Picks of the Week: App Edition

I need a simple post to get back into the habit of blogging, and few things are easier than writing about what I like. Enter: another “Picks of the Week,” but this time, it’s all apps. As one of the more consistent questions I see on Facebook/Twitter posts, hopefully some will find value in this post. These apps aren’t necessarily new or even rare, they are simply ones that I use over and over again.

1) Evernote : If you aren’t using Evernote, you probably should be. I’m not even sure I truly understand the vast capability of this app (see this post from Art of Manliness), but I know that what I do understand, I love. I use Evernote to take & organize notes for classes, to plan out vacations, to clip & store anything I find useful/interesting on the web, to compile all my notes on books I read, and finally, to jot down pretty much anything that I want to remember in a day or so. The true beauty of this app is that it is quick to learn and syncs easily to all of my devices (computer, phone, tablet).

2) Flixster : This app is my go to for anything movies. Want to know what movies are currently playing in the theater? Done. How about if a movie is playing in a certain theater and what time? Got it. Want reviews from tons of critics and normal folks? Here. You can also find out what’s been released on DVD/Blu-ray, watch trailers, and search for any movie that might have piqued your interest at some point. There’s really not much else I could want from a movie app.

3) QuizUp : No list of apps could be complete without a game mention. My current pick, thanks to an introduction by one of my favorite college dudes, is QuizUp. It’s brilliance is that it is easy to play with friends online, and that it combines the fun of Trivial Pursuit with a seemingly infinite list of topics. You can still delve into nerd-ness with categories such at Literature, Grammar, and Math, but you can also enjoy a whole different type of nerd fun with categories such as The Office, Oscars, or Nintendo Titles. My current preferred topics are Baseball, Bible, Logos, and Movie Titles. This game helped the Strickland family immensely as we sought to pass time on a long trip to Virginia recently. As they say, fun for the whole family.

Done. What are your Top Three Apps?

As always, thanks to the few of you who read my thoughts. Hoping to update this site more often.

Essential Reads: Clive Staples Lewis

“I can’t remember the last time I read a book…I’ve probably only read a few books in my life and those were all in school. I’m just not a reader.” I simply don’t get statements like these. Most I have heard are offered with a chuckle and sometimes even an air of boasting. I realize that certain seasons may be difficult to find time for reading, but those should be rare. Like anything worth doing, reading takes some effort and discipline on our part, but such struggle is not without its benefits. It gets easier and it gets much better. Not too mention it is a proven way to relax, to lower blood pressure, to learn, to develop your emotions, and to stimulate your imagination.

And if you’re a Christian, here’s the deal: not all readers are Christians. But I do think all Christians should be readers. The foundation of our faith is the Bible, which is a book that must be read. If we hate reading or if we just aren’t readers, what does that mean for our reading of the Bible? I’m fairly certain it’s not positive. And what about the wealth of teaching and encouragement that God has given to his people throughout the ages that have been written down for us? Now don’t feel like you must jump into the proverbial deep end of the reading pool, rather just start with a book a month. And if you’re going to take the time, make it worthwhile. Read something good.

So in my hopes of providing some aid in this area, I’m going to be posting a “Reading in the Pew” article at least every month, if not more often. Most of these posts will have a topic or author at its center and will include recommendations for the timid to the daring. Consider it the couch to 5k of the reading world. And of course, as a theology student, almost all of these will come out of my desire for us to grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.

The Inaugural Post – Who Else? The One & Only Clive Staples Lewis

  • The Lucky Charms of Lewis: Well, it is Lewis. He’s not necessarily known for his ease of reading. Thankfully, he wrote children’s books and they are brilliant for kids and adults alike. So, if you haven’t already (or at least not recently), it is time for you to dive deep into The Chronicles of Narnia. Read them all if you have time. Start with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and move on from there. Have kids? Read it out loud with them. You will not regret it.
  • The Oatmeal Squares of Lewis: Time to move into the realm of Science Fiction and enjoy Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. A little more difficult, especially if this genre isn’t a familiar one, but once you dive into this other-worldly adventure, you will understand a great deal more about your this-worldly one.
  • The Wheaties of Lewis: For those who are a little more daring, Mere Christianity is the quintessential piece of Lewis’ writing. It is a hard road at the beginning, as Lewis seeks to persuade his hearers of God’s existence. And though the road does not ease up much, similar to a good hike, the view at the end is simply spectacular. Lewis may not be the best theologian (see his chapter on the atonement), but his ability with language is masterful and his understanding of human nature superb. His chapter on pride has been one of the most beneficial pieces I have ever read outside of the scriptures for my life in Christ.
  • An Honorable Mention: My CTC (trans: Cinnamon Toast Crunch) of Lewis: My all-time favorite work of Lewis is The Great Divorce. Much like my CTC, all of the best flavors of Lewis are brought together in this very manageable 160 page book. As C.S. imagines for us a trip through Hell to the outskirts of Heaven, he makes both a reality for his readers, while at the same time using these settings as the backdrop of discussions and conversations that we all desperately need to hear and grasp.
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Picks of the Week

#1 “9 Things You Should Know About Duck Dynasty” by Joe Carter – I rarely appreciate what is known as “reality” TV. I may have caught an episode of the Real World back in my MTV days, but have been completely oblivious to the likes of Survivor, the Bachelor, Jersey Shore, and whatever show is associated with Honey Boo Boo. For some reason, though, I am an absolute fanboy of Duck Dynasty. We’ve been DVRing it since its inception and are still loving the antics of the fantastically bearded Robertson men. Si and Jase may be two of the craziest dudes on the planet, I find myself somehow resonating with Willie quite often, and good old Phil is the father figure that Clint Eastwood has been trying to pull off in film for a decade. And I love the fact that these fellas love the Lord and are passionate about sharing the Gospel with all. Check out this article, pray for this family, and give the show a viewing if you’re one of the few who haven’t yet.

#2 “The Heretic” by Andrew Ferguson – I’m not sure one can make a smooth transition from Duck Dynasty to a long-form essay on philosopher Thomas Nagel. Nagel, a former Princeton professor who is now at NYU, is one of America’s foremost philosophers…well at least he used to be. Once the darling of academia, he has recently begun to question the validity of the materialist Neo-Darwinian conception of nature. If such a concept is unfamiliar, here’s a quick aside:

Ferguson gives this quote by Francis Crick, “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.” As someone who dabbles in writings of Dawkins, Dennett, and crew, this article was not completely shocking, but a needed reminder of what is at the heart of such a conception of nature and life. If you haven’t engaged much with the philosophical and scientific understandings of such intellectuals of academic renown, this article might be quite eye-opening.

The heart of the article deals with Nagel’s ousting from his once high-standing position among the academic elite, due mostly to his recent book Mind and Cosmos. This piece, though lengthy, is an important read not only in order to understand the materialist conception of the world at its roots, but also to see how those who question this view are treated in the world of the academy, and finally, to read some beginning reasoning against such an understanding of the world. Here’s one such quote from the article: “The neo-Darwinian materialist account offers a picture of the world that is unrecognizable to us—a world without color or sound, and also a world without free will or consciousness or good and evil or selves or, when it comes to that, selflessness. “It flies in the face of common sense,” Nagel says. Materialism is an explanation for a world we don’t live in.” Seriously, find the time to read this essay.

#3 “Google Glass Video” – Looks like my dream of becoming Iron Man might be taking a few steps closer to becoming a reality. This video is unreal. Check it.

#4 Faithmapping by Daniel Montgomery & Mike Cosper – The two guys who wrote this book are pastors of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, which is both our old church and the church we hope to be a part of again when we move back to the Ville this summer. We absolutely loved Sojourn and this book is a great introduction into why.  They are truly seeking to grasp the depths of the good news of Jesus Christ and how this good news informs everything we do as a people. The first section of the book is an engaging and helpful way of thinking about the gospel, by looking at the kingdom of God, the cross of Christ, and the radical grace of God. So often we as Christians, to our detriment, either overemphasize or neglect one of these essential aspects of what Christ has done. Our lives and our witness must be shaped by an understanding of the gospel “that God welcomed us into life in his kingdom, through his Son’s cross and with scandalous grace.” (102) The second half of the book deals with how this good news of Jesus shapes our entire lives. Montgomery and Cosper write, “The gospel invites us into a different way of living and being, not to prove or to earn, but to enjoy. It’s truly a better way and a richer kind of life, and the Bible gives us many clues as to what that life looks like. What we do as believers will always flow from who we are, and in Christ, we’ve been given a radical new sense of identity.” (103) The way they describe this life is by discussing how the gospel makes us worshipers, family, servants, disciples, and witnesses. In some ways this book is not incredibly original, but rather it gives its readers a simple and helpful way to understand the Christian life, while being written in a style that is both fresh and engaging.

Picks of the Week: Tales from the Dugout, Lecrae, and The Problem of Busyness

The folks at WordPress (or the systems at WordPress) tell me that there are some people actually reading this blog. So, if you’re a reader, I truly appreciate it. That being said, it appears that no one is clicking the links and checking out the picks any further. A good friend, who I forced to check out the blog, hearing my whining about such neglect, let me know that he didn’t even know there were links on the page. So, in case you didn’t realize it, all of the underlined and emboldened titles are actually links to the genuine artifacts themselves. In the kindness of your heart, check out some of the links, make some comments, subscribe, and all of that good stuff. I know it’s selfish, but it is simply so much easier to write if I know at least a few folks are reading, and I seriously need to write. If you ever have a question, especially in the fields of theology or maybe even sports, shoot it my way and I’ll post my thoughts on it.

#1 “Tales from the Dugout” with Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Barry Zito – Baseball season is upon us. Spring training is in full force. Fantasy League invites are popping up everywhere. The WBC (World Baseball Classic) has begun. And even our local high school team can be seen running down fly balls on their makeshift parking lot diamond. It is right, then, that the top spot would be filled, not with a book (and many cheered), but with an interesting video interview of three Christian ballplayers. The highlight of this video for me is definitely the interaction between these guys and their clear encouragement and support of one another. Professional sports, though the dream of many, is a field rife with temptation and hardship. To see these guys be the church to one another is both exciting and inspiring. A couple cautions as you watch: 1) Some of us, as we watch, must remember what Tim Keller often notes, all religions & worldviews offer advice on how to live, but the heart of the Christian faith is good “news” that gives life. This good news – who Christ is and what He has done (His life, death, and resurrection) – is rarely mentioned and can almost seem as if it is a backdrop to the Christian life, not the center of it. Instead, we get a lot about a “relationship with Christ” (significant for sure) and how as Christians we must live good lives (also true). I think it could be easy, though, to listen and miss the true heart of Christianity. 2) Others, myself included, need to be careful of being too critical. Keeping in mind the caution above (and ignoring some of the frustrating “Christian culture” aspects), I was truly encouraged by the work of God in the hearts and lives of these guys. As a athlete former athlete and coach, it is always helpful to hear from players who are at the very top of their games and truly seek to honor Christ in all they do. To see evidence of competitiveness, hard work, and toughness coupled with humility, service, and peace in these guys is truly a blessing. Enjoy!

#2 “Tell the World” and “PBS Interview” with Lecrae – This dude is the real deal. I grew up on the East Coast loving hip hop, but often struggling with much of its message. It wasn’t until recently, with labels like Reach Records, Humble Beast, and Lamp Mode, that the music and the message really lined up for me. Listening to true believers, who know their craft and their theology well, just flat out excites me. Here’s a taste of the lyrics Lecrae brings on “Tell the World”: A slave to myself but you let me go, I tried gettin high but it left me low / You did, what they could never do, You cleaned up my soul and gave me life, I’m so brand new / And that’s all that matters, I aint love you first, but you first loved me / In my heart I cursed ya, but you set me free / I gave you no reason to give me new seasons, to give me new life, new breathin / But you hung there bleedin

And you died for my lies, and my cheatin, my lust, and my greedin / What is a man? That you’re mindful of em? And what do I have to deserve this lovin?

#3 “If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprising Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers” – In our current culture, it seems like everyone is ridiculously busy. And many, especially guys, wear this busyness as a badge of honor. I love the all too common playground battles between guys of who is the busiest and the somewhat mocking tone towards the few whose lives aren’t hectic. I think the problem lies in the fact that we think working hard equals busy and hectic lives. The busier your life, the harder you work and thankfully we still see the value in hard work. So for most of us, busyness, not effectiveness, becomes the goal. The problem, which this article thoughtfully points out, is that this assumption just doesn’t seem to be true. It’s the old coaching adage, “practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” I would rather have players who put in 10 hours of hard, focused practice, than players who put in 30 hours of decent work. As I read, I was again reminded of the need for a change in mindset. Busyness cannot be the mark of achievement. Especially when we blame our lack of involvement with our spouses, kids, church, God, etc. on such busyness. Maybe in addition to valuing hard work, we need to value and encourage those who are relaxed while doing it. For myself, I’m thinking a reread of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People might be in order. (Note: I think this article brings out a helpful point, but I recognize that sometimes life is hectic, crazy busy, for a season. And I certainly don’t want to encourage laziness. So please don’t try to read too deeply between the lines here.)

Picks of the Week: Greatest Game Ever, Baseball & the Christian Walk, Pornified Culture, and Keller @ Belhaven

Note Well: Every Friday I am going to be pointing out some of my favorite books, articles, podcasts, videos, and the like that I’ve encountered in the past week. I’ll try to include mini-reviews for each that will do nothing if not inspire, maybe even require, that you check them out. Perhaps not. And keep in mind, just because I recommend it, doesn’t mean I agree with it in all of its details or even in general. Finally, don’t leave me out to dry. If you are interacting with these posts, possibly even enjoying them, give me a heads up. Subscribe to the blog. Leave a comment. Shoot me a message. Give me a hug.

