Deep Fakes and Facial Recognition

Two game-changing technologies have recently emerged as significant. They are deep fake videos and facial recognition technologies. Both have the potential to greatly change the world in drastic fashion. Allow me to explain the technologies and their potential impacts.

Deep fake is a phrase coined in 2017 that is used to describe video and other digital artifacts that have been altered using artificial intelligence to fake a person or place. The first deep fakes superimposed the faces of famous actresses onto the bodies of pornographic videos. Since then, deep fakes have begun to proliferate in a variety of areas including political figures. This is an excellent introduction into deep fakes produced by CNN.  It is astounding.

With deep fakes improving by the month, it is exceedingly difficult to distinguish truth from falsehood. The deep fakes begin to challenge basic assumptions we have made for years about video, audio, and still images and their veracity. Imagine someone making a deep fake about a speech from the President and spreading it on social media. Deep fakes bring a band new reality to the phrase “fake news.”

Second, consider the lightning advancement of facial recognition software. For less than $100, two men built a facial recognition system (using off the shelf devices and Amazon’s commercial facial recognition service). They cataloged and identified more than 2750 people in a nine-hour period. The normal use of facial reconition is becoming ubiquitous.

Yet people having a little fun on the cheap is not what should alarm us. Large governments are now using facial recognition to control masses of people. Many news outlets have reported that the Chinese government has established one of the most robust facial recognition systems in the world, and they are using it to control the Uighur people. Uighurs are being tracked all over their homeland, and people who are determined a security risk are being jailed in re-education camps. Some believe that upwards of a million Uighurs have been imprisoned.

To make matters worse, China has reportedly exported this technology to other repressive governments. “Today, 18 countries — including Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates and Germany — are using Chinese-made intelligent monitoring systems” (New York Times). Nefarious governments that want to control their people have brand new tools to do it with deadly efficiency.

Deep fakes and facial recognition have more in common than simply being digital technology. Both deal with the digital images of people and the power harnessed by using this information.  They are tools for gaining information about people. They are tools to persuade public opinion. They are tools used to control, intimidate, and even punish.

George Orwell’s 1984 looks more real than ever!

I join with billions of other Christians around the world in believing that truth is found in the person of Jesus. It is not simply a set of beliefs that we follow. We follow a man. And his gospel message to us is that the heart of man is deceitfully wicked (Jer. 17:9). As Christians, we cannot agree with those who speak of people all being basically good and that the world runs on unicorns and pixie dust. No. Our hearts are darkened. And not just repressive governments. All of us. And we need a cleansing and renewal from the one who lived the perfect life, died, and rose again – all motivated by love and the desire for our renewal.

In our brave new world, truth will matter.  And standing on truth against those who would seek to control or deceive will be of utmost importance.

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Seattle Freeze

This article from the Seattle Times recently caught my attention.  It explores the Seattle Freeze.  This is the term used by many to describe a manner of being among Seattleites that favors isolation.

Through a research study funded by Pemco Insurance, 40% say that “they do not feel it is important to make new friends.”  “A whopping 49 percent said they don’t even want to interact with people they don’t know.”  Those are some startling statistics.

Many people have explored the roots of the Seattle Freeze that seems to predate the tech boom.  Some have conjectured that it matches Seattle’s Scandinavian heritage.  I would love to see a study to see if it has grown in prevalence over the years?  And Seattle has become so much more ethnically diverse; so how does The Freeze continue?

I was saddened to read that the new normal is to have one friend.  Some people report ZERO friends.  Yikes.  Is it any wonder that mental illness is on the rise?

I believe that we are all relational beings.  God made us that way.  Even the Trinity itself reveals to us some thing essential to the nature of God; interdependent relationships between Father, Son, and Spirit.  God has made us this way too.  That is the reason why the Bible speaks so often about the church being “the body with many members” (1 Cor 12:12-27).  We need each other.  We are made to know each other deeply, and to depend upon each other.

As Simon and Garfunkel sang in 1966, “I am a rock, I am an island.”  I fear this is more real and true than we know – especially in Seattle

I’m on the side of exploring how to thaw the Seattle Freeze.  I believe our health and flourishing depend upon it.


Votes in Cuba

Recently I returned from Cuba.  I always love visiting friends in this Caribbean country.  They are full of energy, grace, and hospitality.

On this trip, something special was happening in Cuba.  There were elections, but not just any elections.  They were voting for a new constitution.  Cuba has an original constitution when it established freedom from Spain in 1901.  It had a major revision in 1976, and now it was pursuing another major revision.

