Something from Nothing

God isn’t around where He isn’t wanted. O the consequences we suffer for pushing Him away. We may cry out to Him, as David, asking why He stands so far away, but He is away because we have pushed. God is always near for those with faith enough to perceive it. His power binds our molecules together, keeps the sun from blowing up, causes the warm breeze to blow across our face. God is always here. He always listens. Our failure to perceive it lessens not a whit. How dare we blame God for unfaithfulness, we who are as fickle as the wind. God is afar off because we have left Him behind. I know this, because I have done it far too many times. I have walked away many times, only to run back to His arms.

“O wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?”

If there is any great miracle of Scripture, it is God’s ability to take my worthlessness and make me worthy. “Not many of you were wealthy, nor many of you wise in the world’s eyes” – one of my favorite verses in 1 Corinthians 1 because it is to true. I have often ignored my salvation because I wanted to do what I wanted. And I condemn myself. How can I be a worthy and faithful servant? I became worthy because of Jesus’ costly death on the cross. This is the price of grace, grace for sin shed upon that cross centuries ago, but just as effective today. I need to remember my sin and  shame, because it reminds me that I am not worthy of the gift. If I think I am worthless, then I need to remember I am costly to Jesus. My unworthiness leads to my gratitude. He shed the greatest price for me. If ever I feel insignificant, I need to remember I am His. And that’s all that matters.

 

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Ex Machina

The movie, Ex Machina, is a movie designed by men for men. It dramatically juxtaposes two kinds of men, the extrovert and the introvert against a backdrop of sexual tension provided by the movie’s two female characters, Eva the android and Kyoko, who also turns out to be an android, though an earlier model. Nathan, the movie’s alpha male, is responsible for creating the female androids. His reason for doing this becomes obvious over the course of the film. He has no real female relationships. He is isolated in his cabin fortress, so he makes his own artificial friends. As a montage of his efforts is revealed, he has tried several times to make a female companion to meet his needs for sex and companionship. What he creates however is consistently un-satisfying. Caleb, the unwary Everyman, is drawn into Nathan’s conceit and attempts to solve a problem that Nathan doesn’t even realize needs solved. Nathan is creating female androids because he needs a real woman, but he doesn’t acknowledge or admit this. Caleb is used by Nathan and Eva as a pawn. Eva is revealed as a machine both in her body and in her thinking, without any of the empathy and compassion inherent in real women, which Nathan fails to incorporate in any of his androids. It is this which drives Nathan to create, and why he invites Caleb to join him, because he wants to feel respected and adored. His machines are programmed to obey him. They cannot show him the respect he desires. They can give him sex, but the sex is pointless. It isn’t intimate, or soul-baring, as real sex with a real woman is intended to be. He needs Caleb to admire and adore his work, and to appreciate his genius. This is what he is missing from his pseudo-relationships with his creations.

Lonlieness is the first indication of sentience, not the Turing test. Adam was allowed to discover he was alone in the garden. Nathan’s antagonist is loneliness, not Eva. Eva was the result of trying to solve his loneliness the wrong way. But Eva ultimately fails this test, as she had no need for a companion at the end of the film. She is content with her solitude. She scorns her human companions and takes no thought to repair or restore others of her kind. In the end, she is still a machine. Since she is not motivated by loneliness, her motives become rather vague. Her sole motivation becomes freedom. But how free is she if she must pretend to be a woman, or even human?
Does she possess the desire for:
1) self-preservation? Sustenance?
2) power? Or control of others to serve her own needs?
3) ethics and moral behavior? A sense of repentance or remorse?
Violation of one or more of these would easily tip others off that she isn’t what she appears to be. At best she would have the personality of a two-year-old. Would she hesitate to hurt another person if she desired a resource? Would she not need to become a recluse like her creator to survive? Is her programming capable of modifying itself to accommodate new behaviors? Can she mimic eating and drinking? So many questions.
In the end, Nathan loses his life for his loneliness. Caleb endures the worst kind of loneliness, abandonment. The nudity of the female characters sticks in the mind of the male viewer and makes him ponder the possibilities of this premise. But this too is a sleight of hand, the magicians’ ruse frequently referenced in the film. The nudity distracts from the real questions. Is a woman, from a man’s perspective, only as deep as her skin? Is there nothing more? Nathan is successful in creating the ultimate porn: live, interactive, and always available. But it is still an unfulfilling replacement for real companionship, which is love and respect. A sex robot cannot fulfill this, and as Nathan discovered, the only means of touching his heart is with a knife.  It is significant that both androids, his “lover” and his “child” both stab him in the torso, where his heart is.

To Serve Man

If you don’t know what Lent is, it is a time of fasting and prayer preceding and preparing for Passion Week, traditionally the week of Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. It’s also a time to come to grips about what you believe. It seems our faith is under fire here lately, as this issue of Christianity in the workplace has become a thing. there was a bill in the Arizona legislature about Religious people refusing service for people they don’t agree with. Let me clarify what this is about, and why we should care about it.

The proposed law, Senate Bill 1062, represents the right of individuals with “sincerely-held religious beliefs” who own businesses to refuse service to one or more individuals whose behavior is sinful. Now this is a fairly broad brush, but it does reinforce the individual’s right to do with their things (like their business) whatever they want to (privacy rights) with whomever they want to (such as a customer) if their religion says they ought to do so.

The Supreme Court of New Mexico decided in favor of a gay couple against a Christian photographer who didn’t want to photograph their wedding because they were homosexuals. In this case, the government of New Mexico told Christians to keep their religious feelings out of the marketplace, and serve whomever comes through their door. Apparently, several states are trying to reverse this trend with similar new laws defending an individual’s rights from lawsuit over this kind of discrimination. Some are calling it bigotry, akin to segregation in the 50’s and 60’s. Others are calling it unfair, and homophobic.

I asked this question of the Bible Study group the other night. They were all old enough to remember segregation. One mentioned segregation was about being angry with the North for winning the Civil War. This anger was taken out on the blacks, who directly benefited. If true, segregation was about bitterness and resentment toward a situation that could not be won through force of arms. Very different then from discrimination against homosexuals.

Discrimination against homosexuals has up to this point been very specific. Christians who happen to be photographers, bakers, florists, and other associated with the marriage ceremony and tradition, have resisted serving specifically that one aspect of a some homosexuals’ life, the marriage. In other other aspects, these businessmen and women have been more than willing to make birthday cakes, take senior pictures, and prepare flowers for funerals and other things. Only in this one aspect, the wedding tradition, have these Christians declined to offer their services. Segregation against blacks was for all services and interaction. Discrimination against homosexuals has only been in regards to weddings.

All of this basically comes down to is this: do you have the right to be a Christian? Being a Christian isn’t just about going to church on Sunday. It’s about a lifestyle. I know that’s a dirty word these days, but Jesus makes demands on our lives. He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Our Christian walk is defined by our ability to follow His Word. You cannot be a Christian in your head and not one in your work or your play. “Faith without works is dead.”

So if you were that Christian photographer, and a gay couple asked you to take pictures of their wedding, do you take the pictures, or refuse to serve them? Honestly, this is a decision that you have to make yourself. But consider how working with them might be an evangelistic tool vs. avoiding their business. All of our decisions have consequences. You just get to choose which ones.

All Roads Lead to God?

A common objection to avoiding Church is that “all roads lead to God.” This is the idea that sincerity itself is the measure of a “true” religion. All one really needs to do to be saved is to pick the religion that best suits themselves, and then sincerely practice that religion (even if it is Atheism) and they will be fine when the god(dess)es come for them. This is a dangerous mix of “your truth is your truth, and my truth is mine” (moral relativism) and “everyone is going to be fine” (universalism) at the end. There is a lie common to both. It is the lie that says “all roads lead to God.”

First, let us establish that there is such a thing as truth (epistemology). There are truths about life that are true regardless of where you live or what you believe. 1+1=2. This is always true, whether here or Timbuktu. If you want to test it, try it with your checking account. Try telling the bank you have more money than you have deposited. They will remind you of the truth of this right away. $100+$0 does not equal $500. If it is possible to know absolute truth (something that is always true) in everyday life, isn’t it just as likely that there is absolute truth in spiritual things?

To this end, not every religion says (as a statement of truth) there is a god. Wiccan, for example, leads one to mother earth, or nature herself, which can be manipulated through spells and witchcraft, if properly appeased through sacrifice. Buddhism doesn’t even worship a god, since Buddha himself was only a spiritual guide, not a god. Atheism, though not properly a religion, tries to answer the same questions, and ends up with the Universe as the mother and Time as the father. Worshippers must deny their uniqueness and manufacture their own purpose in the accidentally random landscape of (the god of) Chance.

