Making Prom Affordable

February 17, 2011 — 1 Comment

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At Cornerstone, we are constantly on the lookout for ways to minister to the community . My wife was talking with some of our youth about prom and they talked about doing a prom dress outreach.  One of our ministry friends has a similar outreach in the Johnson City/Kingsport area called Head 2 Toe, and we thought about how we could make something similar work here in our city.

They ended up with the idea to take donated prom dresses and accessories and plan a big weekend extravaganza, selling dresses for only $20 and giving out multiple door prizes.  The idea grew and more people became excited about how we could meet a need in our community. With the high unemployment levels and the high poverty levels in our community, a reality is that many girls simply cannot afford to go to prom. We want them to realize that they are special and loved in God’s eyes, and we want to show them that we care. Along with the door prizes, we will be giving each girl a special packet of material to let them know that Jesus cares for them as well.

When we announced it at church, the idea really took off. An article first showed up in the Carroll County News. Then it was picked up by WXII-12 news in Greensboro/Winston. Then it was picked up and shared by the national Christian radio station K-Love (listen to the segment here), and it hasn’t stopped yet.  Our local paper is doing a feature story in Friday’s edition, and we are receiving a lot of phone calls from people wanting to help. This event has really seemed to connect with our community and with our church.

So the excitement is building and we can’t wait to open up our church as prom dress central on March 11th and 12th. Here is what we need at this point. We need gently used dresses and shoes and accessories. We have had a good response so far, but with all the publicity we really don’t know what to expect. Most girls will only wear a prom dress once. After that, the dresses just end up in a closet. Let’s put them to good use and help those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend.

Going Back to Nicaragua

February 15, 2011 — 1 Comment

When you trust God, plans can change very quickly. I got a call from Don Gillette at Because We Care Ministries a couple of weeks ago asking if I wanted to go back to Nicaragua and help teach pastors for a week in March.  I hadn’t planned on going this year, but it didn’t take long after praying to realize that this was definitely something that God was leading me to do. So the next day, I emailed him back and told him I was in, even before I knew what I would be doing. Now, if you know me, you know this goes against my personality. I like having all the details and information and being fully prepared before committing. But when I went on a mission trip there in November of ’09, I left a piece of my heart there. So, this time, it was an easy decision.

I found out yesterday what I will be doing. I will be teaching a group of 12 to 15 local pastors theology for a week. I’m going to be focusing on who God is. His nature, His character, His attributes, and His love. I’ll be teaching each morning and joining a mission team for some ministry as well. Don told me to be prepared to preach as well, so I’m looking forward to preaching with a translator again. I’m excited to see some familiar faces and reconnect with the people of Nicaragua. Most of the time will be spent in the village of Somotillo, which is on the northern part of Nicaragua close to the Honduras border.

I’m already planning and preparing to teach, so leave me a comment if you know of a good book that describes God’s character and nature. This is a great chance to make a lasting impact. When you go on a mission trip for a week, you can see life change, but when local pastors are trained, you can be part of the transformation of entire communities. I’m excited to teach on the Love, Holiness and Righteousness of the awesome God we serve!

Facebook is constantly evolving. Love it or hate it, you have to admit that they are not afraid to add features and change functionality of the site. For users, it means that every 6 months there seems to be an outcry about why Facebook has changed. For people who administrate Facebook pages, it means that you have to constantly redo your static FBML welcome pages and layouts of your tabs. And Facebook is not famous for giving you a warning before changes are made, so you have to read and study what has changed each time. Facebook rolled out some big changes to how pages work yesterday, so I wanted to give you a heads up on few things.

Facebook Pages

Pages are a great way for companies and organizations to interact with their customers and members. With the new update, the biggest new feature I see is that now page administrators can comment and interact as themselves instead of as the page administrator. Before, if I commented on our church’s page, it always showed up as our church instead of as me personally. There are times for both, and it’s great to see that Facebook is finally giving you the option to choose how to post to your Facebook Page wall.  Photos are also more prominently displayed at the top of your page, so you will need to be watching to make sure that the photos that are posted are appropriate for your page. Although it’s not new, you can also integrate facebook places with your facebook page, so that people can view a map of your organization and even check-in. You can find a pretty good discussion of the new changes over at allfacebook.com.

The biggest downside to the new design is that your Facebook tabs aren’t as noticeable and as of right now, you can’t set one as your default landing page. Since many organizations have built their Facebook pages around custom pages, this won’t be well received by many users. Overall, I like most of the changes. The new pages look more similar to user profile pages.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups were updated several months ago, but I have seen very little written about them. Facebook has been on a search to find a solution to connect smaller groups of people. They tried friend lists, which I really liked, but they decided it wasn’t interactive enough. The old style Facebook groups added some interaction, but they still weren’t satisfied, so they updated it yet again.  With the newest version of groups, I think we now have a great solution for small groups and youth groups at churches.

Here’s what the new groups offer:

  • more control over who can join a group, including open and closed groups, and administrator approval of new group members
  • more control over how you are notified. You can now receive an email notification every time someone posts to the group page
  • the ability to share basic documents
  • a group email address that can be used to post to the group wall
  • group chat! Everyone in the group can participate in a group chat. Think of using this for online study groups or small groups. I’ve even thought of using it to setup an online weekly prayer meeting for all our college and high school students.

You can read more about groups at allfacebook.com, or by watching the video from Facebook below.

How are you going to use the new Facebook Pages and Groups?

Super Bowl Thoughts

February 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

I enjoyed watching the Super Bowl at church yesterday with great people and great food. It helped that the game was close and competitive until the end. You could tell how the game was going by all the cheering and yelling during every big play. I didn’t really have a preference as to who won the game, so I was glad it was close. Here’s a couple of thoughts I had about watching the game.

  • I’ve seen a lot of comments on facebook and twitter today about Christina Aguilera messing up the words to the National Anthem. I was more surprised that she could actually sing. While it is disappointing that she forgot the words, I wouldn’t criticize her unless you have been in the position of singing to over 100 million people. She was gracious in saying she messed up, so let’s extend grace, not condemnation.
  • Jon Acuff had a great post about what to do during racy commercials during the Super Bowl. While it is frustrating that all commercials are not created to be family friendly, that is unfortunately the world we live in. People are going to watch this game whether at church or at home, so I want to provide an environment where we can talk about what we see while in Biblical community. I had a great time talking about life and football with many people that I didn’t really know that well. I firmly believe that the church is called to change culture, not condemn it. I’ve said it many times before, but we should be known for what we are for instead of what we are against.
  • I actually enjoyed the halftime show, but from comments on facebook and twitter, the feedback was really divided. It seems like the cutoff age was somewhere around 35 to 40 years old.  Those older thought it was the worst halftime show ever, while those younger thought it was great. Personally, I was just glad they had someone do the show that teenagers and college students actually knew. Usher and Slash were a fun surprise as well, and at least this time there were no wardrobe malfunctions.  For the last several years artists like  Tom Petty, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney all did the halftime show and I watched teenagers completely tune out. The artists were old enough to be my grandparents. As much as I liked their music in the 80’s, I don’t want an image of a 70 year old ex-rocker in leather pants burned into my memory.  As churches, this should really make you think. Are you holding on to the music of your childhood, or are you open to the music of the younger generation? If we are honest with ourselves, most contemporary praise and worship music is late 80’s/early 90’s slow rock. Most of my youth have never even heard of U2, so why is all of our youth praise music created to sound like them. If it makes you feel old, it should. Let’s build some generational bridges using music.

What are your thoughts about the game? Any favorite commercials? Leave a comment and let me know.

I’ve blogged before about the importance of having multiple computer backups. For my laptop, I regularly backup files to my home computer and to a network attached storage drive. For my desktop at home, I have been using Mozy, an online backup service for the last couple of years. I’ve had good luck with them and it has worked great, up until now. It works by uploading files from your computer to their online file server when your computer is idle. Everything is encrypted and you can restore your files from anywhere if you accidentally delete them or have a hard drive failure. The problem is that they have just changed their pricing scheme dramatically.

They definitely have the right to change their business model, but I can’t imagine they really thought this through. They are getting a ton of negative publicity online and I know I will be switching. They used to have a plan that was $4.95 per month per computer for unlimited backup space. Their new pricing scheme is more complicated and you pay by how much you use. For me, I had about 150gigs of data uploaded so my bill will triple each month. Thanks, but no thanks, especially when their competition still has cheaper plans.  I’m checking out both crashplan and backblaze, and they both have unlimited plans for around $5 per month. I may invest in an external hard drive/server for home as well.  The said part for me is that it literally takes a month or two to upload that much data over my slow DSL internet connection. That’s why I hate to change, but I don’t really have a choice. I simply don’t want to waste money and I don’t like how they changed the price without warning. Crashplan is also offering a 15% discount for ex mozy users – check out http://crashplan.com/mozyonover

There is no denying that debt is a huge problem in our country. Both for individuals and our government. At Cornerstone, we deal daily with people who are struggling with their finances. Our benevolence requests have skyrocketed this year due to the local high unemployment rates combined with the rising cost of basic necessities. It’s sad when people simply cannot pay for gas, groceries, and electricity. Unfortunately, the problems are made worse when people are in debt with no savings and no plan.

We want to serve our community and make a difference. We’ve hosted Joe Sangl several times here at Cornerstone with his Financial Learning experience, but we also want to offer Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  FPU is a 13 week course filled with Biblical wisdom about managing your finances. The class starts this Sunday evening at 6pm and is open to the community. The first lesson is free! All you need to do is register to attend. If you want to continue, the cost will be $100 including materials and lifetime membership in FPU. Your member’s kit will include a workbook, audio CD’s of all the lessons, Dave’s envelope system for cash management, online access to Dave’s resource center, Dave’s book Financial Peace Revisited, and a lifetime membership to attend any FPU class anywhere, anytime, at no charge.

If you would like to signup, please visit the Cornerstone website and let us know. Also, if you would like to sponsor someone who would like to take the class but can’t afford the $100 fee, please let me know. I am excited that we will have a number of guys taking the course who are recovering from addictions, and we will need some help to make sure all of them can take the class. I am also excited to see Josh & Karen Ramey lead this class. They have both been through Dave Ramsey’s counselor training and they are excited to get this class started. Here’s some more info from Dave’s website.

More than one million families have attended Financial Peace University with amazing results. On average, these families paid off $5,300 in debt and saved $2,700 in just the first 90 days! Stop worrying about money, and start your journey to Financial Peace today.

Preaching from an iPad

January 20, 2011 — 3 Comments

I’ve been experimenting the past few weeks preaching from my wife’s iPad.  I wasn’t sure how I would like it, but so far it has been great. I typically have at least 5 or 6 pages of notes that I’m flipping through while I preach.  I’ve lost pages and gotten my notes out of order before, so I was interested in seeing if this could help me stay organized.  The greatest part is that most people in the church don’t even realize I have an iPad on stage. I don’t want to draw attention to myself, so using an iPad has actually helped. It’s very discrete. Can you tell I’m trying to justify why I’m using it :-)

Over the past few years, I’ve tried several methods of preparing notes. My notes are a mix between an outline and manuscript.  I try to list quotes and illustrations, but I also leave a lot of content out of my notes. I’ve tried fitting my notes in my Bible, but that just seemed too cumbersome, so I typically just print them out and have the loose sheets of paper laying on the table.  I had to experiment a little to find the best method to get my notes on the iPad, so I thought I would share the process.

I’ve shared before about my preparation in preaching and how I use mindmaps as my initial outline. I typically export my mindmap from Xmind to Apple Pages as plain text, so I just started from there.

My Process

  • Format the sermon in Pages using the built-in paragraph styles. I typically add bold sections, highlighted text, and color coding to help me recognize the different parts of my message.  I used the guidelines from Apple’s support site t0 help me understand how to format correctly for the iPad.
  • In Pages, I then export as an ePub file that can be read by the iBooks app on the iPad. Even though there is a pages app on the iPad, you need to use something else to read your notes. If you use pages on the iPad, every time you hit the screen, the on-screen keyboard pops up and covers half the screen. By using iBooks, I can easily change the text size and font. And all the formatting stays the same. If you use the built-in heading styles in Pages, you can also quickly jump to different points in the sermon.
  • To transfer the file to Jennifer’s iPad, I use Dropbox. It’s a great way to sync files wirelessly to your mobile devices. In Dropbox, I locate the file and then tell it to open in iBooks. And that’s how it works.

A couple of cautions.  You need to find the right text size for your eyesight. I’m young enough to still be able to read small text, so I keep it pretty small. I’ve also heard about iPads causing interference with wireless microphones, so you’ll want to check everything out and test it before going live. You’ll also want to turn off bluetooth, wireless, and the screen-lock while you’re preaching. You don’t need facebook requests and emails popping up on your screen, and you definitely don’t want to screen to go black right in the middle of reading a passage.

And finally if you want to go all out, then check out the podiums from littlemountain.tv and Churchium.

For years, I have been frustrated that the iPhone was only available on AT&T. While AT&T claims to have great service and great coverage, they neglect to cover much of rural America. With zero bars, they simply were not an option for our area. I have waited every year for the Verizon iPhone announcement to be made, but now that they finally unveiled it today, I am not excited.  I think it will be great for Verizon and bad news for AT&T, but I have no plans to switch. It’s too little, too late for me because I’m perfectly happy with my HTC Desire Android phone. Since I’ve had my phone, my iPod touch gets used less and less, because I prefer using my phone for everything.

For me, an android phone just makes sense. I use almost all of Google’s services like GMail, Google Calendar, Google Voice, Google Reader, Google Docs, and Google Maps, and all of these are integrated much more tightly into the android operating system. You can truly customize android phones. I love having the ability to customize home screens with widgets and custom apps. For power users, there are even more features that you can unlock when you root your phone. I’m using the cyanogenmod rom, and I feel like my phone  will do anything that an iPhone will do and more.  The iPhone’s advantage is simplicity. It’s much harder to mess it up, and Apple’s control of the App store keeps everything under their control.

I think competition is great and the race between the iPhone and Android is now officially on. I can foresee today’s announcement really hurting the next generation of Windows Mobile phones and Blackberry. Microsoft waited too long to release a quality operating system for phones and Blackberry has not kept up with the increasing media and web fascination of the average user. Verizon has a strong android lineup, so it will be interesting to see how they sell compared to each other.

My final verdict

  • iPhone = great for the average user
  • android = great for the power user

Will you be switching? What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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