Sunday, August 17, 2014

On the Dangerous Facebook Messenger App

People are concerned about the new Facebook Messenger app. The fear is that Facebook is trying to use our personal and private information in ways we never intended. Imagine being in the restroom and the camera on your phone taking a picture without you realizing it. That is something to give consideration to, but what is really going on with Facebook?

To begin with, people’s concerns are not really over the possibility that Facebook might turn on the camera without their knowledge, but rather that Facebook asked permission to turn on their camera, use their location, access their contacts lists, etc. It happened when the app installed. Facebook asks for permission and people began to question, “What do they intend to use this information for?” If Facebook hadn’t asked, people wouldn’t have given it any thought that the app would be using stuff like that.

I’ll prove my point by saying that you probably have a flashlight app on your phone. If it is like mine, it turns on the focus light and keeps it on so that it acts like a flashlight. The one I have also gives information about whether the phone is facing North, South, East, or West. In other words, it is using the camera and accessing location information, and the only permission it needs is that I run the application. Facebook messenger is somewhat different because it is running as a background task. But consider all the apps you install on your phone. Any one of them can access the same devices on your phone that Facebook Messenger can.

Do you trust the apps you have on your phone? It is ironic that people will install a flashlight app written by someone they don’t know without giving it a second thought, but people are concerned about the Facebook Messenger app. Think about it. Facebook already has access to your personal information. They know where you live. They know who your friends are. They know what you ate for breakfast. They know where you went on vacation. If you trusted them with that, then why are you concerned that they might take pictures or track your movements?

But they asked permission to do things I’m not sure they should be doing. Yes, but that is actually for your protection. Have you noticed that when you visit a website with your phone that it might give you a popup that asks if it can use your location? There are rules in place that prevent websites and mobile apps from using location information without the user’s permission. Anyone can write an app for a mobile phone, including some unscrupulous people. You don’t want them to know where you are, but you do want companies that tell you how to get from point A to point B to know where you are. Suppose you are in a department store and open their app. Wouldn’t you want it to be able to tell you that the item you’re looking for is two aisles over? But computers are dumb. They can’t tell the department store that you trust from the person you don’t. By asking permission, you make the decision of whether to trust the app or not. Facebook was just following the rules.

So, you do what you want to do, but I plan on keeping the Facebook Messenger app on my phone. If I’m going to give that kind of information to someone, I would rather give it to someone who already has it. That’s not to say that I trust Facebook completely, but I think they realize that they would risk destroying their company if they start exploiting the information inappropriately. On the other hand, we would probably be safer if we would remove some of this software written by fly-by-night software developers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Homeless Giving Back

There are several videos that show someone inside a restaurant asking the patrons for some of their food. After they refuse, the scene changes to a street where a homeless man is sitting. Someone gives the homeless man some food, such as pizza or a couple of hamburgers and walks away. A few minutes later, the person who was asking for food before comes by and asks the homeless man for food. The homeless man gives the person food. Then the video ends with “Sometimes, those with less give more.”


There is some truth to that. People who have been doing without have a better understanding of the difficulties that causes. I’m reminded of the woman Jesus told of who gave all she had while the rich religious leaders were just making a big show of giving.

But the videos are flawed. The way the guy approaches those in the restaurant and how he approaches the homeless guy are very different. In the restaurant, he ambushes people. “Can I have a slice?” How do you expect people to act in a restaurant if a stranger comes to their table and asks for their food? The way he is dressed gives no indication that he is unable to pay for his own. Why doesn’t he just go buy his own?

Out on the street it is different. The homeless man has finished eating. The homeless man probably still thinking about how nice it was for someone to give him food. The video guy approaches him and doesn’t ask “can I have a slice” but rather, “do you have any left?” After the homeless man understands the question he asks, “Do you want some?” After take a slice of pizza from the box, the guy making the video sits down with the homeless man and eats half the pizza. He gets up, gives the homeless man a weak handshake, while looking in in the direction he wants to go rather than in the man’s eyes.

This is an aside, but let me just say that if you’re going to shake hands with someone, given them a firm handshake and look them in the eyes throughout the whole handshake. Nothing aggravates me more than an improper handshake.

But back to the video. I’m not sure how I would respond if a fashionably dressed person ambushed me in a restaurant to ask for food. I can, however, think of a similar situation. I was buying gas one day. A man carrying a four gallon gas can came up to me and asked if I could spare half a gallon of gas. I suppose he would’ve asked several people until he got as much as he needed. I hesitated for a moment, but then I stuck the gas nozzle in the can and filled it to the top.

