Why I haven’t posted in a lonnnggggg time…

Writing is like installing a screen protector on a smartphone.

You blow off all the electrified dust bunnies and painstakingly try to lay on the clear sticker without creating ugly bubbles of doom. The first try is usually pretty good, but you see a few annoying bubbles near the bottom of the screen where your keyboard is, so you gently peel back the sticker, undo the bubbles and lay it flat again–only this time a flying dust bunny wafted right under your fingers and made its home in bubble #2. So you peel back the sticker AGAIN and lay it flat, this time vigilantly cradling your phone to protect it from the dust bunnies of doom.

Sometimes, your effort pays off and your phone’s screen looks brilliantly clear and safe. Other times, the sticker loses it’s stickiness and your screen protector is slaughtered by the army of lint bunnies living in your jeans.

All this to say, one reason why I haven’t posted in a long time, despite having many ideas to write about, is that I never feel like I have the time to polish my thoughts for publication (or peel and reset them to airtight, bullet proof, heart moving, page turning, mind blowing perfection if you will). Since that feeling is unlikely to change in the near future, and the first try is sometimes good enough, I plan on posting thoughts more frequently as they come, accepting the consequences of not thoroughly revising them before publication. Hopefully only one or two dust bunny warriors will get through…

How to ruin a brand new car in less than 24 hours and still give thanks

The jarring jolt unleashed a flood of adrenaline through my veins. A stunned silence follows the moment of impact. In disbelief, I look down at the bright blue “R” glowing in the dark under my right hand. After shifting the car into park, the silence is broken by my sisters’ wild yelling, “Why did you accelerate?! What did you do?!”

My mind can barely process their questions as I slowly open the door and walk around the back of the car to see the damage: a broken taillight, a popped bumper with scuff marks and a circular bump the size of a nail-head protruding through the metal, and two ugly grooves scratched into its upper edge. The bitter cold numbs my nerves so much it makes everything feel doubly surreal.

I had managed to ruin my brand new car in less than 24 hours.

In the darkness, my blank mind slowly reconstructed what happened. The car was parked facing up an incline. A violent, icy breeze made me eager to hurry home. The moment we were all buckled in, I immediately switched gears and let go of the brake. The car started rolling backwards and since I was on an incline, I pushed the gas. Big mistake. I had put the car in reverse and sent 200 ponies charging into the car behind me. How could I be so stupid?

Distressed, I asked my sister to drive the rest of the way home, the events of my mistake replaying over and over again like a scratched DVD. I still wince every time I visualize the damage to my brand new car and avoid looking at the symbolic shard of plastic from my taillight. The car was so perfect, a source of great delight and I had ruined it in a single moment of folly. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I wish could simply wake up from the nightmare. Was there no way to undo my mistake?

That night I lay in bed engulfed in feelings of disbelief and regret. Did I really damage my brand new car? It seemed too ironic to be true—the stuff of sitcoms and dramas, but real life? I felt a deep sorrow at my own stupidity and the fact there was no way around it. I was at fault and that was that. It was so humbling: all the late nights spent researching the best car and the best deal and all the time spent negotiating a great price and getting the right color were undone in a split-second of complacency. All my efforts and merits did not matter; God reigns over all and I was utterly at his mercy.

Earlier that day, I had just said that Christ is more precious than cars. I talked about how sad it was that I am more easily excited and passionate about my new car than I am about Jesus and that I and everyone who shared my sentiments ought to repent of idolatry. Now my claim was being put to the test. I could imagine Satan bringing accusations against me like he did against Job, “Of course Chris would say that Christ is more precious than cars—you just blessed him with a beautiful, brand new one. Damage it and watch how he responds.” As much as I wanted to pass the test and prove that I love Jesus more than the new car, my muddy mind could not figure out how to glorify God through the situation beyond a token thanksgiving for safety.

