Expressions of Faith

an outlet of encouragement, explanation, and exhortation

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C.S. Lewis – “a living house”

Mere Christianity was one of the first non-fiction books I read by C.S. Lewis. As I recall, my first C.S. Lewis books were the Space Trilogy. I entered the C.S. Lewis world through Science Fiction! Next, I began to read his non-fiction, probably beginning with the Four Loves? Soon in my reading, I encountered Mere Christianity. I found such a compelling description of Christianity thoroughly refreshing.

Mere Christianity paperback

My copy was often loaned out to others and leafed through to find quotes for various writing projects while I was a college student. Soon, a replacement copy was needed. I think this was the replacement copy. It cost a what then seemed exhorbitant $1.45, plus tax! I thought that was kind of expensive at the time! I’m not sure this is my first replacement copy because I’ve given away so many copies over the years. Recently, I came across a quotation taken from Mere Christianity, which occasions this note. The quote is below.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

C.S. LewisMere Christianity

C.S. Lewis. What a gift to the 20th century! And to me.

My most useful Android apps in January, 2024

As we exit 2023 and enter 2024, I continue to use my Pixel 7 Pro. So far I have not been persuaded that it would be worth upgrading to a Pixel 8 Pro; though perhaps I’m not taking into account the extended software update period of the 8 or the trade-in value of my 7? Why Pixel? Because the Pixel phones receive Android updates sooner than other phones and because I want more of a stock Android experience and less bloatware.

Why Android? Because I started with Apple and their excellent engineering and innovation. Then they lost me with their marketing approach that disregards standards and uses unnecessarily different software and hardware to force customers to buy high-priced Apple products instead of more standard accessories and peripherals. Also, for quite some time it was not easy at all to use an iPhone like a computer, with straightforward file access and transfer! Perhaps this last issue has been mitigated. I don’t much care any longer. The Apple marketing approach remains arrogant and elitist. Just look at the iMessage debacle when it comes to interacting with Android phones. Apple won’t allow others to use iMessage protocols and they won’t use more standard protocols themselves, all in the interest of making Android users look bad to iPhone users to exert social pressure on teens (and others) to get an iPhone.

I don’t mean to say that no one should get an iPhone or a Mac or whatever. The quality of these devices is quite good. My advice is to get whatever sort of devices are used by those to whom you will turn for support – and that you can afford. If your tech-savvy friends all use iPhones and that’s where you’ll go for help, you should get an iPhone. If they all use Android phones, you should also go Android. If you’re an early adopter, trail blazer type, you don’t need me to tell you what to do.

In any case, I thought I’d list not all of the apps on my phone, which would be a lengthy list including apps that I rarely touch, but some of the apps that I really use a lot – and one lament/gripe. I found as I wrote that I also drifted a little into other cloud and computer applications related to my Android usage. For me, my phone is a personal computer and camera and network access device that I carry around with me in my pocket. That it is a phone is kind of incidental! I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this respect.

Oh, and before getting into apps, about charging my phone battery… I try to max it out at 80% or so. Charging that last 20% is bad for the long life of your phone battery. My Pixel 7 Pro will run for a very long time on an 80% charge even if I’m taking lots of photos. I confess that I still feel a bit anxious when the charge gets below 60%; but that’s a personal problem. I have a good charger and cable in the cars I use regularly and carry battery-powered chargers in my camera bag and backpack. I find that I very rarely use the battery-powered chargers now with my Pixel 7 Pro; it lasts. Also, the late versions of Android do a pretty good job of telling you what is sucking the power out of your phone: Settings -> Battery -> Battery Usage. I occasionally use wireless charging because it is convenient. However, it generates more heat while charging which is not good for your battery and uses more power per unit of charge (so if you are trying to be marginally more green…)

On to the apps:

Google Chrome – I continue to use Chrome as my main browser

Nova Launcher – While the Pixel Launcher is good enough that I might just use it and forgo the enhancements of Nova if I was starting now, I’ve invested in creating groupings of apps that I access from icons on the home screens of my phone that are not easily reproduced in the Pixel Launcher – there’s no way to easily export and import between these launchers. I don’t normally recommend that others get Nova unless they are tech nerds. And then I don’t need to recommend. The downside to this is that it makes it less easy to offer support to others who use the Pixel Launcher, such as my dear wife.

Gmail – I continue to use Gmail to access my various email accounts.

