Student Loans and the Conversation on More More More when We Probably Need Less

<img src="https://danielgriswold.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/20140725-124953-46193432.jpg"

My response to “The Solution to the Student-Loan ‘Crisis’? Depends on How You Define It” By Beckie Supiano JUNE 25, 2014

http://m.chronicle.com/article/The-Solution-to-the/147345/

This is my response to the above article, and was originally a Facebook comment which became much to long to be posted (no one would read the whole thing). So I’ve taken that comment and posted it here. Thanks Pam for posting and getting my mind moving.

My response:

I just read this article and it kept popping up in my head “They already do this,” and “I knew what I was doing because they told me.” I am paying pretty high loan payments (more than my mortgage) but when I went through the process to get my masters of divinity I had to go through

(1) Thorough loan counseling and consultation with the financial aid office advisor, and then I had to read and sign documents that spelled out exactly what I would be responsible for in the future. They show you sliding scales of what payments would be like and you can add them up and you realize how much it’s going to be as you sign each year.

(2) When you hit a threshold going over 40k worth of loans, you go through a second round of counseling and you go through another consultation on top of the yearly discussion, in which you have to sign a document or write a letter stating you understand the weight of possible future payments. I laughed as I signed it because I felt like a child and knew that I would not have a masters if I didn’t do it. The weight was on me and I knew exactly what I was doing and my ministry trajectory and call required it.

(3) When you complete seminary, a third round of counseling begins and you consult about your payment plans and you get an exit strategy or loose plan. Payments are about to start in 6 months after graduation and you’re encouraged to engage the student load administrators and work out what kind of payment plan you can do. Income based repayment was on the table right away (but I was hired and didn’t have to take advantage of it). If I had not been hired I would have signed up for it right away.

Since then, I have had to go into forbearance once this year due to our first child’s, Ransom’s, birth. I called, all the possible consequence or lack thereof was explained. They recorded me agreeing to all the terms and it was done. While I don’t think the system is perfect, it was pretty flawless in the sense that it gave me money I needed to educate myself.

I still bear the weight with my wife (and it would sure be nice if suddenly the government said you’re good, don’t worry about it). It was so clear what I was doing. It is possible that I had a best case scenario, but if that’s the case, all the government would have to do is tighten up financial aid office practices and follow procedures already in place.

When it all comes down to it, I believe the best way to solve this issue is to stop giving student loans in the first place. Tuition inflation, after thinking about it a bit, I believe, is directly tied to the ability of our federal government to give credit at higher and higher levels. It is a bubble that will eventually burst. Educational institutions are riding this wave and are doing wonderful things with the money but an equilibrium will have to be made or a correction made by force (standard tuition rates for a certain education). I have benefited and I want more people to benefit but it can’t go on like this forever. Eventually tuition will outgrow our credit, the burden will be too great, and even the collective won’t be able to bear it. One thing is certain though – education and access to it has never been more important. I just wish we could do it without hemorrhaging the people who need it most and on the not unending credit line of our government.

I have both personal responsibility for my loans, and wish that tuition was a bit lower. It wasn’t, I received an amazing education, and I plan on paying it back as I am able and hopefully sooner than later.

Would it be nice to have nearly a grand a month back in my wallet to use for other expenses? Absolutely. We live at a lower level to pay it off. But was it worth it? Absolutely – short of beating me to death, it would be pretty hard for someone to come and steal what has been given to my mind heart and active hands for service to others.

A word of caution: not everyone can expect to be hired right out of school or seminary like I was. I hope that everyone listens carefully to their counselor and if a person of faith, discern deeply what the Spirit is calling you to do. With prices still rising, the cost to your future increases yearly. At some point people will have to step away from the system to let them know they’ve gone too far.

Theater Antics

danielgriswold:

Always good to see a post giving good young people a shout out. There’s too much negativity from the older folk that creates their own self fulfilling prophecy. Here’s to those who are considerate and well behaved of all ages ;)

Originally posted on chantelleloves.wordpress.com:

Work got out today and I recalled my sister saying, we should see a movie Friday. We’ve been wanting to see “Million Dollar Arm”. Later we got our tickets and found a seat in the theater, dead center. We weren’t there long when a line of boys came running in …they circled around the seats and aisles before they found the “perfect seats”. A woman from behind us said to the group, “I think you might be in the wrong theater…” She asked them what movie they were seeing. When they said Million Dollar Arm she had nothing else to say except, oh you are in the right theater. (Interesting.. I thought) I asked the boys if any of them played baseball. A few hands went up. They were adequately excited! Mom passed out a few cups of soda and a couple big bags of popcorn to the boys to share. I thought…

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Waiting for Miracles? Consider Some Already Done

20080716 Sacred text

Rather than waiting for a sign of God’s existence, turn to the Bible, where his miracles are well-documented.

