Thinking Out Loud

April 11, 2016

The Downside of Major Music Corporations Owning Christian Labels

This post first appeared in April 2012 at Christian Book Shop Talk

All music products follow a natural cycle from top sellers to the delete bin. In the book industry, we call them remainders, with CDs their deletes. Not sure which is worse: Being ‘leftovers’ or ‘write offs.’ The end result is the same.

There are two surefire ways to make sure your songs don’t die after the album sales die: One is to make a comeback every five years; the other is to make sure the songs are remembered and perhaps even rediscovered years later to be covered by other artists.

If you’re an upcoming band or solo artist, you want to get signed to a label, and you want to get signed to a good label, and a good label is one that will work hard to aggressively promote your music and aggressively protect your copyrights, right?

Well, maybe not. Those royalties will certainly buy a lot of groceries and nobody wants to see their music blatantly ripped off. But I don’t think any musician lying on their deathbed is preoccupied with performance royalties or mechanical royalties.

They would much rather see their music outlive their lives.

I’m returning of course to the issue raised the other day concerning EMI-CMG, the Christian music group of EMI. Is getting signed with this label the top prize, or might you do better, in the long run, to sign with a more ministry-focused organization?

Today I decided to listen online to the song “More” by Mylon LeFevre. Classic Christian rock. “More of Jesus, less of me…” Beautiful harmonies.

But instead, I got the far too recurring black screen telling me the song is not available in my country. Apparently people in Canada are tripping over themselves trying to profit from Mylon’s material. (If I wrote this on one of my mainstream blogs, I would get back, “Mylon who?”) It’s a shame really, because the song is most worthy of a cover version.

I’m sure somebody at EMI thinks they are just doing their job; bowing to whatever copyright oddities permit the song in the U.S., but ban it in Canada, Japan, Serbia and three other countries you’ve never heard of. And in fairness, the notice also implicates Warner Music Group, who aren’t so much of a player on the Christian music scene, but probably own a song or two that you and I would want to recall.

The bottom line is this:

  • Christian music exists for a different purpose
  • Christian songs ultimately belong to the body of Christ
  • Christian artists answer to a higher boss

For years, the CCM industry yearned for “crossover,” we wanted to see our products rack up the numbers in K-Mart and Target and be equal players in the larger industry. So independent record companies like Sparrow sold out to the majors.

Perhaps it’s time to stop chasing success and start crossing over in the other direction; time to take back our music. And if you are a music artist on the cusp of signing with a ‘major,’ think twice about where you want your music to be long after the songs are deleted and the band breaks up. Available or locked in a vault somewhere?


Update: Today (at least) you get to hear the song if you’re in Canada. And for those of you who didn’t know what song I was speaking of; here it is:

February 22, 2016

Welcome to Our Church; Come Be Part of Our Agenda

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:52 am

Serving Opportunity

Okay, I get it.

I know that there is something transformative that happens when people move from a passive seat-warmers to full engaged church members. I recognize that it’s better to move from the sidelines to the playing field. To step up your game. To be applying your spiritual gifts and your natural gifts.

I also get the need.

Several decades ago my mother sat in an adult Sunday school class when someone quietly tapped her on the shoulder saying, “Are you Mrs. Wilkinson? We’ve heard you have experience teaching high school students in another church. Would you like to do that here?”

She replied that she would very much like to do that adding, “When you want me to start?”

The reply was, “The girls are sitting in a classroom right now waiting for you.”

That’s a true story; that really happened! And the need in many of our churches is just as urgent.

However — you knew there had to be a however, right? — I have problems with churches, especially megachurches1 taking a Sunday out of the year to basically use the sermon time to try to enlist, conscript, or coerce people to be those badly needed volunteers. Or in the case of at least one U.S. megachurch, about three Sundays per year.

So much of what the local church is calling people to is a somewhat self-centered agenda. We want you to sing in our choir, serve in our midweek Children’s ministry, and help out on our property team. Maybe you think self-centered is strong language, but that is how it looks to

  • visitors2
  • those not ready or able to commit just yet
  • the cynics who think the church is trying to serve its own ends
  • people dealing with their own brokenness and in need of some teaching that will lift their spirits before they return to their personal life circumstances.

Volunteer Sunday(s) has got to go.3

Stepping into service is something that should happen organically in the life of the Christ-follower. Any local assembly that is doing everything they can to help people become fully committed followers of Jesus will find people seeking opportunities to serve.

They will, for certain, be turning volunteers away.


