Random Work Life Updates

So I am now 3 weeks into having a full time job. For the most part, it’s been great, thank God. My living situation couldn’t be much better if at all.

I currently am living temporarily with my sister and brother in law, but in a few months I’ll be renting a couple rooms from a house in the same community. The only reason I’m not renting now is because the house is still being built. Basically, I’ll be renting from a brand new house and have a pretty decent amount of privacy and space for at a very nice rate, AND will still be walking distance from my sister and brother in law. My commute is about an hour, door-to-door, if I take BART, which turns out to be extremely convenient because 1) the Oracle branch in Pleasanton is right next to the BART station, 2) I avoid stressful traffic, and 3) I can do stuff during the hour commute such as reading the Bible, learning Python, studying Greek, or just plain sleeping. My dad also helped me purchase a car (dark blue 2009 Honda Accord LX) which I am happy with because 1) it’s blue, and 2) it has an aux port (I don’t understand why a lot of cars don’t have this…)

You may have been puzzled by my list of activities to do on BART. Those activities pretty much define what I’ve been spending my time on outside of work.

East Bay True Jesus Church is quite small which means we don’t have too much manpower, which means I have more opportunity to help out and serve. And since I no longer have homework, I can freely attend more services, which is a great blessing. One of the reasons I wanted to take an indefinite break from school was so that I could spend more time being involved with church work, since I was unable to during my time as an undergraduate. Thus, I aim to take substantial time cultivating myself in Bible knowledge and prayer to prepare myself and hopefully be able to contribute to the growth of the church here. In the past, I’ve never really understood what it was like to devote significant time and effort to holy work, so now’s my chance I guess. In college I always envied my friends who were capable of helping out, so I hope they can continue to cherish the privilege they have.

Studying Greek. Thank God some brothers and sisters are taking the initiative to make a really long term commitment to this. The aim is basically to be able to study the New Testament in its original language and ultimately write commentary. About 5-6 of us meet on Monday evenings via TokBox, and fortunately some of us already know some Greek (not me) to get started before our real instructor comes back from theological training in Taiwan in January. It’s been interesting because I haven’t tried learning a new language since I graduated high school (where I was learning Spanish). Greek I feel is much harder to pick up mostly because the letters actually look different. In Spanish the letters were pretty much the same, and the sounds were pretty close to reading Pinyin. But reading Greek has almost felt like trying to make phonetic sounds from hieroglyphics (I guess Chinese is like that too, but I’ve already been learning/picking up mandarin on and off my entire life). Anyways, I hope we can really keep at this in the years to come.

Python. Why am I trying to learn Python? I guess one of the short answers is that I’m trying to accrue more skills and add another language to my toolbox. Why Python specifically? I’ve only ever written one Python program before, and it was for a 4 week Unix class. The language is easy to learn, has compact and elegant syntax, and enforces readability with mandatory whitespace/indentation. It’s easy to code in and is the only language where I’ve written a code snippet and had it execute the first time without errors. But most of all, Python is extremely versatile as a high level language. It can do “low-level” things like network programming and interfacing with hardware (e.g. over a serial port with say, a microcontroller like an Arduino) as well as higher level things like text-processing, file manipulations, and numerical/scientific computations. With Python you can quickly do things any shell script could, but still harness the power of OOP and write programs for software applications and web development. I’ve heard that languages can partially be judged by their “Hello World” programs. In C it’s pretty easy: printf(“Hello World”); , but anything more complicated quickly becomes super frustrating to debug because the developer has to worry about memory management and bounds checking. In Java, “Hello World” is a bit more of a nuisance: System.out.println(“Hello World”); (not including the class declaration), but is good for large complex applications because it’s OO and has its own garbage collection. Now Python’s “hello world”: print “Hello World”. Even more concise than C, but still the potential for large software design like Java.

Now I’m by no means an expert in computer languages, nor do I have professional expertise in any one language, which means I’m most likely oversimplifying everything. But from what I can gather, it seems like Python can pretty much do everything I’ve ever done in every language, except with less stress. If you want to talk about Matlab, well I just bought a book on data visualization with Python and it makes use of external math libraries that can do things like plotting figures and doing Fourier transforms and other signal processing operations. Sure, Matlab probably has lots more complex features, but for someone like me, I’m sure Python has more than enough. Oh, and Python is FREE (and Matlab certainly is not).