HARKER — McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Waiting for Miracles? Consider Jesus’ Resurrection

danielgriswold@Gmail.com

Originally Published: April 1, 2014 in the Bluffton Edition of The Island Packet

In reading Matthew 12, there are two verses that have bothered my soul. Jesus goes around performing miracles and refuting critics who are plotting to kill him and he amazes the crowd constantly. In the midst of this, in verses 38 and 39, someone states, “Teacher, we want you to show us a sign.” Jesus responds quickly and doesn’t perform a miracle on demand. In paraphrase, he says, “Come on people, you’re being terrible, you’ve turned away from God. Your only sign will be the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Jonah sat in the belly of a large sea creature for three days, and Jesus is foreshadowing his future death and resurrection. He refuses to give into being the entertainment and centerpiece of the story. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, he has done many miracles. But he is about to do something so much more important than make y’all say, “Wow.” Lastly, he’s going to rise from the belly of death and open the doors to a greater work of our father. That’s big stuff.

I was once like a member of the crowd calling out for more signs and miracles. In fact, I still like to ask God to show me he is real. I have hardly ever received a moment like Gideon, who asked God to place dew on a fleece in the book of Judges in order to determine God’s purpose and agency. I’ve had to build a trust with Him over time, and have had to mature beyond the need for “mountaintop” experiences every Sunday and every retreat to remain engaged with God.

As a child, I thought of church and altar calls (a minister calling those who seek repentance and a filling of the holy spirit to come forward and receive God’s presence, forgiveness and otherworldly touch) as an end in religion, and I fully expected to see miracles to prove my faith.

I wanted to see with my own eyes the physical and scientific reality of the God who created the universe. I didn’t want to trust the testimony of the millennia, because I’m new, the world is new, and certainly things have changed. The spirit behind my curiosity was, “God, show me something now.” Much like a sports fan saying a prayer for his team to win the current game, I wanted to have a story that would change my life.

I didn’t understand that that story had already been lived out. And in this scene, returning to Matthew chapter 12, we have a crowd that wanted an immediate sign, and Jesus said, something bigger than you can imagine is coming. Have patience; just wait.

How many walked away that day saying, “Man, Jesus was a disappointment”? He called them bad people; he didn’t create matter from nothing to prove his claims as a prophet; and he passed the buck to a future event. How can he be trusted?

Today we have the story of the gospel, we have the testimony of the apostles recorded for our discernment, the traditions of the church passed down and, even better, the living holy spirit working among us and binding us as believers in Christ, who calls us into ministry as the people of God.

God’s love has already been shown, and yet we still want a further sign. We are simply impatient to wait to see what God is about to do.

In this season of Lent, perhaps we can take a breath and remember that our time is not God’s time. The miracle we are looking for may be soon to come — it may have already occurred and we refuse to trust in it. As a community of faith, let us spend time in prayer and contemplation, giving God a place to do something even better than what we are asking for.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

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Great Justice Starts in the Hearts of a Few (Pastor’s Corner)

Thomas Merton was a 20th century writer and Catholic mystic.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Great justice starts in hearts of the few

danielgriswold@gmail.com

March 18, 2014

I’m extremely interested in the study of the human desire, over the ages, to have justice and of people seeking hope in what the ancient Egyptians called Ma’at (a balance between the powerful and powerless).

The 20th century writer and philosopher Thomas Merton cautions that “hope in man must not be naive.” He advocated non-violence. This concept seems so utopian that it could never be achieved within the context of human time, perhaps not even in the 100 (if we’re lucky) years we have to live on this earth.

His writing pushes readers to play with the concept of timelessness or eternity and what can be achieved by moving forward with “truth” — no matter what the immediate results prove. “Do not depend on the hope of results,” he argues. He says Christians are working on a timetable that is dependent on God and that we must suffer as Christ did, taking on the yoke of the savior, that yoke of evil.

Despite this, in the immediate context of our current world, I couldn’t help but think of how one goes about changing the politics of the world through non-violence — considering the current crisis in Ukraine, various conflicts in North Korea, flare-ups in Africa and even local violence I see on the news in Savannah and our Lowcountry each year.

There sometimes seems to be a stage that the powerful begin to stand on, and there becomes a distinct separation from the ordinary — a hedge away from regular people. If “the realism of non-violence must be made evident by humility and self-restraint, which clearly show frankness and open-mindedness and invite the adversary to serious and reasonable discussion,” then the stage has to be torn down, or everyone must be brought onto the stage so that listening, discussion and a middle ground can be found.

Should we use the threat of power and violence to raise us to that stage, and make peace then — and by those means?

Merton calls on us to say, “No!” We must not allow ourselves to take that stage, because that would make our ideal of non-violence a pharisaic ideal.

“The basis of pharisaism is division,” he states, and the basis of non-violence is the humbleness and oneness of the entire human race. The only real solution is to do the work of God in faith and have hope that through the generations, the kingdom of God will eventually come.

This is a timetable of patience, and is not dependent on immediate gratification. Though this is a hard ideal and the ways to live it out are diverse — from those who write in their home’s chambers, to the marches of Martin Luther King Jr. and those who non-violently struck the same chord for justice — there are endless battles that can be won on the level of ordinary streets.

Do we have the patience? How long will we wait until the earth is made new?

With each action we take and each word we say, with every moment we listen and by how we distribute and give of what we have in our possession, we push against walls that separate human from human, people from people and nation from nation.

A great hope is that all people will unite one day and accomplish great things. It always starts small in the hearts of a few.

What big things do you want to see accomplished? What steps can we take to make it so? How much patience will it take to bring about? And lastly, will we do what is necessary long enough to make it so?

I think we can make this happen.

 

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

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Don’t let noise distract you from God’s love

Don’t let noise distract you from God’s love

BY DANIEL GRISWOLD

danielgriswold@gmail.com

Originally Published in the Bluffton Ed. of The Island Packet, on February 18, 2014 

20111216 No talker

Thomas Merton, a somewhat mystical Catholic monk I’ve been prone to read, has impressed me with his strong commitment to silence. In an age of action and commotion, is this a call worth heeding? Can we be quiet in the storms of life?

Like nervous electrons, we like to keep moving in constant circles, only thinking of our being in terms of action and what we have been doing recently. This constant motion and outside analysis cannot bring peace with one’s self, and we become distanced from what we truly are (whatever that might be). I love this quote in a book of his essential writings: “When we are quiet, not just for a few minutes, but for an hour or several hours, we may become uneasily aware of the presence within us of a disturbing stranger, the self that is both ‘I’ and someone else.” Merton’s concept of the stranger is an eerie ghost to most of us who have taken too little time to seek inward, into the center of our being, where silence is the only communication and the key to self-discovery.

This silence is not easy for a generation that has put action and outer self-satisfaction above all else. We prize our rewards for hard work as our homes fill with items of our conquests here and there. We’re not used to quiet stillness. It is scary, like a horror movie, we might accidentally reflect, accidentally be silent for a minute, and we become disturbed by the stirrings of what is within us, perhaps lying dormant until that time when we’re listening and processing what it might be.

I’ve been reminded by Merton that the actions we must take before we help the world are the actions that are, as he says, “non-actions” and “the quiet of worship, the reverent peace of prayer, the adoration in which the entire ego-self silences and abases itself in the presence of the Invisible God,” this way we would receive “his one word of love.” And if we lived without this “one word,” we would be cursed to live within a life of illusion, like the electron, the ever-spinning slave promoting the goals of a world that is hell-bent on action, instead of the heavenward non-actions of contemplation and prayer.

So, as the world spins (and it does not stop for anyone), when will we make time to disengage and hear what heaven is really calling out to us? There is a real danger that even the best and most righteous follower of God, whose entire life has been devoted to doing good works, and whose energy has been poured outward, may find that the superhuman effort didn’t bring the rewards they’d hoped for — something was missing. If we just take the time listening, whispering, contemplating the word of God, and seeking the will of our creator, we may find ourselves rejuvenated and more alive.

Don’t let busyness take hold of you. Say “no” to some good things, say “no” to all evil things, and say “yes” to being enveloped by God’s love. Be continually transformed by the moments of grace and appreciate that God is everywhere; you are never alone. This moment is your moment: Close your eyes, be still, listen and know, “You are loved.”

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.


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I love The Getty’s Hymns: Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed

I’ve begun to learn this on the guitar.  Great Hymn – and so celebratory!

Facing Life’s Giants, Having Courage and Making a Way

When you’re facing life’s giants, remember who you can rely on for courage

BY DANIEL GRISWOLD

danielgriswold@gmail.com

First Published in Bluffton Packet: January 22, 2014

“Slay your giants!” That was a tagline for a sermon series I heard at my childhood church long ago. It referred to David, the young boy who had courage enough to stand up to Goliath, the behemoth Philistine soldier who was calling out David’s country’s greatest warrior.

It was odd that a shepherd boy, who brought his older brothers meals on the battle lines between the Hebrews and the Philistines, would ultimately be the one who ended a standoff. The defeat of the giant showed how courage can come from unexpected people, and how God uses us if we are willing to do great things.

What giant stands in your path? For me, it’s trying to imagine fatherhood while everyone reminds me that I have no idea what’s coming with our new child due in February. Our church is also “birthing” a new campus in Bluffton, and we’re learning the ropes of simultaneous worship at two campuses. I’m charged with some of the vision of being one church, two campuses. In many ways, my giants are not named Goliath, but rather “transition” and “change.” My roles are shifting month-by-month with very little stability, and I’m trying to figure out which rocks I’ll be able to stand on once the storms of uncertainty pass.

I believe the best path to success in all these endeavors is perseverance. A perseverance of the soul that rests its weight in the greatest giant of all, rests on the true behemoth, which of course is our father in heaven.

Psalm 121 begins: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the lord, who made heaven and earth.”

True perseverance comes from trust in the maker of our being, whose spirit seeks out those who desire goodness and justice, who reveals himself through the wonders of the universe — specifically in the amazing unique creation of your own self.

Practically, we can have confidence in the future. Whether we live or die, we are able to face the world’s biggest problems because we are not working alone. Many early believers die for simply worshipping and loving God. Today in the free world, we can live out good stewardship of our home planet; we can foster peace in our neighborhoods by spreading goodwill; and we can live lives that advocate for the oppressed and those who live without freedom.

When Moses’ successor Joshua was taking the reins of leadership he was charged with leading God’s people into their new home. It was guaranteed to be a land of warfare, a land where they could lose their identity easily among the varying cultures, and where much harm was done from person to person, city to city and nation to nation. It would be easy to have left that giant alone with the challenge from God unmet. But in Joshua 1:9, God gave a word that resonates through the ages, “Do not be afraid, be bold and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” I keep those words in my memory. When I face giants, I hear God’s words recorded thousands of years prior, and I take courage that I can find the way through. You can too.

 

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

The Griswold Christmas Letter (For Those Who It Didn’t Make it To)

There are a few Christmas Cards that have been returned to us, so I wanted to put out the annual Christmas Card to all those who want to read a bit about what’s happened, and see the COMPLETELY RANDOM Christmas pic we’ve come up with this year.  It really is a year in anticipation of Ransom’s debut in the 2014 card, so we decided – DINOSAURS. It was impulsive, and oh, we had Star Costumes.  So here it is.  Also, I’ve attached our Christmas Letter below – if you’re really interested in our lives…or something.  Much love – Dan
Christmas 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

This has been an adventurous year for the Griswolds.  Amanda has continued to work as a real estate assistant for Tad Segars and has kept busy as the economy slowly grows back to its prior levels. She has continued to volunteer and be the youth groups “first lady” at every event and meeting we have, she is adored by our youth.  Dan has been working hard as we’ve added a third youth group (High School Sunday Nights, Middle School Wednesday, and now a Bluffton group across the bridge from Hilton Head on Tuesday nights).  We have had new families and youth join up and become involved and grow in community and discipleship.  

Also, our church, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC, has started a second campus in Bluffton,  Dan has been helping with various aspects of the official launch of worship services at the University of South Carolina Bluffton Campus.  While we already have a small space with offices and a gathering room for youth group, the University is allowing us to use a large lecture space for worship on Sunday mornings.  The people of our main campus on Hilton Head Island has been grappling with what it means to be “one church, two campuses” and Dan has been learning to juggle multiple roles as the new experiences are pioneered and families begin to join up with us.  It has been an exciting journey.  

This year has also brought some sadness, we had two amazing women in our lives pass away. Amanda’s sister Sharlotte passed away in May. We spent time in LA and NC remembering her life and thinking of the joy and laughter she brought into our lives and the many people in her community.  We met many of her friends in LA, who she considered family, and heard stories of how she helped and looked after others. She was a blessing to many! We also lost Dan’s Great Grandmother Alice, who passed away at 102 years old.  Her funeral was in Culpeper, VA and Dan spent time with family and remembered the fruitful, long and amazing life she lived. Dan had the privilege and honor of officiating both services. They will both be greatly missed but we know that they are both with our heavenly father.

You may remember that we adopted Isabella, or “Bella”, our miniature schnauzer last November, and we are about to welcome a new addition to the family this year.  February 28th is the due date for our first born baby boy!  We are incredibly excited and are making the transition from 10 years of coupled childless marriage to being Mom and Dad.  Amanda’s belly has grown and our baby has been kicking and is quite active.  We have a great midwife group in Savannah, GA that is guiding us through the process and making sure we are healthy and have our ducks in a row.  Every day the nursery becomes more alive and welcoming. 

Overall, this has been quite a year, and we’re looking forward to the next.  Merry Christmas to y’all, and have an amazing New Year!  

Sincerely,

Daniel, Amanda, Ransom, and Bella Griswold

A Short Guide to Visiting Churches for Worship and God Forbid…Fun

I can’t hide the fact that I love visiting different churches.  While I sometimes get frustrated by the fragmented nature of Christianity post-1000-ish AD, I’ve also found that the diversity allows for what may be lightly called “Church Tourism”.   While I believe that when you’re home, you should have a home church where you live out your calling and pour everything into, when I’m traveling, I take the opportunity to check out the landscape.

I’ll end this article by giving a few accounts of churches I’ve visited lately and how the experience went (including my personal reactions).  But first, I’ll drop a few thoughts on the “HOW TO” of respectfully visiting churches.  Yes, there is an etiquette to this.  It may help you especially if you are seeking a church home and don’t want to burn bridges prior to deciding where God is bring you.

Some Principles for Visiting Churches:

(1) Don’t judge anything.  When going to a new church, it is easy to criticize and in your mind say a lot of “Well, at our church we do this..” etc, etc.  Don’t fall into this trap.  Every church is different and has a slightly different expression of culture and worship which can be offered to God.  Go thinking “I’m going to become part of this place and worship amongst this people”.  You can give yourself to it and have a great time.

(2) Don’t be uncomfortable.  I think that many people who say a church just wasn’t welcoming were likely giving off “uncomfortable” signals.  If someone comes into your home and they’re frowning, acting like they don’t want to talk, and just keeps to themselves, its going to be an awkward visit and those folks might not really want you there after a while.  In a church, I think at least on the sociological level, its the same way.  Go in with a smile and shake some hands.  People will likely be friendly and want to talk. If you’re intentionally friendly and no one returns the favor, then you know somethings up, but I don’t think that’s the case most of the time.  Someone wants to say hello to new people in just about every church.

(3) Compliment and thank the pastor.  Pastors get a lot of flak and critique.  In smaller churches, visitors are big deals, and when a visitor says something nice it eases relationship building and allows everyone to get to know each other.  Focus on the positive and smile.  Pastors are sometimes introverts so they may not naturally come and say hello, but most want to meet you.  Don’t guage the pastor by posture, but keep an open stance and let happen what needs to happen.

(4) Spend some time in worship.  All the evaluation stuff can keep you from remembering that ultimately you are looking for a place of worship – not just a place to find a best friend.  Focus on the Big Guy, pray some, close your eyes and seek Wisdom.  Picture Jesus and spend time in His company.  I think most folks would enjoy a church more if they realized and practiced actual worship in the church rather than thought about whether they’re going to be accepted or not.  If you want to find God, He’s there.  Spend time with Him and let the church be who they are – also – let them worship too.

Lastly (5), go with the flow.  All churches have quirks.  Learn em, and learn to love them.  All the grumbling I see in churches tends to be in bad spirit.  Rather than grumble, learn the history of the church.  Learn why there are so many sections.  Experience and understand that generations have come and gone in most churches and there is an abiding love for the spaces created for learning, fellowship, worship and partaking in the sacraments.

I think if you follow some of these guidelines you’ll have a great time on vacation going from church to church. Try it out and see.  Its actually quite refreshing.  And if you don’t have a church home yet, I hope you find one too!

Recent Visits:

(1) First United Methodist Church, Waynesville, NC (Late August 2013)

My wife and I had been given the opportunity by some amazing good people in our church to use their cabin in Lake Junaleska, a United Methodist gathering area, for a personal holiday/vacation.  As we enjoyed long walks around the lake, talked about possibly seeing elk, and enjoying small town coffee shops, and visiting Ashville, the conversation came about which church to attend.  I checked some websites and First UMC Waynesville (where a nice coffee shop and some local shopping were located) came up quickly.  We’d see the church on our journeys so we decided to attend.

Finding parking was easy.  They had a visitors parking lot and that made it easy.  Not so easy for a visitor, however, was finding the sanctuary.  We ended up in the Youth Center (we could tell because it was the oldest part of the building and there were pool tables).  I knew that if we kept walking something would lead us there, so we went up some stairs and ended up in a large gym, where perhaps an contemporary service had just ended.  There were a few families lingering, so I walked up to someone who looked friendly and she introduced herself.  She brought us through a few corridors and we went up some stairs through some welcome areas (it was quite a complex due to local hills/geography) and we came out into an airy wide open completely new sanctuary.  Lots of bright colored woods, non corroded metals aluminum in color, and banners hanging all around with a well dressed choir.  The families sat up in the balcony (where we sat), people helped us get up there and smiled a lot, and older people sat together down below.  It seems that every UMC with a balcony does this.  Young people and families up top, older folks below.  Seems strange to me.  The service started, and it flowed much like our home church (which is also UMC), and we sang hymns, listened to an awesome choir, a children’s sermon went probably a few minutes too long and the kids wiggled, robed ministers administrated the service, and there was a well done sermon.  We left, not really knowing anyone, which makes sense for a first visit, and we went back to vacation.  I got a good picture which I’ve added.  Beautiful and well done church/service at FUMC Waynesville.

(2) Trinity Assembly of God, Derry, NH (Just before Christmas 2013)

My brother was getting married in Ipswich, NH and so we were near where I grew up and also near the church in MA where I worked in High School ministry (Grace Chapel).  I wrestled a bit, but we were going to visit my parents in Derry, (my hometown) so I ultimately decided to attend my first church – the Pentecostal Trinity Assembly of God near Pinkerton Academy where I attended High School.  I was wondering who would still be there, and how the church was faring, so we went.  We parked, and then entered the same warehouse like church structure that had been built while I was a child.  We were welcomed by a good friend of my family and former Royal Rangers (sort of like scouts) leader, who warmly greeted us and made us feel at home. The pastor wasn’t there so the worship leader (who I’d never met) led worship and I looked around and saw a few familiar faces.  A sprinkling of families I know, and many new people.  It was near Christmas, and apparently the youth and the children had charge of parts of the service, and they announced that young people would be playing instruments.  One young man, who had only played 30 days on the clarinet, was introduced.  I was about to cringe – 30 days?! But it was fantastic.  I think Pentecostals have music in their blood.  Its born in them.  I don’t really understand it – it just happens.  Pretty amazing.  Granddaugthers of the man who was preaching this particular week also played piano and it was great.  Then a whole children’s pageant happened.  It was hilarious, but accurate Biblically, and got the Christmas juices flowing.  Then a great sermon on living out life seeking Christ like the wise men happened.  I remember this guy who preached from childhood, and he was again amazing.  Lots of passion and a great backstory to share.   We ended up staying after service (and after my wife experienced a whole church alter call), and met up with Jenny, who is now the Youth Director there (we were in Youth Group there together).  She brought me to the old sanctuary, which had been converted into a Youth Center, and she was doing an amazing job!  It was encouraging so see so much.  Loved visiting – and hope to return.

