4 productivity tools that you should consider using

This is a post in which I try to convey my excitement over Dropbox, Evernote, OneNote and Pocket. That list is not only alphabetical, but also happens to be the chronological order in which I began to use these useful tools. Below, I’ll simply relate how I’m using them.

Dropbox – “Simplify your life”

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

From Wikipedia: Dropbox is a file hosting service that offers cloud storage, file synchronization and client software.

I joined Dropbox months after I was first invited to use it. I just didn’t think I needed it. And while I’m still not a heavy user, it is a great tool to have on hand when I need it.

Before, when I needed to access files while at different physical locations or on different computers, I’d use my trusty USB thumb drive. Other than not having one when you need  it, the thing that bothers me most about thumb drives is the whole process of using them: plug in (wait a few seconds) – transfer files – eject (wait a few seconds) – repeat.

When I got my current computer I had to transfer files between three computers (one old and temperamental, another that I used as a temporary replacement and the new one). The file transfer process was much simplified by using the Dropbox uploader.

Dropbox’s best feature (for me) is that you can link to any file in it. This is handy for sharing files with others, but there’s more! Here on WordPress.com, one needs a space upgrade to be able to upload audio files, for example. I can upload a file to Dropbox and embed it here, all for free!

Audio clip from “190 – Original ” by taboca.

Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Google’s Drive offer similar online file storage services.  But since only Dropbox was there when I really needed it (close to 18 months ago), it will always have a special place in my heart 🙂

Evernote – “Remember everything”

Image representing Evernote as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

From Wikipedia: Evernote is a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving.

Evernote came pre-installed on my current computer, but it was two months before I opened it. In the first few months I didn’t use it much, but now I use it every single day.

Before, when I came across something interesting on the internet, I’d save the page as a PDF or as a TXT file. For the short while it existed, I used Google Notebook for clipping information on the web. Now I use Evernote, whether to clip an entire page or blog article or just a sentence or two.

Evernote has also simplified my blogging life. For example, a while back I did a series of Advent hymns. To select titles, I sat down with the hymnal at church and made a list of approximately 10 candidates using the Evernote app on my phone. That information was then available on my computer once I synced my account. In the past, I’d have had to write the titles on paper—with the inherent risks of losing the list or forgetting that I had made it.

The feature that has of late excited me is the ability to attach files of any kind within an Evernote note. I’m one of a team of Bible study leaders at church, and when it’s my turn I like to go over the passage repeatedly during the preceding week. Using the Evernote browser extension, I clip the text of the Bible passage and then attach an audio recording to the passage. Voilà! When I have a couple of free minutes, I can listen to and read the Bible passage simultaneously! This could also be useful when memorising Scripture.


OneNote logo
OneNote logo

From Wikipedia: Microsoft OneNote is a computer program for free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration.

I started using OneNote at the same time I started with Evernote. They have overlapping functionality as well as distinctions, and not being able to decide on only one, I use them both 😀

While I use Evernote mostly for works-in-progress, OneNote is more for archival storage. The process goes something like this: Clip to Evernote – blog it – send to OneNote. One reason is that Evernote’s browser extensions make clipping really easy. Another reason is that OneNote is tied to SkyDrive, where I have 25GB of storage space.  (I don’t know what the limit of my Evernote account is, which probably means it’s generous.)

A feature I really love is that contents of a OneNote page do not have to be linear, which is perfect for placing panels side-by-side. For this reason, I use OneNote to gather all my notes when preparing to lead Bible study, as in the image below:

Side-by-side notes in OneNote
Side-by-side panels in OneNote

Pocket (formerly Read It Later)

pocket logoPocket’s former name is self-explanatory. I guess they changed it when they realised that people were saving videos and other stuff you don’t read.

Before, when I found an interesting item on the internet that I didn’t have time to read/watch right at that moment I’d (a) bookmark it, and prove the adage “out of sight, out of mind” to be true, (b) save it to Evernote, or (c) leave the browser tab open (sometimes for days). Now I save it to Pocket (I especially love that the Google Chrome extension has a keyboard shortcut–nerd delight!).

One of Pocket’s really thoughtful features is that it remembers your reading position between sessions, saving users  from scrolling down to find where they’d left off. And if that’s not enough, this also works between devices—I can start reading something on my phone and pick up at the following paragraph on the computer without any hassle at all.

I surprised myself in that I actually do get round to reading/viewing the stuff I save to Pocket, mostly just before falling asleep at night. I’ve had Pocket for about a month now, so maybe the novelty will have worn off six months from now. Or maybe not.

But I don’t want to keep track of yet another account and password!

I totally understand. That’s the same reason I held off using all of these tools. Except for OneNote, I had to create new accounts with each of these services. If you’re tired of juggling multiples logins, you may want to try LastPass (I haven’t used it). Or you may want to try the tips in this article.

