Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 4: "Teacher, what should we do?"

John the Baptist had a knack for putting people on edge. He certainly wasn't a people pleaser. He probably didn't tell people what they wanted to hear, but he told them what they needed to hear: "the ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9). This gets people scared, and they ask a great question: "What should we do?"

The three groups he responds to are all people of means (which is an important theme in Luke). To the crowd he says, the man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." To the tax collectors, "don't collect anymore than you're required to." To the soldiers, "don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely -- be content with your pay."

There's a strong exhortation to take what you need, and share the rest. Having double of something provides security and versatility, but those luxuries pale in comparison to providing for the one who has none.

There is so much that can talked about concerning money, but there isn't the time now to do it. One small thing I have been thinking about is savings. We know Kara wants to go back to school and that it's going to cost money to do so, therefore we save. But putting money in a bank account where it isn't doing anything other than collecting a few percent of interest doesn't seem very smart. It provides security because we can quickly access it, but with so much need around us, surely there must be a better way.

Have you heard of Kiva? This organization looks absolutely perfect for putting savings to good work. After I get our taxes done, I want to try it out, but I would love to hear if anyone else has experience with it. After experimenting, I'll be sure to write up my experience and why I think it's compelling.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 3: Humility in Luke's opening chapters

I recently wrote about humulity, and thus it has been more on my mind. In reading Luke, I've been surprised by how so much of God's interactions occur in a humble context. Examples:
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth sounded like the type of good nieghbors you'd love to have next door. They were "upright in the isght of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly." The come from a repuatble family line, and Zechariah gets the honor of serving as priest in the temple. But they have a large cultural black mark: they have no children, as Elizabeth has been barren and they are now well along in years. Undoubtedly there was a lot of pain, but it's to this couple that God gives John the Baptist.
  • It's to Mary, a young teenager of little means, that the Holy Spirit conceives a child. When praising God, she even says, "he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant."
  • It's the shepherds working the nightshift with their livestock who receive the first announcement of Jesus birth. Shephersds were by no means the Jewish barrons, but they're the ones who get in the inside peek at God's redemtive plan.
  • The whole fact that Jesus is being born out of the limelight to a no-name family.
A proverb that gets under my skin a bit is: "He mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble" (Proverbs 3:34). I get scared of the thought of God being against me. I'd hate to be on the receiving end of his mockings. But the solution is straightforward: humility. The beginning of Luke definitely confirms that he shows grace to the humble.

Peter also applies this proverb when he writes in 1 Peter 5:5-6:
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
These characters in Luke had been in humble contexts for quite some time, but God did eventually lift them up. A hope for myself and others is that when God is in a position to do some raising, he at least finds us as candidates.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lent '09 - Day 2: "Porque para Dios no hay nada imposible"

"Porque para Dios no hay nada imposible." A direct translation would in English would be, "Because for God there isn't anything impossible." The more common rendering is, "For nothing is impossible with God."

It's very fitting that such a statement would come up in the beginning of Luke's gospel. The life of Christ and his followers there after is truly incredible, but it should not strike us as suprising when we remember that anything is possible with God. I found this statement very encouraging, especially in the slower drip situation I discussed earlier.

Marriage Principle #1: Building a Detailed Love Map

The marriage book chapter from last week was dealing with principle 1: "Enhancing Your Love Map". The chapter states the importance of having intimate and detailed knowledge of your spouse's life. A large portion of my mental hard drive should be filled with the Kara folder, knowing the cursory things (e.g favorite music, sports, vacations, etc.) and critical things (e.g. current stressors, fears, aspirations, etc.). A couple of things I learned specifically:
  1. Enhancing one's love map is principle #1 because it is foundational for relating to one's spouse effectively. It's like how in order to write effectively, one needs to know their audience. It certainly serves as a foundation for principle 2: "Nuture Your Fondness and Aspiration".
  2. Love maps need to continually be updated. This comes through the daily "how'd your day go?" talks and the regular dates. Actively updating the love map is important so that the habbit is established when more life changes come (e.g. children, moving, etc.).

We logged a lot of time in the car this past weekend as we rented a car and headed for Guanacaste, scouting potential places for our families to stay when they visit in July. Like all the chapters in this book, there were good excercises to do. They helped pass the time in the car. I am very impressed with how much Kara remembers about the past in general, and me specifically. She definitely has the better love map, and encourages me to make mine more detailed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Uprsing: Courage

Early on in the chapter, Erwin asks a good question: "What's the purpose of having God's power if you don't have the courage to use it?" (90). When we ask for God's power, we shouldn't be expecting a wand to magically fix the problems at hand. God has a track record of calling people to tasks that are much bigger than themselves. We aren't being courageous when we minimize our risks and make everything in our lives manageable.

God Entrusting Responsibility
God intrigues me with the way he entrusts us with responsibility. He makes promises, but we then have to bring them to pass. Take God's promise to Joshua:
I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates--all the Hittite country--to the Great Sea on the west. (Joshua 1:2-4)
God has work for Joshua to do. The guy has to actually go and set foot on the land. He doesn't just want Joshua to sit back and wait for God to do it. If Joshua and the people don't act, the promise doesn't get fulfilled.

I know that for some, responsibility is avoided, as responsibility implies expectation. Without truly being entrusted though, we end up just sitting and not truly living. God doesn't desire us to simply spectate, but rather to be engaged and fully live by doing.

Courage and Truth
There's a lot that can be said about God's charge to Joshua in the beginning of the Joshua, and Erwin does a good job walking through it. One common thing people remember from this passage is God's repeated command to Joshua to "be strong". The Hebrew for "be strong" apparently means to fasten yourself to something. Erwin describes this as the "pit bull part of character" (95). It's where you grab hold to what is right and true, and refuse to let go. This holding on and not letting go is the difference between momentary courage and moral courage.

No matter how small or large the take, being strong is to be rooted in what is true. This is why true courage has the integrity prerequisite. And in God's charge to Joshua, he exhorts him to meditate on the Book of the Law night and day. God's saying, "my words are truth, and you need to marinate in them continually so that truth seeps through your being".

Having this foundation of truth and relentless holding on to obey it is so key. There is so much we don't know (especially about the future), but if we commit to do what we know is truth, then our course suddenly becomes clear. "The key to the future is not revelation, but obedience" (96). This principle is really helpful for me. Instead of focusing on what I don't know or getting frustrated that God isn't telling me what I want to know, I need to take a step back and focus on and do what I do know.

The Speed of Courage
Erwin writes:
When we walk in truth, we accelerate the process and literally fast-forward the future. When we remove hesitation and disobedence from our lives, we not only begin to live more fulfilling lives, but actually seem to live more life than others. When we are slow to live in God's truth, we begin to experience life as a slow drip. But when we passionately obey God's word, life is unleased like a wide-open fire hydrant. (98)
This is so true. I have been there with God where I'd repsond with the unconditional yes. I wouldn't let my circumstances or responsibilities interfere. I could feel my intuition lining up more and more with God. I would trust the thoughts that would pass through my head and act on them.

I have noticed for some time now that this has waned. I'm not exactly sure how or why, but I do really want to turn the corner. To do this, I need to get back to the basics of knowing truth and acting on it. That's what the focus of this Lent will be.

Uprising: Integrity

Erwin starts off the chapter talking about authenticity. Authenticity can be a virtue in our culture, but authenticity without integrity is lethal. Authenticity in and of itself can be a facade for self indulgence. Just because we're honest about what we do, doesn't mean that what we do is good. There is a line of thought that says, the most important thing is that I be my authentic self, that I express what I feel and that I do what I want to. This is a recipe for disaster as we can think and feel horrible things. As an extreme example, if someone is pissed with me and feels like expressing their anger violently, I want them to be hypocritical and do something other than how they feel. On a more, day-to-day level, we've probably all experienced someone saying something about a person or situation in the vein of "being honest" when it just really shouldn't have been said.

When we lack integrity, we alter decisions based on others. We conform to what someone we admires want us to be be. We live life in fear, fear or being caught or fear of being exposed for who we are. Integrity gives roots. It's not about being flawless, but being falseless. It is revealed in opposition and resistance, as it reveals what's really there (71). It cannot be unmoved when it has the power to help (76). Integrity gives courage to live lives of conviction.

An example of integrity in my family is my grandpa. What you saw, is what you got. But just as important was the fact that he was grounded. He lived by principles; principles about dealing honestly with others, principles about treating others the way you'd want to be treated, and principles about being generous with one's resources. He was not perfect, but he was truthful.

He also made some good observations about power:
Corruption is not an issue of power, but of passion. Power enables us to unleash our passions. What is hidden when we are powerless is exposed when we are empowered. (78)
I can remember being in middle school reading the book, Animal Farm, and coming across the line, "Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely". I was told that was true, but I don't believe it anymore. Power is more of an enabling agent than a corrosive agent. I'm not an advocate of hierarchies that enable people to have too much power where too much depends on the person. Different people have different capacities, and one's capacity is a function of their character.

Power with integrity is not corrosive, but creative. Power is just a a tool, allowing us the freedom to act as we truly are. The important distinction from our culture, is that we are to pursue integrity, not power.

Connecting with Humility
Integrity is about truth as truth informs integrity. As there are a lot of options out there, truth is something we have to learn, and humility puts us in the posture or position to learn this truth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Uprising: Humility

In thinking about humility, and where to start, it was good to be reminded God is humble (53). God came in humility because he is humble. If he wasn't humble, he wouldn't of acted the way he did.

It was also good to be reminded that humility comes before honor (55). Jesus was most honored because he was most humble. The humility journey is counter-intuitive. We descend with the hope of being elevated. We'd all think customer service in a department was crazy if they said we need to ride the escalator down to the basement to make it up to floor 2. If that's the way it works though, I'd much rather know than to climb to floor 2 only to find myself in the basement.

The author writes from the vantage point that humility has a lot to do with us. Humility demands nothing of God and begins with emptying ourselves of ourselves. Christ had to empty himself of his divine attributes while keeping his divine virtues, but we need to empty ourselves our selfish ambition and vain conceit. Humility is coming to come to God without an agenda or reservation.

Another interesting point is that Scripture never calls us to pray for humility. Instead we are commanded to be humble (61). Humility is something I have to choose, but I do ask God for help in the process. I am often blind to the ways I am proud. I want to be shown these ways, and they do get shown with time through reflection and/or people have the courage to tell me (thank you Kare!).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Uprsing: Freedom

As I mentioned in my first post about Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul, this book is all about freedom: freedom from pride, greed, and foolishness. Below are some notes on the subject.

The Need for Freedom
We long to be alive, but we don't know how to be. With all the choices and options we have, we haven't really found freedom. We have pursued self-indulgence which has only yielded death and slavery to these pleasures.

Christ Is About Setting Us Free
  • "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Galatians 5:1)
  • "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)
  • "Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

Living In Freedom
Just because we have freedom, doesn't mean we live freely. Adam and Eve have the whole garden with no physical boundaries, yet they're hanging out by the one tree God told them no to. Don't we behave similarly? Paul understood that having freedom doesn't mean we're living in freedom when he wrote: "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love" (Galatians 5:13).

Just because we have opportunities, doesn't mean we have freedom. For example, I may be given the opportunity o perform for a large audience, but that doesn't mean I'm able to if I haven't been disciplined and practiced how to play. Discipline is key for living in freedom. Discipline is a way we come into the equation for spiritual growth. Hard work and sacrifice are required to become like Christ.

Freedom For Me Personally
There is not much besides God that I fear. I feel free and uninhibited to be myself, but my choices do entagle me. Responsibilities can hold me back from spontaneity with God. New creation must still occur within me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Predicting Divorce

As part of our premarital counseling, Kara and I were instructed to read The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work. As the book is based on Gottman's extensive marital research, I felt I could trust it more. A lot of what he said made since, but since we weren't married yet, I couldn't relate to all of it. With heading down to Costa Rica, one of our goals was to put concerted focus on our marriage, as it had taken on added stresses from our time in Seattle. We were reminded of the seven principles book, and brought it down with us to discuss on a weekly basis. Now that we have 2.5 years of marriage under our belt, it's a lot easier to relate with the concepts as we have first hand experience. It's helpful for me to write down the main points of what I read, and below are my notes for chapter 2: "How I Predict Divorce".

Gottman can predict divorce effectively when listening in on an disagreements, not because people argue, but the way they argue. He covers seven signs to look out for.

Harsh Startup
How the conversations starts is almost always how it will end. If it starts off with a load of negativity, then it wilil most likely end that way. If a harsh startup occurs, it's best to stop, take a break, and start over.

Q: Would I be able to recognize this and actually do it?

The Four Horseman
Negativity brings peril, and there are four ways to see this occuring.
  1. Criticism: more global than a complaint, as it's attacking one's personality than character. A complaint just focuses on a specific action, and are a lot easier to take.
  2. Contempt: conveys disgust with the other person. It's accusatory of a moral defficiency. It seeks to demean. Disgust makes problem solving almost impossible. It's fueled by long-brewed negative thoughts.
  3. Defensiveness: it's really a way to accuse your partner, which only escalates the conflict. Defensiveness tends to increase the criticism/contempt, which only increases the defensiveness.
  4. Stonewalling: where one partner tunes out due to needing a way out from the criticism, contempt, and defensiveness.
Q: if you're not suppose to criticize, what do you do? Aren't some issues character issues?

Flooding occurs when the negativity from one's spouse is so overwhelming, the you become shell-shocked. You feel so powerless, that just want an escape. Flooding actually kicks adrenaline in, brininging out the fight (more criticism, contempt, and/or defensiveness) or flee (stonewalling) response. When flooding occurs, the ability to think creatively, which is desperately needed in problem solving, goes out the window. A pattern of flooding makes it easier for flooding to occur in the future, as the person being flooded is hypersensitive to the triggers, and will be looking out for them. Frequent flooding also leads to distancing.

Q: how do you avoid flooding? Can you expect your spouse to let you know when the flooding is about to occur?

Body Language
Most of this sign was covered in the previous signs, but he did make an interesting statment that "the male cardiovascualr system remains more reactive than the female and slower to recover from stress" and that "men are more easily overwhelmed by marital conflict than their wives". As a result, it's generally the wife, who is better at handling stree, bringing up sensitive issues, and the husband, who is not so good at coping, avoiding getting into the subject. I wonder how true this is because I see it both ways.

Failed Repair Attempts
Repair attempts are efforts a couple make to descalate the tension couples face during a touchy discussions. They prevent flooding. I'm pretty sure they are discussed more in depth later on in the book. When the four horeseman rule though, repair attempts often don't get noticed, which only causes more criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, which causes more flodding, which only reducing one's ability to catch and acknowledge a repair attempt.

It's interesting to note that the quality of the repair attempt doesn't seem to matter too much. As long as the four horseman haven't moved in permanently, most any attempt shoudl be successful. A repair attempts success is much connected with the "positive setiment override" (which is discussed later in the book).

Bad Memories
Happy marriages look at the past with fondess, remembering the good that occurred. Even struggles are glorified, as it's a sense of pride for having weathered something difficult. For marriages that are steeped in negativity, history can be re-written. All of the things that didn't go well are recalled.

The marriage warning sings are:
  1. what couples actually say to each other (harsh startup, the four horsemen, unwillingness to accept influence)
  2. failure of repair attempts
  3. physiological reactions (flooding)
  4. pervasive negative thoughts about the marriage
Any of these suggest emotional separation, which leads to divorce or living two parallel lives.

Gottman use to focus on changing these negative things in couples. Instead found it was better too understand what right in happy marriages, and have people emulate that. The negative to be focused on, but rather on what to do right.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review/Reflection: Uprising by Erwin Raphael McManus

While in North Carolina, I started reading Uprising, A Revolution of the Soul by Erwin Raphael McManus. I had hear Erwin speak once before, and he seemed like a very engaging, insightful, and authentic guy, thus figured a book of his would be worth reading. Due to all the chaos of temporarily leaving Seattle and living in Costa Rica, I have only been able to finish this book recently.  As discussed earlier, about committing to process my reading more, I will write a few blog posts to cover my thoughts.

I would like to first say that I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to just about anyone.  The book discusses the journey from self-centered lives to servant-leadership, and anyone pursuing a life with Christ will find themselves on this continuum.  This book is very focused on developing Christ's character and freedom, and he lays this out in a very organized way.  This was very helpful for my brain.  This book is structured around three "quests":
  1. the quest for honor: from pride to humility -> integrity -> courage
  2. the quest for nobility: from greed to gratitude -> wholeness -> generosity
  3. the quest for enlightenment: from foolishness to faithfulness -> perseverance -> wisdom 
There is a chapter for each of these character traits (e.g. humility, integrity, etc.) that build on the last one in the "quest".  This may sound a little corny, but I assure you, it didn't feel that way reading the book.  This structure and evolution of character made a lot of sense to me. 

There is a lot to think about and apply in each chapter of this book.  The challenge is not to rush ahead without having dealt with in the previous chapters.  I want to be someone of courage, but that comes through the development of humility and integrity.

I also thought this book has a Biblical balance of God working verses me working.  Life with Christ is not self-help as proliferated in our culture.  The character of Christ cannot be developed in me solely by my own doing.  But the life of Christ isn't just a case of God on the field and me on the sidelines.  I am entrusted with responsibility, and what I do does matter.  My decisions and actions affect me and other people.  I think McManus speaks accurately to life with Christ being difficult and requiring a lot of work, but as it's done with God, being possible and incredibly life-giving.

So again, I would definitely recommend reading this book.  It would definitely be a good one to read over Lent (start 2/25).  I'll have more comments about individual chapters/themes soon!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Web Hosting Recommendation

I was recently asked about whether I am happy using Host Gator for web hosting. The answer is that I'm very happy with them, and would recommend them to anyone. I have been impressed with Host Gator a few fronts:
  • The price is awesome. At $9.99 a month, we're hosting quite a few domains, and haven't ever had any issues with size or bandwidth caps.
  • They have a Linux hosting environment with ssh access. While they provide Windows hosting as well, the *nix environment is what I work in every day and feel very comfortable with.
  • Their control panel exposes a lot of great functionality.
  • The default setups of Apache, MySql, and PHP are great. I've spent almost zero time fiddling with that stuff.
  • Their customer support is very responsive. We use Google Apps for all of our domains (with the primary reason to get Google's dominant email service). This requires making various DNS changes. They don't allow me to do this on my own, but within an hour usually of opening a support ticket, the changes have been made for me.
So yeah, I would definitely recommend them. I can't vouch for their email service because we have always used Google, and if you haven't gone down that path, I would highly recommend it too!

Also, you can read more Host Gator reviews at

UPDATE: if you decide to get a HostGator account, can you please sign up by clicking the image above?  This will send a referral fee our way, which I would be more than happy to split with you.  Thanks!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A few blog changes

I discussed recently that I use Google Reader for personal blogs (Mac, U2, friends, etc.) and work blogs (JavaScript, Java, Software Development, etc.). One of Google Reader's many features is the ability to star entries and then see all of your starred items. I haven't used this much in the past, but will do so more. I have added links on the right hand side for my personal and work starred items. You can even subscribe to and consume the items I found interesting. I'm also exposing on the right, all the blogs I subscribe to personally and for work.

National Prayer Breakfast and White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

I've subscribed to the White House's blog, and found these recent posts interesting regarding the National Prayer Breakfast and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership (which I believe is a rebranding of the Bush's Faith Based and Community Initiatives). I found it interesting to learn that the prayer breakfast movement actually started in Seattle. Obama also shared briefly about he came to faith:

I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.

I didn’t become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college. It happened not because of indoctrination or a sudden revelation, but because I spent month after month working with church folks who simply wanted to help neighbors who were down on their luck – no matter what they looked like, or where they came from, or who they prayed to. It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose.