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, 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

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 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

File:Apple IIGS Woz.png

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.

File:Microsoft sign closeup.jpg
#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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My (Future) Resurrection

This week, I’m thinking about the resurrection. But not just Jesus’ resurrection. I’m also thinking about my resurrection.

Next to the light switch in my childhood bedroom hung a little plaque that had been my great-grandmother’s. “Looking for that blessed hope,” it read. Next to it was another plaque: “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

I thought about each phrase every now and then as I reached to turn on or off the light. The second plaque made sense. I understood intellectually that not all that I was doing was worthy of eternal reward. It made sense that watching cartoons on a Saturday morning instead of helping my dad with yard work wasn’t worthy of eternal reward.

The other plaque filled me with more guilt than hope. My great-grandmother had been “looking for that blessed hope” when she died. She was in her late 80’s when she died. Of course she was looking forward to heaven! It had to be better than struggling with Alzheimer’s and an aging body.

But why would I look forward to the blessed hope? I was a kid. I knew that a kid dying was a bad thing. I wanted to live my life and not get my "blessed hope" yet. What hope could a kid derive from the truth of the resurrection?

After talking about the reality of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians, Paul concludes with this observation: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Lord willing, we’re going to develop this more on Sunday but I want you to see three very fascinating truths: (1) we know that there is a future resurrection (2) because there was a past resurrection and (3) that gives us life in the present.

Does contemplating your future resurrection give context to your life right now? Does it put all of your present suffering in context? Does it put all of your present joys in perspective?

Whether you are an nine-year old boy or a ninety-nine year old woman, the truth that there is resurrection should be causing you to be steadfast and abounding in the work of the Lord. Your labor is not in vain. You can't live rightly now until you come to the conclusion that this life is passing away.

This week, I’m thinking about the resurrection. I hope you are, too.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Dismantling of Evangelicalism: What Does the World Vision Case Reveal?

The Issue of Biblical Authority

There was a time not long ago when it was pretty clear what it meant to be an evangelical.  It was pretty clear because a generation of Christians had worked very hard to separate themselves from the liberal denial of the faith while at the same time avoiding becoming sectarian and mean spirited.  The high point of that evangelical ascendancy was the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.[i]  The battle for the Bible was over, and those who affirmed biblical inerrancy had won, at least as far as being an evangelical was concerned.  If one wanted the name “evangelical,” one had to affirm biblical inerrancy.  If one denied biblical inerrancy, it was difficult to maintain that one was evangelical.
In recent years, what was thought to have been a battle already won has re-emerged.  It is not that people are out and out denying the inerrancy of scripture as much as they are denying our capacity to know what the Bible says.  The wonderful scholars who crafted the Chicago statement actually predicted that this would happen.  The last sentences of the statement go like this,
“We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible which God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one's critical reasonings and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to Scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further. 
We are now at that point of great and grave confusion.  It is because of the failure to maintain the total truth of the Bible.  Lots of people now, without apology, deny central doctrines of the Christian faith, e.g., the reality of hell for those who do not believe in Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and the nature of marriage.  AND they do so while claiming to affirm biblical inerrancy!  Is it any wonder that the average person in the pew is confused?  It is a confusion even greater than when liberal theology conquered most major denominations in the 1920s.
This confusion over biblical authority will bring the dismantling of evangelicalism.  We are seeing the disintegration of what has been a pretty clear consensus of nearly 100 years.  The world of evangelicalism is collapsing.

