Skip to content

Apple Music Launches Today

June 30, 2015
Apple Music

Image via MacRumors/Apple

 

Apple Music launches today, and you can jump right in with a free, three-month trial. Individual user subscriptions will be $9.99/month thereafter.

The big question will be: How does it compare to similar subscription-based, streaming services like Spotify? MacRumors has a nice round-up of some early reviews here. From that article:

Everyone will be able to test out Apple Music for themselves soon enough, with the official launch of the updated music app in just a few hours at 9 AM Pacific. Those interested should remember to first download the new iOS 8.4 update an hour before in preparation for the streaming music service’s debut.

Get all the details at Apple’s page here.

Review of Anker PowerDrive 2 Lite 12W 2-Port Car Charger

June 25, 2015
Impossibly Cute (and a Good Charger)

Impossibly Cute (and a Good Charger)

Yeah, I know: it’s weird to refer to a phone charger as “impossibly cute,” but this little guy (pictured at left) from Anker looks great. More important, it charges a device (or two at once) just as fast as your typical wall charger.

It’s the Anker PowerDrive 2 Lite 12W 2-Port Car Charger.

You can connect any USB cable to it, allowing you to charge your iPhone (of any generation), iPad, or other device. The best thing about it is that you can charge two devices at once–so you and your friend don’t have to fight over whose turn it is to charge a phone on a long road trip.

Here are a few things I like about the charger (with no counterbalancing complaints so far to lodge):

  • As with another Anker charger I tested, the PowerDrive 2 Lite charges a device quickly. I have an Apple wall charger that gets warm when plugged in, but this one maintains a normal temperature.
  • It’s small. You can easily fit it in your pocket, or stash it in even the smallest compartment of your car. Anker lists its weight as 0.7 ounces. (!)
  • The design isn’t fancy, but it looks great. The red and black color combo gives it an attractive look.
  • It pops in and out of the cigarette lighter (what else do you call that port in your car?) really easily. It’s nice and secure when plugged in.

Despite its size and being 12W as opposed to a 24W model Anker makes, this model gets the charging job done just fine. At the time of writing, the 12W model appears out of stock on Amazon, but the (comparable) 24W model is here. (UPDATE: Here‘s the in-stock link to the model I’m reviewing here.)

And you can check out the 12W PowerDrive 2 Lite at Anker’s page here, with all the specs.

 


 

Thanks to Anker for the review sample, offered for my honest impressions.

Quit Trying New Writing Apps and Just Write

June 23, 2015

The post headline is directed to myself. (Though I’m glad to have just downloaded Mellel on the iPad, which I’ll be reviewing shortly–couldn’t quite help myself. No, really, maybe this will be the app that cures me of writer’s block!)

But seriously: a favorite procrastinating pastime of writers is checking out the latest and greatest writing apps. Not this guy, however:

 

 

They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships

June 21, 2015

Joy vs. Facts, Sleeping in a Storm

 
One place I like to go, from time to time, to rouse my spirits and draw me closer to the heart of God is Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

I’ve been chewing on one line in particular the last part of this week: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

Berry’s words are good for us to hear right now, because “all the facts” include the reality of living in a country with a deeply ingrained racism habit that we just can’t seem to kick. The Deacons and I were praying Wednesday night in the back of our sanctuary, right about the same time another group of believers was praying in a Charleston, South Carolina church…. People of color in this country continue to suffer at the hands of racist persons and racist systems that perpetuate their mistreatment.

But, Berry says, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

If Wendell Berry were narrating Jesus’ state of mind in Mark 4:35-41, he would have said, “Jesus relaxed and took a nap, though he had considered all the facts.”

The disciples are thinking, “Oooh, nice—we’re going to go out in a boat with Jesus into this serene lake:”
 

Sea of Galilee

 

Whereas Jesus probably knows that this was in the offing:

 

Jesus Calms the Storm, Gustave Doré

Jesus Calms the Storm, Gustave Doré

 

Here’s Rembrandt’s rendition of it:

 

The Storm on the Sea of Galiee

 

And yet Jesus “lies down and sleeps in peace,” as the Psalm says.

 

A Furious Squall…

 

Mark 4:35 says, “That day when evening came, [Jesus] said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’” From what I can tell, evening can be a good time to catch fish, but to traverse a lake…? When you’re out camping and sunset comes, you try to set up camp, not embark on a new leg of your expedition.

But God’s ways are not our ways, and Jesus’ ways are not the disciples’ ways, so off they go. Verse 36 says, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.”

“Just as he was”—it’s like when you’ve made a spontaneous decision to pick up a friend and go out for coffee, and you are in a hurry and you say, “Just come like that, just come how you are. Atomic Cafe doesn’t care if you wear your pajama pants and fleece-lined Crocs. Get in the car.”

Jesus and the disciples just went.

Next verse, verse 37: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.”

I love this genius storytelling of Mark. If you’re reading or listening to this story, you don’t know yet where Jesus is. “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” And then, you expect, verse 38 will say, “And Jesus, with power and authority, stood up and made the waves stand still.”

But, no, verse 38 says, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” He needed his introvert time. He found a pillow, or a big sandbag, and put his head on it.

The disciples take this as apathy, some kind of a cruel joke.

If the boat is nearly swamped, and Jesus is still sleeping, he must not be wet yet. It’s possible the stern was raised. The boat could have looked something like this:

 

Raised Stern

 

Which probably makes the disciples all the more upset. You wonder… if Jesus knew this storm was coming, is that why he was at the stern, elevated above the rest of the boat? And if so, the reader of this text wonders, why didn’t he quell the storm before it started? Or give the disciples a heads-up? Mark doesn’t tell us.

But his students ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we down?”

The specific wording Mark uses in the text suggests that the boat was filled “to the extent of its capacity” (HT).

And doesn’t this imagery of a flooding boat go against the axiom that “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” Maybe it’s more like, “Sometimes we get more than we can handle, and God’s not necessarily the one who gave it to us, but he’ll be right by our side anyway.”

 

…And an Omnipotent God

 

If Mark’s given us the full humanity of Jesus—he was sleeping on a cushion—now we see his full divinity. Verse 39 says, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

“Who is this?” the disciples ask. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The text says it goes from a “great” windstorm to a “great” calm.

Jesus talks directly to the wind and the waves. Can you think of another person in biblical history who talked to the waves and the sea, and told them to do something?

Jesus, they are starting to see, is more than just an amazing teacher. Listen to how God questioned Job:

Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

I don’t know if the disciples, in that moment of fear, would have had Job in mind, but the kind of thing Jesus is doing in this passage is the kind of thing that only the LORD God Almighty does.

Here he is. God himself, in the boat with the disciples.

Psalm 107 says, “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.”
 

But They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships…

 

I wonder if Jesus had this Psalm in mind as he went out into the Sea of Galilee with his disciples. Maybe he thought, “Alright—it’s Psalm 107 time. Let me show these young ‘uns what I can do.”

Listen to part of Psalm 107 in the King James Version:

They that go down to the sea in ships,
that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind,
which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven,
they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted
because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble,
and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Did part of that ring a bell? You might recognize this guy:

 

FishermanMemorialGloucester

 

Here’s a close-up of the Fisherman Memorial overlooking the Harbor:

 

They That Go Down

 

“They that go down to the sea in ships,” the inscription reads, 1623-1923.

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.

 

…These See the Works of the LORD

 

What about those who go unrescued?

And the Psalm goes on to describe the wind and the waves. Those at sea “reel to and fro… and are at their wits’ end.” Surely this describes the lives of those lost at sea from 1623 to 1923, and before and since.

Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble,
and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm,
so that the waves thereof are still.

That very much sums up the experience of the disciples in Mark 4. They’re living out that Psalm with Jesus

But herein lies a theological difficulty. I don’t know how many fishermen cried “unto the LORD in their trouble” in stormy seas, but the memorial in Gloucester stands there to honor those who were not brought out of their distress… or at least, not brought out of a storm. There are some storms–literal and metaphorical–that God just does not make calm. Unlike the ones the Psalm 107 goes on to describe, these men and women that the man at the wheel stands for were not rescued.

“Teacher, don’t you care if [they] drown? …Why didn’t you save them?”

It’s one of the perplexing questions that confronts us—why a God who can and does intervene so often… just lets some things go… lets some evils move ahead. Allows men and women to get lost at sea.

That existential question has come up again this week in Charleston:

 

Why

Source: David Goldman (AP)

 

You can’t kill love

The 9 members of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church barely had time to “cry to the LORD in their trouble.” And though Jesus was in attendance at that Bible study and prayer time—“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them”—he didn’t stop the hateful actions of a deeply racist young man.

Surely those 9 didn’t have to die. I don’t know how many more of these things it will take for our nation and lawmakers to finally move ahead in a serious conversation about gun control. I don’t know how many more unarmed black people will have to die before our country wakes up to the pervasive racism in our midst.

They didn’t have to die. But, you know what? In the lexicon of the Kingdom of God, dead isn’t really dead.

