A Noble Task

1 Timothy 3:1 NIV

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.”

This chapter describes the criteria and qualifications of being an overseer (or “bishop”) and a deacon. As indicated by the first verse, the description that follows is not for those who are already a deacon or overseer (though I’m sure it serves as excellent reminders), but for those who desire to become one. It is not a list of requirements by which we judge existing church workers, but a set of spiritual goals and standards which we are to diligently pursue if we wish to dedicate ourselves to and become worthy of serving the church.

And to pursue diligently is by no means an overstatement. The standards are high, beginning with “above reproach,” or blameless. To desire to serve the Lord is no casual matter; it’s an ambition.

In our society it is typical for people to have ambitious career goals. If we want to get into a prestigious university, we have to study hard and take up a lot of extracurriculars to develop our intelligence and well-roundedness. If we want become a technical expert, we must do a lot of hands-on and theoretical training, and constantly keep up with the latest tools and technologies. If we want to become a doctor we need to score well on the MCATS and excel in medical school. If we want to become a patent agent, there’s this assessment called the patent-bar exam which requires hours upon hours upon hours of memorizing all the material in a ridiculously thick book (ask my sister). Bottom-line: when we want to achieve something or become someone noteworthy in society, we take it seriously, and we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to fulfill any prerequisites and pass any test or assessment with flying colors. Only those who excel in the necessary qualities will make the cut, and so in this way, we egg ourselves on.

Again, to serve the Lord in His church is an ambition. We might think “as long as I have the desire to serve, then God will accept me,” maybe because it’s more politically correct, or because it seems more loving. But in my opinion, this is a gross oversimplification.

If I have the desire to be a doctor (hypothetically speaking of course), then can I just begin treating patients? If I have the desire to get a PhD (again, hypothetically speaking), then can I just expect to get a diploma?

Is not God higher than all these? Is not His house more honorable than any worldly office? Thus, if I have the desire to serve God in His house, then can I just begin to be lead and teach others or make decisions? Of course not.

At the end of Joshua’s life, Joshua told the Israelites to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24) and the people emphatically said,

“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods…We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”

This is a good and touching response. But how did Joshua answer them?

“You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins…Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.”

Thus, in order to serve the holy God, we ourselves must be holy, set apart, above reproach, blameless. When others commit adultery, we are faithful to our spouse. When others indulge, we exercise self control. When others are given to drunkenness in wine or pleasure, we remain sober-minded. When others are inappropriate and despicable, we are respectable and of good behavior. The list goes on – not violent, not greedy for money, not quarrelsome, not covetous, able to manage his family. When others’ hearts are inclined towards themselves, our hearts are inclined towards God and his household. Only those who excel in these necessary qualifications are worthy to serve.

“They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”

We may devote much time and effort in becoming somebody of consequence in this world, but no matter how much we invest, the results are temporary. But if we dedicate and offer ourselves for a spiritual ambition, the results are eternal. Wouldn’t obtaining an eternal reward require a much greater investment than something temporary? Therefore, let us reevaluate our perspective towards serving the holy God. If we are given an opportunity to serve the church in any capacity, let us not regard it casually but rather in reverence by keeping holiness with all diligence.

If anyone desires to serve the Lord, he desires a noble task. But the privilege and honor of serving is not simply only given, but also earned.

Fun Week

Last week it was my birthday. I didn’t do anything special on the exact day because last week was sort of “catch up” week from being at Cornell for 4/5 days the previous week. So the day of my birthday I worked later than usual and got home around 7:30pm. I prepared a “home-cooked” meal (consisting of Trader Joes orange chicken, Safeway steam-in-the-bag broccoli, and leftover white rice from church; yes, my definition of “home-cooking” is very loose – for me it essentially means not eating out) and when I finally finished preparing everything and sat down, I gave the most thankful grace I’ve given in quite awhile. When I closed my eyes and just thought about my current circumstance and all that’s happened in recent years, I felt very grateful. I have a job that pays well, superb living situation (new house, close to family, close to church), and can manage to prepare sustenance for myself (with the help of various third parties). So much grace that I have received. All I could say in that brief prayer in silence was a resounding, “Thank you, Lord. I am happy, and you have provided such a blessed life thus far.”

