Thinking Out Loud

May 18, 2017

The Case for Online Church Community

Like “real” church though, you need to be all in…

I wrote this almost exactly eight years ago. At the time, what I had in view was the blogging community to which I had become a part. The word podcast wasn’t in my vocabulary though there was a healthy choice of online sermons on demand. There weren’t so many full service broadcasts (live or delayed) back then because of a nervousness concerning the worship song copyrights.

Also, more blogs allowed comments back then, and people engaged more. Today comments are closed at many sites and you also have a number of key bloggers who migrated to Twitter and other platforms. To relive those days, check out our post from Monday, A Golden Age of Christian blogging.

For those of you reading this on a PC, or subscribers who have always wondered, the default font for this blog’s theme is very small and to this day we take a minute to manually enlarge every paragraph. However, for a few years we also were putting everything in bold face as well.

Remember, this was all about community. It doesn’t purport to address the five other things I see as central to actually showing up in person at a physical church: Corporate worship, corporate prayer for others, potential prayer for your own needs and concern, corporate giving, and communion. I also think the level of personal accountability is higher when you’re there in person. 

I do know there are people for whom physical attendance at weekend worship is currently impossible for a wide variety of reasons. For those of you in that category, I hope you will endeavor to develop the type of online community I had in view when I wrote this. Many churches now have a online pastor to cater to the needs of those who don’t attend in person. 

Two “finallys”: Again, remember that I wrote this at a time when I envisioned the blog community becoming a surrogate church for some (which it did.) Also remember there’s nothing new about this; for generations the church wrestled with the issue of people dropping out on Sunday mornings to stay home and watch services on television. (I wonder what that would have looked like if it had a chat or discussion option as did blogging?) 

How can online churches better address the issue of community?

If your background is mainline

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “the passing of the peace.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake (or in a few places, a “holy” kiss) and say, “The peace of Christ,” or “The peace of Christ be with you.” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “And to you also;” or “And to you also, the peace of Christ.” If the church is smaller, you know these people, at least by name, but if it’s larger or it’s tourist season, you may not know them at all.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the pancake breakfast and the strawberry tea held each year.

To get to know people a little deeper, or other people, you can join the choir, or volunteer for a host of guilds or committees that are always in need of help. You’ll also find a lot of the same people serve on civic projects and thereby will run into them in other contexts outside of the church itself. Don’t expect to break into the core community until you’re a “regular,” which occurs after you’ve attended and been involved for a gazillion years.

If your background is Evangelical

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “greeting” or it may be formalized as “the ritual of friendship.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake and say, “Good Morning;” or “Did you happen to catch the game yesterday?” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “Is that a new car I saw in the parking lot?” If the church is smaller, you might know these people, at least by name, or if it’s a mid-sized church, you can look them up in the photo directory when you get home.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the annual potluck lunch and the annual bowling night.

To get to know people a little deeper, there isn’t a lot to volunteer for, since everything is done by the paid staff. The mens’ and womens’ retreats would help, but that’s $120 and $130 respectively. Better to join a small group. That way you’ll get to spend time in at least one person’s house each week, and get to know them and about four other families (or eight other singles) more intimately.

If your option is blogging community

There is a possibility that there will be people in your fellowship who you do not have any idea what they look like, or exactly where they live. However, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to engage conversationally. Those opportunities occur at any time and may produce a variety of responses from a variety of people.

Through those conversations you will learn about their likes and dislikes, events in the life of their family, where they stand on a variety of issues, and what challenges and needs they face. You’ll possibly learn the names of — or see pictures of — their kids or their parents, be given insights into their job, and you’ll almost certainly know a little about every book they’ve read since they started blogging. And they’ll know the same about you.

You may find very quickly that their prayer requests become your prayer requests; you feel drawn to the needs of these people as one might with someone in their church family. If Twitter enters into the picture, you’ll know even more about their daily routine, the various thoughts and challenges that burst into the brain brought about by various stimuli. And if you Twitter, they’ll have that input from you also.

Plus, they will introduce you to their online friends, and you might pick a few of those to subscribe to or at least bookmark, and over time, perhaps their friends will become your friends also. It’s not unusual to pick up e-mail addresses from comments you’ve received and send out some off-the-blog messages. (In fact, two weeks ago, I sent out about 60 such e-mails about a project I wanted to get going that needed an off-the-blog start-up.)

