NYST, BibleDB –> Bible Tidbits

It’s been awhile hasn’t it?

Thank God, two weekends ago the NYST was completed at Hillsborough church in NJ. This was the first time I’ve ever coordinated anything in church of this scale, so although it was a bit stressful, I learned a lot and feel blessed to have such reliable and diligent coworkers in NYM. I also gained a few powerful tidbits during the seminar which were really needed and they have renewed my sense of meaning and strength in serving God (lately I’ve been feeling a bit weary, including during the time I spent prepping for NYST). I guess I’ll just share a few that I remember off the top of my head.

  • Sometimes our zeal can cover up a hidden motive that we weren’t really aware of. In one of the classes we learned how Paul was truly zealous for God before his conversion, yet his zeal (and that of the Pharisees as well) actually stemmed from his desire to assert himself. The law of God is in essence good and holy and righteous; how can anyone who is so zealous for the law miss its very essence and become someone cruel who enjoyed punishing others? Zeal without true knowledge can become zeal with an ulterior motive. And even if it doesn’t, zeal without knowledge causes more harm than good.
  • A growing fellowship must know where its strength comes from. Likewise for the coordinator and for any worker of God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:5 – “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (emphasis added). I think more recently I’ve come to try to rely on my own strength without really entrusting to or having faith in God’s power. As a result I was always tired and reluctant to do work. But if we know where our strength comes from, we have the assurance that in whatever we have been entrusted to do, we can have sufficiency from God.
  • Be wary of becoming too task-driven or inflexible with deadlines, because it may lead to caring more about the smoothness of an event than the needs of the members who participate. Arguably it is necessary to be task or deadline driven because otherwise things just don’t get done. But we need to be careful not to become so efficient that we neglect the needs of the people and the purpose of holding such events (which are intended to meet those needs). I may have been guilty of this in preparing for the NYST so I need to think a little bit more on how to strike a good balance.
  • When dealing with weariness from holy work, it is important to pinpoint the cause of the weariness. Are we tired/burdened because our spirit is not being truly satisfied? I think this is commonly the case for me, and I believe this blog post on 5 loaves 2 fish summarizes the concept very well. If we’re not being satisfied in spirit, then it’s an indication that our service is more like busy-work and not something we do because it is fulfilling. Perhaps our servitude is not accompanied with the necessary cultivation. If we do not know the God whom we serve, how can that service be meaningful to us? Jesus set such a wonderful example for us. After every great work, like feeding the 5000, he retreated to pray. This teaches us that after we complete some holy work, whether it be an RE workshop or a seminar like NYTS or NYST, that is the time we need to pray the most. That prayer is needed for spiritual rest and renewal of strength. We often emphasize prayer in preparation for some event or special activity, but forget that prayer is just as important afterwards too.

During the fellowship on the last night, we had a few epic rounds of telephone charades (with like 20 people in each line). It was wildly funny to watch and I’m glad I was the designated photographer. Anyways, Pr. Hou had a really interesting observation from it which he shared during the closing ceremony.

He said that the game reminded him of how difficult it is to pass a message down sans variation and mutation. Indeed, in telephone charades the original message becomes beyond recognition by the 3rd or 4th person. When it comes to the truth, we are also tasked with passing down the gospel to those who come after us. It made me realize two things:

  • We need to really know what we believe in, and understand what we have been taught by those before us. In a game like telephone charades, it is extremely difficult to perpetuate the act if you don’t know what you are portraying, even if you mimic every movement mechanically.
  • Even when we think we know the message, we don’t realize our inadequacy until we’ve tried teaching it. “You don’t really know it unless you can teach it.” Sometimes in telephone charades people were able to recognize the answer, but their execution in communicating it to the next person left more to be desired. Thus, even if they knew what the answer was, it was still lost afterwards.

In the game it’s always funny to pick out who in the chain of people really messed it up, but when it comes to the truth of the gospel, we must certainly not be the generation that distorts it for those who follow us. Paul urged Timothy to guard the doctrine with the Holy Spirit, and to preserve the doctrine. As churches become increasingly liberal, the word “doctrine” takes on an increasingly negative connotation of narrow-mindedness and conservatism. But like it or not, doctrine is indisputably crucial to Christian faith – Paul’s exhortations to Timothy and the churches in general attests to that.

In light of all this, it is truly a marvel that the doctrines of True Jesus Church have been preserved since her establishment in 1917. Across borders, cultures, and generations, our basic beliefs have been kept intact. By the grace of God, may we continue in the pattern of sound words which we have heard.

Now onto a completely different topic, I’ve been thinking about what to do with BibleDB. The site’s been inactive and I would venture it’s because of these reasons:

  • people are simply too busy
  • it seems like you’re supposed to write some long and insightful reflection (in this respect it has become something quite different from the original intention of categorizing verses)
  • even if someone did want to get around contributing, the password is long forgotten

A redesign has been swimming around in my head for a little and I’ve gotten around to developing it. I call it “Bible Tidbits” because the purpose of it is to jot down “tidbits” or bite-size notes/annotations, rather than fully developed reflections or devotionals. These tidbits are generally the short little notes you might squeeze within the tiny margins of your Bible, but often record some interesting observation or thought associated with a passage, or with a set of cross references.

Thus, the semantics for the content in this redesign is different from the existing BibleDB. Instead of “Context notes” and “Reflection,” there is “Tidbit” and “More,” for cases where you do want to put down more elaborate thoughts. Typically, however, only the “Tidbit” will be populated and the “More” will be hidden by default unless the person wants to specifically write more stuff. The design is meant to feature the tidbit prominently, so no more need to click on a single record to view its content.

I also removed categories altogether, and just left the organization to tagging. This lets users organize their notes themselves rather than enforcing some categorical scheme.

And the most important enhancement, in my personal opinion, is cross references. Tidbits can be associated with multiple verses/passages instead of just one.

I will say, however, that I’m not developing this app and trying to push it so that many people will want to use it. Ultimately, I’m kind of developing it for myself and tailoring it to the way I work, and if it appeals to other people, great! But for now, I’m just hoping it can be a useful tool for me, a place to perhaps centralize all my Bible margin scribbles and inspirations that can be retrieved later for further development.

Some things I would like to put in place before “releasing it” for general use are authentication/login with existing services (most likely google or facebook) so people don’t have to maintain another special account, and a way to query a passage reference and bring up all the tidbits associated with that range (this is already possible in BibleDB, but because the underlying data model is different, doing it in the redesign is a little more involved).

<begin shameless plug>Anyhow, if you’re interested in checking out the preview, let me know! It’s a fun (although somewhat time-consuming) project for me as it is also an opportunity for me to work with HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript even more. It would be great to get some feedback though, especially in relation to how it should be different from BibleDB so that it can be more useful/more convenient to add content. So again, if you’re interested or just curious to see it, let me know and give me suggestions! </end shameless plug>

I’m not publishing the url since what I have now is basically a prototype and it could very well be so inefficiently fetching too much data in each request that if even a few people play with it my very limited memory quota will be exceeded, causing my webhost to terminate my process.