reMarkable 2: Review

Blurring the line between paper & digital

Disclaimer: This is not a paid review. I purchased the device with my own money, and I was not solicited to review this product.

Introduction

It is hard to think of a recent device that has so greatly affected my workflow as the reMarkable 2. That is not hyperbole. I use it all the time, from reading PDFs to note taking, jotting down ideas, and doing sermon development in a freeform / more organic way than on my computer.

I use it in the counseling room when shepherding my flock. I use it in meetings. I keep my prayer list on it. Often, I will throw it in a bag with just my Bible, and head out to work through a text away from my computer and other distractions.

What is it?

It is an e-ink based tablet with a digitizer and pen (“marker” in reMarkable parlance). As it uses e-ink, it feels more like reading on paper than the LCD based screens most tablets such as an iPad. In sunlight, it is still legible, though in dark rooms you will need to supply your own light (just like a book). Unlike some other e-ink devices there is no front-light.

However, without a backlit and constantly refreshing display, the battery life is outstanding. I can get a week of use from it before having to charge it. It is also much thinner and lighter than a typical iOS, Android, or Windows tablet. It weighs 0.89 lbs. (403.5 grams) and is only 0.19″ (4.7mm) thick.

But this is not a general computing device. There are no apps on it. All you can do on it is read and write (and manage your notebooks). But it far excels other tablets when it comes to that. Screen refreshes / page turns are a bit slow, think e-ink Kindles.

Taking notes on Beza’s biography of Calvin at the dealership

Writing feel

Writing on an iPad or Surface feels like writing on glass. A bit slippery and never feels quite right. Microsoft put a haptic engine in their newest Slim Pen 2 to try and replicate that feel but it still doesn’t feel like pencil on paper.

But the reMarkable DOES. It feels satisfying to write with. It is even a bit addictive. At the same time, you can also do things that regular paper cannot – like select a section of your notes and copy and paste it elsewhere or move the text around the page.

Distraction free

Reading a book pulled from Google and annotating it

I have a tablet (Surface Pro 9) and a phone (ZFold 3) that I read and takes notes on (both support a stylus and inking). Besides the fact that they are not as satisfying to write on, they also are filled with temptations and distractions. Notifications come in and I am tempted to open them. When I get distracted in my mind, I am tempted to open up the browser, and chase some sort of rabbit trail.

But with the reMarkable, assuming I keep my phone away, I am glued to reading and writing. This is a great boon to my productivity and is the best of both worlds – the best of paper notebooks with the best of digital technology (circa the 2020s).

Workflows

Meditations on a sermon text (Psalm 109)

A few of the workflows that I use:

  1. I upload PDFs to the reMarkable that I want to read. With Google Books this allows me to read a lot of older works for free almost as if they were printed, due to the e-ink screen and lightweight nature of the device. I can then markup the books as well and capture the notes without defiling a book!
  2. I can also export sections of my Logos library and then can read and also mark them up with annotations. The cover photo illustrates that kind of workflow.
  3. I often export the Biblical text that I am going to preach on and start to “doodle” on it, see above photo “Meditations on a sermon text”.
    • I meditate on the text and draw connections between it and other Scripture with my Bible open.
    • Using the reMarkable cloud service, I open those notes on my PC and start to put a sermon outline together and type up a sermon from it. There are integrations with DropBox, OneDrive, and Google Drive if you do not want to use reMarkable’s proprietary cloud.
  4. When I read an involved book (physical book) – especially one more research oriented – I will take notes as I read the book on the reMarkable. See photo below at the end of this section.
  5. Note taking is excellent in the counseling room or in a meeting. Given its paper like qualities, no one thinks you are playing a game on it while speaking with them.
  6. For Family Worship, I keep a PDF Bible on it. I mark where I am in the Bible to keep track of where we leave off (we do not do whole chapters, typically). I can erase any marks I make, and I don’t have to mark up a physical Bible.
  7. Recently it aided me in an emergency preaching situation. A guest minister took ill after the morning service and as he was unable to preach our afternoon service, I scrambled (while at church) to pull together a sermon in about an hour.
    • I found a sermon I had never preached to my congregation, edited it on my Surface Go 2 to update it for our context, and then uploaded it to the reMarkable.
    • I preached from the reMarkable – I had never preached from an electronic device before – and the Lord brought me through it. Would I do that again? No. Not unless it was a similar emergency. The contrast is not quite as good as real paper, and the page size is a bit smaller than the 8.5″x11″ I am used to preaching from. And, as with all electronic devices, it could have failed. But the Lord blessed it, and I was grateful. Members of the congregation told me they could not tell I was preaching from a device.
  8. You can convert your handwriting to text via OCR. But I have yet to use it for that. It is an offline process and is not done in real-time.
Freeform note taking. Note the small text that I could insert with the fineliner tool

Bad stuff

All of that said, the device is not perfect. To use their cloud functionality after a year, it will cost you a few dollars a month to subscribe. The device is not speedy and page turns can take some time with complex PDFs filled with images. The 3.0 update, which is its biggest update to date, is still buggy (I recommend that you stay on 2.x for a while). It is pretty pricey, as many niche products are. While it starts at around $299, you will need to buy a pen to use it ($80-100), and you will probably want a case of some kind. All told, you are looking at around $400+ for it. That puts it in iPad territory and this device is not nearly as useful as an iPad for general purpose computing. But that said, if you can use this device to its full potential because of your work, you will find that you use it more than an iPad.

You cannot open multiple notebooks or books at the same time for a split-screen view. This means I cannot read a book and put notes on it in another document. Other e-ink devices have gained this capability, but the reMarkable has not.

Competition

The market has grown since reMarkable 1 first came on the scene. Amazon has its Kindle Scribe which allows you to natively read Kindle books on it. It is not as good for doing actual note taking, but it is a Gen 1 device, and the software may greatly improve. Supernote is another device that better models the feel of ink on paper rather than pencil on paper as the reMarkable. Then there is the Onyx Note Air 2 – which is a full-on Android tablet with an e-ink display. This means you can use all of your normal apps like OneNote instead of the proprietary note taking applications. You can also use the Kindle app (though you cannot take handwritten notes on them). This is an intriguing device and many love it. Though for me, the minimalism of the reMarkable 2 is attractive.

Conclusion

I hope that the above review might give you a reason to consider an e-ink tablet to add to your workflow. With our current digital age, it is nice to have something minimalistic and distraction free to aid our productivity that melds the best of analog and digital technologies.

Devotional Bible Reading

Reading the Bible with Meditation and Prayer

I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.
Psalm 85:8

Introduction

A New Year is about to dawn, and many Bible reading plans will be started. You might get through your allotted reading plan in the upcoming year. But the question is whether you will read the Bible with profit? Will your Bible reading deepen your communion with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit?

Far too often, we find little profitability in our Bible reading and it becomes a rote and frustrating affair. Part of the reason for this is we do not exercise ourselves spiritually in our devotional reading time. Nor do we recognize that when we approach the Bible in faith, it becomes God’s very speech towards us.

And so, our Bible reading becomes something akin to the reading students perform to get through their classes: rote and obligatory. Instead of being meditative, prayerful, convicting, and delightful. Bible reading of the latter kind are hallmarks of evangelical religion.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s counsel

Some of the best pastoral counsel when it comes to reading the Scripture comes from Robert Murray M’Cheyne who wrote to a young man who was away from his parents’ home:

“You read your Bible regularly, of course; but do try and understand it, and still more, to feel it. Read more parts than one at a time. For example, if you are reading Genesis, read a psalm also; or, if you are reading Matthew, read a small bit of an epistle also. Turn the Bible into prayer. Thus, if you were reading the 1st Psalm, spread the Bible on the chair before you, and kneel, and pray, ‘O Lord, give me the blessedness of the man,’ etc. ‘Let me not stand in the counsel of the ungodly,’ etc. ‘This is the best way of knowing the meaning of the Bible, and of learning to pray. In prayer confess your sins by name—going over those of the past day, one by one. Pray for your friends by name—father, mother, etc. etc. If you love them, surely you will pray for their souls. I know well that there are prayers constantly ascending for you from your own house; and will you not pray for them back again? Do this regularly. If you pray sincerely for others, it will make you pray for yourself.
        “But I must be done. Good-bye, dear G. Remember me to your brother kindly, and believe me your sincere friend,
“R. M. M.”

Robert Murray McCheyne and Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894), 58–59.

Read M’Cheyne’s counsel slowly and think upon it. It is filled with gold. Let us consider some aspects of his counsel.

Read with the Understanding

M’Cheyne urged his young friend to understand the Scripture he read. If reading the Bible is akin to digesting your daily food (Job 23:12) and more necessary than it, then it is no surprise that many of us have spiritual indigestion after Bible reading – because we did not go slow enough to digest it properly. Meditate on the Word (Psalm 1:2) and think deeply upon it. The word translated ‘meditate’ has at its root the concept of muttering.

So, as an aid to meditation, you might consider reading the Word aloud softly. After all, the blessing in The Revelation is, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” (Revelation 1:3). Note both the reading and the hearing. The part of hearing is often neglected in our private devotions but is connected to profitable meditation.

Another simple exercise to get started in the practice of reflecting on the Scripture and meditating on it is to remember what the Shorter Catechism Q. 3 teaches about “What do the Scriptures principally teach?”. Answer: “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man”. This is a good way to interact with every Scripture that you read – if you do this you will read with the understanding. Reflect on what the text teaches concerning your God and what duties the text may constrain you to.

Read prayerfully

Reading prayerfully is the other part of M’Cheyne’s counsel we ought to heed and is perhaps even more neglected by God’s people. We often struggle in prayer because we do not know how to pray as we ought. This is why the Lord gave us The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1). The 3rd petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In that petition we are to pray that the will of God be done in our life (and in others).

Given that the preceptive will of God is found in the Scripture, we must pray for God’s grace to be forgiven of our coming short of it (5th petition of the Lord’s prayer), as well as God’s grace to walk in obedience to it.

This is what M’Cheyne counseled his dear friend to do with Bible reading. To turn it into a prayerful exercise seeking the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for all the matters found in it. This will humble you and cause you to ever look with joy and patient dependence unto Jesus – the author and finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Read Devotionally

More could be said on these matters, but in the end – make your reading devotional. It is part of your communion with Jesus Christ. You draw close to the throne of heaven when you sit at Christ’s feet in your Bible reading in this way. You will know your God better than if you just flew through your reading as a bare obligation.

This will likely mean you need to allocate more time to your daily devotions (they are called that for a reason!) in order to get through your Bible reading plan. But are there not amusements you can probably be rid of to spend more time with Christ in this manner?

