Amazon Music Unlimited: A Review

For the last few years, my wife and I have become dependent on Amazon and their amazing Prime service. In case you haven’t hear of Prime yet, it’s a pretty simple premise: for $79 a year, you get free 2 day shipping on any order from That in itself is well worth the price of admission; in fact, we now consider it as important as a utility bill.

Over time, Amazon has added some impressive perks to their Prime Membership to get more people to sign up. Some are brilliant (like Daniel Tiger on Prime Videos) while others are duds (ahem Prime Day). For me, I view them as the icing on the top for the core value of Prime: fast, free shipping.

Last month, Amazon added another service to their Prime offerings: Prime Music Unlimited.

The Landscape of Music Streaming Services in 2016

As a content writer for an internet marketing company in Lancaster, I spend almost 8 hours a day with music piping through my ears. So music is important. And since I can get easily distracted when I’m in the writing groove, I hate ads.

I have tried many of the free and paid music streaming services out there: Spotify Premium, Rdio (RIP), Pandora, and Apple Music. Each has their advantages and disadvantages, with Spotify clearly the best of the bunch. But the price for the service ($10 a month) was just a tad bit too high for my tastes (and budget). So when I got an email last month from Amazon introducing their music service, I was intrigued.

About Amazon Music Unlimited

Like the services mentioned above, Amazon Music Unlimited allows you to stream millions of songs from most artists. With apps on all my devices (iOS, Windows, and web app, though I haven’t tried it on Roku yet), and offline listening, it allows me to listen to my favorite albums and artists when I’m at work, driving, or in the workshop.

Two differentiating features of Amazon Music Unlimited: Alexa support and the price. If you have an Alexa-compatable device, like an Echo or Dot, your Music account works seamlessly with your devices. And if you only want to play music through a single device, a subscription only costs $4 per month.

Cost is the other way Amazon sets its service apart from the rest. If you are a Prime Member, a subscription only costs $7.99 month or $79 per year. So for as little as $6.58 per month, you can enjoy millions of songs anywhere you are.

Amazon Music Unlimited: Well Worth The Price

While it doesn’t come with some features found on Spotify (like Discover Weekly), the lower price of Amazon’s music service is great for anyone looking for a more-affordable music streaming service. Over the last month, I haven’t found any music that I’ve wanted to play that is not on the service. And I’ve found the different apps easy to use.

If you’d like to try out Amazon Music Unlimited service for yourself, Amazon gives you a 30-day trial of the service for free.

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evernote and pastoral ministry

Organizing a Pastor’s Life in Evernote

evernote pastorBack in college, I remember taking a class that helped you with practical advice in ministry. One week, we were told to create a filing system for your office, something that was expandable, yet easy to navigate and search. The reason is simple: pastors need to collect and save a lot of info—from journal articles on a specific passage, quotes, and sermon illustrations. Our professor stressed the importance of having a filing system; otherwise you would collect all these pieces of information and never use them. He said this system would become your brain, storing all the info until you needed it.

For this class, I created a rudimentary filing system on my laptop. Using nested folders, I could separate categories and topics; inside each folder was a scanned picture or text document. This simple setup met my needs; as I added more ideas, I simply added folders. But in 2008, these folders were permanently replaced by Evernote, my new digital brain.

About Evernote

Evernote is a collection of apps that allows you to store, access, and search any type of file from any device. Their motto is simple—Remember Everything—and they succeed in helping users do that. What started as a desktop and web-based application has expanded rapidly to virtually all platforms, and has even developed an ecosystem of additional apps that can interact with your Evernote account.

How I Use Evernote

Since Evernote is such a flexible system, you can use it however you want to; there is no “right” way. Here’s some examples of how I use Evernote as a young pastor, in hopes it might help you think of a new way to store and access your information.

Collect Everything

First, I see Evernote as being a large bucket with which I can collect everything. From articles I find interesting, to youth group game ideas, to all my research on a particular passage, all of it goes into Evernote.

This is made easy by all the ways you can put info into Evernote. With browser extensions, I can clip any webpage with just a few clicks. If I download a PDF onto my desktop, I can easily drag the file into the desktop app, creating its own note. Several of my iOS apps can send info directly into Evernote, including my scratchpad (Drafts), my read-it-later app (Instapaper), and my RSS reader (Mr. Reader). If there is a tweet I like, I have set up an IFTTT recipe to copy that tweet and send it to Evernote. I can even forward emails into Evernote, using a personalized, secret Evernote email address all members are given.

Organize Everything

While the search functionality in Evernote is stellar, I still like to organize my notes. This is done by creating Notebooks (think categories), using Tags, and even creating a table of contents note. Here are a few ways I utilize these tools in my system.

Notebooks as Categories

I have created 38 notebooks in Evernote, divided into large categories. I view these as big buckets in which to dump all related notes. Categories like Old Testament, New Testament, Church & Ministry, Personal Stuff, and Culture are large notebooks, containing hundreds of diverse files—but all fitting under each general headline. I also have an @inbox notebook, which serves as a catch-all. It is the default notebook which all new notes first appear in, before I sort and move them into the proper bucket.


In my Personal Stuff, I place all my tax-deductible receipts from ministry—whether they are forwarded from email or scanned in. But I need to distinguish between receipts from different years; this is where tags come in handy. I use descriptive tags—like TD 2013—to tell what tax year this receipt came from. So when I prepare to meet with my tax guy, I can simply go to the Personal Stuff notebook and search for all notes tagged with TD 2013. Super simple!

My Own Commentary

Warning: this might get really nerdy!

A few years ago I tried compiling all my notes and thoughts on biblical passages in Word documents—one document per book of the Bible. However, I found this to be clunky, hard to scan through, and annoying to maintain. Then I listened to a lecture by D.A. Carson on preaching, in which he gives a glimpse into his note-taking system, comprised of looseleaf notebook paper. It was then that I came up with the system in Evernote that I use now.

Template for a chapter of the Bible.
Template for a chapter of the Bible.

First, I created a template note for a biblical chapter, featuring room for an outline, verse by verse exposition, and a list of sources. Second, I duplicated the template enough to create a file for each chapter of each book of the Bible. Next, using the Copy Note Link feature, I created two large documents, sort of like a table of contents for each testament of the Bible. Now, whenever I am working on a passage, I can keep all my notes and thoughts in the Evernote note for that chapter.

Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away
Each chapter of the Bible is just a click away

Two advantages for this system: First, it is completely expandable. Each note can be as large or as small as it needs to be. Second, I can link other notes easily to the chapter note. So if I find a helpful journal article on a passage, I can add it to Evernote and link to it in the footer of the relevant chapter note. It may seem like this would take a long time, and let me assure you it will take 3x longer than you think! But having a system in place pays off immensely in the long run, especially if you plan on using your system frequently.

Recall Everything

The final strength of Evernote is the powerful searching feature. At the top right corner of the desktop app, there is a search bar. With this bar, you can search for any word or phrase found in your notes. But you can get even more specific: you can limit the search by Notebook, Tags, and even by when the note was created. And the real power comes in Evernote’s OCR technology, which means you can search through PDFs and other files (a Premium only feature). So if you are looking for that Word document you placed in Evernote two years ago, you don’t need to remember the title, or even the notebook, if you remember and can search for the subject of the document. This is immensely helpful to me; often I am pleasantly surprised by what a search returns to me, as I had forgotten about a file.


By now I have spend so much time and energy placing articles, thoughts, and ideas into Evernote, I can’t imagine ministry without it. If you are looking for a way to easily store and retrieve your myriad of files, articles, and illustrations, or if you are looking for a digital replacement for a paper-based system, I would encourage you to check out Evernote.

One word of advice for younger pastors or seminary students who are about to start with Evernote: be sure to stay on top of your organizing. You get what you put into your system. If you don’t spend the time, your system will not be as helpful as you hoped it would be. Take the time—like a free Saturday or a few open evenings—to develop and organize you system. Your future self will thank you.


organizing-pastors-life-evernote-screenshotFree eBook!

I have put together an eBook with additional tips on organizing a pastor’s life with Evernote. Click here to sign up for your free eBook.

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What is the Bible? Six Views on Reading Scripture

what is the Bible?Introduction

For most of church history, the idea of a personal Bible was unheard of. The phrase “Turn in your Bible to…” would have made no sense. That’s because people didn’t have their own Bible.

But now we do. Since the Gutenberg press revolutionized the way mankind makes books, the Bible has rightly become the most accessible book in the world. If you live in America, you are lucky enough to have access to several Bibles—in libraries, hotel rooms, and even given to you on a street corner. And if you have been a Christian for a while, you are likely one of the 88% of Americans who own a Bible; you might even have a few on your shelves.

Because of the ubiquitous nature of the printed and bound Bible in our culture today, it is easy to assume that the Bible has always been like this. We can take for granted that, for most of the church’s history, copies of the Bible were handwritten. We can also take for granted the very nature of the Bible, viewing it in a very narrow light.