I’ve always been interested in web development, so I’ve also been wanting to pick up a language or platform for that as well, initially Ruby on Rails. But my good friend Mohan (www.mohanzhang.com) referred me to Django, which is another web development framework that is written on….*drum roll….Python!

All in all, by learning and becoming an expert in just one language, I can do pretty much all the random things that interest me in terms of software development. Learning one language is certainly easier than trying to learn multiple ones, especially simultaneously.

I’ve got some ideas for applying my future proficiency in Python. One is a “daily blessings” web app that I can use to help me count my blessings. For a period of time in high school I would write down blessings in my journal everyday, but that got inconvenient (or rather, I got lazy) because even if I did end up writing in my journal everyday at night, by that time I would’ve forgotten a lot of what happened during the day already. But a web app has the advantage of me being able to add blessings throughout the day (so long as I have internet, which pretty much most of us have at our disposal in many places), as well as being able to store them and view them with ease. Furthermore, if people are interested, they could use it as well, which would make it even more meaningful. I also plan on doing a rehaul of my website, which is in PHP. I could write many paragraphs about this, but I will save it for my future website. Anyhow, I think once I get into Django (and assuming that I like it), these things will be much easier, especially the daily blessings thing.

Besides all that, I also go to the gym 2-3 times a week after work, help my sister and brother in law cook and clean, and other miscellaneous things. That’s my life without homework, and so far it’s been nice. In fact, the only slightly negative thing about it is that so far my job is kind of boring, but that’s mainly because I’m doing self study training which consists of reading PDF files.

Hymn 98 Bit

Today for the East Bay Church Holy Communion was held. While we were singing Hymn 98, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, one bit stuck out to me the most, I guess as a determination:

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood.

What in this life still charms me? If it isn’t God, what is it? Am I willing to sacrifice it? When Elijah called Elisha, he immediately stopped his work in the field and burned his plow. When Jesus called the disciples, they immediately dropped everything to follow Him. What’s keeping me from burning my plow? What am I still holding onto?

Borne by Four

And again he entered into Capernaum, after some days, and it was heard that he is in the house, (2) and immediately many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door, and he was speaking to them the word. (3) And they come unto him, bringing a paralytic, borne by four, (4) and not being able to come near to him because of the multitude, they uncovered the roof where he was, and, having broken it up, they let down the couch on which the paralytic was lying, (5) and Jesus having seen their faith, saith to the paralytic, `Child, thy sins have been forgiven thee.’
Mark 2:1-5 YLT

East Bay Fellowship studied Mark 2 this past week, which includes the famous healing of this paralytic. This account is often referred to when talking about the importance of spiritual companionship and tight friendship. After all, it is indeed touching how these four friends went out of their way to bring the paralytic to Jesus. However, I want to bring up a slightly different way of looking at this passage.

Let’s look at verse 3:

And they come unto him, bringing a paralytic, borne by four…

We frequently say these four must have been good and close friends with each other and with the paralytic because of their actions. But if we just look at verse 3 alone, there isn’t any indication of such a relationship. Many modern translations say “four men” probably for completion’s sake, but even that doesn’t imply any sort of  relationship. For all we know, these four could’ve been close friends, mere acquaintances, or random strangers who, on their way to see Jesus, saw the paralytic and out of the goodness of their hearts decided to lend a helping hand.

How could this change the way we think about this passage? Let me share my own personal example and thinking.

After a sermon, the speaker typically goes over prayer requests before prayer which often include those who are sick physically or spiritually, and those who seldom or never come to church anymore. This summer I had the opportunity to visit many True Jesus Churches in other countries and attend service, and at each one the speaker would mention people to pray for, some by name. Being a visitor, I didn’t recognize any of the names since I didn’t know everyone. Whenever I heard these prayer requests, I never felt a strong urge or obligation to pray for them, particularly for lost sheep. I found myself thinking, “members who don’t come to church anymore – not really my problem; they’re the responsibility of their close friends and peers.”

And yet, the paralytic was carried possibly by four strangers; four people who climbed onto the roof, dug through it, and lowered the paralytic down in order to bring him to the presence of Jesus. And I was one of the many in the multitude who passed by the paralytic and did nothing, like the priest and Levite who saw the man beaten by the road and passed by on the other side. But the four, who may have coincidentally walked by the paralytic on the side of the road, had compassion – they were living examples of the good Samaritan.

We know the moral of the story of the good Samaritan well; we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and our neighbor is whoever is in need. When we listen to prayer requests, we are learning who our neighbors are, and Jesus commanded us to love not just our friends, but our neighbors as ourselves. Doing a favor for a friend? No problem. But how much out of our way are we willing to go for people we may not know so well or not know at all? Those who are sick either physically or spiritually, those who are lost, those who are paralyzed – whether strangers or friends – they are our responsibility. We can either be part of the multitudes who pass them by, or be part of the few good Samaritans. Let us choose to have compassion.

Straight and Upright

During my most recent visit to Taiwan with my brother, we visited a cousin whose husband is a pastor and former “bone therapy/correction” doctor, and thus knows how to give a good and “bone-correcting” massage. My brother likes to visit him because he likes getting massaged, and it’s good for him because his back is often slouched and slightly bent over. Usually after these massages there is a noticeable difference in his posture. Anyways, after the pastor massaged my brother, he asked me if I wanted to get one too. I of course accepted, but thinking that my back was pretty good and didn’t need any correcting. “I exercise more regularly than the average person and stretch; my spine should be pretty straight,” I said to myself as I laid on my stomach and the pastor began to gently but firmly knead my spine starting from my neck and downwards.

No sooner than when this thought complete itself in my mind did the pastor say to my surprise, “O! Zhe li you yi dian wai” (It’s a little bit crooked here). A couple moments later as he continued down my spine – “Zhe li ye shi” (Here as well). And as he worked his magic and I felt the straying vertebrae crack back in place, sure enough I realized they indeed had been a little crooked. Those weren’t the only problems – he also noticed that my knees were not really aligned with one another when my legs were laid straight out next to each other. He told me some possible reasons behind these deviations: leaning towards one side while sitting, sliding your butt forward while sitting, arching the back when sitting up “straight”, and for my knee misalignment, sitting with one foot resting on top of my other knee.

These “causes” seem pretty insignificant and trivial and things we may not even think about in our busy day to day routines. Afterall, who constantly pays close attention to the way they sit while watching a movie or sitting hunched over a laptop screen churning out an essay? And yet, over time, these trivial habits and tendencies resulted in noticeable deviations in bone structure and alignment.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to our spiritual lives. We tend to think we’re pretty good and that our backs are upright and spines straight, especially compared to a lot of other people in the world. Despite being swamped with school or work, juggling extra curriculars, maintaining a family and home, we get by and still find the time to go to church every week and relax every so often. But if we neglect spiritual cultivation – sincere Bible reading and prayer – we are truly deceiving ourselves.

Without regular reflection and self examination through God’s Word, the seemingly insignificant and trivial habits and thoughts that are potentially harmful to our faith and relationship with God accumulate, and we aren’t even aware of it because we’re too caught up with the obligations we have to fulfill and how we should unwind. A possible symptom of our spines becoming crooked without our notice may be during group Bible study, and we read the passage and have nothing to say, or when we hear a sermon we have no interest.

I find that when I start reading the Bible again after a period of not reading it, verses begin to stick out at me because they are verses that directly address an aspect of my life that is not pleasing to God, and yet they are verses that I knew beforehand but simply forgot a long time ago. I would think that I was okay and doing pretty well, but after a spiritual “massage” or check up, I realized how messed up I was.

Anyways, in attempt to sum up: if it’s been some time since we last examined ourselves closely or prayed more than 10 minutes, take a large block of time to reflect and read the Bible again. Examine our tiniest habits and tendencies and desires. Maybe one song is causing our mind to deviate from the Spirit. Maybe our loose language is indicative of lack of fear of the Lord. Maybe our lack of thankfulness and appreciation for all the tiniest blessings are slowly contributing to pride of life. Be critical of yourself. Be brutally honest.