If you read and pray devotionally, you will find the time in devotions melt away and when your allotted time comes to an end, and you must depart from Christ’s feet to perform your other obligations, you will sigh, “Rabboni!” wishing you could cling to Christ just a bit longer (John 20:16-17). May that heart be yours in the New Year and may He accomplish it through your Bible reading:

But I found him whom my soul loveth:
I held him, and would not let him go

Song of Songs 3:4

A famine of discriminatory preaching

Introduction

And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. 2 Samuel 12:7

I recently listened to a sermon on the free offer of the gospel on SermonAudio. As the minutes rolled on, I could not help to note that the sermon was rather detached and lecture-like. When the sermon was more than 3/4 of the way through it struck me that it was unlikely this minister was going to press his congregation to see if they had freely received Christ for themselves. He did not preach as if Christ had been crucified among them (Galatians 3:1). The assumption seemed to be that the congregation only needed to understand the Bible’s theology better.

This happens all too often in Reformed pulpits but what made it more jarring was this was done during a sermon on the gospel itself. A sermon with no exhortations to close with Christ (John 1:12). Sadly, I hear the same kind of thing from many students that preach in Presbytery trials, they simply do not do what Bible preaching demands – to search out the hearers. After preaching that salvation is of the Lord, few today will take the next step and ask their hearers the simple question: “have you yourself, seen that you are a sinner, and have you cast yourself entirely upon Jesus for salvation?

And so, it is the case, sad to say, in addition to a famine of practical preaching, there is a great famine of discriminatory preaching in Reformed Churches. Discriminatory preaching does not discriminate as we use the word today to show bigotry between ethnicities or sexes or something of that sort. Instead, it is a discrimination between sheep and goats – the true Christian and the non-Christian or the “almost Christian” (the same as the non-Christian).

Because such discrimination is not sought in preaching – the outcome is that hypocrites are never confronted with their sinfulness and will hear on that last day, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). Sadly, many covenant children apostatize because their minister has never preached in a way that exposes their sinfulness and their own need for a Savior.

Confront the hypocrite

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
2 Corinthians 13:5.

This need for searching in preaching is seen in 2 Corinthians 13. The apostle Paul confronts the Corinthians to see if they are in the faith or are reprobates.

Today, no less than in the 1st century, preaching must seek to confront the hypocrite with their standing with the Lord. Have they really trusted in the Lord for their salvation – all of it? Are they clinging onto their good works as their hope for salvation, their profession of faith notwithstanding? Are they walking in repentance and faith? Are they reprobates, or are they truly in the faith?

It is this kind of searching that must be put before the people of God. David would pray in the 139th psalm:

Search me, O God, and know my heart:
Try me, and know my thoughts:
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

The preaching of the Word must search the people out in this manner. Preaching must not just exposit the propositional truths of the Scripture, but to take the next step, and bring those truths out in such a way that the Holy Ghost might search out the congregation, so they might flee to Christ for everlasting life and new obedience in the way everlasting. Ministers must do it earnestly and plead with them as the Lord would have them (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Comfort the saint

But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.
2 Corinthians 13:6.

But even as the preacher preaches in a searching manner, he must also see that the aim is not that men and women would live in terror but flee to Jesus Christ for comfort. For the Spirit to awaken them to their awful condition but send them to the arms of Jesus for everlasting life and blessedness, laying hold of Jesus as a free gift. This is what is so striking about 2 Corinthians 13, soon after the apostle tells the Corinthians to see if they are reprobates, he seeks to console true believers to show they can know they are not reprobates by looking at signs of grace in them.

For believers, then, such discrimination is mean to fill them with assurance that they are on the Lord’s side forever. That as they see the marks of grace in them, that if they seek to (however imperfectly) deny themselves, take up their Cross daily, and follow Him is one of the marks of a saved soul, one born again, and one who will enter the joy of their Lord. But always knowing those are marks / fruits of salvation, but it is Jesus who saves them to the uttermost.

Ministers accountable

Ministers, preach in this manner, for the Lord will hold you accountable for the souls under your charge.

But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.
Ezekiel 33:6

A solemn word, so preach in a manner that none of your people can stand before the Lord on the judgment day and complain to the Lord that you did not confront them with their personal need to receive Christ and to consider their standing before the Almighty. You will be accountable for the blood of your hearers.

Short Examples

Below are two simple sermon clips from recent preaching. The first asks the congregation to consider which side they are on, the sheep or the goats. To have them understand there is a distinction between the two.

The second clip seeks to call believers in every state to the Lord’s Table, in the hopes that the Lord would cause believers in every situation to cling to the arms of Jesus for comfort and consolation.

These are not great examples, perhaps, but it does show the difference between a lecture where one explains the way of salvation and preaching that inquires of the congregation their spiritual state before the Lord.

A famine of moral and practical preaching

Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Acts 20:26–27

In the Reformed church today, there has been a too great backlash to moralistic preaching. In many ways this is understandable as there has been a grievous loss of the gospel in many quarters when men preach “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” to the exclusion of our only hope – Christ crucified for sinners. Many no longer hear that Christ came to justify the ungodly – that our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), for which we will praise God now and forever.

But in an over-reaction to gospel-less moralism, men have turned away from preaching the moral commandments of the Bible. The fruit of this practical, if not theoretical, antinomianism has caused many to no longer showcase the mark of the Christian disciple (love) and led to lives filled with sinfulness. It has also led to destroyed families and ruined marriages because no longer do Christians hear “all the counsel of God” and God’s will for their lives, their marriage, their family, etc.

Preaching Holiness

Many New Testament texts teach that the fruit of salvation must be holy lives lived for righteousness. Christ Himself teaches that His light must shine through our conduct and lives. Never to earn salvation, not ever to earn favor with the Almighty, but the product of the new, regenerated, heart, and the work of the grace of Christ given to us by the Holy Spirit, and exercised by ourselves. It is hard to understand how one can read the Sermon on the Mount without seeing how Christ would have us live. Consider some other texts in the New Testament epistles.

Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Titus 2:13-14

and

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

The Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us and washed us from all our sins, so we may live holy lives, and for Him. That is the teaching of Romans 6 as well:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
Romans 6:1-2

Preaching Practical Doctrine

Because of the abuse of moralistic preaching divorced from the grace of God, many men no longer preach sanctification. In addition, practical preaching is almost nonexistent. I have listened to many sermons as of late from men – and almost all of their sermons are week in, and week out, indicatives. With nary an imperative to be found. If moralistic preaching divorced from the gospel leads to burdens impossible to bear, a lack of moral preaching leads to the sheep being starved and disordered.

Opportunities for Wolves

Sensing this vacuum, this has also led to grievous wolves entering the church to lure away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:29-30) by preaching on neglected, but vital, topics for Christian living. Such men have a defective or heretical view on justification, and disciples not being fed “all the counsel of God” are leaving orthodox churches to pledge their allegiance and eternal souls to unorthodox men. This is devastating.

Pastor, please preach “all the counsel of God”. This is often far more difficult for your flesh to do as it takes a lot of thought and meditation to dive into the realm of application (this was noted in the Westminster Directory of Public Worship). You will have to know your flock to do it well (Proverbs 27:23). Any minister that spends time with his sheep would have a catalogue of vital topics on matters of holiness and practical living to preach on to tend to them. There is such power in preaching the Word that it will help reduce the amount of time you spend in the counseling room as you pick up after lives shattered by sin.

For the love of Christ, in the power of Christ, for the glory of Christ

Preach that obedience to the commandments is the fruit of a justifying faith and that obedience to the commandments comes from the greatest motivation of all:

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
John 14:15

And what the Lord Jesus Christ commands He gives power to fulfill through a vital union with Himself:

He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do… nothing.
John 15:5

May the people of God be a light set upon a hill as they are sanctified and more Christly through the preaching ministry, that all would glorify our Father in heaven.

Amen.

Evangelism and covenant children.

My daughter taking prayer requests while I preach

How do your children perceive that heaven and hell are real? That Jesus Christ loves sinners, even the chief? That souls are perishing apart from Christ? That they themselves must receive Christ or be lost?

Obviously, this will never happen without the Spirit’s blessing on the Word of God to make it come alive to them, so that they understand the solemnity, as well as joy, of texts such as:

And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. 2 Thessalonians 1:7–10.

But children, as well as adults, perceive the reality of the faith by observation and engagement. For ours is an experiential or experimental religion.

John 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.

In addition, as you know, the observation of the good deeds of the saints (and evangelism is a good deed indeed!) is a means the Lord uses to cause Himself to be glorified in the sight of all men.

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.


With all of that put together, I would encourage elders and parents to consider having their youth to come to evangelistic events and participate if it is wise for them to do so. Obviously, there are some areas and situations where you will not want to bring Christ’s most tender lambs to. But there are many places where it is appropriate.

In their engagement, the youth will better understand that heaven and hell are real places as you plead with souls to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. The youth will better understand that Christ came to save sinners, and of all kinds. That while our sin condemns us to hell, Jesus Christ can take us to heaven all on His own merit. Please take the faith from the realm of the theoretical to the experiential.

Plead to the God of heaven after you come back in prayer and have your children pray for the souls that were encountered as well. And if a soul is converted, rejoice with heaven that one who was dead is now alive.

A covenant youth of the congregation handing out tracts to passers-by

This is one neglected way for children to perceive the reality of the faith we profess. With all the youth “dropping out” of the evangelical churches – and there are a variety of reasons for it, including the fact that many have never truly been to church, but to youth programs instead – having them go out with you to take the message of Christ crucified is surely a means the Lord might use to draw them to saving faith themselves. If nothing else, they will hear your pastor preach the gospel over and over again in a pointed and earnest way – and for themselves, faith will come by hearing, and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:15-17). They will observe the discussions you have with souls on the road to hell and they will see the folly of sin and the hardness of the natural heart – but also see you depend upon the Spirit to reconcile sinners to God in Christ.

Surely this will have its effect on them.

And if nothing else, they can never go before the Lord one day, and charge you with hypocrisy. They will see that you truly believed what the Bible had to say and if they abandon the Lord, it will not be because you were a man or woman who was double minded.

Two of our youth ready to hand out gospel tracts while preaching takes place and adults are passing tracts up ahead of them.

I will also say that the children are often a great boon to the evangelistic efforts of a congregation. While tracts are often refused from adults, they are rarely refused when children offer them! It is hard to resist the children especially when they are so earnest about their labors.

So, with this small post, I hope you might consider having the children of the congregation along to evangelistic events that they might perceive the great division between all peoples into sheep and goats and the love of God demonstrated on the glorious Cross of Christ for the sheep.

That they would see in us the sentiment of Spurgeon:

Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

C. H. Spurgeon, “The Wailing of Risca,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 7 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1861), 11.

Perhaps, when we implore our children to be personally reconciled to Christ, they will see the urgency of that message for themselves, as they have seen us plead with others to be saved, and they will be saved in the process as they experience the reality of the Word – that hell is real, but praise be to God for Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given us a full and free salvation to carry us to heaven, if we would receive Him by faith.

Soli Deo Gloria

Open air preaching – 07/31/21

One of our Ruling Elders at the Dallas Reformed Presbyterian Church put this video together of last month’s open air preaching and evangelism event. Encourage ministers of the gospel to preach the gospel in the open air and go with them to witness to those who will hear.

The encouraging thing for me as a minister is when I see my people share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those around, even as I am preaching the Word of God.

