A Long Line of Scholars

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.  --  Galatians 6:9,10



Although I really don’t recall what the cause may have been, I have had an appreciation for the art of Bonsai since I was in grade 5 or 6.  Even before David Winter cottages, I appreciated not only the small-scale aspect (at an even younger age, I had a rather expansive set-up for HO scale trains with houses, businesses, and landscape) but the attention to detail.  Whether the bonsai was to represent a tree on a coastline with its growth impacted by the constant winds, or a copse with a pathway or pond, possibly with carved figurines, I was enamored.

Earlier this month I was afforded the opportunity to visit the U. S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. with my friend Ryan (for a send-off gift from SharpTop, we chose a bonsai for him as he shares an interest in the art).  The Arboretum includes the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, which was the main focus of our visit.  Along with exhibits, and gardens through which you could stroll, there were open-air pavilions for Chinese bonsai, Japanese bonsai, and for North American bonsai.  These pavilions were home to dozens of deciduous and evergreen bonsai.

The museum had its start with 53 bonsai and a half dozen viewing stones which were gifted to the United States by Japan as we celebrated our Bicentennial in 1976.  These are housed in the Japanese pavilion. In the Chinese pavilion, there are both bonsai and penjing (miniature landscapes).  Some of the works here have the roots growing over rocks.  Many of the bonsai have been in training for over a hundred years.  The North American pavilion features bonsai from trees found primarily in the United States and Canada, many of which are California junipers.

The thing by which we were most impressed--and here, impressed means something more like dumbfounded--was a bonsai in the Japanese pavilion.  A Japanese white pine.  Compared to many of the other bonsai we had seen, a bit larger.  But what made this bonsai so significant was the placard that indicated the bonsai had been in training since 1625.  Think about that for a moment!  Remember your United States history.  The Jamestown Settlement was founded in 1607.  For nearly four hundred years, a Bonsai scholar has been tending this tree: pruning it, training it, tending it.  

What the placard doesn’t detail is the list of scholars.  I’m curious.  Who was the first scholar to begin this bonsai work?  How many years did he train the tree before entrusting another scholar to succeed him and continue his work?  If each scholar trained it for a minimum of twenty years, that’s twenty different scholars.  I wonder if at some point after the first several changing of hands a scholar began a list of the names of his predecessors.  Perhaps, each new scholar rewrote the list to preserve the history.  Or, perhaps, each scholar trained the tree for fifty years, almost as a life’s work.  That would bring the number of scholars down to eight.  Eight scholars removed from its beginning in 1625.

I wonder, too, if the first scholar thought his work would surpass his lifespan several times over?  I wonder if the scholars training this bonsai envisioned it, not only enduring for generations but as a gift from their country, crossing an ocean and a continent, to commemorate our own Bicentennial.

Reflecting on all this (it’s what INFJs do), I thought this nearly-four-hundred-year-old bonsai was quite the metaphor.  A metaphor for SharpTop?  I daresay, a community based on the mission and values we review each Wednesday, surpassing the lifespans of the current leadership team, would be desirable.  But, think bigger.

I see this bonsai as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.  We should, I think, consider Jesus Himself as the original “scholar” for the Kingdom.  For three years He poured Himself into a dozen disciples.  Teaching them.  Mentoring them.  Leading them.  Doing life with them.  In turn, this group of men--joined by a few others--carried out the art, not of bonsai, but of discipleship, advancing the Kingdom.  The process repeated.  The Kingdom perpetuated.  We have the list of the original “scholars”, but, as they each invested in relationships, and as those relationships replicated and multiplied, tracing it all would become rather challenging.  The discipleship and mentoring have continued until today.

Some of the early “scholars” still impact us.  Do you think Paul ever thought his letters to the churches at Philippi, Corinth, and Colossae would be read by others outside those churches?  Do you think he imagined his letters would become part of the Canon?  Have you ever wondered if he dreamed passages from his letters would be memorized by countless thousands of believers?

You can look back a generation to the person, or persons,  who invested in you through discipleship and mentoring. From their testimonies, you could trace the discipleship back a little further, perhaps.  You can look forward to the relationships you have in which you are the influencer.  These relationships will continue into the future.  We’re all in this thing of building the Kingdom together.  And we’ve “trained” our tree for several thousand years--I suppose ours is a mustard tree and not a white pine.  Our tree continues to flourish.  It is work.  It takes time and effort.  Sometimes, it is discouraging.  We fail.  But, don’t grow weary.  Our work is of far more significance than “training” a tree.  We are building a Kingdom.

Roller-coasters and Risk

"In friendship... we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another... the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, 'Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.' The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others." --

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves


Although our lives are filled with experiences that make us uniquely--well--us, there are many experiences we share.  Since it’s summer, some of those shared experiences might be... the first time we saw the ocean and felt, for the first time, how small we are in comparison to the endless horizon… the first taste of homemade ice cream (blackberry, if we were fortunate)... the first time we had sunburn, the discomfort and the eventual peeling… the first time we went water-skiing and drank half the lake before we managed to stay up on our skis (if we ever did)...  the first time we rode a roller-coaster and experienced the thrill of hovering momentarily after cresting the lift hill, taking in the height and questioning our choice, and then the rush as gravity took over… These are things we can continue to experience, especially here in North America.


Of course, there are those truly once in a lifetime experiences… like our first venture to elementary school, proudly sporting our superhero backpack and lunch-bag… the nervous excitement of visiting the DMV for our driver’s license, praying we pass the tests…  the sound of Pomp and Circumstance as we process into the auditorium with our class, mortarboards on our heads, tassels still on the right… holding our first nephew or niece… deliberating for days over how to propose to that gal we feel is the one, after the ordeal of speaking to her father about the matter…


There are experiences of spiritual magnitude, as well, which are much more personal:  The time you realized your need for a Savior. When you said Yes to baptism. How much it hurt when a leader you respected fell.  How challenging it was trusting God after He closed a door, and you had to rethink the direction of your life. The time you realized you still daily need a Savior.  The time you realize just how different church liturgy can be. The time you were not quite up to the task of defending a doctrinal position you hold. The struggle of memorizing an entire chapter of a Pauline epistle.


How about this?  You are having a conversation with a friend.  Over the preceding months, you have invested in this friendship and trust has deepened.  The conversation you are having is touching on events, experiences you have never told anyone, but things that profoundly impacted you and shaped your life.  You have been holding back on going any deeper. You feel a prompting, hear a voice that says “Go ahead.” So, you risk vulnerability. You go deeper. You share your experience.  Your friend responds with, “Yes, I understand completely because I experienced that, too.” In that moment, you feel relief, acceptance, gratitude, and a host of other emotions that overwhelm accompanying the realization that God, that “secret master of ceremonies,” has been at work, orchestrating all the events leading up to that very conversation.  

Have you experienced this?  You should. Risk vulnerability.  Go deep.


Be Intentional: Commit

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. - Proverbs 27:17 

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:2

As the majority of folks working with us this summer are guys, these thoughts have a masculine audience in mind.  I think for the few gals reading this, my thoughts are still relevant--just filter them in pink.

Friendships are interesting things.  Seemingly, they just grow and develop--often without our giving them much thought.  In elementary school, our friends were our playmates, maybe our cousins... our neighbors (perhaps just the ones we really liked for our own childish reasons... maybe because they didn't beat us up… maybe our birthdays were in the same week... maybe our parents were friends, too).  Perhaps we sat together on the school bus. Maybe we went to the same church. Regardless, we probably didn't spend a lot of time deliberating over who we were going to choose as our best friends. These friendships just kind of happened.

In high school, our friendships may have been a little more focused.  Perhaps we played a sport together or we had AP classes together (AP History is an ordeal through which you need a friend or two to survive).  We spent hours together with a game console and our favorite game. Our parents probably had a little less control over the guys with whom we spent our time, at least outside our homes.  But we probably didn't spend a lot of time thinking about why we were friends. We just were. And somewhere between research papers and soccer games, we might have noticed girls, and even had a few that we would call friends.

Now, perhaps, you are at college.  If you are pursuing Christ, you might be more aware now of friends who are bad influences, or who are good influences.  You might be seeing the results of too much socializing. And not just with your best mates. You are likely intentional in choosing some female friends; after all, you are supposed to find your wife at college, right?  I think we guys do well to be intentional in our pursuit of a life's mate, but we should be just as intentional in the other significant relationships in our lives: our close friends, the brothers in Christ who really are that.

With whom can you share the deep down stuff you have never told anyone else on the planet?  With whom have you shared your struggles with impure thoughts, doubts, or theological questions?  Who do you ask to pray for you when you failed again? Who in your life can tell you that you are not making a good choice?  Or that you have sin in your life with which you need to deal? The friendships to fill these needs don't just happen. You aren't going to share the hurts you have kept bottled up for years with just anyone.  You're definitely not going to confess the actions, words, or inaction you wish you could undo to just anyone. So, if you aren't being intentional with these friendships now, when will you start?

I daresay, a word we don’t often associate with our friendships is COMMITMENT, but, I think it is necessary for the friendships through which God will work in our lives.  Speaking from experience, one of my closest friendships, and one through which God is accomplishing much in my life, reached a point where commitment to the friendship was essential.  

Back in April of 2011, following God’s leading--because I really was done with discipleship and mentoring at the time, but that's another story--I offered myself in the capacity of mentor to an MK (missionary kid) who was attending Liberty, working on a Computer Science degree (in the Honors Program), and working in the campus computer lab.  This MK has a South African accent and built CloudCard’s HelperBot--the Ryan you might hear more tenured folks at SharpTop mention. Over the next four years, what was a very intentional and multi-faceted relationship grew from a Paul and Timothy relationship into a Paul and Barnabas one. Four years in, we had gone deep with the things we shared with each other.  We hit a point where going deeper meant sharing things we had never even verbalized with another human being before. At this point we kind of made a pact. Backward motion was not really an option. Only pressing on. And with the understanding that whatever expectation I had of him with regard to the trust we had developed, he had every right to expect of me. Basically, a “Brother I commit my love to you” kind of deal.  And God continues to work through our friendship. My being at SharpTop at all is evidence of that.

I have been blessed in having a bit more than a handful of friendships that are intentional, where there is commitment.  Friendships that were born out of discipleship/mentoring relationships or ministry partnerships. What does commitment look like in these relationships?  Well, sometimes requests for very specific prayer at 3:00 AM. Sometimes answering questions with a heart of love, but an answer the questioner may not want to hear.  Sometimes you forget about entertainment and you spend your time praying together. Sometimes committing to pray daily for your friend’s marriage, family, ministry, struggle.  Maybe another Jonathan and David?

It is our prayer at SharpTop that you might forge some friendships like this while working with us. You might have noticed the emphasis on relationships! There are no coincidences in the Kingdom. Where it appears God is working, follow His leading.  Be intentional. Commit.

1 Simple Path to Learn to Code For Free

People keep asking me what they should do to learn to code.  Usually I say, “Well, there’s Codecademy, MIT OpenCourseWare, Free Code Camp…”  It doesn’t take long for my listener’s eyes to glaze over as I inundate them with choices in an attempt to make sure that I help them find the best possible option for them.  

No More Choices

I’m not going to overwhelm you with options because it really doesn’t matter much.  They’re all great options, so why put one more decision between you and your education?  The important thing is that you start learning - today!  Once you have a solid understanding of coding and a basic fluency with one language and toolset, it will be ten times easier to learn new tools and languages.

Free Code Camp

From now on, when someone asks how to learn to code, I’m going to tell them to use Free Code Camp; I’m not going to give them any other confusing options.  Why pick them?
    •    It’s free. There are plenty of times when it makes perfect sense to pay someone to teach you to code (i.e. attending a Hack Reactor bootcamp), but not everyone can afford the time or money required to learn at a bootcamp, and I don’t think there should be any barriers between a person and the skills she needs to improve her life.
    •    They help charities.  You must build real-world applications to really learn to code, which means you need real-world problems to solve. So why not solve problems for charities that are making the world better?  At risk of sounding cliche, that’s a win-win.
    •    They only have one learning path.  Presenting a single learning path prevents learners from being confused by too many irrelevant choices.
    •    They have an active, free support community.  Only having one learning path has the added benefit of establishing a much larger community of learners (and potential mentors) who have learned exactly the same material and have already solved the problems you will face.
    •    It’s new to me.  Free Code Camp teaches the MEAN Javascript stack, which I haven’t learned yet.  I’m a senior Java and Groovy developer, so if I’m going to help people learn something, it might as well be something that expands my own horizons.

My Experiment

I’m going to teach myself to code (again) using Free Code Camp.  If you would like to join me, I’ll be learning in the Sharptop.io classroom in downtown Lynchburg from 10am till noon on Saturdays.  If you’re not local, you can find me streaming video questions and answers live on my periscope channel during that time.

Hour of Code at Academy Center of the Arts

Software Development is a booming industry. The most in-demand jobs in this field average out to about $88,000 a year. Studies show that by 2020 the demand for these jobs will increase by over 30%, leaving a million more jobs than Computer Science students. Why does this matter?

Learning how to code is not only advantageous for adults looking for employment; it also has many positive effects on children. It teaches them to follow instructions, inspires creativity, and gives them a basic knowledge of Computer Science. Teaching children to code is an investment in their future.

We’re very excited to partner with the Academy Center of the Arts on an event that will teach the basics of coding in a simple and fun way that everyone can understand.

What is the Hour of Code?

Hour of Code is an opportunity for anyone to learn the basics of computer programming. It takes coding tasks and makes them fun by adding a game-like aspect. You can help R2D2 catch stormtroopers when you code with Star Wars or get a lesson from Mark Zuckerberg when you code with Angry Birds. It’s an hour of practical knowledge being taught in an easily-understood way.

So don’t miss out! All you need is a laptop or a tablet and you can start learning.

Tuesday December 8th
Thursday December 10th
The Academy Center of the Arts
600 Main St. Lynchburg, Va 24502


4 things we like about LoopBack

LoopBack is a modern, full-featured Node.js framework aimed at speeding up development of RESTful APIs and client side integrations. With the help of LoopBack’s CLI (command line interface), even the novice programmer will be able to quickly define a RESTful API.  

LoopBack has all the integrations you will need for databases (SQL and No-SQL based) and authentication, as well as full integration with StrongLoop Arc, which provides you with database visualization, application builds and deployments, scaling, and real-time monitoring.

Developernomics - What Is the Value of a Programmer?

Is becoming a software developer worth it? We’ll admit it, the road to learning the ins and outs of development isn’t for everyone. It takes passion and commitment, and more than a little bit of plain stubbornness. Read more about what our founder believes are the most important traits of a successful coding student.

A common fear for programming students is that they’ll put in months or years of work and never see results in the form of a respectable job. We’d like to let Forbes Magazine put those fears to rest.

In the article “The Rise of Developernomics”, Venkatesh Rao tells investors that “The one absolutely solid place to store your capital today...  is in software developers’ wallets.” He argues that software skills are the most portable high-end skills on the planet, and that good developers have immense bargaining power.

What does this mean for you? If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, and have what it takes to learn how to code, then a bright future awaits you in the world of software development.

 We at Sharptop are eager to help educate future developers. We recently announced a Coding Bootcamp beginning soon and a Mentorship Program available immediately. If you think development is for you, and want to learn more about how to write software, set up a meeting with us with us today.

Software is Eating the World

You’re reading this post from a device: perhaps it’s a smartphone, maybe it’s a laptop or an iPad. And when you leave that device or put it in your pocket, this post will be waiting for you, until you decide to use any number of other devices to pick up where you left off. The world is now powered by the cloud, and on-demand access to people, documents, and media isn’t just a perk any more, it’s practically a necessity. Why?

Because software is eating the world.

It’s hard to think of a major industry that doesn’t rely on software: banks, retail stores, manufacturers, schools, shipping companies, and on and on. The New York Stock Exchange, the center of the world economy, recently came to a complete stop for 4 hours because of “a technical issue”.

For some, this revolution in how the world works is frightening. Those who are uneducated about technology and unaware of how software works might feel helpless to control even their own devices. Entrepreneurs and businesspeople with dreams to change the world may find themselves unequipped in this new software-centric world.

We at Sharptop Company are proud to be a part of the positive change that software can create in our communities. Our founders have been deep in the world of software for over 15 years, and part of our mission is to help others learn about this world and enter it for themselves.

A huge step for us in this effort has been our involvement with TechHire, a White House initiative that seeks to empower local communities to fill technology jobs in their region. We recently became the only site in Virginia (and in the coastal Southeast) to be an approved TechHire training facility.

If you’re looking to become a developer, or perhaps you want to expand your skill set in your current role, we invite you to give our programs a look. Our coding bootcamp will train you about the basics of web development, and our mentorship program will immerse you in the world of software development. Our mission is to educate you and help you achieve your technology goals.

Interested in learning more? Schedule a meeting with us today.