For me, the extra accounts have been worth it. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

What Peter thought of Jesus of Nazareth

Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-centur...
Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luke closes the apostle Peter’s Pentecost sermon with this statement: “Now therefore the whole nation of Israel must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this Jesus, whom you crucified, God has declared to be both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36, J. B. Phillips).

In what we now know as 2 Peter, the Galilean fisherman had this to say about Jesus Christ:

  • He is God and Saviour (1:1b)
  • He is Lord and Saviour (1:11, 2:20,3:18)
  • He is Lord, the beloved Son of God and Master (1:16, 17, 2:1)

(Excerpted from a sermon by Dick Lucas)

Galatians: The Holy Spirit

Happy Pentecost!

Icon of the Pentecost
Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acts 2 records the fulfillment of a centuries-old prophecy: God sent His Holy Spirit in an unprecedented way. Some years later, the apostle Paul would write to the “bewitched” congregations in Galatia straightening them on their knowledge of the Spirit:

  • The person rescued by the Lord Jesus Christ receives the Spirit by believing the message of the gospel (3:2)
  • That person begins, continues and completes his/her spiritual life with the Spirit (3:3)
  • God gives His Spirit to the person who believes the gospel (3:5)
  • The Spirit is made available to Gentile believers through faith in Christ Jesus (3:14)
  • God sends the Spirit of his Son into the believer’s heart, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (4:6)
  • The son born by the Spirit is persecuted by the son born the natural way (4:29)
  • The people Christ died for eagerly await by faith through the Spirit the righteousness for which they hope (5:5)
  • Those who are called to be free live by the Spirit (5:16)
  • The Spirit desires what is contrary to the flesh (5:17)
  • Those who aren’t under the law are led by the Spirit (5:18)
  • The Spirit produces fruit in the lives of those who willl inherit the kingdom of God (5:22)
  • Those who belong to Christ Jesus live by and keep in step with the Spirit(5:25)
  • Those who sow to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life (6:8)

Better—and prettier—king lists

One of the most viewed posts on this blog (currently at #6) is Kings and prophets in the Old Testament, in which I tried to make sense of all those monarchs. The lists I prepared for that post are fine if all you want is a bare-bones, sequential list of names.

If you’re looking for visual flair and essential information here are two I like:

Rulers of Israel and Judah, by the Good Book Company

Part of an infographic of the rulers of Israel and Judah
Click to view

Kings of Judah & Israel, by Visual Unit/ Mark Barry

Excerpt of an infographic of the Kings of Israel and Judah
Click to view

That said, if you’re interested in causes of death, my boring list is the only one with that info 😉

Foreigners in King David’s court

(Continuing my fixation with non-Israelites in the Old Testament.)

Not only did these people live among God’s covenant community, but they were also included in His scriptures!

Uriah the Hittite

While there were Hittites in Canaan during the patriarchal period (Genesis 23:10, 26:34), the Hittite homeland was in the area that is modern-day Turkey.

Uriah was a man of character to the point of defying the king’s orders. He would not allow himself any pleasures that his comrades on the battle field were denied (2 Samuel 11:11). In that verse he also mentions the ark of the covenant, so it is possible that he was faithful to the God of Israel.

Whatever the case, the Bible writers certainly look on him favourably, ranking him among David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:39; 1 Chronicles 11:41).

Ittai the Gittite

‘Gittite’ is the adjective deriving from Gath, which was the name of one of the main towns of the Philistines. (There may have been another town named Gath in Israel which would explain 2 Samuel 6:10-11.)

Ittai also defied the king. When David was fleeing from Jerusalem after Absalom’s coup, he urged Ittai to remain behind because he was a foreigner. Ittai’s response to David rivals Ruth’s response to Naomi some generations earlier: “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” (2 Samuel 15:21 ESV)

Ittai makes a vow in the name of Yahweh, and we’re not given any reason to doubt his sincerity.

The Cushite messenger

‘Cush’ in the Bible refers to the area south of Egypt, very likely inhabited by dark-skinned Africans (like me!).

This particular messenger was sent by David’s army commander to give the king the news of the victory over Absalom and his army. The messenger probably knew that David wouldn’t take the news of his son’s death too well and was very tactful in his speech:

Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has delivered you today from all who rose up against you.”
The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” (2 Samuel 18:31-32 NIV84)

He uses the covenant name of the God of Israel, so maybe he too was a believer.

Honourable mentions

The Kerethites and Pelethites: They were soldiers in David’s army (2 Samuel 8:18, 15:18, 20:7; 1 Kings 1:44), probably from Crete and Philistia respectively. We never hear of them after the reign of David.
Obil the Ishmaelite: He was in charge of the royal camels (1 Chronicles 27:30). He may have been among the officials who gave to the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 29:6).

So what?

As Christopher Wright says, Old Testament Israel didn’t have a centrifugal missionary force. What they had was an attractional force, and when it worked well, it drew people from near and far and made them worshippers of the one true God.

What is Jesus doing right now?

Happy Ascension Day!

Ubisi Monastery. Ascension of Jesus detail
Ubisi Monastery. Ascension of Jesus detail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acts 1 tells us that for a period of about forty days after His resurrection Christ appeared to His disciples, teaching them and occasionally eating with them. On one such day, He led them out to the Mount of Olives and ascended into heaven as they gawked looked on.

So what is He doing as He sits at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 10:12)?

  • Hebrews 1:3 – presiding over the universe
  • Colossians 1:18 – ruling over His church
  • Hebrews 4:15 – entering into our struggles and empathising with our weaknesses
  • Romans 8:34, Hebrews 9:24 – interceding for us

Excerpted from a sermon by Alistair Begg.

Insidious insiders

Where should we look for false teachers?

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you without mercy for the flock. Yes, and even among you men will arise speaking perversions of the truth, trying to draw away the disciples and make them followers of themselves.
–Acts 20:29-30

False teachings are as dangerous as blood-poisoning to the body, and spread like sepsis from a wound. Hymenaeus and Philetus are responsible for this sort of thing, and they are men who are palpable traitors to the truth, for they say that the resurrection has already occurred and, of course, badly upset some people’s faith.
–2 Timothy 2:17-18

But even in those days there were false prophets, just as there will be false teachers among you today. They will be men who will subtly introduce dangerous heresies. They will thereby deny the Lord who redeemed them, and it will not be long before they bring on themselves their own downfall.
–2 Peter 2:1

Believe me, there are anti-christs about already, which confirms my belief that we are near the end. These men went out from our company, it is true, but they never really belonged to it. If they had really belonged to us they would have stayed. In fact, their going proves beyond doubt that men like that were not “our men” at all.
–1 John 2:18b-19

For there are men who have surreptitiously entered the Church but who have for a long time been heading straight for the condemnation I shall plainly give them. They have no real reverence for God, and they abuse his grace as an opportunity for immorality.
–Jude 4

May the Lord give us the discernment and the ability to stand firm until the end!

(Verses quoted from the J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Jonathan: A son unlike his father (2 of 2)

In Part 1, I looked at Jonathan the warrior.

The next recorded episodes in Jonathan’s life revolve around his friendship with David. While Saul was baffled over the identity of this giant-slaying shepherd boy, Jonathan’s soul was immediately knit to David’s soul (1 Samuel 18:1). He made a covenant with David, giving the future king his royal robe, armour, sword, bow and belt (18:3-4). Jonathan is clearly the instigator of this covenant, with David playing a passive role (see also 1 Samuel 20:8).

David’s subsequent military successes aroused a murderous jealousy in Saul. Jonathan warns David to hide and reasons with his father to have David brought back (19:1-7). Jonathan points out to his father that it would be a sin to kill David without cause, no doubt drawing on the Mosaic law.

David and Jonathan by Gustave Doré
David and Jonathan by Gustave Doré

Saul later reneges on his oath not to kill David but doesn’t tell his son, who continues believing the best of him (20:1-3, 9). 1 Samuel 20:12-23 contains the longest speech attributed to Jonathan. He starts and ends it invoking the name of Yahweh, in addition to mentioning the divine name throughout. Jonathan’s use of Yahweh doesn’t appear contrived or phony like Saul’s sometimes does.

Later in the same chapter, Jonathan again defends David to Saul. This time it doesn’t go well, and the conversation ends when Saul hurls a spear at him. Jonathan gets up in fierce anger and was grieved at Saul’s shameful treatment of David. Jonathan wasn’t angry that his father had just tried to kill him (again); he was angry on David’s behalf. Now that’s noble!

Jonathan meets up with David to report his findings. Jonathan’s parting words are: “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, for ever.’” He trusted that Yahweh would watch over both of them and their descendants for all eternity.

Jonathan’s last meeting with David is recorded in 1 Samuel 23:16-18. Saul was hunting David down, yet Saul’s son knew exactly where to find David. Jonathan “strengthened [David’s] hand in God” and made a  last covenant with him. His words on that occasion would prove to be partially true: David would indeed be king, but Jonathan wouldn’t be there to see it. While Saul was expending vast amounts of resources in seeking to eliminate David, Jonathan was willing to be David’s second-in-command.

In what seems like one of the greatest wastes of the Bible, Jonathan dies on Mount Gilboa, killed by the Philistines he’d been victorious over many times before. He was faithful where God had placed him—as a valiant prince to Israel, a loving son to Saul and a loyal friend to David— and yet he perished in the prime of his life. If that be God’s plan for my life, am I willing to embrace it?

I think of another “wasted life”, that of John the Baptist. He too died a pointless death before reaching a ripe old age. But consider what he did accomplish: he prepared the way for and pointed to the Son of David, the Lord’s anointed. Both he and Jonathan were perfectly content to decrease while the Lord’s anointed increased. By God’s grace we too can take such a view of things.

Jonathan: A son unlike his father (1 of 2)

When seeking a comparison for King Saul, the Bible reader most naturally lands on King David. Nothing wrong with that: it has impeccable scriptural backing. An overlooked contrast I’d like to consider is that between Saul and his firstborn son Jonathan.

Jonathan defying the outposts of the Philistines
Jonathan defying the outposts of the Philistines

We first meet Jonathan (whose name means ‘given by Yahweh’) in a military context. He attacks a Philistine outpost in Geba (1 Samuel 13:3) and is apparently successful for Saul and the rest of the Israelite army camp there a few verses later (13:16). The Philistines move to Micmash, and Jonathan and his armour-bearer secretly go to pick a fight with them (1 Samuel 13:23-14:14). The narrator  of 1 Samuel quotes Jonathan as saying, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” Together, they killed some twenty men in “half the area ploughed by a yoke of oxen in a day” (14:14).

What was King Saul, leader of Israel’s army, one of the two people in Israel with iron weapons (13:22) doing while his son was engaging with Israel’s enemies? Quite a bit, actually. He sent a message throughout Israel claiming credit for Jonathan’s first victory and summoned the fighting men to join him. He also actively disobeyed God, giving as one of his excuses the scattering soldiers. Jonathan, on the other hand, placed his confidence in God, not in the number of men. He understood that the outcome of a battle depended on God, and his faith moved him to action.

On seeing the fleeing Philistines, Saul and the rest of the army belatedly join Jonathan and his armour-bearer to pursue the enemy. Jonathan, unaware of a fast imposed on the army by his father, eats some honey. Later in the day, his father comes to find out and is ready to kill him. On his part, Jonathan is ready to die (1 Samuel 14:43). Recognising that Yahweh had worked through him that day, the men with Saul took an oath and redeemed Jonathan so that he did not die (14:45). That they were willing to stand up to the king over such a serious matter on Jonathan’s behalf must say something of the respect and love the people had for him.

In the next post: Jonathan as son and covenant friend.

Reading the Protoevangelium of James

The Protoevangelium of James  (or the Infancy Gospel of James) is one of the documents from early Christianity that didn’t make it into the New Testament. The author claims to be James the brother of Jesus and the gospel gives Mary’s back-story. As the document is dated to 140-170 A.D., it is unlikely that James penned it.

Before I get to my observations on the Protoevangelium, some wise words from an expert. Simon Gathercole gets paid to read old manuscripts (and to do other stuff, I’m sure). At a recent conference, he and a colleague gave a talk titled The Historical Trustworthiness of the Gospels in which he gave advice on bad and good arguments regarding the extra-canonical gospels.

Points to avoid:

  1. Don’t say that they’re all gnostic. Some are, some aren’t.
  2. Don’t dismiss them on the grounds that they’re weird. Matthew 27:52-53 is also weird
  3. Don’t exaggerate the date of the texts, saying that they’re later than they’re taken to be

Points to make:

  1. The text of these gospels is not secure. In most cases, we don’t have their original Greek wording.
  2. There is a generation gap between the four canonical gospels and the apocryphal gospels. By the time the latter get written there were no eyewitnesses, no contemporaries of Jesus
  3. The apocryphal gospels display a cultural distance from 1st-century Palestine. They don’t pass the tests of knowledge of geography, personal names, numismatics, etc
  4. They also show a theological distance from the Old Testament and 1st-century Judaism, drawing more often on Greek and Egyptian mythology

I had read the Protoevangelium before hearing this, and these were my take-aways:

  • While the author is familiar with Old Testament material (e.g. Numbers 5:11-31) and the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, he or she could have done more research. Which areas of the temple were accessible to non-priests, let alone women? Who is the Zechariah Jesus refers to in Matthew 23:35? I’ll leave it to you to read the Protoevangelium and see for yourself how these questions are answered.
  • It is plainly clear why God chose Mary to bear Christ: she was the most pure of all the undefiled virgins in Israel at the time. The divine initiative isn’t based on grace.

And so, unexpectedly, reading this extra-canonical book left me with a greater appreciation for the canonical gospels. For in them we see God in the person of Jesus reaching out to miserable undeserving sinners—Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, etc.—and freely giving them a place in His eternal kingdom. Sadly, I don’t get that from the Protoevangelium of James.