Our backs might appear to be relatively upright, and our spines relatively straight, but God will measure us with a plumb line (Amos 7:7-8). And when he does, it will be grossly obvious if we are crooked or arched in any way.

Testing Wordbook

I’ve been looking for something that will sort of link my blog with my facebook profile, since I’m reasonably sure my facebook gets more visibility than my blog.

Basically Wordbook is a wordpress plugin (I think it only works if you host your own wordpress installation, so unfortunately if you use wordpress.com then it won’t work) that talks to facebook with an interfacing facebook app every time I make a blog post. So after I publish an entry on my wordpress blog, the plugin also updates my facebook wall telling everybody I wrote a blog post. Hooray!

It also adds another box in my profile listing my most recent blog posts.

This plugin isn’t perfect, but maybe it’s sufficient. We’ll see.

Long Overdue Summer Reflections and Updates

So, I will start with NYTS held in Hillsborough, NJ.

Thank God this time I had the opportunity to serve as a team captain and a hymnal leader. Having been far away from a church during college, I did not get many chances to serve the church as many other of my church friends were, and to be honest I kind of envied them, but also admired them. It sort of made me feel kind of useless and I wish I could’ve done more. A pastor that I saw at NYTS even went as far as saying that it was a waste for me to go to school so far away. In some ways it could be true, but the experience had its benefits as well. Regardless, I’m very thankful to still be in Christ and to come out still with a desire to serve. Wow, this paragraph was nothing more than a digression from the first sentence.

Anyways, I was a bit nervous and worried about the responsibilities I would have at NYTS, in addition to preparing a graduating sermon. I decided to dedicate basically the entire week prior to the start of NYTS to prepare for my duties, which included Bible studies, hymnal arranging, and of course, prayer. I had laid down a mental schedule in my head on what to accomplish each day of the week so I could be “ready” and “prepared.” During the second half of the week, however, an unfortunate event involving a protein drink through a wrench in everything and I was basically bedridden for two days and my diet consisted of saltine crackers, bread, soft noodles, and gatorade. Obviously my little prep schedule fell apart and I even had to forego my airport pick ups to other members, including one in the wee hours of the morning.

God was, however, indeed faithful. On Sabbath (2 days before the actual start of NYTS classes) I felt pretty okay and went to church and helped out with cleaning and yardwork no problem. I even picked up some people late Saturday night too. That night when I got back home I was a little hungry and thought I had recovered enough to eat a little cereal with milk. The next morning, my stomach felt uncomfortable again and my energy low. Thank God, by NYTS registration in the evening I felt fine again, and throughout the entirety of NYTS, I felt fine with no problems (I ate a pretty stale diet for the first 2 days just in case). So yes, God indeed was faithful to me. Allowed my body to take it easy to take on these new responsibilities :p

I think through this God may have been teaching me to just rely on Him. In my mindset of laying down my own schedule and trying to feel prepared through my own effort, I may not have been truly handing things to God. When I was bedridden I couldn’t do anything and by the time NYTS started I hadn’t done everything I would’ve liked to prepare, so the only thing I could do was pray. I was worried that things would turn out bad if I was feeling ill, but that turned out not to be an issue by the grace of God.

In the first day or two of NYTS and of leading hymns in the evening, I felt kind of stressed because of my incompetence. I’m a somewhat shy person so stirring up sharing and discussion and enthusiasm is certainly not my strongest suit. I knew that serving God was supposed to be a joyful thing, so I prayed about it and asked God to enable me to serve Him better, and with joy instead of stress. Thank God, leading the hymn sessions afterwards was much more relaxing and enjoyable (at least for me haha). My group also became more willing to share without as much awkward filler from me.

