Twitter Web Apps

I wrote a week ago that I had recently started using Twitter, a micro-blogging service (posts are limited to 140 characters).

Since I started using Twitter, I’ve been comparing options for using Twitter (view my Twitter page here). So, for the benefit of people who may be searching for other alternatives, I thought I’d post my experiences so far.

Twitter users can post comments (“tweets”) to their Twitter page from various sources — Twitter.com itself, or via computer software clients, mobile phone and wireless device software applications, as well as web applications/interfaces.

Since the Twitter interface is pretty basic, many users look for alternatives that offer more features and functionality, either in software applications or other web app/interfaces.

In the last month I have tried out a number of different web interfaces. There were a few things I looked for: (1) Functionality, (2) User-Friendliness, and (3) Style/Design (in fact, I’d normally choose a basic site that looks appealing over a more powerful site that doesn’t).

After checking out a number of different sites/interfaces, here are some (very) basic thoughts on some of the services I looked at.

Several sites offered various features that may be important to some people (e.g., multiple accounts, scheduling tweets, integrating with other social media, etc.), but either I wasn’t particularly interested in those features or I wasn’t overly crazy about the design/usability of the site.

So, for various reasons, these sites are honorable mentions (i.e., they’re worth checking out and may have some features you are looking for) …

The following three sites are good, especially if you are looking for multiple columns for viewing/tracking different things.

Personally, I prefer a more minimalist, less cluttered (single-column) design. At the moment, I’d say my top four favorite sites are …

  1. iTweet
  2. Twitter.com
  3. Brizzly
  4. TwitIQ

None of these are perfect, but they each have their own strengths. They all have a single-column, fairly minimalist design.

If Twitter.com did a better job of auto-refreshing and if it included a URL shortener (it might, but I haven’t figured it out yet), it would be the clear favorite. Add in a URL-expander and inline viewing of media and it would be even better.

If iTweet (which is the best of the four at auto-refreshing) loaded older/previous tweets below (like the others) instead of loading a new page, and if it allowed me to open Twitter-related pages in new tabs/windows, it would probably be my clear favorite.

If Brizzly did a better job of refreshing, and if account basics (i.e., number of “followers” and “following,” etc.) were visible on the main page, it could be my clear favorite. Brizzly is the best at viewing older tweets. Upon reaching the bottom of the page, the previous section of tweets automatically load without having to click anything.

Brizzly and TwitIQ are nice in that they show expanded URLs (so you know where you’re going before you click) as well as inline photos/videos (so you don’t have to click to go to see them).

For now, I usually have these four sites open in four different tabs in one browser window. I seem to use iTweet the most (because it’s the most up to date without having to refresh the page), but as I said, there are things I like about the other sites, too.

It will be interesting to see how these fairly new services develop in the near future, especially with Twitter’s conference in a couple weeks.

Feel free to post a comment about a Twitter-related web app (or even software application) you either use or have tried in the past.

Adoption and Bonding Dynamics

Six weeks after bringing Sarah home, we reflected on bonding the second time around.

Now at five months, I recently visualized the difference in dynamics between the two experiences. When we brought Ethan home, Ethan entered a circle of two people, but when we brought Sarah home less than two years later, Sarah entered a circle of three people.

Those are two completely different sets of dynamics. Breaking into a circle of two is much easier than breaking into a circle of three (especially when one of the three is a two-year-old!). Ethan’s entrance was a non-issue (he had our undivided attention, well, except for polishing dissertations!).

Due to the different set of dynamics, Sarah’s process of entering the circle has probably been slower than Ethan’s was (naturally), but thankfully, Sarah is doing her part to make this bonding experience as easy as possible! 🙂

Faith and Action Go Hand in Hand!

I preached at the final service in the Clearfield Community Lenten Lunch series today. Here’s the gist of my message …

Joleen, who hosted today’s service at West Side, read the Scripture. I hope people caught the contrasting points of the two writers.

Romans 4.1-5 (NLT)
Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? 2 If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. 3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 4 When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. 5 But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.

James 2.21-24 (NLT)
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

And here’s the message that followed …

Too often, there’s a disconnect between faith and action. We may emphasize faith and simply show up on Sundays to be fed and inspired, only to go about life as usual until the next week. Or maybe we’re active, but our work isn’t really connected to our faith. It’s just busyness. It’s technically action, but it doesn’t bear any fruit for the kingdom of God.

There’s always been confusion over the relationship between faith and action, going at least as far back to Paul and James. I love that they both wrote about Abraham’s offering of Isaac and quoted the exact same sentence out of the Old Testament … and made two different (but not necessarily conflicting) points from the story!

I think Paul’s emphasis was on faith in coming to Christ while James’ emphasis was for those who have faith in Christ to bear it out in the way that they live.

Faith and action go hand in hand!

It’s always been that way. Look at the people listed in Hebrews 11. The writer doesn’t say, “Wow. Abraham was a really nice guy. Moses was so spiritual. And Sarah, boy she was a very trusting person.” No, in just about every case, the writer said, “By faith …” they did stuff! Their faith resulted in action. They were people for whom it could be said, faith and action go hand in hand!

At the end of this list in Hebrews, the writer sounds a call to action (to run the race with endurance) then directs the readers’ attention to Jesus, the greatest doer of all!

Listen to some of the things Jesus said …

I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me. (John 6.38)

My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. (John 4.34)

Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. (Matthew 7.21)

Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother! (Matthew 12.50)

… let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5.16)

Is it any wonder that the biblical account of the first generation of Christ-followers is called Acts? The account describes how those first followers’ faith and action went hand in hand!

I want to leave us with the question that God asked Moses at the burning bush when he trying to talk Moses into leading a massive exodus from Egypt. God’s asked Moses, “What’s that in your hand?”

Moses must’ve thought, it’s just a stick! And he was right. In Moses’ hand, it was just a stick. But in God’s hand, it did mighty things. It was used in the performing of miracles, including the parting of the Red Sea. It was a tool in the start of a spiritual revolution!

What’s in your hand? You might think it isn’t much, that it’s just a stick. It might be one talent, two talents, or five talents. The amount doesn’t matter — what matters is what we do with it. Whatever you do, don’t sit on it or bury it. Do something with it that honors God and bears fruit for God’s kingdom!

To you, it might just be a stick, but in God’s hand, it can be mightily used to accomplish great things. It can start a spiritual revolution, in your home, your school, your workplace, or your neighborhood.

You see, this is a hands-on faith!

Jesus’ followers took people by the hand and people were healed. They laid hands on people and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself touched lepers and other “untouchables.” He washed the feet of his friends, even though he knew that within hours, one would betray him, one would deny, and all would desert him!

Jesus was delivered into the hands of sinners. He was tied up, tortured and humiliated. His hands were stretched out and nailed to a cross.

After rising from the dead, Jesus sends us to be his hands, feet, and his voice in the world … to change the world with the good news of Jesus Christ!

Recharging Your Batteries

You know the drill, one of your many rechargeable battery-powered gadgets needs recharging, so you plug it into its specific rechargeable device (after you find it!).

A couple weeks ago, I plugged in my cell phone, and Ethan asked if my phone was dead. It wasn’t, so I said, “No, it just needs to be recharged.” So he replied, “Is it a little bit dead?” 🙂

Well, last week, I plugged a couple other rechargeable gadgets into an outlet. And this morning, when I tried to use one of them, battery power lasted only a few seconds. That didn’t make sense.

Seconds later, though, I thought to check the electrical outlet to see if the “Reset” button needed pressed. It did. So what I thought was recharging really wasn’t accomplishing anything!

I wondered if that happens to us physically, emotionally, and spiritually as well.

“Recharging batteries” is a good metaphor for personal/spiritual self-care. But we need to check, occasionally, to see if what we think is recharging our batteries is accomplishing anything or not. We may think we’re recharging our batteries, but if we’re connected to the power source, nothing is happening!

So, when you recharge your batteries, make sure you are *really* connecting to the power source!

Planning & Leading Change

Today, Joleen and I attended a seminar (a requirement of our ordination process) held at Wesley Forest, a United Methodist camp. The presenter for the seminar on “Planning and Leading Change” was Rev. Tom Berlin, senior pastor of Floris United Methodist Church (Herndon, VA).

During the day, I posted several quotes on my Twitter page. But here, I’ll offer a little further review and reflection.