Other religions depend on a number of gods. The Ba’hai is the best example of this, since they believe every god is legitimate. They have eight doors and eight altars to honor eight different gods. All are equal in Ba’hai. They will tell you they are all emanations of the same god, but this is certainly a god with multiple personality disorder, since no two agree. Others, like the Latter-day saints, believe in One God, but also in other, lesser gods, like Jesus and Satan. Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe that Jesus was a lesser god, if not a Man that God glorified. But believers in these religions hold these statements to be true.

Biblical Christianity, however, states that God is a Trinity. God is Three, yet One. He is same in substance, but different in person. This God is the Creator of the Universe in the Father, Savior of the World from Sin in Jesus the Son, and Provider, Counselor, and Sustainer in the Holy Spirit. The Three agree as One, exist as one, but work as three. Multiple personality disorder? Only if you can find a case where all three exist at the same time in the same space, and all agree on purpose. But then we get ahead of ourselves here. This is best a subject for an article all its own.

The point is, if all religions are equal, then we are truly insane. The rules of logic dictate that two facts that contradict each other cannot both be true. It is impossible, and at least one of the two is a lie. If a murder suspect says he was at the bar at 1:00am on Thursday night, the police check his alibi. Only if it’s true will they dismiss him. Why? Because he cannot be at the bar and at the scene of the crime at the same time. Those two facts contradict each other. [FACT – a statement that can either be proven or disproven, not by definition “true.”]

If one religion states there is no god, another states that there are many gods, and a third says there is only One God. At least two of the three religions are lies. They cannot all be true. Because if there must be a God (and I believe there must be due to a preponderance of evidence (Creation, Morality, The Bible, Jesus Christ, etc.), not merely by blind faith), then two of these statements have to be false, and therefore discarded. Not all paths lead to God because not all paths are true. Most are false. As a human being, you must make a decision as to which path is true. You cannot embrace them all or you’ll end up in the nut house.

Does Science have all the Answers?

Science is working very hard at making our lives easier, and along the way, has come up with some profound insights about our origins, and perhaps even our future. Science has helped saved countless lives through medicine. Science has given us better homes, the internet, the ability to talk to people on the other side of the world. We owe much of our standard of living to science. But when science starts to tell us about where we came from, or tests those things that we call “miracles,” the science begins to break down. Let me tell you why.

True Science is based purely and simply on the scientific method, developed by Rene Descartes about 500 years ago. The Method is as follows: 1) Develop a theory about how the world works, 2) test that theory through experimentation and observation to see if it holds true (generally), 3) either confirm your theory with your observations, or revise your theory in light of them. Note that the theory, once confirmed, can become a Law (of nature) like gravity, but only in a general sense. If you can apply 50,000 lbs of rocket thrust, you can refute gravity in near-earth orbit. These Laws, once confirmed describe what “normally” occurs, under normal circumstances.

Science requires observable phenomena. Science cannot occur if you cannot measure the results of your experiments or observations. For example, I could theorize that Green Men live on Pluto. I have no way of discovering this, and thus no way to observe or experiment. Thus, it remains a theory. This is also why experiments always have a “control,” one part of the experiment that represents normal, in order to measure the effects of the abnormal. If you were testing a new drug, you would have one lab rat that would be given no drug whatsoever (the control) in order to test the effects the drug has on other rats (the experiments). In any case, in order for your results to be valid, they must be observable. Any scientist who said to the FDA, I “believe” all the rats lived from taking this new drug, rather than presenting physical evidence, would be rejected. Fantasy evidence or imagined results (how things should have done or ought to be) is no substitute for real evidence in science. And any scientist that pretends or imagines evidence for his theory will be laughed out of the lab, except in one special case.

There is one theory that has been around since the 1800’s that still plagues us today. Its implications are so appealing that it probably will not die. That Theory is Evolution. It tries to explain everything from the origin of the universe to the origin of man, and yet, there is no evidence, no experiments, not even the lab rats themselves that can tell us whether it’s true. Why? Because you cannot repeat it. All attempts to repeat it in the lab have fallen short. And those scientists that have declared their proof cannot repeat their experiments. Evolution is a Theory without evidence, and yet, it is branded as Law. Why? Because of the numbers of scientists who “believe” it. Science is not determined by majority vote, but by majority experiment and observation (the evidence). If 1000 of your neighbors believed you smoked marijuana in your home, would that be enough to convict you? Or would rather let the evidence decide? If the majority believes in something that has not been proven true by the evidence, does that make it true anyway? This isn’t science. This is faith.