Because you can kill a person, but you can’t kill love.
You can try to cut somebody down, but “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” From even horrible death can come new and powerful expressions of life.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney was the Pastor of Mother Emanuel, one of those who died. There’s a short YouTube video you can easily find: a couple years ago he welcomed a group of folks who were on tour in historic Charleston. Here’s what he said:

The African American Church… really has seen it as its responsibility and its ministry and its calling to be fully integrated and caring about the lives of its constituents and the general community. We… don’t see ourselves as just a place we come to worship, but as a beacon, and as a bearer of the culture and a bearer of what makes us a people.

But I like to say this is not unique to us. It’s really what America is about. Could we not argue that America is about freedom? Whether we live it out or not… but America’s about freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. And that’s what church is all about. Freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be fully what God intends us to be… and have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you gotta make noise to do that. Sometimes you maybe have to die… to do that.

We saw this week how the family members of the victims responded. They called on Dylann Roof to repent of his sins and believe in Jesus. As Rev. Pinckney suggested, they called him to a life of “freedom from sin, freedom to be fully what God intends [him] to be.” They said things like, “Though every fiber of my being is hurting, I forgive you.” And the nation watched, amazed at the witness of the families in that church.

And so God, working through the amazing mercy of the families, calms the storm, after all. The winds of hatred and the breaking waves of destruction die down as Christ works in the hearts of his disciples in Charleston who choose faith over fear.

When God’s children find themselves in choppy waters, our Lord, Jesus, is right there with us in the boat.

And because they know Jesus is in the boat with them, the families of Mother Emanuel have chosen to be joyful, “though [they] have considered all the facts,” though their loved ones have been lost at sea, as it were.

Not a sudden storm, not even a tragic shipwreck can keep Christ’s disciples from making it to the other side. There they see the works of the LORD, and their witness lives on.

 


 

The above is adapted from the sermon I preached today at church.

Charleston, S.C.: What Can We Say?

June 19, 2015
Why

Source: David Goldman (AP)

 

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the U.S. on Wednesday night—which was also an act of racism—I suspect many of us have found ourselves at a loss for words. Scripture’s language of lament can come to our aid in the aftermath of violence and tragedy. Of course, the Psalmists who turned their pain and puzzlement into prayers did not see lament as a panacea for all the world’s evils. Even if God were to vanquish all of David’s enemies on the spot, he knew he still had the sin of his own heart to contend with.

Psalms and prayers of lament do, however, help the one praying make the important move of deliberately entering God’s presence in a state of deep pain, confusion, frustration, exhaustion, and exasperation. If you are tired of praying, “How long?” and “Why?” and “Please come to our aid quickly, O Lord!”, I wonder whether the Psalm writers might simply advise us to redouble our efforts and pray those same prayers once more.

Psalm 74 says, in part:

How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.

Psalms of lament—with a couple noteworthy exceptions—end with an affirmation that God is still King, and his ability to bring salvation cannot be compromised. I’ve often imagined that when the authors of such Psalms came to the reaffirmation section of their laments, they wrote with trembling hand, watering eyes, and a fast-beating heart that clung desperately—hope against hope—to the truth of God’s sovereignty.

Now is the time to pray such laments—especially on behalf of others and the injustice and pain they undergo. Though all life is valuable and the taking of another life is tragic in any setting, the victims at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston were brothers and sisters in Christ, bonding together in prayer in their final moments of life on earth.

Their prayer and study of the Word of God is now transformed into something more than they could have imagined, as they meet the One who is called the Word, face to face, in all his glory.

But there’s more to respond to—the shooter appears to have been a white supremacist who targeted his victims specifically because they were African Americans. It’s stupefying how people of color in our country continue to be targeted. Our prayers and support are needed.

I know it can feel like “it’s getting old” to make lamentations, and we can get tired of praying the same prayers (over and over) for justice and healing around issues of racism and hatred in all its forms. But battle after battle, injustice after injustice, threat after threat, that’s what the Psalmists did. They kept turning their pain to prayer—kept bringing complaints about injustice into the presence of God.

Let’s not lose heart in praying that God’s kingdom would come, in all its fullness.

 


 

The above is adapted from what I wrote to our congregation this morning: a call at a time when words fall short to engage the lament language of Scripture.

Book Note: Mark Strauss’s New Commentary on Mark (ZECNT)

June 17, 2015

Mark ZECNT

 

I really dig Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, as you can see by the multiple volumes I’ve reviewed here. The series continues production, with 10 volumes now available. Recent additions are Karen H. Jobes’s 1, 2, and 3 John and Mark L. Strauss’s Mark.