Then Ann and Will surprised me with cheesecake that evening for dessert, and they bought me a Batman T-shirt! That night we also took a revisit to music – listening to Disney music, getting out piano pieces we used to know how to play, and Ann whipped out the violin for the first time in a couple years. It was all very exciting and I think we realized how much we missed making music. Then we started looking online for places where I could buy a cello.

Before I go on, I need to say thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday! It’s not openly public (but I guess it kind of is now…), so I must give you all kudos for knowing/remembering.

Fast forward to the weekend. Saturday was a beautiful Sabbath with nice warm weather. I brought my camera with the 50mm lens to take some photos of the kiddies. They are so cute and move around so much so it was hard to get clear shots (but I think I also just need to practice more with settings and such). I think I got some pretty nice shots, especially after some cropping and minor retouching in Picasa. For (late) dinner, Whei took me, Ann, Will, Lydia, and Walter out to Rivoli’s for my official birthday dinner. The food was very delicious and exquisite (and a bit $$$; again, thanks Whei!), and afterwards, we were all very, very full. I also took pictures but inside was really dim so I had some difficulties.

Sunday there was a wedding at Pacifica church that started at 10am. I got “ready” for this wedding in record time. Here’s what happened:

My alarm went off at 7:30am. I look at my watch and think to myself, “Wow it’s still really early; I have plenty of time,” and inevitably fall back to sleep. Next thing I know, my cell phone is ringing. With each ring I was progressively yanked into consciousness, along with that dreaded “Uh-oh” feeling. I look at my watch — it’s 9:15am. I look at who’s calling as the last ring sounds — it’s Ann. I quickly call her back and she says,

“Hi, we’re going to leave now; can you come outside?”

I pause for a second. “Uhhh…yeah.”

“..okay! See you soon.”

As soon as I hung up, I threw off my outer long sleeve shirt, put on a dress shirt, changed into my dress pants, grabbed my belt, put on socks, put on my black “all-occasion” wool jacket (truly a great investment – see previous post), ran downstairs, put on my dress shoes, and bolted out the door to Will’s car in the rain with my shoe laces untied, jacket unzipped, belt unbuckled, and shirt untucked and unbuttoned. No time to wash my face, no time to pee, nada. When I got in the car I realized I even forgot to take out my retainer, which is usually the first thing I do when I wake up. Good thing Ann had some gum. And good thing I showered the previous morning (maybe not a great thing, but still good enough to be “good”).

All in all, I’m actually kind of proud of myself for being able to get ready so fast. I’m pretty sure that would’ve been impossible had I been born a female.

The wedding ceremony was about an hour so it went by pretty quickly. About 20 minutes afterward, when most people had already headed out to the restaurant for the banquet and Ann, Will, and I were about to bounce, a certain Berkeley alum and fellow EE major came running towards us. We hadn’t seen him during the ceremony so we greeted him and joked,

“Hey! Did you just arrive?”

“Yeah!”

“….really? Uh……you’re kind of late…it’s already over.”

“Hahaha, really?……wait, really? Doesn’t it start at 11:30?”

“No man. It started at 10. It ended about 20 minutes ago.”

“Oh…oh wow” (I can only imagine the sinking feeling he must’ve felt from driving all the way from San Jose to Pacifica only to realize he’d probably have to leave pretty much immediately).

So after we laughed at him for awhile, we decide to have lunch together since none of us were going to the banquet (Chinese wedding banquets are always at seafood restaurants, and so that clearly poses a hazard to me due to my severe allergies to crustaceans and fish bones).

There are two things I can say about this incident. One, I feel better about sleeping in and waking up 30 seconds before leaving the house. And two, EPIC FAIL. That is all.

Since this is getting a little long, I’ll summarize the rest. Fortunately, the rest of the events I wanted to mention are all related to spending money so that makes it easy. First, I finally bought a DSLR camera bag for myself so I can actually carry it around with both lenses and without having it around my neck all the time (or in some other bag padded with my boxers — CLEAN boxers). It’s the most expensive bag I’ve ever purchased, but fortunately I used Bing cashback to buy my camera so I had $50+ in my Paypal balance to use. And furthermore, I used Bing cashback to buy the bag on eBay, and got back close to $5 on that purchase (if you know the cashback rate, you can estimate the cost of the bag). It’s a Case Logic sling bag (no I didn’t pay $90 bucks for it). I made it a point to get a bag that was within a reasonable budget but wasn’t “lunch-box” style. Oh, and while I was researching various solutions, I came across this DSLR belt holster clip thing. I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and say it’s probably a good quality product and is as sturdy as advertised. So strong, in fact, that it can support up to 17.5 lbs! That is, of course, assuming your pants can still stay up with a 17.5 lb load.

On Sunday, I had arranged to see a cello from someone selling it on CraigsList. We met at a cafe in Sunol where I could play with it for as long as I wanted. It’s a relatively new instrument (made within the last 10-15 years), completely hand made, and it’s been newly “outfitted” (new pearl-inlaid pegs, new bridge and sound post, new strings, new tail piece, and everything fitted and measured perfectly). Of course, all this is according to the seller so I can’t really verify any of it, but judging from the look and feel of it, as well as from playing with it for about 30 minutes, it seemed like a solid and well-crafted instrument. Spruce top, ebony finger board, and wood bow with real horsehair (not one of those cheap plastic fiberglass bows, which is a great plus). Plus, a soft padded case with…wait for it….BACK PACK STRAPS. Those of you who’ve had orchestra with me at any time will know how much I’ve said, “I wish my case had back pack straps.” I think I got a pretty great deal, and I’m SUPER excited to have an instrument now :)

And today, I made a pretty spontaneous buy at Target. I got a RipStik. I’ve always wanted to skateboard, but skateboarding is pretty hard to pick up (i.e. need to put in a lot of time to learn and get used to just simple riding). So I kinda gave that up, but one time at Hillsborough church after service, I saw one of the kids with a RipStik outside and I was like, “Oh cool! That looks fun!” So I bullied him into letting me try it (kidding), and obviously I didn’t start cruising right away, but I could actually stay on for like 10-15 seconds at a time after the first or second try. Read: it’s easier to learn than a skateboard. Admittedly, skateboarding/longboarding probably looks cooler because you don’t have to twist and turn your hips like you have to pee, but whatever. This looks cool too, once you get the motion down properly so it looks natural.

I also bought a helmet. Safety first kids!

So, in conclusion, I am several hundred dollars poorer now (the cello obviously accounts for most of it). But hopefully, the money has been spent towards good investments!

One of these days, I’m going to have to describe some poor investments I’ve made.

Random List of Things of Good Value and Utility

Some things that have turned out to be great investments:

  • My sole pair of Izod jeans.  I think I got them for $18 at an outlet store, but the price itself isn’t what makes these my favorite jeans. They fit me really well in terms of not being baggy so it looks neat, but not tight so I don’t look like some effeminate Asian male. I also like the geometry of the pant legs, but to this day I don’t know if it’s “straight leg, boot cut, relaxed fit, etc” because I feel like different jeans made by different companies are just completely different. These are my casual-but-still-look-neat jeans. And ever since I discovered a hole in the buttocks area of my other pair of jeans, I’ve been wearing these pretty much everyday.
  • Sketchers “Middle-ground” shoes. I don’t know what they’re really called, but I call them “middle-ground” because they’re not dress shoes and not sneakers. They’re my dark brown leather-finish shoes that are appropriate in 80% of circumstances because they can be worn in informal or semi-formal situations. The remaining 15% and 5%of the time I’m wearing sneakers for sports and black A.s.o. Taiwanese brand dress shoes for concerts and other formal events. Anyways, they are my casual-but-still-neat shoes and go great with the aforementioned jeans.
  • Aeropostale Black Wool Jacket. It’s warm. And it’s black, so it can be worn in all situations, casual or business casual or formal (at least, it’s formal enough for me). Plus, I’ve had it since the 9th grade so the roughly $60 or $80 price tag is WELL worth it considering how many winters it’s gotten me through. And it’s still in great shape. Although, I think it’s only been dry-cleaned twice in all these years….and uh…as of this moment SOON TO BE thrice….yeah…
  • Laptop Cooling Fan. I got one my freshman year in college for $30 from Newegg (not that cheap, but at the time, pretty good) and it’s made in Taiwan. One of my classmates scoffed and said it would probably last like a month. Try 5 years – er..wait 4? 4 years and counting! YEAAHHHH!
  • Brother Monochrome Laser Printer (HL-2040). Also got this freshman year for college, along with a spare ink toner cartridge since I thought, you know, I’d need one. Why is this such an awesome investment? Because I’ve NEVER had to change the ink toner throughout my entire undergraduate career, and I did a decent amount of printing (e.g. “Oh man I woke up at 10 am…should I go to my 10:10 class? Nah..I’ll just print out the lecture notes.”). In fact, just a few days ago I noticed the ink started running out and I finally changed it with the spare toner cartridge I’d been lugging around for 4 years. Cost of the printer was $99 and the spare cartridge was probably like $40 or something? Anyways,  definitely would’ve spent more than $150 dollars over 4 years (and counting!) had I gotten an inkjet printer which needs a new cartridge every few months.
  • Logitech X-230 speakers. Also part of my freshman year computer package. I got these for a steal on buy.com for $30 bucks, and these are pretty awesome speakers for the price. My friend also bought them when he heard them in my room. My sister owns them too. I’m no audiophile and nor do I have strict requirements for speakers, but all around these sound great and have more wattage than I’ll ever need. Unfortunately, starting a few years ago Logitech must’ve realized how awesome they were and either the price went up drastically (search on amazon) or they changed it somehow but kept the same name. I love these speakers. When I was packing before graduation, I shipped pretty much all my stuff home 2 weeks early so there’d be space in the car when my family came up. But I kept my speakers with me until the day I left Cornell. When I first moved out to CA I was living with Ann and Will and there wasn’t really room to set up my speakers in the study which already contained two other workstations. My speakers remained packed for 3 months until I moved out (all of 2 minutes away), and when I unpacked them and opened up iTunes, it was great. So glad I got these for $30 bucks.
  • ASUS 23.6 in. Widescreen Monitor. This particular product is nothing special (in fact, I’d prefer a Dell monitor), but just getting a large LCD flat panel display was a great decision and one which I wish I had made much earlier. I don’t know how I was able to work off a 13.3 inch laptop screen for the past 2 years. Having so much desktop space is so relaxing and free. Although, if you’re doing web development you need to keep in mind that the majority of users don’t have this kind of screen real estate.
  • Cello Rosin. I spent something along the lines of $8-$12 for my rosin, which, if you’re a casual musician, is not cheap. The good news is, that was 10 years ago, and I’ve never had to buy rosin since, and I probably won’t need to ever again, considering how (in)frequently I play my cello now.

