The Best Bible I've Ever Owned

I have a lot of Bibles. I kind of collect them. All different form factors, all different translations. Big ones, thick ones, thin ones, small ones (and some as big as your head, haha). But I have never come across a Bible that I love as much as the one I purchased three weeks ago. 

I'm a Bible design newbie of sorts, so some of you that are more experienced with Bible design, binding, layout and text may find this review a bit elementary. I think it lets me look at design with a fresh perspective. 

I've been looking for the perfect Bible for me for a long time, probably about 3 years. I had some requirements for my perfect Bible:

1) It had to be an ESV. I've been using the English Standard Version for over 10 years, and it, to me, reflects a "best of both worlds" kind of approach. It has complexities and tradition of old King James Bibles, but nuances and flair of modern English like newer translations. Plus, I believe it to be the most accurate of the translations, along with the 1901 ASV. 

2) It had to be black. Not super-hard to find I know, but I think you'd be surprised if you looked at certain styles of Bibles that weren't available in black. 

The Cambridge ESV Bible (bottom) in size as compared to other objects. Click for larger view.

3) It had to be thin and compact(ish). I didn't want a super-small Bible, but I didn't want one that was big and thick either. Finding a thin and small Bible was challenging. For the past ten years I've used an ESV Thinline, which has been great. The only problem was that it was bonded imitation leather and didn't last very long (yes, I'm aware I could have just re-bound the cover for my current ESV, but I wanted something different). 

4) It had to have cross-references. Not a lot, but I wanted at least a good number of cross-references, whether at the bottom or in a center column on each page. 

My search finally ended while perusing through a Lifeway Christian store while looking for some study Bibles for some recent young men who had been baptized. 

I came across the Cambridge ESV black goatskin Bible. I had seen Cambridge Bibles before - there were some for sale at the FHU Campus Bible Bookstore that I could never afford, at least at the time - but never one that met all my previously stated requirements. 

The Cambridge Bible wasn't cheap - mine retailed for over $100 on Amazon - but it is the highest-quality Bible I've ever used. 

A sample of the inside. The font is small but not so small that you can't read it. 

The first thing you notice is the feel of the leather. It is actual goatskin, no bonded leather that you find in 95% of other Bibles. It's soft and great to touch. The spine is sewn rather than glued, giving the binding great flexibility. It lays flat on a desk from the first time I opened it. The pages are thin but opaque, and they're lined on the outside with a red-gold color, giving it a very old-school look. 

Moving inside, the page layout is wonderful, with a serif font that's easy on the eyes. Some might find the font too small, but for me it's just right. Cross-references are at the bottoms of pages as well as in the center column - a lot of references for a Bible this size. At the end there are 10 full-color maps as well as really good concordance. 

Overall, I think this Bible is perfect for me and I look forward to using it for many, many years to come. This won't be my reading Bible (I can thank Bibliotheca for that soon), but it will be my working Bible. 

It isn't cheap, but it's a little more manageable cost over at Amazon. For a Bible you might use for the rest of your life, I'd say that the price isn't all that bad. 

Four Questions Everyone Should Ask [Video]

Excellent thought-provoking video from Jon Acuff. 

My favorite:

It's the job of entire companies now to do background checks on potential employees. You've got to be really deliberate about how you live your life online...would I want to talk to a future boss about this thing I'm going to post?

Be sure to check out the short video below. 

Why Amazon is Winning

Let's face it. For the most part, the retail experience in this country is horrible. 

Save a few - Apple, Target, and a few high-end others - retail experiences are absolutely horrible for the most part.

Case(s) in point: my last few retail experiences. 

Electronic Express. Never mind the horrible name, this seems to be a relatively small chain on electronic and appliance stores in the area where I live (middle Tennessee). The store is actually not that bad - except for the staff and prices. The staff when I entered has always seemed preoccupied and misinformed. Every time I’ve been in a store they are all huddled around the front laughing and joking with one another. They seem more interested in horsing around than helping customers - which I have barely seen since I’ve been in there. They’re not experts either. I’ve heard the salespeople talk very generally about products in the store. They don’t give good reasons for purchasing that product or try to sell it to you. Unfortunately, most Electronic Expresses are in smaller towns and for some reason, I get this air of superiority when I walk in as if they’re saying, “Well, if you don’t get it from us then you just won’t get it.” Uh, yes, I can get almost anything somewhere else, thank you very much. Also, when I’ve tried to check tablets and use them and navigate around them to play with them, some of them don’t work because they’re either locked out or not charged. Oh, and they don’t match prices with competitors or the internet - at least according to the sales rep I talked to. 

Office Depot. I actually like Office Depot a lot, but I can’t understand how they’ve stuck around so long. Every single time I go into one of their stores it’s like a ghost town. I mean, literally, no one there. Sales reps are hard to find if you have a question. Products are arranged neatly, but you can’t play with some of them because they won’t turn on (not charged) or they have a password on them. 

Best Buy. Ah, the kings of American electronic stores. And probably the worst. On two separate occasions, I have heard sales reps giving false information to a customer. Once I stood up and called out the rep, who then proceeded to argue with me on the wrong point. I'm no tech expert, but what he was telling him was wrong (he basically was saying that SSDs weren't all that great and were a "fad" that would probably disappear in a few years). But all that aside, the retail experience at a Best Buy is horrid. I took a picture of what a certain tablet display looked like: a mangled mess of cords with tablets stacked messily on top of one another. Near closing time I would have expected this. Not at two o'clock in the afternoon. If you’re selling something, you need to be constantly arranging it in a nice, presentable way, no matter how many times a day you have to do it because people come in there and just play with a device and throw it down anywhere. Target understands this - they have people on staff who do nothing but arrange things on shelves all day. I’ve seen them do it, and if you look hard enough, you will too. Target understands that whether you’re selling garbage bags or high-end tablets, presentation is everything. Perception is reality to a customer, and it helps Target because their stores are always neat and clean, their shelves are always tidy, they have great prices and they have a better image than some bigger chains do. 

I have bought an astounding number of things on Amazon since signing up for Amazon Prime last year - which gives you access to Amazon Instant Video on a variety of devices AND free two-day shipping on most items. Amazon is beating retail stores primarily because of prices, but also for convenience. I live in a small town an hour away from the nearest large city. Why would I drive up to Nashville to hope that I find what I need, when I can just pull it up on Amazon and have it purchased inside 30 seconds and at my door 48 hours later? The answer is that I wouldn’t. 

Amazon has figured out the formula, while it seems that other retail chains aren’t even trying. Never before in the history of retail has a company carved so much out of the market. Amazon is the future, and sure, while you can’t shop for things like clothes and shoes on Amazon, I’m sure they’re working on a way to figure that out as we speak. 

What's On Your Home Screen?

Click to enlarge

It's always cool to see other people's home screens - it's like peering into their living room. So I present my current home screen. What I'm using and how I'm using it. 

First of all, I don't have folders on my home screen. Why? I think a home screen should be reserved for those apps that one uses every day. I want to get to the info or app when I want to as fast as possible. 

Starting with the dock, I use a three-app setup for the apps I use the most: Silo, Calendars 5, and OneNote. 

Silo is an excellent To-Do list app and has a native iPad and Mac app as well, which is essential for me. You can make multiple lists and Silo's signature feature is sharing those lists. This app is great for task management within groups. 

I've raved about Calendars 5 from Readdle. Lots of people love Fantastical, but I prefer Calendars 5 because it just works best for what I need. I need to see a month a time in meetings and talking to people about scheduling, and I need to do it quickly. C5 offers that and a very quick entry of new events into my calendar. 

OneNote has become my default app for everything. I love the design, I love the updated iOS apps, and I love how it handles documents to and from devices (it maintains layouts and fonts across all platforms). It's a great project management tool - not just for notes. 

