Guest Post: Just Nick

Theology Thursday

I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine. He’s one of the Youth in the Youth Group and you can call him Just Nick. (That’s what he told me.) Just Nick wrote this meditation of sorts in preparation for a Youth Group event he hopes to attend next year (with a different Youth Group, though it sounds like a cool event so maybe ours can go, too . . . ) I like to encourage Youth in their devotion to God and their theological thinking, so I asked him if I could post his meditation here and he said yes, as you can see. Enjoy!

Things Nick is into: 1. God. 2. Computers.

Things Just Nick is into: 1. God. 2. Computers.

I’d like to start by reading a quick verse from the Bible, Ephesians 2:10. Here, Paul is writing to a church he began in Ephesus, after Jesus’ death.

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advanced for us to do.

Building off of this, today, we’re going to be talking about computer programming. And, if you can’t already tell from that sentence, this may very well be the nerdiest message you’ll ever sit through.

For the remainder of this message, I’ll need you to understand a few things. First of all, computers are really stupid creations. Everything that your computer does is in terms of “yes”, or really a 1, or “no”, a 0. The speed of your computer is determined by how fast it can process this information. Most computers handle these calculations, also known as evaluations, billions of times per second in an unimaginably complex process of 0’s and 1’s, known as binary. Secondly, you’ll need to understand that almost all programmers, like myself, code in a program called a compiler in a language that is somewhere between English and this binary that computers can understand. The compiler is effectively the translator; it translates this intermediary language into binary. The last thing you’ll need to know is that most of these intermediary languages work on a line-by-line basis, executing pieces of code sequentially, as we type them.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “What could all this possibly have to do with worshiping God?” And we’ll get to that; just let me get through the computer stuff first.

One particular construct in basic programming is known as a variable. Variables are little pieces of data that a programmer makes in order to easily reference later in the program. For example, a variable could be a number, true or false, a string of characters, a single character, or even a chunk of code that, for example, makes your character jump in a video game. The rest of this demonstration will use the word variable to describe an event, situation, circumstance, aspect, or an act that has or had a significant effect on a person’s life, be it positive or negative. Think of these variables as the things that make us think “Oh, God! For what possible reason did you let that happen?!” or “Praise God on high for all he has given me!” (We obviously prefer the second one.)

Generally, if you were to take a class in a programming language like Java or C, you’d learn first about variables, and then about our next topic: the if-then-do statement.
This particular type of evaluation is about the most complex thing that a computer can do, but the easiest that we can understand. An if-then-do statement evaluates, or checks, a variable, THEN if that variable fits whatever arguments the statement has, (for example, I can have an if-then-do statement that says “if variable x is greater than 10, or if variable x is equal to “Foo”) then it DOES, or executes, a chunk of code. At this point, the variable being evaluated is considered by the computer as a 1; if it didn’t fit the arguments, then it’d be a 0. For example, if I were making a game, then one place I would use an if-then-do statement is for a basic character jump: If spacebar = pressed, then character jumps. In short, if x is true then do this.

This construct in programming has a very real importance in our spiritual lives. If God is true in your life, then what are you doing about it? The things we do for God are our arguments. They are what we are programmed to do, by the world’s best programmer. He programmed in our talents, our flaws and glitches, and also everything that we have done, will do, can do, and won’t do.

One of my favorite things about variables is that they are changeable. They’re moldable, flexible and easy to effect. An if-then-do statement can change a variable fast and easily. That’s the first of a few challenges I have for you today: IF a situation, a variable, is negatively affecting your spiritual life, or that of others, THEN DO change it.

Next, in your average programming class, you’d generally cover For Loops. A For Loop is close to the simplest thing a computer can do. As its name suggests, a For Loop simply tells the computer to execute a command over and over again, on a loop. Going back to the game idea, a for loop would be used to make an enemy character move back and forth, patrolling an area. Or, in Pong, For Loops make the opponent bat always move to deflect the ball back at you, and really are the concept that keeps the ball from freezing in the middle of the screen.

For Loops can also be used to describe a certain type of Christian that I’m sure we’ve all heard of: the Easter and Christmas Church-goers. They do the same thing, every year, over and over again, only showing up on Easter and Christmas to make themselves feel good, or maybe to give them a reason to celebrate those holidays. (Fun fact: the word holiday actually comes from the words holy and day or holy day. Maybe that’ll change your outlook on holidays as well?) Sometimes, being a Easter and Christmas Church-goer isn’t a problem, if the person is serving God as often as possible throughout the rest of the year as well. But, if they put on a pretty face and are a different person at Church than they are outside, then what exactly are they doing for God? Coming to church and singing a few pretty songs and hearing an inspiring message is fine and good, but can you truly be a disciple only two days out of the year? No! We make a life-long commitment when we dedicate our lives to God.

There is another type of Christian that For Loops describe pretty well. Another use of For Loops in a program is to make a variable count up, doing something every time the variable hits a multiple of two or five, or when it reaches a certain number. I once was this type of Christian. I would come to church, put on a pretty face, but outside of there I was a swearing, perverted, sinful, disgusting piece of pond-scum. On Sundays, though, I would pray and worship and act like I cared. Over and over again, redundantly, just like the computers I so loved and worshiped and idolized. Then, I got to a point of desperation in life. I went through a series of traumatic experiences that I can’t really elaborate on here. I needed support, and the one true God almighty was by my side. We don’t have to wait until we realize we need God to worship him FOR all he has given us, rather than worshiping him AND what he has given us.

The next programming construct you’d normally cover is called a While Loop. This is a type of evaluation in which the computer checks a variable and while the variable fits the arguments I mentioned before, it will execute something over and over again until the variable changes.

There are Christians out there who, while it benefits them, will remain Christians. They’re the ones who go to church but they care if they’re being judged for it at work and school. The moment that they get a negative rep (and let’s be honest: Christians do have a pretty negative rep. Another challenge: Destroy that stereotype! We don’t have to exist in shame!) The person goes back to using the Lord’s name in vain and sinning just as they had before they were a Christian. In John, chapter 15, Jesus says: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first”. They don’t have to care about the so-called judges. What gives the right to judge? They can’t judge you, they don’t know you, and they also don’t know of the great and almighty God who has saved you, and will never judge you for anything you aren’t or anything you’ve done, he forgives all that, only for what you are and for what you can and will become.

To close, I’ll bring up one more concept that you’d learn fairly late in your average class: Case Statements. A Case Statement is an evaluation that can have more than two outcomes (unlike an if statement, which has two outcomes: execute the if statement’s code if the variable fits, or don’t because the variable does not fit). A Case Statement is used in a similar way to an If Statement: In the case of variable “a” being equal to x, then do this, but if it is equal to y, then do that, and if it doesn’t fit either of those do something else.

In a program, a case statement would be used in a simple dialogue sequence. The player’s character is talking to an Non-Player Character. They’re given the opportunity to decide what to say, and the NPC responds and reacts depending on what the player chose to say. In our lives, a case statement can describe all the expectations we have from a variable, a situation, and what is going to come afterwards. We have all these negative preconceptions about life and the variables that make it up and it does not have to be that way. We were given the ability to change what variables make our lives up, we were given the free will to change those variables, so why insult the person that gave those to us by taking that free will and turning it around and not doing what our programmer had intended for us to do? No good program has errors or does what it is not intended to do, and every good programmer does everything in their power to fix those errors. Let God’s troubleshooting power flow through you today. Start looking for his influence in your life, it may be hard to find, but it is there, and start finding the errors and fixing them.

While I was writing this, I sent this message to a few people to fine-tune everything. A very wise man brought up a really amazing point: No program can say that they have a beautiful, loving relationship with their programmer. While the way we think may be very similar to that of a program, we’re not just little programs under God, we are intelligent, significant, personal friends of the creator of the world. That’s the final challenge I leave you with today: What you do in your life, while it may seem insignificant, is only going to be judged as insignificant by the people that don’t matter. There is only one person whose judgment does matter, and He loves you more than any human, or computer, can imagine or fathom. And that is why we must do that which Ephesians 2 said: “what God prepared in advanced for us to do.”

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