Some useful programs and miscellaneous items:

  • PrimoPDF. Print files to PDF. ’nuff said.
  • Microsoft OneNote. Really handy/useful for organizing random notes and information. Being able to type anywhere on a page makes it easy and flexible to work with. I’m aware of alternatives like EverNote and whatever Mac users use, but OneNote suits me just fine and I generally don’t need nor want all my information in the cloud. Syncing to a flash drive is adequate.
  • XnView. Fast image viewer/editor/batch processing tool. I mainly use it for batch resizing and thumbnail creation. There are other tools that do this well too, but I’ve been using this for several years now so no reason to change.
  • Notepad++. Infinitely better than Windows Notepad. Syntax high-lighting for pretty much every programming language, collapsible blocks, and lightweight.
  • PDF Split and Merge (pdfsam). Really handy PDF utility for merging, splitting, rearranging pages, etc in PDF files. I don’t need to manipulate PDF’s all that often, but when I do, this works like a charm.
  • Google Chrome. Fast and lightweight browser. Purely for browsing so I don’t use extensions with it, nor have I tried.
  • Mozilla FireFox. Browser of choice before Chrome, but I still use Firefox for web development because of some really awesome plug ins. I use Web Developer plug in (nice suite of utilities like live CSS editing/previewing, ruler, outlining elements, etc) and Firebug mostly. At work I’ve used Selenium IDE as well, and will probably use it for personal projects eventually.
  • Google Picasa. Previously I would always use the file browser to search for pictures and control the directory structure. Actually I still dictate the directory structure, but let Picasa abstract away stuff like creating albums and modifying images so I don’t have to save the modified/original photos separately which I used to do manually. Plus, I realized a lot of the basic photo touch ups I did in photoshop (levels, color, shadows, etc), I could do right in Picasa at 5x the speed. I did try to make use of the people tagging thing, but after tagging probably thousands of photos, my laptop hard drive died and all that work came to nought. Since then, I’ve decided to just forget about it.
  • Xampp. The easiest way to run a webserver locally on your machine with zero installation (unless you count unzipping a folder as installation). No need to touch http.conf unless you want to. This package was imperative to doing my PHP+MySQL web development.
  • Ubuntu with compiz fusion. The one thing that Windows lacks is multiple virtual desktops. Come to think of it, I may have been able to work with my 13.3 inch laptop because at the time I was dual booting Ubuntu and configured 5 desktops. Rotating cube, Expose, ring switcher, and other cool effects made for a great desktop experience. I know it’s mostly eye candy, but it’s got great utility too in terms of windows management (unless you need the CPU cycles for doing real work). Plus, the fancy schmancy 3D animations and stuff impresses non-techy girls. Until you tell them the OS is Ubuntu – “Ubu…what?” Half joking. Anyways, I currently no longer dual boot since my hard drive was reformatted and have been too lazy to do it, but one of these days I would like to get a desktop and load it with Ubuntu. Either that, or get a Mac.
  • Free mini-tool kit from career fair. It has a regular size screw driver and mini screw driver (philips and flat heads). You’ve no idea how handy this is. For example, one time Wayne’s glasses broke and one of the little tiny screws fell out. “Oh man, does anyone have one of those tiny screw drivers?” Guess who had one.

Two Mites

Mark 12:41-44 NKJV
(41)  Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.
(42)  Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.
(43)  So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;
(44)  for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

This is a familiar story that most Christians have probably known since they were in elementary school. The main take away is God doesn’t look at the absolute quantity of our offerings, but rather the amount we offer in proportion to what we have. Yet, that is not all that God looks at. Read verse 41 carefully:

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury.”

Yes, Jesus did see the amount and proportion that people were giving, but this was not what He was looking for. Jesus’ intention was not to observe how much people were offering, but rather the manner in which they offered. Not how much, but how.

We often regard the monetary offerings as representative of other things like time and energy. Since I officially became a “working youth,” I think I’ve started to better understand the members in church who work and manage their families and all sorts of matters like various errands and bills. And to my shame, I’ve begun to realize how much I’ve misjudged many of them.

As a student I somehow was under the impression that students were busier than those who were older and were working (maybe other students feel this way too. Or maybe I was just weird and liked to pity myself). As a result, I would look at the older members’ contributions in church and would be unimpressed. Sometimes I would find myself thinking along the lines of, “They do so little even though they have so much more time than me.” Yeah, I am really naive.

After living for a couple months relatively independently, I’ve been able to understand/observe just how busy some members really are. How much work and stress there is involved in maintaining a house and car and other properties, tending to and caring for little kids, managing finances and bills, and preparing and cooking wholesome meals, all in addition to working a full time job. These people, when all is said and done, really don’t have much time for themselves at all. Unlike students, who can easily defer projects and still find hours to binge-watch a TV show, they really can’t afford to put off the things they need to do. When it comes to the time they have left after getting through the day, they are just like the poor widow in Mark 12:42. All they have left is the equivalent of two mites.

And yet, some of them, like this poor widow, are willing to give what they have left to the church. Maybe they only cook once every two quarters. Maybe they only come to service a few minutes early to help set up. Maybe they only spend their few spare minutes to pray for the church.

Obviously I cannot tell for sure when this is the case and when it is not, but I really do think there are truly those who fall under the above description; genuinely pressed for time, but humbly offering the little they have left, even though they are most justified in keeping it for themselves.

We often echo James’ words: “Faith without deeds is dead.” To me, the seemingly insignificant offerings of these people reveal a beautiful and sincere faith that I was oblivious to as a sheltered student living in a dorm with a buffet downstairs to which I had unlimited meals. To me, these people actually offer more not just because percentage-wise it’s true, but fundamentally because they love God more. And I think this is what Jesus noticed about the widow, when He saw how she offered her two mites.

Ironic, how an inferior offering in the material sense can be the manifestation of a greater love towards God and His church.

Bible Software with NKJV and NASB for FREE

If you want to have the convenience of a digital Bible at your disposal, such as e-Sword, but don’t want to shell out $$ for popular copyrighted translations like NKJV and NASB (our church tends to favor NKJV), or you don’t want to depend on having an internet connection and use online Bibles like Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible, well good news!

BerBible is a simple desktop application that comes bundled with ESV, KJV, NKJV, and NASB translations for free. And apparently it’s legal if you see where in the timeline the developers got official approval and permission from the publishers of these copyrighted translations.

It’s no substitute for something like e-Sword or BiblePro, which have tons of other add-on modules for commentary, dictionaries, etc. This software is mainly a “read the Bible” with search functionality. But since it doesn’t aim to be a substitute, you could use it in parallel with another software package that has these other modules.

Anyways, this was kind of a big deal for me because I had looked for Bible software with NKJV bundled for free various times in the past, but strangely was never able to find BerBible in the results. How I eventually came across it is actually quite funny.

A project I’ve been working on in conjunction with some RUCF buddies is implementing the idea of a “Bible Database.” The database would be a collection of verses/passages that were tagged and categorized, in order to aid in Bible study for other church members. It started out as a google doc spreadsheet but now it’s a live web application (although development is still ongoing) built using the django framework that I’ve blogged about a couple times promising all my dedicated readers that something would come out of my efforts in learning it. Since I’m hosting it on my own webspace (hosting provided by webfaction), the url of the application was not very satisfying – basically it was prefixed with my domain name, leehsueh.net. Clearly this app warrants its own domain name so I decided to check out what was available. One of the domains I tried using was bibledb.org. So I typed in bibledb.org in my address bar, hit enter, and lo and behold, it redirects to the BerBible site. As I scoffed at its not-very-aesthetically-pleasing graphics and design, I saw two words in the same sentence that made me do a double-take: “Free” and “NKJV”.

Anyways, I’ll take this opportunity to shamelessly promote the unofficial True Jesus Church Bible Database web app. I think it’s functioning okay enough to publicly announce so if you’re a True Jesus Church member and would like a user account, send me an e-mail with your desired username and a dummy password. You’ll be able to change your password to something else more private once I enable that feature on the site :p