So what is the Bible?

  • A library?
  • A book?
  • A reference work?
  • A historical document?

It is all of these… and more.

In this post, we will take a look of each more closely to see how we should be viewing the Bible.

A Library

First of all, the Bible is a library of works. Written by at least 40 different authors and numerous editors over 1500 years, the 66 books of the Bible form a library of religious texts. Even the word “bible” comes from the Greek and can be translated as “little books”.

In the early years, these writings were combined into a canon, or a standardized grouping. While the order of this list may change, the canon has remained relatively stable.

Viewing the Bible as individual books and letters allows the reader to note the diversity found within the text. Stories, laws, poetry, personal letters, and apocalyptic writing are all part of Scripture.

A Book

For all the diversity in the Bible, it is not merely an anthology of religious texts; instead, it tell one complete story. There is a unity to the text, a storyline woven throughout the pages. The Bible is not a The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with his people, and the lengths he would go to redeem them.

There has been a recent resurgence in resources to help readers see this greater storyline of the Bible. Books like The Heart of the Story and The God Who Is There show how each part of the Bible fits in God’s greater story. And curricula like The Gospel Project guides a small group through finding their part in this greater story.

A Reference Work

Another view of the Bible is that it serves as a reference work. Instead of learning, internalizing, and memorizing Scripture, one could cite the chapter and verse of a particular passage.

The division of the Bible into chapters and verses was done in the 13th century by Stephen Langton, the future Archbishop of Canterbury. Before Langton, people would refer to the book a quote was in, but could not point to a specific part. Several of the New Testament authors cite the Old Testament by saying “as it is written” (Mark 1:2; Romans 4:17).

While the development of chapters and verses has aided pastors, authors, and readers alike in remembering the text, it has also had some negative effects. Chapter and verse divisions are not perfect, at times interrupting the original flow and argument of the author. They have also made reading the Bible fragmented, with people reading only the portion they need to, say for a reading plan or whatever verses the pastor told them to read. This lends itself to people citing a verse outside of the context of the surrounding verses and chapters. Proof-texting like this is good for boosting your own argument, but it does not help you understand the truths God may be communicating through the greater passage.

While I am not proposing abolishing the chapter/verse divisions, reading the Bible without them is greatly beneficial. Logos readers can do this with a click of a button, while readers looking for a physical edition can turn to the ESV Reader’s Bible.

A Historical Document

Within popular culture, the Bible is often viewed as a historical document. In this view, the Bible’s value is merely that of cultural artifact, useful primarily to describe the life, culture, and belief of an ancient people. This makes the Bible something worthy of scholarly study, but of no value to modern day readers.

For Christian readers, there is great value to be found in learning more about the culture and context of the Bible’s authors and original audience. But we cannot stop there; for Christians, the Bible is much more than a cultural artifact.

Revelation of God’s Story

For Christians, the Bible is God’s revelation to mankind. Through Scripture, God reveals truths about Himself, the nature of mankind, and the redemption plan God has for His people. And it is through Scripture that we learn about Jesus Christ, the very Word of God (John 1).

This makes reading the Bible more than just something we study; when we read the Bible, God uses that to change and shape and mold us more into His image. Reading the Bible, combined with the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to learn and experience more of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.


Unfortunately, for millions of people on the planet, the Bible means nothing to them. This is because they either do not have access to the Bible, or the Bible has not yet been translated into their heart language. Over half of the world’s languages do not have a complete Bible, while 26% of the world’s languages have no translation works started (source).

Fortunately there are some great organizations looking to remedy this drought in biblical translations. Here at North Baptist Church we are partnered with Wycliffe and New Tribes Mission, both of which are committed to reaching the unreached people groups with a translation of the Bible. I encourage you to pray for and support missionaries and organizations that are pursing translation projects throughout the world.

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Obstacles to Understanding the Old Testament

obstacles to understanding the old testamentI am currently reading Time Travel to the Old Testament, which is an accessible introduction to the Old Testament by Chris Sinkinson. His goal is to help readers engage with the Old Testament as a Christian text—a shared goal we have here at

Early in the book, Sinkinson lists several obstacles for the normal reader to overcome in reading and understanding the Old Testament. The list is his (from pages 18–21), but the descriptions are mine.


For those of us reading the Bible in the Western Hemisphere, the stories of the Old Testament happened half a world away. And, since they happened several millennia in the past, the stories often refer to locations now lost to history. By spending time learning biblical geography, we can gain a better understanding of where these stories take place.

Legal Codes

Every Christian reading the Old Testament must engage with the numerous religious and moral laws put on Israel in the Pentateuch. We need to see how they fit within the storyline of the Old Testament, as well as in the greater Christian story.

Barbarity and Violence

One of the most common charges against the Bible is the apparent violence condoned and commanded by God in the Old Testament. A Christian reader needs to engage these issues: how to reconcile the behavior of God’s people in the two testaments, how to view these commands by God in the Old Testament, and how to view violence in light of the Cross.


The Hebrew poetry contained in the Old Testament are of a substantially different genre than other forms of poetry with which we might be familiar. It takes some time—and guidance—to learn what the authors are trying to accomplish with Hebrew poetry.

Complexity of Old Testament History

There is a lot going on in the Old Testament: hundreds of characters, several wars, and the rising and falling of empires. Surveys of the Old Testament help sort through the myriad stories and information to reveal the storyline.

Odd Behavior of Old Testament Heroes

The Old Testament provides an unvarnished look at most characters, at times even going to great lengths to highlight their weaknesses. Christian readers of the Old Testament need to reconcile the sinfulness of the Old Testament characters with their flashes of obedience and faithfulness to God.

I think Sinkinson has done a fine job of noting some of the main obstacles facing Christians reading the Old Testament. I would just add two more that I think are crucial:

Ancient Context of the Old Testament

When we read the Old Testament, we are reading the stories, poems, and history of a very different world. The concerns of the ancient Israelite authors were not always the concerns we are thinking about in a modern/post-modern world. A commentary devoted to the Old Testament culture can help readers gain more insight into the world of the Old Testament.

Modern Assumptions of the Old Testament

The flip side of the previous obstacle, this one concerns how our culture can influence our understanding of the Old Testament. So our reading of the story of Noah can be shaped by movies, attempts to build a replica of the ark, and even nursery decorations! These influences create preconceived ideas of what the text says, even if these images are not rooted in the text themselves. Only by reading the Old Testament with fresh eyes can we start to break down these preconceived notions.

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Importance of Learning Biblical Geography

One of my favorite classes in seminary was a seminar on biblical geography. The textbook was a Bible atlas, and all the classwork dealt with reading a passage of the Old Testament and drawing it on a map with colored pencils.

And I loved it!

The benefit of this class was that it made the biblical stories come alive. Instead of being words on a page, you could see where events happened. Names of places became tangible places, with rocks, trees, and streams. The journeys people took could be traced with a pencil or your finger.

Here are three reasons why learning biblical geography will help you better understand the Bible:

Better Understand the Story

Stories are shaped by geography. The places are as much a part of the story as the characters. And sometimes, geography is the only way to understand the story.

In 1 Kings 9:15–16, the author describes how the Pharaoh of Egypt destroyed Gezer and gave it as a wedding gift to his daughter, who was marrying Solomon. What kind of gift is a destroyed city?

When you look at Gezer on a map of Israel at the time, it is situated between Jerusalem and the Mediterranean Sea. Most importantly, Gezer was a stop on the Grand Trunk Road, a coastal trade route connecting most of the known road. Pharaoh’s gift of Gezer means that Mr. and Mrs. Solomon could rebuild the city and use it to collect tolls on this road—the gift that keeps on giving!

Better Understand the Culture

Why is it that Israel seems to keep having troubles with Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon? When you study Old Testament geography, you will see that Israel is situated at the intersection of three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Moreover, in the days of the Old Testament, Israel was right in between these great empires: Egypt to the southwest and Assyria and Babylon to the northeast. Israel’s location was prime real estate, of which all three empires wanted to claim as their own.

Better Understand Theology

At times the biblical authors can use geography to highlight theological truths. Locations can do this, but so can overall geography. A great example of this can be seen in the geography of the Gospel of Matthew.

Another example is in the geography of the book of Acts. Jesus tells disciples to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And in retelling the acts of the apostles, Luke follows this same pattern. The narrative focus remains in Jerusalem until the end of Acts 7. Then in Acts 8 Philip finds himself in Samaria preaching the Gospel. Finally, in the rest of the book much of the focus is on Paul, the apostle who brings the Gospel to the Gentiles. Luke traces his several excursions into the Roman empire, traveling about the Mediterranean. At the end of Acts (Acts 28), Luke describes Paul as being in Rome for two years, where he is “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:31).

So the narrative in Acts moves from Jerusalem—where it all started—to Rome—the center of the world at the time. This also highlights a truth about the Gospel: God’s grace is no longer limited to the Jewish people (identified with Jerusalem). Instead, God’s grace is made available to the entire world, and Paul is preaching it in the capital of the world!


It is important for readers of the Bible to gain a basic understanding of biblical geography. Geography helps all readers—but especially visual and spatial learners—to make the stories more tangible, more concrete.

A good way to start is to use an ESV Study Bible; it provide some of these geographical explanations, along with big colorful maps. Of course, you can also use the maps at the back of any Bible; they might not be as detailed, but they will give you a broad picture of the world in ancient times.

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Stories Worth Sharing — March 14, 2015

Stories Worth SharingThe Crooked Forest of Poland

In a tiny corner in Northwest Poland, near Gryfino, a forest of about 400 pine trees which grow with a 90-degree bend at the base of their trunks before rising vertically again.

Nazis Planned to Blow Up Horseshoe Curve in PA

As America entered World War II, the historic Horseshoe Curve became the target of Operation Pastorius, a Nazi plan to blow up a number of targets to cripple key points in the US infrastructure.

What Happens When Queen Elizabeth Dies?

For at least 12 days — between her passing, the funeral and beyond — Britain will grind to a halt. It’ll cost the British economy billions in lost earnings.

Reading the Bible Narcissistically

We often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory, our faith, our holiness, our marriages, our money, our children. And it does talk about those things. But is the Bible fundamentally about us?

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Stories Worth Sharing — March 7, 2015


Blue Jays’ top prospect lives in a van

The future of the Toronto Blue Jays wakes up in a 1978 Volkswagen camper behind the dumpsters at a Wal-Mart and wonders if he has anything to eat.

NASA probe orbiting dwarf planet Ceres

NASA’s Dawn probe has become the first ever spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet. The space agency confirmed that the probe was around 38,000 miles from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s orbit.

3 reasons why Bible reading feels like a chore

But reading the Bible is not a project. Spiritual dullness cannot be defeated by an exertion of willpower.

When sin works

For all of our celebration of non-violence and for other righteous acts, there’s another uncomfortable truth: sinful behavior—or, more bluntly, wickedness—sometimes works.

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Stories Worth Sharing — February 28, 2015

Stories Worth Sharing

How Oregon’s second largest city vanished in a day

Built in 110 days in 1942, Vanport was always meant to be a temporary housing project, a superficial solution to Portland’s wartime housing shortage. At its height, Vanport housed 40,000 residents, making it the second largest city in Oregon, a home to the workers in Portland’s shipyards and their families.

Philadelphia and the 200-year history of the American Bible Society

After nearly 200 years in New York City, the American Bible Society (ABS), a ministry devoted to translating and distributing of the Bible worldwide, is moving to Philadelphia… A look at the early history of the American Bible Society shows just how ironic the forthcoming move is.

A professor’s journey from Scientology to Christ

Before he moved on, however, he stared into my eyes, pointed his finger at me, and said something I’ll never forget: “Someday L. Ron Hubbard is going to disappoint you. And when he does, call me.”

3 reasons we must not forget the Psalms

Before long, the Psalms influenced the way I discipled others—especially in the way the Psalms validate our emotions, shape our imaginations, and teach us to pray.

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Stories Worth Sharing — February 21, 2015

Stories Worth Sharing

NASA to send a submarine into space

NASA is working on a submarine to explore the methane seas of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Why Samsung design stinks

Design studios would get caught up in a vision for the next TV or smartphone, but forget that it’s Samsung that has the most cutting-edge information about the limitations and capabilities of these technologies.

The effects of public internet shaming

Social media is so perfectly designed to manipulate our desire for approval, and that is what led to her undoing.

Why are Christian movies so painfully bad?

It’s as if the Christian movie industry pays attention to mainstream cinema just long enough to see what it’s up to, before raising funds to do slightly different versions of the same thing, only with less famous actors, more Jesus, and rocking chairs.


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Stories Worth Sharing — February 14, 2015

The Cultural History of Funeral Trains

Whether Lenin or FDR, the 20th century saw many of its leaders taking the train to the end of their line, giving a stretch of their countries a final chance to pay their respects with a wave of the hand or doffing of the hat.

India’s Toilet Race fails if they aren’t used

India accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s residents without toilets, according to a report released in May by the World Health Organization and Unicef.

Ricky Henderson’s un-cashed $1 million check

In 1990, Rickey Henderson signed a five year, $8.5 million contract with the A’s, which included a $1 million signing bonus.  About a year later, the A’s were trying to balance their books, and kept coming up $1 million short.

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