Thinking about the tomb that first Easter morning

empty-tombIn a cold, dark, dead tomb a corpse is wrapped in a shroud. No motion, no life.

Then, there’s a small motion as cells in the body begin returning to life. Tissue begins to regenerate and suddenly the body moves as the dead man takes a deep breath.

He stirs and finding himself bound by the shroud casts it off. He sits up and then removes that which was wrapped around his head and lays it off to the side.

There’s nothing frightening about all this. In an unexplainable way it all feels “right” – the way it should be.

In a flash of brilliant white light an angel appears in the tomb. The angel immediately falls to the ground, bowing, “My Lord and my God” he says.

At that moment the stone sealing the entrance to the tomb is rolled away. A second angel bows low, “My King,” he says.

The Resurrected One smiles and cheerfully replies, “Good morning! I think I’ll go for a walk in the Garden.”

Good Friday is a “No Parking Zone”

parkingThe story of the Crucifixion is powerful. The cross was more an instrument of torture than it was one of execution. Some film makers have made it their mission to portray the agony of the cross with as much graphic realism possible.  Maybe it’s that realism or something else but it seems to me that many Christians are stalled at the cross, thinking it is what Easter is all about.

It’s not. Easter is about victory, hope, and redemption. The only reason to go to Good Friday is because we can’t get to Easter without it. However, the enduring symbol of Christianity isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) a crucifix. Rather, it’s an empty cross. The reason we don’t make a cross with its victim our primary symbol isn’t because we can’t bear seeing Jesus hanging on it. We make an empty cross our primary symbol because Jesus is no longer on the cross. He has defeated it and all it stood for.

So, for believers, Good Friday is a “No Parking Zone.” We spend time on Good Friday remembering the cross and especially the love of Jesus for us that caused him to endure it. But we happily turn the page to Sunday morning, Resurrection Day.

Easter services shouldn’t be about the Crucifixion. References to the cross should be about Christ’s victory over it. If pastors and other church leaders have done their job the ordeal of the cross should have already been brought to the attention of the Church. That paves the way for Easter.  Individuals too should make it their practice to visit the cross on a regular basis, but not park there.  Its the Resurrection that transforms the crucifix into an empty cross and its the Resurrection that should be our primary focus.  Let’s turn the page from Good Friday and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and what it means to us.

Reflections on the second anniversary of my retirement

Wow, retirement anniversary number two.  It was the first Sunday of May, 2013 that we concluded our pastoral ministry and entered into retirement.  In our case, we retired to travel and the very next day we drove off with our RV, starting the next primary chapter of our lives.

This last year has been terrific.  We traveled from Houston to the northwestern corner of the continental United States and then journeyed at a leisurely pace south along the western coast where we enjoyed amazing scenery and cool Pacific Ocean temperatures.  We visited numerous national parks and, in general, had a blast.

Our winter and early spring has been spent doing a variation of our fulltime RVing lifestyle.  We’ve volunteered at the Texas San Jacinto Battleground/Battleship Texas State Historic Park.  In exchange for donating 100 hours of our time each month we’ve enjoyed “free parking.”  That “trade” has saved us some serious, and needed, cash! We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience which allowed us to do some very interesting things while being close to family and friends.  While we’re more than ready to begin our travels again we enjoyed the volunteering experience enough that we’ve already signed up to do it again next year.

I did a few more clergy-like things than I did our first year but not a lot.  I filled for our pastor when he was away, filled in for our Sunday School teacher (who happens to be my son) when he was away, did a baby dedication, and finalized my series of books of devotionals.  Aside from that I’ve happily sat in the pew, appreciating the ministry of others.

All in all, we’ve spent over 4 months in the Houston area during this stay.  That means we suspended our “church hopping” ways and settled into a more typical church attendance routine.  While visiting many different churches during our travels is enjoyable we’ve missed the sense of community associated with being a part of a congregation.  This being our second winter as part of our home church helped us feel more a part of things.  It’s interesting to me how things we at first felt were somehow different become, in just a few weeks, just “the way it is done here.”  One thing that become increasingly clear is that no church can be evaluated in just a week or two.  Churches have personalities and that personality isn’t apparent until one is part of the congregation (and involved beyond an hour on Sunday mornings) for a while.  Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy visiting churches, but I know that being a regular, contributing part of a church family is superior.

So, I’d say retirement is going quite well, thank you!  We’re well aware that we are blessed to live this life and we don’t take it for granted.



Thinking about Good Friday

old-rugged-cross1I fear that too many people think the primary focus of Good Friday is supposed to be about how much Jesus suffered on the cross – and, we certainly do need to remember that. But really, the primary focus should be this: Jesus loved me that much. It’s that realization that should stun us, humble us, and cause us to bow in complete surrender to him.

My how things have changed

As a young preacher (and I started preaching at age 16) I was encouraged to use lots of Scripture references in my preaching.  I probably overdid it and over time dialed things back, especially as I moved away from proof texting.

Still, I often mention different verses in a sermon, generally to give an example of what I’m talking about.

At first, I took strips of paper and numbered them in the order of verses I intended to mention.  I bookmarked my Bible with those bits of paper so I could easily find the verses.  As you can guess, it wasn’t a very good plan and sometimes left me searching, first for that numbered slip of paper and, not seeing it for some reason, for the passage itself.

My next plan of action was to type the verse directly into my notes.   That solved the slips of paper problem and worked okay.  However, at some point it dawned on me that I was going to be typing some verses many times in my preaching career.

 So, I hit upon a plan.  Every time I referred to a verse, I’d take time to type it onto a 3×5 card.  In my sermon notes, I simply included the reference.  I’d organize the cards in order for that sermon, then, after the service, I’d file the cards by book of the Bible.

From that point on a part of sermon preparation was to go through my Bible verse file and see if I’d already added the verses I wanted for the sermon.  I’d add the news ones for that sermon and then file them after the sermon.

As you can guess, after 20 years of so of preaching, I developed quite a file system.  It was so useful that it crossed my mind that the file box and cards needed to be placed into the hands of some young preacher when my preaching days were over.

Then in the mid-1990’s I added a computer to my study and things began to change.  I now had the Bible in electronic form and in multiple translations.  Inserting the text of a verse into the sermon notes was a simple copy/paste process.  My extensive collection of 3×5 cards was no longer necessary.

For years the file box remained on my desk simply because that is where it had always been.  Finally, needing desk space, I moved it to storage in the attic.  There it stayed for several years until today.

I decided it was time for me to clear out the attic and there, covered with dust, was my old file box of scriptures.  In spite of the countless hours of work represented by those 3×5 cards it was time for it to go.  I reluctantly brought the poor old filebox down, took these final photos of it, and put it all in the recycle bin.  Just awhile ago the pickup crew came, and not knowing or caring what was in the bin, carried it off.

Looking back on my system, I think I hit on a good plan.  I accomplished exactly what needed to be accomplished.  Not only that, but by typing out the passages, I became more intimate with them.

Still, over time, things change and the need for that approach is now part of my personal past.  Happily, even though the way I handled the Bible has changed, I’m glad to report that it’s message is just as current and needed as ever before.

Office 2003 menu for Office 2010

Some of my Microsoft Office applications were 10 years out of date so a few months ago I decided to take the plunge and update to Office 2010.  I can tell it’s better but why Microsoft decided to dump their menu for these programs is beyond me.  I’ve spent a lot of time searching for some basic commands.  I’ve even, for the sake of office time, saved the document to the older format and moved it to my desktop computer which hasn’t been upgraded yet, and finished it there.  I had one Powerpoint presentation all finished except that I wanted the slide numbers to show.  After 5 minutes of trying to do it, I saved the presentation, opened it on my desktop in an older version of Powerpoint, turned on page numbering, saved it and walked away.

Finally I got the bright idea that out here on the internet somewhere, someone must have written an add on that restores the old menu.  Sure enough, there is.  It’s called UBitMenu and it’s a free download for private use.  Now, let me mention that I’ve not thoroughly tested this, but it appears to be just what the doctor ordered.  It adds the “classic menu” to Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.  Check it out here. Once installed, you’ll see a “menu” tab.  Click on it, and you’ll feel right at home again.

Also, I’ll mention that I’ve always liked the Windows 95 start menu.  When XP came out it had the built in option to turn that menu on rather than the “new and improved” XP version.   Then, when Windows 7 came out (I really like it, by the way) it had the Vista menu only.  Off I went to the internet and, once again, I found the problem solved, it’s called Classic Shell and it does just its name implies: it restores the Classic Menu option.

Review of the Nook e-reader from Barnes and Noble

Here’s a report on the Nook WIFI Jackie got for Christmas.

The start was a bit rocky. Apparently, a lot of people got Nooks for Christmas. Some of the stuff that we thought wasn’t working was due to the B&N Nook website being swamped. We thought we had some settings wrong or that there was a problem with her unit but it was just that their website wasn’t responding properly.

In fact, she went by a B&N store a few days after Christmas and the “pro” there remarked that everyone was having trouble because of the over burdened website.

Another reason for the rocky start is that, while the Nook handles “Overdrive” books and audio-books from the library, the setup is far from intuitive. My feeling is that, while the capability is there, B&N really wants people to BUY books from them and not borrow books from the library or download free books from Google books or the like.

I spent a lot of time digging through the FAQ on the library website and then found a really good Youtube on the topic. (Just do a search for youtube, Nook, Adobe Digital Editions). It’s not hard but it I don’t think anyone would ever figure it out without spending some time searching the internet.

Beyond that, when we decided to try an audio book from the library, we ended up having to use yet another program, Overdrive, to check out the book and transfer it to the Nook.

Happily, once Adobe Digital Editions is installed, it handles the free, public domain books as well as the books on loan from the library.

Buying a book from B&N is easy enough, although you do have to go online and establish an account with them, including putting a credit card on file. She’s bought one book that way, and it “showed up” on her Nook a few hours after the purchase (again, if not for a slow web server I think it would have gotten there almost instantly).

So, here’s the deal:

  1. Buying a book from B&N: done directly from the Nook, pretty easy once an account is set up.
  2. Borrowing a book from the library: has to be done via a computer running Adobe Digital Editions (Adobe account and library card required) and then transferred to the Nook
  3. Borrowing an audio book from the library: has to be done via a computer running Overdrive and then transferred to the Nook
  4. Getting a free, public domain book from Google Books, etc.: has to be done via a computer and then handled by Adobe Digital Editions for transfer to the Nook

Now, the other side of it. Jackie loves reading from the Nook. The screen is great and it’s easy to use. It also plays audio files, music or books. We’ve already bought her a cable that lets her plug it directly into her car’s sound system. She’s looking forward to using it on her daily commute.

Free Dropbox Upgrades

The awesome free Dropbox service comes with 2 Gigs of storage right off.  Once you start using it, you’ll find all kinds of uses for this service that automatically backs up data, seamlessly syncs files between computers, let’s you publish selected files to a public folder, and allows you to share specific folders with select users.  In other words, you’re likely going to need more than 2 Gigs!  Of course, you can buy additional storage, but the service also offers some free upgrades.  For instance, if you don’t have a free DropBox account account and  use this link to sign up, you’ll score some additional storage for me.

There are also some easy upgrades you can get for simply linking your facebook account to Dropbox or writing a short “why I like Dropbox” line or two.  Check it out here.

More useful tricks with Dropbox

I’ve already written about using Dropbox to put sermon audio online. Here’s another nifty use for Dropbox.

The bulk of our church bulletin is prepared in my home pastor’s study. It is then subject to final editing prior to printing at our church office. I used to update the bulletin and then email my version to the individual who finalizes it and prints it. She would copy it to her thumb drive and then take it to the church to print it.

These days I have separate Dropbox accounts for the church and for myself. Using the “share a folder” feature, I have a church bulletin/newsletter folder which is owned by the church Dropbox account that is shared with my personal Dropbox account.

It’s as simple an arrangement as you can imagine. I open the bulletin, which is in the shared Dropbox folder, put my information in it, save it, and walk away. The church bulletin is automatically updated in both the church office and sanctuary computers. If the bulletin is updated at the church office, it’s the same way. They save it and walk away. It’s automatically updated on the other computers.

The sanctuary computer’s copy of the bulletin is used for setting up announcements, etc. Most of the time it’s just a copy/paste operation from the bulletin to the worship projection software.

Okay, here are the steps:

  1. If you don’t have one yet, get a free DropBox account. Install it on all your personal computers. If you use this link to sign up, you’ll score some additional storage for me.
  2. Now, repeat the process to get a Dropbox account for your church. Install it on the church computers.
  3. Once you’ve installed that, I suggest you update to the latest forum build from this page – This isn’t required but the forum build offers some features you might want to use later on. This is no longer necessary as Dropbox has been updated.
  4. Once you’ve installed Dropbox on the church computers, create a church bulletin folder and share a it with your personal Dropbox account: inside the Dropbox folder, create the new folder, right click on the new folder, pick Dropbox, then share.
  5. Your personal Dropbox will inform you that you’ve been invited to a shared folder. Accept the invitation, put the bulletin file in that folder, along with any other documents, photos, audio files you want to keep in sync between the church and home study computers.

That’s it. Create shortcuts to the bulletin, newsletter, etc. on each computer desktop and they are now automatically synced between the computers.

Note: this is take two on this project. I think this is a more elegant way to accomplish this.

Laptop touchpad disable

I diddled and diddled with the settings for the touchpad on my laptop but it was driving me crazy.  I’d be typing along and look at the screen to find that the cursor had jumped to some other part of the document while I was typing.  I’d have to stop and fix the document before continuing.  Apparently, the heel of my left hand was brushing the touchpad while I typed and the computer was interpreting it as a tap, moving the cursor to wherever the pointer happened to be at that moment.

I think some computers come with a setting for disabling the touchpad while typing, but mine doesn’t.  The solution, for me is a free utility from Paradisoft called “Touchpad Locker.”  This little utility has a few settings, but I’ve been happy with it “out of the box.”  When I’m typing it disables the touchpad for 750 milliseconds.  That number can be adjusted, but it works fine for me right there.

UPDATE: I decided to up the lock out a bit, but when I did, it didn’t make any difference. I made it a ridiculously high number and still no change that I could tell. Then, when I rebooted, my ridiculously high number kicked in. Apparently, changes aren’t applied until a reboot.

Check it out at: