Devotional dippers – review

I have to be honest, when I first saw these in July 2019, I was very sceptical. It should be known, and hopefully as this blog develops, it will become known, that I have an issue with shallow books and resources. I think we too much pander our desire for an easy life and so most books published today are short and shallow. We translate this as ‘accessible’.


The name, devotional dipper, made me think that compared to other devotional materials for families, these would follow that trend and be light. I’ve been very surprised. When I serve my little ones their dinner, I don’t give them different food to me but I do cut it up for them into smaller chunks they can chew and swallow. This is what the devotional dippers do. We’ve been going through the pack on God. What we are getting is a solid, deep and meaty theology of God, cut up small into 40 chunks. Over the course of the past 36 days we have examined the character and work of the Triune God in depth I was not expecting. I’ve even learned things I did not know.

The format is simple. There is statement of truth. A bible passage that links to and supports that statement. A question or two to cement the idea and suggestions for thanksgiving and prayer.

Individually, the dippers have been good but the cumulative effect over the past month has been to build a solid doctrine of God. I am very thankful for this resource and the children love it.

I highly recommend these for family devotionals over breakfast.

https://www.10ofthose.com/uk/products/24362/devotional-dippers-3-pack

Notes Apps: The saga continues

So I said I would keep you posted. These past few months have not been good on the app switching front. I’ve changed my notes app 3 times since I ‘settled’ on Notion.

Notion is a powerful app, but it isn’t really designed specifically to take on any key role in your workflow. It is like a Swiss army knife of tools. It can be a saw, but it isn’t the best saw. It can be a bottle opener, but it isn’t the best bottle opener. Everything in Notion feels like a workaround. Feels like you are hacking an app to do something it wasn’t really designed for. So I moved on.

Nimbus note is excellent but even after a fix was applied I found I could not trust the integrity of my notes and therefore…don’t even go there.

So I love OneNote. But the disparity between available functions and features across devices was hampering my workflow. The lack of consistent tagging system and the lack of targeted reminders.

In the end, I have chosen to return to Evernote. I do not feel Evernote is the best app and I have frustrations with what you can and can’t do in the note editor. That having been said, o like the look and feel of the new Evernote. It is improving quite rapidly as well. Also, the consistency of functionality across all platforms means I never feel the frustration that ‘if only I had my windows work pc I could do this….’ It means I can be effective when I just have my tablet or phone.

So, like Carl Pullein and Francesco D’Alessio I am sticking with Evernote.

Theology Matters

Theology Matters. The subject of this part of the blog and the subject of this post. This post comes about as I have reflected on Ephesians 4:15…

Ephesians 4:15 (ESV): Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

This passage is used a lot to outline the basic model of ministry in evangelical circles.  This is a model of ministry I thoroughly support. But, there are two things I want the flag up that often don’t get mentioned.  One is a something underplayed that we cannot say often enough. The other is a mistake we can often make.

A thing underplayed…

Theology Matters. We are to truth in love. As Christian brothers and sisters, we are to speak the truth in love to each other as often as we are able? Why? Well that is verse 14. So we are not blown all over the shop by every wind of doctrine. Here’s the point. How do we speak the truth in love to one another in a way that guards against false doctrine. We speak true doctrine. Putting down deep roots in true doctrine, in good theology, that is what guards us against error.

So, we must take every opportunity to help one another put down deep roots in healthy doctrine and theology. We can do this by reading the Bible together, by reading books together, by speaking gospel truth in our everyday conversation and applying this to our every day lives.

We grow in this together as we speak to one another. And as we work to deepen our understanding of the Word of God so we can better build one another up.

A slight word to pastors and teachers here. Your job is to train and equip the saints, so don’t skimp on doctrine and depth. Train your congregation in healthy doctrine. That is what they need.

A mistake we can often make

False teaching and false doctrine does not always have it’s source from within the church. You’d be amazed at how frequently the prevailing ideologies of our culture can creep into our minds and our world view and then impact our theology.

Maybe we start to worship our careers and give them a place in our lives higher than we ought. Tossed to and fro by a false theology of work.

Maybe it’s money and possessions. Maybe it’s our understanding of dating, relationships and marriage. Maybe it’s gender issues, our take on other religions or anything under the sun.

