Category Archives: Current Issues

Internet Security

I’m a bit of a geek–well, probably more than a little bit.  If it were not so expensive I’d definitely be an “early adopter.”

The last year could be called the year of the security breach.  The number of significant breaches of security at major retailers and other institutions should cause all who use technology pause–or at least a realistic perspective.

But beyond the right attitude the breaches of security should change behavior.  So I thought I’d add my two cents as an amateur to the many words of the experts when it comes to internet security.

What not to do

  • Don’t visit questionable site
  • Don’t open emails, particularly email from those you don’t know–and don’t click on links that don’t make sense (i.e. an email from a friend with generic language or only a link).
  • Don’t use the same password all the time
  • Don’t use short and easy passwords
  • Don’t email passwords
  • Don’t save your passwords in your browser!

What to do

  • Keep your antivirus up to date (The free Avast has been highly recommended)
  • Regularly scan your system with an anti-malware program (I recommend the free version of Malwarebytes is excellent, the free version means you have to remember to run it yourself)
  • Use a password manager (I have used Lastpass for a while, but may be switching to Dashlane because I can use it on my mobile devices.  Both are free with premium options.  You can even have those two programs randomly create solid passwords without the fear of having to remember them. And they both use good encrypted.
  • Absolutely use 2-Form Authentication (particular if you have a smart phone).  Here is an explanation.  I use the Google version, but there are other options.  Please read the explanation before starting.  Here is another post to read.
  • Activate OpenDNS on your WiFi router–set your desired level of web filtering (adult themes ext.) and set filtering for Adware, Web Spam and Typo Squatting.
  • Backup your computer (external drive or cloud backup).

I think that finishes this public service announcement.

But just in case you want it from a different perceptive, here is another take on protecting yourself online.

Tim Challies

A couple of years ago an unknown person hacked my GMail account. I had been lazy, I had used a low-quality, low-security password, and I paid the price. Within seconds the person had changed my password, locked me out, and deleted all my archived email. I tried everything I could to attract the attention of Google’s support team, but to no avail. It was only when I asked for help from my Twitter followers that I regained access to the account. In other words, if I didn’t have so many Twitter followers, I would have permanently lost my account.

This event and a hundred headlines convinced me of the need for better security. Recent news stories have once again shown the importance of properly securing accounts, apps and services behind best practices. Here are 5 steps you need to take to protect yourself online.

#1. Use Good Passwords

Surely you know by now that a bad password is, well, bad. You make a criminal’s life exponentially more difficult if you determine you will use stronger and better passwords. Of course it’s not always quite so simple, as there is endless debate over what constitutes a good password. But whatever camp you represent, a good password is one that protects your account and one that you can actually remember.

I think xkcd gets it roughly correct here, though. Find a password that is long but also easy to remember. Four random words strung together will protect your account better than a much shorter string of random numbers, letters and other characters; a mnemonic device of some description should help you remember those words. As he suggests in his comic, consider putting together a silly little story or scenario to help you retain it. You can use this random word generator to get you started. If you want to kick it to the next level, consider Jesse’s advice. (Also, make the first or last letter a capital since some sites require at least one upper-case character.)

So go ahead and make yourself a password and, for now, write it down on a piece of paper. We will get back to it in a minute.

#2. Use Unique Passwords

Creating one good password is a good start, but if you want to be ultra-secure should consider creating unique passwords for each of your important accounts. We can consider this an optional step if (and only if!) you are going to be sure to follow step #3 below.

If you want to be ultra-secure, here’s how to proceed. I’m sure you have a number of low-security accounts—they don’t have much personal information, they don’t have access to your credit card, and so on. For these accounts you can maintain a single password that spans all of them. But for each of your accounts that would really hurt to lose, you should consider a unique password. Otherwise, a criminal who gets that one password will have access to all of your accounts and, trust me, he’ll try. You probably have a lot of these accounts that really matter: email, Evernote, iCloud, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, banking, Paypal, and so on.

So go ahead—figure out the sites that need strong, unique passwords, and get to it. Create those passwords, write them on your piece of paper, and visit each site to change your account accordingly.

#3. Use Two-Factor Authentication

By now you have (hopefully) created unique and high-quality passwords for each of your important sites. Or, at the very least, you’ve got one great password that is protecting all of your accounts. Already you’ve gone a long way to protecting yourself online, but there is still some work to do. The next thing you’ll want to do is find which of your sites and applications support two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is a login system that requires a password plus another piece of information before you can access an account or change any of its information (hence the “two factors.”) The second piece of information is usually a code that will be generated by your mobile phone or sent to your mobile phone. You’ll find two-factor authentication supported by Google, Apple, Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, and most other major services. It will take a minute or two to set up each of them, but it is time well-invested. Once you have done this, a criminal not only needs your login name and password, but he also needs access to your cell phone (at least in theory).

#4. Use a Password Manager

OK, so now you’re all protected. But you’re still weak in one area—your passwords are complex and unprotected, just sitting there on that piece of paper. So let’s put those passwords in a vault. You can always put that paper in a safe place and return to it if and when you forget a password, but there is a better option: a password manager. There are many of them available. I recommend 1Password and have relied on it for many years, but you are free to check out others like Lastpass and Keepass. They all offer similar features, and what they do at heart is secure all of your passwords behind one master password. So go ahead and create one more password. Once you’ve done that, install your password management software and lock it with that password. Then take a few minutes to transfer all the passwords from your paper to your password manager. I will leave it to you to figure out what else these programs can do for you—like automate your logins and fill out forms. You may want to write down that master password and stick it somewhere you will remember but no one else will ever think to look (which does not include a Post-It note on your monitor).

So let’s see where we’ve come: You’ve created good passwords and updated all of your accounts with them. You’ve added two-factor authentication to all your most important accounts. You’ve stored all those passwords in a very safe place. Now just one thing remains, and you don’t even need to worry about it for a bit.

#5. Schedule An Audit

The last step is to occasionally do a password audit—to look for passwords that are known by other people, that are very old, or that are still very weak. If you use a password manager, it may have an auditing function that will do this for you. If you create good, unique passwords and treat them carefully, you should not need to change them more than every couple of years.

And that’s that. With so much of your life recorded and stored online, you will not regret taking a bit of extra time, and expending a bit of extra effort, in securing your accounts.

(One final note: Do not rely on security questions and answers to protect your account. If someone wants to know your mother’s maiden name, ten seconds at Facebook or Ancestry should find that information and more. When you encounter those questions, consider adding false answers and then recording those false answers in your password vault. Whatever you do, do not rely on them for your protection; they have proven themselves untrustworthy.)

Internet security image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Way to go Millennials and Elders

A new set of numbers on the evangelistic practices of Christians as a whole, Evangelicals in particular has very encouraging things to say about the Millennial generation.

While they have been known for their focus on “social justice” they are the only generation whose evangelistic practices increased significantly in the past three years.

When asked, “During the past 12 months, I explained my religious beliefs to someone who had different beliefs, in hope that they might accept Jesus Christ as their Savior”–65% of Millennials answered yes!

My generations’ numbers drop drastically. That’s convicting!

Here are the numbers by generation–of those who call themselves “born again”–from 2010 t0 2013.

Source: COPYRIGHT © BARNA GROUP. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

For the whole study https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/648-is-evangelism-going-out-of-style

Who is really leaving the faith and why?

This is a challenge to parents as much as it is to the church.

Many have reported alarming numbers of Millennials leaving their faith. This summary provides a good context for understanding what the numbers actually reveal.

See previous related posts
Millennials
Critical Thinking

What follows is from the Gospel Coalition blog.

Who is Really Leaving the Faith and Why?

It’s likely you’ve heard the news: the sky is falling. Reports have been circulating for a while now that our churches are on the decline and it’s the young people who are to blame. Articles, blogs and even books have been written warning ministry leaders and parents alike, the Millennials are leaving our churches in droves of hundreds and thousands.