Back up to the top, I use the Ascend Federal Credit Union app to keep track of my bank account. It's a small local bank here in Tennessee but have just added mobile check deposits through the apps. Nice. 

I use the standard Apple Maps app because it has pretty good integration with iOS. The Weather Channel is also pretty standard, but their recent iOS 7 update made it way more like Yahoo Weather, except with the accuracy of The Weather Channel. 

Scanbot has become a new favorite of mine for scanning documents with my phone, which is surprisingly great. You would think that would be cumbersome, but it's not. 

Tweetbot is my Twitter client of choice. It is magnitudes better than the standard Twitter app. I love the user muting feature - comes in handy when you've got those people that you follow that tweeting just a little too much. 

Paper has actually made me like Facebook again. It's a real pioneering app that uses "sloppy swiping" to navigate. It works really well and I like this Facebook app a lot better. 

Reeder is my RSS reader of choice, and I sync through Feedly. I don't have a ton of feeds, but it's nice and handy when standing in the checkout line and you can quickly skim your feeds. 

Dropbox is a staple. While I don't have as much storage space on DB as I do with Google Drive or Box, I still find it more useful and less irritating than other services. 

Mailbox is my favorite email client on iOS. It's basically email triage. I talked about this app on episode 16 of Ministry Bits. I have it set to display a numbered notification badge on the app if there's messages in there, so for me it's almost like a task list, because I know if I see a badge there that I need to act on something. I hear there's also a Mac app in the works as well. 

1Password is probably my most essential app. While not cheap, I know that my passwords are secure and every one of them is unique and very difficult to break because I have this app. You have a master password to unlock the app, and then you can copy any of those password into other apps or other sites using the built-in and very capable browser. 

Pedometer++ is great for tracking your steps every day. It's simple and effective. 

Instacast is my podcast catcher of choice. It's great, and I use it on iPad as well. You can subscribe to podcasts directly within the app, and download podcasts for later viewing. 

The ESV Bible is the simplest Bible app out there, and it's the version I prefer. 

Evernote I mainly use for taking pictures and scanning business cards, all of which are searchable. Evernote can be used for lots of things, but that's what I use it for. 

Last but not least, Day One is a journaling app that I use to keep track of what I've done - as a youth minister I need accountability, and I log every event from phone calls to conversations I've had to ball games I go to. It comes in handy if I ever need to remember what I did on a particular day. 

So that's it! Let me know if you would like YOUR home screen featured on the site. We'd love to see your home screen!

College Computer Buyer's Guide 2014

I am always getting tons of questions around this time of year from parents and students who are heading off to college and they ask me what compute they should buy. My main question is to ask them, "What are you going to use it for?" And English major writing tons of papers isn't going to need the same processing power that an Engineering major might need. 

So, I decided to come up with a simple and straightforward buyers guide for college students. It's not as detailed as I would like, but it will certainly point you in the right direction when buying a computer for your soon-to-be college student. 

Click the image for a larger view or download the PDF to your computer or device

God's Path: A Sermon to Graduates

I preached this sermon last Sunday night for our 11 grads going off to college. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me preach it. 

Congratulations, graduates. In just a few short days, you’ll step onto a stage and receive your diploma, and while doing that two big things will be happening for you - 1) You’ll be making a significant accomplishment on 13 years of work and dedication, and 2) you’ll be closing one chapter of your life and opening a whole new one. 

On a personal note, this Class of 2014 is a very special one to me. This is the first group that I saw as Freshmen. I remember walking into class that Sunday morning in January 3 ½ years ago, terrified at how such a large group of freshmen were going to react to my teaching. Since then, we’ve had a lot of great times to share at activities, sporting events, and here in worship. 

Safe to say that I, personally, have some pretty good memories from you all. 

So the main question I have for you tonight is:

What memories will you make from here on out? And what path will they take you on? 

Tonight we’ll be talking about God’s path: how to stay on it, where it might lead you, all those things. 

If we’re moving forward on this path, we can’t dwell on the past. We can’t relive memories from high school. After you walk across that stage in a few weeks and get your diploma, high school is over. High school, and all the tests, grades, drama, and sometimes, the relationships are over. So where does your path go from here?

If you’re not a Christian, there’s a lot of uncertainty with that question. You can’t move forward on God’s path if you’re not first a Christian! If you are, then your path is actually very clear. This evening, very quickly, we’re going to talk about your path that you should walk with God and how to seek out God’s direction. 

1. Steps are ordered. 

You’ve always heard “A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step,” but what does that actually mean? It means that in life there are lots of steps. 

High School is a big step that you’ve just completed. But that’s all it is, is a step in your life. The next step may be college. It may be going out to work. It may be both. But the next step for you, whatever that may be, comes after the last. Like we said before, dwelling on the past doesn’t do you a lot of good when going to your next step. 

Our steps have to be ordered, just like we order our food. One of the best parts about graduation is all the eating out. I must have ate out with parents and grandparents for like 4 days straight when I graduated high school. It was great. But when you go out to eat and your order food, you expect the food that you ordered to be what they bring out. If you ordered something small and they bring out a 7-course meal for you, that’s going to be too much. We usually only order what we can eat, and when we don’t, when we eat too much, our stomachs let us know fairly quickly. 

In the same way, God orders our steps and steps that we are able to take. Psalm 37.23 says The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. 

If our steps are ordered, then we must assume that there is some planning involved as well. Think about it - you don’t ever do anything without a plan. Whether it’s deciding and going to eat Mexican or Chinese after Sunday morning worship this morning or making plans for where to go to college, your steps in life are ordered and your plans don’t just happen, they are put in place and planned carefully. Proverbs 16.9 says, A man's heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps. Notice the word ‘step’ again. Our God directs our steps.

2. Paths are directed. 

Proverbs 3.5 says Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths. The key to unlocking God's direction is by acknowledging Him in all our ways.

Going to college, you probably feel like (or will feel like) you’re on top of the world. You’re finally out of your parents house. You’re at a place where no one is going to badger you with rules. You have a lot more freedom than you might have had at home. And most of us will look at our lives and say “I’ve got this.” 

Like me. Even with the rules and structure of the Marines Corps, I thought to myself, “This is great. I’m finally off on my own. I can do whatever I want. I’ve got this.” 

One of the worst mistakes I ever made in my entire life was not seeking God when I probably needed him the most. After two combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I was completely depressed and burnt out. I didn’t go to church. I didn’t seek out Godly things. I didn’t seek out God’s people to help me on my path. 

If we are Christians, God directs our paths. Not activities, or degrees, or careers, or others, or boyfriends and girlfriends - GOD DOES. And if we let God direct our feet to walk His path, we will be taken care of. 

Those two years without the church in my life were probably the darkest my life had ever been. Don’t forget about God when you’re off on your own. Don’t forget how He has taken care of you so far. If you trust in him, He will take care of you. Just as the verse Kyle mentioned last Sunday night - Romans 8.28 - For we know that all things work together for good. 

Ah, wait a second, that’s wrong. If we look at the verse carefully, and we see the parts we sometimes glaze over:

And we know that for those that love the Lord all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 

Speaking from personal experience - it was the times that I did not let God direct my steps and was not active in his church that I had the hardest and darkest times of my life. Let your path be directed by God, and nothing else. 

So as we close this evening, I want to offer you four ways that you can find (and stay on) God’s path. 

1. Follow the instructions. We follow instructions in everything else in life, yet sometimes we put God on the back burner. Know God’s Word. Read it, study it, just as you would civil engineering or nursing. Because there will be a test later, and you need to be prepared. 

