Joey Sparks
3May/130

Why I Use Evernote As A Word Processor

Microsoft Publisher is more responsible than anything else for helping me see the value in using Evernote as a word processor.

Over four years ago, I switched to Mac (best technology move I've ever made). And while I bought MS Office for Mac, it does not come with MS Pubilsher. So I essentially lost access to years of Bible Class/sermon notes and packets/details for youth events.

(They're not lost altogether, I just can't access them easily. It requires loading them on a PC of someone else's--where I could then export as a .pdf--or trying to convert them. I've not tried the latter option, so I'm not 100% that would even work.)

Enter Evernote. It's cleanly designed and works smoothly. Here are the things I enjoy about using Evernote to type anything and everything:

1. Accessibility. I don't have to be on my computer to access the files. And I don't even have to install Dropbox or another cloud-based file management application.

2. Backup. Notes are automatically stored (and thus "backed up") on the cloud. If something happens to my computer, I can still access the files through the internet.

evernote.com

evernote.com

3. Notes > files. I prefer the ease of searching through notes as opposed to searching for files through Mac Spotlight (as awesome as Spotlight is). They're already open, so I don't have to open and close files until I find the correct one.

4. Powerful, extensive search. Evernote searches text inside photos as easily as it does notes.

5. Fewer formatting options. I'm a designer. I'm all about visual appeal. But words are words. When I'm typing them, I don't need them to be pretty. If I'm being honest, seeing only text while I type helps me to focus on the content as opposed to any decorations I use. I can then easily and quickly copy and paste the text into Pages, Text Edit, or whatever for easy formatting. Not only is this not a hindrance, I prefer to think of it as a strength.

6. Organization. It's been easier for me to organize with Notebooks and tags than it is for me to use file folders on my hard drive. Much easier.

7. Memory. I love finding older notes I've saved in Evernote but forgotten about. I rarely do that with simple files and file folders.

8. Connect-ability. I can create notes by sending an email or tweet, using the Evernote web clipper, sharing from Feedly or my mobile browser, or directly through the application.

9. Integration of content. Most anything that I've typed and need to reference should already be in Evernote for easy access. Examples: illustration references and ideas, related articles (tags are so helpful with both of these areas), event details, and personal memories.

There are plenty of amazing new advancements in technology, but for my needs in word processing, I don't need bigger, faster, shinier, prettier. For me, Evernote is the opportunity to simplify and integrate.

What other ways do you use Evernote?

18Apr/130

6 Visualized Leaders

Leaders are everywhere. As are people in leadership positions. An important question both must answer is,

"Am I a leader worth following?"

Here are six common styles of leadership visualized:

via thinkstockphotos.com

via thinkstockphotos.com

The Rug

The leader avoids confrontation and thus, correction. The less drama, the better. When drama does arise, he or she lets it "die down" before deciding to step in or not. Once it has "died down," and everybody seems fine, there's no burden to address it any longer.

via thinkstockphotos.com

via thinkstockphotos.com

The Sign

One person makes one mistake. So a leader hangs a sign to tell original perpetrator AND everyone else not to do it. This leader is overly concerned about behavior instead of hearts. He's emotionally committed to correcting others, but not reasonable enough to handle it effectively. So he sacrifices credibility with everyone else to avoid directly correcting the one who made a mistake. Signs should give information, not instruction or (especially) correction. (see also, this entertaining site)

via svennevenn under Creative Commons lisence

via svennevenn under Creative Commons license

The Bullhorn

The leader realizes personal contact is valuable, but he's not confident enough to talk to people one-on-one. The bullhorn thinks, "If I'm loud enough in public, people will follow." Some preachers use a bullhorn in the pulpit. Some elders use a bullhorn in the bulletin. Some business leaders call bullhorn meetings for the entire staff when one employee messes up. Bullhorns can be so concerned about NOT playing favorites that they miss out on valuable personal relationships.

via YanivG under Creative Commons lisence

via YanivG under Creative Commons license

The Pacifier

The leader loves to hear the heartaches (even legitimate ones), problems, and complaints (even illegitimate ones) of followers. This allows the leader to pacify their crying and in the process win over a group of favorites. This leadership approach appeals to our desire to be liked. But keeping "babies" around means someone has to deal with dirty diapers. It really creates a mess when these favorites complain about one another to the leader.

via fling93 under Creative Commons license

via fling93 under Creative Commons license

The Coach

The leader uses various methods of personal interaction, but tends to emphasize correction over growth. Behavior control is more important than personal relationship. The leader values individuals, but often because they serve his needs. The coach prefers to use the bullhorn from the tower. But he also isn't afraid to climb down and embarrass someone when necessary.

via CharlesFred under Creative Commons license

via CharlesFred under Creative Commons license

The Shepherd

The leader's greatest concern is the health, growth, and hearts of followers. He knows correction is needed, but his personal relationships cause growth from one-on-one conversations and accountability. He doesn't settle for merely controlling behavior. He knows when to protect sheep from danger and when to let them wrestle with difficulties to build strength. The most difficult and rarest leader. This is the leadership of Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5), and what he calls us to be.

Why is it difficult to be a shepherd-leader? Let's talk about it in the comments.
7Feb/130

Short, Helpful, and Transformational

In 20,000 Days And Counting: The Crash Course for Mastering Your Life Now, Robert D. Smith gives us a short book so as not to waste much of our time, and what's better, he also writes in an entertaining style that makes the content digestible. I love that Smith's focus is upon practical, actionable steps to help us make the most of our days. I'm still getting comfortable reading books on my Kindle Fire, but the style and formatting made it an enjoyable experience

20000Days&CountingCover

I resonated most with the section about starting the day off with forward momentum and energy. Making the most of the morning really does have the power to transform the rest of the day. I am more of a "night" person instead of a "morning" person. Smith's encouragement challenged me to reconsider *how* I start my days instead of focusing upon (and coming up short) *how early* I start them. I especially love the idea of asking, "What does God have to say to me today?" to focus in the morning with Scripture.

I also appreciate how Smith opens up into his own life without being too prideful about himself or his successes. He earns your permission and builds his case so that it benefits you, not a personal agenda of his own.

You would do well to read the book. Even better to highlight helpful thoughts & quotes. Best to put into action his advice. But even if you don't read it, be sure to count your days (Psalm 90:12).

By the way, I've lived 10,846 days thus far.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

2Aug/120

Protect Their Hearts

The Internet is simultaneously one of humanities' greatest inventions, amazing blessings, and dangerous threats. We are always one click away from danger no matter our age, gender, profession, naivety, or blamelessness. We must make sure we interact with the same godliness online that God expects in all other ways of life.

We frequently hear of children who are harmed by brutal and sick individuals who gain access to their lives through the Internet. We should do all we can to close up those loopholes.

As parents, you have the right--and responsibility--to know exactly what your children are doing on the Internet...no matter how old they are. You should have the same access to their accounts (with passwords, etc.) they do. You should talk openly and honestly about their online friendships, habits, and overall safety. But when you do, do your best to model the attitudes in yourself you wish to see from them. If you're condescending and not understanding, you shut those doors of communication down.

ABCLRC-Internet Safety (by ABC LRC Flickr CC by nc sa)

But the most urgent arena of concern for your children on the Internet is that of sexual sin, specifically pornography.

The statistical likelihood of your child facing a child predator online is slim. But the chances of your child NOT viewing pornography online in some capacity is about 3% for boys and 9% for girls. That includes those who unintentionally stumble across it. If your child wants to find it, there's a 100% chance he or she will. It's just that easy.

The good news is that God forgives and cleanses no matter the depths of sin (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

More good news is that you don't have to know everything about the Internet and computer technology to protect your child's heart from spiritual threats such as pornography.

The most powerful weapons at your disposal are spiritual and internal; they should be aimed at his or her heart. Pray for them. Model purity, consistency, and propriety before them--online and off. Talk openly and honestly (with common sense) with them about temptations, sexual sin, and God's purpose for sexual intimacy in marriage.

Would you rather them to hear the truth from you and God's Word or error from the world and Satan?

There are other weapons that can assist you from an external perspective, as well.

The best place to start is http://covenanteyes.com. Covenant Eyes specializes in Internet technology that provides a safe surfing atmosphere for the entire family. They feature two softwares: Internet accountability software (browsing is monitored around the clock and reports are sent via e-mail to accountability partners) and Internet filtering software (specific sites are blocked and attempts to access blocked sites are logged and sent via the accountability reports). These softwares simply run in the background, but cannot be disabled without also disabling access to the Internet. This "two-pronged" approach is the best external solution, especially for homes with children. Covenant Eyes charges for using their services. While they are not free, they are more than reasonable. Amanda and I have used the accountability software for years and we pay for an entire year of service for less than what most Internet service providers charge for one month. There are a few free services out there, but research suggests the paid services are much more efficient and effective. If you recognize the legitimacy of this most dangerous threat, is any price too great?

Additionally, the Covenant Eyes website also features a wealth of resources for all kinds of Internet safety and protection. They have numerous (free) e-books, articles, statistics, podcasts, and a well-maintained and regularly-updated blog. No matter your relationship to the dangers on the Internet, whether totally naive or buried in addiction, there's something to educate, challenge, and help you.

Every child born in our part of the world is a "digital native." He or she will never know a time with less technology. He or she will never be less tech-savvy. He or she will one day view smart phones like many of us view rotary phones.

In a matter of a few decades, computers have moved from warehouses to business centers to living rooms to briefcases to front pockets. We as adults and parents will never be on the edge of technological advancement like younger generations. But that's no excuse for letting this powerful tool destroy their souls. May God help us to use the Internet responsibly and ensure our children do the same.

 I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman? (Job 31:1)

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42)

The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him. (Proverbs 20:7)

30Jul/120

Everybody Just Do Your Job

On January 1, 1979, Alabama and Penn State met in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to crown the 1978 National Champion. Most fans in our area, if not across the country, remember this game for its fourth quarter "Goal Line Stand." Penn State ran the ball twice from the 1 yard line and the Alabama defense denied them both times. Alabama won 14-7.

Alabama-Penn State Goal Line Stand (courtesy The Crimson White)

Alabama Linebacker Barry Krauss is heralded for making the tackle on the 4th down play that kept Penn State out of the end zone. Earlier this Fall, when Alabama played at Penn State, Barry was interviewed about that play. When asked to describe what happened, he simply said, "Everyone just did their job."

He then explained the difference between that play and the third down play when fellow linebacker Rich Wingo made the tackle. On third down, Krauss was assigned to defend the lead blocker, thus freeing up Wingo to tackle the ball carrier. On fourth down, the assignments were swapped. Wingo absorbed the blocker, while Krauss leaped to stop the Penn State running back.

We as the Lord's church can learn a lot about teamwork from the sports world. Those linebackers did what they were assigned to do. But everyone else on the field--the defensive line, outside linebackers, and defensive backs--also did what they were assigned to do. In the moment, they were concerned about doing their jobs. They didn't care who would be featured on the best-selling Daniel A. Moore painting.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Peter says each one is to use his or her gift in serving one another. Doing so is how we show we are good stewards, or caretakers, of the gifts God gives us. Living for ourselves is not only a detriment to the church, but it is irresponsible and disrespectful toward God and what he's given us.

Our goal should always be, "...that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ." Search your heart for what you do best (not necessarily what you want to do best). Commit to using it for God's glory in the lives of others. The church is already victorious. But we can "win" everyday if we all just do our jobs.

26Jul/120

The Easiest To Blame

The easiest people to blame are:

  1. Those who are bigger than we are and
  2. Those with whom we don't have a close relationship.

As you can expect, the bigger someone is, the easier they are to blame.

  • Governments. The bigger the political level, the worse they are.
  • Big banks, credit cards, Wall Street.
  • School systems, Boards of Education, Superintendents, school administration and staff.
  • Hospitals, Healthcare providers, insurance companies, drug companies, doctors.
  • TV shows, movies, musical artists, celebrities, news media.

I wouldn't dare suggest these always display responsibility. The bigger the stage, the greater the responsibility (Luke 12:48). They'll be held accountable for how they've occupied the world through their large influence. Which means our finger-pointing is ultimately pointless.

Blame (by FatBusinessman Flickr CC by nc sa)

The other group whom it's easy to blame is composed of those with whom we are not very close.

To test this, did you object to any of the groups I mentioned above?

If you are an educator, because of your personal passions, relationships with other educators, and your view "behind the scenes," you may object that any overall scholastic shortcomings are the fault of the system.

If you work in the healthcare industry as a nurse, doctor, or sales rep, you may be slower to gripe about your industries' shortcomings.

How many spouses in close-knit, intimate, and trusting marriages frequently blame each other? It's hard to play the "blame game" within a thriving relationship.

What does all this mean?

There's no one bigger than God. So it's easy to see why so much blame can be cast his way (James 1:13-15). Whether it's for natural disasters, a cancer diagnosis, the sudden loss of a loved one, or the rock-bottom crash of irresponsibility, it's easy to pin our trials on God because there's no one bigger. There's nothing we can do to change God's "bigness" (Psalm 139:7-12). From day one, he's forever been the Creator, Provider, and Loving Judge.

But we can close the loophole of blame by drawing closer to him daily (Hebrews 10:22; James 4:8). The more intimate we become with his heart and mind, by staying in his word and talking to him in prayer, the more we see his infinite wisdom, mercy, love, and compassion. We won't allow ourselves to blame him because we recognize his complete perfection.

Constantly drawing near to him forces us to see that He Himself has done everything possible to win us back (John 3:16; Hebrews 7:25). The only way we blame God because He seems far away is because we've distanced ourselves from His love and provision.

Blame is useless at best and destructive and debilitating to personal responsibility at worst. There are a multitude of practical reasons to eliminate it from our hearts and tongues. As we continue pruning, we must draw near to God daily to remind ourselves that He's in control. And thus, we have nothing to blame.

23Jul/120

Every Good Gift & Every Perfect Gift (James 1:16-17)

Throughout his treatise on practical, everyday Christianity, James' golden thread is godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom.

Everyone makes decisions everyday. James imperatively stresses that these decisions must be made in light of heavenly wisdom, not earthly.

After outlining the process of temptation, James tells early Christians, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:16-17).

Regalito (by MCSimon Flickr CC by nc sa)

What wisdom is found in these two verses? Specifically, he warns Christians about the danger of deception. The power of a lie lies not in its telling, but in its receiving. False statements are hurled toward our hearts and minds daily. Our responsibility rests not so much in not hearing lies as it does in not believing them. James makes it clear that Christians bear the responsibility to not fall prey to deceptive schemes.

In the context of this passage, he's specifically reminding the brethren about the danger of blaming their difficulties on God. He shows temptation and deception are against God's very nature in verse 13; he then outlines the starring role our personal desires play in the temptation drama in verses 14 and 15. Verse 16 serves as a bookend to this section of thought. "God tempts us with evil" is as bold and dangerous a lie that we will ever hear.

We cannot believe it.

But James isn't finished. Not only does God not tempt us with evil, but he is the ultimate source of everything good. The Psalmist said, "You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told" (Ps 40:5).

God is not the villian, and is indeed the ultimate hero.

To cast blame for bad upon God and his grandiose goodness is blasphemous to his nature. Falling prey to the lie that he is responsible for our misfortunes is disastrous to our souls.

19Jul/120

Conception Control (James 1:14-15)

What we commonly label "birth control" is more correctly "conception control." The goal is to prevent the joining of the male and female sex cells, which always creates life. (Thus, to destroy an already-joined-pairing, whether it's as a fertilized egg, an embryo, or a 24-week-in utero-fetus, is destroying life, and thus, murder.)

Married couples use any number of forms of "conception control" to morally and ethically control the number and timing of children they bear.

Don't Take Away My Birth Control (by afagen Flickr CC by nc sa)

We would do well to look at this common practice when we analyze the temptation process as outlined by James in chapter 1:14-15. There, he says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

In verse 15, he turns toward one of the most natural processes known to man: conception and birth. When the two sex cells join in a mother's womb, barring rare circumstances or man's heinous crimes, it creates an embryo, which is eventually born into the world as a baby human being.

It is a divinely-designed and naturally-occurring process.

James says the same about our desires, which lead to temptations, which lead to sin, which leads to death.

We can, and should constantly try to, improve and replace our sinful desires with good attitudes and the supreme concerns of our Creator. But we will never eradicate all of our fleshly desires. This begs a legitimate, and concerning, question.

If our desires are within us, and the process of sin is as dependable as the child-bearing process, how can we successfully resist sin?

Though we all sin and fall short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23), we don't always have to sin. James himself says in chapter 4, verse 7, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."

The answer to our alarming question lies in the same neighborhood as our modern practice of "birth control." Once an embryo is conceived, a mother gives birth. Once our desires conceive, they give birth to sin. We cannot rest all of our hope upon controlling or changing our desires. But we can keep our desires from conceiving!

If we continually allow our desires and external opportunities to sin meet, we're doomed to lose the battle with sin. But if we intentionally control our environments, in order to limit and eliminate opportunities, then we begin to win.

One of my professors at FHU counseled a Christian gentlemen who was fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. During one session, the man said something to the effect, "Every day when I come home from work, I convince myself I'm not going to stop and pick up some booze. Then I see that Big Dog liquor store and I just can't resist. It happens almost every day."

So my professor, in his direct, matter-of-fact, country-boy ways, said, "Son, sounds like it's about time you find another route home."

Change the environment.

The process of temptation and sin is frightening, but only if we allow our desires to conceive with opportunity, thus leading to sinful action. Because of James' detailed and nature-based illustration, we can highlight the course of victory over sin and temptation.

May we lean upon God as we practice spiritual "conception control."

16Jul/120

2 Keys to Resist Temptation (James 1:14-15)

Humanity shares several "common lots." All human beings require food and water for physical nourishment. Every person desires love, affection, and companionship for emotional health. Everyone suffers pain, disappointment, and heartache.

Spiritually, all mankind faces--and gives in to--temptation.

James says, "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."

Paul says in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

We face plenty of uncertainties in life, but we are certain to face temptation and sin.

Temptation's certainty is sobering. And knowing we are drawn away from within our own hearts, much like a fish is lured by its belly toward a dangling worm, can be discouraging as well. But these revelations must not drive us to guilt. Harboring guilt for being human can be dangerous. We can attempt to ease the pain through ungodly, selfish, or fleshly pursuits.

Young Smallmouth Bass (by nklatt Flickr CC by, nc, sa)

Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted while on earth, and yet never sinned (Heb. 4:15). While sin is born from temptation, temptation is not sinful. When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, he used the very things Jesus wanted and was sent to earth to accomplish. Satan tempted Jesus to do good things in ways contrary to God's ways.

We also cannot allow our missteps into sin to fuel our temptations. Though we can never be perfect, we must be aware that sin creates new temptations more powerful and destructive than we anticipate. For example, resisting the temptation to drink after 20 years of alcoholism is more difficult than resisting the first drink. If we feed temptations with the flesh, they grow into gigantic beasts.

Reality. Knowing sin's deceptive and deadly power helps us develop healthy fears of temptation. Though we all face it, we must never grow comfortable with it nor welcome it. The price for playing with temptation is steep. James follows verse 14 with this, "Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (1:15).

This harmonizes with Paul's words in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Water, carbon monoxide, and other natural compounds are abundant on earth. But we must always respect their power to destroy humanity. Temptation is no different.

Replacement. Knowing that temptation results from our own desires can be discouraging if we're not careful. We must be intentional to continually replace our wants with God's desires. When the two compete, we must always submit to God's will.

But over time, we can also develop the heart and attitude that above all longs for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. The more we try to be like God from the inside out, the less power we give to our human desires and tendencies.

The Psalmist once said, "With my whole heart I have sought you; Oh, let me not wander from your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Ps. 119:10-11).

The truth about temptation may be discouraging at the surface. But a complete appreciation for God's forgiveness (1 Jn. 1:7) and continual providence in the face of temptation (Jas. 4:7) gives us every motivation and all strength to resist.

12Jul/120

2 Reasons “The Blame Game” Doesn’t Work For Sin

Blame is funny.

We're often tempted to blame someone or something else for our shortcomings and mistakes. We hope, that by successfully shifting blame, to avoid punishment and accountability.

Not only is the "blame game" deceptive--because no one or nothing is responsible for our lives except ourselves--but it cripples progress. Once we convince ourselves we've shifted the blame, we've also given up control to fix the problem. Those who rely on blame instead of responsibility create a prison where improvement is impossible.

We can attempt to blame other people at every turn, but we always face the truth that we can't change others. We can try to blame external circumstances, but then we find out we can't change those either.

Courageously accepting responsibility grants the possibility of freedom. Only those grounded in responsibility and accountability make great strides of improvement and growth.

It's sad that many would rather wallow in negative situations than accept responsibility and thus be empowered to improve them. As Christians, we should not allow this attitude to thrive.

And we cannot allow it to exist when it comes to temptation and sin.

You only have yourself to blame (by higgott Flickr CC by nc sa)

James 1:12 says, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." I almost think James anticipated a response to that statement something like this, "Well, it'd sure be a lot easier to endure temptation if that same Lord would stop tempting us to get us to give up!"

So James says in verses 13 and 14, "Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed."

It is impossible to blame God for temptation and sin. Just as it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2), it is impossible for God to be tempted, and thus to tempt us. Not only is it futile to cast blame at God's feet, how dare us do so in light of all he has done and all he promises!

God wants the best for us. We must develop a trusting attitude toward him and his word that dares not blame him for shortcomings, mistakes, and sin.

It is impossible to blame anyone or anything else. Instead of listing everyone or everything we cannot blame, James tells us the source of temptation: our own desires. You and I cannot successfully blame anyone or anything else for sin because it all starts in our own hearts. We are "tempted" to sin because it, in some way, appeals to us individually. Temptation, and thus sin, are controlled and guided by our own selfish desires.

Bummer? Maybe, if we're lazy. But not if we truly want to change things.

Jesus' power has defeated the strangling power of sin and death (1 Cor. 15:56-57). And he gives us the opportunity to obey him instead of our own desires. If we destroy, suppress, and manage our earthly desires, we can successfully navigate the labyrinth of temptation in this life. It will never be easy. But it will always be possible; provided we accept responsibility and cut out the blame.