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apple-watchI was excited when Apple finally announced the long-awaited Apple Watch. I watched the video demonstration, and was already thinking about one, until the price was announced.  The cheapest version will start at $349.  For me, that was the deal breaker. It’s simply not in my budget. After thinking about it, I see several challenges that Apple will have to overcome. These are the reasons I chose a Pebble smart watch for $99 over the much anticipated Apple Watch.

1) I don’t need to text or call from my watch. 

The iPhone has gotten bigger with each generation due to the fact that bigger devices are better for user input. Now, Apple is trying to fit all the controls and user interface into the watch face using a combination of touch and a rotary dial. For me, I think I can still pull my phone out of my pocket when I want to message or text. The Pebble is more of a display device instead of an input device. I can see who is calling, see text messages, and even use apps on my phone, but I don’t have to worry about typing on a 1 inch screen.

2) I want long battery life

I don’t want another device that has to be charged each night. The Pebble will last a week (or around 4 days with activity tracking enabled in the background).  And it charges quickly.  From early reports, the Apple Watch will struggle to make it through the day.

3) I want a display that I can see outside

If I can’t view my watch in direct sunlight, is it really functional? Have you ever tried to use your iPhone or android in direct sunlight. The experience is painful. The Pebble watch has an e-ink display that works perfectly outside. I’ve been using it with Runkeeper and it works great while displaying your distance and speed while running.

4) I want a watch that I don’t have to worry about breaking

I can buy 3 or 4 pebble watches for the price of one Apple Watch. Enough said.

5) I want my watch to track my activity

I’ve been wanting a fitbit or jawbone fitness tracker for a long time. Now with the latest Pebble update, my watch functions as an activity tracker.  It tracks how far I’ve walked and how many steps I’ve taken, and even how much I sleep. Now I know the Apple Watch will do all this, but is it worth the price difference?

Final Thoughts

pebble

After using the Pebble for a couple of months, I really like it and don’t have any regrets. After watching it explode on Kickstarter, I really wanted one when it launched, but I wanted to wait to see what Apple had planned. Pebble has released several feature updates since I bought the watch. I do wish it had more memory so you could install more watch apps and watch faces, but at least you can use your phone to load up the apps quickly when you need them.

One of the interesting uses of my watch has been as an alarm. I use it for my morning alarm. It will wake me up by vibrating my wrist instead of waking the whole house with a ringtone.  And speaking of ringtones, I have kept my phone silenced the last several weeks. My wrist vibrates anytime I have a phone call. I can see who is calling without fumbling for my phone.

The Pebble comes in two versions, the original plastic style in multiple colors for $99 and the newer Pebble Steel for $149. Both are great deals. Check out the video below to see how it works.

anydo

I have always struggled with keeping track of everything I need to do on a weekly basis. Between church, family, and life, I always have more to do and somewhere else I need to be.  So, for me, technology has helped me become more organized. I have tried several task management systems in the past, but I have settled on using a service and app called Any.Do.  It just fits the way I think and work, and it has already been a big help to me in scheduling my week.

Any.Do works by organizing your tasks into either folders or categories. The categories are Today, Tomorrow, Upcoming, or Someday. The app works on my phone and my computer, and it stays synchronized.  It allows you to set recurring tasks, reminders, create sub-tasks, and even share tasks and attach files and folders using their premium service. They do offer a free version, but the cost of the premium version is affordable.  The app also has a cool feature that helps you plan each day. You can set reminders and choose what you want to accomplish each morning.  The best part is the app is simple, clean, and has a great user interface. It just works like it should. Here is a screenshot and a video to learn more about the app.

(note: I have also tried Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, Google Calendar Tasks, Producteev, and Astrid, but my favorite by far is Any.Do)

 

lightstock_62669_medium_microphone

Recording the Message

I’ve helped several churches start recording the audio from their sermons to include on their website. The goal in each case is to get a quality recording that can easily be listened to online or downloaded through a podcast. Way back in 2007, I wrote a tutorial on how to setup a podcast. Although some of the info is a little dated, the basic procedure remains the same. I wanted to go back and share a few more details about how you get a quality recording that you can use for your website. This isn’t a detailed step-by-step tutorial, but it should get you pointed in the right direction. Here are a few options.

Option 1: Record audio on a CD

Our church has a rack-mounted CD burner (Click here for a comparable version of the Tascam recorder we have). We run one of our auxiliary sends from the soundboard to the CD-burner so we can mix it differently from the main speaker mix (we also record the music each week). Since we have a digital sound board (a Presonus StudioLive) we actually connect the soundboard to the recorder using a digital S/PDIF cable. This gives us great sound quality with no audio interference or hum.

Option 2: Record directly to a computer

Another option is to run a cable from your soundboard directly to a microphone or line-in jack on a desktop or laptop computer to record. Then using recording software such as the free program Audacity, you can record the message directly to a .wav file. After you finish recording, you can export the song as a mp3 file.

Option 3: Record using a handheld recorder

A final option is to use a handheld recorder like the Zoom H1 to record the message. You can record in several different ways. You can just start recording before the service and set it on the preacher’s podium and it will pick up great. The sound quality is amazing on this thing, and it is very small and inconspicuous. A second way is to hook a lapel mic to the handheld recorder and use the microphone to pick up the sound. The final way to record is directly from the sound board. It features a line-in jack so that you can run a cable straight from the sound board and record directly to the handheld recorder.

Importing/Exporting the Audio mp3 File

Once you have a recording, you will need to get it into a format for use on your website. I still recommend using mp3 files, so they are most compatible and work across the biggest range of devices.

Getting a mp3 file from a CD

I typically use iTunes to do this. I insert the CD into my computer and load up the iTunes program. If the CD contains multiple tracks, I use the Join Tracks command.

  • Select the CD in iTunes
  • Sort on Track #
  • Select the consecutive songs you want to join
  • From the CD menu, select Join CD tracks
  • Enter in the artist name and album name

You can also set your beginning and end points of each track to trim your sermon from the CD.  Once I do this, I click on the tracks I want to import and then I choose import CD. From the menu, I then choose custom settings for importing the file as a mp3.  Click on the mp3 encoder, then custom. I choose 64 kbps and mono (which means the resulting audio mp3 file will actually be a 32 kbps file)  After I import the file, you skip straight to uploading it to your website, or you can touch up the audio using the instructions below.

 

Importing a mp3 file from a handheld recorder or computer 

This is the easy part. You should already have a .wav file or a .mp3 file. So you will just need to export it into a format that can be uploaded to your website. I recommend using the free program Audacity which is available on both Windows and Mac. Import your audio file into Audacity, and then you can touch up the audio a little before you upload to your website.

  • trim the beginning and ending of the message
  • If you have a stereo recording, go ahead and convert it to mono. For speech, stereo is not needed and will just add to the file size. In Audacity, go to Tracks —-> “Stereo Track to Mono” to do this
  • Normalize the Volume – go to effects/Normalize to raise the sound where it needs to be. If you have a lot of hum in your recording this can make it worse. In that case, you can play around with the Noise Removal effect in Audacity
  • Compress the audio using the Effects/Compressor option. Compression makes the soft parts louder, and the loud parts softer so that the volume level is more constant. If you are not familiar with compression, then you may want to read up on it, because this can really make a sermon easier to listen to.
  • Export the audio as a mp3 file. Go to file/export and then choose mp3. You may have to do some setup work to get this to work, but Audacity will show you how to add the mp3 encoder.  I have experimented and I like exporting sermon audio at 32 kbps in mono. This gives a small file size, and it still sounds good. If you go higher, the audio will sound better, but it will be at the expense of a larger file size which will take longer to upload and download.

Again, this is definitely not a comprehensive tutorial, but I wanted to get you pointed in the right direction. If you have any suggestions to add, feel free to leave a comment.

 

At Cornerstone, I have been preaching a sermon series through the book of Galatians. It has been a great series for our church and for me personally. It has really required some extra study time and I wanted to share with you the commentaries and resources I have been using throughout the series. In preparing a message series, I start with the Bible passage and then break it down into manageable sections to preach each week. I then spend time looking for the major themes and points I want to make from each section. These commentaries have been helpful in preparing my messages. All are either available as Kindle books are as ebooks in Logos or Wordsearch. Here is a quick rundown.

Galatians For You by Tim Keller - This has been the most helpful commentary for my series. Keller does an incredible job of presenting the information in an understandable format. The information is detailed, yet practical. This is a perfect research for preaching through the book of Galatians.

Christ Centered Exposition - Exalting Jesus in Galatians by David Platt – This commentary is based on David Platt’s sermon series on Galatians. Platt does an excellent job in organizing and presenting the important details in the book of Galatians. My sermon series is based on the sections in this book, although many of my points have been adapted from Keller’s commentary.

The Message of Galatians by John Stott - This is the Galatians commentary that everyone else references. It is the standard and is excellent. The language is not as contemporary as Keller and Platt, but it is still easy to understand.

Cornerstone Biblical Commentary - This is a commentary series that I really enjoy using. It brings out both application and exegesis of each passage. It is also based on the New Living Translation which I have been using throughout my sermon series.

Holman Commentary - This is yet another commentary that is heavy on application. I like the use of illustrations as well. However, it is the least detailed of all the commentaries listed here.

I hope information like this is helpful to you. Even if you are not a pastor, commentaries can be helpful in studying the Bible. You will see different viewpoints, but trust God to reveal to you both the meaning and application of each text you study. 

IMG_0025I’ve had my iPhone 6 for almost a week now. Since I had my iPhone 5 a full two years, I was out of contract with Verizon and able to turn it in so that I could buy the new phone. I’m still getting used to the bigger size, but it’s a good change. After 2 years, my battery really needed replacing on my old phone, so being able to make it through the day on a charge has been awesome. Here are a few random thoughts on the difference between my 5 and 6.

Touch Sensor

I didn’t think this would be a big deal, but I love how apps can now use the Touch ID sensor for sign-in. It has already saved a ton of time in typing passwords.

Screen Size

As I mentioned earlier, it has taken a little time to get used to the bigger size. I have small hands and I am used to using a phone with one hand. The reachability feature actually works when needed, so it hasn’t been a deal-breaker. Having an extra row of icons is also helpful. As long as my eyesight is good, I want to have as much displayed on the screen as possible. You can get a good idea of my everyday workflow by looking at my apps in this picture.

Motion Tracking

Since the 6 has a motion coprocessor, it can function as a fitness tracker. It can track your activity and steps throughout the day, especially since I usually have my phone in my pocket.

Apple Pay

I’m excited about this. We will see how it works when it is officially released later this month.

Improved Camera

With a better camera and much better video, the iPhone 6 really is a great camera phone. The slow motion is really a great feature.

Conclusion

It’s a great phone. But what makes it great is not just the hardware, it’s how everything works together. I really need to do a post on the apps I use for ministry and the way I integrate the phone with my workflow between my Macbook Air and iPad. Since I am in ministry, I spend a large amount of time on the phone talking and checking in with my congregation. I want a phone that is easy to use and that helps me, and that’s why I love Apple products.

Ministry-Pass-Announcement

Let me introduce you to a great new service. Most churches do not have a full-time graphic designer on staff. For our church, this means that as pastor, I spend time on creating graphics for new sermon series and events. There are a few sites that provide sermon graphics, but I always have trouble finding graphics that will work with the topic I am interested in preaching on.

Ministry Pass is a new service that provide creative graphic content for your church. It is a membership based site, with a yearly membership costing $399 (They are currently offering a special introductory rate of $299) Before you say that is too much money, think about what it would cost to hire a graphic designer to design sermon graphics, social media graphics, and even youth and children’s ministry graphic for your ministry. They also offer slides and graphics for special events in your church. I appreciate that many of the graphics can be customized through Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements).

After browsing through the site, this is something I am definitely excited about. I’m already planning on using several of their graphics for my 2015 sermon series. The only thing I would like to see added is sermon series video bumpers.

Ministry Pass provides done-for-you resources that include sermon series (for students, adults, and children), special event packages (VBS and youth big event night materials), and weekly announcement slides. Every bundle comes with:

  • Sermon Series Guide
  • Photoshop Layers
  • Series Title Jpeg
  • Scripture/Point Jpeg
  • Facebook Cover Image
  • Facebook Timeline Image
  • Instagram Image
  • Print Ready Postcard Front
  • Bulletin Shell Cover

Here are a few examples of the graphics you will find on their site. Browse their site to see the whole collection. Each month, more resources will be added.

Now for the good news! Ministry Pass has generously offered to give a free one year membership to one of our readers here on faithengineer.com.  Enter the giveaway below. The winner will be announced this Friday night!

 

J100From the beginning, Cornerstone has been blessed with a number of talented young musicians. Earlier this year, several of our youth won a local competition and were blessed with 30 hours of recording studio time with the Audio Lab run by Brett Sexton here in Galax. They have just finished up their first CD, with 6 tracks, and it is incredible. You can learn more about the band on their website at www.splittingcedars.com and you can also pre-order the CD. If you plan on purchasing a CD, it will really help us to pre-order so they can cover the expenses of having the CD’s made.

This has been an awesome experience for these teens learning about the recording process and learning more about leading worship.  My son Luke plays guitar and mandolin on the album, so I may be a little biased, but I really think they have the talent to continue growing and recording as Christian artists. Fortunately, they also have the Godly character to match their talent. You can preview a couple of the tracks below. They will be leading worship this week at Cornerstone and they will also be opening for a Coffey Anderson concert on October 26th.

Click Here to Preorder the CD

It will also be available on iTunes and Amazon after the release next month

What Paid Facebook Means for Churches

http://www.churchleaders.com/worship/worship-articles/176369-jim-sedgwick-paid-facebook-means-for-churches.html

This is a great article. I’ve struggled with the same problem. Facebook really isn’t effective for a church now unless you are willing to pay. This quote should make you think. From the article ..

Facebook without payment is like a trial version with 15 percent functionality.

paidfacebook

 

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