Saturday, January 24, 2015

Making disciples

When Jesus was finished with His earthly ministry, He gave us one job. Do you remember what that was?
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Make disciples. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. Partly because it's something our church struggles with a lot. We know it's important ... but how exactly to go about it? And partly because I know it's key to the young adults ministry in which God has placed my wife and I. How does one go about making disciples? Baptizing and teaching obedience to the commands of Jesus are obviously a part of it. And also, Christ's presence (with us, through the Holy Spirit) is absolutely critical. But is there more to it than that?

In Pulse we've been studying the Gospel of Mark, and I've been seeing some things there, in how Jesus interacted with His disciples, that I think are instructive to this discussion ...

There's no substitute for quality time. Jesus spent TIME with His disciples. His disciples occurred in four main "layers" ... first there was the big group of followers (estimated to be around 500 people, give or take). Most were probably "fringe" hangers-on. Nonetheless Jesus spent time teaching them and they followed Him, usually, but not to the same extent (and with the same level of commitment) as the next layer ...

The 72 apostles. What? you say ... weren't there just 12 apostles? Luke 10 records how Jesus sent out 72 of His disciples out to do ministry, two by two. The word "apostle" simply means "sent one," so these 72 could certainly be called apostles.

At the core of this group, however, were those specifically selected by Christ for the ultimate mission ... The 12 Apostles. These were those He spent all night wrestling with the Father in prayer about, whom He selected carefully. These were those in the Upper Room, celebrating the Passover with Him. They went most everywhere with Him, spent most of their time with Him ... but not to the same extent as the next group:

The inner 3 Apostles. Peter, James, and John were the special focus of Christ's attention. During His Transfiguration, they alone accompanied Him up the mountain. They alone were invited to witness His most amazing miracles, like raising the little girl from the dead (Mark 5:37-43).

So, what does all this mean? I think it's a recognition that, as human beings called to make disciples, we surely must focus our efforts. You may be a pastor and may have a large church of 500 that you preach to each Sunday. But you will need to focus your efforts when it comes to disciple-making. Only a portion of that congregation (perhaps a fifth?) will be available and willing to be used for the next phase of disciple-making: sending out. Doing ministry.

And of course you won't be able to spend huge amounts of quality time with such a large group, of 72. Instead you must focus on a smaller group, say a dozen, and who comprises this smaller group should be a matter of very specific prayer.

Note that even in Christ's 12 Apostles, one (Judas) was a major, catastrophic failure, at least in the disciple-making sense of the word!

But, the bottom line was that even Jesus selected carefully whom He should focus his time and energy on. And there is no substitute for the time He spent with them, simply living life together.

Do you have two or three close mentoring relationships you are pouring yourself into? Leaders who comprise a core of a larger "small group" of believers, perhaps a dozen in size? And are you engaging with an even larger group in shared ministry?

Making disciples is all about doing ministry together. The people whose lives really are being changed in any church setting, the people who are getting their socks blessed off, are those who understand the principle expressed by Matthew 6:21: "... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Treasure? Substitute any resource which is valuable to you ... time, money, talent, influence, whatever. If you invest in something, your heart follows after that thing. You are changed by that investment. Your sense of personal ownership increases.

If you are investing in ministry, serving people ... if you take the time and trouble to figure out your spiritual gifts and how to use them on a regular basis to bless others ... then your own heart will begin to beat faster for those things that God's heart loves. You will be following in Jesus' footsteps, one step further down the path of being a true disciple.

So it follows that, if we want to make disciples of other people, we need to help them find a ministry "fit." We need to encourage them to invest their own resources in heavenly things, so that Heaven will begin to capture their hearts.

This was what happened with Christ's 72 apostles in Mark 6. He sent them out, two by two, without even a staff in their hand, to do ministry in His name, to teach and to heal and even to cast out demons. They returned -- tired but excited, invested, and thrilled to discover the joy of ministry.

Come away with Jesus for awhile. At this point, where they had invested in ministry and experienced some spiritual victory, Jesus knew they were vulnerable to Satan's attack ... either filling them with pride, or accusing them of being failures. So the solution was to "take a vacation with Jesus!" To go away to a quiet place, and debrief, and get some rest.

God knows we are vulnerable, weak, feeble, greatly in need of constant rest and renewal. Did you ever wonder why He invested so much in the creation of Sabbaths and Holy Days? We certainly need to be strengthened by these times of rest and renewal. And not just for the sake of taking a vacation, but to hear from the Master Himself. And this leads me to my final point. True disciple-makers help the people whom they are discipling to ...

Understand the End Game. Everything Jesus did had a purpose. He was quite clear, shockingly clear, about the end game when He spoke to His disciples. Mark 8:31 records:
31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
Christ had His eyes on the prize the entire time. The big picture for Him, the goal, the end game, was His death and resurrection. Only through His sacrifice would the entire world be saved. Only because of His resurrection would the hope for the eventual transformation of all of society into the coming Kingdom of God be realized.

Did His disciples "get it?" No, obviously not. Verse 32 says that Peter "took Him aside and began to rebuke Him" for such talk. But Christ was crystal-clear in His mission: "Get behind Me, Satan!" he looks directly at Peter and warns. "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." The end game, for Jesus, was God's concern, God's plan.

Which is where I will leave off, today, because this is ultimately the most important test of true leadership, and (to me) its most rigorous challenge. Is your end game in sync with God's end game? Is what consumes your mind the plan of God for the people you are seeking to turn into disciples of Jesus?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State of the Union

Darlene and I experienced some real excitement during the State of the Union address last night. I normally try to steer clear of political stuff on this blog, and I'll try to give it my best shot this time too. Here goes nothing.

We had dutifully watched about the first half of President's Obama's address when the excitement arose. Before I tell you what that was, let me summarize the points I walked away with from the first half of his speech:
  • The state of our union is strong. Presidents for the last 30 years have ritually proclaimed those words to kick off the State of the Union address, of course, so it's hard to know for sure exactly what that means. To me, the U.S.A. doesn't feel quite unified about anything right now, except perhaps in our fear and disgust of Islamic terrorists (or, as Obama would refer to them, religious fundamentalist terrorists, since apparently "Islamic" is a bad word). Or perhaps in our mutual amusement at Energy Secretary Ernest Motiz' face and hairdo.
  • The vast Middle Class is unhappy and so we are going to give them more free stuff (health care, education, childcare, and special glasses so they can read our lips the way we want them to).
  • To pay for all this free stuff, we are going to sock it to those bad guys, those awful rich people in America.
Most of what I heard the President say, at least during the first half of the speech, seemed to be some variant of the above. Then, it happened.

Our cat, Carmen, ran through the living room with a live mouse in her mouth. Darlene and I both immediately jumped to our feet in applause. (Thankfully we don't have one of those Nielsen rating systems on our TV set, or else the President's popularity would have gone up by a full percentage point at that moment.)

At which point Carmen dropped the mouse, of course, and it ran behind the curtains covering the sliding glass door.

I ran and got a broom. Darlene started hurriedly moving delicate things out of the way, instinctively knowing that breakage might soon occur.

The mouse re-emerged from the curtains when I drew them back. I stood back (broom poised and at the ready) to let Carmen re-acquire the mouse. Which she did ... holding it ever-so-gently between her soft, declawed paws, as the poor mouse squeaked in protest. More applause. Then she let it go again and it ran under the couch.

I handed the broom to Darlene and lifted the couch. There was the mouse, sitting next to a companion who had apparently already died. We assumed it had died of boredom, watching the first half of the SOTU speech.

The cat reacquired the mouse, again, holding it ever so delicately in her mouth. The mouse squeaked. The cat dropped it apologetically.

The mouse ran behind the wood stove. This time I shooed the cat out of the room with the broom, fed up at her pacifism. "I'll handle this," I said bravely as I gripped the broom handle.

The rest of the SOTU address was spent with me pursuing the mouse between the wood stove and the curtains, then back to the wood stove again, then back to the curtains, etc.

Finally, in frustration, I got the bright idea of simply pummelling the curtains with the broom. Surprisingly, I did not shatter the sliding glass door, and I did indeed knock the mouse out cold.

We put it in a plastic bag next to its dead companion, smacked the bag with the broom for good measure, then opened it and let the cat sniff it, in an attempt to communicate with her that this was the desired result of all her mousing, mice that were actually dead and not free to wander the house at will. I'm not sure she got the message, though.

Speaking of message, we missed the entire second half of the SOTU address. Did we miss anything important? Anyone care to summarize for us anything else that President Obama might have said?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Need proof Noah existed and the Flood was real?

I posted something on Facebook yesterday that caused such a stir, I thought I'd better put it on ShBlog and develop it a little further.

Is the biblical story of Noah and the great Flood a myth?

Illustration courtesy http://www.endoftheworld2012.net/
Many people assume it must be. "How could that be possible, scientifically?" they ask. They have all sorts of "sophisticated" objections. They may even laugh, and mock.


So I say, in response: Let's ask Jesus what HE thinks.

Matthew, chapter 24 ...
"37As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."
JESUS believed in Noah and the Flood as a historical event. Either He was misinformed, or seeking to deceive us, or else His validation of Noah and the biblical account of the Flood means it really happened.

This is quite similar to C. S. Lewis' "Jesus: Liar, Lord or Lunatic?" trilemma. Jesus treated Noah and the flood as if it was real, historical fact. There really are no other options. Either He was deceived, or He was trying to deceive us, or He was right.

One of my Facebook friends asked:
"Does the fact that Jesus referenced the story of Noah necessarily prove he thought it was a historical event? My former pastor once effectively illustrated a sermon with the story of the three little pigs. I doubt he actually believed the piggy story was a literal account of real events."
This was a good question. In what appears to be a validation by Jesus in Matthew 24, could He have been, in reality, making reference to a fable?

I'd say that was possible (and even then, not even probable) only if all of His hearers clearly understood the account as a fable. But this couldn't have been so, because it wasn't presented in the Torah as fable, it was presented as history. And it's clear the Jews of the day understood it as such. In fact, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (who was born several years after Christ's crucifixion) clearly understood the Flood account as history. (See the Complete Works of Josephus.)

Jesus was very good at clear and accurate communication. When he gave parables, He typically prefaced his teaching with this caveat. (See Matthew 3:10;13;34-35, among many other places.)

I told my friend that I rather suspect his pastor (whom I trust less than Jesus) understood that his tale of talking pigs and huffing wolves would have been clearly understood by all his listeners. Or else he would most likely have prefaced it as a fable at the beginning of his talk.

Another friend asked:
If the Flood was a real event, surely there would be evidence in the fossil record?
Another great question. The good news is, There is evidence in the fossil record. Not all experts interpret it this way, of course, but the truth is that the fossil record is apparently open to widely varying interpretations of what is says about history.

There are some great sources of information out there, scientists who believe the fossil record does indeed support the idea of a global cataclysmic flood. (Simply Google "evidence for flood in the fossil record" and a number of good hits will come up. One of my favorites is the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas, which has done a lot of good work on this topic. For instance.)

Naturally they are heavily maligned by atheists ... but what did you expect? Simply think through some of the foundational things related to what we know about the fossil record and it will raise some fundamental questions. For instance, it's clear that a fossil (by nature) isn't created by an "ordinary" death of a wild animal, laying down in the grass somewhere and dying. No, fossils can only be created in a cataclysmic manner, when a sudden avalanche of mud or rock entombs the animal alive (or nearly so), in a manner that minerals from the material can replace the animal's tissues fairly quickly. Hence, a fossil. And then consider the fact that large numbers of fossils of all different types of animals are frequently found clustered together in the same strata.

But, isn't the Bible full of fairy tales?

One of the things I appreciate about the detailed records created by the apostles of Jesus' life and ministry is that His words frequently do validate stories that might otherwise be considered fantastical in the Old Testament.

For instance, the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. Many consider this a fable, but not Jesus. In Matt. 12:40 he said: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." The second part of that was pretty literal, so the first part must have been too. Validation. But many people still brush off the Jonah story as a fable.

And just as he used Jonah's story to illustrate His very literal three days in the grave, guess what? He also uses the Noah/Flood story to illustrate the fact that HE'S COMING BACK again. Literally! He says that, in the days of Noah, people were carrying about business-as-usual ... eating, drinking, marrying, etc. ... up until the very moment Noah climbed up into the Ark (and God sealed the door behind him). Then, in the flash of an eye (or rather, the clip of a lightning-strike), everything changed.

In chapter 3 of Peter's second epistle, he writes:
3Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
So, scoffers, all of your pseudo-scientific sophistry will someday be burned away, won't it? Deal with it!

What About the "Noah" Movie?

Finally another friend asked my opinion of the recent "Noah" movie, directed by Darren Aronofsky. This gives me a great opportunity to cross-link to my earlier blog post on the subject.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Politically Incorrect Christmas in Baghdad

I have a close friend who recently wrote a very telling reflection I would like to share with you. I attended college with this committed man of faith and even worked for his organization for a time when I was in my early 20s. Amir George is an Assyrian Christian who now splits his time primarily between Baghdad, Iraq, and Washington, DC, advocating for a homeland for persecuted Assyrian Christians. Because he works at least part of the time in one of the world's most dangerous cities (and does so without a "minder"), he wrote his book, Liberating Iraq: The Untold Story of the Assyrian Christians, under a pseudonym. I know him by a different name than "Amir" but for obvious reasons won't reveal that here.

Anyway, my friend's words (below) really set me to thinking about the interesting contrasts between a place like America, founded as "one nation under God," and a place like Iraq, whose people have again and again suffered under the brutality of despotism, war, privation, and terrorism.

So, without further adieu, here is my friend's note. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments section.

- Larry


A Politically Incorrect Christmas in Baghdad!

Walking the streets of Washington DC in the days leading up to Christmas, a few years back, a most interesting realization slowly dawned on me.

Nowhere, and I mean absolutely nowhere, was Jesus to be found in the midst of all the extensive Christmas decorations and celebrations. In the stores, on the streets, wherever you turned, it was Christmas, but Christmas without Christ!

I started talking to people and asking them a simple question: "Isn't Christmas the birthday of Jesus?"

The answers I got were quite amazing.Literally everybody I talked to paused and said, "You know, you`re right! It is supposed to be Christ's birthday. What happened to Jesus?"

It is the most amazing thing. Imagine if you had a birthday ... your friends all came over, they partied, they ate, they exchanged presents and everybody acted if you didn't even exist.

Well, after a few minutes of that you would want to stand up and shout, "Hey! What's going on here? It's my birthday!"

After speaking with dozens of people, I began to get angry.

No matter what faith, creed, color — and you can find just about anything in Washington DC — they agreed, there was something wrong with this picture.

It's Christmas, celebrated as the birth of humanity's central historical figure, Jesus, and amazingly, there appears to be a very studied attempt to completely ignore Him.

Contrast That to Baghdad

I am an Assyrian Christian and my family is originally from the Iraqi village of Mahoudi, in Northern Iraq.

I was there during Saddam's time and remember the sheer terror that reigned 24 hours a day. The constant fear that you could be hauled off by one of his "goons" and never seen again.

In Iraq, the poor Iraqis have apparently not yet learned that you are supposed to ignore Jesus on Christmas.

Sponsored by the Iraqi Government (I repeat, sponsored by the Iraqi Government ... there is no "separation of Church and State here) there was a special Christmas celebration in downtown Baghdad.

Guess what the main attraction was?

  • A huge Christmas tree topped by a Star?
  • A massive Santa Claus?
  • Fake snow?
Nope! The focus of the celebration was a huge picture of ... Jesus!

There it was! A huge, beautiful color painting of Jesus, the center of the Christmas celebration, some four stories tall.

Iraqi Government spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf took it all one step further when he announced, on behalf of the Iraqi government: "All Iraqis are Christians today."

Say what?


What Can We Learn From Politically Incorrect Iraqis?

After meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki on behalf of the Assyrian Christians, I asked him, "Prime Minister, would you mind if I prayed for you?"

Maliki beamed, then ordered the beefy (and now somewhat confused) security guards surrounding us to bow their heads. We had a wonderful time of prayer.

Meeting later with Iraqi President Talabani on the same subject, I asked the question again. He pointed to his chest and told me, "I just had surgery on my heart — pray here!"

I wondered what kind of a reception I would get on Capitol Hill, at the State Department or a dozen other government agencies, if after a meeting I asked "Would you mind if we had a word of prayer together?"

A cold silence, mass panic, or perhaps a straight NO ... with a couple of exceptions, that would surely be the response.

Well, Washington and all of us this Christmas can learn something from the poor, politically incorrect Iraqis.

Christmas celebrates the birthday of Jesus, and the Iraqis got it right. He should be exalted, front and center.

The Iraqis at least know this much: They know they need Jesus and all the blessings they can get.

- Amir George

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is Jesus Asleep in Your Boat?

Recently I led a Bible study in Mark 4:35-41. To set the scene, Jesus has spent a very long day teaching "by the lake." The lake referred to is the Sea of Galilee, also known as "Lake Gennesaret" or the "Sea of Tiberias."

The Sea of Galilee is currently 13 miles long and about 8 miles wide. At nearly 700 feet below sea level, it is the second-lowest lake on the planet, the Dead Sea (further south) alone being lower.

Today the Sea of Galilee is about 3 feet higher than it was in Jesus' day. Which means it is also slightly wider and longer. But one thing hasn't changed, and that is that the sea is subject to sudden, violent storms, due to its position ringed by mountains (updraft and air flow patterns can cause furious storms, particularly at night ... in 1992 Tiberias, a town on the western shore, was flooded by 10-foot waves. Significant damage was sustained).

In Christ's day, fish in the Sea of Galilee were relatively plentiful. Josephus noted that shortly after the time of Christ some 230 fishing boats regularly plied the lake. Only recently has it been nearly fished out.

At an average depth of over 70 feet, the lake contains a lot of water, and it is this weight that keeps a natural tendency toward salinity (due to extensive water evaporation) at bay. Gennesaret provides most of Israel's water supply, so the government zealously controls its depth to keep salinization at bay.

In addition to teaching some popular parables (related to farming ... focusing on the role of the Word of God, truth, and faith) Jesus spent his time on that day healing and casting out demons. It was a busy day, and by evening everyone was tired. Jesus dismissed the crowds and instructed his disciples to prepare boats to "pass over the lake to the other side."

Fishing boats of the day probably held about a dozen passengers, and Mark says there were several other boats in the party. Jesus probably climbed into the boat with the apostles, and other boats were filled with various disciples. Mark says He promptly fell fast asleep on a cushion in the boat's stern.

As they were crossing, a sudden and furious squall arose. Waves were cascading over the sides of the boats, and the disciples, many of whom were veteran sailors, felt they were in danger of being swamped. Finally, apparently as a last resort after all their best efforts failed, they awoke Jesus.

"Don't you even care that we are perishing?" they shouted in frustration.

Christ's response was to stand up, face the sea, and call out to the winds and waves to "be still!" (or quite literally, to "muzzle yourselves!" ... which was the same language He used when calling demons to silence).

Scripture says the storm immediately ceased and the seas became as still as glass.

He then turned to His disciples: "Why are you still afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

Over and over again, Scripture exhorts us to trade fear for faith. Fear seems natural to us in a situation like the one confronting the disciples, where their very lives felt threatened. One wouldn't have blamed them for retorting, "You obviously know nothing about sailing, and how dangerous a situation we were in." Except that, He had just demonstrated unequivocally that He was Lord and Master over the wind and the waves! So, maybe not.

A couple of observations

First, the disciples were doing exactly what Jesus had asked them to do when the storm arose: they were attempting to cross over the lake. Some "prosperity preachers" teach that if we would only do what Jesus says, all will go well and we will face no storms. Not true for these disciples.

Second, Jesus was in the boat. He was not out walking on the water (this time). And He was not afraid. He had promised them they would cross over. He also shared: "I don't say anything but what I have heard from the Father." So the God of the Universe had promised they would reach the other side. Despite the storm, there was in no reality any danger that they would end up in the drink.

So, what would have happened if the disciples had simply given up? Not bailed? If they hadn't woken Jesus up? We don't know exactly how it would have happened ... but we do know they would have crossed over to the other side. Jesus said so.

And, if the disciples were afraid, why did they wait as long as they did to awaken Jesus? Obviously there was some pride involved. He was a carpenter, they were fishermen/sailors. They ought to have been able to handle a storm. Only when they came to the end of their wits were they finally willing to call out for help. (Sound familiar? I've been there.) The only problem was, by that time they were wracked with fear and far away from faith.

How can you possibly sleep at a time like this?

But I think the most interesting thing about the whole episode continues to be that Jesus slept. Surely He was very tired. But, how could you possibly sleep when the wind was howling and waves were crashing over the sides of your storm-tossed boat?

I don't know about you, but there are certain places I absolutely cannot sleep, no matter how tired I am. One is in a plane being buffeted by storm turbulence. In 1978 I was in a small plane in a storm in Alaska, and the turbulence was so bad I ended up with seatbelt bruises on both hips. Sleep? Fuhgedaboudit. It was all I could do just to keep breakfast down.

Even though we spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping, most of us have never heard a sermon on sleep. But sleep figures prominently in the Bible. God obviously made us fallible, weak, requiring this resort each day to a very vulnerable state of unconsciousness in order to continue healthy functioning. Writing in the Desiring God blog, Jonathan Parnell says that sleep is "the midwife of humility," and by that he means it is impossible to think it all depends on us and our brilliant activity, and forego sleep so that we can do it all. If we try, we fail miserably. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. Each of us desperately needs sleep.

And when we do sleep, we become vulnerable, don't we? My wife and I recently had something die in the walls of our house, probably a squirrel or a rat, which caused an infestation of flies. We killed as many as we could possibly kill each night before going to sleep, because we thought, Lord knows we don't want any nasty flies crawling on our lips while we slept! We had no fear of such a thing happening to us while we were awake. But when you sleep you give up certain pretenses of self-protection.

We ended up praying, "God, please keep the flies off our lips!" And we slept.

David viewed sleep as an opportunity to trust God. In Psalm 3:5-6 he wrote, “I lay down and slept and woke again, for the Lᴏʀᴅ sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Then again, in Psalm 4:8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lᴏʀᴅ, make me dwell in safety.”

David knew that sleep was an act of faith in the Lord's protection. In Psalm 2:12 he said: "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” He committed himself fully into the hands of Him who sleeps not. Jesus, the Son spoken of in Psalm 2, knew this too, which is why He could sleep in the storm-tossed boat.

Parnell ends his message with this beautiful exhortation:
When we sleep we are saying — in that same spirit of faith — that God will protect his Anointed and all those anointed in him (2 Corinthians 1:21). We are saying that no matter how many thousand enemies surround our soul, because of the Father’s commitment to his Son, we will not be destroyed. We will not be condemned. Nothing will ever be able to snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). Nothing will ever separate us from his love (Romans 8:38–39). When we go to bed, we are saying that.

Christian, life is short. You should get some sleep.
Okay, then! I'm going to bed now. Good night!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Social Media Stress in the Twitterverse (a.k.a., Betrayed by a Close Friend)

Most of my readers know that my work has slowly evolved to place me somewhat smack dab in the middle of the social media space. I launched World Vision on some key social media platforms (blogging, Twitter, and Facebook) back in the 2006 - 2008 timeframe, and since that time have continued to focus on social media and internet tools for the various departments I've worked with.

The focal point of my social media interaction has been Twitter. I launched World Vision's first two Twitter streams (@WorldVisionUSA and @WorldVisionNews) in January 2008, and two months later launched our international Twitter stream (@WorldVision) as well as my own personal stream (@LarryShort). I eventually handed off @WorldVision and @WorldVisionUSA to fulltime social media professionals. The former, today, has over 406,000 followers; and @WorldVisionUSA has 187,000 followers. I continue to manage @WorldVisionNews for the Media Relations team here. We have nearly 17,000 followers, many of them journalists. And I also continue to work to build my own personal stream, @LarryShort, which has over 9,000 followers.

It takes a lot of work to get followed by a lot of people. I mean, you can pay money for this, although the quality of followers you get if you do will be very poor. So, good, old-fashioned elbow grease is what the doctor ordered. You have to leverage your Twitter account through other social media accounts, put out good content on a consistent basis, interact / engage consistently with your followers, and find and follow like-minded people.

I've frequently reflected that Twitter has become a good friend, as it is a key tool through which I've been able to make a mark on behalf of my profession, as well as share my life with friends. With more than a half million people following streams I've created and managed, I also feel like Twitter has benefited from all of my hard work, as well.

Which is one reason I've recently been so thoroughly appalled to be treated like dirt by our friends at Twitter. Late last week I opened up my personal stream to see a stark message posted across the top of it: "Twitter has disabled this account." The message accused me of abuse of some sort, of breaking the Twitter rules, although it didn't specify exactly what that abuse entailed or which rule(s) I had broken.

As I followed the links offered in the warning message, I was led to a place where I could have my account reinstated if I clicked a link indicating that I agreed with the rules. I went and read all the rules carefully (which I had done several times before). None of them had I violated in any way, as far as I could tell. (In fact, I hadn't done anything different than what I always do.) So, I checked the box to indicate I agreed with their rules, and my account was reinstated. Sort of.

Actually, for about a day all of my hard-earned friends ... both people I was following, and people who were following me back ... disappeared. I was warned by Twitter (without any explanation as to why this is true) that it might take some time for my friends to be restored.

And eventually they were. The only apparent residual effects of this negative and stressful episode (other than my wounded ego) appears to be that my Klout score took a nose dive during this period of disablement, plunging 3 full points overnight (from 60 to 57 ... fortunately, today's it's started nosing back up, and stands right now at 58). This was a first in the few years that I've been building and monitoring my Klout score, so I have no doubt it was related to Twitter's punishment of me.

And the question lingers: Punishment for what? What exactly did I do to deserve this treatment? I still have no idea.

Thus, I sent a direct message to Twitter's @Support team, and asked them to please give me details. Nearly a week later and I still haven't heard anything back from them. So far, complete silence.

So, the message I've taken from all this, so far, is: Even if you've been very good to Twitter, and follow all their rules, somehow they can still (apparently capriciously) punish you for something they say you did (without specifying what it was). You suffer away, having no idea exactly what you did to incur their wrath.

Not knowing what I did wrong, I have no idea whether I might incur their wrath again at any moment. And next time, no doubt, they will simply shut me down. No recourse, no appeal, no communication, no nothing -- just bam, you're dead.

Which would be a serious blow to my professional standing as a social media guru, not to mention my social media psyche. I've invested a lot of work building up those 9,000 followers. I definitely don't want to (and won't) start all over again. I'd rather dedicate myself to warning everyone not to use such a capricious social media platform.

Hence, I've become "very nervous" now when using Twitter. I'm far less likely to post, to seek new followers, and to engage. When you don't know which button caused everything to explode, you have a tendency to stop pressing buttons.

Anyway, I'm sure you're probably thinking all this angst over something as frivolous as Twitter is just plain silly. Possibly so. The problem for me is the level of investment I've made in this platform. It might be sort of like a person who has invested all his spare time polishing and preening his antique car, and taking it on the road to car shows, only to have his driver's license suddenly revoked for some reason he cannot comprehend.

No doubt this is an ongoing story, and hopefully I will get some answers from Twitter soon and be able to update you on what you can do to avoid what happened to me. So stay tuned. More from the Twitterverse later!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Jury Duty

Douglas McRae, accused of assault with a deadly
weapon, shortly after his arrest.
I thought I should briefly interrupt the flow of my usual blogging to talk a bit about something that has interrupted the flow of my life this week: jury duty.

Yes, about a month ago I received the dreaded "jury duty: you are required to appear" notice in the mail. This is my second jury duty experience since we've lived in the Pacific Northwest (more than 18 years now). Both experiences were similar.

