Lunch Links

Ministry
What would you say to my husband if you were a young Seminarian again?
RTS’s Michael Milton replies.

So you want to be a church planter?
Jason Helopoulos describes seven essential characteristics.

Christian living
The resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in categories
Matt Perman provides a helpful 7-category re-organization of Edwards’ resolutions.

eBooks
Unlocking the Bible Story
336 pages for $2.51!

Technology
MIT to offer free online courses to all
Isn’t it so exciting to live through this digital revolution! This is an even bigger step forward than simply making course materials available for free.

Religious Americans just as Tech-savvy as Others
This has got to be one of the most condescending articles I’ve read in a long time. There are so many barely-concealed prejudices in the way this is reported.

“A skunk on steroids”
Something about this appealed to the little boy in me. In an unusual combination of old and new technology, an impenetrable wall of stinky, foul-smelling water is helping to combat Somali pirates.


Sometimes it’s hard to believe in Hell

Or maybe I should say, sometimes it’s hard to conceive of Hell. It’s certainly been that way for me this week.

Although I’m on high doses of Vicodin, I’ve been experiencing some pretty severe (though not unexpected) post-op pain. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve been malefully (and unsuccessfuly), attempting to cut down the medication. (Can someone explain why we men do this to ourselves?)

I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe the pain. My family can tell how bad it is by looking at my face, posture, and gait; and maybe by listening to some extremely rare groans and gasps. But how do you write about it? Once you’ve said it’s very, very, very sore, what’s left to say?

And I ask this, because I’ve been thinking a lot about Hell this week. I’ve actually had worse pain in my life before, twice, but it’s never made me think about Hell as it did this week.

If this pain is limited in extent to one part of my body, limited in intensity by medication, and limited in time by the eventual healing processes (soon please), what must the pains of Hell be like?

Unlimited extent, unlimited intensity, and unlimited time.

All over and all through, unmedicated and unmitigated, forever and forever.

Especially forever.

Forever.

That’s more than a week, more than a year, more than a decade, more than a million years.

Is sin that bad? Is God that holy?

Could it be said that if we’ve never ever struggled to believe in/conceive of Hell, we’ve never come close to grasping its enormity? Could it also be said that if we reject Hell, we’ve never grasped the depth of our own sin or the height of God’s holiness?

That’s where my own thoughts began to find some rest this week – in a deeper sense of what my sin is and in a more awesome sense of who God is. But final rest came in seeing Christ as my Hell-sufferer.

I would have paid quite a lot of money to have someone suffer even some of my pain this week, even an hour’s worth. Google search produced no results – for once. But Christ has suffered all of my Hell-pain.

And I didn’t have to pay him a dime.

Indeed, He searched for me.


Daily List: 6 New Year Resolution Questions

Gretchen Rubin has six questions to to help you frame your New You resolutions.

1. Ask: “What would make me happier?”

2. Ask: “What is a concrete action that would bring change?”

3. Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?”

4. Ask: “Am I starting small enough?”

5. Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?”

6. Ask: “Are there any small, nagging issues weighing down my happiness?” 

Read her exposition here.

UPDATE FROM THE COMMENTS: As far as I know, Gretchen is not a Christian but I often think it’s helpful to see how non-Christians think and write. What are their priorities, motivations, aims, etc? It helps Christians reach them, and also helps Christian crystalize and clarify their own priorities, etc. They also have grains of helpful insights scattered here and there.


Lunch Links

Technology
Top Ten Tech Trends in 2011
A look back at 2011. What do you expect to see/what would you like to see in 2012?

Must-have desk for Seminary professors
Haven’t looked at the price yet, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Ministry
LeBron James and Celebrity Pastors
Bob Kellemen’s wish for Christian leaders in 2012 is simple: Let’s strive to be more like King Jesus than King James (LeBron James).

Books
Christian Focus for Kids
There’s a empty niche in the blogosphere for someone who’s willing to read and review books for the kids (especially teenage kids) of Christian parents. And if that blogger could specialize in Kindle books for kids, even better. Christian Focus are making a good start at it for their own books, but $4 for the Kindle versions of small paperbacks is not going to do the job, I’m afraid. $2 per book, or $5 for three is closer to the mark.

17 B&H Fiction Books for $0.99
Don’t know anything about these “Christian Fiction” books but the price is right.

Humilitas
Kindle version of John Dickson’s book is on sale  for $3.99.

12 books for 2012
Aaron Armstrong highlights 12 books he plans to read next year.


Two Surgeries in One Week

Some medical procedures have an element of “glamor” about them.

For example, recently Mark Altrogge wrote about “My new career as a stent man,” perfectly (and hilariously) capturing the “glory” of successfully coming through such a serious operation. Doubt he would have been so funny or transparent if it had been something like hemorrhoid surgery or greasy, messy psoriasis treatments!

In the past 12 months I’ve experienced both medical “humiliation” and medical “glory.” On the humiliation side, a year ago I had a double hernia operation following an over-ambitious Tae Kwon Do move. I think I forgot to blog about that….and why are you sniggering?

On the “glory” side, God graciously spared my life in April when I experienced a DVT and multiple blood clots on both lungs. That evoked lots of interest and sympathy, and even seemed to give me “street-cred” with some. Definitely worth a blog or five.

So just what is it that makes one medical problem bloggable and another forgettable?

I’ve been pondering that question as I’ve been recovering from yet another painful surgery in the last few days, a surgery I had decided to keep “low-key” because, as I told the few that had to know, “I don’t want to become known as the Seminary’s drama queen.”