Google Photos – This is a good tool for less-than-ideal online backup and for sharing photos with family and friends. The automated gathering of collections that include certain people is very useful. This can be use to turn Nest Displays into picture frames to share photos with geographically distant family. The editing tools are pretty reasonable, too – particularly if you have a Pixel phone. I still like editing in Snapseed for some edits (like fixing white balance), and use ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate and Adobe Photoshop and Premiere products for sophisticated editing on my PC. I only let Google Photos automatically sync my phone pictures to the cloud.

Google Messages – I use this for standard messaging. (I use Signal for secure messaging; but not very often.) I don’t care about the color of bubbles that iPhone users see and I use Google Photos for sharing photos with iPhone users instead of sending photos via messaging. What? They don’t have Google Photos and don’t want it? OK, I’ll send the photo as an email attachment.

Google Meet and such- I use Google Meet to call my Dad on his home display. I use Zoom for meetings. I use FreeConferenceCall with a paid private-to-me phone number for straightforward conference call meetings, audio only. For privacy, consider Signal.

Google Maps – I use Google Maps every day. I tell it to save my location history. I use it as a kind of journal of where I’ve been. I’m not very nefarious, so I don’t worry too much over the potential privacy issues. I don’t share my location with others except temporarily or with close family members.

Pixel Camera – The camera on Pixel phones is a major motivator for my choice of Pixel phone. If the camera was not excellent I would consider other phones. I chose the Pixel 7 Pro over the Pixel 7 purely due to the 5x optical telephoto camera feature that the 7 lacks. Otherwise I’d have gone with the smaller form factor of the 7. Having this phone with good-enough zoom for most stuff means I don’t lug my real camera around nearly so often. I even travel without my real camera most of the time. Convenience! Less shoulder and back strain! But if I want to take a picture of a soaring hawk or an air show, the real camera with a good telephoto lens is a much, much better choice.

Cloud Storage – I use Google Drive quite a lot, and have a Google One subscription. I also have OneDrive through Microsoft that comes with my Office 365 annual subscription. I find OneDrive excessively clumsy to use. But hey, there’s a terabyte of storage for me there. I try to keep it from doing anything automatically because a terabyte isn’t enough for anything automatic with me and OneDrive seems unreliable even when I configure it for background tasks.

Evernote – Sigh. This is my lament. I have appreciated Evernote quite a lot over the years – enough to pay around $30/year to use it. But the new pricing since Evernote was acquired is more like $130/year! That’s too much for what I get out of it. So I’m saving my notes elsewhere. So far, I’ve saved my old notes to OneNote through a complicated process that I am not yet sure was reliable. I still have access to my old notes through the free Evernote account I retain. I find that I’m saving new notes in Google Docs in a designated folder tree. We shall see where this goes – if OneNote can capture my note taking attention or if Google documents prevail. FYI, OneNote uses part of my OneDrive terabyte for what it keeps in the cloud. This is fine by me, since OneDrive isn’t so useful to me otherwise.

Office 365 – This is good software. I like it and use it a lot, particularly Word, Powerpoint, and Excel. I also like Google apps – particularly Google Documents on Google Drive. So far, I’m not a fan of Office trying to push me to OneDrive instead of local storage. I have my local storage system worked out already, thank you, with good backup and sharing solutions in place. I really like that Word in Office 365 online will transcribe audio files. This is very helpful to me since I tend to combine study using audio classes and lectures with exercise.

Weather apps – I have Accuweather, 1Weather, The Weather Channel, Wunderground…. and others. I sort of like Wunderground even though it has never really recovered from being purchased by IBM some years ago. I use Chronus Pro to display weather info on my home screen. Also, I’m checking out the Windy app and find it sometimes useful – the free version only so far.

TV Apps – Pick what you subscribe to, be it Netflix or Britbox or Acorn or AppleTV or…. There’s nothing interesting to see here. They’re all kind of bad at user interaction but adequate for showing TV shows. Some allow downloading for viewing offline. The offline experience is iffy at best for all of them, in my experience. Sometimes it works ok. Other times… Oops, that show is “expired” or it just won’t play. I use VLC for viewing video files and sometimes for listening to audio files from my private library.

Adobe Acrobat – Yeehaw! While there are other good PDF file readers, Acrobat will audibly read your PDF to you. And the Liquid mode, or whatever it is that makes PDF files more readable on a phone screen is kind of nice.

