Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Technology and Resurrection

Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Immortality 

I am sure by now you are aware that all types of data is being collected on each person everyday.    The news is rife with stories of privacy issues, data breaches and eavesdropping.  Every time you visit a website, purchase products online (or just with a credit card in a store),  rate or write a review of something, or click that harmless looking thumbs up button on Facebook or Pandora that data goes somewhere.  On top of that wearable tech such as Google Glass and the Samsung Dick Tracy watch are in their prototype stages.     Will these be collecting other types of data?  Could they be used to capture emotions and reactions to events and record them with the images the camera is collecting while tracking your location?   If so, could someone then collect all his or her data and use it to create a realistic profile of her or himself.    Could that profile then be combined with a process of artificial intelligence to create a newly regenerated virtual person?   Can this person then be downloaded into a piece of tech that can communicate and interact with the world?  If the answer to these questions is yes, have human beings found a way to be immortal through their own devices?

Not yet, but people are actually working on these very types of things.


The whole problem with this is, that if we can construct an immortal life through our own efforts we would be simply carrying our broken pasts into a dark future.   The traumas lived through would be carried on into eternity.  There would still be pain, there would still be loss,  there would still be evil.   These experiences of our sinfulness wear us down and tinge our lives with sorrow.   As we carry these burdens forward, time itself would loose all meaning,  there will be no urgency to do anything, experience would pile upon experience.   We would find that we were not damned to hell, but that we had created it ourselves for all eternity.   It is the reason why the Bible portrays God as expelling Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:22) Then the LORD God said, "See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"--  (NRSV)  This was not done out of spite or punishment, but as an act of grace so that no person would be condemned to unending suffering.

Forgiveness and Hope

While we may know the hope we have from a life of faith is an eventual eternal life,  it is not the first hope we have.  For the hope we have in Jesus Christ is first and foremost grounded in forgiveness.   Forgiveness breaks the cycle of evil that has been built up in our lives over time.   It heals the relationships we have with God, others, and the division within our own hearts.   If not forgiven, we can not be healed, if not healed we are not prepared for eternal life.   It is why when God sent Christ to the Cross it was first and foremost and act of forgiveness.   Jesus would show his wounds to his disciples to prove that he had forgiven them.   That the pain of Good Friday could be reconciled, proved that God can reconcile any division imaginable.   If you don't think that one really needs forgiveness to live eternally,  do this experiment.   Review the major news stories of the last week,  count how many are tragic or even evil.   Then take that number and multiply it by 52 and get an idea of how much pain just one year exists in an broken world.  Then think about that going on year after year with out end.   Unless the cycle is broken there will be no hope; it is the ultimate blessing for us that God has chosen to break the cycle of sin with the cross of Christ.  

Living out that hope in tangible ways is what we call discipleship.  True disciples don't wait for the forgiveness to appear in some distant future, they work on it now.   By advocating for the vulnerable, feeding the poor,  encouraging the downtrodden, we provide signs of hope that point people to a God who wants to heal, restore, and forgive.  In a life of Christian discipleship the best way to use technology going forward will be to use it as a tool of discipleship to do Jesus' work of being there for the least of the world.

Isaiah and the LORD's Mountain

One of the earliest references to resurrection in Scripture is comes from  the prophet Isaiah.   He gave us this vision of hope:  (Isaiah 25:6-8) On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.  (NRSV)  Notice that God does not just give the eternal life alone.   The promise is for the removal of tears (pain) and disgrace (shame).   Before these gifts are mentioned, Isaiah speaks of God destroying the shroud.   The removal of the shroud or sheet is the removal of the division between God and people, it is this removal that makes a blessed eternal life possible.  It is forgiveness that gives us hope.    So as we live out the greatest three days in history, perhaps it is most healthy to move beyond a childlike desire to merely live forever to mature faith that hopes for forgiveness.

May all have a happy and blessed Easter

Pastor J. David Knecht

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Go to Church, What's the point?

The question of the world to our church 

Gone are the days when church attendance helped you look good to your neighbors.   In the world of my
parents and grandparents people felt guilty if they were seen outside of church on Sundays.   Today people feel guilty if they don't workout.  They are more likely to say on a Sunday "Darn! I missed my bike ride ! (Or yoga class, golf, or whatever) than they would lament at not being able to worship.    There is no societal pressure in New Jersey to be a person of faith,  in fact it may be seen as a liability to some because it makes you less available to do the things that convey status these days.  I do think those who argue that we are persecuted today are grossly exaggerating.   I have personal friends who lived under dictatorships who were persecuted for their faith, and that is not what is going on in Union County New Jersey.   People are not presenting to me that they are hostile to those of us who practice our Christian faith, they are just... neutral.

Searching for the Answer

I personally think this is a great time to be the church, because in this atmosphere where people in the culture are neutral towards us, we have the blessing of being able to see the real answer to the question of what's the point without the blinders of popularity.  We can use the tools of our faith, scripture, prayer, conversation to uncover the Holy Spirit's true purpose of a life of faith and then spend some time talking about the question with those in our neighborhood an communities.   They answer that we will come up with will certainly be better than "everybody else is going."  It will be a real answer, that reveals a real purpose.

The Wrong Answer 

"I go to church to get fed!"  Well good for you.  So what? I can get fed at lots of places in the culture.   The person who stays in and gets up late to read on Sundays can honestly tell you the same thing.  So can the guys I see on the way to church on their road bikes, or running along the paths. (three things that I actually get fed by).   If this is our only answer to the question of what's the point?  Than I am sorry to say, that there would be no point.   Being fed is not enough of a reason to make the sacrifices we make to be the church. No neutral person in our culture would see the purpose of showing up at our door if that is our only answer. Now don't get me wrong, lots of churches do a lousy job of feeding people spiritually and physically. The decline of Christianity in our culture was aided by churches that just asked people to give without feeding and building them up in the first place.   Feeding people spiritually and physically is a good start,  but it is the start, not the goal, and certainly not the point.

The Bible's Answer 

"I will bless you.. so that you will be a blessing"  (Genesis 12:2) says God to Abram.  In this simple phrase we begin to see the answer that will not only give us something to say to the culture but to sustain ourselves as we journey in a life discipleship of Jesus Christ.  We are called by Christ to help, to serve, to proclaim, to build up, and to bless.   Yes this means to make a difference, but it is more than this.   Yes, this means to proclaim our faith, but it is more than this too.  Indeed it is to speak up for those who have no voice, but it will be more than this as well.  "Peace (shalom or wholeness) I leave with you, As the Father sent me, I send you" (John 20:21) says Jesus, when the disciples see him resurrected.   The Bible's answer is clear.  God calls us to go to be part of a church (or any Christian community) for the exact same reason that Jesus was sent to the world!   When we witness and experience the resurrected Jesus we are sent to bring peace (wholeness) to our neighbors.   That may mean food, or prayer support, or baby siting, or spiritual direction or any host of other things as long they do the work of Jesus to include, reconcile, feed, heal , cast out demons, and yes, even save.

Your Answer 

As the culture is neutral about the church, it is neutral about the Bible,  so just giving the above answer may not at first resonate or seem relevant to those we see on a daily basis.   The way they will see our purpose is by seeing it work out in our lives as we try to do the things Jesus showed us how to do.  This means finding a beautiful and creative way to make Jesus' story part of your story,  not in artificial or boilerplate way, but in a way that is real to you and evident to those around you.   We have word for this in Christian circles,  it is discipleship.   Disciples reflect their master,  they do the same work and have the same agenda.   They go about the work in their own way that reflects who they really are, but the purpose is the same. Disciples of Jesus
 confess that we do the work that Jesus was sent to do.  It is why Paul calls this gathering that meets somewhere near you on Sunday "the body of Christ". Jesus would also command his disciples to make more (Matthew 28:20),  not to build up some movement, or create an organization, or institution, but to carry on what He started at the Cross.

My Answer 

To become a disciple of Jesus Christ,  because like him, we do good for the world.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht