Saturday, December 13, 2008

KeePassX - excellent personal data manager software

Just wanted to pass on a software recommendation that can potentially be beneficial for all: KeePassX. Taken from their website: "KeePassX is an application for people with extremly high demands on secure personal data management. It has a light interface, is cross platform and [open source]". I use the program for storing all kinds of personal information (online account login/passwords, software serial numbers, padlock cominations, etc.). The advantages of using a program like this are:
  • It's free
  • All of your personal information is in one place as compared to being in multiple files or folders - physical or virtual).
  • It's searchable, sortable, groupable, etc. thus easier to find a given entry
  • It secure - one has to know your master password to get access it to it as all the data is encrypted.
  • It's easily replicable by copying to another location, burning to a CD, etc.
After using it for a bit at home and work now, I highly recommend it. You can download it for your platform of choice (Mac, Windows, Linux) here:

Quick status update

I haven't blogged in a long while largely due to so much going on our end. Real quick:

With a ton of help from friends and family, a lot of work was done on our home to prepare it to sell. We were unsuccessful in this endeavor, and instead have both units rented out, and thus we've moved out. We will hopefully be temporarily moving to Costa Rica so Kara can further develop her Spanish skills.

I hope to do a more thorough post about what we've learned the last 6 months and discuss more specifically what's coming, but that will have to come in a bit. There are a few more pressing things to take care of at the moment :)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Raleigh/New York City + New York City Travel Tips - May 2008

Kara and I recently were on vacation in North Carolina. We had a blast touring Raleigh and the Outer Banks. We saw a nursing school and the adjacent hospital, we played a few rounds of golf, ate at "Top of the Hill" on UNC's campus among other things.

While in the Outer Banks, we played a few rounds of miniature golf, walked the beach, toured the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, jumped off some sand dunes (my personal highlight) and I got to tour the Wright Brothers museum.

Here's a few pictures from that leg of the trip:

After 6 days wthere, Kara and I headed up to NYC for 4 nights to take in the sights of the Big Apple. Having never visited the city before, I couldn't believe the immenseness of everything coming up to street level from the subway. A few days in NYC made Seattle seem like a small town in comparison.

We were able to take in quite a few sights while we were there including the Letterman show, Broadway, Central Park, Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, Wall Street, UN Headquarters, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and a few others. We stayed at Hotel St. James on 45th Street, in between 7th and 6th Avenues. If you're familiar at all with the area, we were sandwiched between Rockefeller Center and Times Square (a pretty ideal location).

Overall, it was an amazing time in a great city. In addition, there were a few things we learned that we wanted to post in case it can benefit others:
  • Buy reserved tickets for Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. The ferry takes awhile to load and unload. This process occurs three times (Battery where you get on in New York, Liberty Island, and Ellis Island). We waited some 45 minutes in the rain to get on the ferry the first time despite getting there at 9:15 am when the first ferry leaves at 9:30. Reserved tickets let you come back at a certain time and skip a bunch of this line. Apparently they can be ordered online.
  • Purchase a week long unlimited Metro tickets for the subway/bus system if you’re going to be there for 3 or more nights.
  • Walk the Brooklyn Bridge, but first take a subway into Brooklyn so you can walk into the city. We accidentally took the JHZ subway line that crosses over the Williamsburg line. It then took a 40 minute bus ride to get to the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Rollerblade in Central Park. We carried our blades in luggage, and this turned out to be a highlight of the trip. You may even have Lance Armstrong blaze by you on his bike a few times! It allowed us to see the entire park in a shorter amount of time given that the park consists of 843 acres (6 miles to go completely around).
  • Get 50% off same-day Broadway tickets. Look for signs for “tkts”. Ticket sales open at 3 pm, although people line up before hand. I would get there no later than 2:45. Note: there are two lines, one for plays only and another for musicals. Also, they only take cash, and they didn’t have that posted in anywhere. Some people definitely got burned when they got to the cashier after waiting in line for 30 minutes.
  • Request tickets to the Late Show with David Letterman. You can do it online. This too was a highlight, and it’s free! Note: you have to answer a trivia question if they do call you! Requesting tickets this way will guarantee you seats.
  • Buying breakfast and lunch supplies can save a lot of money for other activities. We hit up the closest Whole Foods and were good to go.
  • If you want a great Italian dinner, be sure to hit up Little Italy.
  • Check out the Federal Hall. This historic landmark/museum is located right in the middle of Wall Street. It felt like we had teleported to Washington D.C. as we were getting a heavy dosage of colonial history. I had forgotten that the government was first situated in New York when Washington became president.
  • Don’t expect to see much at the Twin Towers. They are heavy into construction, and have a lot of the site boarded up to prevent traffic from slowing down due to onlooking drivers.
  • The American Museum of Natural History is a great museum to see. I think they have the largest collection of dinosaur fossils of any museum in the world. We weren’t able to see all the exhibits even though we spent nearly 3 ½ hours there, so we recommend picking out your top exhibits and making sure you see those first rather than tackling the entire museum floor by floor given you could spend an entire there taking in all that it has to offer. Also, the museum has a suggested $15 donation to go through the museum. If you would rather not pay the full suggested fee, be sure to enter through the main entrance that faces Central Park. There are self-service pay stations located there.
Here are a few pictures from our time in New York. If you would like to see the rest, click here to go to our Picasa Web album.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 40: So why does Christ's death matter?

So why does Christ’s death matter? He says he is to draw peple to the Father, to reconcile people to them. I have heard that every act of disobedience (sin) has a cost or consequence. Jesus pays this price apparently. He’s like the jackpot sacrifice paying the price for all. There are songs sung at church about how he we’re forgiven because he was forsaken. That song bugs me actually. It feels cheap and shallow. We see God forgive people in the Old Testament independent of Jesus’ sacrifice. Asking for it and repenting, seem to be the key for receiving forgiveness from God. God himself even gets tired of the whole sacrifice system, where people were using animal slaughtering spectacles to clear their conscience of their wrong, all the while not changing how they lived. As Jesus points out, mercy, not sacrifice, is desired.

But reconciling is a two way thing. I don’t know how much God needed Christ’s sacrifice so he could draw close to us, so he could love us. Maybe it was something he needed to do to help us draw near to him. One catalyst for reconciliation is to know the other side wants to be reconciled. When a relationship with another is strained and you learn that the other wants to restore it, if bitterness and anger have not completely consumed your heart, then this knowledge can move the other to desire the same. Christ coming to earth was carrying a cross from day 1. He was putting restrictions and burdens on himself (i.e. heaviness – like a big wooden cross). He was sacrificing his place of glory for one of an incredible affliction. In doing this, he demonstrated his desire to reconcile with creation that had gone astray. He was putting the issue on the table that God wants to be reconciled to us. We now get to choose if we want it.

But when you decide you want God but know that you have faults, it’s easy to get trapped wondering, fretting, if you have done enough. This has plagued humanity for so long. Rob Bell came to Seattle fairly recently talking about how the gods aren’t angry. He shared some of the ways that people throughout history have attempted to appease the gods, everything from child sacrifice to castration to orgies. In this sense, Christ is the jackpot. We don’t need to worry whether more sacrifice needs to occur for us to be ok with God. We can instead move to what he was desiring from the beginning and what he created us for: relationship. Relationship is surrendering of one’s self to another. That is what is being asked of us now.

I suppose it’s important to accept though that there is a created order to the world, where bad choices have consequences for the one who has done bad. It would be neglecting god’s nature to forget this. It would also neglect God’s nature though to forget about love, love that seeks unity and wholeness (reconciliation). Love is deeper than consequences. As C.S. Lewis said, there is a deeper magic than the usual cause and effect of our actions. This deeper magic says that one can be set free from their wrong, if one who has done no wrong, pays the price for the wrong. Even more, that one who has done no wrong, will also be vindicated despite willfully taking on the wrong of others. This vindication is resurrection. Where death was expected to conquer, life does instead. This is Easter.

I’m praying for a very meaningful Easter tomorrow, to let these truths sink in, to rejoice in the reconciliation set before me, to celebrate the life that is mine in Christ. If this entry doesn’t make sense, or you have questions, please let me know. I would love to talk!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 39: Rumblings of Submission

When Judas and the mob come to arrest Jesus in the garden, Jesus goes out and meets them and asks, "Who is it that you want?" When they reply, "Jesus of Nazareth," Jesus says, "I am he." As soon as Jesus utters these three words, the mob steps back and falls to the ground (see John 18:2-4). There's no explanation as to why Jesus' words had this effect on them. It seems to me that it's a rumbling of submission. It's like when we put on a backpack on and shuffle our shoulders to settle in the burden that we've taken on. It's like the long exhale we make when entering into a situation or conversation we aren't thrilled about. Jesus was surrendering, and there was a shudder of power that went out from him as he consciously let go of that power. Surrender may have an adjustment period, but all that matters, as with Christ, is that surrender actually happens.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 38: Betrayal

So tonight was the night Jesus was betrayed. Ugh... What a miserable night that must have been. As much I'd hate to admit it, I'm convinced I would have deserted Christ as well. I see no reason why I would be more apt to stick with Jesus as things are falling apart than the twelve. I've never had it anywhere close as bad as he had. Just imagine being God and being abandoned by those you have loved, and to have your fate decided by the very beings you created. When things don't make logical sense, you know love is involved.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 37: Overwhelmed

I feel very overwhelmed. It's affecting my ability to focus on your for Easter. I'm trusting you to get us through this. I'm trusting you to provide unity for the hard work ahead. You're the way and the gate. I trust you to get me me on you and through you. I surrender; please take the reigns.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 36: A Hard Teaching

"This is a hard teaching..." This was the feeling of many of your disciples when you stared declaring you're the bread of life in John 6. I'd have to agree. You say, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." This confuses people as they begin to argue, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" It's really a good and legitimate question. Instead of answering the question directly, you only up the ante by saying, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you." Huh. So this wasn't exactly helpful Jesus. People are wondering what you mean by eating your flesh. They want to live forever, and they're believing you're the gateway, but they aren't understanding how to eat you. Saying, "my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink" isn't immediately helpful either. What do you mean by real food and real drink? Last I checked, I couldn't pick up at the grocery story. I can't even get it in the forsaken farm lands of Pullman.

Food and drink are consumable. I need to take you in. I need to get you inside of me. Eating food is usually very easy for me. But this is a different kind of eating. I'm not trained in eating people's flesh and blood, especially someone who has died, but that's right, you're alive! So you say I can eat you. You say I need to. I still don't know how this works. I trust that you will make this happen. Make the words from your life be like my daily peanut butter sandwich. Let your words settle in the heart of my belly. Find your flesh and blood in array of stomach acid and bile.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 35: Do you want to be made well?

Getting into work usually entails riding a 79 bus and then hoping on one of inter-office shuttles to the Beacon Hill office. This morning, for the first time that I can remember, someone was waiting out front of the shuttles asking for money. She was probably in her late teens. She had short bleached hair, but it had looked like the streets had tarnished her youthfulness. Her request was small, “do you have a quarter?” Most everyone loading onto the shuttles walked past her. As I carry socks in my backpack, I asked her if she needed any. She said no, and that she wanted to her money. At this, I kind of shrugged my shoulders, gave her an “ok, well…” look, said good bye, and proceeded on the shuttle. A friend said, “she didn’t take your socks? She can’t by crack cocaine with socks…”

I was disappointed how I handled the whole situation. Sure, it’s good that I didn’t blow by her, but I can’t say I loved her. I know my response wasn’t how Jesus would have responded. I was even just reading the story of Jesus healing at the pool in Jerusalem in John 5. I love this story. Jesus intentionally goes to the area where the blind, lame, and paralyzed are hanging out on his way into the city. The city surely had other entrances. He didn’t have to choose this one if he wanted to avoid the sickness and filth that were surely present. A man who has been invalid for 38 years catches Jesus’ attention. He learns from some other fountain-camp local that the man has been suffering a long time. As a result, Jesus asks the question: “do you want to get well?” This is such a dignifying and practical question to ask. We’ve all heard that someone can only be helped if they want to be helped. Jesus makes sure this baseline is met. But it also shows his focus on actually getting the man well. It’s not a conscious appeasing question. It’s not a question that keeps the man in the same rut he’s been in for the last 38 years. Do you want to get well? Practical, loving, helpful.

So I wonder what would have happened if I had asked this woman if she wanted to be made well. She may have laughed at me for supposing that she needed to made well to begin with or that I could even do anything to help. Maybe she would have given an honest no. Maybe she would have said yes. At that point, we would have had to figure out what that looked like. It would have challenged me as I’ve never made someone well. It would have been a challenge worth taking on though. The same Spirit that lived within Christ, lives within me, and according to John the Baptist, “God gives the Spirit without limit” (John 3:34). Today that same Spirit didn’t seem alive in my encounter, but I’m sure I’ll get another shot. I hope that the Bible studying, praying, and reflecting actually make an impact, that I will actually do better.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 34: Good

A month or so ago, when driving home, Kara expressed her feeling that I was a good person. I know she was expressing her appreciation of me, but I didn’t know how to take it. Jesus’ words quickly came to mind: “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18). I may do some good things, but I don’t think that makes me good. I also think and do things that aren’t good. I relate to the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7.

I decided to look at all the cases “good” is used in Scripture. Given how generic of a word it is, it may not be surprising that it shows up frequently. You can see the 566 occurrences here. While reading through these verses, a made a list of all the nouns that “good” was used as an adjective to describe. Here it is:
  • Light,
  • Land,
  • Animals
  • Items
  • Tree
  • Field
  • Pasture
  • Stones
  • Things of the land
  • Actions/deeds
  • Ideas
  • Words
  • Decrees/commands
  • Promises
  • Age
  • Fruit
  • Reports
  • News
  • Outcomes
  • Way/Path
  • Plunder
  • Health 
  • Judgment
  • Advice
  • Plans
  • Signs
  • Prophecy
  • Understanding
  • Favor
  • Work
  • Wisdom
  • Gifts
  • Eyes
  • Servants
  • Soldiers
  • Ministers
  • Race (competition)
  • Fight
  • Conscience
  • Reputation
  • Investments
  • Behavior
  • God’s will
  • God’s name
  • God
  • The Spirit 
  • People

I was surprised by how the word is used. It’s expected that many physical things would be described as good in Scripture given how Genesis 1 starts. It did stand out to me though that people should do good. This shows up continually. Actions of people are given the label of good. People are exhorted to do good. People are told to cling to good. People are told to seek the good of others, not their own. People are instructed that good comes from the inside. Jesus’ statement that no one is good alone holds up. People are described as good only a couple of times (2 Samuel 18:27, Luke 23:50, Acts 11:24), and this description only comes from other people. The times where God speaks of someone’s good (1 Kings 14:13, 2 Chronicles 19:3), he talks about the good that exists within them, but not a blanket statement that they are good.

In terms of what it means to do good, I didn’t see any occurrence where “to love” couldn’t be used instead. Specifics on what it means to love can be gleaned from the law/commandments and the life of Christ.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 33: The Joy of Second Chances

One of Kara’s classes is to put on three short Spanish plays. Kara is doing all the music and sound effects, and last night was the dress rehearsal. In a critical part of the play with timpani rolls, canon shots, horse gallops, and sword clashes, she had a bit of a screw up. With the limited technology before her, switching all the sounds with fades and at the right time is not trivial. She came home quite disappointed with how it went. I could tell it was replaying in her mind. After relaying the series of events to me, she started thinking about how it could be done more easily so there was less margin for error. She knew she had another chance, and she wanted to take full advantage of it. Running the risk of same screw up for a “real” performance of the play would have been unacceptable. Kara’s hard work in preparing paid off though, and she was a much happier camper tonight when I picked her up. As she shared and felt: practice makes perfect.

This is so true in daily lives. How important it is to get another chance, especially after screwing up. Dignity is built when we fail at first but succeed later. Dignity is stolen when we fail once and never get a chance again. Imagine what it would it would have been like for Peter when Christ has his one on one with Peter if Christ didn’t give him a chance to affirm his love for Christ and if Christ had withheld the commission to “feed my sheep”.

I’m very thankful for the second chances I get in marriage. I hope that I will recall the mental notes I make to be encouraging, to offer my shoulder and not a lecture, to understand and not to solve. I see these second chances pay off. I am getting better as husband, but I admittedly have a long way to go. Tomorrow (Saturday) is a second chance for me, as I have been doing a poor job on Saturdays of living with God. I tend to get up ambitious to get as many personal things done as possible (e.g. finances, cleaning,, yard work, email, etc.). Time with God to study/pray and serving hardly enter the agenda. Tomorrow is another try to do better. I’m poised; I’m going to!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 32: Software licenses and the Kingdom

I’ve been working on some additions for the JavaScript library Ext. Someone on the forums asked me what license they were being offered under. I’ve heard of a lot of the software licenses, but I didn’t know what they all meant, so I took time read about them and gain some understanding. The umbrella of “open source” software entails a lot of things. Some licenses are viral in the sense that anything that uses them must also be made open (i.e. free of charge and source code disclosed). Others are less viral in that only additional code that is derived from the open source code must be open source. Linking to the open source code is fine, which means someone can still make a commercial product utilizing the open source code. And some licenses basically make the code part of the public domain meaning one can do whatever he or she wants with it.

One of these extensions has been done with great help and starting base of someone else online. In asking him about what type of license he’d like to see on our joint effort, he said, “I want to make sure anyone can use my extensions without any restrictions”. I really appreciated his attitude. He wasn’t doing this to make money, but rather to pass on what has benefited him.

I started thinking about software licenses and the Kingdom. I don’t think the Kingdom is meant to be like the public domain licenses that allow someone to do whatever they choose. You can’t just do whatever you want to the Kingdom. While it’s made freely available to any who would choose it, there are conditions (a license so to speak) if you begin to enter (utilize) it. Jesus has some relevant words on the license: (Luke 14:28-33)

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Like any wise individual or company in the software world does (especially those with lawyers!), we’re to consider the terms. There’s requirements of us if we’re to become part of this Kingdom. Jesus spells some of them out for us before we enter the gate, so we can own the decision. It’s hard to feel ownership if someone tricks you. If we accept the terms, we have to effectively “open” ourselves, like the “viral” licenses discussed above. Our source code (life) needs to be visible for all to see, and we have to be open to being used by any and all. By doing so, we have the potential of other people joining us in this open movement. In this way, the mustard seed really grows and “becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13:32).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 31: Persevering past "mental obsession"

Kara is almost done with school and work, and the combination of the two hasn’t been easy. Since starting to work while being a student, she comes home much more tired than before. Kara doesn’t have to work for us to pay our room and board, so I’ve been very impressed with the way she has persevered and worked hard on her own accord. In talking about it with her, she knows without a doubt that she has had God’s help. She doesn’t know how she would get through it otherwise.

Kara’s perseverance is a good reminder for me as I struggle to persevere mentally. I am currently “mentally obsessed’ with a project I’m working on at work. I struggle to get it out of my head. I keep saying in my head, “I just can’t stop thinking about this.” When being honest with myself though, I realize that what I can’t stop thinking about is something that I want to think about. Isn’t it great how my mind gets tricked into thinking that not doing something it wants to do can’t be done?

That’s where perseverance has to come in. Although I want to think about technology, it’s not good for my soul or the Kingdom to continually do. At the end of life, the lines of code making a web page look a little prettier aren’t going to mean much, especially if they choked off my heart from the needs of people and desires of God.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 30: Jail

I’m falling asleep while thinking and writing about this, so this will be brief. I have a friend who has been in jail for the last few months. I recently received a letter from as to how he’s doing. He talked about having lots of time to think and read. He’s almost made it through the Bible. I got a little envious. I would not want to be in jail, but the idea of having hours upon end to pray, read, and think just sounds wonderful. And it’s true that jail has shaped many people in our history, both Biblical and other. There’s Joseph, John, Peter, and Paul. Even Jesus spent a night in the slammer. More recently, there’s been Dietrich Bonheoffer, Martin Luther, and Nelson Mandela. None of them chose or desired to be there, but it’s clear that God used their jail time for his purposes.

I spent some time reading about jail before my eye's got heavy.  Here a couple of interesting links:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 29: Welfare Drug

I have a friend with a troubled past. He calls most every day to check in. Last week, he made a particularly surprising request: “because my welfare is getting re-instated and I have some back check, would you mind holding onto some of them so I don’t blow it all?” He knew his spending habbits, the way it could go up in an hour after visitng the crack dealer. He knew that people preyed on him when he had money, that they suddenly were his best friend. He knew those friendlships lasted only as long as the money lasted. He wanted me to hold on to it to keep him accountable to only spending it on his needs, not his wants. I was impressed with prudence of his suggestion.

He called me today before he went to pick up the checks. We arranged to meet at my bus stop at 5:20 to hand off the funds. Then he started talking about wanting a cell phone. I tried to quickly to dispel that notion, identifying it as a nice to have, but not a need. He agreed. I thought we were good. I got to the bus stop at 5:20, and at 5:45 he still hadn’t showed up. A little later while cooking dinner, I get a call from a 206 number. Sure enough, it’s my friend. He discussed how things got hectic activating his phone, and how he’d take out family (i.e. friends) to Old Country Buffet and paying for a motel room for a week. By this point in his story, I was feeling disappointed. The idea of restraining spending to get himself stabilized in and out of detox wasn’t looking like a reality.

While thinking about the whole incident later that night while grocery shopping, I realized my friend isn’t really to blame. Relative to my friend, I think he did quite well with his temporary fortune. He did use some of it for a phone, which is his primary way of serving and blessing others. I’m more struck by our government and culture that shells money out like this on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Welfare doesn’t inspire anyone. It doesn’t stir up aspirations. It’s more of a cheap condolence from the system: “we can’t get you any housing, but you will get some money at the end of the month…” Maybe it’s a conscience clearer for human services. It’s without a doubt that my friend would need a very special environment to succeed in contributing to society again. I just wish he had that environment and wasn’t forced to cope by taking the welfare drug. I’m embarrassed that I’m not creating that environment for him and others.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 28: Crappy Rester

I didn’t write my Saturday blog entry yesterday because I was at work, then watched the Huskies vs. Cougars basketball game with Kara, and finally needed to work late in to the evening to be ready for our team’s demo on Monday. Today, even though I wasn’t doing work for Amazon, I still found myself with a task list. While I’m more free on Sundays, I still work. I’m just doing the other tasks that I don’t get to during week do to work like reading newsletters, writing to sponsor kids, investigating government issue, calling people, fixing things, cleaning. I already knew this, but it was made clear to me today that I’m a crappy rester. I don’t know how to not do anything. I have to do something. Reading is restful for me, so is being outdoors. I could hardly get myself to do much of either of these things. I feel pathetic.

Jesus once said to a group of accusers: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). The Sabbath is a gift for us. I often times don’t feel that way. I think I often times deny this gift. How foolish. And there is a good reminder in this passage for those who are good at resting: Christ is still at the helm, even in the day of rest. The Sabbath isn’t an excuse to avoid the needs God brings before us. Maybe instead, the Sabbath provides a legitimate excuse not to actively seek them out.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 27: To Forgive Is To Love

Finished watching Into the Wild. Aside from some random nudity that felt like was thrown in to “spice” things up, it was well done. There’s a great scene where the main character who forsakes his family and affluent life is up on a ledge with a older man he has befriended. The old man cuts past all of the issues the main character has with the church, family, and society and says, “to forgive is to love, and that’s when God shines his light down you.” At that moment, the clouds break and the sun punches through. The statement strikes me because it gives emphasis to how foundational reconciliation is to one’s relationship with God and others. If this statement is true, it makes sense that God would say we can’t be in relationship with someone who isn’t exhibiting it. If God is love, then God cannot be where forgiveness is scorned.

I realize I’m not getting into the specifics of what this means for my life. After this long week, it’s really just nice to get my mind on something else besides work, even if it’s abstract :)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 26: Burn It Up

We started watching Into the Wild tonight. It really has some amazing imagery about forsaking all in pursuit of freedom. My favorite part was when he burns his cash. There’s something in me that objected. All kinds of “but…” thoughts came to mind. I saw where he was coming from in wanting to get away from his past life of being shepherded by parents of material plenty and worldly success. But still, did he need to burn the cash? Even if he didn’t spend it, it’s nice to have as a backup or in an emergency.

But you see, money is really just a tool. Like a hammer, it can be used to do things. Many uses of this tool are good. I don’t need to enumerate those here. But tools also have the potential to hurt us. A rope can help fish someone from a raging sea, and it can also be constructed as a noose to hang oneself. I remember the damage tools can bring most clearly growing up, when my dad, in an effort to cut some cardboard, sliced right through it with his razor knife, but also sliced into his thigh. My dad’s case was due to carelessness, and was easily preventable in the future. But some tools aren’t so easy to use properly. In these cases, I think we need to ask ourselves how long we’re going to let the tool sink us before we finally let it go and live without it.

Kara and I do some good things with money, but earning it, managing it, and using it sure does take a lot out of us. I’m reminded of Jesus’ invitation to “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33). Jesus also gives similar advice to a rich man in Matthew 19. I have heard sermons on Matthew 19 before. Usually the preacher extracts some “good lessons” from the story, but they conveniently don’t include selling our possessions. The closest or she might get is encouraging us to be willing to sell if asked. But Jesus’ words in Luke were directed to all his disciples. It’s not as easy to slip away from. If someone is really trying to follow Christ, why wouldn’t they think these words apply to them? I know when I hear Jesus’ words, I instantly start to make some of the same “but…” objections like I did when watching the money go up in flames: “but what about looking after my family… but what if I share my possessions… but what about not being a burden on others… but how will I be able to make an impact in our culture… but what about having fun…”

It’s incredibly hard to be in our culture and not have stuff. Maybe it’s just the amount of stuff that’s the problem. Maybe it’s the fact that so much of it goes unused. Maybe if there was more owned by the community I would feel better? Jesus words trouble me, but even more troubling is that I don’t know how and if I can apply them in my context.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 25: Excercising the Gift

For my small group yesterday, we read some excerpts from John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinner. The book discusses his call into ministry. It was really interesting to read about how the exercising of his gifts progressed. He writes:
Some of the saints who had good judgment and holiness of life seemed to feel that God had counted me worthy to understand the blessed Word and that he had given me some measure of ability to express helpfully to others what I saw in it. So they asked me to speak a word of exhortation to them in one of the meetings.

At first this seemed to be an impossible thing for me to do, but they kept at it. I finally consented and spoke twice to small meetings of Christians only, but with much weakness and infirmity. So I tested my gift among them, and it seemed as I spoke they were being given a blessing. Afterward many told me, in the sigh of the great God, that they were helped and comforted…

The church continued to feel that I should preach, and so after solemn prayer to the Lord, with fasting, I was ordained to regular public preaching of the Word among those who believed and also to those who had not yet received the faith.

About this time I began to feel a great desire to preach to the unsaved, but not for the desire of glorifying myself, for at that time I was particularly being afflicted with the fiery darts of the Devil concerning my eternal state. I could not rest unless I was exercising the gift of preaching, and I was pressed forward into it.
I was really struck by the seemingly natural progression that Bunyan experienced. Potential was recognized in him and brought to his attention by others. He then began to try it out. His attempts, though difficult, yielded fruit. They were encouragement to attempt again, to exercise further. At some point, it because clear to him that he was gifted in teaching. He felt it and he recognized it mentally. It was how God wired him, and as a result, a deep passion brewed inside of him to use what he had been given.

This has gotten me thinking about my own gifts and passions. I admittedly don’t have a lot of clarity in these areas. You won’t hear me say, “that involves a strength of mine, thus I should be apart of it” or “this opportunity involves my passions and gifts, therefore I should take advantage of it to develop them”. My decisions aren’t gifts/passions driven. Rather, if the decision logistically makes sense and I can’t point to a reason not to, I go ahead.

The problem with my approach is that I’m not operating with optimum output. This is for a few reasons:
  1. I’m not serving as much. It causes me to live out of obedience, and not out of love. Obedience is good and certainly has its place, but love is better. It’s the difference between watching every minute on the clock and wondering where the time went.
  2. My time serving isn’t as a productive. A screwdriver can be used to drive in nails if need be, but it’s really best at screwing. There’s all kinds of things we can do, but there are things we’re more suited for.
Given the plethora of need out there, I know I need to do something. I only have one life to make a mark. Since I only have one life, I want the mark I leave as significant as possible. This requires maximizes the amount of time I’m operating out of giftedness and passion.

My relationships with computers has for so many years driven a wedge between my actions and my gifts/passions. Computer science connects with my head, but it hasn’t engaged my heart. There are the voices in my head that utter “because you’re pretty good at this, you should do it” or even “your technical skills can be used by God, therefore you should continue down this path”. I’m sure better balance can be had between my day job and doing something about the poverty and injustice in our world. I think the best I have done was during my senior with a reduced school load and serving/leading out at the 1304 house. I don’t think I’m winning the balance war now. At some point, instead of battling to reconcile the two, I think I may have to give up and try a different tact.

I realize these are a lot of ramblings. I need to get this stuff out, because I can’t keep living in this untapped way...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 24: Looking Forward

Last night, we got to spend some time with some friends that we really look up to and enjoy. We walked away full of joy, relishing just how nice it is to sit down and talk with people who listen well, understand you, and desire the Kingdom above all else. The reality of the homework waiting for Kara eventually hit in though. While driving home, we talked about how great heaven will be in this regard. There will be no such time constraints, no homework, no alarm clocks. We’ll be able to talk indefinitely with people we know and new faces representing every race on the planet. I look so forward to getting to sit down with my Grandpa and chat over slices of Bothwell cheese like we used to do when I’d visit in the summers growing up. I look forward to talking with Larry in his new body free of addiction and cirrhosis. I look forward to learning what life was like to grow up in the Sahara, the Andes, and the Outback from new found friends.

There is so much I look forward to learning in depth far more than I ever got in school. There’s all the sciences. There’s all the engineering disciplines. There’s all the arts. There’s endless history on our planet and the rest of the universe. I look forward to learning simply for the pleasure of learning, seeing and understanding the incredible beauty of the created world. I look forward to what all I get to be a part of here on earth, but I sure do look forward to all that will come afterwards.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 23: Standing Up in Public

While we were walking from Westlake Center to Pike Place on Saturday, I heard loud, aggressive, demeaning, and cutting language off to my right. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and searched instantly for its source. It was a lean-looking spandex-equipped biker waiting at the entry way to his Downtown condo. He was ridiculing a woman in a uniform with flyers and/or sign up sheets. I’m pretty sure she was with Metropolitan Improvement District of the Downtown Seattle Association. I stopped by the woman (10 feet from the man), and stared, still reeling to understand what was happening. He was using expletives to describe her size, her intelligence, her appearance. I didn’t see what, or even if, she did or say something that set him off. Within 5 seconds, she started asking me: “who is he talking to? Is he talking to me?” When the words got even more cutting, she got the picture, and started to walk away. I stared at the man for a few seconds, still dumb founded, and then walked with her briefly. He began to yell at us, “is that all you have to say? Nice response!” After talking briefly about not understanding what some people’s problems are, she stopped at the corner as we continued to walk forward. Mitch and I said good bye and expressed our hope that the rest of her day go better.

The whole situation has continued to trouble me since. I am disappointed with the way I handled it. While yes it’s good that I stopped, I didn’t really defend this woman being assaulted. I didn’t stand up this guy, and call him on how incredibly disrespectful he was being. This wasn’t a grey issue. It was black and white: no-one should be told the things that he was saying. I think his words struck a holy rage within me. No human bearing the stamp of God’s image should be treated with such contempt. I also failed with the follow up with the woman. Our conversation was too short to really show compassion and bring healing for her. Unless her skin is Kevlar, there’s no way his words didn’t affect her. I really should have asked more about what she does, what it’s like out here on the streets with tourists and condo-owners. Maybe should have been willing to share her story with us?

While I would not will this situation on anyone, I do want another chance to try again. I want to prove that I can speak up and that I can lay aside my own agenda for the sake others. We’ll se…

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 22: Birthdays

We had the pleasure of Mitch and George being with us this weekend, and George celebrated his 11th birthday. It was really a joy to spend the day with him. I got thinking about Jesus and birthdays. We make (or at least think we make) a big deal of his first birthday at Christmas, but I wonder what following birthday celebrations were like. For that matter, what were Hebrew birthdays like at that time? A quick Google search yielded no results on the subject. If you happen to know something on the subject, please let me know! I’m assuming though that annually, Mary and Joseph would share and reflect on the their travel to Bethlehem, arrival of strangers, and flight to Egypt. I wonder if other people believed their story about Jesus’ birth? I wonder what his siblings thought about their miracle brother?

On the subject of birthdays, what makes a good birthday celebration? How do you celebrate someone’s life well? When praying for someone on their birthday, I usually first jump to thanking God for the person’s parents for giving birth to the person and raising him or her. When I’m on top of things, I think of the areas where that person shines, where their areas of excellence are. I think about ways I can and should encourage them. So, I guess birthday’s are really not any different than other days when praying for someone, but as I can’t pray for everyone everyday, birthdays are like stakes in the ground to ensure that I do at least sometime.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 21: Sleep

I definitely felt that it was Friday today. I was up late last night due to the water heater issues, up early to drive a friend to the airport, and then working long while waiting for Mitch and George to arrive at bus depot. By the end of the work day, I could feel how my brain wasn’t firing near as fast or well. Even though I was able to program without any operational issues, work wasn’t fun. Talking with Kara on the phone, I was short and crabby. I had hid the wall, and needed a nap before taking in tonight’s festivities with Mitch and George.

While drifting to sleep in the parked Volvo, I started thinking about Jesus and tiredness. Gospel writer’s don’t record him talking about the subject much. There’s the great story of Jesus falling asleep at the front of the boat despite some rough seas. Clearly Jesus got tired and slept. But I wonder if tiredness wasn’t as big of a deal in their electricity-less culture. When night-time hit, there wouldn’t have been a whole lot to do. No computers or television. While possible, walking around wouldn’t have been pleasant. There’s only so much you’ll do before candle-light. So, I suppose it’s valid to assume that sleep was more regular and plentiful in their day-to-day lives. Consequently, sleep would have had to have been more present, and thus unnecessary to talk about.

One particularly interesting situation with Jesus and sleep is in the garden on the night he was betrayed. Jesus is on his knees praying through the night, and a few times comes back to check on the disciples, only to find them sleeping. You can read the story here. What sticks out to me is when Jesus says “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Jesus’ words are incredibly practical for those of us caught in a sleep-deprived culture. Jesus acknowledges that out inner self may want to persevere, but is tied with a body that has weakness. As a result, Jesus says to watch out and pray so that we don’t fall victim to the body’s weakness. It’s not 100% clear what temptation Jesus is speaking to. The surrounding context would be the temptation of denying Christ to save oneself ridicule or punishment. There’s the temptation to selfishly look after one’s own need (in this case being tired), despite being asked by a treasured friend and mentor to keep watch while he is distressed to the point of death. Jesus is pointing out a weakness so that we can work around it, not be bit by it. To not be owned, Jesus directs us to watch and pray. Watching and praying are really one continuous action. Applying this to sleep, notice your condition, be in communication with God about it. This sets us up to know when we need to say no so we can rest and whether we need to be extra mindful of depending God to get us over the hump of a present challenge (like the disciples needed in the garden).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 20: Learning

One of the first things I do when I get into the office is read my work/technical related RSS feeds. One feed I quickly breeze over to get a higher-level beat on what’s going on in the tech community is Slashdot. There was an article this morning about correcting misconceptions about evolution. In the Slashdot blurb, was this line:
“Everyone is a lifelong learner, but once people leave school, that learning becomes a voluntary matter that's largely driven by individual taste.”
Pretty soon afterwards, I got a call from Ryan Thomas, our great friend and excellent tenant downstairs that water was leaking in the closet from up above in our unit. Ouch, not good! He quickly got the water turned off, and I headed home from work to investigate things further. Today was a pretty stressful day, but in the midst of the cleanup and head scratching, I really enjoyed learning about water heaters and understanding how they worked.

Thinking back on it, learning happens all around me. While talking with my Mom in preparation for Mitch and George spending the weekend with us (yay!), she was telling me about all the technique learning she is undergoing in both biking and swimming as she prepares for her first triathlon. Growing up in Newfoundland wasn’t the most conducive to learning to swim. She’s learning now. Good stuff. I learned about coops and how they can benefit the poor. I learned about landscape architects and what the title means. I learned about drying out drywall. And this doesn’t include all the technical components I learn for work. Learning is usually driven out of necessity for me, but one thing I look very forward to in heaven is learning. Maybe learning out of necessity will occur there too, I don’t know, but I’m sure learning for the pleasure of it will be present. Just think, learning with people from all over the globe in a reality more alive and full than the one we currently know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 19: Apologizing

How do you say sorry? Take this scenario:
Your wife is working at the computer on the desk. You have a desk that has storage compartments on the top. You store some things in these top cubbyholes. While attempting to open one, you fail to realize there’s a water bottle straddling the opening edge. While lifting open the cover, you tip the water bottle over. The lid was unfortunately not closed, and you get water all over the keyboard and the desk papers.
What do you do? Do you immediately say sorry? Or do you look at the system that caused or contributed to your to screw up? In my case, I can see how I tipped the water bottle. The computer obstructed my viewing of objects on the desk. From past experience, there haven’t been water bottles on the opening lid. And what’s the deal with leaving an open water bottle by electronics. So yes, I can apologize, but it’s a weak apology. It’s an apology with caveats. I don’t feel bad. My screwup was not intentional, and there were other elements like the lidless water bottle placement that enabled the situation to occur.

I know where I’m coming from when I apologize like this, but I know the apology received is hollow. The person on the other end is wondering, “is he really sorry?” This isn’t such a big deal in the water bottle scenario, but now let’s say you’ve hurt someone, your wife perhaps. You didn’t mean to, and while you were wrong, there are understandable reasons why you were wrong. If I say sorry, but then jump into qualifications, Kara really questions the apology. My qualifications are a way of defending myself. They put the focus back on me, and not on the person who was hurt.

The tough part for me is that I want my apologies to be authentic, but apologizing without considering the surrounding system/context doesn’t feel accurate, and thus not authentic for me. For Kara and I, my desire for accuracy and Kara’s desire for a heartfelt apology that shows understanding of her feelings can cause a gridlock. We both want to be understood. One of us has to give to loosen up the attention. Once the tension has diffused, both sides can get what they want.

It’s taken awhile, but I’m happy to say that I have gotten better at this. I can focus on the fact that I’ve hurt Kara, and for that I am sorry. I keep my communication to that. As she feels understood, I can begin to communicate my system understanding to her. In this pattern, she actually receives it, and now both parties are feeling good ☺

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 18: Born from Above

This passage always stops me in my tracks when I read it:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."

In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
I first just chuckle at the way Jesus isn't confined by people's questions. Usually, when someone asks me a question, I focus very hard on answering their direct request. Nicodemus says, "God's with you." Jesus implicity agrees by teaching about the Kingdom. He takes control of the conversation and drives it to a place not originally intended by Nicodemus. And then when Nicodemus starts getting baffled, Jesus continues further with this "born from above" stuff. What a stud.

What particularly stands out to me though is Jesus says, "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'" At first glance (or even first glances) this statement baffles me. I would be in Nicodemus' shoes. There are two ways in which Nicodemus is surprised:
  1. That we have to be born again.
  2. How we are born again.
Jesus addresses both of these. First, God's Kingdom is the domain where God's reign rules. It's where his will is carried out from top to bottom. We know from experience that a human on its own is not equipped to live within a kingdom where God's rule is obeyed and rejoiced in. Some other life or person must form and develop within that person for the Kingdom of God to be an appropriate place to reside in. I believe this other life, is the life born of the Spirit that Jesus talks about.

Concerning how the rebirth happens, Jesus doesn't say a lot to Nicodemus other than it is by the Spirit. Jesus' word about the wind is supposed to be as comforting as it is teaching for Nicodemus. Jesus effectively says, "You may not know where the wind comes from or where it goes, but that doesn't diminish the reality of the wind. Same goes with rebirth. You may not know how it occurs, when it will occur, and what all it will do, but that doesn't mean it won't happen!"

So I'm curious how much people believe this. Do we actually think it occurs? Can people point in their lives and in the lives of others where this new life has sprung forward? Is it like the wind, where we may not have mastery over it, but we see signs of it appearing? Also like the wind, are there certain places we can go or things we can do to help us to experience the new birth from the Spirit? And how important is it that we're aware of this new life within us?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 17: Lover or Hireling?

This morning I was reading some excerpts from Theologia Germanica, and there was a line in particular that stood out to me: “For a love of God is better and more pleasing to God than a hundred thousand hirelings.” I’m not sure if this is true as I have not thought through all the implications of this statement, but while reading, I operated under the assumption that it was. It got me to look inside at my heart and search for love of God. I may seek to be obedient, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether I’m a hireling or one whose heart truly longs for God. Internally, I feel very tired. I move from one thing to the next, but less and less frequently do I feel alive. Life with God can feel like I’m clocking in each day, but it’s not out of love. This disturbs me. I really want to be someone who operates out of love. I want to get Christ when he says to abide in his love. At this point, I don’t know what I all I have to do to have my heart straightened out. At the very least, I must continue to wake each morning, surrender, and ask he who is able to go to work.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 16: What Happened Today?

I’m at the desk with a mile-high todo list, but I know I just need to take some time to rest and reflect given my day. I woke up, and due to an impending meeting, I bailed on my usual time to be quiet with God. Bad call. I quickly found myself being a jerk to Kara, too prideful to own up to my mistakes without contingencies. I learned more about the passing away of a family member, had a confrontational conversation with a construction worker, felt the weight of all the work to do in our backyard and basement, saw a disappointing last-home-game loss for the Huskies, got to play percussions with three skilled and enthusiastic guitar players for a church’s mission conference, received word from a friend that went missing in September who is now in jail, listened to a friend share about his wrestling’s with his career, his disbelief in the system he’s been apart of, and what his future holds. In days like these where I have been all over the place, I feel like there’s too much to really analyze and process within a manageable time period. I’m tired. Taking 15 minutes to stop and step out of task-mode is hard. It feels like I’m continuing a bread-first-search lifestyle, but sometimes that’s the best I can do.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 15: Stepping First

It's been basketball mania here for us. We were at the Sonics verses Blazers game tonight to see Brandon Roy. Tomorrow we'll be at the UW verses Arizona State game. While at these games, I have been watching fans when it comes to cheering or dancing. Usually, a group of people will look up and down the row at each other to see who is going to participate. Maybe you can relate with the shared hesitancy to be the first to act. As soon as one person starts though, the rest of the group begins to follow.

This reminded me of my favorite type of leadership: leading by example. I'm not particularly good at casting vision or recognizing and harnessing people's strengths, but I can step out and do something in my personal life when I know it's the right thing to do. It definitely helps to have other people to follow or do it with, but I'm not dependent on them. I can be the first person to stand up. When I make those decisions, I'm not conscious of the impact that my example may be having. It's a personal, me and God, decision. That others are spurred on is a bonus. Being reminded of the effect my life can have on others simply by the decisions I make is important. Decisions are one more thing that have to be looked at through the "good stewardship" lens. They can't be looked at from a me-only perspective.

I wonder how many times we have been placed in situations by God to act so that our actions will unlock others to find freedom in obedience. Certainly living balls to the wall includes obeying those small nudges to talk with someone on the bus, invite a difficult coworker out to lunch, to give up a pleasurable activity for the service of others. I exhort us all (myself included) to respond when we feel those small urges regardless of how silly they may feel. Our response may very well be affecting more than just ourselves.

Lent '08 - Day 14: Pleased By Dancing?

By going to Husky basketball games, one sees no shortage of pom squad or dance crew dances. Tonight’s great game against Arizona was no exception. I’ve always found these hard to watch. To appreciate something, I really have to focus in on it and absorb it. I admit my experience is relative, but these dances feel provocative in nature to me, so to study them with the goal of appreciating them is not healthy for the mind. As a result, I frequently just tune them out or may nominal attention at most.

Tonight, as the half-time dance show began, I started thinking about King Herod’s experience with dancers. Somehow, Herodias’ daughter (Herod’s brother’s wife’s daughter) pleased him so much that he made an oath to give her anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom. I tried to relate with Herod’s sentiment. I can’t recall ever being so pleased by something, that I would be will to give up have my possessions as a result. I know that seeing others dance has never struck that chord! I’m sure her dance must have been good, but it couldn’t have been that good. Certainly some other factors must have been at play (e.g. alcohol).

It’s natural to want to show appreciation or pay someone back who pleases us. There’s good ways of doing this, and bad ways. Herod’s open-ended offer certainly falls in the bad camp as it results in the heading of John the Baptist. The text reads that Herod was “greatly distressed” by the request for John’s head, but in the end he caved due to making a public oath before peers. I doubt that Herod honoring his oath in this case pleased God. His oath was made to another human (not to God like in Jephthah's case), so if any one should take the heat of his unwise words, it should have been him. Instead, following through with his oath caused Jesus to withdraw and mourn (Matthew 14:13). Ouch! How could wanting to show appreciation have such a poor outcome? I don’t know if this relates to everyday life much, but I certainly wouldn’t wish this one anyone.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 13: Being Famous

On 2/10, Kara and I went to the UW vs. UCLA basketball game. It was the best game of the season from my perspective. Every member of the team played well and we pulled out a nice upset.

Because it was a Sunday game with the #5 team in the country, there were some famous people in the crowd. Directly across from us was Kevin Durant of the Supersonics and a few seats down was Sean Alexander of the Seahawks. It was amazing to watch the response once people realized who were present. Kevin Durant had kids and adults backed up out into the lobby requesting autographs and/or cell phone pictures. Sean’s fate was similar. I remember thinking as a kid that autographs were cool, but that notion has long past. I felt sorry for them. It certainly an unwritten portion of those multi-million dollar contracts: the general public will flock to you, often interfering with you ability to enjoy.

Hearing the whispers in the crowd and seeing the lines grow reminded me of the similar fate that Jesus experienced. The word “crowd” shows up over 120 times in the gospels. Jesus was always dealing with them. He was a crowd magnet. Sometimes he taught them, sometimes he felt compassion for them, sometimes he asked them questions, sometimes he withdrew from them, sometimes he walked through him (literally), sometimes he judged them, sometimes he healed them, sometimes he fed them. Sometimes the crowd praised him, sometimes they were awed by him, sometimes they grumbled against him, sometimes they followed him, often times they brought the sick and demon possessed to him, sometimes they asked questions, sometimes they testified about him, sometimes they crushed him, one time they arrested him, and still another time they condemned him.

Jesus’ interactions with crowds truly are amazing. He knew how to engage with them, but also how not be controlled by them. His mission of creating disciples was still purposefully carried out. In fast, the crowds were sometimes the training crowds for his disciples’ training. Jesus’ interactions with the crowds help me picture him more clearly as well. It helps bring out his humanity. It makes sense when Jesus asks people he has healed not tell others about what he has done. Jesus is trying to keep some crowd control. In taking on human flesh, he bound himself by time and space such that more people actual inhibited him. This is just one more willing limitation Christ took on in his mission to reconcile us to God...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 12: Balls To The Wall

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Sun Peaks with my small group. Drew and John have a higher threshold for speed than I do and decided to race down Sting, a long, steep, and groomed run. At the bottom of the run, John said he'd gone "balls to the wall". I had never heard of the phrase before, but I got the message. He'd gone all out; few turns and a lot of pointing. When I got back, I looked up the history of the phrase, and found:

"Term used by pilots. When accelerating quickly, the throttle is pushed all the way to the panel and the throttle lever (ball) actually touches the panel (wall). Hence, balls to the wall." (source)

"The phrase is essentially the aeronautical equivalent of the automotive 'pedal to the metal.'" (source)

The phrase has rung through my head since. It paints a picture for me. The cool crisp air pelts my cheeks as I push faster down the hill. The skis are wobbly. A little lip can mean a lot of air. A thick snow clump could mean a major wipe out. Yes, balls to the wall, living on the edge, everything on the line, giving it all I've got.

Skiing balls to the wall on the slopes is great. Being given that description from others would be a real compliment. But how much more so if someone would look at my life and see me living balls to the wall for Christ. I'm challenged by this phrase; I haven't been living this way. I want God to push up the throttle. I want to be around people who have their throttle lever touching the panel. So how about you? Do you rally behind the phrase? Are you living it?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lent Blog Entries Posted

My family and I were up in Sun Peaks for the last few days skiing, and since I didn't have Internet access, I was typing up entries without posting them. The last 4 days have all been posted now though.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 11: Forgiveness = Freedom

I wasn't respectful last night and I needed forgiveness. I woke up in the middle of the night, and I atypically couldn't immediately go back to bed. I started replaying the scene in my mind, identifying what frustrated me,but also identifying how I mishandled that frustration. I prayed for an opportunity to reconcile, and sure enough, it came this morning. Initiating these types of conversations always takes me a bit. I have to work myself up to it. I know that if I can get the first word out, everything else will follow. It may not be the most elegant, but at least I'll have breached the point of no return.

While I admit this is selfish, one of the significant drivers for me to reconcile is the freedom I feel as a result. As soon I get those "I'm sorry" words out of my mouth, I can feel the burden lift. Yeah, I wish I hadn't screwed up to begin with, but I couldn't imagine letting my wrongs fester inside of me.

We watched Bourne Ultimatum this evening, and there was one scene in particular that really stood out. Jason Bourne (played by Matt Daemon) is talking with Nicky (played by Julia Stiles), and he's expressing to her how he's been trying to remember the names of all the people he has killed. If he can remember the names, he can know who to apologize to. He knows his past wrongs, and to be free of the resulting burden, he wants to reconcile and and explain himself like he did at the end of the second movie.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 10: Competition

My family can be competitive. I'm not always sure about how I feel about it. I like competition because it provides a measurable objective that I can contribute to. I like competition because it can get people to do their best. It can get people to engage. But competition can easily turn sour. As soon as competition becomes divisive or puts people down, then I think competition has gotten out of hand.

There isn't a lot that jumps to mind about competition specifically in Scripture. There's more about how a person, whether in competition or not, should live. That said, there must have been a competitive streak within some of the disciples. They started asking about who was the greatest among them? They wanted to know how the stood in comparison to the others? Where were they in the ladder? Jesus doesn't answer their question directly. He provides no rankings. He says though that the greatest among them is the servant (passage). Effectively, he says: "So you want to win? To win in the Kingdom is to get down and serve. It's to put others before yourself."

