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?


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.


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.


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 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 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.