Having hit a proverbial wall, I read Revelation chapter 2 before going to bed and was stunned by the piercing words, “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Look how far you have fallen!” It was so true. There was a time several years ago when I had an irrepressible desire and passion for God. I gobbled up Scriptures, sermons and theological books like teenage boys at a Thanksgiving banquet. I longed for sweet times of prayer like snow-stranded commuters long to be home. I was enthralled that God accepts and loves me just as I am, apart from anything I have ever done—that I cannot impress him and do not need to impress him, but that in his great love he already gave Jesus to die for me and save me. In those days, Jesus was so dear to me that I actively sought out opportunities to tell others about him. I was zealous to obey him and fought hard against sinful desires that obstructed my holy pleasure in God. I felt full of grace and ready to listen to others and pray for others and help others.

As I pondered the past that night, I felt even more sorrowful than I did over my damaged car. Where did my compassion and boldness go? Was it killed by the scorn I suffered for telling people about Jesus? Was it choked by my personal failures that seemed to undermine the good news I once believed with deepest conviction? I had become so fearful to speak up, keeping silent on nearly everything, but the safest and most mundane topics. My former joy and peace gave way to stress and anxiety. Old familiar sins returned to haunt my life. Where I once felt a blazing passion for Christ, I now had a faintly burning candlewick, gently dying of ennui. How could I return to the love for Jesus that I had at first?

While agonizing over this question, an image came to mind of trading in my damaged car and receiving a brand new one in return. You can imagine how happy I was to entertain this idea—such a dealer would be getting a lot of referrals from me! Nonetheless, my crude initial interpretation soon gave way to a more marvelous perspective, that the new car symbolized the righteousness of Christ: spotless, gloriously perfect and beautiful, more precious than anything in the world. Jesus trades his pristine, mint condition righteousness for my sinful mess and pays for the damages I caused (2 Cor 5:21). He lets me enjoy the benefits of his doing everything right, while he covers the cost of my wrongdoings. He suffers the judgment against me on the Cross, being brutally executed for my sins so I can receive the reward of his righteousness: eternal life.

Amazing. Timely. What else could endear Christ to my fallen heart, but this reminder of the gospel? What else could be more fitting for Thanksgiving? God restored what I ruined; he turned my stupid, embarrassing mistake into a stunning reminder of his grace. Praying he will do the same for you today.

Glory be to the sovereign God who uses fender benders to manifest his splendors.

“O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever” Amen. 

Why Small Means Fast

It’s common knowledge that the main advantage of small organizations is their agility and speed. A friend of mine recently showed me a $20 pull up bar he bought for his room. He’s probably a lean 5’9″–a whole half foot taller than me. When the bar was setup, I hopped up and did a set of ten pull ups without breaking a sweat, amazing my friend because doing three was already a challenge for him. Obviously, my ease resulted from my small size–I needed considerably less strength to lift my body mass than my friend. Mechanically speaking, it requires less force (hence work and power) to accelerate my mass resulting in a natural speed advantage for smaller bodies. My friend needs to exert a lot more energy (and stronger muscles) to move than I do.

This applies similarly to organizations: the big guys have inertia while small guys have speed. Once big guys get going, they are hard to stop and withstand, but if you’re small, they are easy to evade and outrun and there are many opportunities you can take before they can. Perhaps small organizations can even shrewdly attain equal momentum (impact?) to juggernauts by sufficiently increasing their velocity (momentum = mass * velocity). Agility also falls out of these metaphors because changing directions is just a form of acceleration, which means small bodies can adjust their courses with a lot less energy than big ones.

Given these realities, it seems odd that large organizations would try to “stay small” or offer a “startup culture” because while this may be a useful recruiting tool, it does not play to the strengths of bigness. Massive things are not easily shaken, they tend to be stable and unstoppable. They have the ability to take on massive problems that require the strength of numbers. They have more support structures to carry goals through to the finish instead of getting stuck when a team member leaves. They do have to work harder to accelerate (changing direction or going faster) and build up greater strength to reach their goals, but they also have more influence: their small decisions have massive implications.

Startups, on the other hand, have a tendency to “talk big” about changing the world, which again is useful for recruiting and morale, but does not reflect the present reality and advantages of a small organization: the ability to quickly exploit opportunities as they come, doing more/getting more done with less (10 pull ups instead of 2), and more control or influence over the direction and momentum of the organization.