Share this video with those who need to be encouraged and read my last post on how you might conduct such events.

Also, check out our Church’s Facebook page for more details on the event.

Open air preaching

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:15

Why ministers must preach the gospel in the open air

In the past year, the Lord has stirred the Dallas Reformed Presbyterian Church to be a gospel witness to the city of McKinney. We began door to door outreach in the neighborhood, and spoken to our neighbors about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, handing out gospel tracts, inviting them to church, and praying with them if they have needs. For today, I want to consider open air preaching: preaching in the public square, sometimes called “street preaching”. I will focus on the ministry context the Lord has put me in – a suburb of the USA. Differences in application will be necessary for different contexts. Especially if your local government is more hostile to the Church.

WHY OPEN AIR PREACHING?
All that said, as blessed as our door to door outreach has been, we have felt a greater need for open air (or street) preaching. Why? Because the gospel must be preached to the lost. It is the foolishness of preaching that the Lord promises to greatly bless to the conversion of souls. It is preaching He uses as a means to draw men to Christ. God’s Word explains:

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (ROMANS 10:13–17)

Historically, the great revivals came by the Spirit filled preaching of God’s Word. Though other forms of evangelism are used by God, preaching to the lost is the greatest means Christ has given to evangelize. He said plainly and clearly, “preach the gospel to every creature”. The Greek word for preach is the activity of an official herald. Heralding the gospel. Heralding the good news! Yet, this greatest means is downplayed in the American church’s evangelistic efforts.

To this, many pastors might say: I preach the gospel in my church. I say, brother, I praise God for that! And I praise God for your members who bring the lost to your church! And I praise God you recognize that not all who sit in the pews and say they are Christians are born again. But the stark reality is this: the lost do not come to church as often as they once did. Church attendance used to be a marker of a person’s membership in ‘respectable society’. So the lost would go in times past. Those times are long gone.

Pastor, the lost are all around you outside of your study and your church building. Do not wait for them to come to you. Go to them! Preach the same Words of Life that once rang sweetly in your own ears on the day you first believed! Remember what it was like to hear Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners like you. Remember what it was like when the Spirit of God brought life and faith into your own heart.

And then on the day you were ordained to gospel ministry – the Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to a sinner like you the greatest message given – Christ and Him Crucified. The gospel message that God in the flesh came to save sinners – offering salvation as a free gift to all who call on the name of the Lord. Be an evangelist. Hear Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 TIMOTHY 4:5)

Make full proof of your ministry and preach the word to the lost. Do the work of an evangelist!

Members praying with those who have needs as they were drawn by the preaching

WHO SHOULD PREACH?
But that brings me to a topic I must address for our time: not everyone is a preacher. The Word of God says the ones who preach must be “sent” (Romans 10:15). Those sent are men ordained by a Presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14) for gospel ministry. It is not for every member to preach the Word of God. This is a commission and a burden given by the Lord.

I was examined by a Presbytery for the gospel ministry

Sadly, as ministers of the gospel have been unfaithful to their charge to evangelize – church members – seeing a vacuum – attempt to fill it as their souls are provoked by the lost perishing. They take on a burden Christ has not laid upon them. This is why, today, our impression of “street preachers” is almost overwhelmingly negative. Few ordained and trained physicians of souls are found in the public square. Instead, rabble rousers, and confrontational men are preaching to antagonize rather than evangelize.

But when true pastors with a heart for the lost preach on God’s wrath that leads all men to hell, they also find themselves preaching on God’s love in Christ that leads to heaven through a Cross – salvation as a free gift by faith in Jesus. They preach good news. Not just the bad news. For they were commissioned and sent with this burden: “for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

HINDRANCES
Is the thought of preaching the gospel in the open intimidating? At first, it is, at least to most men. But if you are a pastor, I hope you have felt the same trepidation when opening the Word of God to preach. As John Knox was reputed to have said, “I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit”. I still tremble every Lord’s Day and every Prayer Meeting where I preach a sermon. Because God is my judge. At first, I felt the burden of preaching in the open – but it struck me – do I think man is going to judge me more severely than Christ? No.

John Knox quote: I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble...

Some men also do not want to be seen as a fool. This is a real but seldom expressed fear. After all, it is much easier to preach to those who are friendly to the Christian faith inside of our meeting halls. A man who preaches in the open is going to be a laughingstock to man. Get used to being called a fool by the world, brother. It is the foolishness of preaching that God uses to save (1 Corinthians 1:21). Be a fool for Christ’s sake (1 Corinthians 4:10)!

Both fear and foolishness are removed when you realize that the man of God who preaches goes with the Spirit of God. Preaching is an activity that is blessed by the Spirit. The fact that men do not realize this is why there are many ineffective preachers today. The man of God goes for the Almighty and with the Almighty. “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” (Psalm 118:6). He cannot be touched by the world that rages against the Lord and His Christ (Psalm 2) – even if they kill the preacher – his life is hidden with Christ above (Colossians 3:3).

When I preached at the McKinney square I felt as though the stool I stood on was the firmest place in the universe to stand. Because I stood on the Word of God and I stood in Christ. I proclaimed the everlasting gospel with the pleasure and blessing of Jesus Christ Himself. And when a pastor pleads with God that he might preach in the Spirit – there is great power which removes the fear of men.