The message of our world around us whispers to us and without healthy doctrine we are sitting ducks. Without a Christian mind, a mind shaped by Christ and the truth of his gospel, without the ability to clearly see and refute the errors therein, we will be like “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

So let’s not underplay it. Theology Matters. Let’s speak theology.

The issue with Notes apps

I have a confession to make. I’m sure many of you will agree. Note taking is something I love. Not just notes but ideas, thoughts, hopes and everything else. But I just cannot find a notes app that does it for me. App switching is a big issue when it comes to productivity and when it comes to Notes apps, I have been back and forth more times than I can count. I’ve tried Evernote, OneNote, Nimbus Note, Google Keep and recently, Notion.

Here’s the bottom line. Every app I have tried, has features and functionalities that I need and that I like. Every app that I have tried is sorely lacking in features and functionality that I need. So, until Doist build a notes app, I will have to settle for something less than perfect.

Evernote

The Grandaddy of the note taking app market. Recently they tried to jazz it up a bit, took them long enough. In so doing they have removed several features and functions that I loved. Gone now. I do not like Evernote’s note editor, the hierarchy of notebooks is too inflexible and the tag system just gets messy if you use it.

OneNote

A good app. For me the note hierarchy is great, I love the free form nature of the note editor but I have issues. I don’t like the inconsistency between platforms, I don’t like the fact that printing anything is just a no go area. The tagging system could be great but until you can make use of it on all platforms with custom tags that sync, it’s pretty useless. I really dislike the font Calibri, which OneNote seems to constantly switch back to.

Nimbus Note

This is an app I love, but with a caveat. Those Caveats being, I’ve encountered some bugs which don’t seem to get fixed and, in terms of note editor functionality, it is basically the same as Notion but with several things missing. There was a time when I thought Nimbus Note was the perfect notes app. But then I discovered the bugs, then I began to notice how slow it can be to load notes up. The simplicity when compared to Notion, could be an advantage. It has a fantastic web clipper as well.

Notion

A powerful app if ever there was one. A black hole of features and functions that threaten to swallow and drown the unwary at every turn. But, no real quick capture function, I’m not sure how you export data out if you need to and it just feels like there will be so much I am missing out on that I will forever be tweaking the set up and feature set I use. Hence the black hole! Plus, I would love tables that were not databases and so could make use of some better formatting functions. For me, to be perfect, Notion needs to add a basic table and really up its game on quick capture and how you get stuff into it.

What am I looking for?

I am looking for an app that has feature parity across devices, as far as is possible. Quick capture functionality on desktop and mobile. The ability to e-mail notes in. A free form note editor. Powerful links between notes or databases. An excellent web clipper. Powerful search.

The conclusion

For now, I am settling on Notion. I will use either a chrome short cut or Google Keep for quick capture on my phone and possibly on desktop as well.

I’ll keep you posted.

Read Books

So I decided to get the point out the way in the tile. Read Books. I don’t know who you might be, maybe you read loads of books when you were younger but now you don’t have time (this is me!). Maybe you hardly read any Christian books, maybe you are till reading loads of books all the time. Primarily, we tend to view reading books as a nice added extra, it has value, we know this, but we don’t have the time, and we aren’t sure we ever will, but really it is no big loss to me or to the church.

So why read Christian books?

You could just read the bible more. That would be a valid choice and I would praise God for that. But, here is my wisdom on it.

You have time to read the bible, but you may not have the time or capacity to study it in depth for long periods of time. Theologians and Authors do, it’s their job, and they have written down the insights they have gained into the revelation of God into books to edify and build up the church. You may have 30 minutes a day to read Scripture but you are not going to understand the Holiness of God or the Trinity, or the incarnation or nature of the cross as well in 30 minutes a day as you would if you were in a position to spend months in a specialist devotion to reading and meditating on that aspect of God’s character or doctrine. Reading books, therefore, enables us to benefit from others work, from others time, and that is the gift God has given them to serve the Church. Reading books therefore also deepens our understanding of Scripture and it actually helps us as we read the Bible ourselves. A fuller grasp of biblical Christian doctrine and truth can help us to see more deeply when we read God’s word. Similar to studying the Bible with other people or listening to a sermon does. It doesn’t replace the reading of God’s word, but supplements it.

Reading is something is our culture no longer values. Look at the changes in the internet and much more. Culture is moving towards sharing information in short statements of fact or short videos. Our consumption of knowledge in this way has good points and bad points, but let me focus on the negative. It is re-wiring our brains to lack the ability to focus and concentrate and we develop an addiction to distraction. It also means that the information we absorb is shallow and lacks any element of evaluation, deeper consideration and, more critically, application. Devoting time to reading books, and deep, lengthy, meaty books will offset this trend. Our final reason for reading books is that our culture is changing, Christian truth is not currently in vogue. It is likely that in years to come this vast avenue of edification and growth will shut down as books are removed from circulation.

So how to approach reading Christian books?

  • Read intentionally. Maybe just 15 minutes each day. That could get you through 10-20 books a year depending on how fast you read and the length of the books you choose.
  • Read widely. Three things you need to read. Theology and doctrine, Christian living, Church History.
  • Read deeply. Don’t be afraid of long books that are hard. Don’t feel if you don’t understand everything, there is no value in reading.
  • Think about what will work for you. Do you want to read just one book at a time, or will you value having more than one book on the go? Think about your roles in life and focus your Christian living reading there.
  • Read Bereanly. No matter how good a book is, it is not THE good book. It is not the word of God, it needs to be thought about.
  • Read obediently. Where there are applications to draw, don’t leave them in print but write them on your hearts and in your life.

Some book suggestions

  • For now, here are some recommendations
    • The Cross of Christ & Knowing God
    • Jerry Bridges on anything. His books feel quite similar to one another. They focus primarily on how God’s grace impacts our every day life. My best summary is every book by Bridges will help you understand Titus 2:11 better.
    • Older Works. They write differently. The modern day author is all about writing accessible books that are easy to read. My pessimistic judgement is they take a drawing pin of truth and push it in. Whereas authors from the past take a 14mm by 1.4m ASSY fully threaded screw (the longest screw in the world, I checked) and they screw that truth in.

Organising your system

Right, so now you have a system full of tasks that you have collected. What next? Well a good start point is to think of your aim. Moment to moment, day to day you want to give your best thinking to achieving your goals and completing quality work. You do not want to be giving vast amounts of mental energy to figuring out what you should be doing at any given moment. Therefore your system needs to be organised in such a way that minimal decision-making is required of this kind.

This requires a little bit of planning. Some of us hate planning and think it is a waste of time. But if you spend an hour a week and 10 minutes a day planning ahead, I wouldn’t be surprised if you got twice as much done with your time. Not just in terms of quantity of work but in terms of quality and impact.

There are many things I could do now but I am going to show you how I organise things. I follow Carl Pullein’s approach in large part and every task is one of 3 things. It is a simple routine task that has to be done but is pretty isolated and I don’t really want to focus my energy here – like ‘clean and take out the bins’. It could fit into an area of focus. I tend to think of these as specific areas that I will be continually working on. The tasks will always relate to a specific thing, but there is no end date or point at which it will ‘complete’. For example, I manage a church building. A multitude of tasks emerge, and will continue to emerge. There is no defined end point unless things got so bad the building collapsed. Then I have projects. These are specific things I am working, that require multiple different steps to complete but they will one day complete. They may recurr in 6 months or a year’s time but even then the project is completable. This could be for example, in my line of work, arranging a weekend away. It happens annually but the project will complete every year.

So every task that comes into my inbox gets allocated like this. Now, David Allen’s getting things done approach uses contexts to organise things in a deeper way, the contexts would be locations, tools or people. So you’d have a list for every person or location. The idea being when you arrive at that location, open the list and there you go. A readymade Todo list for your context.

I pretty much work in the same place with the same tools everyday so this makes little sense to my work. Instead I organise things by ‘zone’. Something I borrowed from a friend. There is a little duplication here with areas of focus and that needs to be addressed in the future. But the zones may be buildings, finances, operations, publicity etc for every role I have on in my work. In order to action this in ToDoist, my task manager of choice, I assign labels to each task. I’ll talk about how I plan my week in the next post and that will more fully explain how and when I decide what I will be working on.

