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Galileans at Pentecost

May 24, 2015
"Pentecost," by Jan Joest van Kalkar (1505 – 1508)

“Pentecost,” by Jan Joest van Kalkar (1505 – 1508)

 

Pentecosts reminds us that God pours out the Holy Spirit on any and all persons who would receive… and he uses unexpected persons as his conduits!

The use of “Galileans” to help usher in the era of the Spirit is also a sort of breaking of barriers. It shows that when God chooses to do something marvelous, he does not necessarily wait till a person high in earthly esteem comes along. He does use such people, of course, as we see with God’s using Paul. But he is not limited to them.

The key to usefulness is the fullness of the Spirit, and the Spirit can bring life to anyone he chooses, provided that he or she is open to this enlivening.

(Ajith Fernando, Acts: The NIV Application Commentary)

Image above via Global Christian Worship.

After Luke and Acts: Part 3 of Luke’s Trilogy

May 21, 2015

As I’ve been working on the Book of Acts for my last few sermons, Acts has been working right back on me. I’m still thinking about my encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. This last week, as the lectionary moved from Acts 8 and Acts 10 back to Acts 1 (for the Sunday after Ascension Day), I found myself thinking in terms of Acts 1:8 as a prequel for what had been happening so far.

Just before he ascends, Jesus tells the disciples to wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit.

He says:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

They had wanted to know when the kingdom would be restored, but Jesus points them to a different when: the when of the Holy Spirit.

One implication of Jesus’ response, I think, is that we don’t have to know when or have life’s tensions resolved to be a witness right now to what we have seen in Jesus.

We don’t have to understand all the ins and outs of the kingdom of God–we may even think of its consummation as being a loooong ways away–to be able to make a contribution to it today, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There’s an African proverb that says, “That which is good is never finished.”

The Book of Acts is like this. It’s not finished. If Acts 1 serves as a prequel for the whole narrative, Acts’s sequel is being written by men, women, boys, and girls who make up the church today.

The Story Luke TellsJusto Gonzalez comes at this another way in his excellent new book,The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel (Eerdmans, 2015).

He points out that Luke’s story in Luke-Acts doesn’t really end: “Paul has suffered countless vicissitudes. He has been shipwrecked. He has finally made it to Rome. He is awaiting trial before Caesar. And then—nothing!”

(This helps explain why after a recent read-through of Acts, I was at a loss to remember what happened to Paul at the end!)

Gonzalez goes on:

In telling his story and leaving it unfinished, Luke is inviting his readers to be part of it, to join the throng. ….But since the story is unfinished, it is more appropriate to conclude it with “RSVP,” like an invitation that awaits a response. This is what Luke demand from us: not satisfied curiosity about the past, but a response here and now. RSVP!

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

We are the sequel to the two-part combo of Luke and Acts–the threequel, if you like. The story of the church in the world now becomes the third part in Luke’s trilogy. Luke-Acts-Us.

Alto’s Adventure On Sale for $0.99 in the App Store

May 20, 2015

My new favorite iOS game is Alto’s Adventure. My 7- and 4-year olds love it, too.

Here are a couple of developer screenshots:

 

Alto

Snowboard down hills: by night or by day

 

 

Jump and flip your way over gaps and obstacles

Jump and flip your way over gaps and obstacles

 

The app has cool music, great sound effects, and a really relaxing vibe. It’s a good challenge, too.

The app is on sale right now at the App Store for $0.99 (down from $2.99). You can find it here.

A Review of Cultured Code’s Things App

May 19, 2015

Things for Mac - App Icon

 

I’ve reviewed enough software to know over-hyped copy writing when I see it, so I was initially skeptical at the Things app’s claim to be “a delightful and easy to use task manager” (my italics).

But its aesthetic and usability really are pleasing and enjoyable. The layout is very simple and clean. It has almost a cartoonish (in a comforting way) feel to it. It looks like this:

 

Mac OSX version

Mac OSX version (click image to enlarge)

 

iPhone version

iPhone version

 

Readers of this blog (especially patient ones) know that I’m a user of OmniFocus, but I’ve also been putting Things through its paces these last few months.

First, straight from the nearly perfect Things getting started guide, here’s the basic structure of the app:

List Icons

Today is the list for to-dos that you want to start before the day ends. They’re your priorities.

Next is home for all of the to-dos you could start at any time. It’s a good place to look when putting together your Today list, or when you’ve finished everything there and you need more to do.

Scheduled is for to-dos that you’d like to start on a later date, either because there’s nothing you can do to start them yet, or you’d just rather be reminded of them on a specific day.

Someday is the place for to-dos that you might like to get to, but you’re not sure when. Regularly review what you’ve added here to decide if it’s time to act.

It all starts with the Inbox, where you can put items until you’re ready to decide when to do them. Things also allows you to organize by multi-step Projects and Areas of Responsibility, as well as make extensive use of Tags.

 

Strengths

 

Things syncs instantaneously via its own cloud service across multiple devices. This makes using it on both a phone and a computer, for example, really easy—you never have to worry about an outdated notification showing up on your device. This is one of the few drawbacks of OmniFocus—if you don’t keep OF open and make sure it’s synced on all your devices, you’ll get a reminder on your iPhone to complete a task you already checked off on your computer. This is not an issue with Things, and it takes away an extra step in the task management process, so you can direct that energy to actually working through your task list.

Things is head and shoulders above other task management apps in this regard.

Things has a really nice tagging system. No GTD-style “contexts,” per se, though you could certainly use your tags as contexts if you wanted to. You can even assign sub-tags to your tags, a feature I really like. So I can tag a task under the category “Blog,” but also assign sub-tags such as “Future post” and “Learn apps.” I used this tagging system to track thank-you notes last Christmas—writing down presents (and who they were from) as we opened them, and then sorting by tag (giver) so that I knew what all I was thanking someone for when I came to their note! Handy, indeed.

 

Tags

 

Things for Mac OSX

 

The desktop app is feature-rich. As you might expect, in addition to seamless sync with the mobile apps, the desktop version of Things (pictured above) is fuller-bodied than the iOS apps. There is the Quick Entry feature, where a keyboard shortcut (no matter what app you’re using in the foreground, so long as Things is open somewhere) will let you enter a task before you forget. There is a really smooth way of accessing, displaying, and adjusting all your tags (where Things really shines). Editing a task is fast. And it looks good.

The iOS apps have a useful Today widget. Some Today widgets are better than others, and this one is good. You can view items due today, check them off (both without ever opening the app), and tap on New To-Do to be taken to the Things app to make a new entry.

 

Things Today widget

 

Siri and Things work together (quite nicely). You can set up Things so that reminders you voice dictate to Siri go right into that app as tasks. So that you can use Things safely while driving. As OmniFocus is my task management app of choice, a comparison again is inevitable: to get Siri-generated reminders to show in OF, you have to actually open OF and let it sync. Not so in Things: the reminder goes to your Things Inbox for processing immediately.

 

Siri

 

Limitations

 

There are some things that Things can’t do, which I had hoped it could.

There is no way (whether in iOS or OSX) to attach photos or files to an item. I find this a noteworthy lack. In OmniFocus and Evernote you can take a photo of something and immediately set it up with a to-do reminder. Sometimes life’s “inputs” come as visuals, and taking a picture and setting a due date is easiest. That’s not doable in Things. (You can link to actual files on a desktop, but that’s not the same as attaching the file itself, and the file doesn’t show up on an iPad.) There is a “Notes” field that attaches to your to-do, which is essential, though that field just accepts text entry.

The cosmos (or just your co-workers and bosses) also like to give to-do items via email. There’s no way to automate moving from an email into a task in Things. In OmniFocus you can just forward an email to your special OmniFocus email address, and it automatically becomes a task in your inbox. Todoist, like Outlook, can let you turn an email into a task in just a click, without even having to forward it anywhere. Evernote even lets you send an email as a Note to a specific Notebook with Tags, if you phrase your subject line right. Things may add this email-in-to-Inbox feature in the future, but for now, you have to take the extra step of copy-pasting an email into a new task yourself. Not as automated as I’d have liked.

You can get to a new task via the + button on the bottom right screen on iOS—so entering a new task right away is easy—but there is not the “Save +” option that other apps offer… so you have to add an extra tap when doing a rapid-fire brain dump. (This is not as much an issue on the desktop version of the app.)

You can set up repeating tasks, but not easily. This process was not as immediately intuitive as the rest of the app is. Things’s support page (which is awesome) details how you can do it from iOS and OSX. But, wow, did I spend a lot of time figuring out the very specific way in which this must be done in Things—and a couple of methods that you’d think would get you there… don’t.

 

Repeat

 

Conclusion

 

So many reviews of task management apps affirm that there’s a personal element to what app works best for you. One user’s “intuitive” is another user’s, “Huh?” I’ve bought into the OmniFocus methodology and layout (mostly), which is intuitive enough but not easy out of the box. Things, on the other hand, is easy to figure out how to use right away without using a manual. The “Today” part of the app functions as a sort of daily review, though I prefer OmniFocus’s Forecast and actual Review perspectives. But you might be totally different on that!

In terms of complexity and capability, I’d put Things somewhere between Reminders and OmniFocus. It’s far more robust than Reminders, but not quite the souped-up to-do app some users might need. (Although one could just use the robust tagging system to customize Things for higher levels of complexity.)

Things is well-designed, looks great, and the seamless sync is a huge plus. Try it for yourself here (download link) with a free trial.

 


 

Thanks to the fine folks at Cultured Code, the makers of Things, for giving me downloads for the Mac and iOS apps for this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

From the Publishers Who Brought Us The Sacred Bridge: In the Master’s Steps

May 18, 2015

In the Master's StepsFar and away, The Sacred Bridge is the best Bible atlas–and one of the most impressive books–I’ve ever used. Now Carta is beginning to publish bite-sized adaptations from that massive and beautiful work. In the Master’s Steps: The Gospels in the Land is Volume 1 of The Carta New Testament Atlas, to be released in four total volumes. In the Master’s Steps is “partially excerpted” from The Sacred Bridge (TSB). (EDIT/UPDATE: Volume 2 will not be an excerpt from TSB–it’s a new work.)

The hope of the book, author R. Steven Notley writes, “is that a better understanding of the physical setting and events that framed the life of Jesus can assist us to hear more clearly the message he proclaimed.” Or, as St. Jerome puts it (quoted in this book):

Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.

Those of us who have not yet had occasion to travel to Israel will have to settle for books such as Notley’s. However, as one makes her or his way through Notley’s careful writing, the vivid images, and the flawlessly rendered maps–one realizes there is no settling with this book. It’s the next best thing until such a day as one can make it to the Holy Land.

This book does not differ very much from its corresponding TSB sections, though this one is intended for a wider, more popular audience. Owners of TSB do not need to buy this volume, which does, however, carry with it the advantage of being portable, affordable, and concisely addressing the life of Jesus. If you don’t have TSB and are interested in geography and the New Testament, definitely pick up this work.

A few highlights in review:

Like all Carta books I’ve put my hands on, this one is of high quality. It’s paperback, but the thick, semi-glossy paper helps the full-color images really pop, and is perfect for making marginal notes in pencil.

As with The Sacred Bridge there is an index of place names, but not an index of Scripture references. Notley includes plenty of references, especially at the multiple points where he seeks to explain what could be, in fact, a harmony of apparently divergent gospel accounts when it comes to certain geographical details. Or if no harmonization is possible, Notley at least offers side-by-side comparisons.

The content of In the Master’s Steps is culled from chapter 22 of The Sacred Bridge, which, as it turns out, is the chapter I chose to profile most in-depth in my TSB review. Rather than repeat myself here, I simply refer you to my section 4 (“Case Study: The Sacred Bridge on The Holy Gospels”) here. Most, if not all, of what I say about the content there would apply to this book under review.

Here are the chapters of In the Master’s Steps:

  1. The Birth of Jesus and the Flight into Egypt
  2. The Ministry of John and the Baptism of Jesus
  3. The Travels of Jesus
  4. The Sea of Galilee: Development of an Early Christian Toponym
  5. The First-century Environs of the Sea of Galilee
  6. The Last Days of Jesus
  7. Jesus and the Myth of an Essene Quarter in Jerusalem
  8. The Arrest and Death of Jesus
  9. From the Empty Tomb to the Road to Emmaus

Okay, I will quote this one helpful paragraph that leads off chapter 5 of In The Master’s Steps:

Events recorded in the ministry of Jesus outside of Jerusalem are primarily located in the region around the Sea of Galilee, specifically in the north and northwest area of the lake. The Gospels are an important historical witness for Jewish settlement in this region. Scholarship seldom notes that for many of these settlements, their first mention in the literary witnesses is in the New Testament. After a confrontation in the synagogue in Nazareth, his boyhood home, Jesus relocated to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (Mt 4:13; Mk 1:21; Lk 4:31). This village would become the center of his ministry in the region. We now turn our attention to settlements around the Sea of Galilee that find mention in the New Testament.

Here is a sample of the graphics and maps to be enjoyed (click on each image to enlarge):

 

Last Days of Jesus

Carta Caption: The arrest, interrogation and execution of Jesus

 

Around the Lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) (Carta's caption)

Around the Sea of Galilee (Carta’s caption)

 

To book’s hope, to revisit it again, “is that a better understanding of the physical setting and events that framed the life of Jesus can assist us to hear more clearly the message he proclaimed.” Reading through In the Master’s Steps will certainly offer such an understanding for the teacher, student, reader, or person of faith who picks up the book. The connections between geography and theological applications are not often made explicit here, but the reader will have more than enough historical background and imagery to begin to make those associations for herself or himself.

 


 

Many thanks to the good folks at Carta for sending the book. They didn’t ask for a review, so I write this of my own volition! I think they are one of the finest publishers in the business today. Check out their site here, and go here to see their works via Hendrickson, their U.S. distributor.

The NIV’s 50th Anniversary

May 14, 2015

NIV Wheel Graphic

 

Whether it was for summer camp or Bible quizzing, I grew up memorizing the (1984) New International Version. And, yes, I’m still quite fond of the unfortunately discontinued TNIV. Now Zondervan no longer publishes the 1984 NIV, nor the TNIV–instead, the 2011 update to the NIV is the current version.

You might not realize that the NIV is 50 years old this year. Here’s a recent press release:

In 1965, the Committee on Bible Translation took on the most massive translation project of modern times: to prepare a contemporary English translation of the Bible from the best available original manuscripts. Since its release in 1978, the NIV has become the world’s most read and most trusted modern-English Bible translation with over 450 million copies distributed worldwide. Upon the 1978 release of the NIV, readers were ecstatic that they could finally understand the Word of God in contemporary language.

This anniversary got onto my radar screen when I came across the new NIV 50th anniversary app. What I didn’t know till the other day is that the NIV Study Bible is the best-selling study Bible in the last 30 years.

Here’s a video with some recognizable names discussing the work of the Committee on Bible Translation, who produced the NIV:

 

 

You can read more about the NIV here.

 


 

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: A Zondervan rep approached me with an invitation/encouragement to post about the NIV, and offered to send an NIV Study Bible. I plan to post about that in due course, too, once I receive it. While I do appreciate the 2011 NIV over the 1984 NIV in a number of ways, said “Material Connection” has not diminished the place in my heart that the TNIV will always have.

My Encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch

May 12, 2015

Preaching so specifically about the Ethiopian eunuch the other week felt risky for at least two reasons:

  1. The eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 reads as a category-defying character, with a sort of in-between sex/gender identity and a home that was the unknown “ends of the earth” described in Acts 1:8.
  2. What even was a eunuch?

DeFranza EerdmansI found a great deal of help in understanding the eunuch and his identity from a just-published book from Eerdmans: Megan DeFranza’s Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God.

As the book treats sex difference widely, it examines the oft-misunderstood (or unknown!) category of intersex, with eunuchs providing a sort of historical case study in chapter 2. Did you know that Jesus spoke approvingly of eunuchs, and described three kinds?

The chapter was an immense boost to my appreciation of all the uncertainties that could have been at play as Philip encountered the eunuch, part of a group of people that DeFranza cites a 4th century poet as calling “exiles from the society of the human race, belonging to neither one sex nor the other.” They’re male, but not fully, at least not in the expected sense. And there were prohibitions in the Torah like this one in Deuteronomy 23:

 No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD.

Yet, as DeFranza and others have suggested, already in the broad sweep of Scripture, there seemed to be hope for eunuchs. Moving from the books of the Law to the prophets, Isaiah, just a few chapters after what the eunuch was reading in his chariot, there is:

To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off…. (Isa. 56:3ff)

But if he may not “enter the assembly of the LORD,” maybe he couldn’t be baptized, either?

Josephus, a first century historian, was no exchanger of pleasantries with eunuchs. He wrote:

Let those that have made themselves eunuchs be had in detestation; and do you avoid any conversation with them who have deprived themselves of their manhood, and of that fruit of generation which God has given to men for the increase of their kind….  (Antiquities 4:290)

It seems that the eunuch—a man probably used to giving orders and approval to decisions on the home front—in this poignant moment is asking Philip for his approval. Having heard the good news of Jesus as Philip explains the Scriptures to him, the eunuch wants to know, “Am I allowed in?” Am I excluded or included? Can I be baptized into Jesus?”

Philip had no problem baptizing him into the fellowship of Jesus. Philip surely knew of God’s promise through Isaiah to give the eunuch “a name better than sons and daughters” (which they could not have!). Philip surely had surmised that this man who had traveled from Ethiopia to Jerusalem–a great cost and sacrifice of time… and could he even get in at the temple?–was committed to worshiping God with his whole life. Philip had experienced the Holy Spirit’s presence in Jerusalem and all Judea and (just verses before) in Samaria… and now he must have thought, “Here are the very ends of the earth–the blurring and transcending of many categories–coming right here to this odd deserted road I’ve just been called to!”

Yes, the eunuch had to be baptized.

 


 

The chapter on eunuchs is as far as I’ve gotten in Megan’s book. (And if I’ve gone astray anywhere in the above, it’s my doing, not hers.) But I’ve found myself transformed by this vicarious encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. As I told my congregation, I come back to this passage again, now asking these questions:

Where have I drawn my own borders? How open to re-examination am I in how I think about others and their place in the kingdom of heaven? How can I learn from the eunuch and allow that would-be outcast to change my heart? What do the people Jesus calls brother and sister really look like? Will I allow “the uncategorized” or marginalized or ignored ones to instruct me and lead me into deeper appreciation for the wideness of God’s mercy?

I don’t expect Megan to answer all these questions for me, but hers is a very important book, timed perfectly for this moment in the life of the church and society at large. I’m excited to read the rest of it, as my own encounter with God’s grace shown to the eunuch continues to work on my heart and mind.

 


 

Find Dr. DeFranza’s book here at Amazon. The publisher’s book page is here. Megan writes compellingly about the book’s coming into being here.

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