By the way, many of my fellow jurors were responding to their fifth or sixth summons! So, I guess I should be grateful for only two.

Lots of folks advised me to try and do everything I could to get out of it. But, not being one to shirk my civic responsibility, I thought I'd go with it. So I reported as advised to the Superior Courthouse in downtown Tacoma. The first thing I remembered, which I had forgotten after my first experience, is that parking is next to impossible unless you are way early. Which I am never. This is because they have fewer than 130 parking spaces designated for what seemed to me to be at least 250 jurors. Which I suppose is why they urge everyone to use public transportation. (Of course taking the bus means you have to leave for Tacoma from here at least an hour earlier. And I would still have to fight Puyallup traffic to drive to the bus stop.)

The jury assembly room was crammed full that first morning, of course — standing room only as we watched the requisite orientation video. Then came the highlight of the experience, our jury administrator, Connie Janiga. Standing in front of a room full of harassed and helpless citizens wouldn't be my idea of fun, but she made it fun. She communicated clearly, told jokes, and overall was a shining star for the next three days of otherwise utter civic boredom.

She admitted up front that the juror experience was one of "hurry up and wait." This I remembered from my first go-round. It took two or three days to be assigned to a court case, which was some guy accused of selling drugs who had made the (in my opinion highly unwise, but I'm sure he's had lots of time to reflect on this, sitting in his jail cell) decision to represent himself in court. So he, along with the prosecuting attorney, grilled all the prospective jurors. He dismissed me when I think he surmised from my answers to his questions that I disapproved of illegal drugs.

That was it. Three days of hurry up and wait for that one shining moment.

My experience this time was similar, but instead I was assigned, on the very first afternoon, to what sounded like a very interesting case. I can talk about it now that I have been summarily dismissed (again). You can read all about it here. The 59-year-old defendant, a man named Douglas McRae, was charged with first- and second-degree assault after shooting his rifle at a group of female custodians at a middle school near his home. Thankfully no one was injured, but after the shooting McRae was taken into custody by local sheriff's officers at gunpoint. McRae's excuse for the late-night shooting was complicated, but the following statement he made to police showed why the trial will surely be an interesting one:
"The defendant claimed he had arrived home to find a man and a woman leaving his house, carrying his guns, and he fired warning shots. Later, the defendant said a naked woman came to his door and, because of the cold, he had no choice but to let her in. He said he believed she had something to do with the robbery."
Police seized "large amounts of ammunition and muiltiple weapons" in a search of McRae's house. The Sheriff wondered whether mental illness, or alcohol, or drugs, might have played a role. (Or perhaps all three?)

There were 45 of us in the jury pool, and 14 spaces in the jury. Unfortunately I was juror #42. All 14 jurors were selected from among the first 28 numbers, so I don't think they ever even got to considering us poor suckers sitting in the back two rows. Nevertheless, over the course of two days during the jury selection process, each of us had extensive opportunity to answer attorneys' questions about our views of guns, self-defense, stand-your-ground, etc.

I'm guessing I said quite a bit which could probably offend both sides.

Although I'd guess that probably wasn't why I was dismissed. In addition, I wondered if the fact that my wife is a school district employee was the final nail in my coffin.

So anyway, I was dismissed at the end of the morning of my second day of grilling. I got in one afternoon of work, then had to report again on the morning of my third day for possible reassignment. After sitting all morning in the jury administration room, enjoying Ms. Janiga's banter, those of us who remained (about half had been reassigned) were then dismissed for the day. While we were told to check in each night for a possible assignment, Ms. Janiga assured us with a smile that there was a "diminishing likelihood" that we would be called back in again.

So, that was it. Three days later, I'm probably not a whole lot wiser, but I am $70 richer (they pay $10 a day for your trouble, plus mileage). Of course the check is in the mail.

But, it was a nice break from my usual day in and day out responsibilities of saving the world. And, I got an approving nod from Mr. McRae when I revealed (under oath) that carrying a concealed pistol while biking (yes, I have a permit) gave me a sense of confidence that has proven useful against potential muggers.