Tuesday, December 8, 2009

12/8/09: line of the day

The best and humblest words of the day come from a legless man named Dodge:
 I would have committed suicide if it weren't for Jesus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Efficiency Strategies

Activity Categories
My brother and I were recently talking, and he shared with me his belief that most things he does in a day can be fit into three categories:
  • Energy Drain: these are things that he doesn't enjoy and has to force himself to do as they run him down.
  • Neutral: these are hard work and he enjoys them, but they don't run him down.
  • Booster: these are "Sharpen the Saw" things. These make him feel good inside.

Efficiency Strategies
As expected, the problem is that often all one wants to do is the Booster and Neutral activities, but never the Drain activities. One can waste tons of time avoiding the Drain activities. As a result we discussed the following efficiency strategies:
  • Throw out the chaff - Basically, is there anything you can get rid of? Getting rid of things in the Energy Drain category is more valuable than the Neutural, which is more valuable than the Booster. But when it comes to time, you can gain no matter which category you can cut out from.
  • Eat your veggies before your dessert - If you're like me, you can eat and enjoy dessert anytime (e.g., beginning of the meal, end of the meal, in lieu of the meal). Veggies aren't the same way. They're my least favorite part. I'm not going to love them at any point in the meal, but I will love them less (i.e., they will be an even bigger let down) if I eat them after dessert.
  • Break drains into smaller drains - As compared to having one big block of time for the drain work (which could be so demoralizing that you waste time avoiding it), consider breaking the drain into smaller parts. I find doing three 30 minutes sets of drain work easier to stomach than 1 90 minute set.
  • Work more efficiently - If there's a way to get 25% done in the same amount of time, score!
  • Steel plate should be the norm; gold plate when necessary - Said another way, balance incredible with good enough. It's not possible to do everything incredibly well. Not only that, not everything needs to be done incredibly well. It certainly requires good and pure judgement, but being able to know when good enough will suffice is important.
  • Remove distractions - Many studies have shown that we as humans are not near as effective when we constantly switch between tasks. We aren't like a computer processor that switches between multiple programs per second. Removing distractions so one can focus is key.

Efficiency Strategies Applied
Application for the principles above:
  • Is there anything in your list of activities above that you can get rid of (favoring drain to booster)?
  • Is it possible to get the drains out of the way before the neutrals or the boosters? Can you do the neutrals before the boosters? If you have a lot of homework, it's easier to get energized and do the booster items at 10pm then it is to do the drainers. While it stinks to not give your best and most alert hours to what you enjoy most, it is a survival technique.
  • Do you see anyway to break up your drains? For example, If you have 60 minutes of of reading to do, can you do 20 minutes before school, 20 minutes before tennis, and 20 minutes when you get home?
  • Do you have any ideas on how you can work more efficiently? A couple of example ideas: could you print your Spanish vocab and put it in a protective sleeve hung up in the shower and/or the bathroom? Could you record your Spanish vocabulary and listen to it in the car, or as you walk to class from the parking lot?
  • Do you find yourself doing more than you need to? For example: while it's nice to type up a lab on the computer, is it necessary, and more importantly, does it save you time compared to hand writing it?
  • What distracts you? Phone calls? IM? Web browsing? If you can't control your distractions, it's ok to remove yourself from them. For example, if the computer is a distraction while reading, read somewhere where there is no computer. In the business world, some companies advocate that for certain hours or days, employees quit out of their email program to not be distracted.

"I don't pray for money"

A friend here who is always stretching to get by each month told me, "I don't pray for money. I pray that my family would be safe and that I can put food on the table by having a paying job." I've met others in a survival mentality who try to game life and try to get as much as they can as quickly and easily as possible. My friend's understanding of work,and the thankfulness with which he receives it is refreshing.

Stuff About Food

The subject of food has come across my path recently. There's been discussions with my Dad while helping with some small projects for Chuckanut Bay Foods. When hiking Chirripo, the hostel owners shared a lot with me about NAFTA's effects on Costa Rica and Mexico's food production. Amazon's blog had a recent interview with the directors of the new documentary Food, Inc. I suspect this isn't coincidence. What has piqued my interest is realizing that it is a justice issue and that real lives are affected by it. There are the GREEN reasons too, but environmental reasons aren't as engaging as people reasons for me. We'll see what comes of this.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Contributing to what someone finds when they Google your name

I recently read articles on Google's blog on contributing what someone finds when they Google your name. Your can read the entries here and here. The summary though is to create a Google profile.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Image representing Evernote as depicted in Cru...

My number one software recommendation right now is Evernote. As stated on their website:
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere. Did we mention that it's free?
My use case is that through my day I read a lots of various information that is useful but not directly applicable. Evernote helps me capture and organize that information for a later date. Have you ever seen something online and thought "wow, that's cool" or "that will be useful to remember", but then haven't none what to do? Bookmarking helps, but there are deficiencies with that (e.g., you can't easily search the content of bookmarks, bookmarks are usually local to one computer, the content of the bookmark could change by the time you go back to). In addition, not all information is gathered online. There are emails received, or books and articles that are read. Capturing the useful info from those sources are important to.

How do you get information into Evernote?
Getting information into Evernote is easy as there are many ways:
  • Download the software application (for Mac or Windows) and use one of the shortcuts to create a new note and store the info.
  • Install one of the browser plugins that will allow you to select text, hit a button, and have the info imported into Evernote.
  • Download the iPhone/Blackberry app for entering info or taking pictures that get put into your Evernote account.
  • Send test/pictures to your Evernote provided email address. These emails will automatically show up in your account.
  • When you print, choose the "Evernote" printer, and instead of getting sent to a physical printer, it will show up in your Evernote account as a PDF.

What you can do once the information is in Evernote?
  • My favorite thing is that you can apply tags to information. You can say that this note concerns "church", "money", and "prayer" for example. Tagging is way better than traditional heirarchal folder structures because it more flexible.
  • All images that are stored in Evernote have optical character recognition (OCR) applied so that you can search the text within the image. I think this feature is huge for people with portable cameras of decent quality (e.g., iPhone users). This means you can take a photo of a menu, some hand written notes, or a whiteboard, and then be able to search for the content within it.
What else is awesome about Evernote?
  • As stated above, Evernote is free. In the free version you see a tiny ad in the bottom-left hand corner for things like Skype or backup solutions. They are what I would call reputable ads. The free version also limits you to putting 40MB of information into Evernote per month. If you're primarily putting in text (which is my case), that's more than enough. If you're putting lots of images, you could hit this barrier, but then there is the premum service for $5 or $45 per year that removes all these restrictions.
  • Evernote is cross platform. It works on Mac, Windows, iPhone, Blackberry, and any web browser. As much as I love my Mac, I always try to have flexibility.
  • Evernote syncs between any computer/device that you have configured. This is absolutely huge for me. This means I can put information into Evernote on my work computer and come home to find it on our personal computer. In addition, Evernote has a web-interface that one can use to put information in or get information out from any computer. I just used this functionality heavily when planning a surprise weekend for Kara to celebrate our anniversary. Things would come to me while I was at work, and so I would quickly enter them into my "3rd Year Anniversary" note in Evernote, and they would be there as soon as I logged into my account at home.
  • Evernote is not just sombody's cool software project. It's part of a larger mission by the company to help with staying organized and being productive. Evernote is the primary tool they help do that. Reading Evernote's blog reveals all kinds of helpful hints.
I'm 99% certain that Evernote can help you in one way another, and that it's flexible enough to work within your environment. Let me know if you have any questions or need any help.


Do you find yourself moving files around between computers often, or needing to send files to someone else to quickly review? If so, you really should checkout Dropbox at getdropbox.com. As stated on their website, Dropbox replaces:
  • Emailing file attachments to yourself and other people
  • Using USB drives to move files between computers
  • Renaming files to keep a history of previous versions
  • Complicated backup software
  • FTP servers, system-specific sharing methods, Network Attached Storage (NAS)
You simply copy files to your "dropbox" folder (a folder you set up anywhere on your computer), and anytime a file is added to it, it will automatically be synced to other computers that you have Dropbox set up. In addition, the files will be saved (and encrypted) on Dropbox's servers so that you can access any of your "dropbox" folder files through the web browser as well.

