Friday, February 27, 2015

Lord, forgive me. Lord, change me.

"As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom."--Daniel 7:21-22

Kenneth and I studied this chapter today, and he pointed out just how dire things will become for the people of God before the end. We will be oppressed on all sides. There will come a time when our apologetics for Christianity and even our arguments for morals will be defeated, when the gospel is corrupted almost everywhere and eventually disbelieved, when lawlessness increases and love grows cold, when for the "good of the world" those who still cling to Christ will be killed by the droves.

"Oh find me faithful. Find me faithful," I prayed. For that devastation won't come all of a sudden--the areas of sinking sand Christians have set themselves upon will spread until they give way. Even if it doesn't happen in my lifetime, what is done in my lifetime will set the stage. I may well be accountable one day for some place where the Church stands or falls. And that is a frightening thought as I consider all the places where I've been susceptible to distortions, listening to those who proudly speak in Christ's name but have no understanding of Him.

After I finished that rather distraught meditation, I saw an e-mail from a supporter with a Lenten devotional from LakeRidge UMC. It was on the efficacy of prayer when we do it for its true reason--to abide in Him. For when we abide in Him, our hearts are reshaped to have the mind and love of the God who is able to do more than we ask or think.

It's time for repentance, for humbly seeking His face and not His blessing on what I think deserves it. Once again I must seek to abide in Him, knowing that apart from Him I can do nothing. Only then can I hope for the second part of my prayer -- that somehow my service to the people of God will preserve faith for the Son of Man to find when He returns (Luke 18:8).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mothers and Media Bible Study

Today's the day Christie (the lovely lady with me in the picture on the left) was supposed to present the Mothers and Media seminar to about 1500 women, if she could secure transportation. (I haven't heard yet if she did.) Women tend to leave that seminar wide-eyed at the enormous effects that technology can have on their children. They have been coming to Christie asking, "What do we do now?" Which makes me realize that it's not a day too early that I got to work fleshing out the Bible study for families to follow up with the seminar, teaching them to ensure that their children can use the media as a tool for honoring God and can identify and reject the destructive lies it proffers. Here's a sample of what I have so far:

(From chapter 6)

The media is a powerful influence in our lives. Recall what we said in the introduction how technology changes us even as we use it. John Dyer started with the example of a shovel, how even as we use it to change the land, it changes our hands and muscles and even our minds. Later in his book, he points out how different media have changed the way our minds work. For instance, when books become common, people's minds change. We become able to develop more elaborate and complex linear thought, as we began reading longer stories and more elaborate arguments than oral transmission allows for. However, people also start remembering less, because it is not so important to memorize things if we could always look it up again.

Television has also changed the way we think. For instance, research has indicated that people's attention spans have decreased with the decreased time between commercial breaks. In other words, the TV "trains" our minds to pay attention for a certain amount of time, and then the mind expects a break, and we become restless if we don't get it. The Internet, while it has made an unfathomable amount of information available to anyone with access, has decreased people's memories and attention spans even more, because it develops the habits of skimming dozens of articles to find what we want, skimming the short social media posts, going from one e-mail to another quickly. Dyer points out that there is an especial spiritual danger in this, because spiritual growth requires meditation, that is, periods of time focused on the Lord in prayer and thinking on the Scriptures. If our minds are so used to quickly jumping from one page to the other on the Internet, it reduces our capacity to be still and focus like this.

But even more formative than the media we use is the messages we ingest from them. Their influence is not neutral. The messages are always designed to influence you. Dramas are designed to influence your opinion of people and the kind of life you want. Advertisements are designed to make you want things. But surely the news is not manipulative, right? ...

Watch some news broadcasts from whatever stations are available to you, but instead of passively listening, try to discover what they are trying to make you feel. What or whom do they want you to have good feelings for? What or whom do they want you to have bad feelings for? If two stations are trying to make you have the feelings for opposite things, how do they change the stories to support their side?

Television is so enjoyable because it tells stories. God is a storyteller (just think of how many lessons in the Bible are told with stories), and so he has made humans generally enjoy stories and get a lot of benefit from them. Many terrific stories have been told on television that may change a person's thinking, inspire them to be a better person, help people understand those different from them, and even just to help people relax if something is causing anxiety.

It also can keep us aware of the outside world through the news. If we keep up with the news, we can be more responsible citizens and know better how to pray for our world and serve our communities. It also makes us aware of special opportunities and things of interest to us.

It can also be very educational. Some channels, especially on satellite, show all kinds of wonderful things about the universe God made that you may not have learned otherwise. There are also educational documentaries, history shows, etc. There are many educational television programs for children, too.

Many spiritual uplifting things are broadcast via television. Many churches broadcast their services on TV for people who are sick or otherwise physically unable to go to church. Good films presenting Bible stories and Gospel messages, and programmes with worship music, are filmed and shown on television.

However, television also offers many bad things. We do not control what is broadcast and when. We usually have little choice as to which channels are available in our homes. For discerning adults, this is manageable, because we can make a responsible decision about what to watch. But if there is a television in the house, this means that all kinds of things can be accessible to the children's minds who are too young to be discerning.

For all the wholesome and uplifting programs on television, there are countless that are not socially or spiritually healthy. Whether they are storytelling shows or information programs or even advertisements, a lot on television is filled with messages that are contrary to the Bible. Many of them may be full of good qualities, but have certain lies that they also propagate within the overall message. They may promote immoral lifestyles, hurtful stereotypes, or false information to make a point. Watching them can have a powerful, but ever-so-subtle, impact on the mind.

There is an illustration about making frog soup. Yes, it seems that some people do make frog soup, and you cannot do it by throwing a frog in hot water. It will jump out immediately! But if you throw it in cold water, it will stay and swim around. And if you very gradually raise the temperature, he will not notice, and stay in the pot. By the time he realizes he is in danger, he has been too weakened to jump out and will die.

Mental influence works the same way. If we as moral people are exposed to something clearly wrong, of course we will immediately reject it: "Oh, that's terrible!" But if we allow little things that are wrong into our minds here and there, gradually our willingness to tolerate it increases, until people can see horrible things or hear horrible messages without reacting at all. Children are especially impressionable to this. We must constantly evaluate all of the message being communicated in what we watch, listen to, or read, against what the Bible tells us, so that we are ever accepting the good and rejecting the evil.

Even some Christian programmes may not be helpful to us. Many Christian programmes are full of false promises about what God wants to do for you that are very un-biblical. If you watch or listen to preachers through the media, be careful to evaluate if the preacher is really teaching the word of God or just things that sound appealing. Evaluate: does the preacher teach from whole passages in context – talking about the historical period when it was written, what the whole book's message and teaching points are, making clear the message the book was written to convey – or does he just quote a verse here and there to support what he wants to say?

1There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
Isaiah 11, ESV

This is a prophecy about Jesus, who was a descendant of Jesse and his son David. Jesus is the coming King who will judge all the earth. What does verse 3-4 say about how Jesus judges? He does not judge by what ____ _____ ____ or by what ____ _____ _____, but rather he judges with __________________ and ________. God's judgement is not based on how we present or defend ourselves, what the world sees and hears and says and values. Rather, God's judgement is right. It is true and fair. We need to have pure hearts, clear spiritual eyes, so that we do not think according to what the world shows us or tells us, but according to what is true and right. We need to understand the impact of media and how it is used to influence us. Then we can start to see how we can respond.

-- the above is copyright TEN3. Feel free to share any of it that blessed you, but please attribute it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The wilderness

"I will punish her for the days of the Baals
When she used to offer sacrifices to them
and adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry,
And follow her lovers, so that she forgot Me," declares the Lord.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak to her heart.
Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
the valley of Achor [trouble] as a door of hope.
And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
It will come about in that day," declares the Lord,
that you will call me Ishi
And will no longer call me Baali.
For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth,
So that they will be mentioned by their names no more.
In that day I will also make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
The birds of the sky
And the creeping things of the ground.
And I will abolish the bow, the sword and war from the land,
And will make them lie down in safety.
I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the Lord.
--Hosea 2:13-20, NASB

Years ago I attended a Shane Bernard concert in which he introduced his song "I Miss You" with the story of a time he moved to Lubbock because it seemed to match the spiritual desert he found himself in. He quoted verse 14 of this passage and explained how miserable it is to be in a spiritual desert, and yet there one discovers the tenderness of God.

This whole passage speaks to me now, of how desolate it is indeed to have all one's preconceptions about worship and who God is stripped away. I experienced it in a small way the first time I was in Africa, worshiping with my brothers and sisters there and being confronted with a sense of God that was, well, foreign. But I readily adapted to that sort of culture shock. I wasn't really in the wilderness until now.

Circumstantially, my life is exceptionally good now--I'm healthy, and have been able to make it a year and a half on support and am supplied for at least a few more months. My relationships with my boyfriend, family, colleagues, and friends are all great. Work is going pretty smoothly. But the "theology shock" I've been in lately has taken away so much of my presuppositions that I don't feel safe or comfortable anywhere. Every angle is hostile--no place seems like it will ever be home again. I'm in a wilderness--the wilderness that in its desolation makes us receptive to the provision we don't get in a land of comforts, that in its bleakness makes us see God more clearly so that we can call Him by a different name, that in its harshness lets us experience the tenderness of God, find He has given our troubles and regrets to us as a door of hope, and sing like when we first experienced His salvation. Nobody really likes the wilderness ... but to be there is precious.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Where are we going from here? Part II

As I mentioned in my previous post, a request from Cameroon got us working on a Programming & Databases series. Meanwhile, another rather unforseen set of circumstances started the curriculum department working on another course. Anthony needed a job. He just didn't have enough missionary support, even combined with his wife's pottery business and Ambit marketing, to take care of the family. He was offered a job as the network administrator for a Christian high school. He was hesitant about it, though. Even though his nickname is "Father Computer," this was not his forte in the field. As he talked with Ken, TEN3's technology officer, about the possibility, Ken replied, "Well, you suck at networking. But if you do this and learn it, we'll get a course out of it. And I've thought for a long time networking is the next major need for computer studies in Africa." Then George, who is good at networking, offered to help him learn it, and write this course. So they've been working on it over the last year, researching, setting parts of the system up, having to wipe everything and start over, and documenting as they go.