Adobe Scan and Google Photoscan work well for digitizing documents into pictures. I haven’t done a lot of converting scanned images to text, but Google Lens does the trick for me in simple cases I’ve needed.

Google Lens – Speaking of Google Lens, this is a really useful tool for identifying whatever you just took a picture of or extracting text from a picture. You can access it from Google Photos or the Camera app or even Chrome. Google image search is also pretty good at finding the origin of photos on the web.

Travel Apps – It’s generally worth having the app for the airline that you are traveling on and the car rental company that you are renting a car from. The airline apps keep you officially informed and can be used for checking in, digital boarding passes, etc. The car rental apps are often helpful in bypassing the rental counter (and the associated long line) and going directly to your car. For generic flight tracking, I use Flightview Elite in addition to airline apps.

Financial Apps – I use the apps from my Bank and Credit Card companies. When anything is charged to my card anywhere, I get an immediate notification on my phone. I mean, while I’m standing in front of the cash register even and the clerk is processing my payment (whether touchless or by handing over a card), I get a notification that my charge account has been used. And yes, I use GPay (aka Google Pay) so I don’t have to even carry my wallet or hand over a card to a cashier when I can avoid it. Google Wallet is a good way to slim down what you have to carry in your physical wallet.

Bible Software – I use Logos nearly all the time. I also use Bible Gateway occasionally, and also the YouVersion Bible app. The YouVersion Bible app is quite good if you don’t have something like Logos. I am a big fan of the Bible Project; they also have a nice app.

Social Media – Blah, blah, blah. Use what you use; don’t let it use you… too much. I’m not going there, but I will mention Substack and Flickr. Flickr is more of a place to share and curate photos without the ads of that other more popular place.

Pocket Casts – I started using Pocket Casts long ago. Back then they had a lifetime deal on the better pro-like version. Then they were acquired and that wasn’t really honored so now they have a higher cost tier. I’m not paying them any more money but I continue to use the version that doesn’t cost. It’s quite good.

Audio – I pay for a Spotify subscription to avoid commercials and listen to whatever I want to listen to. I also use Amazon Music because I have quite a lot of past purchases of albums that I can listen to online and download to listen to offline with Amazon. And I have an extensive library of MP3’s made to back up my old CD and Vinyl library. There are many apps for listening to MP3’s on your phone. I sometimes use PowerAmp; but it has become cluttered with features. So often I just use VLC for audio. I use Smart Audiobook Player to listen to my downloaded talks, classes, and books that I have saved as MP3 files in the past – things like Regent College classes. I use Audible for audiobooks. LibriVox is pretty good for listening to audiobooks made from stuff that is out of copyright. Sometimes I resort to Patreon to listen to podcasts that are exclusive to paid subscribers. Lectio 365 is a really good audio daily devotional app; there are devotionals for morning and evening with parallel text of what you hear in the audio for reference. Logos also does audio and I should probably make more use of it. I listen to lots of podcasts using Pocket Casts and “Hey Google, play the news” through the Google assistant. Be sure and configure what news sources you want Google Assistant to play.

Video – I use VLC to play my video files. You know, MP4’s and the like. Home video and other non-streaming video. Streaming video needs an app determined by the stream you are watching, like YouTube.

Google Home, Nest, and other Home Automation – I use Google Home and the Google Assistant for smart home stuff. I don’t like that internet connectivity is required for controlling my devices; but Google Home is easy. Sigh. Since Matter came into use, the need for other home automation apps is fading. But I still have the Philips Hue and the Kasa apps on my phone. There are fairly easy ways to get home automation without the cloud using open source software (like Home Assistant). (I am experimenting with Home Assistant on a Raspberry Pi as of March, 2024.)

DuckDuckGo – DuckDuckGo includes a browser that is pretty good for looking at things you don’t want to influence ads and the other things trackers do. They also have software that disables tracking from all apps on your phone. Some apps really don’t like this and stop working, like the ESPN app. For most apps you just stop being tracked. I appreciate being able to throw a wrench into the tracking gears; but I’m not really fanatic about it. The DuckDuckGo anti-tracking software reports the tracking that is undermines. (It is kind of stunning how much tracking Google does through apps that are not Google apps!)

Passport – You need this app to park in some lots and along some streets around Long Beach, CA. Why does it tell me that my parking spot at Seal Beach from months ago is expiring every time my phone is restarted?

Peakfinder – What’s that mountain over there called? This app will tell you. Point your phone at the horizon with the mountain on it. You can set it up to have offline information.

FlightRadar24 – You use this app to find out what that airplane is (or those airplanes are) that are passing overhead – not private airplanes.

BackBlaze – I use Backblaze to back up my PC. The app allows me to access the backed up stuff from my phone. I use client-side encryption.

Brother Print Service, Brother iPrint&Scan – I have been purchasing Brother printers in recent years. They work and are not too expensive to keep in supplies.

Authy and other Authenticators – I use authenticator apps when available for two-factor authentication. I prefer Authy when an authenticator app is needed.

Battery Widget Reborn – I use this widget on my home screen for high-visibility battery level display.

Astro Clock – I like the plethora of location, moon, sun, and planetary information this app squeezes onto one screen! OK, this is for astro-nerds.

Sky Map – there are a lot of apps for helping you identify things in the sky at night. I’ve been using Sky Map, which is usually good enough for me. There are other, more sophisticated apps and apps that will avoid messing up your night sight (and that of others nearby) by using carefully selected colors on your phone display.

Information Apps – There are many apps for specialized information: Tide tables, tying knots, First Aid, trail maps, recommendations for craftsmen. I have some of these. Choose those that tell you what you want to know and avoid excessive ads and costly or unfair marketing strategies. I don’t have much that is interesting to say regarding these apps. I’ll just recommend that we all pay to eliminate ads as appropriate. Programmers deserve compensation like any other laborer.

Technical Information Apps – I’m not really going to get any deeper into my techno-nerd apps here. I have apps for network analyzing, monitoring wifi, mapping wifi coverage, checking what devices are on the LAN, managing my access points and network access, benchmarking connection speeds and processing speed, checking hardware status, etc.

Programmer/Developer Apps – I’m leaving all these out, too because most would not find them of interest. However, I can benchmark Lisp on my phone. Just sayin’. 🙂

On the cyclical nature human moral behavior(?)

I’m not sure that my choice of the term “moral behavior” does justice to this rather rancid topic. However, I wanted to point to Alan Jacobs rather excellent brief analysis of the cycle of human reaction to being offended and to having behavior and speech restricted by the moral police. A quote:

Paul is the greatest of psychologists: he knows that human beings perfectly well understand legalism, which they rename “justice,” and perfectly well understand antinomianism, which they rename “freedom.” What we can’t understand is the grace of God

Alan Jacobs

Check out Alan Jacob’s brief and excellent essay here.

You don’t know who Alan Jacobs is? Read about him here.

At last! A Good Overview of the Kinds of Policies we Need Regarding AI and Trust.

Bruce Schneier is a respected computer security expert who lectures at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Schneier is one of those rare humans with deep understanding and competence in several areas of mathematics and computer technology and recognized ability to analyze and recommend policies that make the world a safer and better place to live. I just finished reading an essay he wrote entitled AI and Trust in his latest newsletter. It is quite good at analyzing trust relationships and recommending policy that reduces the negative impacts that AI would otherwise have on society. It’s nearly 3500 words, but not overly technical.

Here’s an extremely important point from Schneier’s essay:

AIs are not people; they don’t have agency. They are built by, trained by, and controlled by people. Mostly for-profit corporations. Any AI regulations should place restrictions on those people and corporations… At the end of the day, there is always a human responsible for whatever the AI’s behavior is. And it’s the human who needs to be responsible for what they do—and what their companies do…. If we want trustworthy AI, we need to require trustworthy AI controllers.

The opening portion of the article is a discussion of the difference between what Schneier calls interpersonal trust and social trust. I found his discussion of trust illuminating and important. This is a well-reasoned, articulate article that I will be recommending to thoughtful people. It is accessible to those who do not have deep technical knowledge of AI. As far as I can tell there is no paywall.

Praying about the Violence in Palestine and Israel

I’ve been wondering how best to suggest we pray regarding the situation in Israel and Palestine. The topic is overloaded with politics and anger, which do not help. I want to avoid pouring any fuel on that fire!

Today I ran across a brief and helpful essay by Yohanna Katanacho, a Christian who teaches at Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary (yes, that Nazareth – the one Jesus grew up in!). Professor Katanacho, whose story of being born in Jerusalem and coming to follow Jesus is extraordinary, gives excellent biblically-based advice on how to pray in this essay. You can view his brief essay here. I highly, highly recommend it!