Specific ways I've been finding this useful:
  • There are two computers I primary use: personal MacBook Pro and work-provided MacBook. I try to do personal stuff on the MBP and work stuff on the MB, but that isn't always the case. Whether it's journaling, writing cards, etc., these activities can often be done on my work-provided laptop. As long as I save the files in my Dropbox, they instantly show up on my home machine as well.
  • Sometimes I need to share files with other people. Emailing the files isn't that bad, but it can clog one's inbox. Instead, I just put the file in my dropbox, and then generate a url to the file that I can email/IM instead. Here's an example file you can access through my Dropbox: http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/1754420/Top%20Secret.txt.
A few other notes:
  • Dropbox works on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux so you aren't locked into one platform.
  • You get 2GB of storage free. If you want more, you pay. 2GB free is still great.
  • Dropbox competes somewhat with Microsoft's Mesh. I have used Mesh, but at least on the Mac side, it felt too heavy-weight and intrusive.
  • All changes to files are saved on Dropbox's servers. You can easily view an older version of a file later.
Let me know if you have any Dropbox questions or issues. We'll see what we can do to help!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Motivations of Lean

Core to Lean is the removal of waste. Anything in your process that doesn't provide value is waste. In talking with my dad, I realized that for the Japanese who have pioneered Lean, the removal of waste is focused on for two main reasons:
  1. Respect for the environment - If you're eliminating waste, whether due over-production, defects, excess transportation, etc., you're inevitably having less impact on the environment.
  2. Respect for people - If 90% of your process is waste, you're not respecting your employees, or you're at least not respecting them near as much as you could. It's like saying that 90% of what you work on provides no value. That doesn't do much for one's self-worth. People are so much more content and productive when they know that the work they're doing provides value.

Lean in Software Development

I was fortunate to be able to take a week off of my usual responsibilities at work and partake in a Kaizen event with the Customer Service team. You can do a lot of reading online about Lean and Kaizen, but in summary, a cross section of employees were gathered together to work on specific problems identified within the company. The expectation is that within the week, tangible solutions have been implemented and the processes under scrutiny are improved.

There is so much that can be said about this, but one thing I wanted to take away was how Lean principles can be applied to software development. It turns out that many have already explored this concept. I'm still going through the resources I found, but wanted to post them in case anyone else is interested.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When challenged to write a psalm...

The stream is flowing as people are growing,
but I feel it just passes me by.
I was a rocket with moon-bound trajectory,
but now I wonder if I will hit the clouds.

Basics, God, of soaking in your Word or hearing your voice elude me.

I have settled in my relationship with you.
Nothing excites me.
I feel that I am drifting Lord, lacking real purpose.
I wonder if I make you smile anymore.

This seems trivial, but it feels like a tar pit.
Will you show your mercy, and free me from these invisible webs?

When I say, "I surrender",
will you give me the courage to do what that means?
When I say, "I want to put your words into practice",
will your Spirit empower me sufficiently?

You truly are my only hope,
help me not to let go.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

How I call my grandma in Newfoundland for free

My grandma lives on the eastern tip of Canada in Newfoundland. She doesn't have a computer, which means no email, iChat, or Skype-to-Skype. She only has a phone. We live in Costa Rica. We can use Skype to call her (which is still very reasonable), but why pay when you can do it free?


Google Voice muy pronto!

  1. Get a Google Voice account. In order to activate your account, you have to have a US number to link with it. There are many ways around this problem, but I have a Seattle-based work number, so just went that route. Google Voice in turn gives you a real phone number that anyone can call. It also enables you to make free calls anywhere in the US or Canada. When you dial a number with Google Voice, it rings the phone number associated with you account, and when you pick up, it then connects you with the number you dialed. I want to be able to do this at home where I don't have access to my work phone, so we....
  2. Created a Gizmo5 account. Gizmo5 is like Skype in that it provides a software interface on your computer for receiving and making calls. Google Voice can be configured to dial your Gizmo5 software instead of a real phone. You can read more about this solution at: http://www.gizmovoice.com/.
As a result, I type in my grandma's number into the Google Voice website, it then rings my Gizmo5 software. I accept the call on Gizmo5, and 5 seconds later I am talking with my grandma. We spoke for 30 minutes and there was not a single charge. Awesome.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Saul's Leadership

Still been reading 1 Samuel. Here are my observations about Saul's leadership:


Humble beginnings
Too timid to tell his Uncle that Samuel annoited hm as king (10:16), hiding among the baggage when Samuel is selecting the king (10:22), after being annointed he's out in the fields with his oxen (11:5), and after his first victory, he resists punishing his naysayers and gives glory to God (12:13)

Skills at rallying the people
When Jabesh is attacked, he decisively "took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers through Israel" (11:7). This has the effect of making the men who turn out "as one man".

Lacked personal relationship with God
When reading about and observing Saul, I never get the sense that he really knew God or had a relationship with him. In chapter 13, Saul is certainly in a bind. He has flared up the Philistines and they have come out to meet him with way more manpower than Saul can muster. Samuel in turn has told him to wait 7 days for his coming, at which point they will "seek the Lord's favor". In this waiting time, Saul's men are scattering left and right as they see the Philistines amass an even larger army and receive no real direction from Saul. Admittedly, I don't think I could wait for 7 days like this either, but once the official 7 days are up, Saul takes matters into his own hands and does the job of Samuel. Just then Samuel arrives. I can empathize with Saul's position, but the king has to be stronger than this. It's as if Saul thinks God is a rubix-cube that you have to get the pieces in the right order to unlock his power. Someone who knows God, knows that this is not the case.

Even on the eve of Saul's last battle, it is so sad to see him consult the with at Endor (chapter 28). He truly doesn't know God, and instead resorts to the only form of "higher power" he does know: the ghost of Samuel. Personal relationships with humans are very important, but you ideally want to see them bridge to personal relationship with God. This unfortunately didn't happen for Saul, thus is left resorting to the ghosts of humans.

One step behind
I think good leaders are continually switching between being at the front of the pack and at the back. They're at the front seeing or imaging what's coming and then at the rear empowering people to get there. Saul in chapter 14 is just off on both these fronts. Examples:
  • After the sacrifice mistake and a looming Philistine army, Saul is described as "sitting under a pomegranate tree" (14:2) while his son, Jonathan, is proactively going out to see if God will open a door for them, living in the truth that "nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few" (14:6).
  • While Jonathan and God have caused panic through the Philistine camp, Saul is concerned about determining the Israelites behind this (14:16).
  • While Saul's lookouts are reporting that the Philistines are melting away in panic (14:16 - a great time to go attack!), Saul is calling for the ark of the covenant so he can consult with God.
  • Instead of empowering his troops to nourish themselves so they can keep up the pursuit, he places the army under a curse to not eat until nightfall (14:24).
  • As nightfall commences and the starved troops fill their hungry selves as quickly as possible by not waiting for blood to drain out of the meat (a violation of God's law for the Israelites), Saul points out that they have broken faith (14:33). While it's good that he helped the people be obedient to God by slaughtering their dinner in a centralized and controlled place, he didn't take responsibility for the fact that he set the people up for failure by his curse!
  • His foolishness with the curse goes even farther as he is dead set on killing anyone who violated it, which happens to be his son. As the lot casting process reveals Jonathan as the culprit, Saul is prepared to kill him (14:44), but it's the troops who have to plead Jonathan's case to his own father (14:45).
By the end of the day, I would really be questioning the competency of my leader!

Feared men more than God
Chapter 15 is where God officially rejects Saul. God has given him the task of wiping out the Amalekites (a punishment they had coming for a couple hundred years). Saul doesn't follow through on the "total" part. The king is spared, along with the plunder. What's interesting, is that Saul believes he has been obedient. When Samuel comes to confront him on his disobedience, Saul says, "The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord's instructions" (15:13). It's funny how we can be disobedient and trick ourselves into believing we are obedient.

As Samuel makes it clear to Saul that Saul did not follow instructions, Saul admits his wrong, and says, "I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them" (15:24). This is a constant temptation for most of us, to fear men more than God. As a leader, fear of God must trump fear of man, but Saul unfortunately had these reversed.

Lacked repentance
Saul's focus on appearance before his people is further revealed as he begs Samuel afterwards to join him before the people. Samuel's presence was a sign of God's approval before the people, but Saul's lack of complete commitment should not be condoned. Saul's requests for forgiveness of his sin seem more like formality so he can get Samuel back than a true sign of repentance. If Saul were truly sorry for his actions of sparing the king and keeping the best of the plunder, he would have confronted the people alone, admitted his wrong, and then acted to correct them (destroy the king and the plunder). Unfortunately Saul doesn't do this, and it's up to Samuel to kill the king of the Amalekites.

Feared loosing control
Saul's relationship with David is so sad. Here God brings to Saul an incredible servant, and instead of empowering him to be all that he can be, he's constantly suspicious of him and worried that he will take his thrown. His focus becomes on thwarting the very gift that God gives him. Saul would have been wise to act like the Egyptian Pharaoh in Joseph's day, who in seeing Joseph's aptitude and capacity, puts him in charge of the country. No doubt that Joseph received incredible praise from the Egyptians, even more than Pharaoh at points, but this doesn't hinder Pharaoh from putting him in the position he belongs. Jealousy doesn't overtake him like it does Saul.

It's not uncommon for leader's to find themselves as the "best" in their sphere of influence. In fact, this is often times why they are put in the leadership role. It's easy to get conditioned at being the best though, and then to loose that position. A healthy leader embraces someone who is projected to do better. I'd expect some feeling of jealousy to be there at first, but how we act on them is very important. It's a lot different to confide in someone about those feelings and seeking help from God to be free of them, than to act on them and try and stifle the up and coming leader. I would expect that a good leader would come around and take great satisfaction in helping the new leader surpass them. We'd have a much different view of Saul if he had the humility to step down and follow David.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Health Services On Reservation

I was pointed to an interesting article about the state of health services: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ib68vdWk5593qkAQFLj5-f1k9GnwD98QK5NO0. It's well worth the read and stirs compassions for the Natives among in the US. It helped me glimpse of how much on the fringe Natives are in some cases. It made me wonder what things are like for the local Lummi reservation in Whatcom County. I look forward to finding out when we return.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Samuel's Leadership

I'm still plunking away at 1 Samuel in Spanish, and wanted to record a few notes about Samuel's leadership:
  • Next-generation leadership development failure - Like his sudo-adopted dad, Eli, Samuel fails in raising his children to carry the leadership baton. We read in 8:3: "But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice." Developing leaders of one's own kids appears to be a real challenge. Maybe this is due to being blinded by love for one's own? Maybe it's due to being focused on leading others outside the home at the sacrifice of the necessary investment inside? I'm not sure as I don't have experience raising children. That said, amongst our families and friends, we do have people we can ask when that time comes. I have personally known leaders who elect their children to positions of leadership even though they hadn't proven their capacity to handle the position. I also can think of some family friends that I have the upmost respect for as they have three raised adult children who are independent and actively serving and leading in the Kingdom.
  • Integrity - As Samuel is giving his farewell, he asks the people: "Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right." The people's response: "You have not cheated or oppressed us. You have not taken anything from anyone's hand." There were no grounds to charge Samuel with un-honest gain. He was in the clear because he lived with integrity. What a great way to end.
  • Praying for the flock - Samuel understood that one of his core responsibilities as a leader was to pray for those he led. As he's stepping down, he states, "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right." Praying is first base, but how quick I am to breeze by it. Samuel is a good reminder that no matter how old or experienced, this is foundational to our leadership.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fascinating posts on giving

I read an article reporting some recent findings about the poor being more generous with their money than the rich. I haven't looked at the study to see how valid the data is, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised by this, as my personal experience has revealed the same. Anyways, what's fascinating to me are the user comments that follow afterward. You really get a good cross section of people's views towards the poor, the rich, and giving. It's worth looking at if you have a few minutes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

DWR and Ext JS

For projects at work, I love using ExtJS and DWR. My most useful extension for Ext has been DwrProxy, which enables using DWR for Ext's grids and comboboxes. I previously just had this code posted in the Ext forum and would answer people's questions there. Code in a form is not very centralized, so I took the time this weekend to:
  • Move the code to GitHub (a centralized repository), so that others could easily collaborate and/or see the change history. You can check the project out at: https://github.com/BigLep/ExtJsWithDwr/.
  • Create a fully functional example demonstrating how to populate an Ext grid with DWR. It's hosted at http://biglep.s156.eatj.com/extJsWithDwrExamples/, but unforunately eatj shuts down the server every six-hour for free accounts. If you know of a better free alternative, please let me know.
I was amazed how much time it took to move the code from a form post to a repository with examples and documentation. It's certainly possible that no-one will care and that it will go unappreciated. If nothing else, it was a good experience to understand what's involved.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A leader without teeth

How would you like to be asked by God, "Why do you honor your sons more than me?". The priest Eli gets asked this question in 1 Samuel 2. Eli's sons are taking the favored part of sacrifices for themselves and they're making personal prostitutes out of the woman who came to serve in the temple. The people are speaking about their actions, and Eli hears about it. He asks his sons, "Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the LORD's people is not good" (2:23-24). He gets a +1 for talking about it, but his leadership fails when it comes to imposing consequences. The sons keep on their same course, and there's no recourse by their dad.

He's a leader without teeth, and it ends up costing him dearly. He reveals to God that he loves pleasing his kids more than pleasing God. This continued pattern enrages God, and he says, "The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of the members of your family, so that no one in it will reach old age, and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, no one in your family line will ever reach old age. Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life" (2:31-33). Major ouch!

The best leader is also the best servant. As a servant, the leader serves to ensure his flock move in the right direction. It it is not a service to lead them into peril. Serving in leadership can mean making course corrections, and sometimes a course correction requires discipline.I wonder how things would have turned out for Eli if he had the balls to punish his sons.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Realizing Our Global Position

It's easy to look up the ladder at those who have more than us. This tends to be the focus. Forgetting how many have less than us is easy. A couple of great sights that help with reminding us of how much we have are:

Free live Coldplay album download

If you're a Coldplay fan and haven't heard that they've posted a live album online for free, grab yourself a copy here: http://coldplay.com/newsdetail.php?id=395. We're just listening to it now. Good times!

Accessing a CTC Union ATU-R210 Router in Costa Rica

Our DSL's through Costa Rica's ICE internet provider has a CTC Union ATU-R210 router. In order to access the administration panel of the router, I had to use the following:
Why would someone want to access this?
  • Set custom DNS servers (e.g., OpenDNS servers) since that seems to be the cause of some failed page requests.
  • Set up dynamic DNS and/or port mapping so that it's easy to connect to your home machine from somewhere else.
  • Update the device's software, although I haven't tried that yet.
I found this username and password list in a comment here: http://www.edwardsblock.com/?p=213. The manual can be found here: http://www.ctcu.com/support/content/view/97/30/

Friday, May 15, 2009

Strangling Leadership

It's become apparent to me that my leadership can have the opposite of the desired effect. It can strangle verses bring freedom. I know something needs to change, but at this point, I'm not sure what.

