the lives of the saints has fallen not only out of our schools (where they were taught along with the Bible), but also out of simple common sense. Centuries of believers have dealt with temporary or life challenging spiritual aridity and its accompanying wondering if God really is at all active in the universe by following the advice, example, and studying the remedies in the lives of the saints before. So while this is a common and frequent human challenge, the fact it's common and well known means that many have met the challenge and dealt with it (isn't logic wonderful?)

First, let me explain why this is not only a common occurrence but also one that worsens during certain phases in human societal development (such as it is). The most fundamental thing to understand is that these doubts and disconnects between the faithful and God are a natural adverse reaction to the problem of limited life span and humanity's obsession with death. In other words, being limited to a life span and having been created to cope with a certain set of circumstances (matter, energy and limited time), the human brain just is not cut out to grasp even the concept of God. Sometimes the more one thinks he or she understands God, the more he or she needs to question how that actually would be possible. The human brain is made up of energy, matter and time (in other words, it processes information and grows, or diminishes, through sequential changes over time). Just the process of thinking is time based, since your brain receives information one moment, processes it, compares it to other information, and then decides on an appropriate response. However, God is not at all comprised of matter, energy OR time, and in fact, he created all of the above, yet resides outside of it.

At some gut level all humans understand that they cannot possibly understand God at all! And so, unconsciously, humans tend to stop trying. Notice I say "unconsciously." Consciously they do the opposite: they cut God down to a size that they can "understand him." They then lose nearly all the opportunity to actually comprehend God's essence, as they trade in difficulty in understanding for understanding something easily, but false, or cartoonish. So the first problem may be summarized as being that humans at a gut level understand that God and human nature are so opposite in substance that unconsciously humans give up too soon in trying to understand God, and thus do not feel him as he does indeed day to day exist in their life and in the world. The second problem is that what people will do is decide to "believe" or "not" a version of God that they feel is not challenging or difficult.

Some decide if they can't "understand" or "hear" him and that if he's so difficult to understand, then he must not exist. Think about how arrogant that is, ha. "If I can't understand God then God must not exist." Hmm. Not Einstein of the Obvious. Good thing I don't feel that way about complex machinery, because if I only used what I understood down to the nuts and bolts, I'd be living outdoors in a sleeping bag I guess. But the first obvious reaction to the instinctive awareness of God and his awesome and immense difference from humans is to refuse, then, to even believe in him. It's like some people feel it is a lost cause to try to understand something that ultimately cannot be understood, and so they abandon all effort and thus belief.

Those who feel the same way but do not abandon in total belief in God thus, then relegate God to a storage place. "God exists but he is not involved in the world" is the usual cop out reasoning. I'm not trying to be mean here, but there is an irony that God cares enough to have dictated a lot of history and printing press ink to faith history and yet, to some people, is deemed to be "a God that is not involved".... ha ha, has anyone given that the logic test? The leap of faith would be as simple as believing that the scriptures (Torah, Bible, Qur'an) are divinely inspired. If they are divinely inspired (meaning guided by God to express his truth), ummmmm, does that not kind of indicate a God who is involved indeed with humanity at some real day to day detail? If an detached and unknowable uninvolved God dictated the events and text of the Torah, Bible and Qur'an, imagine what a busy body God he would be if he was REALLY involved, using that line of thought. That would be the God I described in analogy recently who does not just create the fibers that curtains are made from, and the wind that blows them, but stands outside your house and using his divine hand waves the curtain back and forth.

The middle ground are those people who sincerely believe and who have experienced the transformative power of God in their life, and yet, they often reduce God too, this time to somewhat cartoonish dimensions. The God who is just the one who one asks favors from is an example of God as Santa Claus. The God who is like a big generous hippie who is groovy and does not care what antics people are up to so long as they are "nice" is another cartoon that many supposedly serious believers have. The God who keeps a computer spreadsheet of whether you say the right words about Jesus and good deeds, and then decides you earned enough points for heaven is another cartoon of God, held by some surprisingly serious people. The God who is "on your side" but "against the other guy on your behalf" is another cartoon God. And then there is the spoil sport God who just exists to send trouble your way and pick on you, since you find things difficult and figure that God is maker of a "cold, cruel world" where it is "dog eat dog." That is the cartoon of the cold God who "makes life a vale of tears."