You can hear Professor Katanacho’s personal story briefly told in the October 15, 2023 replay of an interview with him on the Regent College Podcast.

If you’d like more introductory background on the the region of Israel and Palestine, its history, and how we might think of the conflicts in the area as Christians, I’d recommend recent episodes of the Regent College Podcast, particularly those released in October and November of 2023.

Notes on “Focusing on Jesus – It’s All a Gift” Message

In this message, I mention a few resources to which I will provide links below.

First, the books that I mentioned.

The first book is a book that has been tremendously helpful to me as I worked on the recent messages on communion with Christ.

The second and third books are books that are very helpful in teaching and developing the practices and habits that are often described as spiritual disciplines. These are practices that we can do to put ourselves in the position to come to know and love God more deeply, and be changed by Him.

Lastly, I mentioned the organization Renovaré. Renovaré is a great source of podcasts, articles, books, conferences, and other aids to spiritual growth. Quoting from their website, they are a Christian non-profit that “models, resources, and advocates fullness of life with God experienced, by grace, through the spiritual practices of Jesus and of the historical Church.” What a blessing Renovaré has been to God’s people!

Notes on the Communion Maintenance message, mostly related to Dallas Willard

There is a great website packed full of resources from and about Dallas Willard. Many of his articles are freely downloadable from this site. There are descriptions of and links to purchase his books and other materials that are not free. It is a gold mine. Most of the links I give below are to portions of this website.

For Dallas Willard’s discussion of the gospel, see The Divine Conspiracy, particularly chapters 2 and 3. Of course, I and thousands of others would recommend you read the entire book. It is quite profound. Some have found it difficult reading.

More accessible material from Dallas Willard is available from several sources. I recommend the book Life Without Lack. The teaching series from which this book was written is also available online. I’m using this book as I prepare the series of messages beginning with this one.

Another teaching available in several forms that I highly recommend is Living in Christ’s Presence. I’m also using this resource for this series of messages. It is available as a book, a DVD of the talks, and audio. The book was based on a series of talks Dallas Willard gave near the end of his life in which he summarizes the deeper teaching of his more formidable books in a series of talks. The DVD and audio recordings are those talks recorded. Willard’s portions of these talks are simply outstanding. Ortberg’s are fine, too, but….. Dallas Willard. Ortberg has been know to call this series “Dallas for Dummies.” There is some truth to it being an overview; however, making deep concepts easier to grasp is a more difficult task than being long and complicated.

The article from which I skimmed the story of Dallas Willard’s comment during Richard Foster’s sermon on Moses is available online. It’s quite interesting and encouraging.

Not long after Dallas Willard passed, Gary Moon wrote a biography of him entitled Becoming Dallas Willard. It is a fantastic read. I appreciated it a great deal and highly recommend it.

Here are the two Dallas Willard quotes from my message:

“Psalm 23 covers the whole of the spiritual life in God’s kingdom. It’s all there — except for the essential understanding of the historical Jesus.”

“When you pray Psalm 23 you find that Someone is there waiting for you to greet you and guide you.”

Recommending Two Books by Esau McCaulley

I just finished reading How Far to the Promised Land: One Black Family’s Story of Hope and Survival in the American South by Esau McCaulley. It is a deeply redemptive American story that our culture sorely needs. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is not only the narrative that we need today in our culture and church; it is superbly well-written. It is the best thing I’ve read this year. McCaulley writes in the form of a memoir provoked by his need to give the eulogy at his father’s funeral, and also by his desire to pass on a true family history to his children. Along the way, his commentary on American culture is compelling, with fine illustrative examples.

Some time ago, I also read McCaulley’s Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. I also had an extremely positive reaction to this book. At the time, I wrote to a friend that Chapter 6 was the finest piece of Christian writing and thinking that I’ve read in a long, long time. It was profound, biblical, encouraging, and powerful – a really fine example of Christian thinking and communication for today. As a Quaker Christian, I found his perspectives resonating strongly – his title is apropos. It convinced me, at the time, that I’d want to read pretty much anything McCaulley writes! (I should have written this recommendation years ago. Better late than never.)

I am finding Esau McCaulley to be one of the most gifted writers of our time. His writing is a gift God gives particularly to the American church of our day, and to American culture more generally. Highest recommendation.

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