When we reported to Joe, our CEO, what we're doing, he challenged us on it. This was not like the plans TEN3 had been laying for a long time, that we'd get curriculum designers together to design degrees in particular major fields under transformational principles, and then find African educators to write the material for that curriculum. No, we replied, we're not going according to that plan. We tried that for years, and while we'd make progress in some areas, we never had all the pieces for that to come together. And in the meantime we've been made aware of different needs and opportunities. African partners have told us that transformational education for primary and secondary schools is more important, since so many don't even make it to universities. Furthermore, the opportunities for getting material writers are more school-specific than we had previously thought. We're going to have to work through teachers where they are at. And it will be a lot easier to introduce new courses and ways of teaching one little thing at a time than to develop an entire innovative way of doing college and trying to dump it in people's laps. But all these things, and these little ways the Lord has led us to work on programming and networking, are opening up for us a better way of accomplishing our vision of Christ-centered, Africa-specific curriculum than we had imagined.

Okay, okay, that's vague. Let me try to clarify. One of the needs Christie shared with us is "Transformational Teacher" training--a generalized version of our CTO teacher training, but made for teachers of any subject, not just computers, getting them to think of themselves as disciple-makers and to adjust their teaching according to effective discipling principles. I responded to that request with a revision of our teacher guide that could speak to teachers of any subject. But we want to offer them more. We'd love to offer them training not just in teaching methods and goals but also how to develop lessons based on the transformational education principles we give them, and we'd love to train them on a tool like Moodle to do it. If they could do that, then we'd have African teachers whom we've trained, developing lessons based on sound educational and Christian principles, for their own context, that we could then help distribute across African countries. Our dream coming true. But to have Moodle, you need a network. And to have a network, you need a network administrator. And a network administrator needs to have taken networking and programming courses.

The funny thing is that, as you could pick up from the story, we didn't plan this. In fact, this does not sound like the plan we had at all. God just used requests from those we serve, and our own tight spaces, to lead us right to where we need to be.

We've still got a long way to go, though. Please continue to pray for us as we strive to develop the needed curriculum, as we meet the needs of our Nigerian, Cameroonian, Zambian, and Kenyan partners. There are so many obstacles that can stop us dead in this long-term plan, so we must depend on God's grace every step of the way.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Where are we going from here? Part I

Yes, I finally got Programming and Databases 1 published! Though it feels like a trip to a mirage (See Publishing is like a trip across the desert), I am really happy with what I think is a good solid course that will get students loving programming and challenge them in their walk with the Lord.

But why programming? And what are you working on now?

I'm glad you asked.

The story starts in Cameroon, with a principal and a teacher.

The tall one on the left is Henry, the principal of the Baptist Comprehensive High School. The one on the right is Emmanuel, the computer teacher. (In the middle is my colleague Ray, from California.) These guys made a journey that makes my whining about long trips seem, well, even more pathetic than it is. They rode six hours in a taxi to get to a port. Then spent nine hours seasick on a ship to land on the coast of Nigeria, only to spend another sixteen hours in another stomach-turning taxi ride over incredibly bumpy roads where there are no speed limits. When they got to Jos, they stopped at a hospital long enough to get some nausea medicine before hurrying to the event they had come all that way for: TEN3's Computer Training Outreach teacher/administrator workshop. When we asked why they had made the long, difficult trip, Henry told us, "The Internet is destroying our students. We even have some who became demon-possessed when they looked up how on occult websites. You have been using computers to teach the Gospel for a long time. We've got to learn how to do that."

A few months later, Anthony went to Cameroon to work with Henry's school and many other Christian principals in that area. While he was there, he presented them a spreadsheet he had concocted to help them plan how to manage a lab--the power supply, equipment costs, and scheduling--so they could offer the CTO to all their students. They loved that spreadsheet so much they asked if it could be expanded to run more of their schools. Anthony saw the potential for this tool helping more administrators in Africa make their schools viable, but what he had was clunky and desperately needed improvement. What the principals had asked for would require something more sophisticated than a spreadsheet.

About that time, he had a conversation with George, and George mentioned he'd like to learn programming. Anthony got an idea that maybe if George learned to program, maybe they could work together on this project. He then mentioned it to me, and I said the words that tend to thrust my life into most of its adventures:
That sounds like fun!

So George and I started learning programming, and since when we learn something useful we want to share it with the brothers and sisters we serve, we also started writing a course on it as we were learning it. It's going to be three courses to cover everything we learn to build the Term Planner (which is what we're calling the run-your-school-sustainably tool). We wrote the first course together, and now George is progressing steadily on learning to build the next parts of the tool. Then we'll write a course on that too.

It only gets more interesting, so tune in next week for the rest of the story!