Here’s how the series is laid out:

  • The Greek text of the book of the Bible, verse by verse, or split up phrase by phrase
  • The author’s original English translation
    • First, showing up in the graphical layout preceding each passage
    • Second, verse by verse, together with the Greek

 

Mark ZECNT Graphical Layout

Author’s graphical layout of Mark 1:1-8

 

  • The book’s broader Literary Context for each passage
  • An outline of the passage in its immediate context
  • The Main Idea (perhaps they had preachers in mind?)
  • Structure and literary form
  • An Exegetical Outline of the passage under consideration
  • Explanation of the Text, which includes the Greek and English mentioned above–this is the bulk of the commentary
  • The concluding Theology in Application section (i.e., what does the passage mean for us, what are its themes, and so on)

As I’ve said before: This sounds like a lot, but the result is not a cluttered commentary. Rather, as one gets accustomed to the series format, it becomes easy to quickly find specific information about a passage. The section headings are in large, bold font.

Here’s Strauss on Jesus in Mark 3, who asks, “Who are my brothers and mother?”

At one point, [Jesus] refused to see his family, saying that his true mother and brothers were those who did God’s will (Mark 3:31–35, par.). Jesus is not repudiating his family but rather is affirming deeper spiritual bonds. It is not surprising that the early believers referred to each other as “brothers and sisters” (adelphoi). As Jewish followers of Jesus were increasingly expelled from the synagogues and Jewish families were divided, this emphasis on spiritual kinship became extremely important.

And:

In the context of the Beelzebub controversy, the point is clear: kinship in the kingdom of God is based not on ethnic identity or family background but on a relationship with God through Jesus.

I’m following the lectionary through parts of early Mark right now, and though there are already a host of great commentaries on book (not the least of which is this gem), Strauss’s volume has been a welcome addition to my sermon preparation process!

Find the book here at Zondervan’s product page or here on Amazon.

HoursTracker Pro for iOS, Reviewed

June 16, 2015

HoursTracker Pro App Icon

 

HoursTracker has seen more than 1 million downloads from the App Store since its 2009 release. I’ve been using HoursTracker Pro for a couple months now, so report back to you here, with a look at some key features.

 

Clocking in and out

 
This is the main job of any time-tracking app (obvs), and it’s executed nicely here.

 

Clocking in

Clocking in

 

Clocking out

Clocking out

 

It’s easy to add a break, or just pause the timer. You hold the “Clock Out Now” button for more options to appear:

 

Take a Break

 

Tag and filter your work

 
Tags and filters offer a sophisticated way to manage and pare down the data you see. You can toggle various filters on and off, as desired.

See some of what’s possible here:

 

 

Get notifications that you’ve worked a set number of hours

 
This is particularly cool. You can decide you want to work two hours on a certain job, then the app will track it for you.

 

Set time per day

 

Then it will let you know when two hours is up, even giving you warnings beforehand:

 

Notification of Time

 

Notification of Time 2

 

I think this has been my favorite part of the app.

 

Invoicing?

 

Although HoursTracker Pro allows you to track work done for specific clients at whatever rates you like, it does not include an invoicing feature. You can export your timesheet data, but the app could be even more of a one-stop shop–especially for consultants–if it were to add automatic invoicing options in a future release.

 

Export options are really good

 

Data export options are really good. With just a few taps (and within seconds), you can have an email in your inbox with all your timesheet data as a .csv file that includes duration, break times, notes you entered for a given job, tags, and more.

 

It’s customizable

 

HoursTracker is quite customizable–taking notes and using tags and filters make this a sophisticated app. Here’s what the Settings section looks like:

 

HTP Settings

 

In conclusion

 

If you want to try before you buy (the Pro app is $9, here,) HoursTracker is free here.

The Pro version is probably more than someone would want to sink into an app, if they were only tracking a job or two. But if…

  • you are tracking multiple jobs or projects, and
  • you want a way to tag and customize your data, and
  • you want to be able to access a clean and robust export

…you’ll want to check out HoursTracker. Spend some time with the free version, and then you can decide whether you want to pay for the full Pro version.

Happy time tracking! If you are a time logger, HoursTracker gives you an aesthetically pleasing environment for recording time, as well as has enough features for you to get it to do just about anything you need.

 


 

Thanks to the good people of HoursTracker, for giving me a download of HoursTracker Pro for the review. Check out the app’s iOS page here (Pro) and here (free). See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 989 other followers

%d bloggers like this: