Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back from the Dead?

I’m dusting things off here and I’m getting ready to open back up for business, so to speak. It’s been two years, almost, and a bunch has happened. Suffice to say I’m ready to start posting reviews here! I’ll probably start with posting a few of my better Amazon Vine reviews (I’ve gotten some REALLY cool stuff from them), and them some more recent things I’ve gotten to review.

I’m also going to talk a bit about some electronics projects I”m working on (or thinking of working on). Hoping to be a bit more regular and productive around here in the near future, so stay tuned!

MY Top Android Apps

Everybody writes their Top Ten Android Apps that You Have to Have on Your New Smartphone lists each year, and invariably they list apps that I would never use, don’t need, or something like that.  So I’m going to post MY list.  These are the apps that I install first on any new device I have, whether it’s a new phone, or a tablet, or what.  Most of them I also have installed on my iPad, so they’re not necessarily Android only.

For some background – I am a bi-vocational pastor.  I pastor a small church, and also teach technology at the local elementary school.  Both of these jobs influence what I consider must-haves.  This is something that the other lists won’t tell you — they will just assume that you are just like them, and have the same needs they do.  So as I list my apps, I’ll tell you why they are there.

  1. The Bible App from YouVersion:  This is essential for me as a pastor.  It’s not a study resource – I don’t really do major sermon prep with YouVersion’s app, but I DO constantly review the text I’m preaching from.  The more you read it, the better off you are, when it comes to preaching a text, and YouVersion’s Bible app lets me do that.  It also has some GREAT reading plans – and not all of them are a full year.  There are great topical reading plans that may only last a few weeks or even a few days.  And there are always Lent and Advent plans that are must reads.
  2. Evernote:  I have to have this to stay organized.  Combine this with the Evernote Web Clipper plugin for Chrome and you’ve got a powerful tool.  Whenever I read something that sparks an idea for a sermon, it goes in the Evernote folder marked Future Sermons.  All of my sermon notes go in the Sermon Notes folder, with tags for the book of the Bible I preached from.  On the teaching side, lesson plan ideas go in their own folder, as do my finished plans and a scope and sequence for each school year.  I’ve also got a LOT of tech-related articles that I need to have constant access to, as well as network-specific information for the school (proxy addresses, network printer IP numbers, etc.).  I tell people all the time that Evernote is my brain, and I honestly couldn’t function well without it.
  3. feedly:  I have a LOT of RSS feeds, and I’m old-school enough that I want them in a reader.  I used Google Reader until they shut it down (WHY, GOOGLE, WHY?!), and then in a panic I went hunting and found feed.ly.  It works really well, though integration with Evernote requires a pro account, and it let me import my Google Reader settings when I signed up.  Most importantly, it’s easy to use.
  4. Dropbox:  I have accounts with several cloud storage places (Box, Mozy, Google Drive) and have apps for all of those.  But Dropbox is the one I download first.  It integrates seamlessly with my laptop computer (there’s a Dropbox folder in Windows Explorer that I can drag and drop to), and I can automatically upload all my pictures from my phone to Dropbox.
  5. Kindle for Android:  I have a ton of ebooks; in fact, it’s how I buy commentaries anymore, unless I get a really great deal.  This lets me keep everything in one format, and I can use them across all my devices (including my iPad and my Surface).

I’m not picky about my clock widgets, or my weather apps (though I do LOVE MyRadar).  I do always install Netflix, but that’s not something I consider a must.  And of course, I’ve got a bunch of games.  But those five up there are the ones I really cannot live without.  I’m using my Kindle Fire a lot less now, in fact, partially because there is no Dropbox app in the Amazon app store anymore.

So what did I miss?  Let me know in the comments.

Book Review:Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction by Michael F. Bird

This post is part of a blog tour sponsored by the Koinonia blog. I received the entire book, but was asked specifically to review section 8 on evangelical ecclesiology.

The entire idea of an evangelical ecclesiology is pretty difficult to narrow down; there are evangelical Christians who are Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Free Church, etc. — and each has slightly different views on the church and how it is organized. I honestly think that this weakness in ecclesiology has resulted in the modern idea of the Christian without a church – people who have decided that they are going to go it alone rather than unite with a local congregation. And I really don’t think it’s a good thing.

Bird discusses this early on in this section, mentioning the evangelical tendency toward “ecclesiology-lite.” He sees three problems with this — a tendency toward dualism that emphasizes spiritual unity over physical unity, an anti-Catholicism that ends up rejecting the church fathers and traditions, and hyperindividualism that makes people more concerned with how church is meeting their needs rather than how they can more effectively meet the needs of the church they are part of. All three of these are problems that I see in today’s churches — and I think that finding solutions to them are vital to the continued growth of our churches.

Bird doesn’t stop there, though; his criticisms are simply part 1 of this section. Section 2 gives us what the Biblical image of the church is; after all, if we are going to claim to be people of the Book, we have to find out what the Book says first of all. He details how God’s people are described in Scripture, pointing out similarities between the Old and New Testaments but also showing distinctives present in the New. The section on the similarities and differences between the church and Israel was particularly interesting and informative. The section on the visible vs. invisible church in part 3 of this section was also very helpful, as there is a lot of tension here in my own denomination at times. Very telling, I think, are the marks of the church listed in section 4. There is a sermon series here, I’m sure of it.

Section 5 is where there will be differences of opinion and tradition among evangelical believers – the governance of the church. Bird simply lists the different types of church governance that are being practiced, and tries to show how the denominations that follow them justify them based on Scripture. I enjoyed this section; having just finished a series of Sunday School lessons about Baptist distinctives, I was happy to be able to learn a little bit about other denominations and how they “do church.” He also manages to do this without making any judgment on which is “right” or “more Biblical,” but gives each the attention and respect it deserves.

Almost as controversial is the next part on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While you can hear Bird’s own opinion coming through in the section about paedobaptism, he treats other beliefs with a much-appreciated fairness. And I know many Baptists who would be well-advised to study Bird’s section on the meaning of Baptism; too often, we see it as so much of a symbol that we cheapen the ordinance completely.

This section of Bird’s work takes a subject that can seem nebulous at first, at best rather vague and unclear, and tries to narrow it down even while it explains why there are so many different views and what those views are. If we are ever to recover a Biblical idea of what it means to be the Church and to do church, we need to consider what Bird is saying very carefully.

Book Review:The Liberator by Alex Kershaw

World War 2 produced many heroes, and many stories that haven’t seen print yet. Alex Kershaw has brought one truly fascinating story to light in this book, which tells the story of Felix Sparks and, to a lesser extent, the men he led through Europe. Kershaw sticks to Sparks’ perspective throughout the book, pausing only momentarily to introduce us to other characters who will become important to Sparks’ story. We see everything through Sparks’ eyes, which often leads to a skewed perspective on historical figures like Mark Clark. We see events through the filter of a “common soldier” — which is ultimately what Sparks is throughout the book, no matter what his rank. He continues to consider the soldiers he leads, and everything that happens, every order given, is seen not in a grand strategic or even grand political light, but in a very tactical light. Withdrawals that make sense strategically are seen as defeats because of the moral of the soldiers who fought for those gains, only to have to give them back. The truly moving part of the book comes almost at the end, when Sparks and his Thunderbirds liberate Dachau. This is an event that changes how each of his men looks at the war, and their duty.

Throughout the book, Sparks is an advocate for his men, often arguing with his superiors when his men’s lives are at stake and are about to be sacrificed unnecessarily. Kershaw paints him as the only real sympathetic character with any rank at all; while this makes for a fascinating and entertaining read, the history nerd in me wants to learn more — to see the other side of Sparks’ conflicts with his superiors, to find the warts and imperfections that would make Felix Sparks more than just a character in a book. That’s really the only shortcoming I found in this highly readable account of a part of the war that is far too often ignored.

No Starch Promotion!!

OK, so I’ve got a copy of Wonderful Life with the Elements coming from the folks at No Starch Press. This is a really intriguing book, especially for parents of middle school/high school age kids, because of the approach it takes to identifying the elements. Just from looking at the promo piece I had emailed to me, the book looks REALLY fun.

And now you can get 40% off the book, AND be entered into a contest to receive a free periodic table poster. PLUS, you get a FREE EBOOK EDITION with your purchase. You can’t beat that deal with a stick!!

Head over to the promotion page for your discounted book and your shot at winning a poster! I just wish I could win the poster ….

Fake Book Reviews and the Internet

I haven’t posted much on here lately, which I’m hoping I will be able to correct in the not too distant future, but when I read this piece about fake book reviews thanks to a link from Tim Challies, I had to post something here about it.

It is, unfortunately, very easy for fake book reviews to be published online. It is also very easy for an author to set up a “book review blog” and review his or her own work, in addition to others in that genre. And I’m sure that there are some authors who view this as simply an extension of their social media strategy, just like setting up and maintaining a Facebook page or Twitter account. But pretending to be someone you aren’t is a colossally bad marketing strategy, and it saddens me that we would actually have to say that out loud. I would encourage everyone to look at all the reviews something gets online before making a decision to buy it; if there are a bunch of three star reviews, and one five star review, it’s a safe bet that the five star review is fake – it’s at least an outlier that shouldn’t really be factored into a buying decision. Read with discernment and a critical eye.

I’m usually pretty critical of reviews that do not mention anything bad about a book, even though I know I’ve written a few of those. I also like to look at other reviews the writer has written, just to see what they thought of other things (or to see if this is the only review someone has written, which can also be a giveaway). And I’m always critical of book reviews written by folks using obvious pseudonyms, until they’ve proven themselves trustworthy (for the record, Warren Kelly is, in fact, my real name).

Once upon a time, it was tough to be a book reviewer. You had to work for a newspaper or syndicate, you had to have some type of background, and you had to have some sort of credibility. The rise of new media on the Internet has changed that; electronic publishing allows anyone to be an author, and that same technology allows anyone to be a reviewer. It is up to the reader, unfortunately, to read reviews with discernment, being aware that things are not always as they seem to be.

The Sword Available as a FREE Audiobook

Quite some time ago, I reviewed The Sword by Bryan Litfin. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in this trilogy, which I’m hearing will be out soon from Crossway, but in the meantime, Christianaudio.com is offering the audiobook for The Sword for free this month.

I love the fact that Christianaudio offers a free audiobook every month, and I really haven’t mentioned them enough here on the blog. I’ve got a TON of audiobooks this way, and I’ve enjoyed them all. So head over and get this book for free — and keep checking back with them each month to see what other goodies they have available.

EDIT TO ADD:

I just got my own free download, and noticed that The Gift (book 2) is available right now for just $4.98 — and so is The Kingdom (book 3) if you are willing to preorder it! This is an awesome deal, and I appreciate the folks at Christianaudio.com and Crossway for making this available!