A congregational effort
Some who have read this might think that an open air witness must be a lone effort by the minister. After all, only the minister is called to preach. This is an opposite problem from the one I spoke of before. A strict clericalism can sneak into Reformed churches that ought never be there. No, evangelism can be a most blessed congregational activity. Ask God to rouse up the spirits of your congregation. Go together! While they will not preach – they will be a great encouragement and a great witness. They will be there to “watch your back” and pray for you. They will meet and greet those who show an interest in the word. They will pray with those who have prayer needs. They will tell others of how great things the Lord hath done for them, and hath had compassion on them (Mark 5:19). When they “swim in their lane”, so to speak, they are most blessed. They will not feel a burden that ought never be theirs. And they will find that Christ bears them up to be a public witness.

All that happened at our last event in McKinney. Their faith was strengthened and their spirits were renewed as they saw the work of God on display around them and through them. Knowing that the Spirit moved in my congregation, seeing their love for the gospel, love for Christ, love for the lost, and yes, even their love for me was a tremendous boost to my own spirit as I preached.

Breaking bread before taking the gospel to McKinney

Format
As for the format of our open air preaching event: I would preach for about 10 minutes on a text of Scripture. And each message must be a pointed gospel message. Messages were preached on salvation as the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, faith, heaven, salvation, and damnation. After a message was preached, one of the men would pray that the Lord would bless the word sown, and all would sing a psalm together as a public witness of praise to our God.

This was a wonderful way to have the congregation involved. Next time we plan to spread our members through the crowd with DRPC shirts on so that they might be able to talk to those who are interested. Go and be wise as serpents and harmless as doves in your witness for Christ. Mobilize the body – they can have a great part to play even if they can not preach!

For a sample of what was preached – you can view this video. Next time, we hope to have video captured of the congregation’s involvement so you can see how they worked together, prayed together, and sang together.

The final gospel call preached

Final thoughts
I chose to write on this topic not to exalt our congregation. But that Christ would be exalted. And exalted through your congregation as well as ours. Each time the Cross is preached, Christ is glorified, whether or not a soul is saved. That is our greatest aim in witnessing – to proclaim the excellences of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. No souls came forward at our event to be converted. But many listened to the Word intently. I had a small audience at a Café across the street that paid attention. One woman listened for twenty minutes or more. Many believers said a hearty ‘amen’ to the preaching as they walked by and signaled their support. And our congregation was strengthened spiritually. Most of all the Cross was preached and Christ was proclaimed.

We are simply called to be faithful to sow the good seed of the Word. God will make sure it does not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). The Godhead asks – “who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). Pastors – go out into the fields. The harvest is ripe. The Lord Jesus must be publicly proclaimed. Compel the lost to come in (Luke 14:23). Do it for the same Christ who loved you and died for you. Be used by Him to bring His lost sheep into His sheepfold. Be an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Yes, continue doing what you are doing for evangelism (you are doing something, right? 2 Timothy 4:5) but make sure to not neglect preaching to where the lost congregate. It is preaching that God most greatly blesses. If revival will break out in our land, we must rediscover the promise and power of preaching. Pastor, God has given you the gift of preaching the Word. You were not given that gift to only preach to saved people. You are equipped for the work of open air preaching. Your ordination is proof of it.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. My contact information is on the church website. Please also check out our Dallas RPCNA Facebook page for more pictures and videos from our event.

To hear a sermon I recently preached from Proverbs 1:20-33 on the need for Open Air preaching, you can listen to this:
https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=592122345485.

May Christ cry out in the open square through His Church! Soli Deo Gloria!

Confirming ministers by Presbytery

At the November 2019 meeting of the Midwest Presbytery of the RPCNA, I was made eligible to receive a call as a minister of the gospel. In the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, candidates for the ministry are required to pass thirteen Presbytery exams before they may be ordained to gospel ministry.

If the notion of a Presbytery is foreign to you, a brief explanation might be helpful. A Presbytery (from the Greek word for an elder: presbyter) is composed of the elders of churches in a geographic region that form a broader court above the local churches. In Acts 15, such an assembly adjudicated a problem too difficult/controversial/far-reaching for individual congregations to resolve. Much fruit has come out of such assemblies – the great creeds and confessions of the faith have come through these God-ordained church councils.

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A Presbytery meeting. Photo credit: Bryan Schneider.

In Presbyterian churches, a minister’s credentials are held by a Presbytery and not a local congregation. As such, Presbyteries are responsible for approving men to become ministers. Much more can be said on this, so I would suggest James Bannerman’s The Church of Christ if you wish to plumb the depths of Presbyterian church government. A free PDF copy can be found at Monergism.

With that by way of background, Presbytery exams for candidates are not easy. Our forefathers might have called them “trials” rather than “exams”. A fellow student stood on the floor of Presbytery for three hours in the taking of five exams (Preaching 2, Exegesis Paper, Systematic Theology 2, Church History, and Pastoral Gifts). I “only” took three this time around (Systematics 2, Church History, and Pastoral Gifts) and was examined on the floor of Presbytery for two hours.

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Candidate (me) answering questions in front of the Presbytery. Photo credit: Nick Schoeneberger.

In addition to the examiner, any Presbyter can ask the candidate questions. When the exam concludes, the entirety of the Presbytery votes up or down on the exams – each presbyter gets an equal vote.

Undergoing these trials can be grueling. But the blessing of being confirmed through the elders of the church is tremendous. Why? Because godly men confirm a man’s inward calling. Consider that the Lord tells potential ministers of the gospel:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, NKJV)

When we present ourselves approved to God, we do so through the means of a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11:14) through which safety is found for both church and candidate.