Bethel Baptist

(3) Bethel Baptist Church, Bethel, NC (Just after Christmas 2013)

Amanda and I are visiting her parents for Christmas and New Year’s and her sister is moving into town.  Her sister’s family will be looking for a church, and we all decided to check out the Baptist church within walking distance.  It was raining, but we drove around the corner.  We went in the wrong door, but a kind man shook my hand, greeted us and brought us into the sanctuary from the back door.  We walked in and sat near the front (in this church most people sit in the back – interesting), and we looked around.  Children were in one choir area by the piano.  Some men in the opposite side.  The pastor sat in a chair and ordered the service.  Worship started and the Pastor (who we found out was interim until a pastor was called) gave announcements and called the worship to order.  We sang a few hymns with a Christmas theme, the children sang Christmas songs, there was a Children’s Talk calling them to be Transparent and show Christ in the new year, and a mens group sang O Holy Night, which was actually pretty good.  I was worried.  The pastor then got up and spoke a well thought out sermon on the Magi and gave lots of background of what may have actually happened between the wise men and young Jesus and them worshipping him.  He talked about why Gold, Incense, and Myrrh – which I thought was great.  We then sang a few more hymns and we were done.  We hung out a while, and many people (and children) greeted us.  There were a lot of families.  And afterwards we headed home after a pleasant experience.

iOS 7 Games and Apps I Downloaded for Christmas – The Good and Bad

I was able to obtain an iPhone 5s last October, which set the stage for a zippy new experience and allowed me to download whatever I wanted with the extra power.  There were definitely a lot of Facebook Ads trying to get me to download their games and apps, and I’ve stuck with some and deleted others.  Here are some of the top Good and Bad Apps I’ve tried since Christmas day.

Lets start with The Bad Apps:

(1)  Any Free Game that adds MicroTransactions and makes Gaming Excellence dependent on spending.

Examples: The Hobbit: Kindgoms of Middle Earth, Star Wars: Tiny Death Star, Warhammer Quest, Pretty Much any Free to Download Game with a good Logo

I’ve noted after putting down quite a bit of money (gifted to me in iTunes gift cards) that there is always someone who is willing to outspend you.  Particularly The Hobbit, which is actually a fun game (as long as you have cash to spend), where I put down tons of money to advance quickly enough that I didn’t get trounced.  At a certain point, I had to decide that I wasn’t going to spend my own money on it, and not on any other game either.  I’d rather pay an app fee and have no more payments after that, than have to outspend everyone else on the internet.  I think this is like gambling but actually more like giving tons of nearly free money to the game company.   And I don’t and will never play Candy Crush! I’m intrigued by Clash of Clans, but again – I don’t want to spend the cash to be top dog.

(2) Snapchat – I just don’t get it.  People send out pictures, I can’t access my photo album, so its all live, there are ticking clocks, and supposedly it isn’t very secure.  I have it installed, but I’m about to completely rid it from my phone.  Still trying to figure out why it is so interesting to so many people.  Maybe someone can give me a tutorial in it sometime, but right now, I’m lost.

(3) Quick Office – I recently thought I would be a hotshot and write an entire article for our local paper on my iPhone.  I ended up failing miserably, because I wasn’t as careful as when I’m on my laptop, partly because of the small atmosphere, but also because the menus and scrolling don’t work as nicely as they could.  I ended up leaving out some quotation marks (ultimately a proofing fault of my own), which caused me to have a somewhat strained conversation about knowing how to attribute others works.  I was incredibly embarrassed and won’t be doing that again.  Back to the old fashioned Word on the Mac until I am able to see clearly and have a bit more clarity on how a .doc is supposed to work on mobile.  

THE GOOD!

(3) iTunes Radio - I still use Pandora, but iTunes Radio has been getting better and better.  I also think that the ads are more appropriate.  On Pandora I was listening to symphonic video game music, and suddenly people were screaming about condoms.  I was resting a bit and thinking, and it completely jarred me.  iAds seem a bit less invasive and I listen when I decide to.  Tends to be more normal conversation.  Not only that, but the lists are getting better (I really liked the Christmas Pop Charts list, which I used for two youth group Christmas Parties without any mishaps).  The only requirement is that you have internet access, so having wifi is a good thing so you don’t use too much data on your cellular plan, but I think Apple has done this one right.