#1 The Greatest Game Ever Played by Mark Frost – In the midst of a terribly bleak week in good ole Indiana, I am finding myself flat out ready for Spring. I’m ready for some sunshine, a little warmth, and the putting away of all things Winter (hat, gloves, coats, etc.). I’m ready for Spring Training, March Madness, The Masters, and the start of  tennis season. And though the weather is not providing even a glimpse of hope, I’ve decided to usher in the season in the only nerdy way I know how, by reading about sports. Currently, that means taking a little jaunt into the beginnings of golf in America and reading about Francis Ouimet and the 1913 U.S. Open. I must confess, having seen the Disney flick starring Shia LaBeouf, I have been quite reluctant to dive into this behemoth (it is just shy of 500 pages). But lofty, lofty endorsements and a place on the shelf at Half Price Books simply proved too much to ignore. Take Gary McCord’s words for example, “Put on a pair of soft slippers and get into your favorite chair. You are about to drift back to the era of gutties and wooden shafts…as golf history comes to conversational life in this very entertaining read.” Music to my ears. Or maybe you’d like to hear from Billy Crystal, “This is one of the best sports books I have ever read.” Sold. I am just past the century mark and ready to join the chorus. Up next: Men at Work by George F. Will.

#2 “How Baseball is Like the Christian Walk” by David Prince – Men at Work might still have a little wait on the shelf, but this does not mean there isn’t a little time (or a lot) for some baseball reading. Prince is a pastor in KY and prof at my former and soon to be current educational institution and he is well-equipped to talk sports. He gave the highlight talk for me at our High School Youth Conference last year on the topic of Christianity and Sports and this article is solid example of his thinking. And of course, he’s a Braves fan. That’s significant.

#3 “Raising Kids in a Pornified Culture” by Zach Nielsen – I’m not a parent yet (not an announcement of any kind…just need to be clear), but as a pastor and coach I spend a decent amount of time serving youth and definitely recognize the dangers of what Nielsen calls a “pornified culture.” Give this article a quick read, at least to raise your awareness, if not to apply some of its wisdom.

#4 “Tim Keller at Belhaven University” – Our church is getting ready to start The King’s Cross by Tim Keller and we used this talk as a little intro to the book with our college group. Even if you aren’t going to read the book, it is well worth the listen. I am posting the video and the audio, though I feel I must warn you that the folks doing the video get a little too creative with camera angles and nearly ruin it. The Audio version.

That’s it for this week. “The Bible” mini-series begins this Sunday night on the History Channel, could be interesting.

Picks of the Week: The Trinity, Jordan, Masculinity, and Dude Perfect

Every Friday I am going to be pointing out some of my favorite books, articles, podcasts, videos, and the like that I’ve encountered in the past week. I’ll try to include mini-reviews for each that will do nothing if not inspire, maybe even require, that you check them out. Perhaps not. And keep in mind, just because I recommend it, doesn’t mean I agree with it in all of its details or even in general. Finally, don’t leave me out to dry. If you are interacting with these posts, possibly even enjoying them, give me a heads up. Subscribe to the blog. Leave a comment. Shoot me a message. Give me a hug.

#1 Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves – Don’t be shocked if a book almost always ends up in the number one spot. I like to read books. A lot. But even if there was something I would rather do than work through a book, nestled into my favorite chair, with a french-pressed coffee in my baseball mug and Pilot G-2 (05) pen in hand…this book would still take the top spot. Over the past few years, I’ve slowly come to the realization that the Trinity is fairly significant to the Christian faith. Now, I’m not a complete fool, I’ve always known it was supposed to be important. I knew that the claims of anathema and heresy have often located themselves at the outskirts of this doctrine and that it is in the Trinity where Christianity is set apart from all other religions/beliefs. So, I knew I had to believe in the Trinity and I knew the Bible reveals a Triune God. But it was always explained as “mysterious” (thus confusing) and rarely practical. Reeves says it well at the end of his introduction, “What we assume would be a dull or peculiar irrelevance turns out to be the source of all that is good in Christianity. Neither a problem nor a technicality, the triune being of God is the vital oxygen of Christian life and joy.” Read this book. It’s a mere 130 pages. Think deeply on the biblical truth it expounds and delight in our amazing God – Father, Son, and Spirit. (If you want to get crazy, read Fred Sander’s The Deep Things of God alongside Reeve’s book. A little longer, a little deeper & academic, but a worthy complement.)

#2 “Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building” by Wright Thompson – I am a product of the 90‘s. Which means I love “Saved by the Bell,” Tim Allen, Baseball Cards, SNL, and Michael Jordan. Though my artistic abilities never surpassed a kindergarten level, I can still draw, to this day, a near-perfect Chicago Bull’s logo. My trapper keepers from elementary and middle school are evidence of the hours of painstaking practice that produced such expertise. I watched Jordan & Pippen come to Market Square arena and together score more than the entire Pacers squad, 44 & 40 respectively. I have Coca-Cola cans from the year Jordan drilled the final shot to make UNC the NCAA National Champs. Seeing and reading about Jordan now, however, is difficult for my middle school self. I struggled through his severely disappointing HOF induction speech, didn’t know what to make of the article Thomas Lake wrote about his treatment of his high school basketball coach, and now this. It’s hard to read this article (and the cover article from SI), and not begin to wonder whether what made him unreal on the basketball court was worth it. I don’t want to make a judgment about a man I hardly know, especially a childhood hero of mine, but there is wisdom in considering what makes us who we are, where we place our identity, and what we stake our life on. For Christians, the Bible makes it clear that the answer to these questions is in Christ and what He has done in His life, death, and resurrection. Competing identities are easy to find – marriage, family, athletics, school, job, popularity, looks, house, etc – but all will fail you, or you will fail in them. But Christ has not and will not fail us, and if we place our identity first and foremost in Him, then we will find not burdens, but rest and peace. Check out this article and be reminded of the grace we have in Christ, and that we have been truly freed in Him.

#3 “Redeeming Masculinity” by Darrin Patrick – This talk provided the soundtrack for a couple of my workouts this week and it’s definitely a worthwhile listen. It’s obviously a talk directed to guys and that comes across in both Patrick’s content and his delivery. And while the talk is certainly not short (coming in at over an hour with the Q&A), it is an easy listen, and there is a great deal of wisdom presented throughout. I am always aided by reminders of the power of God’s grace in the Gospel and the devastation caused by the all too appealing path of legalism. Patrick is money in this area and others, especially when he delves into his call for a “band of brothers” mentality.

#4 “Dude Perfect: Johnny Football Edition” – Sure, this video may be a case of my suspension of disbelief, but I really don’t care. I love it. And it may be just because his name is “Dude Perfect.” Brilliant.

Lent for Baptists? Yes!

For too many of us, Lent is merely a season of more fried fish and less chocolate. It is a time reserved for Catholics and dieters, but out of bounds for us of the Baptist persuasion. But in our neglect, I think we are missing out on a fantastic opportunity to think deeper on our faith. Pastor Tim Keller once noted that there are two truths you must understand in order to grasp the grace of God in salvation – 1) how lost you are, how dire your condition is, how big the debt is and 2) the sufficiency, freeness, and fullness of the provision in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for you. Simply put, we must understand the enormity of our debt due to sin and the enormity of the payment Christ made on our behalf. And in a world where such truths are so out of place that they are offensive, a season of designated reflection can be exceedingly helpful. Lent is just such a season, where we join with Christians throughout the world and think deeply on the depths of our sin and the depths of Christ’s work. Here are a few practical ways you might make much of Christ in this season of Lent:

  • Fast: abstain from something you will notice, something that “satisfies” you, and in its place feast on the Word of God and the Eternal Word Jesus Christ. (Ex. A meal, a type of food/drink, a device, a habit or hobby, etc.)
  • Read the Bible: Read through a Gospel in a different translation. (Ex. New Living Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • Memorize the Bible: Think deeply on and memorize a passage of Scripture. (Ex. Eph. 2:1-10; Rom. 8:31-39; Matt. 5:3-12; Phil. 2:5-11; Titus 3:3-8)
  • Pray: Devote extended time to prayer. (Ex. Start a prayer journal, walk your neighborhood praying for others, pray for a church, ministry, school, or business)
  • Serve Others: In your home, in your community, in the church. Look for a need and seek to meet it. Use your gifts & think outside the box.
  • Study: Read The King’s Cross by Tim Keller
  • Events: Take advantage of activities, studies, & events during the season. (Ex. Men’s & Women’s Lenten Breakfasts, Good Friday Service, etc.)

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13th. Remember to fast throughout the week and feast on Sundays! You might check out the sermons on Feasting & Fasting from November 2012 (www.fbccville.org). Don’t forget to encourage your families, friends, and others to join you in worshiping our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ in this season!

(This article was one I submitted in a church newsletter)