For individuals, this may sound like a choice between “big fish in a small pond” versus “small fish in a big pond”, but I’m talking about organizations here.

Call it naive, idealistic, blatantly obvious, foolish talk, but it seems like it’s better for big companies to act big and small companies to act small: play to the strengths of what you are and adapt your strategy as you “evolve”. This is a mistake I think my church made in the past: despite being small, we tried to use Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church methodologies, which resulted in an overbearing structure that we lacked the strength to sustain. Instead of acting big by applying big strategies, it would have been better to adopt any helpful principles, and maximize the advantages of our smallness by for example increasing the flatness of the organization and emphasizing relationships between the leadership and members.

Your organization might grow into an integrated behemoth or it might become a loose confederacy of organisms, but in any case, it seems wise to play to your strengths instead of acting like something you are not.

My top 5 iPad apps (so far)

It’s been about three weeks since I purchased my iPad and I thought it would be fitting to write up a list of my favorite apps so far. I chose to write about apps that don’t come with a new ipad, but some are quite well known already. So without furrier ado, here it is:

Zillow

Not everyone is looking for a house, but this beautiful app has proven most useful on my house hunt. Being able to touch houses on a map makes a lot more sense in general than flipping through a list and it’s really easy to get the details and view photos in a gallery view. If you’re not looking for a house, the incredible map interaction available in Google Maps is very useful and impressive–try clicking on street view and you’ll feel like you’ve been magically teleported to the place on the map.

Dungeon Hunter

This game was previously released for the iPhone, but it looks really slick on the iPad. It’s similar to the PC game Dungeon Siege and the game play is quite fun.  Sometimes the UI controls aren’t the best (e.g. getting in the way of where I want to tap on the map), but can you imagine playing a 3d RPG on a laptop for 3-4 hours without plugging it in? It’s amazing that I can play this kind of game on the iPad anywhere, anytime because of the superb battery life. And when it’s time to stop, exiting the game is as simple as pressing the big black hardware button. It is a bit slow to load, but being able to start and stop playing a rather sophisticated game so easily is quite impressive.

ESV Bible

The ESV study Bible is one of my most used apps and it’s AMAZING given it’s price: free. I expected it to be just another Bible app backed by a web service, but it turns out that you get the whole ESV Bible for free, OFFLINE (since I have the wifi-only iPad, this matters alot)!!!  This app has a beautiful UI and beautiful typography. The search functionality is well thought out, organizing results by books of the Bible, and you can take notes on passages. It is a bit difficult sometimes to select the passage that you want to write a note about (seems like you have to press precisely on the verse number or something) and I wish the app had a way to sync my notes online, but overall this app has exceeded my expectations. A pay for version that includes the ESV Study Bible’s commentary would be well worth it.

Virtuoso

I play violin and I’ve always been jealous of pianists because it seems like pianos are everywhere–they can play virtually anywhere whereas violinists have to lug around a heavy case to and from select locations. Well, to my joy and dismay, those lucky pianists can now literally play anywhere. The Virtuoso app displays a touch piano keyboard on screen so songwriters and musicians can practice on the bus, in the park, at the library while in class…everywhere!!! And amateurs like myself can have some fun too messing around on the instrument when bored…now if only this company could release a violin simulation…i’d be very impressed…:)  (Note: the keys aren’t full-size and I think multitouch can’t handle 10 fingers, so its not like you can practice Fantasie Impromptu on this thing–though some have tried something like that).

ABC Player

Lastly, yes, the iPad doesn’t support flash, so you can’t watch hulu on it…but it does have an excellent player from ABC that lets you enjoy TV shows on the beautiful 9.7″ screen, nice and close. The main show on ABC that I like to watch is Castle, so yes selection is limited, but if other networks release similar apps, I don’t think I’m going to need a tv at all…

So that’s my list for now, hope it’s helpful for fellow iPad-ers and iPad-ers to be.

PS, this post was originally written on the iPad and then edited on a laptop to correct typos and insert the images.