This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Financially Supporting Seminary Students

Hopefully, my next blog post will complete my thoughts on What’s Best Next, by Matt Perman. This week, I want to quickly share a few thoughts about a new fund the elders have established at Bethany Community Church.

One of the most basic responsibilities church shepherds have is to train other shepherds. The demands of leading the community of faith are simply too great for a small number of people to do them alone. As Moses’ father-in-law tells him when he sees Moses working from morning to night to judge the people, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Ex. 18:17-18). Moses’s father-in-law instructs him to train others to help bear the burden. This is good for both Moses and the people.

Paul tells Timothy to take the things he has learned and teach them to men who will also be able to teach others (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul understands that a growing church continues to need men who can shepherd to sustain the spiritual health of the body.

At Bethany Community Church, we are abundantly blessed with men who I believe God is raising up to help bear the burden of shepherding a growing church. And we have been blessed with women who are shepherding other women to help them understand the deep truths of the faith and how to apply them in their lives. These men and women, by God’s grace, will be great tools God uses not only at our church but also in other churches throughout the world.

As the elders have shepherded future vocational leaders through our Mathetes discipleship ministry, we have identified some who will benefit from seminary education. We have committed to do all we can to help them receive the training necessary to effectively minister, including financially supporting their training.

Several of you, having heard about individuals pursuing seminary, have asked if you could help some of our families who are in seminary with their living expenses. Those requests have thrilled me and I’m happy to say that the answer is, “Yes!”

Bethany has established a special fund you may give to that will help with the living expenses of our students. The fund is called the Ministry Education Fund. If you’d like to give to it, please indicate that on your check or envelope, along with what student(s) you would like to support. Due to tax law, BCC retains the right to use the funds for other students, but will make every effort to ensure gifts are used in accordance with the desires of the giver. 100% of funds go directly to students. And, by the way, if you have been giving to Bethany Community at all, you are already helping with seminary costs for these students.

Thank you for your faithful giving and care for future leaders of the church.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Implementing What's Best Next, Part 2

This is the second of three posts on how I've implemented What's Best Next, by Matthew Perman. The first post can be found here.

As we enter the next step, we're really getting into the heart of the practical implementation of WBN. 

I think I plan well. I know what I want to do and what needs to be done but it is difficult to implement the plan consistently. The analogy I use when talking to people about this step is budgeting. Some people have an awesome budget in place. They just have no way of comparing what they actually do with their theoretical budget. Planning and spending occur in two totally different universes for them.

The same is true for planning our time. We may have wonderful goals and plans for how to spend our time. But what tools can help us merge our plans with reality? The "Execution" step gives us tools to help reality conform to our plans. 

Once again, you need to read WBN. What follows are some things I've done. I haven't arrived yet. To me, discipline in this area is like becoming physically fit. You have goals and you implement those goals one at a time on your way towards physical fitness. It's good to measure yourself by where you want to ultimately be, but that can also be discouraging as you see how far you still have to go. Therefore, it's also helpful to gauge yourself by far how you've come.  

Step Four: Execution

How do you execute? Perman advocates a three-step process: Plan, Organize, Do.

First, planning involves being diligent to sit down every week and plan out the week ahead, based on the projects and action steps on your agenda.

Second, organizing means you have a solid system in place to deal with all of your “stuff”. As I tried to think through how to implement such a system, I decided to do two things. First, I bought and skimmed Peter Drucker's Getting Things Done (which Perman references frequently). Second, I read through how other people had used Evernote to implement GTD. 

From my reading of both Perman and Drucker, here are some thoughts on the “organizing” part of execute:

1.      Don’t use inbox as to-do lists.

2.      Collect all your information in one place.

3.      Process the information: one item at a time and in order. Don’t keep looking at an email. Deal with it.

4.      Organize and act. There are really only five possible things you can do with “stuff”: delete, file, do, delegate, or defer.

5.      Manage Projects and Actions

Actions that can’t be done right away (two-minute rule), should be deferred to a projects list or an actions list.

a.       Large tasks are projects. Small tasks are actions.

b.      Organize projects and actions (See Evernote section below)

c.       Manage Projects

Third, you must do.

1.     Plan your day: Create a project called “Today” in Evernote.

2.      Schedule your day at only 70 percent capacity or less

3.       Consolidate your time into large chunks

4.      Do the most important thing first

5.       Do one thing at a time

6.       Focus on outcomes, not activities

7.      See your day in terms of people and relationships first, not tasks.

8.      Ask in everything: How can I build others up?

9.        Utilize the key question in the moment: What’s best next?

Step Five: Evernote

Before reading WBN, I was using Evernote somewhat consistently. Perman uses other tools, but I didn't have the resources at the time to purchase some of the programs he mentioned. I also wanted to try to use one program instead of multiple programs/apps.

Due to lack of time, I’m not going to go into great detail about how to do each aspect of setting up a Notebook in Evernote. It’s a fairly intuitive program and I think the screen captures will help. Here's an overview of what my Evernote screen looks like on my desktop:

1. Today

The first Notebook is titled “1. Today.”

(The “1” makes sure that Evernote puts that folder first as it orders them. You may have to adjust some settings to make sure the notebooks are put in alphabetical order.)

In this Notebook, I created only one note, also entitled “Today.” In the note, I put things I’m planning on accomplishing today. Every morning, I review my weekly priority list and populate the items on this note mainly from those items. I’ll often put in parentheses a time I hope to have finished that item.

Here’s what my “Today” note in my notebook looks like:

2. Inbox

This is my default Evernote folder. You may or may not use a folder like this. This is the folder that anything I send to Evernote goes to. When I go through my daily “workflow” routine, I’ll take pictures of documents or flyers, send them to Evernote, then put in the appropriate place (project, action, reference, etc.)

3. Weekly Priority List

This is similar to my “Today” Notebook. One notebook with one Note in it entitled “Weekly Priorities List.”

In this note, I put items that I hope to accomplish for the week. Once a week (generally a Friday or Sunday afternoon for me), I will look at my Master Projects, Master Actions, Waiting For and populate in this note what I need to get done in the coming week.

The things on this list are things that aren’t part of the normal routine. For instance, I don’t write “staff meeting” or “write sermon” because that seems silly to me.

Here’s what that my weekly priority list looks like:

4. Master Projects List

This is actually a stack of Notebooks. First, I created three notebooks: Books to Read, Church Projects, and Personal Projects. Then, I stacked them together and called that stack “Master Projects List.”

Each Notebook then has a bunch of notes, each of which is an individual project. For instance, the Notebook entitled "Church Projects" has multiple notes, each one a project I’m working on (e.g., The Gospel Institute or Asia Minor Trip).

Here’s what my Personal Notebook looks like (Master Projects List àPersonal Projects…):

The middle column lists the various notes that are all in the notebook “Personal Projects.” Notice that the first note is a list of all the notes that are in the notebook. Also, notice that each project has a series of “next steps.” Reviewing these next steps helps me populate my weekly priorities. Anytime I come across a piece of information related to a project, I'll put it in the note that corresponds to that project. Looking above, for example, I see that in my "health plan" notebook, I've put in a link to some website. I may or may not use the information there, but it's there for me to look through next time I focus on that project (which should be a part of my weekly schedule).

5. Master Actions List

This is similar to the Master Projects list, but with actions instead of projects. The difference between an action and project is the number of steps involved. Generally, an action is a single step.

6. Waiting For

These are items I’ve delegated and am waiting for someone to get back to me on.

7. Backburner

These are things that I will not be getting to in the near future but don’t want to forget about.

8. Reference

These are just notes of information I want to have available in case I need them.

Step 6: Getting it Together

The last step for me was putting everything through this new system. I collected all the info in my life. Notes, texts, emails, papers, etc. I pulled every thing I had out of drawers and "to do" piles and notebooks. 

After everything was in place, I ran every piece of it through this diagram (from Drucker's Getting Things Done, but don’t be thrown off. Those categories exist in your Evernote already (“Projects” is your “Master Projects” folder, etc.).

It took me a good 2 days to finalize the implementation process. If I had a piece of stuff that was a project, I put it in the project folder of Evernote. Notes from a meeting were moved to a reference folder. Action items from the meeting were placed in my Master Actions note. I took a lot of pictures of documents and notes and sent them to Evernote and put it in the appropriate folder.

In my next blog post, I'll talk through how WBN has impacted my ministry and personal life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Implementing What's Best Next, Part 1

This is part one of a three-part series on how I've implemented What's Best Next in my personal life and ministry at Bethany Community Church.

If you have spent more than half an hour with me over the past four months, you've probably heard me mention Matthew Perman's What Best Next (WBN). 

I'm an avid evangelist for the book and for those who are tired of hearing me mention the book (1) you'll probably want to stop reading now and (2) just be glad you're not one of my children...can you imagine being an eleven-year old and spending your summer learning how to implement WBN (kidding...mostly).

When I discuss how the book helped me refine my ministry in some profound ways, I get the same questions: how did you go about implementing it? What were the first steps?

In the book, Perman gives an "immediate application" at the end of each chapter. My first recommendation is to purchase the book for yourself and, if implementing the entire system seems overwhelming, begin with the small lifestyle changes he suggests.

What follows here, however, are roughly the steps I took to implement some of the principles from WBN. As I read the book, I thought not only about how I would benefit from these principles but also got excited by different "nuggets" for each of my co-laborers. I think they've shared my excitement, for the most part, and these are also the steps we as a ministry staff are going through here at Bethany Community.

Step One: Understanding the Why 

It's important to understand why God is concerned with our productivity. The danger in reading a book like WBN is that it can become about efficiency instead of effectiveness. Such an approach misses the point of why God wants us to be productive: "More important than efficiency is effectiveness — getting the right things done. In other words, productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It’s about getting the right things done" (43) .

So I began by really trying to understand what Perman teaches about a God-centered view of productivity. While the core principle was simple enough (determine what the best thing to do is and do it), Perman's process of determining what the best God-centered, gospel fueled best thing to do was immensely beneficial.

WBN employs the acronym D.A.R.E. (define, architect, reduce, execute). To begin even the first step, defining, it was important for me to understand the theology under girding WBN.

Step Two: Define Who You Are and What You Need to Be Doing

The next thing I did was "define." I didn't implement this exactly as described in WBN, but I did follow the general categories. I determined my mission, values, roles, and goals. While I've always felt I had a pretty good handle on my mission and values, it was helpful to list out my roles and determine what areas perhaps my current schedule wasn't addressing.

I used MindMeister to graphically illustrate my mission, values, roles, and goals. I broke my roles into three primary areas: family, ministry, and personal. I tried to keep the categories broad. Here's a sample of what I did to think through my roles:

Spending time here helped me as I began to take practical steps to implement WBN. I now had a tool to measure what was the best thing on which I could focus my time based on the roles God has given me. When it came to "reducing," I referenced my roles in order to determine which cuts to make. 

Step Three: Reading About and Implementing "Architect" and "Reduce"

As I read through the sections on Architect and Reduce, I made significant changes, but I don't remember the order in which I did them. 

While working my way through the architect section, I decided that I would incorporate the following routines into my routine: 

Getting Up Early. Perman calls this The 5 A.M. Rule. I've done well implementing this but I need to be more disciplined with the corollary of what I call The 10 P.M. Rule (if I'm going to get up at 5, I need to be heading to bed by 10).

Daily Workflow: Every day, I look at my goals for week and decide what to do (I'll discuss this more in my next blog post).

Weekly Workflow: Every week, I look look at my quarterly actions, projects, calls, etc. and determine the goals for the week ((I'll discuss this more in my next blog post).

Quarterly Workflow: Every quarter, I look at goals, mission, etc. and evaluate what I want to accomplish in the coming months (Once again, (I'll discuss this more in my next blog post).

Prayer and Scripture: Obviously devotion time should be a part of any believer's plan for effective work and ministry. 

Personal Development: As I began to architect my life, I worked in more time for personal development.

Rest: I tried to make sure there is a healthy amount of time with my family and engaging in activities like running and swimming.

Perman also suggests we "Reduce." There are four primary ways to reduce: Delegate, Eliminate, Automate, Defer. I mostly took notes in this section for future reference.

In my next blog post, I'll describe the system I put in place to help me "execute" the system. Evernote was extremely helpful and I'll show some screenshots of how I set it up. In the third and final blog post, I'll discuss the ongoing impact of WBN on my ministry and the ministry of the other staff.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Can You Take a Joke?

“It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.” -- G.K. Chesterton

There is much to admire in Chesterton, a Roman Catholic, and he is eminently quotable. I highly recommend his “Father Brown” mysteries as delightful children’s reading with great moral applications.

The point he makes in the above sentence is worth contemplation. We all tend to take ourselves too seriously. This does not mean that such a thing as blasphemy does not exist, for it does. But it seems to me that there are a lot of people who find their job is to defend God, as though he is not capable of doing a perfectly good job of defending himself. There also are atheists who see their job being to angrily dismiss God (without seeing any humor in the notion that their anger is so directed at someone they do not believe exists).

It is just the person who is secure in his religious view who can take a joke about it. As an evangelical Christian, there is much that I find humorous about my faith and the way it is practiced. To be jumpy and offended every time someone finds something humorous about my faith would be evidence that I am not very secure about its truth.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.” Spurgeon is making the point that, rather than defending the Gospel, one might give consideration simply to proclaiming it. A careful, reasoned and kind defense of the Christian faith is sometimes helpful, indeed necessary. However, to fail to see humor in parodies of the Robertsons or of Tim Tebow seems to me to reflect an insecurity unbecoming of the Christian faith.

It goes without saying that some religions do not countenance joking. “Saturday Night Live” has creative freedom to do a parody of Jesus meeting Tim Tebow, but I think we will wait in vain for a network television parody involving some religious views. That is because joking is not allowed on threat of death. The folks at “Saturday Night Live” feel pretty secure in the idea that their parody of Christianity will not lead to death.

To me, and to Chesterton, that is a test of a good religion.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On Nephews

I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking about extended family lately, most particularly my nephews.  The Bible does not say a “lot” (there is a pun here that adept folk will appreciate) about the relationship between uncles and nephews, but what it does say is challenging to me.  In at least four instances in the Old Testament, uncles are portrayed as advisers and/or mentors to their nephews.  The first such instance is between Abraham and Lot (and now you know the pun!).  It seems that Abraham went out of his way to bless his nephew, even when Lot did not possess the maturity to comprehend the blessing.  Abraham took Lot with him when he left Haran for the promised land (Genesis 12:4).  Imagine how much wisdom can be imparted (and gained) from such extended travel together.  Abraham deferred to Lot rather than create conflict when the success of both men caused trouble (Genesis 13:1-18).  Then, when Lot ran into trouble, Abraham came to his defense and rescued him (Genesis 14, especially verses 11-16).

A second uncle/nephew relationship is not as kind and blessed.  Laban both mentored his nephew Jacob and took advantage of him.  The relationship between Laban and Jacob is complicated, and it teaches us that family relationships can be both complicated and used by God for purposes not seen at the moment.  Of course, this relationship became even more complicated when Jacob married two of Laban’s daughters.  Laban’s deception toward Jacob serves to teach the nephew more than he ever wanted to know about his own deception.

The third uncle/nephew relationship has enough in it to make us curious about knowing more.  Saul had an uncle who was keenly interested in Saul’s comings and goings around the time that Saul was anointed king (see 1 Samuel 10:14-16).  There is enough here to see a significant relationship, particularly in family business, but there is also enough to see that Saul was wary of telling his uncle everything he knew.

The fourth uncle/nephew relationship is between King David and his uncle (whose name was Jonathan, not to be confused with David’s friend of the same name).  David’s uncle served the court as a counselor, a man of understanding, and as a scribe (see 1 Chronicles 27:32).  It seems that David trusted his uncle to give good advice and to take responsibility at court.

One significant New Testament uncle/nephew relationship is that between the Apostle Paul and his unnamed nephew (Acts 23:12-22).  The regard that Paul’s nephew had for his uncle and the implicit trust that Paul had in his nephew is evident.  Paul’s nephew risked his life for his uncle, and Paul put his own reputation on the line in sending his nephew to the Roman authorities.

I really like my own nephews.  One is studying to be a dentist, but more importantly, he and his wife are bold as worshipers of Christ .  One just graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, but more importantly, he takes Christ into that arena.  One is an accomplished violinist, but more importantly, his eagerness to serve Christ and others is a blessing to all.  One is a youth pastor, but more importantly, he is very conscious of “keeping watch over himself” (Acts 20:28) so that he can minister God’s truth to others.  One is going this fall to seminary and wants to be a missionary, and he and his wife are the most amazing evangelists who are always ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope they have in Christ.  One is very adept at fixing stuff (and at the business of selling stuff he fixes up), but more importantly, he wants humbly to serve Christ with his gifts.  One is extremely gifted in many artful ways, whether it is music or writing or drawing, but more importantly he wants to use these gifts to encourage the body of Christ.  One is a professional filmmaker and film editor; another is an amazing athlete.  I’m excited to see how each of my nephews will use their lives for Christ.  Yep, I really like my nephews.

More than what they accomplish, however, I appreciate my nephews for who they are—how God wired them.  I want them to know in success or failure, good times or bad, their uncle is in their corner.  I will never have to launch out with an army astride camels to rescue one of them, but I do want to be an uncle like Abraham.  They may never have to warn me that I’m about to get assassinated by the enemies of our Savior, but I think that they each would act like Paul’s nephew, if I ever got into such troubles.  

As I look at the Bible’s view of extended family, the privilege and challenge comes to me to pray for my nephews, to do what I can to model a life of following Jesus Christ, and to mentor them with kindness and encouragement as the Lord gives me the opportunity to do so.  May I encourage you to do the same with your extended family?  Your influence for Christ extends further than you might imagine.

Someday, I’ll have to tell you about my nieces.  :)

Scott Boerckel

Monday, May 5, 2014

Daniel's Top Twenty-Five Apps Countdown, Part 2

What Are Biometric Locks Biometric Lock Facts
 Image: Hanna-Barbera/Everett Collection

In part 1 of this series, I shared the first half of my Top 25 apps. As a reminder, here are the caveats I mentioned:

"First, these aren’t just “Christian” or “ministry” apps. These are apps that I use in my life as a pastor, husband, dad, etc. Most of them help me be more effective in my life in some ways.

"Second, I ranked the list using several criteria. The most important was how often I actually used the app. An app might be great, but if I never use it—or have only been introduced to it recently—it got ranked lower than an app I use every day. Other important criteria for me were things like interface, design, effectiveness of the app, how beneficial it was to me, and that ever-so-subjective criteria of “coolness.”

"Third, the lower rankings are more arbitrary than the higher rankings. You could make a strong case for some apps moving up and down depending upon my mood. The top four apps are pretty much set in stone.

"Fourth, I’m not an objective reviewer. Some of my reviews have significant bias and I’m OK with that."

I would add two more caveats. First, I left off podcasts because I’m not really sure if the program that runs podcasts is an app or not. I guess technically it is. In that case, it should be on here, too. Maybe around 5.5. Second, and obvious if you read the first, I’m not a “techie.” Please forgive any language that isn’t “technically” accurate.

With that said, here are my Top 10 + 1 apps.

#11: Quicken 2014

This app has partly revolutionized how we handle our finances.

Monthly bill time used to be quite the ordeal in the Bennett household. I worked from multiple Excel spreadsheets and every financial transaction was recorded (sometimes in multiple locations). Poor Whitney had to comb through each receipt and assign a category to our expenditures. Every account would be reconciled against our budget.

It was. . . messy.

Here’s what I like about this app: It collects and tracks all your financial information. You set up your budget and the app tracks your expenditures and deposits against your budget. Every day, you can scroll through purchases you’ve made on credit cards or checks you’ve written and assign them categories based on your budget.

Negatives: First, the app is not stand alone. You’re going to need to purchase the program and utilize it to do things like setting up your budget.

Second, we haven’t been able to connect with a few of our financial institutions. Also, sometimes the syncing stops working and you have to reenter accounts.

Third, some people don’t like the amount of work it takes to keep things updated. This isn’t a negative for me. First, we were already doing this each month, it just took a lot longer to do. Second, it seems like an issue of stewardship to me. In my opinion, I have a responsibility to track where my finances are going.

#10: FaceTime

This is just a flat-out cool app. It’s straight out of the Jetsons, except even more awesome because your boss can’t just surprise you by calling you when you’re asleep at the job (usually).

I love being able to see my family when I’m away on a trip. I also love that my kids are able to see their grandparents and other family who live far away.

The app isn’t seamless, but it still boggles my mind every time I use it.

#9: Ally Bank

I mentioned that Quicken 2014 had partly revolutionized how we handle our finances. The Ally app completed the revolution.

Ally is not a bank for everyone. It exists entirely in the digital world. Most people will probably use this with a typical brick-and-mortar bank. We used to have four primary bank accounts. Checking and savings accounts with CEFCU and checking and savings accounts with ING.

It was quite a hassle to balance all the accounts and transfer money between higher interest bearing accounts and checking accounts. And what did we get for all that work? Maybe an extra $35 a year?

Ally helped us consolidate all of our finances in one location. Most of the things I love about the app are really just things I like about the bank itself. Because there is no physical location for the bank, I can’t deposit cash, but I can withdraw cash from any ATM and Ally reimburses any fees. If I want to deposit a check, I just use the app to take a picture of the check and it automatically deposits. If I want to write a check, I can either use the checks they provide for free or just have the bank send a check for free. This has cut down on both time and the expense of purchasing stamps.

#8: PrayerMate

There were (at least) two pressing problems I struggled with when thinking about how to improve my prayer life. First, how can I organize my prayer lists? There are some prayer issues that I need to cover every day. Other prayer requests I want to cover weekly. My dad has a pretty good system of who/what to pray for on which days but I’ve always struggled to do that well.

The second issue was identifying a central place to quickly compile all the requests for prayer I receive. I used to keep a journal, but I didn’t always have it with me to write down prayer requests. Requests sometimes fell through the cracks.

Saints prayed faithfully for thousands of years without access to a special prayer app. I have no excuse for my failures in prayer, but PrayerMate does address both of those issues I mentioned above. I can quickly take down a prayer request, assign it a category (“family” or “missions,” for instance) and decide how often I want to pray for it. For example, even though I pray for each member of my family every day, I’ve also set up a special prayer day for each individual member. The same is true for my fellow elders and my co-workers.

The downside of this app was that I had to pay for it.

#7: PDF Expert

This is the app I use for preaching. I save my notes as a PDF on Friday afternoons and then use this reader to review my notes Friday night and Saturday afternoon. I can write on the document and add any additional notes. On Sunday mornings, my notes are ready to go on the iPad. I don't have a bunch of pages up on the podium with me. I don't have lots of folders in which I'm storing my manuscripts. When I travel, all of my sermon notes travel with me.

I’ve also found the app helpful for editing other documents when I don’t have time to print them out or I’m travelling and can’t carry around all the pages with me.

This is also an app I had to pay for.

Honorable mention: GoodReader. GoodReader is supposed to be a very good app, but they’ve suffered because of their poor response to the updated operating system for Apple.

#6: Feedly

I’ve mentioned Feedly before. I still use it daily.

#5: ESV Bible

I use this app constantly. I love the layout and almost everything about it. Adam4d does make a good point, but it’s so convenient to always have your Bible with you.

#4: Evernote (Penultimate, Sketch)

I love Evernote. Their tag line is “work smarter” and they mean it.

Over the past month, as I’ve begun to implement some principles from What’s Best Next and Getting Things Done, my use of Evernote has skyrocketed.

I’m planning a future blog about how I’ve utilized Evernote in my ministry, but I’ll give a quick overview. 

My life is full of “stuff.” Emails, handouts, voice messages, business cards, etc. Evernote helps me collect all my stuff in one location and organize it properly. In Evernote, I can store all my agendas from various meetings and sync them with other participants. I use Evernote’s Penultimate app to take notes and email them to folders within Evernote. I take pictures of information with Evernote’s Sketch app. I can even forward emails to Evernote.

#3: Drop Box

Dropbox seems like a really simple concept that should be able to be replicated by other apps: store files in a cloud. But no one seems to be able to do it as well or as fluidly as Dropbox.

Dropbox allows you to access files across multiple platforms. It simultaneously provides you with an app that backs up a document and creates ease of access. With most apps that sync, I invariably run into errors. I can’t think of a time I’ve had a problem with Dropbox.

If you’d like to use Dropbox and don't already have an account, click this link: You'll get Dropbox and I'll get extra storage space.

#2: Gmail / Google Calendar

Is this cheating? I’m linking these two apps together. I use both constantly.

Gmail changed the way I handle my email. I now have constant access to it. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but it means that I don’t have to have my laptop with me all the time to be able to access Outlook and find old emails.

Google calendar is a marriage-enriching app for Whitney and me. We can view one another’s schedule and add items to each other’s calendar instantly. I’m not always the greatest at remembering to tell Whitney everything and this app really helps me out. In church, it allows other staff to add things to my calendar, which has pros and cons!

#1: Kindle

I don’t even know how to begin sharing all of the things I love about Kindle. First, let me address the obvious: yes, a digital copy of a book is not the same as a hard-bound copy. Point conceded. And there are admitted disadvantages to the e-book format (will Kindle still be around in 20 years? 100 years? Do I lose my old books? Why can’t I share them the same way I’d share a hard copy?).

These are legitimate concerns, but my guess is that enough people are buying Kindle books right now that either Kindle will still be around or there will be a market-driven solution to figure out a way to make Kindle books compatible with whatever the new platform becomes in the coming years.

But what about what makes Kindle awesome? Here’s just a few things.

First, I can read books on multiple devices. If I’m at home and suddenly want to re-read a passage from a commentary, I can open up my iPad and read it. If I’m on a bus, I can read it on my phone. At work? Just turn on the laptop.

Second, my notes transfer from device to device. Once I mark something on the book, I can bring it up anywhere. I can even search through just the notes. And I can copy passages and paste them in sermon notes quickly and with citation notes automatically included.

Third, both the apps and the dedicated Kindle readers create a pleasant reading experience. It’s not the same as a book, sure, but the more I use it, I realize I wouldn’t describe it as worse either. There are trade-offs both ways. I can read a Kindle at night in bed a lot easier than a heavy book with a light on that is keeping Whitney awake.

Finally, this app allows me to carry lots of books anywhere I carry my device. This is huge. When I go on a trip, I’m bringing hundreds of books with me. An entire library follows me around.

That’s my list. What did I miss? What would you have added?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Daniel’s Top Twenty-Five Apps Countdown, Part 1

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I’m in a slow, reluctant transition from PC Nerd to Apple Fan Boy.

Two years ago, I purchased an iPad. I thought it would be a one-time thing and I’d stay in PC World. After all, I still had an Android phone and PC laptop.

Last year, I purchased an iPhone. I still have my PC street cred because of my laptop but it’s only a matter of time before I fully enter the Apple World. Unless an “accident” befalls my laptop, we’re still at least a year from that transition.

One of the things that’s surprised me in this time of transition is how much I’ve fallen in love with some of the apps. My android phone offered many of the same apps, but it seems more integral to the Apple experience. I also love the seamless connection between the iPhone and iPad. I thought it might be interesting to share a “top apps” list.

A few caveats about my list:

First, these aren’t just “Christian” or “ministry” apps. These are apps that I use in my life as a pastor, husband, dad, etc. Most of them help me be more effective in my life in some ways.

Second, I ranked the list using several criteria. The most important was how often I actually used the app. An app might be great, but if I never use it—or have only been introduced to it recently—it got ranked lower than an app I use every day. Other important criteria for me were things like interface, design, effectiveness of the app, how beneficial it was to me, and that ever-so-subjective criteria of “coolness.”

Third, the lower rankings are more arbitrary than the higher rankings. You could make a strong case for some apps moving up and down depending upon my mood. The top four apps are pretty much set in stone.

Fourth, I’m not an objective reviewer. Some of my reviews have significant bias and I’m OK with that.

Without further adieu, here’s the first installment of my list.

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#25: Microsoft Apps
I'm already cheating, but I'm including here all the new Microsoft apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint. I just started using Microsoft’s apps for iPad. There are several shortcomings. First, to use them to their full potential is pricey. Second, the apps don’t let you utilize Drop Box (spoiler: Drop Box is one of my top apps). Instead, they force you to use OneDrive. That’s basically a deal breaker for me, at least in terms of using it on a regular basis. For those who argue Apple is too controlling with the user experience, I’d use this app as Exhibit A in my counter argument.

But even with that said, I’m excited about the possibility of an app that truly lets me work with Microsoft documents. Sometimes I really need that functionality. In fact, this is the app I've been waiting for since the first day I purchased my iPad. It's not there yet but we’ll see how this goes. I think the price might drop and they’ll add Dropbox interface.

 #24: Vibe-It 
This is an app I really, really hope takes off. It’s been described as a yelp-like app that is anti-yelp because there are filtering capabilities. It allows customers to receive promotions from companies and businesses to receive feedback from customers. It needs to have a greater number of adopters in our area before it really takes off. Hopefully that happens soon and businesses take note. So, please download this app! I've already rated Bethany Community Church (Five Stars).

#23: Logos Bible

This is a great app but with some significant flaws for me. Most significant is the limited platform. If I have a resource in Logos, I have to read it on either my PC or my iPad. I can’t bring it up on my dedicated Kindle reader.

It’s also an app that reveals the limitations of mobile devices. Logos Bible can do some powerful stuff when you’re running it on a PC, but so many of the functions just don’t transfer to the iPad.

If I played around with this app more, it would probably advance up the list.

#22: Soundhound

I think there is a clinical study proving that this app has prevented thousands of people from being driven insane wondering, “what’s the name of that song again?”

Wherever you are—car, restaurant, in your bed at night humming a song you can’t get out of your head—you can instantly find out what the song is. It even works well in a place where there is a lot of noise, like a crowded restaurant. 

#21: Lumina

If I do a list like this in a few months, I think this app will move higher up. Lumina is the full-text translation of the NET Bible (for more info, go here), including those incredibly useful footnotes. Scholars like Dan Wallace spearheaded the translation and I love reading it.

The app is simple and allows you to interface with the thousands of footnotes in the text of the translation. Unlike many Bible apps, it’s not cluttered and I feel like I can just sit down and read the text.

I suppose one downside is that the NET Bible has a limited popularity. If you begin quoting from it, some people might be a little lost.

#20: New City Catechism

Our family enjoys the New City Catechism app. Not only does it have the full 52 question catechism, it also includes devotional videos from folks like John Piper and D.A. Carson.

#19: Mindmeister

This is another app to which I’ve only recently been introduced. Mindmeister allows you to do some really fun mind mapping exercises.

In What’s Best Next, Matt Perman mentions mind mapping and so I thought I'd give it a try. I went through five or six different free apps before landing on Mindmeister. Each of the other mind mapping apps had one or two things that just felt “off” to me. For example, it would put in random colors or wouldn’t let me differentiate between levels of thoughts or wouldn’t let me isolate a cloud.

I suspect that deciding on an app for brainstorming session is pretty subjective based on your personality. I haven’t done a lot of brain mapping but found what I’ve done with Mindmeister beneficial enough to put it this high on the list.

#18: Twitter

You all know about Twitter. I like it but don’t love it. I don’t check Twitter feeds more than once or twice a week but it’s a useful enough app that I feel the need to check it semi-regularly.

#17: Goodreads

Goodreads: Book reviews, recommendations, and discussion

Goodreads allows you to track the books you read or want to read and the books your friends are reading. If you can, sign up and become my friend!

#16: Netflix

The ministry value of this is, um…. Well, our family has a great time with Netflix. It’s a cheaper alternative to cable and is way better than having to sit through commercials. The only time we turn on a broadcast channel now is to watch sports.

#15: Bible

A lot of people really love this app. It’s not my favorite because it has too much going on for my taste. My older kids both use it for their devotions. You can read in various translations and download several reading plans. You can also see what your friends are reading. I’m using the same reading plan my kids are doing just for the sake of family fellowship.

#14: My Fitness Pal

This app blows me away with all that it can track about your diet and exercise. You can enter foods manually or scan bar codes and it will tell you the nutritional content. You can also enter your current weight and your desired weight and it will help you calculate your caloric intake. It adds or subtracts calories for the day based upon your exercise.

This has been a helpful app as I try to maintain a healthy balance between enjoying foods God has provided and slipping into gluttony.

I’d offer a word of caution. If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or are already tending toward obsessive compulsiveness with food, this may not be a good app for you. If you can use it for the glory of God, it can be very helpful.

#13: Trip Cubby

This is an app I use to log my miles when I drive. There are other apps out there, but this was the easiest for me to work with. 

 #12: Facebook

There are many things I don’t like about Facebook. But I love the ability to connect with friends and people from church. 

Coming Soon: Favorite apps, part 2. 

If you have suggestions or predictions regarding my top 11 apps, put in the comments section.