July, 2011

Jul 11

Idea Bank: “Eat to Feed” Restaurant

For every meal you eat at our restaurant, we’ll feed one hungry person. TOMS Shoes does this with shoes, so why don’t we do it with food? Everyone needs to eat. Why not allow the less fortunate to benefit when you eat out? Why not feed the hungry when you yourself are hungry? You get a full meal; why shouldn’t they?

Homeless shelters don’t generate income, and I know that our local shelter would benefit from this kind of support. Rather than investing into Africa, why not invest into our very own neighborhood and community? Wouldn’t it seem responsible to solve the problems around us before solving the global problems?

Jul 11

Idea Bank: Introduction

Those who know me well understand that I have an intense love for new ideas. In fact, one my friends (quite generously) dubbed me the “idea machine”. I don’t know why, but I often get hit by new concepts, truths, and ideas, often at unexpected times–when I’m engaged in conversation, when I’m driving down the road, when I’m solving an unrelated problem at work, and sometimes even when I’m lost in slumber. (This blog is primarily driven by those fleeting thoughts, and I simply capture them and put them in words.)

I have a whole category of ideas I have not yet shared on my blog. Sometimes I get hit by a thought for a new business, organization, or other venture. These ideas require the help of certain people who have special abilities that I don’t have. For the past several years, I have kept these ideas in a special section in my journal. More recently, I’ve moved them into booklet that I entitled the “Idea Bank.” Today I’m ready for the next step. I am putting some of these ideas out into broad daylight for the world to see.

The question that naturally arises is this, “What keeps people from stealing your idea, especially if it’s profitable?” Well, steal it! It is a great honor to have someone steal my ideas.

A certain blogger, whom I cannot recall by name, regularly shares business ideas with his readers. His reason? Ideas are easy, but execution is hard. If someone else can execute his ideas, either it was a very bad idea, or they deserve the credit. Ideas that can be stolen by reading a paper can also be stolen by watching an operation.

In the future, you can expect to see these ideas appear. Some of them will be from my booklet, but many of them will be new. They will be flagged with the term “Idea Bank”.

Who knows, one of them may fit you perfectly! If so, steal away!

Jul 11

Where the Natural and the Supernatural Meet

Those of you who have been following my blog have noticed a certain shift in my focus. My posts have revolved around self-awareness and self-management–ideas like evaluations, financial budgets, time budgets, etc. We often associate these ideas with the “natural”. These are things we read in secular books and learn in secular classes. I myself used to find these systems empty and lifeless, even stifling. What has changed?

I’ve come to know God not only as a God of revelation but also of wisdom and understanding. Our God empowers us to understand the way the world works, and He follows up by giving us the grace (divine empowerment) to live it out. Those who are of the world are limited by their natural understanding because they don’t have the spirit of wisdom living within them.

I used fear that I would limit by God by living wisely. In no way do I want to constrain God with budgets. Rather, I want God to multiply my time and money. And when He does that, I want to be faithful with His gifts! That’s why I care so much about these practical things about living life. It’s all about making the most with what I’ve been given. It’s a matter of stewardship and being faithful with the things God entrusts to me.

In the end, I don’t think there should be a divide between the natural and the supernatural, because all of our lives should be wrapped up in the truth that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and everything we do is for His glory.

Jul 11

Optimization: Fix the Process or the Details?

This is a simple concept that has several big scary words that will probably scare you, but it’s not as bad as it might appear! As a software engineer, I was periodically given the task of optimizing certain features. These were certain features that were too slow, and my job was to speed them up. I could try to fix them in one of two ways.

  1. I could change the algorithm, which means using a new process to solve your problem.
  2. I could change the implementation, which means changing the details of how the process works.

Let’s use a silly example to understand how this works.

Imagine a fire department that uses a bucket brigade to put out fires. You are hired as a consultant to increase their efficiency. You have two choices:

  1. You could change the process by introducing them to pump trucks instead of a bucket brigade (new process).
  2. You could change the details by replacing their one-gallon buckets with five-gallon buckets (same process, new details).

Details control 20-30% of a process’s efficiency. Breaking past that barrier almost always requires a whole new process.

How does this apply to us practically?

When I budgeted my time, I discovered that I spend 41% of my waking hours at work. If I don’t feel like I don’t get enough time to do what I really want to do, on weekends I choose to drive above the speed limit to get my errands done sooner. This is changing the details, and it amounts to little more than trimming fat. If would change the process and leverage my work to give me what I want, I would encounter a huge efficiency gain!

If you’re facing financial strain, you can save a few pennies by cutting coupons and eating out less. These are details, and they will benefit you! However, they won’t benefit you as much as changing your big lifestyle decisions. To dramatically change your financial picture, you need to change the process. Sometimes it mean a lower lifestyle (cheaper car, cheaper housing, simpler living). Sometimes it means a different job. Sometimes it means both.