The middle ground is also occupied by people of genuine faith, and a balanced understanding of God who yet, still, have genuine crises and aridity of faith. They are the ones who need faith, pure faith, to partner with reason because they are the ones who feel that tug between believing in God, truly knowing he exists, but that gut level feeling that they can never really know and feel him. Faith is what makes the bridge between what is humanly understandable and accessing some genuine understanding of God and living in communion with him possible. Faith is an active ingredient, a real trait and energy (for lack of a better word), not an inert "giving up that one can't really understand God but 'ought' to."

See, many people feel that "faith" means "ought to." That is why atheists are often wrongly dismissive of the power of faith. Atheists think that "faith" means a person forces themselves to believe and feel something they think "ought to" or "should" be done. But faith is not a vacuum that is bridged through dull duty and enforced belief. Faith is an actual accomplishment based on reality, not a suspension of reality.

Here's an analogy. Think of faith as the bridge over a gap between one's self and God. Those who don't understand faith think of it as ignoring the chasm that exists and just taking "the leap of faith," to use that common expression. But that is wrong because the bridge does exist, but it is built as you walk upon it, one invisible glass brick at a time. So to use the analogy, both faith and reasoning build a brick bridge between you and God. When one uses facts and reasoning, one is able to see the pre-existing red brick bridge and walk on it with confidence. When one uses facts and faith, one is on one's knees, with the gap in front of you, but you feel with your hands and put in place one glass brick at a time, step on it, then place the next glass brick, step on it, further and further, with confidence of faith, as the bricks really are there, but without the confidence of having the pre-built visible red brick bridge in front of you. With faith you are using facts and spiritual insight to create each customized invisible glass brick for yourself, putting it in place, and stepping onto it before putting the next one in place.

How to better understand this with some sympathy for the human condition? Think of the Israelites, freed by God through Moses from Egypt, and into the desert on the Exodus. God actually traveled with them, and was visible to them, most dramatically of course in the Great Theophany when the might of God descended upon the mountain, Mount Sinai. Every man, woman and child saw God's physical presence. Yet, when Moses went up the mountain to meet with God, receiving the Ten Commandments, how long did it take people who actually saw God descend to run off and worship an idol? Days, my friends, days. When Moses did not return right away, these people made the idol bull calf and started their dancing and worshipping of a pagan graven image. Um, where do we begin to explain that? Yes, many scholars point out that the people were genuinely celebrating God's presence and thought they were honoring him with the extra "compliment" of being strong, as symbolized by the bull calf. Right. God had just about shook down and consumed a mountain, and the natural reaction is to think, wow, God's like a really strong calf? Let's dance and worship it?

These were not stupid people, nor were they rudderless and shallow in faith. Human beings have a screw loose in their brains and there is just no polite way to put it. It is, as I said, a natural condition of survival instinct, which is not to cope with or believe in what is not in front of you and hitting you on the head with a hammer all the time. This the problem that God has with humans, to put it succinctly, which is that beings that are created from matter, energy and time cannot understand and have great difficulty motivating themselves, under any circumstance, to understand God, who is unknowable, not being of time, matter or energy.

You then get to the really dippy extreme reaction, which is related to the cartoonish reaction somewhat. Some equate "unknowable God" with "bizarre God." Here's how this, erm, "thinking process" goes:

1. We can't understand God.
2. God's "really out there."
3. Let's imagine really crazy and bizarre stuff that might be "out there."
4. Wow. That crazy and bizarre stuff we imagined must "be God."

That is where you see manufactured sci-fi and fantasy approaches to "faith," plus the obsession with both theoretical aliens and with quantum mechanics and physics (the so called "God particle," but oops, God is not comprised of matter, so no particle is a "God particle," duh.) You also see the distortion of genuine faith traditions, such as Buddhism, into directions that confuse traditional spiritual detachment with a new "what the heck" and thus giving up on a genuine relationship with God. None of these are really pleasing to God, who has gone through a lot with extreme patience and mercy to make himself know to humans, not to be ignored or manufactured with Halloween masks on him.

All of this is a long way to walk you through a few concepts I wanted to introduce you to, starting with the human nature reason that God seems so remote to some people, and why even believers have real crisis or aridity of faith. People need to be kind with themselves and each other and understand that human nature is not tolerant of understanding something that is not matter, energy, time based and, indeed, controllable in ANY way: God. When one is a matter, energy and time based being, one has a serious inability to understand God, and that is a fact. Fortunately, God, the Creator of all, obviously understands everything there is to know or ever know or could be known, and thus God provides ways to make himself known TO humans. God provides the materials for the bridge, God gives humans the map, and God crosses over the bridge to the human side all the time, day by day, second by second, person by person. God is on the same side as humans, since God is of course everywhere. It is one's understanding of God that is on the other side of the bridge. God walks alongside of each human as they cross that bridge to arrive at the other side, which is greater and greater understanding of God.

Think of it this way. When you are wondering if God really exists, and if he cares about the world, and if he is "out there," and whether or not he "cares" about you, he is standing next to you at that moment, where he always has been present! So you are both standing there looking over the gap, while you are thinking you are trying to see if God's there on the other side, and he's standing right next to you already, all along. It is kind of funny in a way and I'm saying that kindly. You think you are gazing into the distance trying to perceive God across the gap, and he's standing right there next to you, and humoring you by looking across the gap with you. But on the serious note, what God is looking at, in the place where you think you are trying to see God, God is looking at where you hope to be, and will be, in your understanding of God. It is your own understanding of God that stands across the gap, not God himself, for he's there already with you.

If there were actually some sort of gap, how, then, can anyone call upon God just by doing so, by speaking or thinking his holy name? "God" is all one has to call, in one's head and heart, and you are in communion with him; he is standing there next to you. Christians who have trouble praying, all they need to do is call upon "Jesus," just his holy name, and they are in communion with him through the authority of God in Jesus Christ.

So, let us think of that analogy of the facts and faith forming one glass brick at a time. You might ask me, what is the first faith brick I can make? That answer is simple. It is the Second Commandment.

"You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. For the Lord will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain" Exodus 20:7.

Here's what you need to understand. This Commandment is a statement of what not to do, but it of course presumes that something exists that could be abused, and that something is the power of just the name of the Lord, God. By power I do not mean magic power. Speaking the holy name of God is the most basic and fundamental first prayer. When one says "God," it is like one is a small child again, saying "daddy" or before one can even speak, tugging on your father's sleeve for his attention. When you say the name "God," you have used the power and holiness of God's name to speak a prayer, seeking his attention, asking him to regard and notice you.

The Israelites, of course, had centuries of knowing that. Thus the Israelites knew the power of the name of God as their first word, the only word, they needed to speak, as it is their call to God's attention. There is nothing magical about God's name as God is holy, not occult. So one is "summoning God" or performing magic with God's name. Likewise there is no magical or symbolic significance to whatever language one is using, and how linguistically God's name is spelled. How do you know that? Because a deaf person who never heard how his language spoke the name God can and does still call upon God by thinking of "God" as his address, just as a baby does not know daddy's full name and how it is spelled or pronounced!

What you need to remember, then, that to call upon God by addressing him by what you understand to be his name is HOLY. It's not the combination of sounds, letters, pronunciations, that make God's name holy; it is the fact that you are calling upon God, addressing him, and the ability to call God, to address the Most High and the Most Holy is a holy act, the most fundamental prayer.

This is why God warns his people, who have known for a long time how to call upon him by his name (the version that they used), not to take his name in vain.

Thus the first transparent, pure clear glass brick based upon fact and faith is that you can call upon God by his name. If you believe or understand nothing else, if you really are on the one side of the gap and see nothing available to you to believe in or understand God, then believe and understand this and therefore make your first glass brick: If you think or speak the name God, you are addressing yourself to him and you have his attention. That is a fact.

See, this is how faith is built based on factual and actionable foundations. It takes very little effort to know and believe, and to understand the logic of this, that when you invoke in your thoughts "God!" you are calling to him and obtaining his attention.