Why must the calling be examined externally and by a multitude of counselors? Because our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). We often think of ourselves more than we ought. Sometimes, we might even think less of ourselves than we should when the devil and the flesh want to discourage a man from serving Christ’s kingdom. As such, Paul writes to Timothy that presbyteries must confirm the calling on a man, finally leading up to his ordination by the laying on of hands by the presbytery:

Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14, KJV)

It is the presbytery that confirms the giftedness of the calling and that the man is approved and is capable of “rightly dividing the Word”.

It is a tremendous blessing to not doubt the gifting and calling of the Lord to sacred gospel ministry. No man should feel confident in themselves to proclaim the gospel without a presbytery’s confirmation. There is security in going before God’s people with a calling confirmed by the elders of Christ’s Church.

It also is a comfort to the people of God to know that the man standing in front of them week after week has his calling confirmed and has been approved to feed the Word of Christ to them and to walk with them as an undershepherd of Christ.

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Taking the queries of licensure after passing my exams. I was blessed to have my own pastor administer these queries. Photo credit: Bryan Schneider.

For that, and many other reasons, it is a tremendous blessing to be a Presbyterian. I have three more exams to take before being ordained (Lord willing). The Lord may have other plans for me if a congregation does not call me, or I am unable to pass my final three ordination exams.

But through this process, it has been a great comfort to know all has happened under the Christ appointed means: oversight of godly counselors that Christ purchased as gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4:11) and who are granted the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 18:19) as undershepherds of Christ.

In all this, Christ as the Head of His Church is glorified and His people are protected. Presbyterianism, the Biblical form of Church Government, is a great gift from Christ to His people.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Back to Apple. A developer’s story

Introduction

I am a software developer. For about twenty years, I was a programmer in the video game business. Four years ago, I left salaried development to start a software development consultancy. These days, my bread and butter is helping small to mid-sized businesses with custom software solutions.

I also have a long history with Apple. As a kid, I cut my teeth with the Apple IIC (after my first computer, the C64). Then, after a long time in the DOS/Windows environment, I bought my first Macintosh in 2007 – a 17″ Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. I became entrenched due to the Operating System and the power to develop with a Unix shell. I went all in. My very first smartphone was a launch iPhone 8GB.

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My current development station is built around a 2018 32GB 6-core i7 MacBook Pro.

But soon, it came to pass that most of my clients required software developed under Visual Studio, targeting platforms such as .NET, ASP.NET and Azure. For development, I was becoming less and less Mac and Unix-centered.

At the same time, the Surface Pro hit the market and Windows PCs started to undergo a renaissance. As the Mac was stagnating, with Apple focusing on the iPhone, I made the move back to Windows. I sold my 15″ Retina MacBook Pro. Over the years, my decision was confirmed – the MacBook Pros were usually using older processors, capped at 16GB of RAM, with a less than typist friendly keyboard, and the Touch Bar replacing the F-keys. My Windows “laptop” of choice now is a 15″ Surface Book 2, which is an absolutely fantastic machine.

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Doing some Hebrew work with my favorite mobile device: the 15″ Surface Book 2.

The Windows world I came back to was a lot better than the one of Windows XP and Vista that I had left behind. I even used a Windows Phone (Lumia 1520) for a year, which I really liked, and developed a commercial app for it.

Unfortunately, Windows Phone would turn out to be a dead end as Microsoft abandoned it. So I moved to Android. Android has Linux roots, and allowed developers to hack away at it without needing to purchase a Mac.

I was pretty happy with my setup, and my last Android phone (which I still use and enjoy) is the Note8. As a Seminarian, I particularly enjoyed the Note’s stylus – something that helped me do my Greek and Hebrew work on the go by being able to write naturally. I travel quite a bit, so this is very handy.

The problem

But then, I started noticing that apps I developed were being consumed mostly by iOS customers. Even though Android had the lion’s share of the mobile market, most consumers in the developed world, consume applications primarily through iOS.

An example of this is through an app that I wholly own and develop, the 1650 Split Screen Psalter app. I released it simultaneously on Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire, because I wanted it to have as broad of a reach as possible. It is a free app and highly reviewed (4.9 on Google Play, 5.0 on the iOS App Store). There are NO barriers to entry with this product. The code base is maintained in lock step so one does not stagnate over the other.

With all of that, the OS stats are staggering: a four to one ratio of iOS users to Android. Four to one! There is one caveat: this app is primarily used in the English speaking world, and primarily in Reformed Churches, so this metric does not apply everywhere.

On other apps I have worked on, the numbers might not be as skewed. But the gulf is wide, regardless. With paid apps, the story is really bad. What is the end result? Developer care and attention is lacking when it comes to Android apps. The gold is in the iOS hills. It shows. Compare an iOS app to an Android app by the same dev and many times you will see the Android app being incomplete, out of date, or just buggy in comparison. The future looks even bleaker for Android: 80% of US teens prefer iOS to Android.

My biggest issue with sticking to Android was that I wasn’t interacting with Apple products. I was becoming “out of touch” with Apple’s ways. It is easy to fall into development and interaction models with an Android perspective. BUT, if you are going to develop products, it is best to live and breathe the ecosystem that your target audience lives in.

Having a Mac is a requirement

I always had to have a Mac laying around. Why? Because you cannot (legally) get around needing a Mac for iOS development. As a commercial developer, I am not going to break Apple’s license for macOS by creating what is known as a “Hackintosh”, that is, a custom built PC that you load macOS onto. In addition, I don’t have the time to mess with one. I need stuff that “just works” day in and day out.

But Apple’s hardware had been so out of date that it made it hard for me to buy a new MacBook Pro. So I did most of my development on the PC and then moved to Xcode for testing and development. I kept using an old Retina MacBook as a stopgap.

