Friday, February 24, 2012

Two Cool Solutions

(This blog was written by my wonderful wife, Jennifer, and I asked if I could post it under her byline. These two products, DropBox and CrashPlan, are cool apps for church IT. Check them out)

I'm no expert on IT issues, but I've done some independent research lately on electronic file backup and storage options for homes and small businesses. It seems to me that these solutions might also be helpful to churches. There are a number of options out there, and many bloggers and tech review sites offer opinions/reviews. When I research things online, I prefer to consider a combination of review types because I like to look for consistencies among them. Bloggers tend to be individuals who offer advice based on personal experience; tech sites usually offer composite reviews either from other users' experiences or from their own tests. I'm careful not to pay attention to those sites that are sponsored by software companies or related online services, as they likely present biased opinions depending upon their sponsors.

That said, I've discovered there are two really amazing online services offering extremely affordable solutions for storage and file sharing (I say they're amazing because to some degree they are free, and they offer a lot of helpful features even at no cost to the user). The two I find most interesting and promising are Dropbox and CrashPlan. At first, I thought I'd want to choose between one or the other; what I discovered, though, is that they are two different animals.

This isn't a tech blog, so I won't list specific plans and options. You can check those out by doing an online search of your own (try entering "CrashPlan vs. Dropbox" or some similar text, and you'll find all that). Dropbox is a free, online service that allows you to store up to 2GB of files in their cloud (you can purchase more space if you need it) and access those files from any of your devices--and it syncs them automatically in real time. You can also share folders with other Dropbox users--a huge plus for people working on a project together. I use Dropbox on my iPad, iPhone, iMac, and PC laptop. There's an Android app for it too, and all their software and apps are free. Because I work both from home and an office, I am able to keep folders with all my work files in Dropbox and work on them no matter where I am, and they sync automatically to all my devices. I use Word and Excel files almost exclusively, though I do put some some photo files there, and after about a year I'm still using only 3% of my available free space. If you use multiple devices for your work and haven't tried Dropbox, you simply must take a look at it. It also allows you to access your files using your password via their website, and you can do that from any computer when you're online at any location.

CrashPlan is an efficient and inexpensive way to back up all the files on your computer. They offer a free plan that allows you to back up from one computer to another (if you want to back up, say, from your home to your office computer), but if you want to use their online (off-site) storage cloud, you have to subscribe. Their top plan for users who have up to 10 computers--with unlimited file storage--is only $72 per year. You can set the backups to occur as often as you want (they recommend nightly, but you can do it more often if you choose). CrashPlan is more secure than Dropbox, as everything is encrypted.

Many reviewers recommend using both of these services together. The one caution is about Dropbox and its security; if you are dealing with highly sensitive, confidential information, you probably won't want those files on Dropbox. Even though they are accessible only to your devices on which you've loaded the software, anyone who uses your devices can access them. I plan to check out CrashPlan's free trial soon and potentially use it to back up all my computers. With these great options available, I seriously wonder about the need for organizations to maintain local servers and whether we'll see a change in that practice in the future. But as I said, I'm not an IT expert. I just enjoy finding and using new options in technology that make my work more efficient, secure, and simple.
Lead On!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Outrageous Generosity

Generosity is one of my favorite words because it so describes God's nature. Actually, outrageous generosity is a much better descriptor. Think about - humans have offended and humiliated God in every possible way yet his response is pure love. What's up with that? It's a good thing humans are created in God's image because if God had a human image, then God would react in a vengeful way and who could blame him after they way humans have treated him?

So, let me encourage you to think about God's Outrageous Generosity. Actually, do more than think about it. I challenge you to do a sermon (or sermon series) on this topic. And the best time to start with it is Easter Sunday 2012. Take the month of April and preach on this subject and challenge your listeners to "be imitators of God," the person in whose image they were created.

Humans are born with two life-sustaining instincts (something that every human baby does): grasping (taking hold) and sucking (taking in). God's instinct is to give everything away (read the Bible, you'll see that pretty soon). The greatest example of how God personified Outrageous Generosity was on Good Friday on a cross - Jesus opened his hands for the spikes and his arms for the cross and died for all humanity. That's OUTRAGEOUS!

Now, how can you be generous, even outrageously generous?

  • In your personal life
    • Be generous by spending more time with your kids helping with their homework
    • Be generous with the time you give your spouse; go on a date once a month and a weekend away at least once a year
    • Be generous with other generations: call your parents or kids in college at least once a week
    • Be generous with yourself: take your family on a memorable vacation - you need to get away from work and be with the ones who love you and whom you love
    • Be generous in creating memories. Every present you give on Christmas morning will end up in a landfill but the memories you give them will last a lifetime!
  • In your professional life
    • Be generous with the credit at work: give someone else credit for a job even though you did 90% of the work
    • Be generous with someone else's career: let someone else get a promotion
    • Be generous with your words of praise: encourage someone talented to start their own business or go for a new career
  • In your pocketbook
    • Be generous in how you give, not just how much. Think long and hard about the recipients and even do some homework by calling, visiting, and even studying the financial records of the organizations who get your money
    • Be generous with why you give. In the US we get a tax break for our gifts but that shouldn't be the reason for giving. While giving benefits other people, giving actually benefits you far more because it makes you wrestle personally with the amount and recipient of your hard-earned cash. Get the right motivation for giving and a tax-break (more money for you) is not a good enough reason.
    • Be generous with when you give. Yes, you can wait till you die and leave everything in your will. That's kind of like saving all the Christmas presents and giving them away in your will. Isn't the greatest gift of Christmas morning seeing the joy in others when they open a gift from you. Give NOW so that you can see the joy that others experience.
    • Be generous with how much you give. Believe me, you won't miss it.
  • In your faith 
    • Be generous with the knowledge that every person is searching for God. Humans by nature seek God (we've never found chimpanzees worshiping or creating any type of religious icon!) - that makes us unique among all animal (every single human culture on earth has some form of faith).
    • Be generous in your own search. Most people inherit a faith from their parents. I believe a faith that isn't questioned isn't a faith worth having. Ask hard questions even if it means wondering about the foundations of your faith. And when you have solid answers, hold on to that faith
    • Be generous in asking others about their own faith. It's a tough conversation but if you care about someone, it's a necessary one. Everyone is seeking something; encourage that search.
    • Be generous with God. You may have questions about God and you may not like him at all for a bunch of reasons. But God can say the same thing about you and yet he loves being with you. Why not give God a chance and spend some time together?
Lead On!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jesus, I've Got Your Ass

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” (Matthew 21:1-3)

At some point, Jesus slipped away from his followers and found a man with a donkey and a new colt. Jesus told the man that at some point a couple of his followers would be coming around asking to borrow the donkey. Evidently the man had some type of relationship with Jesus (of which we know nothing except by implication) but it was strong enough for Jesus to borrow something of value. And when asked, the man must have said, "Jesus, I've got your ass." Jesus thanked him and returned to his disciples.

Every leader has followers by definition. One of the great problems of leadership is that sometimes its hard to know if people are following you or chasing you. Leaders have lots of arrows thrown at them. Usually those darts are tossed by enemies or people who are not adherents to the leaders' cause. Ocassionally the barbs are by well-meaning followers who help the leader manage his blindside (because every person, including great leaders, have areas of their personal and professional lives that they just can't see). But a few times the leader is shot by followers who react to something he (or she) has done or said.

It into those slings and arrows that a few trusted people must be willing to insert themselves. These are key people that the leader has invested in over the course of months or years. These are people who have had some personal time with the leader and who the leader is grooming for their own positions of leadership. These are people who are present or future leaders - they know that they, too, will suffer attacks from friends and foes. But for now, they are willing to absorb some of the blows thrown at a leader and explain to the dart-throwers why the leader is doing what he is because they understand the bigger picture. These are people who can say to the leader, "I've got your back."

Jesus spent some time with a guy who would play a critical role just a few days before the crucifixion. It may be that the man had waited for months or years for his time; we don't know and it doesn't matter. We do know that he stepped forward when asked. Are you grooming new generation leaders? Are you teaching them the perils of leadership? Are you helping them to explain to others about leadership decisions that come from big visions? Are you helping them to know that at some point, they need to say to you and mean it, "Lead on and don't worry about your back because, I've got your ass."

Lead On!