Thinking Out Loud

January 25, 2021

Google Minus the Minus Sign

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:51 am

Do you use “search” regularly?

Do you get the feeling that the results you see when searching aren’t as good as they once were?

You’re not alone.

My wife sums it up succinctly, “Google no longer tells you what you want to see, they tell you what you should see.”

So how did we get here?

It started many years back when Google removed the minus button. Once upon a time, when you wanted to refine results within a search, you could use the minus button to tell the search engine what you did not want to see.

The guy you’re looking for isn’t the football player with the same name? You would just add “-football” or “-NFL” to your search terms. It wasn’t foolproof, but it definitely worked.

To delve into the science a bit more, Google support Boolean operators which in terms of logic commands consisted of NOT, OR, AND, and phrases placed in QUOTATION marks. So typing three words “in this form” was allowed, until Google announced it wasn’t (But WordPress supports it here on the blog. Feel free to use that to research particular phrases here or at our sister blog, Christianity 201.)

And then the minus sign was removed. And Google Blog search was removed. And a host of other options disappeared as Google decided to place its focus more on commercial website, and especially those who were part of a growing number of people paying to be seen at the top of page one results.

This also applies to the Google-owned platform, YouTube. If the title of the song you’re seeking is the same or almost the same as another much more popular, much more covered song, you are completely out of luck. One time, I took about ten minutes adding search criteria and trying to qualify the particular song title. Eventually I had to do other research to determine the original artist and one other keyword which did the trick.

This morning, I learned that in a January 14th announcement, Google had acquired FitBit, a process begun in November. The price was over $2 billion US. At the same time as federal regulators speak of the need to break up the Google empire, it allows acquisitions like this to go forward. The intrusion on every day life that this creates would have been unfathomable just a few years back. Google now knows when you are sleeping; it knows when you’re awake.

Make no mistake, Google does not provide information to users; it provides eyes and ears to advertisers.

This is so unfortunate because what was once upheld as the great promise of online technology — “when you’ve mastered search you’ve mastered the internet” — has been yanked away from users. There is probably no going back. This tech owns us. You’re no longer in the driver’s seat.

Google is the great sociological experiment and we are the rats. “To know, in order to predict, in order to control;” that goal of sociology playing out on both the micro and macro levels.

The further you can get away from all your devices each day, the better off you will be.


Related: From just last month, the story of Google’s conflating the image of a good friend with that of a person who died. Click here.

January 22, 2021

Maintaining Our Position

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:00 pm

In a symphony orchestra or string orchestra there are more violins than anything else.

Why should orchestras be censored?
There’s too much sax and violins.
(Sorry about that one.)

There are actually two parts written, 1st Violin and 2nd Violin and players are generally paired to share music, with each pair called a desk. So if I tell you someone is playing 2nd Violin, 2nd desk, you know where to look for them.

When it comes to playing the violin, I recognized that I was never going to amount to anything. My bowing technique was wrong, and I could never find a shoulder rest (pad) that I was comfortable with, meaning I was somewhat supporting the thing with my hand. That’s not how it works. Ideally, the player should be able to support the instrument with their chin and if you apply some downward pressure they ought to be able to resist that, within limits.

Plus, I was always dabbling in other instruments. For me, the violin was a ticket to learn more about music in general, orchestration, rehearsal techniques; and a ticket to go on the best school trips ever, including London and Paris. I played the Bb Baritone in a junior band at church and because it uses the same clef and the same fingering as a trumpet, also played my dad’s trumpet at home. Dad also had a Hawaiian (steel) guitar, and owned a number of mouth organs. My best friend in my late teens and early 20s was a bass guitar player, and every time he walked away from the instrument at his home, I would pick it up and began teaching myself.
(I was destined to be a music generalist, not a specialist.)

I ended up playing viola in the church orchestra — and this was Canada’s first and only megachurch, so a pretty decently sized group — because they short players. The viola uses the alto clef (which looks like a letter “k”) so I taught myself to play in 3rd position, move over one string, and pretend it was a violin. I did a summer of cello. I took an option at school and learned guitar. I know the positions to play a scale on a trombone. I was one of the first people to buy a Roland Synthesizer when they became available. (We just learned, when my son took it apart, that it was the #22 produced instrument in its model.)

My lips have never touched a woodwind instrument.
(There’s a whole other essay in that somewhere, but it will have to wait.)

My friend Mark in high school was much more studious when it came to his violin playing. I think he ended up being concert master (1st Violin, 1st desk, outside position; it’s a pretty big deal) but I’m not 100% sure of that. He supplemented his high school music with private violin lessons from the same person I did, but I’m sure that teacher would have gladly substituted my weekly visit with Jehovah’s Witnesses or an Amway salesman.

Mark’s mother would always say, “The boys need to work hard to maintain their positions.” It got repeated enough times that it worked its way into our home, and my mother would say, “You need to work hard to maintain your positions.”

The idea is that you had to keep practicing, or the next time the seating arrangements were shuffled, you could find yourself pushed back a desk or two, or worse, transferred to the 2nd violin section.
(Canadian/UK readers: Think federal or provincial cabinet shuffle. It’s not dissimilar.)

“Work hard to maintain your position(s)” became a mantra.

At this point the devotional writer in me wants to invoke a Bible passage comparison, but I can’t decide between

Therefore, since the promise to enter his rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short. (Heb. 4:1 CSB)

or

For it is impossible for those…if they fall away, to renew them again… (Heb. 6:4,6 NLT, severely cut and paste edited for the purpose of proof-texting)

Here’s the point.

When you get older things from your younger days come back to haunt you, and I find myself repeating Mark’s mother’s words, “We have to work hard to maintain our position(s).” Usually when I’m saying this I’m just blathering on because I’m socially distanced from everyone, under a stay-at-home order and the only time the phone ever rings is someone trying to sell us air duct cleaning. (For the record, we use electric baseboard heating. Just sayin’) 

But we do need to persevere or we can slip backwards in the things that matter most.

Maybe a better verse would have been:
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (I Cor 10:12, NKJV)

Anyway, I just thought someone needed to read this. Or I needed to write it. Or something.


Related music: Steve Taylor and Sheila Walsh singing “Not Falling Away” (studio version, 7:43) 

Actual devotional link: Each one of us at any given minute, hour, week, day, month, year… is either moving toward the cross or moving away from the cross.

January 21, 2021

“I” vs. “We” — Couples, Families in God’s Presence

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
– Romans 14:12 NIV

And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.
-Matthew 12:36 NLT

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
-2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
-Matthew 25:32 NIV

Before we begin, apologies to those of you who are single, separated, divorced, or widowed. I wrote this with couples in mind, but as you see from the title, have expanded it slightly to include the concept of entire families.

I have several married couple friends who have shared social media accounts. It isn’t something I recommend. It was hard enough for Ruth and I to share an email account until she finally got her own computer. But I realize that, with Facebook in particular, there are sensitivities that some couples overcome by not having any contacts or communications apart from the other.

The problem is that many times all of us express opinion on Facebook and Twitter, and believe me, husbands and wives don’t always agree on everything, and this is probably a healthy situation. Some work around this by presenting names in parenthesis, such as: “I (Paul) thought the show was funny.” And of course there are things on which we do agree, not everything should be a battleground.

Beware of “We”

Almost every day at this site’s sister blog, I begin with something like “Today we’re featuring the writing of a new author…” Of course we is me. I produce and edit and format the daily devotions on my own; it’s a one-person project. “We” in this case is sometimes referred to as an editorial “I.”

But it can be overused. I tend to type, “Today we want to consider…” first and then, taking a moment to reconsider, realize I need to own the content more, and re-type, “Today I want to look at…”

I have some friends who share a few social media accounts. They use “we” a lot. I decided to call them out on it. Friends will forgive, right?

And they did. While they made it clear that I was making assumptions, they also assured me that while I may see them speaking with one voice on various things online, they do hold and value individual opinions on various issues, including theological ones. Honestly, I was relieved to hear that. I really shouldn’t have expected anything different.

When the stakes are higher

But then I think of another couple who recently gave up on church and I would say perhaps for one of them even any pretense of deism.

I opened this article with several scripture verses. (I know some of you thought I’d written this for my devotional blog, but I actually wrote it for you guys!) I keep thinking of the idea of each of us standing before God individually. We don’t get to have our spouse stand next to us.

This is also true for families. We don’t have the option of an inherited faith. Perhaps growing up your parents rooted for one particular college sport team and so you just joined them in that passion. Or liked one late night talk show host over another. Or one local radio station’s format better than another which played similar music. This is the stuff of good humored banter at the dinner table. Dare I mention political parties?

With faith, you stand on your own. I am aware that there is a passage in Acts from which is derived the idea of household salvation, and I know it does happen where an entire family turns to Christ at the same moment and is perhaps all baptized on the same day; but from that point on each of us is on an individual journey.

This leads to the possibility of one member of a family, or one spouse attending church and being faithful to Bible reading on their own, and I do frequently run into personal contact with a woman who is the wife of an unsaved husband or the man who is the husband of an unsaved wife. I feel deeply for people in that situation, and try to point them to resources written specifically to address this.

But let me clear on this: That’s better than not attending weekend services because your husband or wife won’t attend. Or not being active with a local congregation because your brothers, sisters, parents or children don’t want to take part.

In the end, when I stand before God, I simply can’t use the word “we” as any possible line of defense.

 

January 20, 2021

Wednesday Connect

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

Welcome to Wednesday Connect #94, as I continue my aim of at least getting to #100 at some point. The opening graphic was discovered during a weekend perusal of wholesale book listings.

■ After an abortive attempt just a week prior using a .org address, Daniel Jepsen from the former Internet Monk site has re-launched Mystery and Meaning at MysteryAndMeaning.com. Because iMonk (which will remain visible for a short while longer) was as much about a community as it was about the articles themselves, you may see a prompt asking for a log in, but it isn’t necessary to do so to just read things. If you need some encouragement, check out Graceland versus Karmatown.

■ As far as I’m concerned, the hot ticket online last week was for a 97-minute discussion with Canada’s Bruxy Cavey and Atlanta’s Andy Stanley. The good news is, anyone can view it now on YouTube. Check out How Centering on Jesus Changes Everything, sponsored by The Jesus Collective. (Best quote on getting priorities rightly ordered: “The resurrection gave birth to a movement and the movement gave birth to a book.”)

Timely today: The Washington Post notes that “It’s been 152 years since Andrew Johnson decided not to attend the swearing-in of Ulysses S. Grant.” History repeats. Political parties were opposites, though. 152 years later, it’s time to read the article and play the home version of Count the Parallels.

■ Ongoing, with more people expected to tell their stories: Religion News Service published on the weekend a look at Dave Ramsey‘s Ramsey Solutions which they believe to be “the best place to work in America.” Instead, we see a leader so insecure he cannot tolerate even a fraction of dissent or critique.

■ Did Pope Francis inch closer to allowing women to be priests? Don’t hold your breath. In a precise, fine-tuning of coverage of the announcement, the site Get Religion notes:

The move — in the wake of a decades-old priest shortage — will grant “non-ordained ministers” the chance to serve as lectors, read scripture, act as eucharistic ministers and, in a crucial symbolic change, wear robes while serving in the sacred space around the altar. The changes, however, will continue to forbid women from being made deacons or ordained priests. continue reading here

■ I don’t track with everything Carey Nieuwhof writes, but this one is worthy of your consideration. 8 Disruptive Church Trends that will Rule 2021: The Rise of the Post Pandemic Church. (Spelled his name correctly first time!)

■ A video podcast discovery: The JXN Cloud is an online church community based out of Jackson, Michigan which does a morning show at 6:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on YouTube that will appeal to younger listeners.

■ Not new: This week Sheila Wray Gregoire linked to a 2019 piece she wrote about how local churches find and hire youth pastors. While the article contains no horror stories — local print and broadcast media do a great job, however — the article contains enough cautionary warnings for churches and Bible colleges to rethink the whole process.

■ Sometimes, like everyone else I use Twitter to just rant. Like this one related to the image above: “I really despise publishers like NavPress who leave no way for consumers to contact them directly. This is the image for a new Bible, ISBN 9781641582544; an image that is widely circulated on the internet. It’s advertised as a teal Bible. That’s not teal. Not even close to teal. Sky blue? Powder blue? Teal is a blue-green combination. Its HTML is #008080. Words are meant to have meaning. Either the description of this Bible is wrong, or the image is wrong, but I would caution people against ordering if they don’t know which is the case.” Thus endeth the commercial art lesson. (Twitter brings out the best in people, right?)

■ This should have been the winner in Matthew Pierce’s weird Christian tweet contest, 2020 edition. At least IMHO.

■ If you’re a Bruxy fan but found the prospect of 97 minutes (above) too daunting, here’s his now famous nesting dolls analogy from a sermon the week before. (Only 5 minutes.)

■ The moral dilemma. Is this an Everest too high for some to climb? How would you respond to him?

■ This should have been more widely seen when it appeared on January 11: Rick Warren speaking with Relevant on the pandemic, racial justice and political unrest. A positive interview with the author and megachurch pastor.

■ ICYMI (from December): Lauren Daigle said she was out for bike ride, saw the police and thereby assumed it was an officially sanctioned event. She offered to sing a song. Then all hell broke loose

■ Finally…

January 19, 2021

Politics, Race, Viruses, Immigration: The Illusion Analogy

So what do you see?

Do you see a vase? Or do you see two profiles of people facing each other (and not social distancing)?

It occurred to me last week that this is an analogy to where we find ourselves in a coincidentally black-and-white situation with regard to the issues of the day, be it the U.S. federal election, models of theories of the impact of ethnicity, masking or non-masking, getting vaccinated or remaining an anti-vaxxer, being pro-immigration or anti-immigration, etc.

Things are currently polarized. Like we’ve never seen before.

Fact checking is pointless, because sources are challenged. Is it my truth or your truth? Where might objective truth be found? Social media has become a default news source, so you’re getting most of your information from your brother-in-law’s Facebook post.

Which brings us back to the vase above. The picture — and there are now dozens of variations — is called Rubin’s Vase, attributed to the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin who created it around 1915.

The key to the whole thing is that you can’t see both the vase and the profiles at the same time. At any given millisecond you’re seeing either one or the other. Wikipedia puts it this way: “The visual effect generally presents the viewer with two shape interpretations, each of which is consistent with the retinal image, but only one of which can be maintained at a given moment.”

And this is where the analogy breaks down, because if you’re seeing a vase, or a goblet, or a birdbath; I can then point out the faces to you. You may remain loyal to your initial impression, but you’ll be forced to concede another perspective is possible.

But in real life, it’s often impossible to get someone to see the contrary position.

Or admit that they see it…

…Interestingly, Wikipedia links to an article on Pareidolia, which is the way we read things into certain stimuli that aren’t really there; “the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations, the Man in the Moon…”

(Interesting for the purposes of readers here, is that later on the article notes: “There have been many instances of perceptions of religious imagery and themes, especially the faces of religious figures, in ordinary phenomena. Many involve images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary,…”)

If Rubin’s Vase helps us understand polarization of opinion, I would argue that Pareidolia helps us understand conspiracy theories which are, in simple terms, reading something into a situation which isn’t there.

 

January 18, 2021

Is Your Church Board (Elder Board) Theologically Minded?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

After taking several weeks off, we’re back!

Last week Ruth and I were discussing the composition of church leadership boards. Some of you are familiar with the Brethren model whereby the elders of the church take turns doing the weekly teaching. It’s not a requirement for each and every elder, and some clearly have other gifts which they bring to the board of which teaching is not one of them, and those other gifts affirm their calling to serve at the highest level of lay-participation in local church leadership.

Some other types of churches have been toying with this model and inviting people in the broader congregation to identify and nurture their preaching gift.

Our discussion tied in with one of last week’s posts at Christianity 201 — the blog to which most of my attention is now devoted — and what’s called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church,” sometimes  just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. Michael Frost said that he believes that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

I would agree and further pursue this to add that I think that the people on church leadership boards should show evidence of, at the very least, a propensity toward one of these ministry gifts.

But this is often not the case.

Some people are chosen because they have done well in business. That can be helpful, given that one estimate is that 80% of local church board meetings are dealing with capital concerns (budgets, expenditures, etc.) and property issues (facilities, maintenance, etc.).

Some are chosen because they are highlight regarded in the community. I can certainly see what outgoing, gregarious, extroverted people would come to mind. Church nominating committees do indeed look at the outward appearance.

Some are selected because their family has a long-running history with the church. To not select one of these people would be considered almost scandalous.

I could go on, but you see that it’s not always spiritual considerations that drive the process.

You could argue that the Biblical model is to have two leadership levels; a nuts-and-bolts leadership team that can attend to the aforementioned facility and financial issues; and a spiritual issue that can look at programs, ministry teams, preaching topics, small groups, etc. That’s great, but the one guy we know from the nuts-and-bolts team, Stephen, was selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications. He was “a man of faith and full of the Holy Spirit.” And he preached! Boy, did he ever preach, becoming the first Christian martyr for the force and trajectory of his message. (Don’t mention this to prospective board candidates!)

I don’t think every board member should preach. But in the average small-to-medium-sized church they should be seen at least once a year doing something in public ministry. A scripture reading. The announcements. Assisting with a baptism. Sharing a word of recent testimony of what God’s doing in their life.

More simply stated, there ought to be reason as to why each was chosen, and it ought to be a spiritual reason.

December 30, 2020

Their Personal Brand was Damaged in 2020

It wasn’t a good year for some people. Whether due to political allegiances, marital collapses or financial improprieties, the year was filled with missteps that damaged the brand of many key authors, pastors and leaders. The election and the pandemic proved to be catalysts for revealing some people’s true character. And we didn’t even consider the implications of the discussions that arose in the wake of Black Lives Matter.

Also, an apology to readers outside the U.S. that this is so America-centric. But then again, what happened in the States was often the lead news item on nightly roundups in Canada, the UK and Europe. If they didn’t know already, reporters in every country had to learn overnight how to report on the U.S. political system and election system. These are names you probably recognize anyway. There were many others not included.

Here’s my recap:

Ravi Zacharias – The real tragedy here is that so much has come to light since his passing, leaving him no opportunity to respond or to repent. The legacy of his namesake ministry has been damaged in the process. It was more than just the exaggeration of academic credentials. It was about serious sexual misconduct. RZIM needs to do what they haven’t done so far: Act quickly. Rename the ministry in Canada and the U.S. as well as in Europe where it’s known as Zacharias Trust. Second, replace Ravi as the “voice” of the Let My People Think radio feature with some of the many gifted apologists currently on its speaker roster.

Eric Metaxas – An Australian blogger wrote, “Reading Metaxas’ tweets is like watching a man slowly drive his career as a public intellectual over a cliff.” In 2020, the author and talk show host did what so many did, suspending all reason and logic for an unqualified backing of Donald J. Trump. His “losing it” seemed to have no limits toward the end of the year, with the alleged sucker punch of a protester outside a RNC event, and his theft of Pentatonix’ audio track for his “Biden Did You Know?” video which YouTube appropriately removed a day later.

John Ortberg – Following an investigation into the popular author and pastor’s knowledge concerning a volunteer at Menlo Church which some argued should not have been permitted to be involved in children’s ministry there due to a possible attraction to minors, Ortberg was reinstated in March only to be outed in June by a family member who said that the pastor and author was actually protecting the identity of a different family member. That was all it took to pave the way for a final farewell.

Dave Ramsay – The self-proclaimed Christian financial guru’s complete disregard for health guidance dealing with the pandemic opened up a broader discussion and revealed what might be considered a somewhat toxic workplace.

Jerry Falwell, Jr. – Again, another person whose credibility was destroyed by unwavering support for Trump, which then opened up further investigation resulting in revelations of Falwell and his wife participating in what were, at the very least, some unusually close relationships involving other people. Current students and alumni are fighting to see his name distanced from Liberty University in order to preserve the value of the education they received. Falwell brought some of this on himself however, posting some pictures one might have wanted to keep private, which in itself showed a complete lack of discernment and wisdom.

Jim Bakker – Long before the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, Bakker had the cure for Coronavirus and was willing to sell it to you. Too bad it took the NIH (in the US) or NHS (in the UK) so many months to catch up to what Bakker already knew. His actions also cast a shadow on everyone who has ever been a guest on The Jim Bakker Show.

John MacArthur – Defying California state law, MacArthur’s Grace Church packed in unmasked worshipers during Covid-19’s second wave, insisting that God requires us to worship together and be assembled together. In many respects, this is an incomplete theological understanding of what it means to be united and what it means to be the church. Should MacArthur be on this list, or were his actions in 2020 simply a continuation of what he’s always been?

Franklin Graham – Another Trump election casualty, Graham’s situation collecting salaries from both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse was thrust back into the spotlight. Being a Graham, expectations of character standards are always high and some are suggesting that Franklin doesn’t even come remotely close.

Jay Sekulow and Family – By December it’s easy to forget stories that were circulating in January, but in that month Ministry Watch reported on the salaries paid to execs of ministry organizations and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) turned up repeatedly in the list. Jay Sekulow was #3 on the list at $1,421,188, while “spokesperson” Kim Sekulow was #5 with $1,053,432, and Gary Sekulow, CEO/COO was #7 at $985,847. (For some ministries the most recent year listed was several years old.) The money paid to some ministry leaders is an absolute atrocity.

Focus on the Family – Another story from earlier in the year, this popular organization declared that they were actually a church and as such not required to do any public reporting of their income or executive salaries. See our January article for all the ridiculous defenses given for this action.

Mark Dever – The ecclesiology in general and church governance — and Covenant Membership in particular — of the 9 Marks church group caused one watchdog blogger to write, “…they appear to be in danger of redefining what constitutes the church. They have invented a system that is full of rules and regulations, many of which are conjecture. Yes, they quote Scripture but they often interpret Scripture through their own peculiar lens.” Just another example of the Calvinist/Reformed movement slowly parting ways with mainstream Christianity.

Carl Lentz – Not sure that the greater damage resulting from Lentz’ confessed affair is to him or to the leadership of Hillsong. Especially Hillsong’s North American expansion efforts. Maybe I should have listed Brian and Bobbie Houston instead. What did they know and when did they know it? Still, give it a year or two and I would expect to see Lentz surface heading another church somewhere.

Paula White – As a post-Charismatic, I have no objective problem with speaking in tongues, but feel that Trump’s “Spiritual Advisor” chose neither the right time or the right place. And what happened to the “angels from Africa?” Are they still on their way? What were they doing there in the first place? The public needs to know. Whatever damage Graham, Falwell and Metaxas did to Evangelicals, White did the same to her fellow Charismatics and Pentecostals.

Jen and Brandon Hatmaker – In some respects, I feel bad isolating this one ministry couple, so allow them to serve as stand-ins for all those Christian pastors whose marriages didn’t make it to the finish line.

Rachel and Dave Hollis – Ditto. Rachel is author of the huge publishing success, Girl Wash Your Face which only saw mediocre sales through some Christian channels despite being a national bestseller. Again, on this list as a stand-in for other Christian authors with a similar 2020 separation story.

Robert Jeffress – Another of the “court Evangelicals,” this SBC megachurch pastor and frequent guest on FOX-TV was a reminder of why churches and pastors should stay away from politics. It will take years for the damage done to the capital “C” Church to recover, and some say the name Evangelical is tarnished permanently.Meanwhile the SBC continues to report declines in baptisms and membership, which impacts its Broadman & Holman and LifeWay publishing empire.

The Episcopal Church – In a rather strange irony, the denomination which so greatly values the Communion sacrament as most central to their weekend worship found themselves preventing parishioners from improvising at home, which other bodies both permitted and encouraged during the lockdown. This resulted in the creation of the term “Eucharistic fast” to describe abstaining from The Lord’s Supper. Anglicans can only receive the bread and wine if the elements have been consecrated by an Anglican officiant. Eventually some churches got creative in finding ways to get the necessary items to congregants, but I can’t help but think they painted themselves into a corner by so greatly limiting access to the table. 

Chris Rice – In October an investigation was launched concerning sexual assault claims against the Christian musician dating to when Rice was a guest artist at youth retreats for a Kentucky Church, reports the pastor found to be “credible.”

K. P. Yohannan – The financial oddities (or as I just accidentally typed it, auditees) of Gospel for Asia keep getting “curiouser and curiouser.” This isn’t a 2020 story, nor is it limited to the U.S., but an ongoing saga which simply doesn’t go away.

Sean Feucht – Similar to the Trump-related stories above, with an extra conspiracy theory or two thrown into the mix; instead of running for public office, this guy should have stuck to playing music and leading worship; though now I’m not even 100% sure about that.

Kirk Cameron – Like Feucht above, Cameron staged a mass event which totally disregarded health advisories. We’re supposed to spread the gospel, not super-spread Covid-19.

John Crist – After stepping back from touring and creating video content following sexual misconduct allegations in 2019, the comedian resurfaced in 2020, but to some, the humor just wasn’t working; it was too soon. Crist would do well to simply abandon the Christian market altogether and rebuild his brand as a mainstream stand-up comic where this sort of thing happens with greater regularity and with nobody batting an eye.

Kenneth Copeland – The faith healer and prosperity teacher was another Trump casualty, but his laughing at the thought of a Biden victory was somewhat eerie if not somewhat demonic; and in Copeland’s camp, they know a thing or two about demonic. 

Willow Creek Leadership – A year ago Bill Hybels might have appeared on a similar list to this, but for the past twelve months, the leadership at Willow has in equal amounts both launched and stepped back from new initiatives, seeming like a small boy wandering the aisles of a department store in search of his parents.

Matthew Paul Turner – The author of Christian books for both children and adults came out as gay and announced his divorce. The latter has wider acceptance in the Church these days, and in some sectors the former is heading in that direction. His admission probably burned some bridges but it’s hard not to respect his transparency.

Albert Mohler, Jr. – I was once a fan, but in 2020 he became another SBC leader who got sucked into the Trump vortex.

James MacDonald – The disgraced former pastor popped up a few times in 2020 to make sure he was getting everything he had coming to him from Harvest Bible Chapel and Walk in the Word. The man who once used Easter Sunday to kick off a series on personal finances has revealed what is most near and dear to his heart. The NASDAQ is risen. It is risen indeed.

…That’s probably enough of this for one day. Or one year. This gives me no pleasure, but compiling this over the past several hours has been eye-opening. There was also one person I deliberately chose to exclude, and another I held back because of conflicted feelings about what I was seeing for myself and what others were reporting. Time will tell. It always does.

2021 can only be a better year, right? Let’s pray for that to be true.

December 28, 2020

In The Days Before Contemporary Christian Music (CCM)

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:11 pm

Today on Christianity 201, I used a very, very old song as a springboard for the discussion which followed. I’ve left some of the introduction intact below, but this won’t be a mirror of what appears there later today. [Ed. note: He changed his mind on that!]

The song was written by Ralph Carmichael. It’s called “A Quiet Place” Below is the original, though I used a different group at C201 today because the volume seemed low on this one.

Musically it’s almost elevator music by today’s standards. But then, it was the beginning of something new. Released through Light Records there was a small advertisement on the back if you wanted to buy the music book. No, not that kind of music book with the melody line and guitar chords. This was the music book for your choir, with the pieces charted in SATB 4-part choral notation.

CCM was still a long way off.

Larry Norman may have been asking ‘Why should Satan have all the great tunes’ — that’s exactly how he said it, right? — and Andrae Crouch and the Disciples may have been jamming in his dad’s church auditorium, but when it came to mainstream, Ralph Carmichael officially gave the church permission to take a big tiny step towards the Top 40.

I’m fairly certain you could get the album free with a 2-year subscription to Campus Life magazine.

If you want to experience the whole album, here’s the link:

…At C201 today, the reason I chose the song “A Quiet Place” is because I think most Evangelicals think of their daily Bible reading as devotions and not so much quiet time. Perhaps I’m wrong vis-a-vis the local church community where you find yourself right now. But you can read all that in the intro below, and catch the remainder of the reading at 5:30 PM EST at C201…


On second thought, once I started posting this, I decided to just share the whole thing after all. There are a couple of really good links I didn’t want Thinking Out Loud readers to miss.


For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.

December 25, 2020

Christmas Like No Other

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:15 pm

In Canada, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec account for 61½% of the Canadian population and as I type this, we’re moving into a (minimum) 30 day lockdown. Echoes of March/April.

We have a better idea what this involves now and hopefully can do the mental and emotional prep and have loaded up jigsaw puzzles and movies.

And it’s Christmas. For us, the first Christmas without physically seeing either of our adult sons. This year’s family picture will be a Zoom screen capture. I’m in a state similar to mourning, but of course, absent any type of precautions, families could be warning something far greater if we don’t get this virus under control.

Various online writers and pastors have sought for parallels between the situation faced by Joseph and Mary at the time of Christ’s birth. It was certainly bittersweet. I tried to capture that earlier this week at C201, and what follows is the text of that devotional. (Click the header to read it there.)

To all, a wish for you to find the merry this Christmas.

The Birth of Jesus is a Study in Contrasts

At different eras in the Christian Church there have been different emphases in preaching. In the last several years, this has been evidenced in the Christmas narrative.

Emphasis #1 – No place to stay

With our current awareness of social justice issues, homelessness is a problem in our world — even in some quite affluent countries — to which the church must respond. So we often hear emphasis on Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem with no place to stay but a barn.

Without considering the (literally) hundreds of views on this, I currently lean to the idea that the night lodging for the animals may have been more of an annex to the house; in other words, not even an out-building. The phrase (Luke 2:7) “for there was no room for them in the inn” is not unique to the KJV, but the CJB has “there was no space for them in the living-quarters;” the NIV states, “there was no guest room available for them;” while you have to love the ambiguity of the NLV, “There was no room for them in the place where people stay for the night.” Young’s Literal Translation reads, “there was not for them a place in the guest-chamber.” But other respected versions such as NET and NASB stay with “the inn.”

I also reject the idea that they arrived in Bethlehem without any contact persons; not knowing anyone. If this was Joseph’s ancestral home, (“because he belonged to the house and line of David” 2:7) then he had relatives there, even if they were distant relatives. Remember this occurred in a society where tribe, family, clan, etc. mattered.

But we do tend to seize on the plight of Mary and Joseph, and in no small measure this is completely appropriate, as Jesus was born in an unexpected place (due to “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken…” 2:1) and in less than ideal circumstances (the not-inn, not-guest-room; and the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy.)

Emphasis #2 – Exile to Egypt

This is the preaching emphasis that Jesus was a refugee. We know that they left abruptly for Egypt (Matthew 2:13) and that in at least one, and probably two dreams Joseph is counseled that it is safe to make an adjusted return to Israel (2: 19-23); but we know absolutely nothing about their time in Egypt, though novelists like to speculate on this time.

With countries like Germany and Canada opening their doors wide to Middle East refugees in the last decade, it’s easy to see why this can be a highlighted subject in contemporary preaching.

Not Emphasized – Honor and Fabulous Gifts!

The story isn’t all bleak. Any contemporary emphasis on one element of the story is going to cause lesser emphasis on another, but Jesus, to use a game show phrase, does receive “cash and fabulous prizes” when the kings/wise men/astrologers come to visit. They recognize that something special is taking place; they come to pay homage; and they don’t arrive empty-handed. Matthew’s Gospel tells us,

Matt.2.1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… …10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

So we see that they bow down and worship him.

I’m sure that thinking of Gabriel’s announcement,

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:32-33

Joseph and Mary looked at each other and said, ‘Ah…That’s more like it;’ when in fact the exile is just around the next bend.

Gabriel’s words and the honor of the kings/wise men/astrologers is indicative of a long-time eternal destiny; a time to come when Revelation 11:15 states.

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

This text is familiar to us at this time of year as part of the lyrics to “Hallelujah” from Handel’s Messiah, but as climactic as that song is at the end of Part II, it is with these words from Revelation 5:12 that the oratorio ends;

In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

This should be the ultimate emphasis of our preaching in our churches and our sharing of the Christmas narrative individually to those with whom we come in contact.

December 18, 2020

A Friend of Mine is Dead … Except That He Isn’t

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:58 am

If you Google the name of a friend of mine, you’ll discover that he died. In 1984. Accept that he didn’t. Google has taken the information about a sports personality I hadn’t heard of, and conflated it with the picture image of my friend who, according to his own blog post this morning, is very much alive. (I hesitate to include his name here, along with phrases like “sports personality” because the Google bots will just have a further feeding frenzy on the conflation. But I’ll link to his blog at the end which is bad enough.)

There are two issues at play here.

First, Google, established a search engine — and let the reader understand what that phrase means — decided it wasn’t enough just to lead people to the information sought, but it wanted to provide the information with its page one search results.

So you get situations where if you Google “lyrics: [name of song]” you see results displayed on your screen. Sort of. What you actually get is often the first two verses and the chorus. You still have to click to see the bridge, the second chorus, and the coda, but those first verses and chorus are often enough to satisfy some seekers.

This way Google keeps you satisfied on page one, with its advertising hitting your eyes.

The second issue, is that sometimes Google simply gets it wrong, as is the case here. (Furthermore, it wasn’t even the other person’s legal name, but rather a nickname.)

A similar situation happened to my wife’s first cousin. He was running for Member of Parliament. We don’t have an elected Senate, so for my U.S. readers, this is the same as running for Congress. Someone determined to undermine his ambitions dug up an old video from his comedy days that was probably both hilarious and acceptable back in the day, but would be considered no longer politically correct today. That’s all it took; that was the end of his governmental career, before the election even happened.

Trouble is, the same weekend, the same political party had to dismiss another candidate who was caught on camera doing something untoward — some would use the word disgusting — while doing work in someone’s house.

Google conflated the two stories. Use keywords for the latter situation and you get my wife’s cousin’s name. Everywhere.

I recently experienced the Google curse personally.

When the pandemic struck, people kept coming in to the bookstore we own saying they had arrived at 10:00 AM but nobody was there. We had cut back our hours, but they insisted they had seen it online that we opened at 10:00.

  • I checked our website
  • I checked our Facebook page
  • I checked our newsletter, which does have an online component
  • I even checked our answering machine
  • I did a double-take and re-checked the sign in the window

Nope. They all said 11:00 AM. I never thought to Google our business name. Didn’t know that was thing beyond linking to our site. And there was the error. I was able to get that one fixed within 24 hours. Some situations are not so straightforward.

As my wife is so fond of saying, “Google is an idiot.”

The truth in her words is to be found in the rather oxymoronic concept of artificial intelligence. There is an intelligence that I believe is only found in humans; one that computers, no matter how well they play chess, can never hope to match (if they have hopes at all, which I would argue they don’t.)

My friend, keeping a sense of humor about the whole mess, wrote,

This comes as a great surprise to me. I don’t feel dead. I don’t remember dying.

I have faith he’ll work the system to get the error corrected, but the one involving my wife’s cousin has spread so far and so wide that it will probably follow him for a very long time.

This technology is not serving us at all.

Google is an idiot.


To read my friend’s un-obituary — and you’ll recognize him as he has contributed three articles here — click this link.

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