1 This can happen in a small church as well, where the coercion is multiplied by the fact you feel the pastor is looking directly as you as he preaches (which he is)
2 Where it ranks right up there with the give money sermon
3 This is why you read blogs, right? You don’t get this type of blanket or inflammatory statement at Christianity Today

February 19, 2016

Competition Among Ministries

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry, philanthropy — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

Do you get jealous when the church or ministry across town has an event that happens to catch the eye of the local newspaper? Or do you rejoice that God is using them in such a way? ~ Jennifer Maggio – Competition in Ministry.

John 3:26 NLT So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

competition among ministries

It started with a staff member at Organization A bad-mouthing Organization B.

Frankly, it resonated with me because I had some history with Organization B. Furthermore, Organization A was paying me a part-time salary.

But years later, I connected with the director of Organization B. We discovered many common interests. I saw their ministry in action. A friend started working for Organization B. I ended up financially helping him. Later, a ministry I was heading up partnered with Organization B for a project. Mostly, I came to understand why a certain group of people would gravitate to Organization B and not Organization A.

Immediately, I regretted the years I had been estranged from Organization B and its staff and its constituency.

Ministry organizations compete for donation dollars as well as for volunteers. But instead of staring at each other across a great divide, it’s better to find ways to (a) get to know each other better and (b) partner together. Perhaps even more. The charitable sector can see it as competition, but Christian ministries are, in theory at least, members of the same body.

We all labor in different vineyards, but we can’t afford to bad-mouth organizations whose work somewhat parallels — we may even see it as duplicating — our own. That just creates barriers to fellowship and friendship; and when heard by someone like my younger self, prevents cooperation and partnership from happening.

“…..whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31b

February 13, 2016

When the Work of the Local Church is Neglected

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

It was 1989. The big city Christian bookstore closed at 6:00 PM on Saturday nights. At 5:30 he walked in and we got into a conversation where he let it be known that his reason for shopping was that he needed to buy an accompaniment tape as he was booked to be the “special music” at church the following morning. He wanted to listen to a few songs and “get some ideas.”

This wasn’t a small country church. This was a church that would have about 1,500 people in each oftwo services. The next day.

img 021316He had left it to the very last minute.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when something similar happened at another Christian bookstore about an hour from where I live. The people needed six copies of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala.

They needed them for Saturday. The owner of the store wondered if I had any ideas.

Yes, I do! Plan ahead!

It amazes me how people can show up for work on time, pay their bills before the due dates, and never miss an oil change on the minivan, yet seem totally ill-equipped to do anything related to the church until it’s the last minute.

Historically, the typical stereotype was the Sunday School teacher who pulled out the lesson plan after supper on Saturday and spent ten minutes “going over it.” Is it too idealistic of me to imagine that somewhere there were Sunday School volunteers who began the process mid-week and actually allowed their minds to consider the lesson and fresh ways to present it? I certainly want to think that.

There’s a law in economics that states that everyone’s property is no-one’s property. What that means in this context is that many in the local church have simply never taken ownership of the life and ministry efforts of their local congregation.

img 021316aOne of the worst musical habits I picked up involved a group of instrumentalists who would be tuning their guitars or bass guitars and then, at a certain point, stop and exclaim, “Well… Good enough for gospel.”

Good enough for gospel? Is that what we’re aiming for? Simply good enough?

I was in church the next morning when the guy sang his solo. He did good, but not great. And I couldn’t enjoy it because I knew the story; the half-hearted, last-minute approach that had gone into preparing to minister in music that day.

 

 

February 4, 2016

When Pastors and Church Leaders Tell Lies

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

There is a general perception that policeman can run red lights and drive in excess of the speed limit, but it’s not the case. True, there are circumstances that might force someone in law enforcement to do either or both of these things, but generally, they are not above the law and not immune to prosecution if they are breaking the rules unnecessarily.

look closelySimilarly, one often runs up against people in church leadership who feel that situations require them to, for lack of a better word, make stuff up. A policy that exists absolutely nowhere in writing is suddenly invoked for the sake of convenience. Information important to a particular facet of church life is withheld for the sake of expediency.

When pastors misrepresent situations on a national or megachurch level — i.e. recent instances of book plagiarism — there are watchdog ministries that will call them out on it. When it happens at a local church level, we might hear of it through survivor and church abuse blogs.

Often however, the situations play out quietly at a local assembly level and in many cases, the parishioners don’t even know they’re being lied to. For example…

• • •

Anne had served her local church’s worship team for many years and helped in their transition from a hymn-based music format to a church known for leading the way in modern worship. She followed her husband to another church for a year, then returned for several years, and then disappeared to help with an inner-city church plant. Now she was ready to return and jump in with both feet.