I have high expectations of people and I see choices in a larger context. Some examples:
  • If someone doesn't get something done because something came up, it will be important for me to know why/how they put themselves in a position where something coming up could derail them.
  • If someone has historically done untidy work, I'm fine to have him or her go do it, but I will want to make sure I'm in the review process.
  • If someone has traditionally been more passive in handling situations, but this time a more proactive approach is needed, I will be frustrated if the person doesn't move as soon as they get more information. Let's say you get an email that unblocks you and enables you to move forward. It's totally understandable that you may not be able to deal with it that night and forget to mention it the next. With a passive context though, I would be concerned that the same pattern of not proactively taking care of things is occurring. I would at least like to be told, "An email came in, but I'm not going to be able to talk about it tonight. Let's talk tomorrow." At that point, I'm aware that the person is mindful of the situation, and I can then be at peace.
I think my intentions are good, but they don't empower people. Instead of enabling someone to reach new heights, I make him or her feel suffocated.

Is this a control issue? Am I trying to ensure that things are done to my standard or my way? How do you be concerned about quality and be encouraging rather than detrimental? Do you have any suggestions?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Reducing iPhoto '08's size - what to do?

I have used iPhoto since it came out, and as a result, have a lot of pictures accumulated. I am currently using iPhoto '08 (version 7.1.5). iPhoto '09 is available, but it didn't look compelling enough to me to upgrade. Anyways, my iPhoto library is bigger than it needs to be for two reasons:
  1. Every time a change is made to a photo, the original is left around. This is so you can revert to the original. While the theory is nice, there are plenty of cases where this isn't necessary (e.g., rotating a photo, removing red-eye). As a result, I have a couple gigs worth of "Original" photos. I would love to be able to remove these, but iPhoto's meta-data (stored in Library6.iphoto), doesn't play nicely with this change. If you remove the original, then the current version is present, but if you every choose the "Revert To Original" option, you're hosed for that photo. If you replace the original photo with the current photo and then remove the current photo, iPhoto won't display the photo. The iPhoto meta-data would need to be updated, but it's format looks propietary, and no Google search yielded any results.
  2. We don't have a video camera, but use our digital camera's video functionality a lot. As a result, we have a lot of video in our library. The video quality is by no means HD and it isn't compressed very well, thus there is a ripe opportunity to save some space by reducing these videos. Using command line scripts, it wouldn't be hard to bulk-compress all the movies, but the trouble again comes with updating the the metadata. Since I would want to compress ".mov" or ".avi" movies to ".mp4", the filenames would change, the the metadata would need to be updated.
Issue 1 use to be easily solvable with an applicaiton called iPhoto Diet, but it doesn't support iPhoto '08. I have no other solutions online for issue 2.

This got me thinking about moving to Google's Picassa, which was released for Mac back in January. The attractive thing about Picassa is that you can store your files however you like. They don't need to be imported into some library. The issue then becomes importing pictures from iPhoto into Picassa. Unfortunately, Picassa only lets you import by event, not be album. While I like iPhoto's event concept, it doesn't meet all the needs that albums do. A photo can belong to multiple albums but only to one event. Also, since we have been using iPhoto before the event concept came around, a lot of our photos haven't been categorized to events. Albums are our gold standard.

I can export my albums manually, one album folder, but this becomes very tedious, since you have to export one album at a time. You'd also have to create the folder names. iPhoto doesn't expose a way through AppleScript to export folders. There are Perl modules for reading iPhoto's album XML (AlbumData.xml), so this may be possible. I unfortunately deleted Apple developer tools off my hard drive though to get some space back, so will need to download them again to try this out.

As you can probably tell, this has been quite the process. The whole reason I want to shrink iPhoto's library is to get space back on my hard drive. After spending all this time, and having no clear/easy solution, I took a step back, and looked for other ways to reclaim space. I remembered that I had a license for WhatSize, and quickly located the data consuming directories on my hard drive. While the iPhoto library is big, our various iMovie projects are bigger. Since I have two external hard drives now (one for personal and one for work), I was able to free up plenty of space by moving these movie projects to both the hard drives.

In the meantime, I will wait to see if:
  1. iPhoto gets better utilities for shrinking its library.
  2. Picassa gets better utilities for importing albums from iPhoto.
Here are some useful links should myself or someone else pick up this project of reducing iPhoto library size:

See Africa Differently

I haven't had a lot of time to go through this site, but wanted to pass it on: http://www.seeafricadifferently.com/. I think the goal of re-branding Africa is a good one. Yes, there are many problems with Africa. There are also many beautiful things as well. Seeing both together is important.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A few failures in the last 12 hours

  1. My Mom is coming to visit us on Thursday (awesome!), and I had ordered some books from Amazon for her to bring down. A couple of them were a surprise for Kara, but when I emailed Mom the directions, I Cc's Kara on the email. Doh!
  2. I was up late last night working, which caused more of a scramble getting out the door today. To parallelize the getting ready process, I was swashing mouth wash while getting my shoes on and heading out the door. When running to catch up with Kare, I forgot to account for Kara, I forgot to account for my velocity and the wind, and thus the mouth wash I spit out, landed back on my shirt and pants.
  3. Tiredness reduces my sensitivity, and without thinking get on and off the bus before a woman with her infant. I expect she wasn't thinking nice things about gringos after that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nouwen's ¡Gracias!

I am currently reading ¡Gracias!, a 6-month journal by Henry Nouwen when he was considering living in Latin America. The difficulty of the book is that you can read a journal entry of his in a few minutes, which was his processing for that entire day. Asa result, you end up jumping around a lot. That said, the insights he shares are amazing. His experience of God is so much deeper than mine. In reading a few pages today, we covered comforting those who are grieved, the costs of continually living with and loving the poor, experiencing God in prayer and the way images (e.g., TV) affect that. There are entries on simple people who have incredible stories of forgiveness and love. One entry on ministry absolutely rocked by boat. I hope to do another post on it. There was even his simple statement, "I pray my time in Bolivia will teach me more than Spanish." This resonates, as I have the same hope for our time in Costa Rica.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 40: Why does Jesus' death and ressurection matter?

As Lent comes to a close with Easter, I like to rehash through my head why Jesus' death and resurrection matter. This year, God's wrath kept coming to the forefront. I think understanding God's wrath is key for making sense of Easter.

If you aren't aware, God can get pissed as a result of our actions. The Biblical narrative has some 189 references to wrath. I'm sure some people have a problem that God gets so angry. His wrath seems deserved to me. He created this world and had intentions for it. But his plan, was dependent on us choosing to love him and obey him. We instead displayed amazing aptitude for destroying and perverting the world. I think most would agree with that statement, but would point to others, and not identify themselves in that camp. It's true that we're not all Hitlers, but I'm quite confident that we've all done and/or thought some incredibly selfish things. Just like I can't change God's wrath, I can't change that his expectations are high of us, and as a result, I've fallen short. I'm deserving of God's wrath.

God's wrath is the result of a consequence system, where if something wrong is done, it needs to be righted and/or a penalty needs to to be incurred. It stems from that deep-seated sense of justice or fairness that we feel.

Concerning whether God's wrath is legitimate, I'd like to quote a blog entry I read recently:
Sure, you can argue about whether God should have wrath [or a consequence system], just like you could argue about whether the sky should be blue, or whether water should be the sustaining liquid for the world rather than the milk of cows. But you're not running the universe, and neither am I, so declaring that we don't like the way God has set it up doesn't ultimate change things. What does change things, if the Bible is true, is Christ's death. It means that no longer is anyone judged on the basis of their own righteousness (or lack thereof), unless, by rejecting God's gift, they demand to be judged on their own merit instead of Christ's. That's always an option, but not one I'd choose.
God's model for handling with our crap is to provide a proxy that we can cling to. This Jesus proxy is an invitation to a new life.

Paul speaks wonderfully to the change in our situation due to Christ in Ephesians 2:1-10:
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Paul gets that we were deserving of wrath, but through Christ another way is provided. As the blog writer above wrote, we don't have to choose it, but it would seem pretty foolish not to. If we choose it, we've been saved, and there is plenty of work for us to do.

I'd like to take a quick tangent and discuss how many adore Christ for his sacrifice. The cynic in me thinks, if the situation is God's wrath needing to be fulfilled is true, and you had the opportunity to be sacrifice for the world, wouldn't you do it? I know it would suck to be the sacrifice, but one life for the lives of billions seems like an incredible trade. God's smart, so he's of course take i,t right? If it's true, it provides such an amazing opportunity to scale. It would be like having one of Amazon's server's go down so that millions could be guaranteed to be failure-free. Of course you'd loose that one server for such exchange. I think this line of thinking is naive though. I know the weight that I have felt when I being confronted by a poor choice. It weighs and it doesn't feel good to cause others pain. Knowing the emotional turmoil I have felt for my own failures, could you imagine taking those on for everyone? I think I'd literally explode, and that if I knew what I was taking on, there's no way I would, and even no way that I could. I expect that only God could have taken the full weight of this on, and that I should not trivialize the life exchange.

This is admittedly not a very well organized post. If you have thoughts, questions, or doubts about the whole Jesus resurrection thing, I certainly welcome them. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 39: Live It

I was catching up with my friend Sean this week, when he made the side-observations that Christians so easily forget that living our faith out is what's really important. This was in the context of him sharing about a parenting conference he went to at a local church that repeatedly emphasized getting your kids "to church". Getting your kids to church can teach them about God, but it doesn't do much to guarantee that they're going to live it. Our western culture holds education as such a high ideal (which in many respects is wonderful), but it carries over to us thinking that we just need to teach people about God.

In light of this comment, it struck me just how many times Jesus talks in Matthew about applying living it. Here's the list:
  • Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (5:19)
  • Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock... But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. (7:24,26)
  • Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (10:38-39)
  • For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (12:50)
  • Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (16:24)
  • The parables of the two sons. (21:28-32)
  • The parable of the tenants (21:33-46). Specifically, "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (21:43)
  • But do not do what they (the Pharisees) do, for they do not practice what they preach.(23:3)
  • Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. (24:45-46)
  • The parable of the sheep and goats. (24:31-46)
These are just the overt times Jesus says, "you need to live this." This doesn't include all his discussion about producing fruit, being a servant, doing something with what God gave you, etc. Nor does it include all of Jesus' commands, which in their very nature apply action.

My hope for myself and others is that doing this stuff would always be on the tip of our tongues. Getting educated has its place, but we must remember that Jesus' biggest beef was with the most spiritually educated. I'm sure if you read Matthew 23, you'll agree with me that you don't want to be in this camp.

What "The Last Shall Be First" is not

A pet peive of mine is when there's a long line at the grocery store and a new cashier opens up his stand, but the people at the end of the current line get to the front. Doesn't that bug you? I say this admitting that I have taken advantage of this in the past when in a rush, and it bugs me that I did it too.

Anyways, on a laid back Satruday here in Costa Rica, I walked to the local corner store to pick up some avocados. The line was as long as I had ever seen it, and one cashier was doing the best he could to bang through it. Then there was this guy at the end of the line with me who was trying to hail another cashier to open another checkstand. As soon as the cashier opened the other line, this guys bolted and got to the front. I thought to myself, "the last got first, but I don't think this is what Jesus was talking about".

Being the last in this life really sucks. Being without a job, being without a home, being abused, being spit on, etc. is not how God envisioned for life to be. He has compassion on people who have endured such pain. Plus, these people tend to take Jesus up on his offer for another life. These two factors, God's mercy and their willingness, propel them from the back to the front. I know I'm near the front of the line, and Jesus' word about the first being last concerns me, but I smile when thinking about the justice in it all.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 38: Petitioning God on behalf of others

I'm only halfway through Matthew, and realized how many times people come to Jesus with requests on behalf of others:
  • Centurion for his servant (8:5-13)
  • Synagogue leader for his daughter (9:18-26)
  • Canaanite woman for her possessed daughter (15:21-28)
  • Father for his possessed son (17:14-21)
A good reminder that intercession matters and makes a difference. A guy I met in Bosnia in 2004, my manager, and old youth-leader and friend, Phil, come to mind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 37: Producing a crop

But the seed falling on good soil reers to people who heard the word and understand it. They produce a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (Matthew 13:23)
I know I've heard the word and I believe I've understood it. I don't know if I'm producing a crop. I'm certainly not to by a factor of 30 or more. Wouldn't you think I should be given all that's been invested in me?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 36: Homework from Jesus

As you may be aware, Jesus got a lot of flack for spending time with drunks, cheats, and prostitutes - the sinners or "bad" people. On being asked about this, he gives a homework assignment: "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'" (Matthew 9:13). The passage for them to study comes from their Jewish Scriptures in the book of Hosea. I assume the religious-elite that Jesus was addressing were familiar with the text. In essence then, he's telling them, "Go read your Bible, again".

Unfortunately, they didn't take Jesus' homework assignment seriously, as they failed another encounter. This time, the encounter regarded doing "work" on the Sabbath. In response to the Pharisees critiquing the disciples for picking wheat, Jesus says, "If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent" (Matthew 12:7:).

I'm thinking we also should accept Jesus' homework assignment and actually do it so we don't make similar mistakes. An important aspect about mercy is that involves other people. It hooks into, "love your neighbor as yourself." If you're sacrifice focused, you can be caught up in your own piety, and not being love in the world. Mercy helps put the focus off oneself, which we know is critical for God's kingdom. There's a lot I'm hoping to get done today, but in light of God desiring mercy, I know I need to spend time talking through the past of an amigo here. How about you?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 35: Sending out workers

As Jesus is traveling through the countryside, he has compassion on the people "because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). As a result, he tells his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (9:37).

I wonder what people think of this. Do you see the plentiful harvest? I tend to see the problem and think about needing more sowers. Nevertheless, this is a specific item Christ asks us to pray for. Note though that as you ask for more workers you are probably signing yourself up either to be involved in equipping them or being sent out yourself. This is what happens to the 12 anyway.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 33: Light shine from the community

When Jesus taught his followers and the multitudes in Matthew 5-7, he pretty early on makes it clear that their purpose is to be the same as the one bestowed on the Israelites. They're to be salt and light to all nations. When you mission is to light the world, you better make sure light is being emitted. In addition, you don't cover your light. To do so would be to reject your purpose.

Jesus makes it clear that we're to let our light shine before others. Soon afterward though, he cautions us not do our works for others to be seen by men. This conflict drives to a core issue in this sermon from Christ: that our hearts and character matter. Our good works are to be seen by men, not for man's credit, reward, or recognition, but so that "they may see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

In terms of letting the world see the light instilled within us, I feel much more comfortable with this occurring in the context of community. For example, it's a lot easier to say, our church is giving abundantly to the needy in our community, than to say we are giving abundantly to the needy in our community. I would much rather swell with pride in my community than in myself, as it enables heart to stay pure.

Do you think this line of thinking is legit? What are the drawbacks of boosting church's reputation? Will God receive more glory if people know of the good work that his church does rather than the good work of individual children?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 32: Stories of man's need for healing

Throughout my day yesterday, I get hit with a few stories of people's lives that were reminders of how badly we are in need of healing.
  1. One man told me about his infidelity to his wife. He said he had read/heard some psychology study that a man's strength wears down every 3-5 years and is thus more tempted to seek another lover. He said that this was his experience too. I didn't get to finish the conversation, but I had so many questions to ask: You're honest and open with me about this. Are you honest and open with your wife? When you got married, did you not realize that you were committing to someone for life? Did you forget that people change with time, so the person you married 15 years ago is certainly not the same one today, especially after having birthed three of your kids? What are you doing to invest in your marriage, or are you expecting your wife to do 100% of the work and conform to your desires?
  2. Another shared with me his war experience with front-line content. He's been involved with shooting others and watching his fellow soldiers die. He's had the horror of being with a wounded friend as he breathed his last. He had to be questioned by the dying friend, "Where is God? Why did he let this happen? What's going to happen to me?" He was young at the time, and was doing what we was ordered to do. In listening to him talk, it's clear that he has understandably lost some of his humanity. Feeling and intellect have been thwarted. Life has become about survival and minimizing pain.
  3. I read about the African truck-driver experience and mindset. Everything is transported by truck in Africa. The trucker life is dangerous and stressful. The sex and the truck stops is the one reprieve for many of them, so they take it with gusto. Being away from family a month or more is not easy they say, especially when the offering are so plentiful. There is not much fear of AIDS because they already see life as short, so what's one more little virus in the mix? Some men feel entitled to the regular sexual experiences, and questions what would happen to their bodies if they weren't having sex every night.
It's fitting to be dumped on with these stories just before Easter week. It makes it clear to me that we're in need of help. Both for ourselves and the stories above, life transformation, new life, is needed. The one who has life without limits, the one one who died on the cross, is our best option for finding this life.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fail blog feed removed

A while back I reported about Fail blog, and how there's a G-rated form of the site: http://failblog.org/tag/g-rated/. Unfortunately the G-rated site doesn't produce an RSS feed (at least that I can find), and I'm tired of sifting through the regular RSS feed. If anyone knows of an RSS feed for the G-rated site, please let me know. Until then I'm removing it from my feeds.

Lent '09 - Day 31: The balance of God intervening

The birth of Christ in Matthew is an interesting mix of God intervening. Mary and Joseph and engaged, but Mary becomes pregnant, and not due to Joseph. This isn't good in our more egalitarian society, but this would have been really be in patriarchal one. I was just reading last night in the 28 stories of AIDS victims book that I mentioned earlier, about a woman in Swaziland. She had only slept with one man, her husband. Despite many obstacles, she became a real leader in her community, a status few if any women reach in her country. But some 10 years into their marriage, when a blood test was taken and she was determined to have AIDS, she was immediately shunned. Rumors spread like wild-fire throughout the community. Surely when she was off on her business trips, she was sleeping around, they thought. Non one would even think to raise the question of her husband's fidelity despite the common practice in their culture of multiple wives/girlfriends. She received no intervention from God, and had to bear the shame of the disease and the implied unfaithfulness alone. She received no intervention from God.

I would be that similar thoughts were racing through people's minds about Mary. Joseph knew that he wasn't the father, so he naturally concluded that it was some other guy. He was right that it was someone else, but not right that it was someone else in the community. God intervened into the situation, and informed Joseph that God's Spirit had indeed conceived within Mary. "There's no marital unfaithfulness here. Keep her, and father the child that is develop within her."

After Jesus is born and Herod realizes that he has been tricked, he is enraged and decides to kill children 2 and under in the community. In this case, God doesn't intervene for the Bethlehem children that will be slaughtered as a result of Jesus being born there. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus escape, but the other families experience the tragic experience of having their innocent young children killed.

There all kinds of cases through Scripture and history where God intervenes, and cases where he doesn't. I wish I had a corner on the "predicting when God's going to intervene" market, but I don't. It's definitely a mystery. The only way God amongst this mystery is to recognize that death and this life are not the end. The lifespan of the children Herod killed was not their 2 short years in Bethlehem. They are undoubtedly with God now experiencing life as it was originally intended. Let us continue to plead God to intervene in this world, and at the same time recognize, that this world is not the end.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 30: Impatience

I was reading Matthew this morning, and as you may be aware, this first book of the New Testament starts out with a genealogy of Jesus. If you've read the Old Testament, many of these names in Jesus' earthly lineage are familiar. In seeing all these generations listed out, it struck me how patient either God is for his plan to unfold and/or patient he expected his people to be. Promises were made to Abraham and David for example that were not fulfilled until hundreds of years later.

It was funny to recognize this patience demonstrated in Scripture, as I realized my own impatience of late. Due to the national soccer game tonight (which we we won!), traffic was a bear and every taxi already had someone in it. I had worked late the night before, and just wanted to get home to rest, but it wasn't happening. I would get frustrated and move to a different spot to hail a taxi or catch a bus. I know that if I had just stayed put and waited in line for a taxi at the grocery store, that I would have gotten home sooner than I did. In the past, I've considered myself a patient person, but that has proven wrong amidst some of the waiting here. I wish I could remember more examples, but I do remember hearing Kara say multiple times, "what's the rush?"

Have you thought about what's at the root of impatience? I think it has to do with a mixture of the following:
  • Tiredness. Patience goes down when I'm more tired.
  • Belief of self-importance, like "my time is more valuable than this".
  • Discontent. When I am filled, especially spiritually, waiting is not so bad. It's an opportunity to read or pray. When I am not, I want to stay moving to distract me or deny the emptiness.
Last night, a mixture of all three were at work. The first is unavoidable at times, but two and three aren't good. Time to ask for help to move past them.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 29: A Community In Adventure

The long greetings at the end of Romans make me envious. Here's this group of people distributed through the Roman empire, all committed to servicing Christ, risking there lives in many cases. They encourage each through through letters, pray for one another, and visit each other when in possible, but they know that in the mean time, they will do the work set before them. They sound like a missional people. I'm sure I'm romanticizing it, but wouldn't you want to be a part of a community like that?

I love the way excess is shared among this group as well. Paul writes, "If the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings" (Romans 15:27). The Jews have spiritual treasures to share, and the Gentiles have material excess to share. A distribution occurs. Wouldn't you want to be part of making this happen?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 28: Removing Stumbling Blocks

Chapter 14 of Romans is very important advice for day-to-day interactions with others on areas of subjectivity (e.g., swearing, music you listen to, what situations you put yourself in, etc.) Here's is the summary:
  • We aren't to look down on other's people's decisions in these areas. They are aren't our servants; their God's.
  • What we do, we do unto God. We will have to give an account of actions. As a result, be sure to act out of conviction.
  • We also don't just unto God, but unto each other. Therefore, our actions should not be stumbling blocks for others.
This may seem like giving up some of authenticity, to "just be ourselves". In some way's it is, but we're asked to give up a lot for love's sake. Our freedom should not be another's undoing, and these areas are no exception.

One area this comes to mind for me is with the TV show The Office. Kara and I find the ridiculous and/or awkward situations it creates hilarious. That said, some episodes present a unrealistic or skewed view of relationships and sexuality. It's not hard for me to see through this and look past it. That said, others know I like the show, including my younger brothers, and I wonder if they're able to bypass these parts as easily as I am. I remember being a teenager, and the difficulty of knowing and living a God-honoring sexuality amongst all the media, friend conversations, and hormones. At this point, I've resolved to talk with them about it and ask how affects them to determine if I'm putting a stumbling block before them.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 27: Keep your spritual fervor

How should we take Paul's command, "Never be lacking in zeal, keep your spritual fervor" (Romans 12:11)? Some churches tend to do worship at one speed: high energy, hand raising, and dancing. It's easy to conclude, that if you don't feel it, there must be something wrong with you. I don't think this is what Paul had in mind. It's a call against apathy, and this request seems legit. God is alive, and as a result of him living in me, I should expect to see life as well. I don't think this has to only be at one speed though. God can be just as much alive in contemplative, reflective, or even somber times. What's important is that love for God and others is beating at the forefront.

I have certainly experienced times where my fervor seems tamed. "God, what happened? Why am I not feeling this? What do I need to do?" Paul connects these commands with "serving the Lord". This advice I give myself and recommend to others as well when we are not feeling alive. Are we serving? My experience has been that obeying God, actually makes experiencing God more tangible, and as a result, me being more alive.

So, are you keeping your spiritual fervor up? If so, how? If not, are you serving?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lent '08 - Day 27: Mercy or hardness - which are you going to get?

Paul's statement that "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden" (Romans 9:18) is wake-up statement. It makes God sound so arbitrary. Am I going to be on the mercy or hardness end? When thinking through Scripture, there are time where God does seem arbitrary. Paul even brings some of those up (e.g., Isaac over Esau, Pharaoh). That said, his times of showing mercy far outweigh these incidents. The overwhelming majority is that he does want us to come to him and that he wants to show us his kindness. I think Paul brings up these counter-examples to drive home and remind us that what we have, we have been given. Even our wise decisions or seeking God are a result of the capacities he has given us. As for the counter-examples, I trust that when you can see without being bound by time, they are fair and just.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 26: Accepting Influence

In our slow but steady read through of The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, we are on principle #4: Let Your Partner Influence You. This chapter goes for both for both sides, but is targeted more for husbands, as we tend resist influence from our wives more than they do from us. A key point in this chapter for me is that receiving influence is a way of showing respect and honor towards your partner.

While critical to a health marriage, allowing oneself to be influenced is key to any relationship of love, including with God. I think of Jesus' words in Matthew 7: "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'". Regardless of the adoration he would receive, if the people weren't doing what he asked, if the people weren't letting his words have influence, then there wasn't a real relationship there.

This works both ways too. One of the ways God shows that he loves us is by letting us have influence in the world he made. My decisions affect the lives of other people and the environment. Biblically you even see people's desires affecting God's actions. It would be a lot harder to say that God was loving if he didn't let us exercise our human creativity and muscle. It's hard to feel loved if you're just shrink-wrapped on a shelf.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 25: What's your mind set on?

Paul spends a lot of time talking in Romans about these two forces at war within us: the sinful nature and the Spirit. I can relate with his description of this struggle. It's natural in any struggle to wonder who is winning or who is in control. To this, Paul writes:
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (Romans 8:5)
The dominant party is evidenced by our thoughts.

I was recently off-handedly told that it's ok if I work long hours at work as long as I love what I'm doing. I was not in a position to respond to this comment, but I disagree. There are many projects at work that are mental traps for me. They're enticing with challenge but the real possibility of solving them. Similar to what I wrote about yesterday, I will think about these projects any chance I get, and it tends to bear fruit as it's often this background processing where good solutions occur for me.

Now, I'm very thankful for my work, and I don't think there's anything bad about it. But it's also not the most important thing. Therefore, if work is stealing cycles from what the Spirit desires, it is a concern. What I spend my time on is a big contributor to what my mind is set on, and because of this, work should be balanced.

How about you? What's your mind set on? Do you know what it is that the Sprit desires?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 24: Priority Adjustment

I usually have a few technology problems that bug me that I want to solve. The latest is that my iPhoto library is taking up lots of space. This is due to us taking lots of video using our digital camera, which the camera doesn't compress. I've periodically searched for over a year to see if someone else built an application to compress all of iPhoto's video files. As this hasn't been done, I decided to bite the bullet and do it myself. This type task becomes dangerous. I know it's not the most important thing for me to spend my time on. But it does have value. Our computer, an essential tool, is running out of space, and I've already deleted everything else I can. This "iPhoto video compressor" would give us some breathing room.

This past weekend, sufficient time opened up for me to start engaging with this project. But of course, it takes longer than expected. It's not just something I can knock out in an hour. An hour of work exposes all the extra things I'll need to do. At that point, my mind spins on these things in the background. The task becomes a perfect trap for me. It's fun, has some value, and is a challenge. It becomes an itch that I just want to solve. I got more time to work on this project last night, and of course, hit more issue's that I'll need to work around. It wasn't very satisfying, because I wasn't near as far as long as I would have liked despite a couple of hours of work.

Afterwards, Kara and I started reading 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa. My Mom gave us this book for Christmas, and while Kara had started to read it, we agreed that it would be fun to read outloud together. As the title suggests, the books is 28 short vignettes of real people affected by AIDS in Africa. The story last night was of a grandmother in Malawi who was looking after all 13 of her grandchildren because all of her children had been wiped out by AIDS. Here was this 75+ year old woman singlehandedly farming and rasing these kids. She knows they need to get an education, but this costs a very expensive $2.50 per child per term. She is full of worry about having enough to get the kids to school and how much longer she'll live to look after them.

Hearing this story made me feel pretty foolish. We have money sitting in the bank to give away and money in savings that I want to put to good use through a project like Kiva. It's just going to take a little time to sit down and do it. These tasks have been on my todo list for over a month now, but here I had prioritized compressing my iPhoto library ahead of them. I just don't think my prioritization qualifies as "serving in the new way of the Spirit" (Romans 7:6). When I admitted my foolishness to Kara last night, she legitimately laughed. Needless to say, this iPhoto project won't be getting any more time until these more important matters are taken care of.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 23: The Proactivity of Christ

In Romans, Paul points out that though we were still sinners, Christ died for us. For myself, I know I am very forgiving when someone shows repentance. If someone recognizes their wrong and apologizes, then I'm certain thee will be no grudge held on my end. But that's not the way of God. Even in the midst of other people's screw ups, he's taking the steps to repair and bring healing. God's proactive approach, ups the chances that repentance may be shown on our end. As the scriptures saying another place, "God's kindness leads us to repentance." We definitely need to take cue from God and practice this proactivity.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 22: Who am I discipling?

Since stepping our of high school youth group a year and half ago, discipleship has steadily weaned. Now, I don't think there's really anyone. I have occasional contact with some of the high school students who graduated. On a monthly basis I talk with my small group from Seattle, where I both receive and provide influence. This sums up to not a lot. While thinking this morning, the thought crossed my mine, "what am I doing for the Kingdom?". It's easy to get frustrated about this, but I know too that I need to bring this before God. "I'm open for whatever God. Please lead me."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 21: He has made himself plain

In the beginning of Romans, Paul discusses the state the world has come to and that God's judgment amongst the depravity is just. He makes a statement that God has made himself plain even to those who were not his chosen people (the Israelites) through his invisible qualities - divine nature and eternal power. I don't know exactly what Paul means by this, but I assume he's referring to the created world (as I think he does later in Romans).

Part of me agrees with Paul statement. The more I learn about this world, the more I see God. Hearing scientists share about their discoveries is as if if I'm being educated about God's museum. My field of writing software blows my mind. There have been millions if not billions of man hours to get us to the point we're at now. The tiny transistors that our processors are built on rely on some amazing natural properties. And we can't forget the ingenuity that man has had to see this potential, persevere with it, and it to others so that it could grow. Where did these capabilities in our earth and in ourselves come from?

I find the evolution debate irrelevant. If you hold to the big band theory, that's fine. But your bang had to come from somewhere. We know that something doesn't come from nothing. Whether the earth was made in 7 days or 7 billion years, it was till made. If God is eternal, time becomes irrelevant. I don't think either time period makes much difference to him. And if he's all powerful, then creating a world in 7 days wouldn't be out his capabilities, but nor would setting off an incredible chain-reaction that would take reasons to unfold. The Biblical writers were not scientists. They also were not from a science-based culture. That said, they were people still faced with many of the same questions/problems we face today: why am I here? what's my purpose? is there justice? These questions seem to be timeless, and thus even stories from a few a few thousand years ago could be relevant today.

Part of me disagrees with Paul. Surely there are some who don't want to see God. If you see God and learn that he wants to be be involved with your life, it's a lot harder to be the boss of your life in clear conscious. It's better just to create a worldview where he doesn't exist so that one can remain in control. But then there are those who I bet would want to know him he's really as good as the Scriptures make him out to be be. But due to life circumstance (e.g. war, upbringing, cultural influences) one's humanity has been deadened in such a way they don't come alive to God. This for me is where Paul's statement is tough, and I wonder how God will reveal is justice to these people. In the span of a life, I trust that God provides glimmers of himself to all, that he gives everyone a fair change to choose him.

So what to make of these thoughts? One is that I have to remember for myself that God may not always reveal himself the way I'd like him to, but that doesn't let me off the hook. It's like the parable of Lazarus, where the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to his family to warn them about where their decisions will lead them. And Abraham replies, "if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31). There's also necessity of taking up Christ's charge to be his witness, so that more glimmers of God would be revealed in this world.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 20: An Enlightening 7 Mile Hike

Imagine witnessing all the events in Jerusalem the week before. Jesus looks to be at the top of his game. People are trying to stump him, but he cuts through their falsehood and points the people to the truth. He is unpredictable with his actions, but everything he seems to do is right. He even has a poignant passover meal with his closest followers.