Part of the answer is the position of the particular problem. For example, while we can spend hours talking about our broken leg, or our heart scare, “How’s your colon?” is still a bit of a conversation-stopper.

But there’s something more than the problem’s physical location that determines the level of disclosure, isn’t there.

Yes.

It’s PRIDE.

We divulge what will make us look good and we withhold what we think will make us look weak.

The sharp scalpel of this humbling truth cut me to the heart a couple of days ago as I was listening to Dr Eric Johnson’s superb CCEF lecture on depression (#17 here):

In the light of Paul’s teaching on weakness, to the extent that a counselee’s depression is a weakness, what might a counselee be encouraged to do? To learn how to boast in his or her weakness. I know that’s kind of strange sounding. This is a radical paradigm shift, and as I think about this it requires care in how it is addressed….Paul turned things upside down. We’re all so ashamed of our weakness aren’t we, by nature. We find it hard to admit our weaknesses to one another. And so one of the things the Holy Spirit did through Paul in 2 Corinthians was say, “Let’s turn our weaknesses into strengths. Let’s recognize that God gets glory through our weaknesses.”

Yes, Paul gloried in his weaknesses – especially the humiliating ones – because God (not Paul) was glorified in them. He did not selectively divulge what weaknesses would help his image. He listed all his weaknesses, all his indignities, all his humiliations, and then “boasted” of God’s sufficiency in them (2 Corinthians 11:23-30). He knew that the more his human clay was exposed, the more divine grace would sparkle and shine.

Some questions remain, of course. Do we tell everyone everything – a la Facebook? Or do we disclose selectively – a la Google circles? The answer will probably vary for each person and situation. However, wherever we land on this, we could probably all challenge ourselves more regularly with the questions: Why am I disclosing this? Why am I hiding this? Who’s image is being burnished and enhanced here? God’s or mine?

As for me, it’s the first time I’ve had two surgeries in one week! Both Dr Figg’s and Dr Johnson’s scalpels were painfully necessary, but hopefully both will also produce long-term health.


Upbeat about Downcast

I quite like Apple products.

I’m very keen on Apple…

I’m an Apple fanatic. Hardware, software, accessories. You name it, I love it.

There’s just one fly in the ointment – in fact it’s a tarantula.

iTunes!

I absolutely detest iTunes.

I’ve tried and tried and tried to even like this software/service, but I just can’t do it. I can’t even barely tolerate it.

For long enough I thought that Microsoft must have smuggled someone into Apple’s iTunes department.

Then I blamed myself…surely it must be me…there’s some kind of genius in this I’m just not seeing. But no, I’ve had to admit, Apple has a weak spot, an achilles heel, a chink in their armor, a nightmare piece of software.

How can it be so difficult to sync data, photos, podcasts, and mp3s between my Macbook and my itouch/ipad/iphone? Why can’t I just add an mp3 file to iTunes and find it the next day? Why do backups of my calendar and contacts result in either multiple lost appointments or thousands of entries for my plumber? Why is there a nerve-shredding software update every three days? Why are the software updates so monstrously HYOOOOJE? Why does it take 4,356 steps to turn an mp3 lecture into an Audiobook file that I can then listen to at 1.5x or 2x speed? Why do you need fairies’ fingers to scrub back a few seconds to re-listen to the last sentence? Why does my heart sink every time I try to sync? And how many finger combinations do you need to delete just one file?

But….a few months ago, I read about iOS 5, iCloud, wireless syncing and everything automatically backed up to the cloud from every device, and I thought, “Thank you, Steve, what a priceless legacy.”

But what a mess! Seven weeks and multiple experiments later, I gave up.

Downcast, I discovered Downcast.

Now this $1.99 App is not a complete answer to the syncing idiosyncracies of iTunes, but it’s a huge step forward for syncing podcasts, lectures, sermons, etc.

  • Quick iPhone installation with a tiny footprint
  • Simple, oh-so-very-simple, podcast subscriptions
  • Categorized podcast choices
  • Automatic downloading and syncing
  • Single tap for listen speeds of 1.25x, 1.5, 2x, and even 3x (good for American ears listening to Scottish preachers)
  • Single tap scrub back 15 secs and 30 secs
  • Single click social media sharing
  • Easy access to previous podcast episodes
  • No wires!
  • No need to sync with iTunes!!!!

But what about those audio files of sermons and lectures that you come across from time to time on various blogs and websites? Downcast is working on a way to incorporate these into the App, but, until then, Huffduffer is a good workaround:

  1. Open free Huffduffer account
  2. Set up a podcast feed in Huffduffer
  3. Subscribe to your Huffduffer podcast feed in Downcast

Then, when you see an mp3 you want to listen to, add the link to your Huffduffer account or use Chrome/Safari bookmarklet. It’s relatively painless and, unlike iTunes, does not feel like self-torture.

And at last, I am regularly listening to some of the great audio podcasts out there. Two of my favorites so far are Freakonomics and This American Life. I’ve also enjoyed some episodes of The Entreleadership Podcast, and Thinking in Public. Any others you’d recommend?

Unless I’m missing something however, I don’t think Reformed Christians have yet mastered this media opportunity. Our “podcasts” tend to be either sermons or long-form, high-level discussions of theology/philosophy (e.g. Thinking in Public, White Horse Inn). There’s definitely a place for that, but there’s also got to be some way of utilizing the podcast format in a more effective and “popular” way.

Any ideas? What would be your ideal Christian podcast?