Instead, summoned to a late-night meeting with a church deacon, she was told that her present status was: Visitor. No regard for the years she had poured into the music program. No recognition that this was the church where she was baptized and where her children were dedicated and where her husband had been on staff. She was told that people are uncomfortable being led in worship by someone they don’t know and they don’t have “guest” worship leaders.

Three weeks later, they had a “guest” worship leader.

It made everything the church leader had said to be a lie. Why do this? Why not simply say no? Perhaps he was threatened by the fact that she had more musical and spiritual leadership in her little finger than… well, you know. This after all, was a guy who, at one time, couldn’t do the “Welcome to our church” opening statement unless it was printed on a card, and yet in this situation, he was in leadership over her.

• • •

Ross was always amazed that his church seemed to end the year with a financial surplus. While everyone he talked to said their church was way behind on their budget, Cedar Ridge Neighborhood Church always had money left over.

There was a regional ministry several hours away that intersected with the life of the church and many other churches and families in their city. Not being supported by any particular denomination and benefiting only middle- and lower-income families, Ross occasionally took it upon himself to do some unofficial deputation for the organization and try to raise both their profile and support. So he asked if Cedar Ridge would consider putting them on their domestic missions budget.

Instead he was told that they didn’t simply make blanket donations to organizations, but gave their support only to individual missionaries or organization workers. Respecting the office of the church leader in question, Ross though somewhat disappointed that he had failed to make his case, accepted the response at face value.

It took a year, but finally Ross realized this was simply not the case when they handed out some huge donations to several organizations that were not even faith-based.

• • •

Sadly, the stories are true though the names are changed. They’re examples I was able to easily call out of memory, but don’t begin to scratch the surface of stories I’ve told where board members, elders, deacons, pastors, church staff, etc., had simply lied to save face or for the sake of convenience.

In the true spirit of grace and charity, I know the people involved in both above stories have “kept these things and pondered them in their heart” rather than go public. But the first example above was done in such a way that was abusive, and five years later, the scars of the late night meeting have never healed. That leader is currently in line for a position of greater profile and responsibility, and it’s very difficult for those of us who know the story to just sit back and not say anything, especially when the individual is otherwise so highly esteemed as a perfect example.

• • •

The scriptures at this morning’s Daily Encouragement reading were so timely:

“Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36).

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

 

January 19, 2016

The Good News and Bad News of Ministry Life

I posted this at C201 a few days ago, but felt I ought to share it here as well.

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, the verse played out in the KJV text that I first learned it from;

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

whereas today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. This weekend at church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t always know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (CJB) says,

…but where sin proliferated, grace proliferated even more.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.

 

 

 

 

December 28, 2015

For Those Who Preach, Teach

Filed under: books, ministry — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am
There is always a danger for anyone who is dealing with a lot of Christian material — Bible study and reflection or sermon preparation — that a familiarity can develop so that the text becomes something to study and comment upon, rather than the wisdom of God that must be applied and obeyed daily.   The discovery of a wonderful truth can tempt the preacher or writer to sermonize about it rather than apply it:  We can become those who challenge God’s people with God’s Word, rather than allowing it to impact us first.   Paul encourage the Philippians to “put into practice” what they have learned.   Elsewhere James paints a bizarre word portrait of a man who sees, on looking into the mirror, that some changes need to be made…but then he walks away without changing a thing.

–Jeff Lucas

Originally a British Church planting pastor, Jeff Lucas is a well-known author and speaker in the UK and author of the Life With Lucas devotional bi-monthly magazine.

December 14, 2015

A New Type of Men’s Ministry

Filed under: Church, ministry — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:47 am

Men's MinistryIf your church is typical of most Evangelical congregations your men’s ministry might look something like this. It’s either (a) an extension of the small group concept, with guys meeting through the week for Bible study, or (b) a Saturday morning thing that might meet weekly or monthly for Bible study or a special speaker or combined with a breakfast.

The assumption has always been that men are busier than women, and chances are that your church has a more diverse list of opportunities for women. I want to toss something else into the mix here. There are three points, but they are building cumulatively toward the third.

1. Get A Room

In most Evangelical church buildings there is a youth room (and possibly a staff position that goes with this room.) If you’re big enough there may be distinct rooms for middle school youth and high school youth. There are no doubt many, many rooms for children’s ministry, used both on weekends and midweek. And if your women’s ministry involves some type of craft component — I’m told quilting is popular among older ones — there may be rooms set aside for them as well.

But there’s not necessarily a space set aside for men. They may utilize other parts of the building, but with the exception of a CRC that had a room filled with woodworking tools — mostly so the men could teach the older boys — I’ve never seen a room in a church that was dedicated for men’s ministry.

2. Customize That Space

People like David Murrow and others have written extensively about the dominance of the feminine touch in church décor.  (If this is new to you, click his name and check out Why Men Hate Going to Church.) I’m not saying build a man cave, or fill a space with sports memorabilia, hang a deer head, or have a cigar room; but do something that makes the guys feel at home. A pool table. Some comfy chairs. Posting a “Women Not Allowed” sign.

But have a space that is the hub of your men’s ministry where guys can check in on weekends, sign up for service projects, borrow books for guys on marriage and parenting, post notes about cars for sale, and maybe even be the location of some your midweek activities.

3. Open It Up After Work

This is where we’ve been heading. Right now a lot of men — even among Christians — stop at a bar after work. That’s not always the healthiest of environments. Some men do feel the need however to have a buffer zone between work and home. They want to diffuse some of the stress of the workday — and possibly the commute — before they enter the family environment. They don’t want to have to dump their employment crises on their spouse, or not have the energy to get excited about what happened at the kids’ school(s). Maybe 15 or 20 minutes is all it would take. If they get off work early enough, perhaps 45 minutes would do the trick without being late for dinner.

I’m proposing a place that is open on a regular consistent basis, maybe from 3:00 to 6:00 — or whenever your church’s family ministries commence on that one night of the week — with a part time staff person or volunteer available to serve non-alcoholic refreshments and change the sports network on the satellite system. 

…This isn’t ministry in the Bible study or service project sense, but I believe it would meet some real needs in your neighborhood, and be a bridge to the wider community as people invited their friends.

Also, it’s been my firsthand observation that the bigger the church the less likely people ‘drop in’ during the week. This changes that, and opens up the church building at hours other than those weekend services and that one midweek evening.

 

 

November 10, 2015

Realities of Urban Ministry

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am
Ruth was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

My wife was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

by Ruth Wilkinson (circa 2008)

We found out tonight at Dinner that [our project] had been “announced from the pulpit” at a local church. Which — once I’d clarified that it was announced and not denounced — is very cool. It’s created some interest in people who attend that church, which I’ve always pigeonholed as very conservative. So, with my stereotype in mind, I’m wondering what they’ll think of the whole thing.

One of the team is going to organize a meeting at her house for those church-folks who are interested so we can give them an idea of what ‘we do’.

I’m tempted to tell horror stories and see if it scares them off. But I won’t.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called "our friends." The front window is broken the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called “our friends.” The front window is broken, the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

But I will say this:

• If you can’t sit down for dinner with 30 people, without having someone say the blessing,

• If you can’t share a meal with someone who may or not be drunk,

• Someone who may or may not be mentally ill,

• Someone who may or may not be lying to you,

• If you can’t have a conversation with someone who is smoking without making faces and waving the smoke away,

• If you can’t hear someone use the F word as a verb and an adjective and a noun and an adverb, possibly all in the same sentence, without cringing,

• If you can’t laugh at a genuinely funny crude joke, and good naturedly rebuff a truly offensive one,

• If you can’t hug someone who may or may not have Hepatitis C or AIDS,

This may not be the place for you.

(But I hope it is.)

August 22, 2015

Maybe He Should Have Done a Bible Study Instead

Rick Page was too inexperienced in student ministry to realize he was being had.

Short Stories 2After four weeks as their youth pastor, he thought that having a high school group ‘testimony time’ would give the kids more opportunity to participate and help him to get to each one better. They were sitting in a circle and the idea was to go around and share their story.

Twenty-eight kids had showed up that night, and by the seventh one, Rick was already concerned that their testimonies had turned into something more like confessionals, and for a bunch of church kids, they seemed to be more sexually active than he would have expected.

Two thirds of the way around the circle, they got to the youngest kid in the group, Danny, who everyone called D.P.; and somebody said, “Don’t let him go yet, he’ll wreck it.”

Still Rick didn’t catch on.

At that point a couple of kids in the group who had already shared said, “I forgot some things;” and then added to their story. Each seemed to be more sensational than the last, with tales of sex, recreational drug use and petty crime.

Miraculously, they got all the way around the circle, though Rick thought it a bit disrespectful when some of them giggled during a few of the final stories, and told them they shouldn’t laugh at other people’s mistakes.

And then someone said, “Okay, now it’s D.P.’s turn.”

Danny was somewhat new to the group, but had long figured out what was going on, certainly longer than Rick, who still didn’t seem to have a clue. Everyone looked at D.P. to see what he might confess.

He took a deep breath and said, “I robbed a bank once.”

At that, the entire youth group exploded into laughter, and it was a laughter that just kept going and going.

Finally, things crystallized for Rick and he started laughing, too.

When things settled down it was his turn to speak. “Well, if you guys don’t mind;” he said, “I think we’d better do something different next week.”


 

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