I avoid giving money, but when there’s a way that I can provide for a need, that’s different. Despite what is shown in the video, I think many people are willing to give to people in need, but they have to understand what the need is and it has to be convenient. I don’t expect many people will give strangers food off their plate, but if they had some left after they’d eaten, they might have. Or if the person had asked before they ordered their meal, they might have gladly ordered extra. The video tells the story that the videographer wants to tell, but I don’t believe it is the complete story.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Praying on the Armor of God

There is a concept among Christians to “pray on the full armor of God.” Every morning when they wake up, some people will say a prayer like the following:

Lord, as I wake up this morning, I put on the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness to guard my heart. I put on the sandals of the gospel of peace to protect my walk with you today. I take up the shield of faith to protect me from whatever Satan my throw at me. I place the helmet of salvation on my head and take hold of the sword of the Spirit of God. Strengthen me for the battles I’ll face today. Amen.

The typical version is much longer than the one I’ve shown here and many of them start with the helmet of salvation rather than the order they are in the Bible. I’m not sure if that’s because they want to go from head to toe or maybe they’re thinking that salvation should come first since that’s what we think of as the first event in the Christian walk. Paul probably put these in the order he did because he’d watched Roman soldiers put on their armor and that was the order they went.

While I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with meditating on the armor of God why you wake up each morning and going to the Lord for help in putting on the armor of God isn’t a bad thing, I doubt Paul was thinking that people would pray prayers like this when he wrote Ephesians 6. I think he would tell the people who do this, “You missed the point.” Some people have this thought, “The kids were cranky today, but I prayed on the armor of God this morning, so I was able to let it bounce off.”

But look at Ephesians 6:12. The purpose of the armor of God isn’t to protect against cranky kids. In Ephesians 6:13-14, Paul uses the word “stand” three times. And he had already used it in Ephesians 6:11. Do this so you can stand and once you’ve done everything you can to stand, stand. This is about taking a stand for the cause of Christ.

Imagine you are facing the modern day equivalent to some of the people Paul faced. These are people who may not realize it, but they are servants of the devil. “You Christians are wrong and I’m going to force you to do things you don’t believe are right.” How do we stand against these people?

Truth

Our first form of protection is that what we say is true. I’ve been in a lot of arguments with people who don’t want to believe. I try to listen to their point of view, but I’ve never been concerned that something they way will cause me to question my faith, because my position is based on the truth.

Righteousness

When we think of righteousness, we immediately think of God’s righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ. But let’s also consider the righteousness that others see in us. The opposite of righteousness is sin. When we sin, it removes the breastplate that protects our heart. The spouse who commits adultery opens up their heart (at least in part) to the person they commit adultery with. Satan can use that person to encourage the other to do things they ought not to do. But look at Daniel. Even though he faced persecution, his righteousness protected him from falling into the trap of sinners.

The Preparation of the Gospel of Peace

People often shorten this to say that we should put on the sandals of the Gospel. They imply that the good news will protect the way you walk. A better understanding might be that we are to be prepared to share the Gospel with those we meet along the way.

Faith

Paul compares faith to a shield that protects against fiery darts. He also uses the phrase “above all.” I’m not sure if this should be taken as most importantly, or if he means literally “above all.” If the darts are raining down from the sky, where are you going to hold the shield? Above your head and everything else, obviously. But our faith protects us because we know that whatever Satan may send our way, God is still in control and nothing will harm us without His permission.

Salvation

Salvation is shown as a helmet. I wear a helmet when I ride a bicycle, in part because I realize that if an accident caused me to lose an arm or a leg, it would be inconvenient, but a head injury could cause be game over. At the end of the day, even if God allows Satan to kill us, we have salvation there to protect who we are. The very worst thing Satan can do won’t prevent us from the future the Lord has promised us.

The Bible

He compares the Word of God to a sword. Of everything on the list, this is the only offensive weapon we see. As with any weapon, it takes training and practice to be able to use it. That means you need to spend time in church listening to preaching and taking part in Bible study. You also need to read it for yourself and memorize scripture. So, when you encounter unbelievers, you will be able to tell them what the Bible says.

Prayer

Prayer isn’t listed as part of the armor, but it is something that we’re supposed to do. The armor of God doesn’t do us much good if we don’t have a relationship with God. Paul asked them to pray that he would have boldness to preach the gospel.

If you get up in the morning and tell God you’re putting on the armor of God, I suppose that's okay. But once you’ve prayed about it, you’d better put it on.

Monday, July 28, 2014

And Out the Door They Go

I stood I the foyer as kids and parents walked through the main entrance of the church. The kids stopped off the VBS check-in table where they answered a few questions and then made their way into the auditorium. The parents stood in the foyer with me for a short time, watching to see that their kids got to where they needed to be. They talked with a few of the other people in the foyer. But then, they turned, walked back through the crowd gathered around the check-in table and out the door. They would return a couple hours later to collect their kids.