Finally, if you want to get really hardcore, you might find yourself contemplating attending a bloggers event which sometimes take place in conjunction with other events, and at other times are stand-alone events. Not because online fellowship is insufficient, but simply because the relationships are already well established. (And nobody’s pretending to be a 17-year old girl from Ohio; at least I hope not!)

So at the end of the day, online community isn’t better or worse than Sunday church fellowship; it’s just different. And I would argue it’s a good different. One can’t entirely substitute for the other, and hopefully people using online community as a surrogate for a physical community that is currently absent from their life would, over time, find themselves drawn back to something resembling a church or house church; and then maintain a balance between the two relational paradigms.

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September 3, 2015

Content Not Copyrighted

There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.

There’s a worship song currently making the rounds that goes, “It’s your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise; pour out our praise…”  To me, the song is a reminder that it’s God who gives us breath, gives us abilities, gives us opportunities and one of the best uses of that is to offer back praise to him.

For the third time in nearly 2,000 posts, this week we got a take-down order at Christianity 201. Yes, it would be nice to have a staff and be able to contact writers in advance and say, “We think your writing would be a great addition to C201 and we’d like to include what you wrote last Tuesday in our gallery of devotional articles.” But I just don’t have that luxury. So we pay the highest compliments to our writers by encouraging our readers to check out their stuff at source, while at the same time archiving it for the many who we know statistically don’t click through. 

The one this week offered some lame excuse about how I was disturbing his Google analytics by publishing his works, and reminded me that he could sue me. Nice attitude, huh?

These days, most of the authors are appearing for the second, third or fourth time, and many write (both on and off the blog) to say how honored they are that we find their material helpful.

I honestly can’t remember the name of the first two authors, but I know one had some recognition in Calvinist circles; so when the lightning struck again this week, I checked out the guy’s Twitter to look for clues and guess what?

That got me thinking about something I wrote here about 16 months ago…

The Bible has a lot to say about the accumulation of wealth and the hoarding of possessions. Probably the classic statement of scripture on the matter is,

NASB Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…

or

MSG Matt. 6:19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t have any treasure whatsoever.’ True, when Jesus sent his disciples out he told them to travel light, advice that extends through all of life:

NLT Matt. 10:9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick.

But in everyday life, the Bibles teaching presuppose you will have a home or a donkey or bread that you may or may not choose to give your neighbor when he comes knocking late at night.

CopyrightThis week it occurred to me that at the time the Bible was written, one thing that we can possess that they didn’t was intellectual property. There was no Copyright Act; no Letters Patent. Did Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the Carpenter have a special way of doing a table that would cause him great consternation if Murray the Carpenter down the road started copying the idea? You get the feeling that everything was open source.

I think it’s interesting that in the prior verse of Matthew 10, Jesus makes the often-quoted statement, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Personally, there’s nothing on this blog that isn’t up for grabs, provided it’s cited properly and quoted properly and being used non-commercially. Like this article? Help yourself. Yes, in the past I have been paid to write and could thereby consider myself a professional writer; but this is only a blog and it’s vital not to get too caught up in your own sense of self-importance; and I say that not out the spirit of someone who is loaded with wealth, but as a person who has had no specific fixed income for 19 years.

I also thought it was interesting that the one person who was so upset about the use of his material on other than his own website was complaining about a particular article that was about 50% scripture quotations. More than 50%, I believe. Oh, the irony. I can just hear Jesus saying, ‘Uh, could you just link to my words in the Bible rather than print them out on your own website?’

That said, I am consciously aware that a double standard exists in the Christian blogosphere. We both permit and excuse the copying of text, but there is far less grace for poachers of cartoons and photographs. (I guess a picture really is worth a thousand words.) If you take what belongs to them, it’s like trying to wrestle a t-bone from a pit-bull.

In the early days of this blog, the weekly link list included cartoons from Baptist Press. Not any more. Baptists can be very litigious, which is too bad, because the cartoons were worthy of an audience beyond a single denomination. Everybody loses, but that’s the Baptist way, I guess.

Words are cheaper however. I respect intellectual property rights in general, but hey, guys, it’s only a blog.

I really think when the writer is a little older, they will look back and see the foolishness of trying to hang on to what really isn’t yours to begin with.

Think About It: Some things simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written, such as smoking cigarettes or driving over the speed limit. It’s the same with intellectual property. We have to appeal to the timeless, grand themes of scripture to make behavioral determinations.

The corollary to this is that if I do choose to copyright my blog writing here, I am basically saying this is mine; I wrote this, I created it, it was my talents and my gifts that went into creating it.

I’m glad the Biblical writers didn’t feel that way. If you believe in plenary inspiration — that God birthed ideas within them but they stylized it and added their individual touch to the writing — then even if you hold that “all Scripture is inspired” (which I do) you could still make a case that they could copyright the particular words used.

copyright 2But some would argue that even if you say, “This came entirely from God and I shouldn’t really take any credit for it;” if you want your writing to reach the greatest number of people, then you’ve got to put somebody’s name underneath the title.

That’s essentially the case with Jesus Calling. I don’t want to get into the larger debate on that book, because it’s been done elsewhere (with many comments) but if, like the classic God Calling, the “authors” feel that this book is the equivalent to Dictation Theory in Biblical inspiration, realistically, nobody’s name should appear on the cover. I wonder if “by Jesus” or “by God” would sell more or fewer copies than “by Sarah Young.”

You can however engage the commercial marketplace and at the same time take no money (or very little) for your wares. Keith Green is a name that some of the younger generation don’t know, but Keith basically said that if anyone couldn’t afford his records or cassettes, he would send them copies free of charge. It was radical at the time — this was before free downloads — and Keith took ribbing that perhaps he was also going to ship stereo systems to people who had nothing on which to play the music.

Keith GreenKeith Green would have loved blogging — he’d have about ten of them — and would be fighting hard for the open source blogosphere mentioned above, and also  when the first writer protested. (The post then was triggered by an irate blogger at C201 as well, so we’re running one complaint every 700+ articles, which isn’t bad.) In fact, Keith would argue for open source thinking in a variety of Christian media and art.

Bottom line: We have to be careful about holding too tightly to the things of this world including possessions that are tangible and those which are intangible such as intellectual property. 

Moving forward: We’ll try to stick to repeat authors and original devotional material. If you’ve ever wondered if you could write devotional material — and it’s both a rare and challenging calling — check out the submissions guidelines at C201.  

“It’s your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise…”

June 15, 2015

An Open Letter to Steve Finnell

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

Dear Steve,

I can only speak for myself here, but a number of us who have blogs have encountered you in our comments section, and despite the fact I don’t post your copy-and-paste remarks, they keep coming. I’ve tried to contact you directly on this, but with new comments occasionally continuing to arrive, I thought we’d try this format.

Steve FinnellI love your passion. Just a tree or plant explodes many seeds, you scatter a great many messages that land in a great many places. That takes time, and dedication and a deep conviction that you’ve got the hottest news on the rack.

But blogging was never intended to be what you expect of it. Rather, it started out as social media which means the comments created community. I can’t tell you how many people I now exchange offline communications with that began with our interactions in the response section of various blogs.

You can’t build rapport, or have a dialog with people when you simply copy/paste mass commentaries. You seem to to be content to be a troll, and as you’re trolling and looking for certain keywords, you then interject your comment/sermon without any direct reference to the article or piece in question.

Calling you a troll hurts, because theologically, we’re probably on the same team on the essentials. But, you’re going about it all wrong.

And Steve, you’ve been on the internet long enough to know that using CAPITAL LETTERS just turns people off. You’re yelling at them, Steve; and that’s not how to make friends.

You see, it’s not enough to have the truth. Ephesians 4:15 says (and I know you like Bible verses) “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” It equates maturity in the Christian life not to just speaking truth, but doing so in a loving manner. Part of that I believe comes in earning the right to be heard.

Steve, wouldn’t be a shame if instead of drawing people to the Kingdom of God, you were driving them away?

Your internet/blogging friend,
Paul.

March 9, 2014

The Possession of Ideas, Part 2

The corollary to yesterday’s discussion is that if I do choose to copyright my blog writing here, I am basically saying this is mineI wrote this, I created it, it was my talents and my gifts that went into creating it.

