Writing in the margins of your Bible makes it your own. We can’t do that digitally, but we can attach notes to the Bible and they are more powerful than the traditional kind scribbled the white space of your Bible.
This month’s Christian Computing Magazine article offers 5 tips I’ve gleaned over the years of using Bible study software. Read the article and let me know what tips you’ve got in addition to my five.
Our weekly Theotek podcast welcome the founder of Christian Computing Magazine, Steve Hewitt to the show. Steve started the magazine back in the nineties and edited it. About 15 years ago he took it fully digital. He invited me to start writing more than ten years ago.
We talked about some interesting things, like the impact online security can have on the church and Christians in general. We also discussed church management software among other things.
Bible study’s going online, not entirely, but increasingly so. So here’s the first three of my six best online Bible study websites that you can use on your new $200-$300 Chromebook that won’t run locally installed Bible software. They will also work great on the many of the new Windows notebooks or tablets that only come with 32GB of 64GB SSDs, like the HP Stream 13 I recently reviewed. With limited storage these computers can’t handle huge libraries from the complex Bible study programs like Logos, WORDsearch, Accordance or PC Study Bible to name some of the most popular.
A couple of the more popular programs that run locally also come in online versions. So check out this list and maybe you can leave your complex and bloated Bible study software off that new Windows tablet or super-cheap notebook with only 32GB of storage. And you could do some study on a Chromebook, which doesn’t let users install advanced Bible study programs.
We list these sites in no particular order.
The first of our online Bible study websites is BibleStudyTools.com. What makes this a viable option for intermediate level Bible study software? Users can search the Bible, read it, track daily Bible reading plans and share scripture via copy/paste or links to post to popular social media outlets. Almost every online Bible can do those things. Here’s what this site offers in addition to the basics.
Bible Study Tools adds some public domain tools like …
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Old and New Testament Greek Lexicons
Classic sermons from past scholars and preachers
The first of our list of online Bible study sites includes a number of modern and public domain Bible translations. There’s also some limited original language study.
The site will collect user notes and highlights for those who sign up for a free account. The Bible student can mark up their Bibles and save their study findings for future reference.
While the site doesn’t offer as many modern reference tools, a user with simple needs can get a lot done. Read a text, highlight it and write observations in a note attached to a verse. Then open the interlinear Bibles based on the KJV and NASB to do some original language study. Search the text for some cross references related to the topics in the passage. This gives any Bible student a good start in understanding their passage.
The Interlinear Hebrew text comes from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia from United Bible Societies. The Greek text comes from Center For Computer Analysis of Texts, University of Pennsylvania based on Nestle Aland 26.
After these early steps, open some commentaries, dictionaries or the ISBE and learn more about the passage and what others said years ago. Record those findings in the notes. Then find the passage’s Big Idea and come up with an outline using an online word processor like Google Docs or Office 365’s version of Word online.
If I had to compare the site to a piece of Bible software, I’d say it can do almost as much as e-Sword with a few modern translations added to it.
The next of these six best online Bible study websites comes from Online Parallel Bible Project in the form of BibleHub.com. The interface looks a little cluttered, but it’s still a useful site with plenty of resources.
Enter a Bible reference in the top search box and the site opens the verse in all the translations and commentaries available in the left column. Along the right column we find some helpful tools like the context of the passage, cross references and Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.
Across the top of the site there’s a toolbar that helps people navigate to specific passages in any of the supported translations. The site includes a large collection of modern and public domain translations. The toolbar also includes some public domain commentaries. Access them through drop down lists.
The toolbar buttons put many of the tools a click away. We get a parallel Bible button, cross references and a context button that shows the single verse within the pericope. In addition there’s links to a few specific commentaries and more.
Like the other sites, Bible Hub lets me share to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. It includes some nice pictures, maps and outlines.
Logos Bible Software users will want to go first to Biblia.com. They also offer a pair of sister sites – library.logos.com and Faithlife Bible online. So why three sites? Library runs better on mobile browsers, like an Android smart phone or iPhone. Faithlife adds the company’s online study Bible focused social network and using the Faithlife Study Bible. The more pure online Bible site is Biblia.
None of the three Faithlife sites do as much as our first two in this list, but they make a Logos Bible Software user’s library available online and as a group they offer a great selection of tools and features. The makers promise some more advanced tools “coming soon.” I’d be happy if they just integrated all of the features into one site.
When a user signs into the Logos account, they can get access to their reading plans from the left-hand column. That column includes four tabs with the following features:
Library list used to open books
Search tool that the user can use to search one book or other books in their library
Notes tab shows notes on a particular verse or book passage from the Faithflife.com community, but not a Logos Bile Software user’s notes added inside the computer or mobile apps
The main part of the Biblia screen includes two window pane. The user can open books in either side. For example, open a Bible in the center column and a commentary on the right. The two will sync up to the same verse when a user turns the feature on using instructions explained below.
Use a mouse wheel or swipe on a laptop trackpad to scroll through the Bible from Genesis 1:1 all the way to the end of Revelations 22.
Click on the book’s cover in the upper left corner of the window pane to show settings. The user can do the following:
Change the font size
Sync the two panes
Open the book’s table of contents
Change the reading view from column, stretched across both pans or full-screen reading view
Toggle the community notes from other Faithlife users (but not personal notes from the computer or mobile apps_
The sharing tool will let you post to Twitter or Facebook, get a link to the verse on Biblia.com to post online or email, and an embed code to post to a website.
The library.logos.com presents the same basic tools as Biblia, with a few minor changes, in a mobile browser view. Surprisingly, this site, though optimized for mobile browsers, actually does a little more than Biblia.
Click on the three dots at the right end of the top toolbar. This give the user access to some of the great tools that makes Logos Bible Software great on a computer. Those include:
Access to favorites
Text comparison tool which shows a passage in multiple translations
Passage Guide, which finds the verse in all the books in your library
Bible Word Study tool, which lets a user enter a word and find that topic or idea on all the books in the library
The Faithlife Study Bible online site presents the Faithlife Study Bible in online for and looks a little like the Faithlife Study Bible app on Android or iOS. We don’t get the Passage Guide, Text Comparison or the Bible Word Study tools from library.logos.com. See it below.
I wish Faithlife would take all of these sites and streamline them into one great online Bible study site. It would make it the best of the six online Bible study sites in our roundup.
Check back for part two of this roundup of the 6 best online Bible study sites.
In the first part of this list of tips for preaching with PowerPoint, we shared two ways to preach with PowerPoint. The first one said, don’t use PowerPoint because it’s ugly and doesn’t include the features modern worship software programs features like quickly inserting lyrics, Bible verses, videos and images. They cost more, but the users will produce better worship presentations.
Second, we talked about being more visual with sermon point or sermon idea slides. Use less text and include quality images.
Now lest jump into tip number three.
Stop Preaching with PowerPoint and Clip Art
Back in the early nineties clip art made church bulletins and newsletters look more attractive, but they don’t look so good on a presentation slide. In fact, clip art on slides looks amateurish and ugly. That’s why we suggested using quality images found using Google Image search, Flickr’s creative commons library or Wikipedia’s library of creative commons images. In the rare case that you can’t find one in one of those places, pay for a professionally created image or get a subscription to a database of worship media like the folks at ShareFaith offer.
In our last post, we showed the detailed tips for finding quality images using Google. Now lets look at how to find creative commons images on Flickr. Go to Flickr and find the search box in the upper right corner. Enter the idea you want to illustrate. In our first tips post we searched for trophies to illustrate the idea that God honors humble servants.
After the site returns some images, click on the License: Any License drop down box and click on the last item under Creative Commons Only labelled Modifications allowed. We use that because the rights holder doesn’t mind people using the image so long as they give credit. The holder will also allow the person searching to change the image.
This will filter the images returning a smaller number of photos. Find the one you like and click on it and then click on the download arrow in the lower right corner. The various sizes available will pop up. Choose the largest size available or pick View all sizes. Download the image and use it to create your slide.
I use Photoshop to create my slides. Learn how to use their typography features to create attractive slides with your sermon ideas and companion images (see above).
Adobe’s creative cloud subscription for photographers only costs $9.99/month and it includes Photoshop, Lightroom and mobile apps as well as some online features.
Prepare Your Sermon with Visuals in Mind
This takes a little more explaining than any of our other tips. During the sermon preparation process think about using visual medium to make your point.
First, let me share my assumptions about sermon preparation. I assume that you will preach an expository sermon. What does that mean? In his seminal work Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson defines expository preaching as follows:
Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, then through the preacher, applies to the hearers.
We don’t have time to go into all the steps a preacher must take to derive that Biblical concept from the text. I use an inductive approach to study. I go over the text repeatedly, first outlining the text in English. Then I write down my own observations and ask investigative questions using the journalistic interrogatives: who, what, when, where, why and how.
I come up with the “Big Idea” of the text, as Haddon Robinson calls the main idea of a passage. Now it’s time to present that idea. Here’s where thinking visually comes into the process. Here’s a few tips.
Compose the outline of the message so that it faithfully communicates the text’s Big Idea.
Look over the outline and think of a single overarching illustration that you can use to hang your whole idea on
Think about visual illustrations that you can use to show the audience the concepts
We’ve been using the idea of God honoring humble servants. I focused on the honor part of that Big Idea. One visual way to communicate that is a trophy. I can find pictures of trophies and use stories about people receiving trophies. People win trophies in …
blue ribbons in school competitions or craft shows
medals placed on the chest of a soldier
Now I’ve got a number of visual ways to illustrate the idea of honor.
As I begin to craft my sermon outline and need illustrations for the sub-points or supporting ideas, these visual images can help. I’ll eventually need to talk about a humble servant. Maybe I can share a clip from a movie or TV show where a humble person got honored. Maybe I can illustrate undeserved reward with a story about a person who didn’t measure up, but was given a physical reward for their repentance and willingness to admit their failure.
While I’m preparing my sermon outline and coming up with illustrations, I will look for ideas that I can share visually and pick one of these over one that’s not as visual.
Go Old School with Object Lessons
We’re talking about preaching with multimedia. Object lessons create powerful visual illustrations of concepts. They’re real and people can even touch them or on occasion feel, smell or taste them. The more senses I use, the more likely the hearer will remember my point.
Preachers communicate with children in traditional churches using object lessons all the time. The adults often get more out of the children’s sermon due to these concrete visual and tactile object lessons. Why not use it in the sermon too.
Using the idea of a trophy or medal to illustrate honor, I can grab a trophy and show it during the sermon. If I care to, I might be able to create some inexpensive medals to hand out to the congregation as a way to touch the object and remember it later by taking it home with them.
One word of warning. Don’t over use the object lesson. It will lose it’s wow factor. Using one object lesson every few months will interest the hearers. Using one every week will feel like a gimmick and lose impact.
Ten years ago when I finished my Doctor of Ministry Dissertation,Using Multimedia in Expository Preaching, many churches already used projection systems even back then to display song lyrics, announcements, photo slide shows of church activities and for preaching with PowerPoint. In 2015 the projector and screen shows up in most church worship spaces, even in churches that still call them a “sanctuary.”
As someone whose preached for over ten years using multimedia to display outlines, illustrations and Bible verses, let me share 5 tips for preaching with PowerPoint to help pastors and multimedia teams communicate God’s work in a powerful, interesting and even entertaining way.
Stop Preaching with PowerPoint
Confession time! I used the term PowerPoint in the title of this article as a generic word. When a person needs to wipe their nose they ask for a Kleenex, even though we don’t necessary want one branded Kleenex. A tissue is a Kleenex to most people even if it’s from another brand.
Using a multimedia presentation too is using “PowerPoint” even though we may not use Microsoft’s presentation program.
Preachers should stop preaching with PowerPoint, Keynote or any other of the PowerPoint alternatives. Instead invest in a great church presentation or worship presentation program.
At my church we use MediaShout. It’s powerful and with that power comes some complexity. However, it does a great job of displaying lyrics, pictures, video and Bible verses.
Other worship presentation software programs include the following:
We won’t make recommendations as to which one you should buy. Instead, check your budget and the features against the following list. If a worship software program doesn’t include the following features, then don’t get it.
Display lyrics, Bible verses, and text
Import PowerPoint files since guest speakers usually show up with a flash drive with a PowerPoint presentation
Show video files, DVDs and if possible YouTube videos from within the program
Edit slides, including the program’s content like Bible verses and lyrics
Loop pre-service slides for announcements
Background editing so you can display video, images and solid colors
In addition to the above features, many programs will also let the user edit their presentation on their home or office computer and sync it to the sanctuary computer. Some run on both PC and Mac. A few offer remote control apps that run on an iPhone, Android phone, iPad or tablet.
These make creating worship presentations so much easier than PowerPoint. Also, they force the user to avoid the ugly PowerPoint themes and templates. Most worship attendees can spot an ugly PowerPoint template quickly and these templates turn people off. People see so many bad PowerPoint presentations that this distracts them from worship instead of enhancing it.
If you must use PowerPoint, invest in a good worship plug-in. I know of two. MediaShout Bridge (see above) turns PowerPoint into a simple form of MediaShout within PowerPoint with lyric and Bible verse import. It also inserts multimedia easily.
Another PowerPoint plugin comes from the folks at ShareFaith (see video above). Their ShareFaith Presenter comes free for those who subscribe to the service, which includes a library of media to download and use in worship like backgrounds, stock photos, PowerPoint themes or templates, and
Don’t Show Your Full Outline
Too many preachers ask their churches to install an expensive projection system, computer and they might even install one of the great worship presentation programs listed above. Then the preacher loads up their outline on slides and displays these outlines with lots of text that looks like the slide above instead of like the one below.
Here’s a few rules to follow:
Never shore more than 10 words per slide
Use meaningful phrases of 5-10 words at most
Leave off the Roman Numerals or any other numbered or lettered lists
Include a picture on each slide that illustrates the idea
Only show one idea or sermon point per slide
Long sentences and numbered outlines look boring. A single screen with one sermon point or idea per screen focuses hearers on the current idea. Use a photo to illustrate the idea when possible.
Where do we get these photos?
Start by searching Google using Google’s image search and their creative commons filter. Here’s how to do it. Head over to their image search site. Enter the idea to search. For example, if I’m illustrating a point that says “God honors humble servants” then you could search for awards, medals or trophies to focus on the idea of honoring. Or search the word humble. Once the search shows the results, click on Search tools just below the search box at the right end.
A new toolbar appears just above the search results. Filter the search using the Usage rights drop down. Pick one of the last two items on the list. The first one reads, Labelled for noncommercial reuse with modification or Labelled for noncommercial reuse. Pick the former if you plan to change it or edit it in some way. Pick the latter if you don’t. Make sure to put attribution on the slide somewhere. It doesn’t need to be very big. Put it in small font in the button corner with a link to the site where you found the image.
Use one of the other filter drop downs to filter images by size, color and more. I always pick the size filter choosing pictures that are larger than 1024×768.
Look for pictures at a few other sources, like Wikipedia or Flickr. In both cases, look for creative commons licensed photos and give credit on the slide. See the above slide with trophies. Notice the link in the lower right corner.
A third place to find pictures is subscription or pay services like ShareFaith or Getty Images. You’ll find a better quality of images, but also a more limited selection and they’ll cost some money. ShareFaith charges a subscription while Getty lets users buy credits to use to download images.
Finally, when you do use text, proofread it. Look at the terrible pure text slide at the beginning of this section above. It’s got a couple of typos. Can you find them?
Part 2 of Tips for Preaching with PowerPoint Coming Soon …
The next post will come soon, with more of our 5 tips. Can you guess what the other three will say? Comment below and tell me what your tips include.
Brian Williams got publicly disgraced all over the Internet like so many do in the era of 24 hour cable news and light speed social networks. For those unaware, Brian Williams, who announced the NBC Nightly News since 2004, was caught in a lie. Multiple sources said that Williams distorted the truth about his experiences covering the first Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina in New Orléans. Plenty of other can explain the details of the story better than I can here, so go read one of those.
What does the Brian Williams story teach pastors?
Williams created a problem for himself when he violated the news reporting “rule” that a reporter or anchor should always stick to the facts and never embellish them for effect or drama. Brian Williams exaggerated details at best and outright lied at worst.
Preachers too must stick to the facts and never embellish the truth unless we’re obviously doing so and for a good reason. We, more than news men, should stick to the truth at all times while we preach.
My Recent Dance with Dishonesty
A few months ago my wife and I were discussing the first shuttle disaster when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up shortly after launch. I swore that it happened in 1981 because I was in at Granville Elementary School in Milwaukee in the sixth grade when a student came from the office and told everyone in the library about the disaster. It had to be 1981 because that’s when I was in the 6th grade, or so I thought.
The Challenger actually blew up in 1986 while I was a Junior at Milwaukee High School of the Arts. Again, a student came and announced it to our class.
How did I get it so wrong? First, I was young and second, I conflated two events. President Ronald Reagan got shot in 1981 and I learned about it when a student came into the library and told the class. When the Space Shuttle exploded a student came into my classroom and told us it happened. Some of the details and environments mirrored one another and I mixed them up into one event in my mind.
What if I shared this story during a sermon as an illustration. Should my church fire me or suspend me for six months without pay like NBC did to Brian Williams? Of course not. It was not intentional and it was a product of bad memory not bad character.
If someone confronted me after the sermon and showed me proof of my mistake and I told another lie to cover it up, then maybe they’d have a case. Or, what if I knowingly lied and intentionally distorted the truth about something else, like my résumé or education background. What if I lied to cover up a mistake or sin? Sure! I’d be liable and should suffer the consequences.
Lessons Learned from Brian Williams
The original news report that got Brian Williams in trouble
So, what can we take away from the Brian Williams story to protect our integrity and the pulpit’s integrity? For at least a little while this event damaged the credibility of the NBC Nightly News even though they suspended Williams without pay for the next 6 months. I’ll let readers decide if that’s fair or whether NBC should’ve suspended Williams.
Here’s 4 lessons we can learn from the Brian Williams incident.
Be honest and work hard to do so. Before I preach a sermon where I talk about the story of the Challenger blowing up, I should do a little research to get the facts right and check my memory. It’s not hard to do, especially with the Internet so readily available.
Be honest after a lie. When we make an honest mistake, like I did in remembering the date of the Challenger disaster, admit the mistake immediately. We’re sinners sometimes lie knowingly. If you do, admit the mistake and ask forgiveness. It may cost you dearly, but God will bless the repentance.
Exaggerate for fun or effect but be obvious. We’ve all heard preachers tell a story where they exaggerated to get some laughs. Most thinking people know that you’re making fun and I don’t think there’s a problem with that. Sometimes public speakers distort the truth for effect, but again they must make it obvious that they’re doing so. People won’t mind the occasional exaggeration or distortion if there’s a very good reason and if it’s done sparingly with good result.
Don’t “borrow” without attributing the material.
I heard about a preacher who got caught preaching sermons found online. He said he never preached them “word-for-word” but did preach them “thought-for-thought.” He never let his congregation know the source of this material.
I’ve preached sermons thought-for-though a handful of times. When I did it there wasn’t anything wrong with it. How can I do the same thing without destroying my credibility. First, I didn’t make a habit out of it and I gave credit saying that the outline came from another preacher. I’d say something like the following early in the message:
Haddon Robinson preached on this passage and I wanted to share with you what he had to say about it.
There’s also a preacher friend of mine who preached another person’s sermon word-for-word and there’s nothing wrong with it. He memorized Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. He also made it clear that he was doing so. In addition, unlike the above preacher who preached others’ messages thought-for-thought, I don’t habitually preach other peoples’ sermons. It’s important that sermons come from the Bible, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and our careful study of scripture. It’s also important that we always make it clear when we’re borrowing from another source.
One final tip. Don’t worry about always quoting people by name. I usually say something like, “I read about a farmer who had two chickens…” and then go into the story or joke. I only share the name of the source if …
the congregation will recognize it and it builds credibility like quoting Billy Graham or popular former pastor
when someone asks me after the sermon (no one ever has in 20 years of preaching)
when the quote comes from a source whose story adds something to the quotation even if the people don’t recognize the source’s name
People shouldn’t rejoice in the suffering of Brian Williams, even if they think he deserves his shame and punishment. Love never rejoices in sin the 1 Corinthians 13:6 tells us.
For many years I blogged at this web address and built a following. Then, I mistakenly chose to let the site go and point it to my Google+ profile. Soon after that, Google began to demote Google+ as a platform making it far less important.
Now I’m back with my own blog and plan to make it an active site. I’ll still cover things like Bible Study, ministry, technology and anything else I find interesting.
Thanks for following me and I hope you will do so again!