Missed Opportunities

Time and time again I saw this scene repeated with family after family. This is the age group that we’re not reaching. When you look at our church attendance and when you look at the professions of faith in our church, you see a gap between the young and the old. It isn’t that we don’t people in this age group, but the numbers are down in comparison to other age groups.

Some people say that young adults just aren’t interested in church. That’s one way to look at it, but I saw these people bringing in bags of clothes and canned goods to donate to Texas Baptist Home for Children. These people gave their kids money to give for the cause. That doesn’t seem like “lack of interest,” but they turned around and walked out the door.

What I find disturbing is that we got these people through our front door and they didn’t stay. Let me repeat that. We got these people through our front door. But where are they now? We talk about people who wouldn’t darken a church door. These aren’t them. We got them inside, but couldn’t keep them.

Baby Sitters and Social Clubs

Realistically, many of the people who came and left attend other churches on Sunday. They brought their kids to VBS because we invited them. But to me, it highlights a problem. We want to reach kids and teens, so we have programs for them. We have this idea that we might reach their parents by reaching the kids. The problem is that these parents don’t see it that way. These parents see value in these kids programs because it teaches their kids about God, or because it is a free babysitter. While we’re teaching their kids about God, they may be at Wal-mart doing the weekly shopping.

On the other end of the scale, we have the old folks. While we do have a few programs for them, they get something else out of church. I’ve often heard older folks say things like, “even if a song wasn’t sung, or a sermon preached, I would come to church just to be with God’s people.” That sounds more like a social club. And it makes sense, because when people get older their kids have moved away, they may have lost a spouse, and they’ve retired, so they don’t go to work every day. Going to church staves off the silence.

Something More

There is great value in kids programs. There is value in giving parents an opportunity to have time away from their kids. There is value in providing empty nesters with opportunities to around other people. But if we want to reach young adults, we need to do something more. If we aren’t preaching to these people, how can we hope to see them saved? And if the longest time they stay in our church building is during VBS wrap-up, Awana closing ceremony, and when their kids are in a Christmas program, we’re not doing much preaching to them. We need to do something more.

We can’t bribe young adults with candy and pizza like we can with kids and teens. Young adults have jobs and can buy more candy and pizza than they need. And we can’t get them by being a social club, because their jobs put them around people all day, and if they have kids they are around people at night as well. If we don’t find something for young adults to stay for, we’ll continue to see them walk in but head right back out the door.

Why I Stay

I can’t speak for all young adults, but I’m pushing the upper edge of young adulthood, so I’ve had lots of experience as a young adult. So, why do I stay? Why don’t I turn around and walk back out the door?

Honestly, I’ve considered it a few times. Come to think of it, I’ve done it a few times. Never when there was preaching, but I’ve skipped some services when it was just going to be a movie, or a concert. And I have a real hard time attending Wednesday night services during the summer. It isn’t that the lessons aren’t great, but after I’ve spent all day at work, I don’t have the mental fortitude to listen to all the prayer requests for people who are going through health problems and then to listen to a lecture.

But when Awana is going on, it is totally different. With kids running around and things to do, it is invigorating. I much prefer to be doing something. And when I look at the young adults who come through our doors and stay, they are the ones who are doing stuff. I remember when I first joined our church that it was a struggle for me because I wanted to be much more involved than I felt like I had the opportunity to be.

So, if I had to guess what it would take to keep young adults from walking out the door, I would say we need to invite them to do stuff with us. Of course, we have to be careful about what we ask them to do. Some tasks should be reserved from church members. And they may really need the time to run to Wal-mart without their kids. But if there was a project they could work on instead of driving back home and turning on the TV for an hour before driving back to church to pick up the kids, they just might stay, even if they won’t stay to listen to a lecture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When It Ain't Obama's Fault

The Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Texas as 47 of 50 when it comes to the quality of family and community for children. One of the driving factors in that is the percentage of kids who live in a single parent home, which contributes to the education level of the head of the home, the wealth of the bread winner, the education level, etc. In Texas, 36% of children live in a single parent home.

Of the four factors Annie E. Casey looked at, Texas could use improvement on all of them, but Family and Community is the one that hurt our ranking the most. This got me to thinking. I see a lot on Facebook about how terrible the government is and how Obama needs to be impeached and all of that, but you can’t blame Obama or any other government leader for two and a half million kids living in single parent homes. There isn’t much the government can do about that and it isn’t their responsibility.


So, whose responsibility is it? The kids parents, obviously, but only if you look at individual families. When you look at the figures statewide or nationwide and ask who should be trying to do something about it, it is the churches who ought to be doing something about it. Even though the government likes to stick its nose in, it is the churches that have a responsibility to teach people the difference between right and wrong. It is the churches who ought to be looking for ways to help couples resolve their differences. It is the churches who have a responsibility to tell people of the man Jesus, who is able to change their selfish heart to a heart that loves others and especially their spouse.


It ought to wake us up when we see that a Bible belt state like Texas is one of the worst states when it comes to single parent homes. We Christians are falling down on our job. While the primary blame must rest with those who are creating single parent situations, I can’t help but think that part of the problem is that we aren’t telling them that what they are doing is wrong. At one time, women were shunned for having a child out of wedlock, and that might have been too much, but today we bend over backwards to tell people that whatever their sin is God loves them anyway.


While I don’t have all the answers for what we can do to correct this problem, the numbers speak for themselves. What they are saying is that we Christians in Texas have some work to do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Church, Kids, and Numbers

A friend of mine quoted the following statistic, “85% of the people saved in the United States are under 17.” Okay, but what do we do with that? Often, we hear things like that when someone wants to encourage people to work in youth ministry. I see nothing wrong with that. I work with kids in Awana and I can say that I’ve seen far more of them accept Christ than the adults I’ve taught in Sunday school. What I don’t like is when people take that statistic and say, “If we don’t reach them when they are kids, we’ll never reach them.” Is that really what we should take from this statistic?

To answer that, let me ask you, what percentage of the people saved would we expect to be kids? Someone might mention that 18% of the population is between 5 and 17, while 76% of the population is adults, so anything over 18% is pretty good. But is it? Let’s use easy math and say we have an average church with 100 people in attendance. There are 6 children under age five. We’ll assume they aren’t saved, but we don’t expect they’ll accept Christ until they are at least five. There are 18 kids between 5 and 17. We don’t know how many are currently saved, but there were 18 lost at age five.


Now, how many lost adults does this church have in the services? Most of these people are church members, but perhaps there is a man who attends with his saved wife. There’s a girl who used to be in the youth group and still comes, but she isn’t saved. There’s a woman who thought she was saved as a child. And maybe one more. Three or four doesn’t sound like an unreasonable number.


By my count, that means there are 21 or 22 lost people in the service and 18 of them are kids. (It is more complicated than that, but statistically speaking it will do.) Divide 18 by 21 and you get 86%. Divide 18 by 22 and you get 81%. What that tells me is that 85% of the people who are saved in America being under 17 is right in the ballpark of what we would expect if the only people we are reaching are the people who come to church.


And I don’t know what to do with that. There are churches that are reaching people other than those who are in the families of church members, but most of the programs are geared toward reaching kids. So, that will tend to retain the “85% are kids” statistic. I’m glad churches are reaching kids, but when I realize that 76% of our population is adults, I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t failing to do enough to try to reach adults.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bottled Mission Trip

Paul, in his writings, gives us this picture of a church in which the Lord has placed many people with different abilities, each doing their own thing, but together accomplishing the purposes of God. While I see this all the time, nowhere has it been more clear than on Mission Trip. At the time of this writing, we've seen eight souls saved. We had a couple of gifted soul winners on this trip and the Lord put their gift to use. But they wouldn't have been able to do that without other members of the team identifying people for them to talk to, and that was made possible by members of the team gaining the trust of these people by helping them with home repairs. Of course, all of this was made so much easier because of a gifted administrator leading the team.

As we near the end of our trip, there is talk of "Why do we do this on mission trip but not at home? We need to continue this back in Fort Worth." While I understand the sentiment, I think we tend to encapsulate things like Mission Trip as if it were an experiment in evangelism that can be used to tell us what the church is doing wrong. We ought not think that. If we truly believe that the church is like a body working together, we should realize that the short-term mission team is bigger than the eighteen of us who loaded our tools on a trailer and drove to Albuquerque. Of course there was planning and fund raising that took place before we went. But there were other things that had to happen as well.

Most of the young people on this trip are people I once worked with in Awana. I had some impact on their development as did many others in our church. When I hear talk of doing stuff at home that is similar to Mission Trip, I don't see how I can do that without dropping some of the other things I'm doing. But part of our effectiveness on Mission Trip is due to training that has taken place in months a years leading up to it.

So what am I saying? Mission Trip isn't something we can bottle up and take home. That whole concept is backwards, because Mission Trip is the harvest that follows a lot of planting and watering. What the Lord enabled our team to do was to bottle what has been going on at South Park and pour it out over a dry, barren mobile home park. That's not to say that South Park has no room for improvement, but without the things South Park does, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish much.

Let's make improvements where we can, and let's pray to see a harvest in Fort Worth, but let us not fail to continue teaching or we won't have anything to bottle for future mission trips.