Friday, July 17, 2015

Learning to work like Nehemiah

My pastor has been going through the book of Nehemiah, and so in preparation for this Sunday I read chapters 3-4 today, and several things stuck out to me:

  1. The variety of the people working. People living in other cities, leaders, merchants, goldsmiths. I loved how 3:12 mentioned that Shallum and his daughters repaired a section – that's my kind of women! But everybody recognized that it was their collective responsibility to build up this city. Likewise, though Christians are diverse in ethnicity, giftings, resources, and position, we are all given the same task, to build up the New Jerusalem (Eph. 2:19-22; Rev. 21:2-3, 9-14; 1 Cor. 3:9-13). Nobody is above this work; nobody is beneath it.
  2. They faced opposition stoutly. How often do we Christians back down easily concluding, "It must not have been God's will"? But the fact is, doing God's will guarantees opposition; the enemy will do all he can to derail God's kingdom. He will tempt us to sin, discourage us, afflict us in terrible ways to try to stop us from building well. Do we build with a weapon on us at all times, ready for whatever he may throw our way to draw on the truth and life breathed into us by our Savior? Do we stay in communication with each other so we are attentive when an attack happens and can rally to support each other? Do we keep ourselves clothed in prayer at all times?

So many times in TEN3 we have been discouraged. We've had financial difficulties, communication difficulties, members attacked in health or family matters, plans fall through. We draw much from the example of Nehemiah on apportioning the work, each doing what needs to be done, keeping alert for attacks, praying together regularly, and drawing on you, our prayer partners, to support us in the work as well. We continue to trust that by God's grace we may build up His temple by helping His servants in Africa to bring people to know and follow Christ Jesus, equipped them to be faithful workers too.

Let us press on until the city is finished!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Computers, wisdom, and worship

I know it's often considered bad form to start with an apology for not posting in a long time, but wow, two months is ridiculous. Sorry, readers, and I assure you I will continue posting here; just for some reason that may or may not have to do with a wedding coming up in two months, my mind has been going frantically in many directions and forgot about posting. But, without further ado...

My main TEN3 focus lately has been on the primary school computer curriculum, guiding teachers to teach kids to program using Scratch (See Combining computers with discipleship for kids with Scratch.) One of the projects they do is a music video. How do we disciple students by teaching them to make a music video? Here's an excerpt:

Ask the students what a computer is for. They may list practical reasons like helping businesses to work or helping people do research. Or they may mention entertainment reasons like making pretty pictures or fun games. Bring out how the computer has good practical/material uses and artistic uses, but it's just a tool; it never guarantees a good result.

For instance, they'veve already seen with their debugging how it can have problems. A computer is a powerful tool for doing mathematics, but if the person using it does not have a sound understanding of mathematics, they will still get wrong answers. If you've taken Spreadsheet Essentials, you were exposed to many instances when the spreadsheet would show you a wrong result because of faulty logic in setting up formulas. The Debug It! 2.4 was an example they've already encountered in which the wrong mathematical logic was used. We created MathError.sb2 as another example you can show them.

Likewise, the computer can be an incredible tool for creating art. It can make vivid animations, direct spectacular light shows, and mix music in previously impossible ways. But just having a powerful computer with a fancy program like Adobe does not mean what it produces will be good art. The person using the tool has to have the aesthetic sense of how colours and shapes or notes and rhythms go together, and the understanding to implement it.

Ponder So far this is true. There is rapidly coming a time when computers will actually be able to produce good art on their own. This has been considered impossible, but the algorithms being used on advanced computers now are enabling them to learn on an astonishing complexity level, so that they can even evaluate beauty. It will be interesting to see how society changes when computers can do most things that before only humans could do!

There are other levels besides simply skill with solving maths problems or making aesthetically pleasing art that are important to truly use the computer well. There is also the need for wisdom.

What is wisdom? Often we think of it as intelligence, knowledge, or common sense. Christians often try to emphasize the importance of applying knowledge rather than ignoring it, like we need to use a tool rather than simply leave it on the shelf. But that is still an intellectual picture; the biblical sense of wisdom goes a bit deeper. If you read Proverbs and other ancient Hebrew wisdom books, you can see that their concept of wisdom has a strong moral component. To cheat someone, even if profits you materially, is considered foolish. To commit adultery is considered foolish. And yet wisdom is not exactly the same as moral integrity; for instance, the ability of Bezelel and Aholiab to make the articles for the tabernacle in Exodus 36:1 is called wisdom. The true sense of wisdom, then, is to understand the character and ways of God, to perceive it in the world, to be able to follow it in our conduct and express it in our works. (For an excellent discussion on wisdom as it pertains to the arts, see Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer. It's probably too difficult for your students, but Schaeffer's insights will benefit you and help your perspective as you teach.)

We're going to give your students a simple practice that will hopefully help them begin to see their computer use as a means of worship, because everything we do should be for God (Romans 11:36, Colossians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:31). Pray for them that through not just this exercise, but all their education, they will learn wisdom – to know and follow and worship God in all things. The assignment is to make a music video to "How Great Thou Art" which is a music file we have provided for you. First have them listen to the song; the words are also provided. See the Resources folder for pictures they can use for backdrops and sprites (mostly from openclipart or by using, and of course you may obtain your own if you prefer. Encourage them to think about the message in the words and the music, and to think about what God's greatness means to them, and make their video truly communicate that. Don't grade them harshly if it doesn't turn out so beautiful; remember that not everyone will have that gift. Grade them on the completeness of the project, but encourage them to think of it in terms of worship and therefore do their very best.

I appreciate your prayers as I continue to work on this, that the Lord would guide me to develop just what is needed. It's not always easy, especially when I notice things like the motion blocks require use of negative numbers that the kids won't have learned yet! But I'm honored and overjoyed to have this opportunity to help teachers disciple their students in this way.