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.

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?