I constantly prayed for humility during the seminar since pride is a big issue for me. I kept trying to remind myself of the lessons I learned from the article I wrote in EWR about David’s legacy. In retrospect writing that article was essential in shaping my perception of servitude, namely that the heart is most important because the talents we have are God’s anyways. It’s not the talents and accomplishments that God really wants from us, since He can find anyone to perform any task, but our hearts that we offer to Him. Our hearts must be right before God, pure and perfect. If there’s any pride in servitude, then the heart is not right, and God is not pleased. I tried to assure myself that despite my incompetence, as long as I did my best with the right attitude, my service would still be acceptable to God, even if the results weren’t optimal.

A verse that came up in class that I think was really relevant to me was 1 Corinthians 8:1, the latter portion:

Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.

Biblical knowledge is absolutely necessary in serving God because without it, even if we have the heart, we may not always serve correctly. Serving incorrectly, even with pure motives, can have harsh consequences (recall Nadab and Abihu offering profane fire, and Uzzah who caught the Ark of Covenant). Having recently become more comfortable studying the Bible, I felt myself beginning to attain a deeper knowledge of the Bible. With this also crept in a sense of pride, that I had acquired this knowledge on my own, that my insight was superior to others’. I wanted to impress others with this knowledge, under the guise of sharing. Of course, this was not my main motivation, but that bit of pride was there. I think that’s why 1 Cor 8:1 “struck it down” for me. The knowledge doesn’t edify on its own – it needs love. I was feeling the knowledge beginning to puff me up; I needed to pray for more love. I constantly reminded myself of this while preparing for my sermon as well. I had to share what I learned out of love for the audience and their spirituality, not out of any selfish ambition to make myself look good. After all, the things I share are lessons for myself that I also need to learn and practice. Anyone could learn what I had learned if he/she took the time to study the same passage. Many can attain knowledge, but fewer can maintain a godly love to make that knowledge edifying.

I would like to share a simple example that I experienced during NYTS, of how love edifies in conjunction with the knowledge. Everybody knows the church is the house of God, and that the house of God should be kept clean and in order out of respect for God. At NYTS, all the groups are assigned cleaning duties that rotate during the week. One morning, after my group had finished tidying up the bathroom before Bible reading, I was walking back to the chapel from the bathroom. I saw another brother walking down the hallway towards me, looking at the floor, sweeping his eyes back and forth, making note of the areas that needed to be swept with a broom. I was really touched because this brother was not assigned to do this work (it was probably the responsibility of another group who may have forgotten to do it the night before). This brother was doing this because he loved the church. He had the knowledge to keep God’s house clean, as most of us do. And this knowledge was conveyed to me through his love. It showed me that love for the church is shown in the smallest of things, something I already knew in my mind, but somehow not in my heart. Edifying? Yes, much moreso than if someone just dryly told me so, which would’ve puffed me up and caused me to think, “Yeah, I know that already.”

I found myself praying to ask God to be more loving. Loving to the church, to members I may not like for whatever reason, loving to my family, and loving to God. I want to become a better servant. I was feeling grossly incapable amidst other brothers and sisters who were serving fervently and effectively and with love. I want to be able to do a good job for God too, to please Him with my servitude as well. I don’t think I ever felt so strongly about this before. I know God has given me many talents, but so far I’ve done squat to use them for God to the ability that I can. I want to start using my talents more for holy work, and less for pleasure, and give them back to God along with a right and whole heart. To him who has been given more, more will be expected.

Thank God I also had the opportunity to do some door-to-door evangelizing after NYTS, to invite people to the Spiritual Convocation and Evangelical services at Hillsborough. I always found this to be quite intimidating, especially considering my awkward confrontational skills, but fortunately I was paired with a more experienced person to see examples of how it could be done. And thank God, after inviting a couple people myself, I found that it wasn’t really difficult at all! What was also nice was that while we were all scattered around a neighborhood, it was kind of cloudy and the forecast said it would rain. But it didn’t rain until soon after we all drove and met back at church. How thoughtful of God :)

So those are just a couple of my reflections from NYTS. There are many more things I learned from the classes and small tidbits that I made note of, along with some refined resolutions for living a more disciplined spiritual life, but this is already quite long. I hope it’s marginally edifying and I know it’s somewhat all over the place and “stream of consciousness” style, and the tense is all over the place and run on sentences are everywhere (like here!) and grammar and such. But for a blog, it’s okay.