2. Seek the narrow path. You are not the first person to struggle with sex, drugs, alcohol, or any of the other various temptations and things that would seek to take you away from God’s path. Stick with those who are struggling the same way you are. Seek out fellow Christians. Seek out churches nearby. No one has promised that the Christian life will be easy, and that’s especially true in your years to come, when you really find out who you are and what you will do with your life. So ask yourself the question that stems from Matthew chapter 7: will your path be wide and easy and lead you away from God, or will it be narrow and difficult and lead you to God? 

3. Don’t seek wide ways or strange Gods. Idols can come in many forms. Maybe your idol is yourself - you’ve finally gotten away from parents and you now choose to do what you maybe couldn’t at home. Or maybe that idol is schoolwork. Or money. Or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Whatever form that idol takes, if it prevents you from following God in any way, it should not be a part of your path in life. 

4. Always plan with God in mind. As I told you earlier, my life did not go as I’d planned. I had hoped to be married by age 23. That didn’t happen for me until age 27. When I joined the military in 2000, it was a totally different world come September 11, 2001. I didn’t plan on that. My life did not turn out as I thought it would, but it turned out exactly as God thought it would. 

Jeremiah 29.11 says I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. I know the plans I have for you, Austin. I know the plans I have for you, Grayson, He says. 

In the scripture that was read earlier, Psalm 16.11, David says You have made know to me the path of life. We know what God’s plans are - it’s in His Word.

I love the phrase that Kyle has said in some past sermons recently, and that is to ask the question, “What is God up to?” 

What is God up to and how is He working in my life when I arrive at UT Knoxville in August? Or at MTSU? Or Cumberland University? What is God up to when He gave me THIS roommate? What is He up to when my Christian morals are challenged in my classes? What is God doing right now in my life?”

We should always plan with God in mind. God should not fit in our plans, He should be the most integral part of the plan. And we should always be asking what God is up to in our lives, because He always is. 

Tonight, this lesson has mainly been for our graduates, but the message applies to us all. Have you been true to God’s path? Do you need to get back on God’s path? Maybe you need to start your journey on God’s path by becoming a Christian and being baptized tonight. If you have any spiritual needs this evening, come while we stand and sing. 

Render To All: Fear To Whom Fear Is Due

It's tax time. Have you paid your dues? In Romans 13, Paul tells us that we have payments to make to God as well. 

Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.  Romans 13.7 (NASB)


The Bear Trap


Imagine you are walking through the woods at dusk on a hiking trip to the top of a mountain. It’s cold, it may be the end of the day and you’re trying to get home. You're thinking about how great it was to see the overlook, and see the beauty of God’s creation at sunset. As with all cases, there is an unknown factor on this seemingly peaceful hike.

There’s a big bear down the path. 

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In this situation, what do you need to know? Do you need to know how to better your career? Do you need to understand the best way to improve your marriage? Should you be concerned with the renovation of the house that you just purchased for your family? These are each important things and knowledge in these areas is highly advisable but, as you walk down this path in the darkening woods towards a life-altering, if not life-ending experience, there is only one thing you need to know. There is a bear on the path, and it intends to do you harm. At this moment, there is simply no other knowledge that is important, relative to the knowledge of the danger that awaits you.

If someone came running down the path from the other direction, having just escaped this huge beast, you would expect them to warn you. You would expect them to impart the knowledge that there is a bear in your path, because this is the only knowledge that matters at this moment. This stranger might be an expert at home renovations or he might be a marriage counselor, able to guide and direct you to a wonderful life of marital bliss but, this would be of little consequence to you if this stranger did not first say, “Hey, uh, there’s a bear in the path. We gotta get out of here!”

Just like the bear in the path, our God demands, if not commands, our fear. Our mighty God is one to whom our fear is due.

When the Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111.10), it is saying that without the knowledge of God and the impact He can have on our lives, all other knowledge is pointless and irrelevant. Before we can impart any helpful knowledge to someone else, we must first tell them that THERE IS A REAL GOD. And, once an individual comes to the personal realization that there is a God and that He is personally involved in the lives of every man, they will naturally feel some sense of fear, just like the hiker who learns that a bear is in the path. He fears the fact that the bear has the power to alter his life. 

God has the power to alter your life. God is powerful and he can change circumstances. God can and does stick His finger in our lives. So, what do you need to know? Just like the hiker, there are many other things you need to know, but if you don't know the main thing (fearing God) nothing else really matters.


What Do You Fear?


A lot of us have different fears. Some of them are silly. Others are completely justified.

A silly fear of mine is wasps. I hate those little things, and they terrify me to no end. I also have a fear of heights, despite flying in planes in the Marines for 2 years.

But what about legitimate fears?

Right now there are some families at our congregation that are going through some tough times health wise. Talk about legitimate go to the hospital a couple of times because of health problems and you will know legit fear.

But is that the fear that we’re talking about? Fear of roller coasters, bugs, the dark, our health - whatever? No it’s not.

Fear of God is totally different. I believe it’s one of the basics of our Christian life. If we don’t fear God, if we don’t respect Him and His Word, nothing else works. Not worship, not relationships, not anything. Without a healthy fear and respect for God, nothing else falls into place.


Fear = Respect?


You must first understand what kind of fear we’re talking about. This is not an afraid, fear-for-your-life kind of fear - it’s a respectful, reverent, prioritized fear-for-your-soul kind of fear. It’s a feeling that if I don’t do what God and His Word says, then I am going to Hell. And Hell is a place that I don’t want to be, so out of fear I serve God and obey His commands. But is that it?

I don’t believe so. Part of fearing God is respecting God. While they’re not the same, they relate to one another. Who is someone you respect? Who is someone you fear?


We Are Children In God's Hands


The best way to understand the fear of God is to think about the relationship with your own parents. I deal with teens everyday that think they hate their parents, but really don’t. They love their children. They are responsible for discipline of those children, and we’ve all seen those kids who aren’t disciplined by their parents. When your parents discipline, does that mean they don’t love their children? Of course not. It means they want what’s best for them, and to protect them. We sometimes don’t understand that.

It’s the same way with God. We fear our parents for what they might do to discipline us, but there’s no doubt that we don’t love them. We fear them and love them at the same time. We are likewise to fear God and love Him at the same time. 

I tell kids that your parents, whether you like it or not, have power over your life. When we realize that God has that same kind of power to change our lives and we recognize that fear and respect, our perspective changes.

God is due our reverent fear. Just like we must pay taxes to who it is due, give honor to whom it is due (Romans 13.7) Our fear is due to God. We must respect Him and know the power He has over the world and our lives. 

If we don’t fear God, we don’t love Him. Romans 8.38-39 states that nothing can separate us from His love. The only thing that can separate us from God is us. If we refuse to fear God, to acknowledge Him and serve Him, then we will be separated from that love.

If we don’t fear God, we’re separated from Him. In Luke 12.5, Jesus says this. If we don’t fear God, we will be cast into Hell.

And if we’re separated from God, we have nothing.

The writer of Ecclesiastes figured this out long before you and I ever existed. He says at the end of his philosophical book in chapter 12 that The conclusion, when all had been heard, is: fear God and keep his commandments, because this applies to every person. 

We must pay our fear to whom our fear is due, and that’s to our sovereign God. 

Need A Cheap Photoshop? Get Acorn

If I had a nickel for every time that a minister or youth minister has said to me, "Well, I can't afford Photoshop," then I would have like, six dollars. 

But seriously, there's a great Photoshop alternative for the Mac that's usually $50 that's on sale for $15. So go get it. Now. 

In the Photoshop clones business, there's really only three alternatives: Pixelmator (Mac only), Gimp (Mac + PC), and Acorn (Mac). Acorn is a great Photoshop alternative that will let your edit and create images easily, and stop making your images look like junk on the web and in your Powerpoints.

Acorn (Mac App Store)