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#I Vote Yes

This was considered a big deal in Cuba.  Signs were everywhere.  Ads on TV.  Articles in newspapers.  The government was doing the full court press to get people to come to the polls and affirm the new constitution.

Here’s an example of a typical sign.  Yes for my patriotism. Yes, for my job.  Yes for my flag.  Yes, for my independence.

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One thing seemed a little odd.  We did not see a single sign that said, No on the constitution.  There was not a single article in a newspaper that challenged the vote!  In other words, no dissent.  As an American this seemed quite odd.  We are used to such wrangling and discussion over EVERYTHING.  Here we were in a country in which there was no meaningful dissent.

We are headed into another election season.  The presidential election for 2020 is already in full motion.  Democratic candidates are lining up.  The president is building up an election fund.  Debates are being planned.  Advertising on the internet and through TV will certainly set new records.  And most Americans will hear so much that we will be tired of it all!

This election season, I have a new appreciation for rigorous debate.  Dissent is an important part of our country and its heritage.

Bob Hope said in 1971 at the height of protest over the war in Vietnam,  “Sure, we have people walking around carrying signs telling us what’s wrong with this nation.  But that in itself is an advertisement.  It tells America and it tells the world that there is still a spot where we’re free to protest.”

I hope to have a deeper patience this year with people dissenting with the government or sharing their views.  It is part of the American experience.

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Cuban polling station


Swedish Method of Bible Study

One of my favorite things to do is teach Bible newcomers how to read and study the Bible.  Therefore, I am always on the lookout for new approaches to this old discipline.  Recently, I ran across a Bible study (and discussion) method called The Swedish Method.  I’m grateful to Peter Blowes and Gotherefore.com for their explanation.

The method was observed by Ada Lum, an IFES staff worker, who witnessed this approach of Bible study used by Swedish students.  It has three simple steps, each coupled with a memorable icon to help remember it.

The steps are:

A light bulb: This should be something that ‘shines’ from the passage—whatever impacts most, or draws attention.
A question mark: Anything that is difficult to understand in the text, or a question the reader would like to ask the writer of the passage or the Lord.
An arrow: A personal application for the reader’s life.

It is assumed that the group has not studied the passage ahead of time and that everyone is given space to explore it during the investigation period.  People are encouraged to write down at least one observation next to each item,  They report this normally takes about 10 minutes. After a reasonable period of exploring, people then get to share their observations.

The benefit of this approach is multifaceted.

First, it teaches people how to study a passage of the Bible.  Many people struggle here, so giving some concrete steps is super helpful.  Second, it counts on the Holy Spirit guiding and talking to people!  That’s a good thing.

It requires to leaders and usually generates a good discussion! Everyone gets to participate and if facilitated well avoids arguments or lengthy disagreements.

Worth a try- right?

Of course, this does not replace more rigorous Bible study with good hermeneutical methods, but there are many times and places where a simple reading and discussion of the text is important and appropriate.

Read the article.  It has a lot more about how to use this method.


Changes at Urbana

I attended Urbana in December, 1993.  It was a bitter cold week held in Champaign Illinois.  I went with college students from my church.

Sponsored by InterVarsity, this conference held every three years, is aimed at inspiring college students into a life of service to Jesus and especially world-wide missions.

Because it is aimed at college students, it often takes on the issues and cultural matters corresponding to college and American society during those years.

For a list of all the past Urbana conferences.

This year Urbana attendance fell dramatically.  Christianity Today discusses what happened and some of the potential reasons why. Urbana had 40% less students attend than three years ago?  What has changed?

It is yet another indicator that the cultural landscape of America is changing rapidly.  Fewer young people are calling themselves “Christians.”  We have most definitely entered a post-Christian era in which it is no longer favorable to be considered a Christian, and even less so a “church attending Christian.” More people are becoming “nones.” For an excellent description of “nones,” see the article from Pew Research.

Every change represents tremendous opportunity.  Followers of Jesus have weathered many changes and cultural shifts in the past, and they will survive this one too.

Time for every Jesus follower and every church to come back to Jesus as the central person we follow, and the gospel as our life changing message.  Those two will never end.


Favorite Books 2018

Inspired by Bill Gates release of his “best books 2018” the CCF ministry staff have come together to release our favorite reads of the year. In our case, some are new and some are old, but all of them have moved us in some profound ways. Here’s our lists with the hope of inspiring some reading in the church.

Brian Boone
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – This is a delicious classic from Dickens. I listened to it via book on tape in the car. Follow Pip in the mid-1800’s through many life adventures. Pursuing Pip’s desire to “become a gentleman,” the book explores themes like wealth and poverty, social class, love, jealousy, and fortune. It is a classic because it does such a good job of dissecting human motivations and emotions.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller– I reread this again this year and it continues to be one of the best books I have ever read on prayer. If you have ever struggled in prayer, read this book. Miller moves way beyond guilt or technique and moves to the heart. He has helped me learn and practice a more prayerful life.

The Great Omission by Dallas Willard – The subtitle is “Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship” and that is Willard’s aim. In the first section of the book, Willard covers why being a disciple of Jesus has been lost in the Western church, and why recovering this is essential. In the second half of the book, Willard covers “spiritual disciplines” we can pursue to be formed into the likeness of Christ. Active discipleship matters!

Eric Malone
The Big Picture Story Bible by David R. Helm with illustrations by Gail Schoonmaker – You may be asking, “What is a grown man doing with a children’s Bible story book?” After multiple attempts to find a Bible that would engage my preschool boys, I came across this great story Bible for kids. This book captures the theme of redemption through Jesus found throughout the Old and New Testament in a compelling way that even children can grasp. While the illustrations may be hit or miss for adults, they are captivating to kids and provide enough wonder so an adult can read aloud the pages without the child losing interest. If you are seeking to instill God’s story and God’s Word in your children (or grandchildren), I would recommend this book!

Parenting Beyond Your Capacity by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof – This isn’t a self-help book. It’s a get-help book. Whether you’re a parent of a 15-month old or a 15 year old, raising kids who genuinely believe that knowing God really matters can be daunting. This book shares 5 Family Values that can maximize the influence parents can have in their children’s lives by intentionally tapping into the influences of the community around you. Parents, this is a book you need to read sooner than later.

Sticky Faith by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark – There is no silver bullet that ensures youth will grow and continue in their faith after graduation. In fact, research shows half of graduating seniors have deep struggles with their faith. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t principles we can all apply that have a crucial and positive impact on the spiritual growth of young adults. This book will change your whole perspective on the conversations and relationships you have (or don’t have) with youth and how you can be a factor in their spiritual vitality for following Jesus. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, crazy uncle or neighbor to a family, this book will change the way you see your influence over the little ones around you.

Nick Marnejon
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You by Tony Reinke – Do you control your phone, or does your phone control you? This is the question that Tony Reinke seeks to answer in 12 Ways. In a powerful, measured, and convicting way, Reinke dives deep into the hidden world of the human heart that so easily loves age-old sins packaged in a shiny new way. Not sure what to think about your kids’ smartphone usage, let alone your own? Pick this book up as a starting place and then never look at your phone in the same way again.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD – Sleep when you’re dead? No. Sleep, or you’ll be dead. This is the maxim, I’m sure, that Matthew Walker, one of the world’s leading sleep scientists, has adopted for his talks about sleep. Walker brilliantly shows us the benefits of sleep, and the horrors of not getting enough sleep, by supporting it with cutting-edge contemporary science. You will see God’s magnificent handiwork in the science of sleep and, hopefully, you’ll come away wanting to get your 8 hours of sleep tomorrow night.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry – Ever long for a simpler and slower life? This book will send you into that longing and make you never want to leave it. Berry, the celebrated philosopher, poet, author and farmer, teases out the implications of our ever increasingly mechanized world by contrasting it with the life of a small-town single man who abandoned the call of ministry for a barber’s life. Filled with theological nuggets and valuable insights into rural American life, this book will give you new perspectives on community, love, church, and what it means to belong.


Lumo Project

The JESUS film was filmed in 1979 and became the most viewed and translated film in all history.  Based on the Gospel of Luke, the film told the story of Jesus telling the Biblical story verbatim.

I can still remember showing the film in barrios of Panama in 1985.  We showed the film on bed sheets in public squares. People loved seeing Jesus on the “big screen.”  Many came to know Jesus as their Savior and many more affirmed the film that told his story so well.

Yet films need to be updated.  The JESUS film has certainly shown its age over the years.  Cinematography alone has improved so much.

Enter the Lumo Project.  With the partnership of dozens of Christian agencies, all four gospels are now filmed in gripping and realistic cinematic settings.  Quality all the way.

Check out the famous passage from Luke 15 where Jesus tells the story of The Prodigal Son.  In my opinion, the best short story ever told!

I commend the Lumo project to my church and friends.