Two more things to explain before I wrap this particular blog post up for now. Regular readers know that I did a series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I have added that series under that label on this post so you can easily reference them again, or see them for the first time. What I have just shown you is an example of the gift of Knowledge. I have taught you that through the scriptures (courtesy of the Holy Spirit) that you can call upon the name of God and you have his attention for a fact. That is an example of a piece of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Knowledge, that you now possess, truly. If you start to prayerfully and regularly call upon the name of God, just as comfort, as a statement, as an outreach to him, just to touch him, to reach out to him, by thinking "God" in that mindset, you will also be adding to the gift of Piety.

So you have received 1) the Knowledge of the Holy Spirit that God hears and gives his attention to you whenever you call his name and 2) that you receive the gift of Piety if you cultivate the calling upon God with humility.

My second point is then to think back to the Second Commandment. That is so misunderstood because many people today think that means "don't cuss or swear." That is a misunderstanding that is due to the passage of time where it is part of what is lost in context. People today think it is "sinful" and "disrespectful" to "cuss" or "swear" using God's name, and they think that is what the Second Commandment is about, but they think that because they have lost the context that I just explained, which is that stating the name of God is the first and most fundamental prayer. When you state "God," you are tugging on his sleeve, like a child tugging daddy's sleeve, seeking his attention, and God guarantees that if you state his name you got His attention. Get it now?

God is telling his people through Moses to not call upon him lightly and in vain.

That is what the Second Commandment means, my friends. It presumes that the believer already gets the fact that stating God's name all by itself, in speech or thought, is making the presumption of making one's attention known to God by using his Holy Name to say, "Hey God, connect with me." God has already shown this to all throughout faith history, from Adam to Moses, that he can be called upon just by his Holy Name. And this is why in the time of the giving of the Commandments, God is saying not to mess with his name lightly, calling attention upon one's self in vain. So sure, cussing's not a good idea, but those who think the Second Commandment is about cussing have totally and completely missed the point of what the Second Commandment is talking about, which is the most fundamental and first prayer, which is to state or think His holy name: "God."

When you realize that messing with God by calling upon him in anything but reverence is a bad idea, then you have obtained a piece of the first gift of the Holy Spirit: Fear of the Lord. When you understand that the mention of God's name is the first form of prayer, the most fundamental form, and it is by Covenant (both Old and New) one way that one is guaranteed to have God's attentiveness, you realize that you should be somewhat fearful of doing so lightly. The loss of understanding the holiness (because of its status of God's attentiveness) of simply the name "God" is one of the greatest omissions of strength in modern faith. It's not the cussing or not, it's the forgetfulness that God has given humans his Holy Name the statement of which by itself is a most serious calling upon God for his attentiveness. It is one of the greatest gifts from God, the comfort and assured consolation and attentiveness from him of calling on his name, God, God, God..... yet it's not only forgotten but cartoonishly made into being about cussing. Cussing is a symptom, not the point. The Commandments are the lists of "not to do's," but they come centuries after what God told people TO DO, which is to call upon his name in FAITH.

Think of it this way. God is the person you really want to receive the job of a lifetime from. You have his phone number. Would you call him on the phone and then do a series of crank hang up calls? When you know he has the ultimate caller ID? God's Holy Name is like having his phone number. You use his Holy Name when you want his attention. "God" you say. That is all you need to say or think, and you have God's attention. How dumb do you want to be once you have his attention? This is what the Second Commandment was warning against. I hope that the inevitable telephone modern analogy helps :-)

God's Holy Name is often the only thing that a person paralyzed by fear, by doubt, by affliction, by persecution, by death's door, by unsolvable human problems can state in appeal. Faith history in the scriptures shows the bond of the simple stating of names, God's and his servant's. If you have aridity in faith, or moments you don't feel God, or long periods where you doubt he is even involved with humans, then you have simply forgotten this, or never were taught it, that all appeals and all communion with God begin with his Holy Name, just stating "God."

Every path and every road to knowing "where" God is and "hearing" God in reply starts with understanding anew or remembering and regaining from old the initial brick of fact and faith which is to call upon God for his attention and comfort, just for the communion of togetherness, simply by stating his name.