Given Jesus' definition of greatness, I have a hard time imagining him being domineering as we see among people today. He would probably have a parable or some insightful and/or cutting questions about the heart to ask like: "Would you rather win or ensure that everyone has a good time? Would you rather get a victory, or ensure that everyone feels encouraged and empowered? Do you genuinely applaud and praise your opponent when he or she does well? Do you let 'love your enemies' apply to competition?"

Optimizing for winning is quite easy. You get as many good people on you team and have the best one's play the most amount of time. Challenge and real success to me comes in taking a team, weak links and all, and working together in a way where everyone's strengths are utilized, and everyone feels encouraged to do their best.

I know there has been times for me where I have put competition above people. I fortunately have a sensitive wife who picks up on these things quicker than I do. She's helped me learn how I can do this. I'm getting better, and I hope that competition would never get in the way of loving people. Should they ever be at odds, I want love lo reign. Competition can take the back seat...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 9: What do with Jesus and the demons?

Why have I become so conditioned at overlooking Jesus' interaction with demons? I know it occurs frequently. Can I really ponder and study the Kingdom insight from Jesus and neglect his dealings with the demons? Spiritual warfare stuff makes me nervous as I usually see two extremes. For some, everything is spoke of in terms of battle with the enemy. Others, never speak or think about it. They would say that what the gospel writers were calling demons were really just mental diseases.

The problem with the first extreme is that it isn't comprehensive of Jesus' life. He wasn't just about driving out demons, and he didn't talk as though everything was a repercussion of something happening in the spiritual realm. But Jesus definitely did deal with demons. Mentally ill people, to my knowledge, don't shout out and say "What do you want with us, Son of God? Have you come to torture us before the apointed time?" (Matthew 8:28-34). They certainly don't cause hundreds of pigs to drown from a a mountainside. And Jsesus did teach his followers to pray: "deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13). As a result, I don't see how the second extreme is valid either.

I have predominantly been around people and churches that don't pay too much attention to the spiritual domain, If I were Satan, I would be ok with this. Having people oblivious to me, enables me to go about my business without interference. I suspect that those of us who don't really see any sign of the demons or spiritual evil have probably spent too much time with fellow well-to-do middle class citizens. My very limited exposure to such evil has usually come when I get off the beaten track, hearing stories of those stricken to the street, deemed unsightly, or living in poverty abroad.

There is so much more to look at and answer concerning this subject. I first want to do more of a Biblical study of Satan and demons in the Old Testament. The biggest incidences coming to mind are: Adam and Eve, Job, and Saul. I also need to review Jesus again. I don't have internet to look these things up, so I'll plan on writing more about this in the future. In the meantime, I want God to make my heart appropriately aware to the spiritual evil in the world. I don't want it to be my sole focus or to be ignorant.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 8: Search Algorithms and Spiritual Growth (Part 2)

Yesterday, I explained two common search algorithms, depth-first search (DFS) and breadth-first search (BFS). I think we tend to take one of these approaches with tasks in our life. For example, I am definitely BFS when it comes to cleaning the house. My course of action can look like: start cleaning desk -> notice dirty dish on desk -> walk to kitchen -> put dirty dish in dishwasher -> notice other dishes in sink -> put other dishes in dishwasher -> notice dirty kitchen floor -> walk to vacuum storage closet -> notice suitcases are unorganized -> organize suitcases -> get out vacuum -> notice dirty carpet in living room -> vacuum living room -> vacuum kitchen -> put dishwasher away -> return to cleaning desk.

When something comes up in the process of dealing with one thing, I give focus to this new thing, and can get chained along. There are problems with this approach. Actually resolving the first thing I was working on isn’t guaranteed to happen, and at the very least, it will take awhile. In addition, if I get cut short, I can still have a lot left undone. If I’m supposed to have cleaned while Kara is away and she comes home early, the house can actually look in worse shape than it was originally. The idea of being cut short reminds me of Jesus’ parables about returning at an unknown hour (Matthew 26:36-51). Since we don’t know when he’s coming back, his prudent advice is to be ready for him anytime. Always have something to show for ourselves. If Kara gets home earlier, it looks a lot better for me to say “I’ve gotten the bathroom and kitchen done but still have the bedroom” than “I have none complete but am in progress with all three”.

I believe this BFS/chained-along feeling carries over to my life with God as well. Frequently, rather than really getting to the root of an issue, question, or subject I get caught up focusing on something else. It can feel like a lot of dabbling, but not much mastering. I know when I've mastered something when I'm able to talk about it with clarity. In a "mastered" state, I can articulate the questions I wrestled with, the process I went through, the outcome I arrived at, and why I arrived there.

I've done good in the past with asking to be given one thing at a time to focus on, but I have admittedly grown lax with this request. My focus has weakened. It's legitimate to ask whether this request to be thrown one thing to study at a time is valid. From an effectiveness standpoint, I think it is. I'm curious to know though how others deal with this. When I'm confronted with a plethora of things in my life to analyze and grow in, I try to take it all on at one time. What do you do? Do you DFS knocking one thing off at a time, or are you BFS like me trying to engage everywhere at once?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 7: Search Algorithms and Spiritual Growth (Part 1)

In computer science, one set of problems you study concern graphs or trees. These graphs or trees hold information, and there are multiple algorithms for searching for information within a graph/tree. Two common algorithms are:
  • Depth-first search - one starts at the root and explores as far as possible along each branch before backtracking.
  • Breadth-first search - begin at the root node and explore all the neighboring nodes. Then for each of those nearest nodes, explores their unexplored neighbor nodes, and so on, until finding the goal.
The image to the right is an example of a breadth-first search. It traverses the graph in this order: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h. A depth-first search would traverse the graph in this order: a, b, d, e, h, c, f, g.

So anyways, what does this have to do with spiritual growth? I see these search algorithms play out in my life, but it'll take some more time to flesh my thoughts out. Since Kara and I celebrated Valentine's day tonight, I haven't had as much time to think, but stay tuned for part 2!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 6: Hypocrites

I wrote on Friday, 2/8 about meeting a guy on the street name John. We met up this morning and talked for a couple hours before work, and he shared about his experience with Christians. His cousin is supposedly a "super Christian". He's apparently always doing good stuff like mission trips, giving money, volunteering, sending Bibles, etc. In one conversation, John's cousin shared about how he and his wife love to go to the movies, but then stay and go to 2 or 3 additional movies. John questioned his cousin on the integrity of his actions. "Isn't that stealing?" he would ask. His cousin would laugh it off, but as John pushed him on it, he got defensive. John shared a couple of other stories, but his experience with many Christians was the dreaded H-word: hypocrisy.

Searching for hypocrisy/hypocrites in the Bible reveals some interesting results. Jesus is by far the biggest user of the term. He saw it in the Pharisees, and he called them out multiple times. The woes given to the Pharisees are fair warning for all to avoid the trait.

Jesus' warnings against the yeast of the Pharisees, hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), is given for good reason. I don't want to enumerate all the consequences for hypocrisy, but I do want to bring attention to impact it has on others. In John's cousin's case, all his time doing "good" stuff is rendered useless before John because of inconsistent behavior in some relatively small things. This is an important reminder for any of us who would hope that our lives impact other people.

That isn't to say that one's credibility is dependent on the absence of hypocrisy. I have no doubt that there are areas within my life that I'm unconscious of that are hypocritical. The important thing is how I will respond when these things are brought to my attention, either by man or by God. Imagine how John's answer to my question of what his experience with Christians has been like if his cousin had thanked John for bringing the whole movie theatre thing to his attention and committed to change his ways? If we're aware of anything in our life that is inconsistent with Christ and his way, then I believe full bore effort needs to be made to change no matter how "minor" and "socially acceptable" behavior.

To make this more concrete, let's say I've grown up downloading music and videos since high school. A friend makes it aware that I'm actually consuming media that I didn't pay for. He says, "Isn't that stealing? Is that one of the 10 commandments?" If fleeing from hypocrisy is my goal, I must give up this behavior and delete/purchase the this media I've already downloaded.

I don't want to be hypocritical in my discussion of hypocrisy. I hope that this talk would be acted upon when the occasions come, and I hope as well that people in my life would have the courage to point out my inconsistencies. If you notice hypocrisy in me, please by all means, let me know!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 5: A Devoted Life

What does it mean for a life to be devoted to Christ? Many define a devoted life by "devotional" activities. But does it really matter how much one prays, fasts, journals/blogs, etc. if it bears no fruit in one's life? If I'm still cold to my wife, dishonest with peers, or selfish with my time, then my devotional activities don't mean much.

When I look at Christ, I see someone whose devotional life had real bearing on their life. Jesus is certainly a special case, but his 40 days of fasting were sustained by feeding on the Word of God. This is evidenced by his strategy for fending off Satan and his teaching in the synagogues directly after (Luke 4). From his times of prayer outpoured clarity on the apostles to call, power to heal, and commands and parables about the Kingdom life (Luke 6).

Every so often I think we need to ask ourselves if our devotional activities are bearing any fruit. Francis de Sales describes three stages of spiritual growth: a beginning awareness--grace; strength to do good works--charity; and the ability to do good frequently and promptly--devotion. He also says that a devoted life should grow our love for God and our love for others. I have strength to do good works, but there is still often an initial apprehension to do them frequently, devotion as he calls it. I think I'm afraid to loose control, especially of my time. Organizing my time gives a sense of security and stability. I would feel lost without that. One barometer then for me and the devotional life is the looseness with which I spend my time on others. How would you measure the effectiveness of your devotional life?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 4: Fuel for Praise

For Christmas, we commited to have Kara's incredibly delightful cousins, Kameron and Kelsi, over for a fun-filled day and night.  The afternoon was spent at the Pacific Science Center.  This was my first time there; I absolutely loved it.  Although it is geared for kids, I could happily spend a day there by myself, so I could really soak in everything.  I like to see everything, read everything, and observe everything, but that isn't conducive behavior when you have kids or a wife who has already been there a couple of times :)

There were so many things that awed me:
  • Seeing how small Earth is relative to Jupiter or the Sun.  They had a great vishal, showing the many hundreds of earths that fit in Jupiter, and in turn the many Jupiter's that fit in the sun.  And that's all within our tiny solar system!
  • T-Rex jaws that would absolutely crush me.
  • An immense collection of insects, revealing the seemless life that chugs away unnoticed by me.
  • DNA printouts.  It's absolutely astounding how much paper it takes to print DNA when each protein is represented by a single letter.  I saw one volume of many, and it was literally hundreds of pages of straight captial letters.  Each cell contains all that information.  Wow!
I'm sure I would bore you if I went into everything I saw that stood out.  When I see all this science, awe overtakes me.  Life is so much bigger than me.  The size and detail of it all gives me so much to marvel at God with.  It is fuel for praise.

What causes you to be speechless before God?  Is it being outdoors?  Is it reflecting on your life?  There is only one occassion listed in the Gospels that I can think of where Jesus gives praise to God as we commonly think of it:

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10:21)

This utterance from Jesus comes as his unpolished group of 72 followers come back and report about how their announcing and revealing of the Kingdom went among the neighboring towns and villages.  Jesus gets pumped by seeing the heirarchy of the Kingdom at work.  Ordinary and unleared peopled are experiencing the Kingdom and are being used by God to unfold it in the world.  These are the people without college degrees, positions of power, or significant financial means.  Jesus is praising God's work among the underdog.  Jesus is marveling at the way God balances the scales.  There is something inherently beautiful to Jesus about the unqualified receiving the keys to the Kingdom.  

I wonder how many of us share Jesus' sentiment?  As someone who is "wise and learned" by the world's standard, do I celebrate the revelations made to the "children" around me?  Will I accept that just maybe they have been shown more than I have been?  Will I continue with my upward mobility, or will I take a posture of humility, and let them minister to me and those close to me?  You see, Jesus sent out the 72 "to every town and place he was about to go" (Luke 10:1).  They were fulfilling a John the Baptist type role of preparing the way for the Master.  I don't know why God needs a human to prepare the way for him; I think it's just how chooses to work.  Maybe the same thing happens today.  Maybe I need the "children" to prepare the way of the Lord in my own life.  And maybe if I do, I, like Jesus, will "be full of joy through the Holy Spirit" and say "I praise you, Father..." 

Friday, February 8, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 3: Confession And Its Outcome

This morning while praying, I realized I hadn't conciously confessed anything to God in at least a week. Confession helps humilty be genuine for me. It's one thing to say "I'm a screw up" having a vague sense of past wrongs, and another to be able to point to occassions over the last few days where I have sought my own interests over those of God's or others.

Anyways, I reflected on how I've lived the last few days, and the main thing jumping out to me was how I had neglected spending concious time Downtown to be able to talk with people on my way in to work. I had been putting productivity at work before getting time with those on the street. I don't feel like I can say sorry to God if I'm not going to do my part in resolving my wrong. It's just like how you can't aplogize for hurting someone and then immediately keep doing the same hurtful behavior without attempting to try something different. When I'm at my best, confession binds me to corrective action. In this case, to confess required adjustedmy time usage. I resolved to spend a half hour on the way to work seeing who was on 3rd Avenue and talking with whoever seemed opened to it.

I came up from the Pioneer Square bus tunnel and there was one man sitting off to the side who caught my attention. I walked up and down the block and came back to this same man, greeted him, and got a nice greeting back. I got some hot chocolate poured, and I was quick to learn that the man was a fellow Canadian. It's great the way shared nationality in a different country creates connection. The man's name was John, and he was quick to share. He is a very bright and capable 45-50 year old man. If he was dressed in nice clothes like the business people that cruised past us, nothing would make you think differently with him. Within 15 minutes, John had to get going to an appointment, but I gave him my business card and asked him to call me so I could get his contact info. Sure enough, in the afternoon, John called and had lots to share about all the politcal hubub with Obamma and Clinton in town. John was appreciating the relationship that was developing, and he was up for meeting up to talk more in person next week.

It was good to be reminded of the practical value that can come from confession, both for my soul and for others...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lent '08 - Day 2: Leadership All Around

Leadership surrounded me today.  Here's the recap:
  • While at the gym in the morning, I was listening to the gospel according to Matthew (chapters 14-19), and many thing stood out to me about him as a leader:  

    • When he learns of John the Baptist's death, he attempts to withdraw to be by himself.  
    • When crowds still follow him, he turns the task of feeding the people over to his disciples.  When the disciples fail at the task, Jesus takes over and releases multiplication on the bread and fish.  
    • He calls the religous leaders of his day on their hypocricy and their hard hearts.  When one of the disciples brings it to Jesus' attention that the religious leaders were offended, Jesus says to "leave them alone; they are blind guides of the blind".  
    • When the disciples ask for an explanation of a parable, he asks, "Are you still so dull?"  Ouch!
    • He gets petitioned by a Canaanite woman (i.e. she wasn't a jew) for mercy for her daughter, and despite stating his mission of tending to the lost sheed of Israel, he complies because of her faith.  
    • He doesn't give a sign to the religious leaders who ask him.
    • He pings them for their understanding of who he is.
    • He explains what is going to happen to him.
    • He explains how one becomes great.
    • He teaches about handling conflict.
  • At work today we had a screw up where some people's features were automatically turned off without proper warning.  I watched deciveness about how to minimize the fallout and prevent it from happening again.  I watched how communication was made with those affected.
  • I've been reading about John Perkin's work in Mississippi in With Justice For All.  Community development work has no shortage of visioning, decision making, and guiding.  I'm sure I'll write more about this book soon.
  • We went to the Husky men's basketball game tonight.  We try to sit as close to the Husky bench as possible so we can best observe the coaches.  There is so much to notice.  There's the player substitutions, the timeouts, the coaches huddle before addressing the players, the clapping and butt-slaps of players for doing a good job, the yelling at players for screwing up.  If you watched the game tonight, you know it was a tough one, particularly in the second half.  We got down and couldn't get back.  I respected the leadership exhibited by the coaches though.  There was still a sense of dignity, a "we're going to loose, but let's finish the best we can" attitude.  Good plays and smart decisions were still commended.  How a leader conducts themself when loosing says a lot about them.  Amidst hundreds of coaching suggestions from the students around me, I was reminded as well of the way a leader gets the highs and the lows.  People love you when you lead them to prosperity, and they'll quickly get jumpy when things are rough.  A leader has to be able to shut out the neigh-sayers and quick-fix advice givers in those rough periods.  A good leader (and follower) must follow similar principles to those in stock trading.  You don't play the short game.  Things are to volatile.  You don't want too much invested in the short term.  Bad games happen.  A good leader, like a good stock trader, sees the big picture and looks long term. 
So leadership was all around today.  I'm thankful to notice it.  Leadership is one of the ways in which Christ shows up in my day-to-day.  Good leadership can usually be traced back to his way of life.  Poor leadership comes from not heeding his advice.  Either way, it still points back to him.