(2) Flipboard – This is a news aggregate service that pulls in articles from all your social media networks (ex. Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.) and lets you browse news articles from sources that are already on the web (ex. New York Times, Boston Globe, various magazines) and subscribe to magazines made up of articles read and liked by other Flipboard users.  The upside to this is that it gives you a very streamlined, quick and brilliantly HD way to read news that works well in iOS 7.  There is one downside that I’ve mitigated, however, and that is that it uses an incredible amount of cellular data due to its ability to scan a news stream and download images prior to you flipping down and reading them.  That means that its downloading all the time.  I’ve personally turned off cellular usage on this app, and rely solely on wifi time at coffee shops and at my local church (which has campus wide wifi) to use this app. I have also set up several magazines myself (Geek Fun, Interesting News, What is Money, and a few others) and the Interesting News one now has almost 15,000 followers.  That’s pretty cool.  I highly suggest giving this one a try (and supplement it with “The Economist” digital download ;D)

(1) Games that do not require micro-transactions to enjoy to their completion.  I’ve downloaded three games that I’m currently playing:

(a) Settlers of Catan with Seafarers Expansion - This is a game app based off of my favorite board game – The Settlers of Catan, in which there is an island made up of tiles composing various resources with numbers on them.  It is a dice based game in which players collect resources, build settlements, roads and cities; and they compete among a limited landscape for those resources.  The first person to 10 points wins.  It can seem simple but becomes incredibly relational and strategic and can be intense.  If you like the app, I recommend spending on the German Board Game that it is based on (and it is not written in German, but English in the US!).

(b) Limbo – This is an atmospheric adventure puzzler, in which a small boy is moving through a dark and moody world while incredibly low background noises of the environment get disturbed by violent and sudden death sequences when the boy walks into a trap.  Items like bear traps, giant spiders, and lakes can kill, and so your job is to get the boy safely through the puzzles.  I’ve been playing this a while and have found that it gets my adrenaline moving, but is also strangely beautiful.  I don’t recommend this for anyone younger than 10 years old, due to the nightmare like nature of this one, but adults who played side scrollers like Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog back in the day who are looking for a spin on the genre may find this one enticing.

(c) Civilization Revolution (no add ons) – Another Strategy game based in Sid Meier’s Civilization universe.  It is a turn based world conquest game that centers around starting as a tribe with a village, and you eventually build an empire with multiple cities, tanks, ships, and wonders of the world.  This pared down version of the flagship Civilization games (Civ V being the latest on PC/MAC) is simple enough to beat in an hour or two, but hard enough to be challenged and possibly lose.  You research technology, fight with other civilizations, build roads, phalanx military unites and siege empires.  The maps are randomized, but there are also many scenarios to enjoy.  I’ve played this quite a bit and think its worth the small price.  There are a few add ons, but I’ve read reviews that they can crash the game a bit.  I’ve not downloaded them, but haven’t needed them to enjoy the game thoroughly.  

There are so many other apps that I’ve enjoyed so at the end of this blog I’m listing some of them.  I can’t write about them all but I thought they deserved honorable mention.  I hope you check out some of these apps.  Some of them cost a little but they’re worth it.  On the bad side, I hope you have some gift cards if you’re going to take risks downloading apps.  Its awefully easy to just spend money and I hate waste – so try to download the best and do your research.

 

App Honor List:

Hootsuite – update all your social networks simultaneously

Pic Stich – Put pictures together into frames 

InstaQuote – Add text to pictures easily

Google Drive, Maps – Two great apps that help with a lot in life

Varage Sale – a local garage sale like app that uses Facebook to connect buyers and sellers

Duolingo – learn a language in a visual and fun way

Papa John’s – Get Pizza and get rewards (free pizzas!)

Star Walk – Point your phone at the sky and see the sky mapped and learn the constellations – more

iTranslate – speak and have it translated, handy for travel

iMovie – easy and fun to create video clips

Sunrise – A Calendar apps that pulls in many social calendars (Facebook, GoogleCal, etc) to organize your calendar (Highly Recommended)

Accuweather – Great weather app

Sketchbook – A drawing app that works well with a rubber stylus for drawing on ipad/iphone

Dropbox – Best Cloud storage service out there

app_store

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