I’m glad the Biblical writers didn’t feel that way. If you believe in plenary inspiration — that God birthed ideas within them but they stylized it and added their individual touch to the writing — then even if you hold that “all Scripture is inspired” (which I do) you could still make a case that they could copyright the particular words used.

copyright 2But some would argue that even if you say, “This came entirely from God and I shouldn’t really take any credit for it;” if you want your writing to reach the greatest number of people, then you’ve got to put somebody’s name underneath the title.

That’s essentially the case with Jesus Calling. I don’t want to get into the larger debate on that book, because it’s been done elsewhere  (with 100+ comments) but if, like the classic God Calling, the “authors” feel that this book is the equivalent to Dictation Theory in Biblical inspiration, realistically, nobody’s name should appear on the cover. I wonder if “by Jesus” or “by God” would sell more or fewer copies than “by Sarah Young.”

You can however engage the commercial marketplace and at the same time take no money (or very little) for your wares. Keith Green is a name that some of the younger generation don’t know, but Keith basically said that if anyone couldn’t afford his records or cassettes, he would send them copies free of charge. It was radical at the time — and would be even more so today — and Keith took ribbing that perhaps he was also going to ship stereo systems to people who had nothing on which to play the music.

Keith GreenKeith Green would have loved blogging — he’d have about ten of them — and would be fighting hard for the open source blogosphere we talked about yesterday,  and also almost exactly two years ago. (The post then was triggered by an irate blogger at C201 as well, so we’re running one complaint every 700+ articles, which isn’t bad.) In fact, Keith would argue for open source thinking in a variety of Christian media and art.

Bottom line: We have to be careful about holding too tightly to the things of this world including possessions that are tangible and those which are intangible such as intellectual property.

March 8, 2014

The Possession of Ideas

The Bible has a lot to say about the accumulation of wealth and the hoarding of possessions. Probably the classic statement of scripture on the matter is,

NASB Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…

or

MSG Matt. 6:19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t have any treasure whatsoever.’ True, when Jesus sent his disciples out he told them to travel light, advice that extends through all of life:

NLT Matt. 10:9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick.

But in everyday life, the Bibles teaching presuppose you will have a home or a donkey or bread that you may or may not choose to give your neighbor when he comes knocking late at night.

CopyrightThis week it occurred to me that at the time the Bible was written, one thing that we can possess that they didn’t was intellectual property. There was no Copyright Act; no Letters Patent. Did Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the Carpenter have a special way of doing a table that would cause him great consternation if Murray the Carpenter down the road started copying the idea? You get the feeling that everything was open source.

The whole premise of the sister blog to this one, Christianity 201, is that we search the internet for sources of daily Bible exposition and discussion. Unlike the Wednesday Link List, where some people click and some people just read the list, I think it’s important that these devotional meditations get seen in full, and statistics bear out the reality that most people don’t click through.

Most of the bloggers are thrilled that their work is being recognized. C201 doesn’t have quite the readership of Thinking Out Loud, but it possibly represents ten times as much as some of the writers see on their own pages. We get notes of appreciation, and a handful of readers also thank us regularly for putting them onto reading a particular writer.

So this week when, for the second time in about 1,450 posts someone strenuously objected to their material being reproduced in full — don’t look for it, it’s been removed — I started thinking about the whole intellectual property issue in the light of Jesus’ teachings.

I think it’s interesting that in the prior verse of Matthew 10, Jesus makes the often-quoted statement, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Personally, there’s nothing on this blog that isn’t up for grabs, provided it’s cited properly and quoted properly and being used non-commercially. Like this article? Help yourself.  Yes, I have been paid to write and could thereby consider myself a professional writer; but this is only a blog and it’s vital not to get too caught up in your own sense of self-importance; and I say that not out the spirit of someone who is loaded with wealth, but as a person who has had no specific fixed income for 19 years.

I also thought it was interesting that the person who was so upset about the use of his material on other than his own website was complaining about a particular article that was about 50% scripture quotations. More than 50%, I believe. Oh, the irony. I can just hear Jesus saying, ‘Uh, could you just link to my words in the Bible rather than print them out on your own website?’

That said, I am consciously aware that a double standard exists in the Christian blogosphere. We both permit and excuse the copying of text, but there is far less grace for poachers of cartoons and photographs. (I guess a picture really is worth a thousand words.) If you take what belongs to them, it’s like trying to wrestle a t-bone from a pit-bull.

In the early days of this blog, the weekly link list included cartoons from Baptist Press. Not any more. Baptists can be very litigious, which is too bad, because the cartoons were worthy of an audience beyond a single denomination. Everybody loses, but that’s the Baptist way, I guess.

Words are cheaper however. I respect intellectual property rights in general, but hey, guys, it’s only a blog.

I really think when the writer is a little older, they will look back and see the foolishness of trying to hang on to what really isn’t yours to begin with.

Think About It: Some things simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written, such as smoking cigarettes or driving over the speed limit. It’s the same with intellectual property. We have to appeal to the timeless, grand themes of scripture to make behavioral determinations.

There is a Part Two to this which appeared the next day.


Irony: The copyright symbol used today was already in my computer before I worried about such things…

September 15, 2013

The Making of the Wednesday Link List: Part Two

Yesterday I shared where some of the stories and links originate; today I’d like to share the second half of an interview I did with Christianity Today which, to my knowledge, was never used:

– How have you seen the Christian blogosphere change and evolve since you started?

I don’t know if it has changed so much as I have simply become more aware of things. If a person is simply starting out from scratch and wants to read what Christians are writing online, they may or may not notice these things right away. First they’re going to find the Christian blogosphere, like Christian publishing, is mostly dominated by voices from the Reformed tradition. The second thing they might discover is some mostly conservative fringe groups occupy a disproportionate amount of bandwidth online. The third thing they might observe is that the Christian blogosphere as we tend to experience it is dominated by American voices. The fourth thing that’s apparent is that everyone seems to have a book to sell, or at least books that if you buy them, the blogger gets a piece of the action (something I’ve never done at Thinking Out Loud). So if you want balance, you have to dig a little deeper and seek out the writers who don’t appear as often in the search results, are from other places, don’t have a particular agenda, or aren’t trying to sell things. So I’m not sure if much has changed or just that I’ve become more analytical over time.

While he also showed up for the interview, none of the List Lynx's comments made it into the final edit

While he also showed up for the interview, none of the List Lynx’s comments made it into the final edit

– Are there trends in blogging/coverage that you see as particularly encouraging? Or that concern you?

My greatest concern is that the banter back-and-forth online doesn’t end up polarizing people, or alienating new believers or seekers. The Christian blogosphere is a microcosm of the larger church and while the optimist in me longs for a day when the Body of Christ is more unified, there are signs that some groups are slowly splintering off, reminding me of what scientists call “continental drift.” I guess I also long to see more original writing. It’s so easy to simply reblog something that a noted Christian leader said that week, or the latest examples of moral failure. The same voices and the same stories are constantly echoing off the internet walls. There are also some high profile bloggers who no longer accept comments. I can understand their frustration, but at that point, in my opinion, their blog isn’t really a blog, and there’s no opportunity for dissent on the one hand, or building reader community on the other.

– What types of stories and news interest you the most?

I love celebrating when somebody is doing something truly refreshing, willing to reinvent the ecclesiastic wheel, so to speak; or doing something online that is entirely seeker targeted. But I also enjoy simple things like music reviews. The Christian blogosphere is completely dominated by book reviews, but I believe Christian music is still a powerful force. The problem is nobody is servicing social media writers with the latest CDs. And I love writers who leave themselves vulnerable, pastors who are transparent, or leaders who are willing to do Q & A online. I like blogs that are entirely faith-focused. The pastor who is into Formula One racing on the weekends, really should have two blogs, not one. The home-school mom who writes about the struggles to be both parent and teacher really needs a separate blog for reporting her Thai food experiments.

– Some of your links are obviously oddball, news-of-the-weird-type church occurrences. Do you think it matters that we pay attention to stories like these? Or is it just for fun?

There’s a danger in paying too much attention to the quirky stuff. I noticed that early on, and started a daily devotional blog, Christianity 201 (C201) which I’ve been doing now for 365 days a year since April, 2010. It gets 100-200 readers daily, but even if nobody showed up, I’d do it because it keeps me balanced. Each day’s reading contains some scripture. It is really difficult some days to find new sources for C201 articles. There is a lot of personal opinion online, but not so much Bible exposition. I’ve talked to many bloggers about guest writing for me at C201 who’ve said, “I could never do devotional writing.” A few of those were pastors. But I’ve digressed from your question. I think the weird stories remind us how much goes on in the name of Christianity, and how much latitude some people feel their faith affords. We have to remember that some week, these stories are the only perception some people have of what Christians and Christian living looks likes. Scary!

– Out of Ur is a resource aimed at pastors and church leaders. How important is it for today’s leaders to be online and following news and blogs? What are the benefits?

I think even pastors in small rural churches need to have a macro view of what’s going on outside their own geographic area and their own denomination. The blogosphere offers a bigger picture. But more to the point, I think that Christian blogs offer insights into resources and ideas that may be applicable. Despite both mass marketing and niche marketing by Christian publishers, many pastors are blissfully unaware of what’s out there in terms of resources for evangelism, small group ministry, or even the church library.

For several different reasons, my wife and I haven’t attended much in the way of Christian conferences, but through the internet — whether it’s an important blog article, a sermon podcast, or the latest worship song on video — we can feel the same ‘recharge’ that Christian leaders get when they attend such things, minus the bad night’s sleep at the hotel! If you don’t do conferences and don’t do Christian blogs or news sites online, you might be operating in a ministry vacuum.

I also think it’s important for pastors and church leaders to be aware of trends, but also to be aware of the people who are influencing their people. There are few websites where you have to show ministerial credentials to gain entry. The ‘net allows equal access and pastors need to see and hear the voices their parishioners are reading and listening to. It takes a lot of work to be aware of everything, but this is an information age.

Look for the link list every Wednesday at Out of Ur.

February 23, 2013

And Then We Were Five

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

Have I really been doing this for five years?  Apparently.

What do I want as a birthday present?  More comments.

Why am I using this awkward question and answer format?  I have no idea.

Blog AnniversarySo here we are at the five year mark. Marks for consistency, right? Like the student whose marks are influenced by the fact they had perfect attendance. But an exercise in consistency and personal discipline isn’t a bad thing, right?

Generally, although it is a lot of work some weeks, I am really happy that I launched Thinking Out Loud all those years ago. I have met some of the greatest people, been encouraged to read some of the most interesting books, have been kept abreast of some of the most bizarre religious news stories, and mostly, I have been forced to think about things that I might have never considered.

And then there’s Christianity 201, which is very much a part of the Thinking Out Loud story. If you have trouble maintaining a steady Bible study and devotional habit, then start a Bible study and devotional blog. Seriously. Even if nobody shows up to read, it is its own reward; which I realized last week when an hour’s worth of research and quote-pasting disappeared completely. It was frustrating, but I knew that time was primarily for me, and that perhaps the full text I had prepared was never meant to be seen by the blog readership.

So while we don’t have cake and ice cream, I hope you’ll take some time today to pick a few blogs and websites from the list that appears on the right sidebar here every day, and pay a visit to some of my online friends and acquaintances.  (Just keep coming back, as they don’t open in new windows.)

5th Anniversary Reader Testimonial*

I was suffering from a case of general malaise and, punctuation issues and was several weeks between jobs and just not very happy. Then I started reading Thinking Out Loud. I noticed an unquantifiable change began to take place as I was reading. Within the next five days I was able to get a job and even though my new employer may not be operating legally, my malaise disappeared and was replaced by a blissful feeling of indifference, which I believe is better.  So I wrote to you and you told me to write this testimonial and to embellish the facts a little.~ B. R.

*an actual reader response from an actual reader which we made up ourselves.

So there you have it.

And I believe that reader speaks for all of you.


Archives: Jeff Larson’s The Back Pew has appeared many times at this blog, but this was not only the first cartoon, but the first graphic.  Apparently it took me a month to add pictures, it appeared on March 22nd, 2008 and it’s been here so long the page is starting to yellow:

Jeff Larson - The Back Pew

Special Shoutouts:   Clark, Cynthia, Martin & Nancy, Cloudwatcher, Regent Jon; and everyone else who comments and sends link suggestions — Thanks! You know who you are!  To Ruth (aka Mrs. W.) thanks for the typo spotting and transcribing.

Finally: For those feeling disappointed that there’s no actual content here today, or certainly nothing new, we want to introduce you to Derek The Cleric.   (I had a hard time choosing which panel to include!) Be sure to check out his website and Facebook page.

Derek The Cleric - Pope Envy

March 23, 2012

Microblogging Friday

Heard a couple of interesting quotes from The Elephant Room II at James MacDonald’s blog; here’s the first one:

T. D. Jakes on the need for the church to be more integrated:

“When you write the books you read, your truth will always be distorted.”

Second quote from ER II

I think it was Crawford Lorrits on the need for us to stop obsessing on the finer points of doctrine when we’re supposed to be evangelizing:

“When someone is drowning, don’t describe the features of the rescue boat.”

from David Platt quotations at GoodReads.com

“We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”
Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

More microblogging this week at this entry at C201 blog

February 21, 2012

Christian Blogging: Longing for Open Source Community

Did God give me what I’m writing right now or am I making it up on my own strength?

That’s a question it’s fair to ask in all areas of Christian endeavor. Am I doing this ‘on my own’ or under God’s power? What about the idea that ‘all things come from God?’ Do I really ‘own’ the concepts and insights shown here.

As we closed in on having 700 posts at Christianity 201 last week, for the first time we had a writer who objected to having his content used here. While blog etiquette dictates that you link back to writers’ original pages, statistics bear out the idea that people read the teaser paragraph but don’t click to continue reading. So C201 was created as a showcase — and a bit of a potpourri — of devotional and Bible study writing; much of it from previously obscure blogs that nobody had heard of, whose writers are thrilled to have an additional audience for their thoughts.

For several months, a music and book distributor for whom I was I was doing contract work assigned me to help out in royalty administration and distribution. I appreciate that those who have given themselves full-time to writing for major publishers derive their income from sales. I would never dream of photocopying an author’s work and I have strong views about churches which project song lyrics on a screen at weekend services for which they haven’t paid the appropriate license fees.

But a blog? Seriously?

When the attribution is clear, and the readers are given two separate opportunities — and sometimes additional inducements — to click to the original source page, I feel there is a legitimization of one-time use; though a few writers have been featured at C201 on two or three different occasions.

(Cartoonists however, seem to be another subject entirely. Despite having the largest treasure trove of Christian cartoons online, one denominational website had so many copyright warnings we decided they could just keep their comics to themselves, and stopped using them here at Thinking out Loud.)

The article in question had no copyright indicia, and no page dealing with reprints and permissions.

I would like to think that when God gives us an idea, he gives it to us not only to share, but to see disseminated as widely as possible. Someone once said,

There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.

Attribution’s greatest value is that the people can go back to the same source for more insights. If I enjoy what “X” has to say today on this topic, then I may want to read what “X” has to say tomorrow about some other subject. In fact, I’ve had a handful of off-the-blog comments from people who are now regular readers of writers they heard about here at C201 and at Thinking out Loud.

In giving instructions to his disciples, Jesus said,

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matt 10:7-8 NASB)

I’ve had content used (and misused) on other blogs, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter much. What does matter is how I respond to the “borrowings” at other websites. Do I say, “It’s all good;” or do I fight for increasing my personal empire here at this website?

The writer in question also accused me of changing his content. I could see how that would be serious. But in fact, all I had done was to remove links to an online bookseller which left him, in one sentence, referring to “this book” with no remaining hint as to what that book might be; so I took the time to insert the title where the words “this book” had been.

I think it was with the objection to that change that the author really betrayed their true motives. Referrer fees from online sales can be fairly significant for a blogger at the end of the month; and I believe it can really cloud a writer’s motives.

I simply won’t do that here. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m not making money from this, and in fact I don’t draw a salary from my “day job,” so perhaps I have a different attitude toward the need to see everything I do as a line on a profit-and-loss balance sheet.

I wonder what the early church would think of what we’ve come to; a world where royalty administrators and agents hash out mechanical royalties and performance royalties and you buy a license in order to share the words to the latest worship songs. I wonder if the Apostle Paul were alive today if he would put a little copyright symbol at the end of each epistle? Would Matthew be expecting dividends from the sales of the Visual Bible DVDs that bear his name?