So, when I have a task in my inbox that I have collected, assuming it isn’t an event for my calendar and it is actually a task, I run through a series of questions in my mind. Firstly, what area of work does this relate to? This determines what labels/tags I use. I’ll also ask if this task involves speaking with another person. I have labels for all those people and these can get assigned here as well. I will then ask if this task belongs in a specific project, or does it go in an area of focus, Sometimes it may be a new routine task but it is rare at the moment to add to this list. Lastly, I ask if this task needs to be completed by a certain day or on a certain day and I will then add a date to the task.

This approach breaks down what would be a fairly sizeable to do list, into manageable chunks that can be sorted and filtered in many different ways.

The next post will focus on how I plan my week and that is the hub really of this or any other system so please watch this space.

Capture and Collect

So here we come to address the first crucial component of any effective system. This will be a fairly short post as the principle is incredibly straightforward.

Capture Everything.

That is the principle. We mentioned in a previous post about having a capture tool. Well this is where it shines.

You’ll have a conversation and a few key tasks will rear their heads. Things like: Buy Thor:Ragnarok on DvD. Plan a trip to Holy Island. Read Your Digital Life 2.0 by Carl Pullein. Clean out the Oven. Add so and so’s feedback to the report. Learn to sail.

The potential list is endless.

Or, ideas will spring to you like: Country Idea for epic fanstasy novel, base it on the Roman Empire. Try adding peanut butter to my porridge. Try a smart looking redesign of the annual report.

This is where your capture tool shines. Capture everything. Indiscriminately. Do not judge at this stage, that comes later and will be addressed in our next post.

If you do not capture everything at the moment it hits your head, you’ll lose so much and forget key tasks.

So get capturing.

The components of a basic system

So I’m here to talk to you about what you need for a productivity system. But first some principles.

David Allen, in the fantastic book Getting things done says “the head is a great place for having ideas but a bad place for holding them”. That’s the key principle. We cannot expect our brains to manage every aspect of our lives but as a God given gift we can use them to develop an effective system to enable us to keep reasonably on top of all the different stuff we have.

Carl Pullein is very clear on one thing. Productivity means doing the work. You can have the most well organised system in the world and have an absolutely crystal clear idea of everything you need to do. That’s great, but if you don’t do the work, that time is wasted.

The key component of your system is a way of capturing or collecting your tasks, todos, ideas and thoughts. I cannot predict when in my day I will be alerted to something I need to do. It could come in via e-mail, or text or WhatsApp. Someone could grap me at the coffee machine and ask me to do something.  I might even remember something as I’m walking through town or in the shower. In an ideal world, I would be able to note that down in a collection tool that is a part of my system within a couple of minutes.

So you need something. It could be a cheap notebook, or an app on your phone, whatever it is, you need it and it needs to be close at hand pretty much all the time. You’ve got maybe 5 minuts before that task or idea has been pushed out of your head by something else. You need a collection tool.

But what happens to those tasks and ideas once you have collected them. Do they form some random list that you refer to when you decide what you are actually going to do? Well if so, I predict that list will soon become hundreds of items long with things of varying importance and significance, all unrelated, and an absolute mess. It will take you 20 minutes each time you sit down to come up with any kind of valuable idea as to what you should be doing at that time. What a waste!

So you need some way managing your to-do list, of organising it, prioritising it and structuring it so when you do sit down to work, within a few seconds glance you know what you should be doing.

I would say that once each week, you need to go through your list and check how it is planned out and structured and make sure everything is in the right place and then you can map out what you plan to do over the course of the next week.

Over the years, I have used many different approaches to this but at its heart, my system has remained pretty unchanged, at least at the level of core principles.

So the task for today is simple, work out how you are going to collect all those thoughts and tasks. The next post will specifically be about this. Following that we will start to talk about how to plan and structure things.

On the importance of having a system

Let’s start by saying I disagree with my own title. You have a system, it just might be a very bad one.

By ‘a system’ I mean a way of organising your stuff. By your stuff I literally mean stuff, that’s everything. Broadly it splits into 3 categories. Stuff you need to know, stuff you need to do and stuff you need to keep for records.