It was a very good leadership event and there’s a lot we need to process and reflect on. For now, here are some of the highlights …

Berlin began the day talking about calling. He said that passion based on call is the difference between pastors who finish well and pastors who burn out. Pastors must be intentional in processing their own call. Berlin said …

No one is ever gonna tell you what you need to be about. Your calling is your business with God!

Berlin recommended Dick Wills’ book, Waking to God’s Dream.

Berlin also talked about the importance of clarity

Clarity of calling will keep you in ministry when everything is telling you to get out.

Berlin recommended Marcus Buckingham’s book, The One Thing You Need to Know (we’ve read his earlier book, Now, Discover Your Strengths but still need to read the follow-up book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work).

I love the following statement …

Try things that only God can do. … Listen to the things that God is calling you to do that you don’t think you can do.

But Berlin made it clear that leading change is difficult. He said that while seminaries “didn’t give you a hazmat suit, they should have” because we deal with toxic stuff in ministry.

Ministry is a distance event. (Berlin)

The closing session of the day, “the change marathon,” focused on self-care in the midst of leading change. With input from his wife, a marathon runner, Berlin offered several steps change leaders need to take in order to finish well, in spite of the challenges of leadership (incidentally, I came across some scary statistics on clergy families yesterday that point to the challenges clergy families face).

Marathon runners often train with “training buddies” for mutual support. Berlin noted the importance of pastors having friends, both clergy and non-clergy (the stats in the link above support this point).

Runners take time to stretch before and after running. Similarly, pastors need spiritual, emotional, and physical “stretching activities” in order to stay healthy. Related to this, pastors need to “make time for recovery” through daily, weekly, monthly, and annual activities. These points remind me of Wayne Cordeiro’s tank-filling activities.

Well, there were other good points, but I’ll stop there for now. Again, it was a worthwhile event, and we need to process it further, especially since the parts dealing with self-care have implications for us and our family.

Preaching Notes

The use of preaching notes is a more technical aspect of preaching, and I thought it’d be interesting to reflect on how my use of notes has developed over the years.

Of course, preaching notes are tied to one’s preaching approach. Some use manuscripts. Some use detailed outlines. Others use little or no notes. But because one’s use of notes can help or hinder communication, it’s important that each communicator find his or her own style.

In a nutshell, my journey started out using more notes to using fewer notes. I probably used a detailed outline the longest (in the middle). For the first several years, I prepared handwritten notes on half-sheets of paper that fit inside my Bible. Years later, I started preparing my notes on a computer and printing them — on half-sheets, on third-sheets placed in a small binder, then on full letter-size paper, then back to half or third-sheets.

For a few years, I used StoryMapping (notes using mind maps) for my notes. I need to write a follow-up on StoryMapping because I’m still using story-mapping / mind-mapping in preparation, but not for the presentation (i.e., notes).

Since switching to to one point preaching nearly four years ago, I’ve been using fewer and fewer notes. Usually, I try to fit my notes (which is mainly Scripture text and possibly a couple other keywords/phrases) onto a single half sheet, or better yet, a quarter sheet. Sometimes I put them in a Bible; sometimes I simply carry the notes (on card stock paper, which is much sturdier).

My notes are probably fairly unconventional, especially in that I’ve always printed my notes in a small font (7 or 8 point), single-spaced. But, at least, it’s still more readable than my handwriting!

Technology has played a role in preaching/communication. I remember when laptops were becoming more widespread, some people read their notes directly from their laptops. Some used PDAs. I’m glad I missed those fads. 🙂

Centre Grove is the first place I’ve served that has multimedia capabilities in worship. In the early days of multimedia use, many communicators, as they were learning how (and how not) to use this new medium, tended to put way too much information on slides. Thankfully, another fad I missed.

I use a minimalist approach. For example, Sunday’s sermon on the torture and humiliation of Jesus had four slides: (1) 24 Hours, (2) Lack of Commitment, (3) Torture & Humiliation, and (4) Trials reveal the strength of our commitment! (that is: series title, problem, sermon title, and main point/sticky statement).

For more on the use of multimedia in presentations, see Presentation Zen‘s post, Learning from Bill Gates & Steve Jobs.

These days, my goal is to use as few notes as possible. On Sunday, I jotted down the four slide statements (above) on a Post-It note that marked the Scripture text in my Bible. I want to get to the point where I have no notes … just my Bible. But that’s still a work in progress!

Every communicator has his or her own style. Some can use manuscripts effectively. Others work best with an outline. I have discovered that I work best with few/no notes. Incidentally, it was the fear factor that kept me from using this approach for so long (and the fear never completely goes away). Actually, the one point preaching approach helps me to use fewer notes.

Occasionally, I find myself throwing in a few extra notes (or using a few too many presentation slides) and usually I can feel the difference.

Because I try to use as few notes as possible, I often find myself praying (in the moments before I preach) the words from an FFH song, “You write the words” (see my post on the song), a good prayer throughout the preparation stage, too.

Well, that’s where I’m at now. I’m sure my approach will continue to develop, but I hope this is helpful to other communicators, especially those starting out. The main thing is to try different approaches to find what works best for you. No one approach/style is better than any other, necessarily, as long as it fits your style and you can communicate effectively. It’s a process — a lifelong process!

So, what do your preaching notes like? How have they developed during the course of your preaching journey?

And, in case you missed my earlier posts, this is the fourth post in a series on preaching. Previous posts include: The Preaching Challenge, The Preaching Process, and 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation.

Live Tweeting at Leadership Event

Toward the end of this post, I give details on a leadership event we’re attending tomorrow where I plan be “live tweeting.” You can skip to the end of this post for that info, or read about the process of how I came to try out Twitter.

The Internet is a network of computers that offers a way for people to connect. Over the years, my main avenue for online connection has been through blogging.

For about six years, I was heavily active in a pastor’s online forum, representing mostly pastors from all across the U.S. and some from outside the U.S. (Incidentally, what was once a very strong forum has pretty much died when the operators changed formats, moving from a forum/discussion board format to more of a social-networking, Facebook-for-pastors format, interestingly enough.)

In the world of social media, some of the biggest recent developments have been with Twitter and Facebook. I have not been an early adopter in these media.

My first impression of Twitter (which is based on the question, “What are you doing?”) wasn’t very good. Most people answered the question by reporting things like going to watch a movie, sitting in a meeting, eating at a restaurant, etc. While there may be some value in simply connecting with others, it didn’t appeal to me, at the time.

It remains to be seen what, if anything I do with other forms of social media, but I decided recently to check out Twitter. Twitter is a micro-blogging platform which limits posts to 140 characters (about one or two sentences). If nothing else, it’s a good way to hone the discipline of being concise! 🙂

I’m experimenting with how I might use the service. So far, I have posted a few Scripture phrases, inspirational quotes, and links to good resources. Each week, I post the main point from Sunday’s sermon. Also, links to posts I write here are automatically “tweeted.” And it may be a good way to connect with others (by “following” others and/or having others “follow” you).

I must say, it was particularly interesting to watch the Twitter activity in realtime following last night’s House of Representatives’ vote on health care reform. I didn’t read much of the activity, though, because it was impossible to keep up!

Live Tweeting. While I am still experimenting with Twitter, I’m posting this now to invite you to be part of this experiment. On Tuesday, Joleen and I will be attending an all-day seminar on “Planning and Leading Change,” led by Rev. Tom Berlin, senior pastor of Floris United Methodist Church (Herndon, VA). This is one of the requirements of our ordination process.

I should have Internet access at the seminar site so I plan to post quotes/learnings throughout the day (if I don’t have Internet access, for some reason, I’ll try to post some things Tuesday evening). I also expect to write a more in-depth recap here on the blog sometime afterward.

Well, I may write more later on how my experiment with Twitter is going, including some reflection and reviews of some of the third-party Twitter applications (mainly Web apps) that provide greater functionality.

Finally, click here to follow me on Twitter, especially on Tuesday when I will be live tweeting from Wesley Forest, a United Methodist campground.

Extravagant Generosity

Jesus, consistent with the Old Testament,  speaks unabashedly and repeatedly about wealth, greed and generosity. In Mark 12.41-44, Jesus relates a story comparing the giving of the rich to that of poor widow who gives two very small copper coins. Jesus comments …

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.

There are many things that can distract us from faithful living, and money is one of them. We can become distracted by working too long and too hard, by comparing what we have with what  others have or by desiring earthly recognition for our giving, desiring our reward on earth and by giving with the wrong motivations.

What motivated the generosity of the poor widow that Jesus observed?

It was NOT the religious system; the religious system was corrupt. Prior to this passage, Jesus says, “Watch out for the teachers of the law … They devour widows’ houses …” We cannot base our generosity on the Church, the denomination, or the pastor. Our giving is to God.

The widow did NOT give out of her abundance, but out of her poverty. She gave everything she had to live on. She sacrificially gave all that she had as Jesus in two days would give his life on a cross for us.

The widow did NOT give in a showy manner, as the rich “threw” their money in such a way as to make some noise. The widow “put” her money in. No one needed to know but God. And God did see, just as Jesus saw. No offering goes unnoticed by God.

Her offering was small in value, but big on proportion. Some point to tithing as an Old Testament teaching, not present in the New Testament. Here Jesus lifts up proportional giving as: “all she had to live on.”

The widow was faithful and spiritually mature. She was thankful to God for his provision; she knew it was God who provided and cared for her. Implicit in this passage, she is a joyful giver–her attitude is right.

Questions for Reflection

  1. From whom have you learned your patterns of giving?
  2. Are you continuing to learn? Every aspect of our lives is touched, including our giving, when we grow in Christ.
  3. What proportion of your income do you give? Have you ever figured out the percent of your income that you give? If not, why? Why are you resistant?
  4. In what way does this story speak to you, inspire, touch you? To whom do you relate: the rich, the poor widow, the disciples gathered around Jesus to hear him teach?
  5. Finally, who do you love? In whom do you trust? Have you found your purpose in sharing Christ with others?

Ethan and Technological Advances

I love technological advances. In fact, I’ve often thought about the people who lived through much of the 20th century, how much development they must have seen during their lifetimes!

With that in mind, some time ago, in a moment of reflection, I wondered what kinds of technological advances Ethan will see during his (and now Sarah’s) lifetimes. It made my head spin.

Last night, we went to The Meadows (Clearfield) for a treat, chocolate peanut butter frozen yogurt. The place, which opened in Duncansville, PA, in 1950, has a 1950s theme with records (feels strange writing that word!), 45s, to be exact, on the walls.

Ethan noticed and them and asked, “Are those videos?” 😆

Off-Road Disciplines

One of the books I’m reading during this Lenten season is Off-Road Disciplines by Earl Creps.

I think I first saw the book in the Cokesbury bookstore at Asbury Theological Seminary a few years ago. I thought it was a creative look at a different set of spiritual disciplines in the 21st century, specifically for missional leaders.

It’s certainly not your typical disciplines (e.g., prayer, Scripture, worship, etc.). They’re disciplines for missional leaders, divided into personal and organizational categories. Personal disciplines include: Death, Truth, Perspective, Learning, Witness, and Humility. Organizational disciplines include: Assessment, Harmony, Reflection, Opportunity, Sacrifice, and Legacy.

Here are a few statements I highlighted …

Both …

This book argues that missional leadership derives not from methods or strategies but from the work of the Holy Spirit to rearrange one’s interior life (xiv).

and …

A missional perspective springs from a transformed interior life that gives us moral authority to lead God’s people (14).

address the importance of the Holy Spirit in the work of missional leaders. It’s not our ministry/leadership — it’s God’s — and we depend on God’s presence and power for effectiveness.

Saying ‘I need you’ crucifies my impersonation of omnipresence (as well as omniscience and omnipotence), opening the way for a kind of humility that brings isolated individuals together into healthy communities (82).

The practice of evangelism involves making room for the Spirit to draw the sought into a saving encounter with the Seeker through Christ. The Church’s job is not to save people but to shape the space in which God calls them to himself (145).

Caring profoundly about the sought and developing venues in which to interact with them creates only the potential for mission. Nothing else happens without the agency and power of the Holy Spirit (150) … The Spirit dimension involves the infusion of God’s presence and power into the venues (personal, electronic, institutional) in which the Church interacts with the sought (152).

Finally, a quote from Gen. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army …

The tendency of fire is to go out; watch the fire on the altar of your heart (181).

Missional leaders must guard their hearts, making sure their passion stays strong!