Intrigued by the implications of a generation giving up on organized religion, we set out to understand who is leaving and why. And what we found was surprising. Many of the most significant and encouraging findings are largely being ignored, while the less accurate and discouraging ones are being emphasized.

Focus on the Family talked to respected sociologists of religion and studied the best, nationally-representative studies and found the bad news is not as bad as you might have heard. Our new report, “Millennial Religious Participation and Retention” draws out some very important research for those who are raising and ministering to the next generation

Pew Research recently found that 18% of young adults leaving their faith altogether and another 20% are switching from one faith to another. This latter cohort, while leaving individual churches, are not leaving their individual faith. They might be switching to a church across town or to one near their college campus. With more young adults switching than leaving, it’s odd very few are talking about those switching. In fact, many, we suspect, have been counting them along with those who are leaving.

Also interesting is the huge difference between conservative, Bible-teaching churches and mainline Protestant churches. The General Social Survey, perhaps the most academically-trusted source for demographic data back through 1972, recently noted a 2.2% decline in mainline churches and a slight 0.6% increase among conservative churches (from 1991 to 2012).

Perhaps most interesting is what Pew learned about those leaving their faith. Pew asked those leaving if they ever had a strong faith as a child. Only 11% said they did. The other 89% said they never had a strong faith in the first place. As our report says:

Not surprisingly, homes modeling lukewarm faith do not create enduring faith in children. Homes modeling vibrant faith do. So these young adults are leaving something they never had a good grasp of in the first place. This is not a crisis of faith, per se, but of parenting.

Young adults are not developing a strong faith as children and walking away as they enter adulthood. Instead, the majority are failing to develop strong faith in the first place and then walking away. As Notre Dame Sociology Professor Christian Smith writes,

Religious outcomes in emerging adulthood … flow quite predictably from formative religious influences that shape persons’ lives in early years … religious commitments, practices and investments made during childhood and the teenage years, by parents and others in families and religious communities, matter – they make a difference.

This has huge implications for those working to instill faith in our children. First, it’s encouraging that those children who develop a deep faith early on will likely hold onto that faith throughout their lives. But secondly, this shows being in and around church is simply insufficient to develop strong faith for many children. Taking children to church and Sunday school, while important, should not be seen as the only, or even best, way to instill strong faith in our children.

Parents should be intentional about creating homes where their children learn a vibrant faith from God-fearing parents, relatives and other adults. Parents should teach personal habits of prayer and Bible reading in their children, which makes them much more likely to hold onto their faith.

Christian Smith doesn’t mince words: “Parents are huge, absolutely huge, nearly a necessary condition” for a child to remain strong in their faith into young adulthood. He concludes “without question, the most important pastor a child will ever have in their life is a parent.”

There are many reasons why young adults leave their faith, but perhaps the most significant is that they never developed a strong faith in the first place. Instead of trying to appeal to those with lukewarm faith, perhaps we should back up and consider how we can teach parents to cultivate strong, lasting faith long before our children enter adulthood.

For more of our findings, read the complete report at Focus Findings, a ministry of Focus on the Family.

Andrew Hess is the Manager of Church Outreach at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Adjunct Professor of Humanities and Theology at Colorado Christian University. He is passionate about equipping pastors and ministry leaders to lead thoughtful, thriving ministries.

Story behind, “Carol of the Bells”

A summary of the story (see the video for a retelling of the story)

One of America’s best known poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), contributed to the wealth of carols sung each Christmas season, when he composed the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on December 25th 1864. As with any composition that touches the heart of the hearer, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” flowed from the experience of Longfellow– involving the tragic death of his wife Fanny and the crippling injury of his son Charles from war wounds. The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.” Longfellow’s journal entry for December 25th 1862 reads: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.” Almost a year later, Longfellow received word that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes. The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal. Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, he wrote the words of the poem, “Christmas Bells.” Longfellow’s Christmas bells loudly proclaimed, “God is not dead.” (http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Fellowship/Edit_I.Heard.the.Bells.html)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sXfzp296zhA[/youtube]

Christmas Bells

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

 

Peace on Earth

We live in a sin cursed world.  Though we are lulled to sleep in comfort and easy, we periodically are jarred awake by the vile nature of sin.  We instinctively ask “why?”  But no answers will truly fill the void.

But we are not hopeless.
We hope in the One who can bring true peace on earth.
So we long for the day when He returns to rule in justice.

He came once, full of grace and truth, but in lowly form.
He will return, full of grace and truth, but this time in power and glory.

So now the only hope we have is to remember and anticipate.
Remember, He broke into history and changed the world.
Anticipate, He will be the climax of history and change us–completely and permanently.

So, now we pray for peace on earth.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=M7670CXvPX0[/youtube]

(See next post for the words to Longfellow’s original poem and the story behind the song.)

Family Feuds at Holidays?

I am blessed with a wonderful family.  A loving gracious wife, two awesome sons (I still call them "the boys" but they are men), parents and in-laws that are helpful and have always been appropriate in connecting but not controlling. I am thankful!

But I know that is not the case for everyone.

For some the sheer thought of Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings creates stress, knowing that relational tension, dysfunction, lack of connection relationally, morally or spiritually will exist. 

This morning as I was catching up on some reading, I came across a blog post to share with those of you who need some encouragement as you face the Holiday Family Feud.

You can read the whole post by Justin Taylor, which includes a link to a booklet by Tim Lane.

But Let me just add the brief reminders:

Lane begins by rehearsing a number of truths:

  1. Every family is flawed
  2. Flawed families need God’s grace
  3. Your family of origin does not determine your identity
  4. God’s call to love includes your family
  5. Changed by the cross of Christ

He then gives some practical strategies for change:

  1. Respond with grace to your family
  2. Take responsibility for your sins, not your family’s
  3. Become an instrument of grace
  4. Make wise choices for your children
  5. Persevere in love

Here’s the conclusion:

Loving your family in these ways will mean dying to self-centeredness and growing in Christ-centeredness. As you pray and ask the Spirit of God to change you, old barriers you have erected between you and your family will come down. This will encourage your family members to take down the barriers they have put up.

And from Russell Moore

  1. Peace. (“Your presence should be one of peace and tranquility. The gospel you believe ought to be what disrupts. There’s a big difference.”)
  2. Honor. (“Pray for God to show you the ways those in your life are worthy of honor, and teach your children to follow you in showing respect and gratitude.”)
  3. Humility. (“Unless you’re in an exceptionally sanctified family, you’re going to see failing marriages, parenting crises, and a thousand other shards of the curse. If your response is to puff up as you look at your own situation, there’s a Satanist at your family gathering, and you’re it.”)
  4. Maturity. (“Some of the tensions Christians face at holiday time have nothing to do with outside oppression as much as internal immaturity on the part of the Christians themselves.”)
  5. Perspective. (“At the Judgment Seat of the Lord Christ, you’ll be responsible for living out the gospel in every arena to which the Spirit has led you . . .  including Aunt Flossie’s dining room table.”)

My citizenship, My country, My job description

Romans 13:1
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God

God is sovereign–completely. He doesn't make mistakes. He has a larger plan for His glory than my convenience or comfort.

He changed the course of human history through the cross not politics.
He changes lives through gospel of Christ's cross work, removing sin, redeeming, reconciling and restoring my relationship with God.

He changes families through the gospel.
He changes communities through the gospel.

Because of the gospel my citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). I am not from around here.

But he has transplanted me into my community, my country–not for my comfort, though I sure have more than I deserve.
He transplanted me here to make a different–not just for my country, but for His glory and the good of those around me.
He transplanted me here to be on mission–intentional living–until He chooses to take me to my eternal home with Him.

We don't depend on our elected officials to transform lives.
We don't depend on our elected officials to save our community or our country.

So what should change after an election?
Nothing!

Whether you are a democrat, republican or independent–no matter how you voted, if you are a Christian, your job description didn't change today.

May we be found faithful to our calling.