Freely we have received. Freely we give.

All that we have and are is a gift from God.

And we should keep it open source.


Ironically, trying to find a stylized copyright symbol to accompany this article was a challenge since nearly half of them were, in fact, copyrighted. This one above is from an article that also looks at this issue from a balanced Christian perspective

It turns out the “There is no limit…” quotation is making its third appearance here.  In addition to the reference linked above, I also used it in reference to Garrison Keillor at this post.

January 22, 2012

Disagreeing without being Disagreeable

…the longer an online conversation goes, the more likely it is that someone will make a reference to Hitler…

Stephen Altrogge has written a great piece, “How to Disagree Online Without Being a Total Jerk.”  I guess if you really don’t want to be a jerk online, you don’t steal blog posts wholesale; but then again, Stephen has written this for the ages, so to speak, and it should be the sidebar of every site in the Christian blogosphere; with multiple iterations at CNNBelief and USAToday’s Religion page.  But if you prefer, here is the link

Science has proven that the longer an online conversation goes, the more likely it is that someone will make a reference to Hitler.

It can start off very innocently, with two Christians on Facebook debating the relative merits of Calvinism. But after several comments, the innocence is usually gone, and is replaced with comments like, “I can’t believe that you would believe in such a stupid thing like free will! Have you ever heard of the Bible? You should try to read it sometime.” If it keeps going, someone will inevitably say something along the lines of, “I suppose you think Adolf Hitler didn’t have free will either!” At that point, the conversation is officially dead in the water.

How can we avoid dreadful conversations like that? How can we disagree with a person on the Internet in a godly, humble, God-honoring way? The truth is, we will give an account to God of every careless word that we speak AND every careless word that we type. I want my online interactions to be honoring to God. Here are a few suggestions for how we can honor God in our online speech:

Remember That Your Opponent Is Created In the Image of God

When we’re sitting snugly behind our computers, it can be easy to forget that the person on the other end of the conversation is a real person. A real person who is created in the image of God and should be respected as a fellow image bearer. A real person who has real feelings and strengths and weaknesses. A real person whom God really, really cares about. The words that I type will have a real effect on that person, either good or bad. My words have the potential to build them up or tear them down. To corrupt them or bless them. To strengthen them or be a source of temptation to them. God will hold me accountable for the ways in which my words affect others.

Remember That Your Opponent Is Your Fellow Brother Or Sister

If my opponent is a Christian, they are also my brother or sister in Christ. They have been bought with the precious blood of Christ and they belong to him. Jesus values. The Father treasures them. The Spirit dwells in them. If I insult them, I am also insulting Christ. If I speak poorly of them, I am speaking poorly of Christ. There is no place for maliciousness or backbiting or insulting in the house of Christ, and that house extends to the digital world.

Don’t Say Anything You Wouldn’t Be Comfortable Saying To Their Face

Being behind a computer screen gives me a weird, and often times sinful, boost of confidence. Suddenly I feel like I know everything, and that every person who disagrees with me is a complete and total moron. I also may be tempted to say things that I would never say to a person’s face. But when I get behind a computer, the Golden Rule still applies. I’m still called to treat every person as I would want to be treated. I don’t want to say anything that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying in person.

Ask Forgiveness Quickly

If I sin against a person through online speech, I need to ask their forgiveness quickly. Just because it happened online and I don’t know them that well doesn’t mean that I’m not accountable for it. The house of Christ should be a place ruled by grace and mercy. I want to seek out grace and mercy from those whom I sin against.

Spoken words matter and digital words matter. I want the words that I type to be pleasing to the Lord, don’t you?

~Stephen Altrogge

Nothing Matters But The Weekend…
Some blogs pretty well shut down on Saturdays and Sundays, but weekends can be a rather quiet time for those who miss the pace of work or school; so Thinking Out Loud frequently ramps it up with extra weekend posts.You can be a part of doing something similar. Find a need that’s not being met. Find a group of people who need connection. Find a place where every sign says ‘closed.’ And then step up. Make a difference. Swim upstream. You can have a part in changing lives. Know somebody who could use some people contact today? Maybe that’s you. Get in touch. Reach out.  And watch for more here at TOL later today.
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