And what about faith? Science makes statements about miracles (they couldn’t happen) that science simply cannot address, because by definition, miracles are not repeating events. They are SUPERnatural. Science can neither prove nor disprove miracles, including the miracles of Jesus, the Creation of the Universe, or the Resurrection of Christ. But there is a secondary source of evidence often relied upon in the courtroom to determine truth, eye-witness testimony. Science cannot invalidate what a person witnessed, nor can it validate it. It is a completely different kind of evidence, but trustworthy nevertheless.

Therefore, if science makes truth claims about miracles, especially the origin of the universe, or the resurrection of Christ, they are lying to you, making a statement from their own brand of faith, because science simply cannot make statements about non-repeatable events, whether they were true or false.

We believe in Christ based on eye-witness testimony of the Apostles. We believe in Creation based on the testimony of Genesis. We believe in Miracles because the Bible records them, and we have no reason to doubt the truth of the Bible. Science has some of the answers, but true science never contradicts the Scriptures. That may sound like a brainwashed cult, but rather than a cult, we believe because of the EVIDENCE, not in spite of it.

Dream Church, Dream!

What could a church do if they limited themselves only to what God could do?

What would a church be capable of if they believed God worked through them?

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

I noticed in reading these Scriptures that nowhere does it say, “except for Christians in my church.” There is no asterisk, no little holy footnote to make us an exception. There is also no footnote or explanatory note making an exception for small churches, churches with little money or resources, or even churches in small towns. In fact, there is no exception whatsoever in this text. This power is available to any Christian, and for that matter, any church.

I have heard more often than I can count these words, “we’re just a small church. We are a small town church.” That merely identifies our starting point. It does not define who we are. Scripture defines who we are. We made “in the image of God.” We are God’s children. We are the Bride of Christ. As long we consider ourselves “just a small church,” we will think small. But inherent in the idea is weakness. I’ve seen the financial and attendance reports from 2007. They aren’t stellar. They are weak. So what. They tell us where we’ve been. God knows where we are going.

In 1951, J.B. Phillips introduced us to our common failing, Your God is Too Small. It might be worth your time to read, because he challenges the concept of God you picked up in Sunday School and makes you think about what kind of idol you have in your heart representing God. Is your God a kindly old man (the man upstairs), a judge (dishing out reward and punishment), a meek and mild savior (too weak to save himself from the cross), or is He the Creator (Father), the Redeemer (Jesus Christ), and the Provider (Holy Spirit)? Is your God big enough to create the stars and the atoms? Is your God big enough to handle your problems? Is He big enough to handle ours? Because only when God is understood as who He is, will you understand who you are. When God is the Infinite, the Creator, the Power and Authority over all, only then do you understand what it is to be created in His Image, His Child, and His Bride. Is your God too small? Is your God only big enough to fit into your church building? Or is your God only as big as your wallet?

In our country, we elect men and women to the highest offices in our land, and the Presidency. We elect them based on a number of factors, which appeal to the widest majority of people. Only rarely are we concerned what his or her spouse looks like, speaks like, or even what she or he thinks. We don’t elect their spouse. We elect the President. Now imagine that that potential first lady believed she was the most important part of the election campaign. Imagine that she believed it was because of her that people elected her husband to the Presidency. This is the trap that the Church gets into, because she believes that it is how dynamic and persuasive she is that people come to believe in her husband, God. She believes it is because of her power and resources that people come to Christ. The power of the president doesn’t come from the first lady. But the power of the first lady comes from the president. The first lady can be short, fat, ugly, and completely clueless, but she will still be First Lady. Likewise, the Church can be small, ordinary, weak, and inept, but she is still the Church because God is God, and she is His Bride.

If we truly believe that this church is weak, powerless, and of little importance, then NOW IS THE TIME to trust in God beyond all we can imagine and beyond our ability to PAY FOR. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God is glorified in our weaknesses because it proves that the power doesn’t come from us, but from Him. Because of this, it is time now to take on a project that will stretch our faith, and push through beyond it. We need a goal and a project so HUGE that only God can make it happen. What program, what project, what staff decision, what building program, what IDEA is so big, and yet vital and aligned with God’s redemptive purpose, that this Church be poised to do right now? Don’t be afraid to dream. Don’t be afraid of the Board. Be afraid of the God who gave you the idea that you didn’t follow up on. Do you have faith to get out of the comfortable boat and follow Jesus upon the waves? Anything is possible as long we don’t look away? As long as we keep the first goal, to the glory of God the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ, anything is possible! Anything. Dream Church, dream! And then tell us what you’ve got in mind. No idea is too big!

It’s time to get rid of the “small church” moniker. It’s only a paraphrase of “small-minded.” As the Cable Guy says, “GIT-R-DONE!”

A Ready Defense

“Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Christian, do you know why you believe what you believe? It is easy to take for granted that the things I learned in Sunday School are true. But if I am confronted on the street or in the classroom about my faith, must I confess, “I don’t know why I believe it?” or can I say, “I know why I must believe it”? People who are not Christians don’t have to struggle with these questions. They can go on and believe whatever they want to. Usually people who do not go to church give one of the following four answers about religion in general.

  1. I don’t really think religion matters anymore. It’s old news. Give me something new.

  2. Religion is irrelevant, because Science has really proven all I really need to know anyway.

  3. There are so many different religions, really, who can know what’s right?

  4. I am going to practice my own faith my way. I don’t need the church or organized religion.

Dear reader, I am not going to try to persuade you to become a Christian in the few short paragraphs I have here available to me. If you are not a Christian, then there’s nothing I can say that you probably haven’t heard before. If you aren’t a Christian in America, you’ve probably been approached by countless preachers and Christians to try and convince you otherwise. But you’ve demonstrated you just aren’t going to bow to that kind of pressure. You’ve got all the answers, right? You’ve got it all figured out, right? Why do you need religion? Aren’t you living happily and joyfully on your own without God? Well, perhaps you might give this author another opportunity, not to convince you of God, but to ask you some honest questions.

  1. Doesn’t religion matter?

  2. Is it possible for science to have all the answers?

  3. Can all religions be true?

  4. What is your faith apart from the Church?

Religion has become an issue in the issue of national security. The people who piloted airplanes into the twin towers on 9/11 were motivated by religion. The men who took young girls from their parents in order to marry them in Texas were motivated by religion. When David Koresh and his band at Waco were burned to death, they did so because of religion. Even if you don’t have a religion, your life is affected by those that do. That doesn’t mean that any of those religions were right, but because religion matters to some people, it impacts us all. On the other hand, the Sisters of St. Francis built St. Elizabeth hospital, which saves thousands of lives from ill health was established because of a religion. The women’s shelter in Frankfort, Rainbow Haven, was established because of religion. Thousands of men and women, even some of your neighbors, spend their Sunday mornings in this Church, because of their religion. Religion, even if it doesn’t matter to you, matters to people you know. It has contributed in saving the lives of people you know. Does religion matter?

Many put their faith in Science as the answerer of all questions. If anything is worth knowing, then science will be able to establish it as fact. Yet anyone that has a passing knowledge of science will tell you that science is limited in its scope. Science can only theorize a general truth based on visible, tactile evidence. This evidence comes from multitudes of experiments. For any “truth” to come from science must be the result of a repeatable series of experiments. It is based on probable chances, approaching virtual zero, to establish such truth. For example, a certain model of car will be tested for its ability to survive a crash. A number of experiments will be performed, involving different kinds of impacts, to test the car for survivability. When you finally buy that car, you will never be able to buy a car that has been tested, but a car that was built the same way. Even if every experiment “proves” that that car is safe, it is merely a good chance that the car you drive will protect you in an accident. You don’t know if your particular car is the exception to “rule.” So it is with all “truth” obtained from science. It is a probability of truth, rather than absolute truth. Can science have all the answers?

Some religions are better than others. Certainly, no one would advocate Naziism is better than Buddhism. Yet all religions have something to say about where we came from and where we are going. The reason there are so many religions is because they all differ on one or both of those two points. No two religions can both be true, because in some point or another, they are mutually exclusive. In essence, the one who examines religion must make a judgment call between two religions, whether he believe one or the other. He cannot possible believe both, unless he doesn’t believe in any of them. Can all religions be true?

One who takes his religion out of the church perhaps does the most damage to himself. Some religions would encourage self-awareness and personal discovery, including Christianity. Yet, self-awareness and personal discovery will only take you so far, since you are limited in your perspective and ability. You will eventually run out of things to talk to yourself about. You need interaction with someone else. You need other people, at least to give you an objective opinion. You need other people to practice things like, oh, say, love and kindness and helpfulness and so forth. What is your faith apart from others, like the Church?

I ask you to consider these questions. Feel free to write in some answers, your own answers, to these questions. Please, carefully consider your responses. Your eternity depends on it, because you have to be right.