Many times when we find ourselves up against a barrier, we begin to change the details. If the result is unsatisfactory, we often wear ourselves out trying to continually improve it, and it never occurs to us that we need to change the process. Big change comes at a big cost, and many of us are unwilling to pay the price, which is why so few of us experience the rewards.

Where are you inefficiencies? What will be your approach to streamlining them?

I could also change the implementation. This is simply the details in the big-picture approach.

Jul 11

Budgeting Your Time

I recently mentioned that after many fitful starts, I’ve started on a budget this month. I’ve been forced to rethink my perspective of money. More than anything else, budgeting has forced me into a big-picture perspective. Even though I can justify any purchase, can I justify it against the rest of my expenditures?

But money is not the only limited resource that I deal with. In the same way that we cannot (or dare not!) spend more money than we make, it is impossible for us to spend more time than we have. Ironically, however, many of us get caught in the trap of trying to force more time into our own hands. The rule in time accounting is that every “debit” on our time needs a “credit” somewhere else.

This week I sat down to outline my weekly schedule, categorizing each hour of my day into one of seven categories. When I did, I discovered why I felt like I was constantly bumping up against barriers in my allotted time. Some things, like exercising or taking quiet time for myself, didn’t fit into my already-full schedule. Because of that, they only happened when something else fell through the cracks.

Up until recently, I’ve hated budgets because they’ve placed constraints on me. However, I’ve found that they’re helpful tools in understanding my life. These metrics have given me a better grasp of the focus of my life and the things that steal my focus and energy. Specifically outlining my schedule gave me a clearer picture of how I was using my time and how many hours were really available to me.

Outlining the schedule was an easy first step, but the more difficult second step is trying to define where I want to be and blazing a trail to get there. I have found that I function best when I can set aside a large block of time every week to allow my creative side to take over and develop strategies for life. My “time budget” tells me loudly that I need to specifically schedule this in order to make it happen.

What about you? What are the things in which you’re investing your time? Have you recently evaluated your life (using specific measurements) to see if you’re spending the right amount of time on the right things?

Jul 11

Thousand White Crosses

I see a field, covered with a thousand white crosses. These are the only memories that remain of a thousand aborted children.

These are the children who could have been.

These are children who would have lived in wonder in a wide-open world. These are the ones who would have explored the undiscovered spaces, drawing maps where no man had ever gone. These are the ones who would have shined a light into the dark places, rescuing scared and tired victims from behind enemy lines. These are the heroes who would have grown up to change the world.

These were the lives never were.

These crosses are testaments of lives conceived at the wrong time. These are the children who would have ruined a career. These are the ones who would have brought disgrace and shame to a prideful parent. These are the lives who could have been but never were wanted.

However, these crosses are not for the lives of the children killed in clinics. These are the crosses for the living dead, those killed by the cares of this world and by the expectations of mankind. They are for those who against all odds, dared to dream and dared to bare their soul to a vision they knew only God could fulfill, but who suffered the fatal blow of a cold, heartless world.

We cannot afford to lose these lives. We are witnesses of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ that brings life where death once prevailed, and by the grace of God, we will see a new field–a field of a thousand uprooted crosses!

Jul 11

Measuring Your Ministry

This past week has been a crazy week for me, but I think I’m ready to get back into a bit more of a routine with my blogging!

Over the past several years, I’ve seen a big shift across Christendom into hands-on, practical ways of helping people. Christians are becoming increasingly aware of issues such as human trafficking, social justice, and poverty. However, Christians are not the only people who are gaining this awareness. The world is full of people who are engaging in these issues with no profession of faith with Jesus.

I’ve been troubled by somewhat by a strange alliance that I see between those who profess Christ and those who don’t. I know that those who aren’t against us are for us, but we dare not lose the reason we do these works. As believers in Christ, we can do many good works, but unless Christ is the center and is represented well, all of them will be empty works that will be burned.

As I was discussing this with a friend, we devised the following diagram to measure ministry:

The vertical axis represents the humanitarian. This measures the practical benefit of our ministry.

The horizontal axis represents the spiritual. This measures the spiritual benefit of our ministry.

We added two marks:

The top-left “X” represents things such as drilling water wells, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and fixing a neighbor’s leaky faucet. These are great activities but have no intrinsic spiritual benefit.

The lower-left “X” represents things such as street preaching and tract distribution. Our message to the world has no meaning if it does not include clear teaching on Jesus Christ and who He is.

From there, my friend and I divided the diagram into quadrants:

We avoid the lower-left quadrant entirely, and we creatively move everything else into the upper-right quadrant:

I am continually faced with this challenge. I can easily provide advice and teaching to fellow believers, but it can be difficult to give up my own time to help them out in practical ways. Similarly, I can easily hang out with non-believers and get to know them, but it can be difficult to leverage that platform to talk about the things that really matter. This diagram places that tension directly in front of me.

While measurements like this can be overwhelming, the most important thing is movement. In everything we do, we should move from where we are to where we need to be. We don’t aim for an equal balance between the humanitarian and the spiritual, but rather we aim for strength in both.

Making it practical is quite simple:

  • List the areas of ministry in which you’re involved.
  • Plot those areas of ministry on the diagram.
  • Find ways to move these areas of ministry into the upper-left quadrant.

(Finally, please understand that this diagram is a tool and nothing more than a tool. You may have legitimate reasons to find your ministry in a different part of the diagram. However, I believe you should be intentional with it and should be well aware of where you are and why.)

Jul 11

My Food

Jesus said that His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him.

We eat for two reasons: for nourishment first and for pleasure second. Nourishment gives life. Lack of proper nourishment brings death.

Jesus received nourishment from doing God’s will.

How much of what you do gives you nourishment and life? (I’d actually love to hear a percentage!) How can you move closer to the center of God’s will?

Jul 11

Spenders or Investors: Relationships

Last week I wrote about the difference of spenders and investors in finance. However, the same principle applies to relationships.

During the early part of my life, I viewed myself as a geek and an introvert, and my profession as a software developer contributed to that. Any kind of technical job tends to separate you from the rest of the world because, like it or not, most people can’t intelligently converse with you about your work. Further, relationships are intimidating to the technical mind because they’re messy and don’t give you nice, clean measurable results.

This past year, however, I’ve started understanding the importance of relationships in new ways. I’ve discovered that relationships are one of the greatest motivators for me to change and grow, and I’ve discovered that they also provide one of the greatest means for me to influence others.

In relationships, spenders are the ones who use everything for themselves, and they use it right now. Spenders are easy to pick out. You pour deeply into their lives, only to discover moments later that everything you gave them has already been used up. When you leave them, you feel empty and worn out.

Relating with a relational investor is always life-giving. When you pour deeply into their lives, they pour deeply back into yours, and both of you leave feeling stronger than before. Investors are the ones who know that relationships aren’t about themselves. They understand that as stewards of what God has given them, they need to pour these things back out into others’ lives.

Investors look for investors. If you had a $1000 that you could give to anyone, would you choose to give it to a spender or and investor? In the same way, if you are going to give of yourself to someone else, are you not more likely to pour of yourself to someone who will multiply the things you give them? Similarly, if you want to attract investors into your life, you need to be bold enough to pour out into the lives of others.

Spenders fight to keep their tanks full because they have nothing coming back to them. Investors give all day long and go to bed fuller than they started, because they have mastered the relational art of taking something small and causing it to grow. Spenders are only aware of needs, but investors are also aware of their income sources, and they make deliberate choices to give based on their strengths. They learn to maximize their own talents and strengths whenever possible, and they choose to walk in the divine empowerment of Christ. They avoid needs that fall outside of those areas because they know they don’t have the resources for it, and they know that God has designed and called others to meet that area of need.

Go out and invest!

Jul 11

Spenders or Investors: Finances

I don’t know if this will evolve into a series, but I know I want to focus on two specific aspects of “spenders or investors”. This is a concept that is starting to come alive within in me, so let me get started!

The basic difference between spenders and investors is this:

Spenders give everything they have right now. Investors pace themselves to turn something now into more later.

In a recent one-year plan, I wrote a goal to change my thinking about finances to an investment mindset. Although I didn’t know what all this meant, I knew that my current perspective on money wasn’t working. Slowly, my mindset has been changing. After several months of fitful attempts, I’m finally getting myself on a budget, and I’m starting a cash-basis spending. This financial constraint has made me much more conscious of how I spend my money, but it’s done more than that.

Through this, I’ve been moving from a “survival” mentality to a “multiplication” mentality. Rather than assuming that I don’t have enough money, I assume that I do have enough, and I look for creative ways to grow what I have. Obviously, this is bringing dramatic changes my personal finances, but that’s not the focus of my attention.

Most importantly, this is changing my giving. I have had the assumption that I need to meet every need. This is another aspect of the “spender” mentality–that everything opportunity that arises needs to be a “yes”. An investor knows the limits of his resources and chooses his opportunities to maximize the impact.

Because of this “spender” mentality”, I have at times given until it hurt. (Believe me, it’s good to hurt sometimes!) However, I doubt this is as spiritual as it sounds. My problem was not that I was giving too much. My problem was that I was giving too little. What if I strategized to become as generous as possible with the resources God has given me? I realized that instead of giving $50 today, I might choose to give only $5 today, enabling me to give $500 in the future.

However, how will that happen? Currently, my income comes from three sources:

  • My salary
  • Gifts
  • Income-generating ventures

My salary has a ceiling, and gifts are an infrequent. This means the only area that allows for growth is income-generating ventures. As I’ve mentioned before, our personal income is our greatest financial asset, and I can use my salary to bootstrap my ventures.

My conclusion, then, is that the best way for me to be faithful with my income is to take what I have been given, grow it, and enable myself to give more over a longer period of time. Because of this, my immediate giving will decrease, and my generosity may be questioned because of that. However, I hope that I only become more generous, never less.

God desires to glorify Himself through His people. How can He receive the most glory through our finances?