The Case of World Vision

What does all this have to do with the recent controversy surrounding World Vision?  Only everything.  World Vision was founded in 1950 by Bob Pierce.  This was not because no humanitarian agencies existed at the time—there were plenty of them.  Pierce founded World Vision because there were few humanitarian agencies that took the Bible seriously.[ii]  He wanted to develop an organization that did social good, but was also firmly committed to the Gospel and the authority of scripture.  Because liberals in the mainline denominations had abandoned the Gospel, they fixed their missional attention on relief of social ills.  The conservative fundamentalists wanted to show that they were not liberal and frequently looked with disdain upon anyone who was interested in the alleviation of physical ills in the world.[iii]  Pierce believed that one could do both—bring the Gospel and alleviate human suffering.  This commitment to both the Gospel and social relief is found in their mission statement and statement of faith.  The organization seeks to tackle “the causes of poverty and injustice.”  But they also believe that lost people are “lost unto the resurrection of damnation.” [iv]  This was Pierce’s “World Vision.”
Let’s fast forward to the present time.  World Vision is no longer just an evangelical organization.  It is a behemoth of a charitable organization.  With a budget of over $1 billion and serving 1.2 million children sponsored, World Vision gains the attention of every NGO (non-government organization) in the world.  The means of gaining the income for such a large enterprise are many, including seeking United Nations and United States government support, but just as important, World Vision seeks the support of all churches, whether or not they subscribe to World Vision’s statement of faith.  As such, there are many, many influences upon this organization, not all of them helping to aim them closer to biblical authority for their mission.
So, it should not have been surprising that such an organization would be influenced deeply against biblical authority on the most pressing issue of the day, same sex marriage.  World Vision changed their policy on March 24 to allow employees to be in same sex marriages.  Then, on March 26, they reversed course and reverted to their former policy of not allowing employees to be in same sex marriages. World Vision was hoping, by allowing same sex marriage among their employees, to avoid a controversy.  Instead, they created a firestorm, which intensified upon reversal of the policy. 
In order to understand how this happened, one must understand that nearly every cultural indicator is leaning away from biblical authority.  World Vision was hoping that they could avoid the criticism of being homophobic and still hold to their statement of faith.  As it turned out, they offended everyone.  By affirming that employees could be in same sex marriages, people who believe in biblical authority saw that World Vision was denying what it said it believed.  Then, by reversing that policy two days later, the people who favor same sex marriage were outraged that the organization would capitulate to homophobia.  In the end, it seems that they may have made skeptics of everyone.

How to think about the World Vision controversy

Many pundits have argued that whatever position World Vision takes on the subject of same sex marriage should be irrelevant to support of the organization’s mission.  If you are sponsoring a child[v], what kind of callous heart must you have if you withdraw your funding over some silly cultural dispute in America?[vi]  Keep sending World Vision money, these pundits argue, because the starving children are more important than what we think about same sex marriage.
On one level, this is a very difficult argument to overcome.  Who would want to starve a child for a principle?  (Al Mohler called it “a moral quandary.”)  But here’s the deal: World Vision has made it clear by its statement of faith that principles matter before the mission does.  Just going out on mission and not worrying about the principles which guide the mission leads to disaster.  Let’s say that World Vision had made the decision to deny the resurrection.   Would that have been a sufficient reason to withdraw funding?  Let’s say that they decided to help starving children in the name of Allah, or in the name of Satan.  Would that affect this argument?  Which denial of biblical principle is sufficient to separate from an organization?
What the folks who make this argument are saying is that the issue of same sex marriage is not very important.  There would be some issue for them that doubtless would be important enough for them, but this one is not it.  One lesson to be learned here is that the controversy about homosexuality will not go away.  It will be an issue that continues to divide.  And it is an issue that is dividing evangelicals.  In fact, this issue, in my opinion, will be the dismantling of evangelicalism.  Here is why:
      1)   Evangelicals are increasingly soft on biblical authority;
      2)   Evangelicals like to be liked by the broader culture, thinking that by being liked they will be more effective evangelists;
      3)   The broader culture will only grow in its support of homosexuality and same sex marriage;
      4)   So, evangelicals will increasingly abandon the teaching of the Bible on that subject for acceptance by the broader culture.[vii]
      5)   However, other evangelicals will continue to hold to biblical authority.  This will mean a divide, a dismantling of evangelicalism.  
The end game, of course, is that for many evangelicals, personal experience/”happiness” will trump biblical authority.  Here is how theologian Luke Johnson put it, “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.”[viii]
As evangelicals are pulled in that direction, there will be a fracturing of what it means to be an evangelical.  New labels will need to be created to describe various positions, much as the words, “liberal” and “fundamentalist,” became labels to describe positions in the 1920s.  I do not know what words can be used, but good labels always have the advantage of being embraced by those labeled by the word, and yet can be used by opponents with equal appreciation.  That was why “liberal” and “fundamentalist” worked for awhile, and “fundamentalist” turned into “evangelical” when “fundamentalist” became too pejorative of a word.

Prepare for isolation, then persecution

There is something more important than a label, however.  As many evangelicals are peeled off from biblical authority, those who do hold to it will become increasingly marginalized.  We “Bible Christians” will be regarded as increasingly weird.  Especially since the LGBT issues are now cleverly framed as civil rights issues, there will come, as evangelicals leave the Bible’s teaching, an isolation of true believers in biblical authority.[ix]  This could come in the form of loss of tax exempt status for churches, the treatment of these churches as enemies of the commonweal, and discrimination in employment for anyone who publicly avows the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.
After the marginalization, it will become quite easy to see real persecution.  Belief in traditional marriage could become regarded as a psychological disorder requiring treatment.  Children could be taken from homes who affirm a biblical view of marriage.  Property could be confiscated as an anti-racketeering measure.  Now, these are extreme indeed.  Who knows if something will stop the express train of sex-without-consequence in our culture?  I hope indeed that something (or, more particularly, Someone) does stop it.  But these are measures that we must consider as possible, even as alarming as they seem.
For the Bible Christian (is that the possible new term?), there must be a readiness to forsake all to follow Christ.  If tax exempt status is stripped, will I give to my church anyway?  If I am regarded as an enemy by my neighbor, will I still love him?  If someone takes my home and even my children, will I say that I still have Jesus?  Am I committed to love those who persecute me for righteousness’ sake?  Hebrews 10:34 speaks of those who “joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.”  This sort of thinking is important, not because it is alarming but because it forces us to think about what really matters to us.  The words of Jesus come with increasing force upon us, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next . . . And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matt 10:16-23a, 28-33)
It is precisely here that the resurrection of our Lord should matter to us.  If the tomb is empty, then Jesus is Who He claimed to be.  If He is Who He claimed to be, then what He claimed about scripture is true.  What He claimed about scripture was that it was God’s inerrant, authoritative Word.  One cannot consistently believe in the resurrection of Jesus and deny the authority of the Bible.

A Final Word: What Should I Do About World Vision

As mentioned earlier, the policy change and its reversal at World Vision created lots of skepticism.  Many folks who applauded the reversal of the decision are now wondering if they should continue to support World Vision.  I understand the skepticism, and it would be important to monitor World Vision’s future policies.  However, I think that people should support World Vision who have been partnered with them in the past and not allow this to change their connection.  Support sends a signal to World Vision that they made the right choice.  World Vision asked for forgiveness on this issue.  Forgiveness ought to be granted, and that should include continuing one’s support.  World Vision referred to its stand on biblical authority as the reason behind the policy reversal.[x] This is a wonderful thing!  We ought to support any organization that calls itself closer to biblical authority.
The authors of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy had it right: We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge.  We live in great and grave confusion in the evangelical world today.  Only a recovery of the authority of the Bible will bring clarity.  May God give us strength to hold fast to His Word, no matter what.
Satisfied in Christ,

Pastor Scott

[i] One can read this wonderful statement at:
[ii] World Vision’s statement of faith begins, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” See:
[iii] See John Stott’s Christian Mission in the Modern World, pp. 15ff for a clear description of this divide.
[v] I will not go into the arcane details of “child sponsorship” in this article.  Suffice to say, “child sponsorship” by all relief organizations is more a means of cultivating the heart of a donor to the agency’s work than it is any direct infusion of money to the child.  That is not a bad thing; it just seems to me that “child sponsorship” should be more clearly communicated on what it means and what it does not mean.
[vi] This is the argument made by Jesse Tink, a pastor and blogger in Iowa.  See:
[vii] There will be attempts, of course, to show that same sex marriage and homosexual behavior are biblically moral.  These attempts at self-justification fly in the face of the text of scripture.
[ix] See Al Mohler’s Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance, pp. 95-102 for an excellent description of how two men changed homosexual rights into a civil rights issue.
[x] See:   for the full World Vision statement.  Of great import is this statement from the release: In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.”