Thursday, August 28, 2008

Where We're Headed, or Already There?

I came across this article a year ago, and saved it with a heading "Sneak Preview of Where We're Headed."

Now I'm wondering if we're already there. Europe is notoriously less religious that America (although the UK is less so), but when I read "I'm spiritual, just not religious," it could be a conversation from across the street, not across the pond.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is Customization Worth It?

Some weeks ago, we had a computer monitor go out at work. In order to compensate, we shifted seats around.

I ended up at another desk. I didn't have access to my files (since I'm allergic to putting my stuff on the network - I always leave it on my hard drive), my bookmarks, and WordPerfect, which has several hours worth of customization on the keyboards, appearance, etc. My productivity was, shall we say, less than adequate, because I wasn't at my own desk and didn't have ready access to the tools I rely on daily.

This got me thinking back to the times when I was in a corporate environment. This was an environment where customization was frowned upon, if not downright discouraged, and in many cases it was not even possible since the computers were basically locked down. As I was thinking about this, it made me wonder - is customization worth it? If you tally up all the time it takes to do a decent customization job, tack on the additional time for situations where customization turns out to be a hindrance (like the one I described earlier), does the time saved compensate for it? Or is it even about time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Evil Generation

From Sunday's sermon, some thoughts on revelation.

For the past few weeks, we've been in Luke 11, discussing some of Jesus' sayings. This past week, one of the verses we studied was verse 29. "This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah." Our pastor pointed out that, as far as strict outward morality went, that generation was surely one of the better ones. Better than our own generation, for instance.

And certainly better than the generation Jesus references in Ninevah. This is a nation of moral Jews, yet Jesus calls them a "evil generation." So what is Jesus saying here?

His reasoning for this was not a lack of outward morality, but rather their refusal to accept the signs they had already witnessed, and the message they had already received. To understand what he's saying, it's important to consider the contrast Jesus sets up here. To do that, let's look at the book of Jonah.

In verse 2 of the first chapter, God tells Jonah to "Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted me" (HCSB). Of course, Jonah heads in the opposite direction, and personal disaster ensues. But once that is resolved, God tells him a second time "Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you" (Jonah 3:2, HCSB). And what was that message? "In 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown!" (3:4, HCSB). There's no kingdom, no grace, and no gospel; there's not even a command to repent, such as John the Baptist gave. There's just an announcement of judgment.

So the Ninevites respond to this coming judgment by repenting, from the king on down the chain of society. I would characterize this as godly repentance, by the way, because it is a response to the holy and righteous judgment of God. In fact, it is wholly apart from any expectation on the part of the penitent.

The king of Ninevah puts it this way: "Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish" (3:9, ESV). It's the kind of repentance born from the recognition of one's helpless destitution - exactly the kind of repentance a person needs to be saved.

The Jews, on the other hand, had every conceivable advantage over this pagan people, yet they always clamored for one more sign. In contrast, the Ninevites had a simple message - "your sins have found you out," and they repented. This is why Jesus called them the evil generation.

It's an old story, but one we still see. There are many who have been exposed to the Gospel again and again, but who insist on needing one more "proof" before they will believe. It perfectly describes most of the skeptics I've known. And if you ask what evidence would be sufficient, you still won't get an answer.

The "evil generation" Jesus refers to here is the one that never sees enough evidence. It was true during his time, and it is still true today.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Do You Write?

I've posted about how I write. Now it's your turn.

I'm asking an open-ended question that is as broad or narrow as you want to make it.

How do you write?

I'm curious about everything, from the process to the tools.

What do you use to compose your posts? Text editor? Word processor? Blogging client? Which one? Is there anyone who uses pen and paper?

Where do you get your ideas? Do you outline, or just sit down and write? How long does the typical post take from inception to completion? Do you endlessly revise, or is your post close to completion by the time you type it out?

Give me details.

Or, as a guideline, you can work off the questions I answered.

1) What blogging tools do you use?
2) How do you post?
Edit: the "how do you post" question was trying to find out if posts were planned or spur-of-the-moment, or a combination. Wondering who writes posts or series ahead of time, and whose writing is primarily a response to what they have read, see, or are feeling. Sorry that wasn't clear.
3) How do you get your ideas?
4) Who is your target audience?
5) What do you hope to say or accomplish with your blog?

P.S. You can leave your comments here, or better yet, make a post on your blog, and put the link in the comments for this post.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How I Write

Continuing with the mini-theme of writing I've had going on lately, I thought I'd take a couple days to focus on the mechanics of it. Today I'm jotting down some thoughts about how I blog. Next time, I'll turn the questions outward, and see how everyone else does it.


After briefly flirting with word processors of various types, I'm back where I started - text editors and ASCII files. It became too difficult to keep track of various document types over multiple computers. None of the word processors I used did a competent job handling a blog format (which is sort of a hybrid between plain text and HTML).

HTML itself was overkill, because the markup I use is minimal. I'm pretty unimaginative when it comes to formatting - I use mostly italics, with a hint of bold here or there. I add weblinks either using a text clip, or add it in Blogger's editor after I write my post. Pictures are usually the last thing I add. And I'll even use colour, but only on rare occasions. I'm like the kid with the big box of crayons who only uses black.

Normally I'll use a text editor, like TED Notepad, but I do use one word processor: XyWrite. It's a DOS editor from the early 90's which saves using an ASCII text format (sort of a proto-XML). I'm still in search of a free text editor which handles Unicode and will let me use editable macros, but what I use gets the job done for now.

For online composition, I have had some success with the Firefox ScribeFire extension. But I use the "post to draft" option (see next question for more details).


I rarely post anything directly to the blog. After the composition phase is complete, it usually gets posted as a draft, and then I make sure all the formatting is right. I would say close to half of my posts have been done completely away from Blogger's editor. That that number moves up to 2/3rds or more when you start talking about longer posts.

My typical pattern is compose and edit offline, post as draft, add markup, links, and pictures, and then post.


It's pretty simple, actually. I usually just see something, and think "that would make an interesting blog." It can be from something I read or from a discussion I'm having with someone. Many times a point that comes up during one-on-one conversation seems like it would be interesting enough to throw out there for a larger audience.

When I was younger, my dad was always clipping newspaper articles. Some he saved for himself. Certain articles were clipped with certain people in mind. Sort of a way of saying "thinking of you."

I picked up the habit in high school. Later on, as my reading moved more to online stuff, I started sending e-mail links. Blogging was a natural fit. Sort of an online clip repository, where you could link to something and then say "this is interesting" and say what you liked about it.

That's how my blog started. It's kind of grown from there.


J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 and accomplished screenwriter (as well as writing comic books more recently), once said that his demographic was himself. He said "Basically, I write the story that I would like to see as a viewer."

That's pretty much my approach to blogging. I hope others are interested and read. What writer doesn't hope that? But at the end of the day, I write mostly about what I'm interested in. There are exceptions to this, where I have one person or a small group of people in mind. But those are for specific posts. For the blog as a whole, it's basically what I'd like to read.


As I said, one hope is that others would be interested and read. That's the writer part of me. The father in me hopes that this will serve as a record of some sort, and that there will be something redeeming in it for the next generation.

My expectations are pretty modest. Most weeks my readership is between 20-25 people per day. With rare exceptions, my best weeks have been in the 30s. Big numbers aren't why I write. Honestly, a post that gets a couple of comments is better than one read by bunches of people with no reaction or feedback.

My primary hope and desire is to honor God. After that, it's basically to express myself.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kids in Big Church

Promotion day at church. It reminded me of a question I've been meaning to ask.

I came across some Worship Wigglebusters from a e-mail (the original link I had is dead, but I Googled another one). I also found the suggestions Lisa N. @ Deo Volente published awhile back.

Any other ideas or suggestions? The minimum is to keep the kids quiet, but ideally we really would like to see them engaged in what's happening.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blogger's "Dashboard in Beta" - 2 Weeks In

I love the new "Blogger in Beta" Dashboard.

How did I live this long without the ability to publish post-dated posts? No wonder tons of people have switched to those other blog sites where you can do that!

It has already increased my blogging productivity immensely, and I may actually get my drafts whittled down below 200.

Worth trying out if you haven't already.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Classical Improvisation

I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "improvisation," I usually think of jazz music, not classical. But apparently there is a long history of classical improvisation.

That's the theme this week at Performance Today. Yesterday, they featured a piano player named Gabriela Montero improvising a piano riff just from hearing someone on the phone sing a bit of a song. Riff is probably not the right word, since it is classical, but I don't know what else to call it. Amazing stuff!

Click here, and choose Hour 2.

Bonus: the BBC Proms are going on, and while you can hear excerpts on Performance Today, this page will let you listen to the last 7 days of the proms (audio only for those of us outside the UK). More great music! I am bummed I missed the Dr. Who prom, though.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Flash Non-Fiction

Flash fiction is a term used for short-short stories. I picked up a book recently called The World's Shortest Stories, which is a collection of short stories just 55 words long, based on the 55 Fiction Concept. 55 words doesn't seem like a lot until you compare it to those who have limited themselves to even shorter lengths, such as the aforementioned 6 word stories.

Here's an example of the concept applied to non-fiction, courtesy of Pyromaniacs. 50 words is a severe limit no matter what you're writing, but particularly in the area of non-fiction. Kudos to the Pyro guys for coming up with posts that are both entertaining and edifying.

If that's not concise enough for you, Abraham Piper tries keeps his posts to 22 words. All I can say is wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Verbal decluttering, indeed.

For the rest of use mere mortals, 800 words is perhaps a more reasonable cutoff (suggested by Andrée Seu in a reprint of a World Magazine article on writing. (HT: JT).

Thursday, August 07, 2008's Free Audiobook and more offers a free Christian audiobook each month. This month's selection is Augustine's Confessions. Instructions on how to order are available on the download page.

What I didn't know is that they also have a page where you can browse all of their free offerings. Desiring God has many free sermons there, including Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord of Hosts, a sermon on Isaiah 6 which John Piper preached at the beginning of the year one year about God's glory, and another sermon which is quite timely, given the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, How Then Shall We Run? Olympic Spirituality.

P.S. If you know of any other Olympic sermons or other resources, throw me a link in the comments. The kids are very excited to watch them, and I'd love to capitalize on that excitement in our worship time.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Anniversary Card Blues

Maybe it's my own fault for starting so late, but I the only reason I put it off was because I knew how unpleasant it would be.

The anniversary card search started yesterday online at Two pages of e-cards, but only one for spouses! Maybe they don't want to cannibalize their regular business. I would think that, particularly for the harried husband, you could provide at least a couple of options. Even if you don't make any money, there's plenty of goodwill to be gained from helping a guy celebrate his anniversary properly.

I would have gone to the Christian bookstore, but it's miles away, and after my online Dayspring experience, I wasn't sure I'd have any better luck with paper. Besides, I don't know if Dayspring even does blank cards on the inside, and through long experience that's usually what I end up with anyway.

So instead I went to Wal-mart. The last three times I've looked for cards I had limited success. I think I got two of the cheapest ones for graduations (not on purpose, just because I liked them best), a birthday of some type, and another occasion I can't remember that was unsuccessful.

I typically look at the bottom shelf of the cheaper cards, hoping to find a nice looking, appropriately generic-sounding, blank-on-the-inside card. Failing that, I drifted to the middle section where the cards were labeled anniversary, hoping that perhaps I could find something suitable.

One card had a miniature key suspended inside a heart-shaped hole, and said something like "you've had mine all along." Very sentimental, but didn't really fit how my wife & I got together.

Another card had matching underthings hanging on a clothesline (could I really make this stuff up?!) with a statement like "we go better together." Whatever.

I briefly glanced at other cards, but I wasn't going to spend an hour trolling through sappy nonsense in hopes that someone I've never met can express my feelings for my wife better than I can.

Note to greeting card companies: if anyone is listening, give us a nice looking blank card that we can write something to our wives. After being married this long, I'm pretty sure I can figure out something to say to her. I'd actually pay a premium for a card that looked nice but let me say what I'd like to say.

To my darling dearest: I told you I was going to blog about this. Here's what I wanted to say, even if I couldn't find a card to put it in:

14 years and 5 kids later, "I love you" never meant more than it does right now.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Helpful Theology Resources

Here are a couple of resources that I hope will be helpful and edifying.

Biblical Training is a web site that focuses on providing free theology teaching via MP3 and some downloadable materials. The site has put together many classes, and has three different levels: New Believers, which is intended for people new to the faith; Foundations, geared toward those lay people who are wanting to get a broad understanding of the faith; and Leadership, which is designed as lay eldership training.

This has been on my list for awhile, but they've recently started to convert their lectures to MP3. For many people who can't afford to be tied to a computer this is a huge boon. They are also trying to make these classes available to overseas people who don't have money for books or to pay someone to teach classes. BTW, Bill Mounce is now the president of Biblical Training (yes, that Bill Mounce).

The other helpful ministry I wanted to highlight was Teaching Resources, which is headed up by Jim Ehrhard, who also happens to be my pastor. Jim edits historical writings (mainly of Puritans) and then sends them out free of charge to any who would like them. He also makes the articles available online. The other part of his ministry is overseas teaching, where he volunteers his time to teach in seminaries and pastoral training centers overseas. Most of the past issues are still available for download from the website (although I don't think the latest couple are there yet). One highlight is the Death of Believers issue, which was published shortly after Jim's wife passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

I should add that both of these ministries would appreciate your prayers, and that financial support is always welcome. Biblical Training recently sent an e-mail that they have used up the majority of their available funds on the most recent class, and are awaiting more funds in order to work on a website overhaul and some other projects. Teaching Resources' policy is to publish an issue only when enough funds are available.