But then, out of nowhere, Apple released the 2018 MacBook Pros. Six Cores! Finally, 32GB of RAM! Fastest SSDs on the planet. I felt good about purchasing a Mac.

So I did so. After some teething pains, which I will write of in the future, it proved to be a good move.

Next, I needed a new development iPhone. My last iPhone was a 5s. I was using the emulator in XCode for testing newer devices. So I purchased an iPhone X. It is good. As good as the Note8 for me? No. I don’t think so.

The screen is small. No stylus. No consistent way to go “back” like Android’s dedicated back button. But it is fantastic for most people. The gesture based navigation system is usually quite brilliant. The CPU is fast. Battery life not as good compared to the Note.

Cameras are about the same. Neither camera vows me, but both are good for a smartphone.

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256GB iPhone X next to Original 8GB iPhone.

 

 

I now use the X as my primary phone because its users are my target audience. It is also a very nice phone. Take FaceID, the Notch, and 3D Touch – it is hard to understand those unique Apple touches without living in their world.

A word of advice

In closing, DON’T be dogmatic about the platforms you use. Particularly, if you are a developer. Consider Microsoft, pre-Nadella. They despised Linux  and ignored iOS in the hope that it would go away. Yet, what happened? Microsoft’s marketshare and dominance evaporated.

To survive, they realized their error and now are “promiscuous” in embracing all platforms. Even Linux. Today’s Microsoft is friendlier and more prosperous.

Facebook has had the proper approach (in this area). They have been good about developing wherever their users choose to dwell. Do that and you have a better shot at being successful. Don’t, and you will have a bitter end. BibleWorks recently fell into this trap. They refused to embrace mobile. Macs are huge in Seminaries. Yet their Mac solution relied on Windows emulation. Sadly, their business has now shuttered.

I saw this in the video game business. “We refuse to work on the Playstation”, “we won’t touch the Xbox”, “the PC is not our thing”, or “Nintendo systems are just for kids”, or “mobile devices are terrible”. Several of those companies are no more. Go where your users are!

Platforms are NOT religions. Yet that is how developers treat them. Platforms are an end to serving your customers. Think about your customers and not your preference. In that way, you may prosper in your work.

I will share my experiences with switching to macOS and iOS in a future post.

 

Ronin-M

I recently bought a Panasonic GH4 in order to capture better quality movies for personal use – mostly family and hobby related. I had always had an interest in photography, but for whatever reason, video was never an interest of mine until recently. Strangely enough, it was the acquisition of a Phantom 3 drone and a powerful Alienware desktop that spurred my interest in videography after seeing how easy it is to edit high quality movies these days.

Since I was already invested in the Micro Four Thirds system, and the Full Frame Sony A7S II would require not just the acquisition of a new body, but also new lenses(!) I decided to get the Panasonic GH4. It shoots 4k video, records internally, and has a very good codec. All the major boxes were checked. It is also being regularly improved upon via Firmware upgrades, which I always find commendable.

After this, I started to look into stabilization. I really wanted to do some “run and gun” type video with my children. With them playing in the yard, going out places, etc.

Here is the kind of video I was hoping to capture with the Ronin. Keep in mind this is the very first thing I shot after balancing the unit, and my very first time out with the GH4 as well. A lot of operator inexperience going on. Oh, and I have a background in photography, not video! No color grading was done – this is the “Standard” color profile, mostly because I still haven’t touched any of the color profiles better suited for color grading. It is still more neutral than the other more punchy color profiles.

I have to say that I was very impressed with how “cinematic” (whatever that is!) the shots can feel, even with my novice level abilities. For the most part, the shots when moving are pretty stable. I need to dial in my pan control on the Ronin (done via app, or direct USB connection to the unit itself) because there was a bit too much lag for tracking on that axis. Those are all things that will take time to get right, based upon the kind of thing you are wanting to shoot.

Here are some close ups of the Ronin-M. There are three brushless motors that stabilize the camera, which you can see below:

These motors counter any of the rotational forces that the operator puts upon the camera. The camera then appears to “float” on the gimbal.

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Camera balanced on the gimbal.

Unfortunately, the difficult part in setting up a Ronin-M is balancing your camera on the gimbal. If you have a Zoom lens, make sure to set it to the focal length you will be shooting at before it goes on the gimbal. Also make sure that all accessories are mounted on the camera (including, for instance, a shotgun mic), and make sure the battery and the memory card are in the unit. You basically do not want to add even an ounce of weight that changes the weight distribution after you balance the camera on the gimbal.

It took me over an hour to balance the camera my first go-around. Lots of frustration, and trying to figure out how on earth this could possibly be done in a timely fashion. After going to bed, and trying it out a second time the next day, I found that it only took me about ten minutes to get it balanced. I expect the next time will be quicker still. DJI says it should take about five minutes to setup and balance. Assuming that your camera configuration doesn’t change much between setups, that’s probably a good estimate for an average user.

These are a couple of the areas where you will have to balance the camera. At times, I found it quite finicky to make precise motions. Note: The Gimbal will still work if the camera is not perfectly balanced, however.

At times I found it quite finicky to make precise adjustments while doing the balancing. Note: The gimbal will still work if the camera is not perfectly balanced, however for optimal results, and improved battery life (and I’d assume motor life, thinking long term) you will want to make sure that it is balanced.

The Ronin-M weighs about five lbs, plus your camera and lens combo. This is not a light piece of gear. There is no backpack or harness either, so you will have to bear the weight yourself. I am just starting off with this piece of kit, so I will write more updates in the future as I get a chance to. In the meantime, feel free to ask questions in the comment box below.