But then things start going down hill. One of these same disciples betray him. Countless false charges are made against him. Despite both rulers in the land seeing nothing wrong wit him, the order to crucify him still comes down. Women are waling, scoffers are mocking him, and Roman soldiers doing their duty are driving nails into his wrists and feet. The one who was supposed to be triumphant has been unraveled so quickly. And it's a holy week for the nation, and everyone takes a strict day of rest immediately following, leaving plenty on their minds to think about.

Two days after the crucifixion, some of the women who were closest to him, head to his burial site only to find angels. They are so astonished that there words don't make much sense when they report it to others. Peter goes to check out the situation and also witnesses the empty tomb, but no angels. What is going on?

You have been in the midst of all these events, and you need to run an errand to a village 7 miles outside of the city. There are no cars, and 7 miles doesn't warrant the burden or expense of animal transportation. In 2-3 hours, your feet can take you there. There is lots to think about during the walk: "What happened? Why did this happen? What could we have done to prevent this? And what's this message this story about the women seeing angels?"

While pondering these questions, a stranger comes up from behind. He appears to be oblivious to what has just transpired the week before. But he then starts talking about Scripture. He walks the pages from beginning to end, pointing out how all these events needed to occur. He is not troubled by this past week, but is deeply satisfied that the Scriptures have been fulfilled. The more he talks, the more your heart is burning. He understands things that you don't, and he's letting you in on it. He is seeing truth that others have missed, and he is making sense of chaos that others have been stuck in. You are enlightened, and your enlightenment peaks when you come to find out that this fellow traveler is Jesus himself!

You are about to experience more miracles as a result of Jesus. One thing he makes clear though is that you have a mission. You have had your eyes opened for a purpose. He walked with you and opened the Scriptures for you, not for entertainments sake, but so you could fulfill the charge given to you. Your are to be his witness. As he was for you, you are to be others. Do you accept it? Are you being his witness?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 19: "Pray that you will not fall into temptation"

"Pray that you will not fall into temptation" (Luke 22:40, 46). This is Jesus' last command to the disciples before being betrayed. Once temptation has hooked me, it is like I'm falling. It's almost impossible to stop falling until ground is hit. Jesus is wise, and advocates that we avoid the pit to begin with. But it's hard to pray to resist temptation if you don't know what you're tempted by.

I'm tempted by productivity and the lure of being in charge of my own schedule. When I wake up, I almost immediately think about all there is in the day that I get to do. I'm excited by these things. I want to jump right into them, to get them done. Engaging with God can then be an opponent to me getting as much as possible done. I have enough years experience now to know that setting my own agenda for the day doesn't work out well. It's like I have gum on my shoe; every step has annoying resistance.

When confronted with a situation, I'm tempted sometimes to not disclsose all that I know or obscure the facts, especially if this will help shed me in not as negative of a light. This really annoys me. i can be untruthful without thinking. This occurs with minor affairs, but I know how I act in small things sets the course for bigger things. This behavior needs to be resisted.

I expect that those who meaningfully pray the Lord's prayer are talking with God about temptation. If you haven't done this for awhile, maybe now's a good time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 18: Getting crushed and generosity

Two disjoint things today:
  1. Jesus asks: "what is the meaning of that which is is written: 'The stone the builders rejected has becomes the cornerstore.' Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but anyone on whom it falls will be crushed" (Luke 20:17-18). It would be important to understand the underlying Greek before reading too much into this passage, but it seems to suggest that all are going to encounter the cornerstone. Those who surrender to it (i.e. fall on it) are broken to pieces. Being dismantled is key if we are to be rebuilt. Christ is a dismantler so that reconstruction can occur. Being broken by the stone is not a pleasant process, but if we reject it, we will find it dropping on top of us, only to be crushed. It seems like rebuilding doesn't occur from a crushed state.
  2. In reading about the widow's in Luke 21:1-4 who gave all that she had to live on, I was reminded of a friend we've made here. She is facing eviction and utility bill troubles, but she almost without fail brings extra food in for me everyday to enjoy at lunch. Part of me feels bad to take from her when I can provide for myself. That said, I see a generosity in her that I just don't want to stifle. As Luke reveals, generosity is critical component in the Kingdom. I won't want to hinder that beauty within her. Instead, I take it as an encouragement to be lead and do likewise.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 17: We are unworthy servants

Luke 17:7-10:

7"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? 8Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? 9Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "
Part of what's exciting about pursuing the humility of Christ is the promise of being exalted. The passage though is a cup of cold water on the face. We don't decide when the exalting from God occurs. We need to continually keep the servant posture, and be grateful for the times God graces us with a reprieve or an honor.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 16: Money is a Tool

Luke 16 has so much to say about money. Please read it. Money is a tool and we're to be strategic with it. Strategic in the sense of using it to impact people. In the shrewd manager's case, he gets called to account for poor performance, and he learns a lesson. He acts shrewdly by surrendering his commission to his master's customers. Strategic move.

Jesus goes on to talk about how money is really a test. If we aren't responsible with something small like money, then we aren't fit to steward other things. How we handle money seems to be so key. It makes me think that church's and parents should really invest a lot more into this topic. I don't think encouraging people to give 10% to their church is doing justice to this area. Kids should encouraged to think creatively in this area.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 15: Corporate Charity

Slate magazine recently published an article about Amazon's lack of charity called The New Scrooge. The gist of the article is that despite doing very well in the current economic situation, Amazon does very little in terms of charitable donations, whether in Seattle or beyond. For example, you won't see Amazon's name on the donor wall at Benaroya Hall or as a Habitat for Humanity supporter. Amazon's own Giving at Amazon page is not exactly inspiring. Questions arise about does this matter? Should Amazon be giving shareholder's money away? I think no.

I think no for a few reasons:
  1. It's not one of Amazon's core competencies. Giving, especially large sums of money takes work. You have to understand who you're giving to, what they're going to do with it, and what your return on investment is going to be. There's no doubt that the right people could be hired and training could be undergone to make this so, but that is currently not the case.
  2. I don't know if I'd agree with how they give their profits away. For example, supporting Benaroya Hall and the Seattle Symphony is nice, but I wouldn't call it a noble cause. It's those with at least some means who can go to such events. I would assume that charitable donations just lower the bar to entry, but they're not doing anything drastic like enabling the destitute to have a night listening to pristine classical music.
  3. It's hard to see how this is in the customer's best interest. Corporate giving is definitely in the best interest of the recipients, but these recipients are not necessarily the customers. Amazon prides itself on starting with the customer and working backwards. Would customers rather you give X million dollars of profit away, or use that X million dollars to lower prices?
  4. Giving away X% of company profits is not a stated company value. As a result, investors did not sign up for this to occur. I would assume most are investing in Amazon with the hope/expectation that Amazon will maximize their return. This unspoken agreement between company and investor should be honored. If a party wants to change the agreement (e.g. give more money away), then the other party should be given ample time to adjust (e.g. pull out their money if they don't agree).
While not possible or practical, I wish Amazon had a giving posture. It would be a source of pride, that not only can my employer get you millions of items at amazing prices incredibly quickly, but they see themselves as blessed, have a generous outlook, and care for those in need. It would be awesome to see Amazon rally behind a noble cause like Kiva as many other companies have done.

But these are the problems you face when you're a big company and it's not your company. It's like how I wish our team could use Google Apps for some of our collaborating. As a big company, we can't be storing proprietary information on Google's servers, even if it makes our jobs easier. But if you own your company and you're a small fish, you can do such things. You can state in your charter that at every annual meeting we distribute X% of the profits to our employees so that they can give it away. Doesn't that sound awesome? Wouldn't you want to work for such an organization?