Now for New Zealand.

I met relatives either for the first time ever, or the first time in like a decade. These relatives are unique in that they have no problems speaking English, which is great. Plus, they speak English with a kiwi accent, which is even more awesome. After spending time with them and hanging out with them, I found that not having a language barrier really goes a long way. It’s unfortunate that I can’t talk as candidly with my cousins in Taiwan because my Chinese is too broken and awkward.

Anyhow, my cousins and aunt and uncle took a lot of time out of their very busy lives to entertain us and make sure we had fun (and food), so I am very grateful and thankful to them. Even though the weather was forecasted to rain for a large portion of the time we were there, thank God for the most part it didn’t rain. And on the days when I prayed in the morning and the night before, the weather was simply awesome and perfect when it wans’t supposed to be, so thank God! As a result, I have lots of beautiful photos of New Zealand :p.

The most radical thing I did in New Zealand had to be bungee jumping over an emerald green lake. It was a 47 meter drop, and the scariest part hands down was waddling to the edge of the platform looking down with a very heavy chord tied to my feet that felt like it would pull me over before I was ready. It all happened pretty fast and I let out a pretty hearty yell on the first drop. Those who watched me said there was a doppler effect cause I yelled the whole way down. Anyways, it’s all documented and recorded in multiple photos and videos, which have yet to be posted (if ever!).

I have to say something about the beaches there because they are awesome. The water is blue and clear, and there are shells everywhere! it’s just so cool because in the beaches I’ve been to recently in North America, shells are kind of hard to come by. But in NZ, shells are literally everywhere. You know sometimes in shopping plazas there are areas filled with rocks or mulch surrounding like a bush or tree? Well in NZ they used shell fragments. I picked up a bunch of rocks and shells from various lakes and beaches to add to my rock collection/museum.

We also got to see live Kiwi birds which are the cutest things ever because they walk and run funny and only have two appendages. Must be extremely frustrating for them though. They walk with their two legs, but for everything else, they have to use their mouths. Coincidentally, they can’t do much else.

Let’s see, some differences between NZ and the states.

Things tend to be smaller in NZ. The roads are more narrow and the freeways (or motorways as they say) are fewer lanes. As a consequence, the cars are smaller and not as wide. When I went inside a public restroom, the first thing I noticed was that the urinals were much smaller too. I took a picture too. I felt like I was peeing in a large white porcelain bowl. And no dividers, which kind of bothered me.

Speaking of cars and roads, the driver side is on the right side of the car, and they drive on the left side of the road. This was a bit jarring since I’d always walk to the wrong side of my cousins’ cars and my cousins would be making left turns after looking only in one direction and traffic on traffic circles went clockwise. One time my mom even got in the driver seat and sat there for awhile, and didn’t realize until my cousin said, “Uh…I have to sit there.”

I must mention the accent again because it’s so awesome. I like listening to my cousins talk because it’s just so different and I’m used to cousins speaking very broken English if at all. After about a week of hearing the accent everywhere, I started thinking with a NZ accent. People were also much more friendly and jolly than in the states, like in stores and cafes and such. I theorize that the accent contributes to this and induces a more friendly response from customers, aka myself. It just seems wrong to yell at someone who is speaking with a NZ accent. They also smile more. It was quite chilling to come back to the states going through customs without a single employee smiling. Just a robotic “wait in that line…take out your passport…why did you travel…”

Another difference is university life. My cousins go to Auckland University (or “uni” for short) and they commute from home. Obviously this is very different from the dorm life. I imagine going to college doesn’t feel much different from high school in that respect.

Also, before uni, students have to wear school uniforms. College or uni students must feel privileged to wear whatever they want when they go to uni :p

Then there’s the whole inverted schedule and seasons. NZ is winter during summer in the states, which means it’s colder there and my cousins were in the middle of their classes and exams and projects. Sorry!

Okay…entry is too long. I was going to say some thoughts concerning my transition from east coast to west coast, but I’ll save it for another day, if you even made it this far.