Everyone has a system. Maybe you have a diary for your appointments and a filing cabinet for the stuff you need to keep as well as a notebook for all your todo lists. Maybe you have a pile of stuff on your desk, post it notes on your laptop screen to tell you when to be where and what to do. Maybe you scribble todo lists on the back of an envelope and then can’t find them when you need them. But what about those tasks you need to do in 3 months time, or this time next year?  Why waste time writing out the same things on your to-do list, week in week out if it’s something you need to do every week?  Everyone has a system, it just may not be very good or thought through.

Most of us will complain we are so busy, we don’t have time to think or plan how we manage our stuff in any detail. I would argue that if you get it right, and if you invest some time at the outset then you can develop a system that requires little maintenance and could potentially buy you hours each week in less time wasted not knowing where you were supposed to be, what you were supposed to be doing and especially in finding the information you need to do it.

Firstly, a couple of shout outs. I learned a lot of this from Lionel Windsor and his series which can be found here. Then, following Lionel’s advice, I read Dave Allen’s book Getting Things Done. A cracking read and some of the most helpful principles in my system come from there, though I have departed from his methodology on a number of key points. Next, I discovered Carl Pullein and I really like his thinking in this area so I’ve learned a bit from him too.

So, as Dave Allen says, your brain is a great place for having ideas but not for holding them. I find my brain will remind me of things I need to do often enough, but always at the wrong time. It will remind me to get milk whilst I’m on the bus home. It will remind me to send that all important email at 3:17am. Not helpful and just leads to greater stress as I am constantly remembering things when I can do nothing about them.

So you need to have a system. In an ideal world, your system will tell you where you need to be, what you should be doing and what you need to do it, all at a glance. You should also be able to find out any information you have stored in it within a minute and ideally be able to do all this wherever you are. Now, if you have a system like that, and you trust it, you can just ignore those random worries of what you might need to do at some point in the future, or note it down in the system, and then just get on with what you are doing, whatever it is. This ability to focus on what you are doing, without the distraction of worrying you should be doing something else is invaluable.

Is such a system possible to achieve? Yes, it is and the next few posts I’ll go through the basic nuts and bolts of my system.

What have we lost?

Recently I was at a Christian event. The bookstall gave me pause for thought. I think we have lost something, something important. It wasn’t a bad bookstall, so this isn’t really a crit of that, it’s more a lament and a call to action. Action for us all and specific action for some.
Half the bookstall were children’s and youth books. This is no bad thing. It is fantastic to be providing resources for our children and for the next generation.
The other half was for adults. Not a single book on doctrine or any specific doctrine. Not one. Books of around 100-150 pages. Max. We have lost something important don’t you think? It was I believe William Wilberforce who said that the key to godly living is to have your affections gripped by love for Jesus and that the key to this was clear doctrine. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have a wealth of short, accessible books on Christian living or even books that briefly tackle complex pastoral issues. Big issues and points of conflict with the world in which we live. These books are important, and they have a real place. But where is the doctrine? And not just short books titled something like ‘A brief introduction to the cross’. Books that barely scratch the surface.
Where are the in-depth books? Books that delve deep into doctrine, books deeply rooted in scripture, books that make you think, books that shape our hearts and our minds and our core beliefs. Where are they? I cannot believe that they have all been written already.
So a call to action. Find books on doctrine. Read them. Don’t be satisfied with a brief introduction. Don’t fear the books that make you think. Don’t fear the books where you have to read and re-read sections again and again just to make sense of them. Find them, read them, keep reading them until you understand. Delve deep into biblical doctrine. Grow. Then your heart will be warmed, then your conviction of God’s love and character will be strengthened. Then your love for Jesus will be strengthened.
And I would call upon the next generation of ministers and theologians to write. My generation. Not just ‘accessible’ books on the latest hot topic of Christian living. But deep, thorough books on the big doctrines. I fear that our generation of evangelicals is losing its clarity on doctrine simply because we don’t think about it or read about it. If this is true of us, then what of the next generation.
I’d also call upon you to fill your bookstalls, not with short accessible books, but books that set the bar high. Books that say ‘yes this will be a time commitment but actually this is important enough to merit that time’.

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