Another way to understand why God's name is Holy is to understand that one's name is not magical, but it is a statement of purpose. You see this in Isaiah 49:1-3:

Hear me, O coastlands, listen, O distant peoples. The Lord called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Notice three names referenced. First of all, Isaiah reports that "The Lord" called him from birth. Do you notice that the scriptures never go for extended times just referring to God as "He?" Those who wrote the Books of the Bible carefully use God's name, God, or The Lord, over and over. This is because they are referring to God by his Holy Name, which is also his office. God is The Divinity, that is what God "does." God's "occupation" is to be Holy and Perfect. God is a Holy Name because it is the Office indicator of the one who is All Holy. God is thus the one word statement of perfection and holy authority. Scripture writers therefore did not save ink by saying "He said this and then he said that to me, and he created the world and he did these deeds." Rather, they repeat over and over the name of "God" or the "Lord" because each use of God's name is like a sealing of that statement's Holy Authority. Thus Isaiah says "The Lord" called him from birth even though he just referred to God as "the Lord" in the sentence before. We'd know he meant God if he said "He," but that would be an incredible thought to the people of God who understood the frequent use of God's name as Holy and as sealing the statement with his Holy Authority.

The second example is that Isaiah states that The Lord gave Isaiah his own name from Isaiah's mother's womb. What does that mean? It does not mean that God instructed Isaiah's mother to call her child Isaiah. What Isaiah meant is that God gave to Isaiah his particular calling, his service and office to God as prophet, from the womb. This is a way for you today to understand why names were important: not for magical reasons, or numerology, or good luck, or symbolic "meanings," but because they are in imitation of God, whose Holy Name is his Holy Office. It is not that Isaiah was named I-S-A-I-A-H, but that he would be "that" Isaiah, that one called by God to that office of prophet. That is why the name Joseph has great meaning, for example, even when it was the most popular name for boys and millions upon millions had that name. It is not the spelling and the lettering and the language and the prounciation, it is the linkage of name-to-person, and then the service to God, from whom all names must be subordinate.

Then Isaiah mentions a third name, taking it upon himself, the people of Israel. Isaiah is through name now almost the agent or broker for Israel as a whole with God. God is addressing the entire nation of Israel by name through Isaiah. God said to Isaiah, "You are my servant," but instead of saying ", Isaiah," God said, "Israel, through whom I show my glory." Isaiah thus has his office of linking God to Israel, and Israel has its office of being the vessel through which God shows his glory.

I'm trying to simplify for you the whole understanding of why names are reverential and indeed holy. It is not the spelling because Isaiah would be just as holy a prophet as if he were called Fred or Abdul. But giving a human a name (or giving animals names, as Adam did in Genesis) is an imitation of God's Holy Authority and Office that is expressed in his name alone. God is the only one who has always existed and always will, and he of course knows himself by the name of his own choosing. Understand, then, that the practice of giving people names is an imitation of that which cannot be duplicated. Only God can be God. Many people can be named Isaiah. But only one Isaiah was the one chosen by God for that office. That is why a person's name is considered holy and of power, but not because of any magic or secular empowerment inherent in the lettering, language or sounds. Rather, all names are in imitation of God's first and only example, of him being not only named God but The One God. God taught naming to Adam and that is why naming should be equally reverential among humans, understanding where the meaning of naming derived, directly from God's hands.

I went into some detail here but that has been on my mind to get rid of that superstitious and often ridiculous modern view of naming (the nuttier the better), which is not, now that you understand this, as harmless as many think. When humans become idiotic with their own naming it only distances themselves more from understanding faith and the role of God's name and the dignity of humanity's imitation of God's role modeling. Further, naming has not just become silly but it also has promoted erroneous occult beliefs as people forget what scriptures mean when they emphasize the power of names. Scripture does not mean that names are manufactured and manipulated sources of power at all. Scripture means what it has always mean but people no longer understand, which is that humans name in imitation of God, whose Holy Name is also his Holy Office. When you speak God's name you call upon him as God. You do that no matter what the theoretical spelling of God's name in a human language might be. Only Moses ever heard God's name spoken by him anyway (except Jesus of course). No, when the scripture comments about the importance of human names the authors are doing so in the context of a time when millions shared the same names and simple traditional ones they were: the power is not in the name but in the understanding of what a person's name represents as a small fragment of the example of dignity that God himself has made available to humanity in imitation of Him.

I hope that you have found this helpful!

(Hi young people!...)