Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A new twist on spam ... does this amount to blackmail?

I receive a lot of spam and phishing emails, many telling a very sad story, but the one I received this morning takes the cake. It appears designed to prey on gullible pro-lifers. I am the latter, but hopefully not the former.

Here is the email I received this morning:

From: fira moga [mailto:mogafira1@gmail.comSent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 1:03 AMTo: Larry Short - USSubject: urgent helloo my name is firanol am from Ethiopia I am christian and i do have girl friend accidentally my girl friend got pregnant and now she has an appointment to abbort it. we are both student now am inviting you to save this child please help us not to commit this sinfull act. we need money to grow this child and she need comfirmation from me if i can get money to grow up this child am doing this with faith because your mission in this world is to save life and make jesus happy and your comfirmation for the reality is holly sprit. am waiting for your response may be you are the one to save this child may be this is not the right place for this message but you can invite others who can do this

I originally considered simply tossing the email into the spam folder, but after some thought and prayer, I replied as follows:

No, my friend, YOU (and your girlfriend) are the only ones who can make such a decision to save your child’s life. (If indeed there is a child at stake here, and this is not a scam, as it appears.) I would happily give all that I own to do this, if it were true, but obviously I do not know you and cannot determine whether that’s the case. And, certainly it would not be wise to just pay out money to someone I don’t know who makes such a claim on email. This essentially amounts to blackmail. The decision rests with you alone. I am praying that you will do the right thing, and I know that God will take care of you and your family if you do. -          Larry

Have you received email messages like this? How would you respond if you did? What's the most manipulative or heart-wrenching scam email you've ever received?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Snookered by the Today Show

Today I was completely "snookered" by the Today Show.

Today Show reporter Madame Snooker with a very
officious-sounded Mr. Archaeologist in Jerusalem
"at the very (alleged) tomb of Jesus!"
I normally consider myself a fairly snooker-resistant person. The daily emails that come from Nigerian princes who for some reason want to give me millions of dollars, I dutifully ignore. Ditto for the emails I receive informing me that my bank account security has been compromised and urging me to log in and reset my password.

But this one completely got me. Perhaps it got you, too. At the beginning of the popular Today show they teased a story they said "could change everything." And indeed, it sounded quite dramatic: "Scientists believe they have found the lost tomb of Jesus. And buried inside may be his wife and his son! Stay tuned, you won't want to miss this."

And honestly, against my better judgment, I didn't want to miss such an amazing story. As a person who loves (and believes) the biblical account of Jesus' life, this would indeed be big news. Because:
  1. According to the Gospels, Jesus never married,
  2. hence He never had a son. And,
  3. perhaps most importantly, the Gospels tell us Christ's body was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where it lay until the third day ... when the power of God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.
In case you missed the story (the one in the Bible, not the farce on the Today Show), Jesus appeared to His followers, several times and in several different places, then finally called them all together to commission them before He ascended ... STILL ALIVE ... to take up His well-earned place as the eternal Lord of Lords and King of Kings at the right hand of His Father in Heaven.

So, if Jesus' body is still in a tomb down here somewhere, that is indeed Big News. It does indeed change everything. If true it would prove the most-loved book in human history to be a fabrication, the most powerful story ever told to be a big lie, and the whole idea of God Himself would be called into serious question. For me personally, I'm not sure what the point of continued (and very temporary) existence would be.

So I made the decision: I would wait and watch the story to see just what sort of "proof" they had conjured up.

Here's the snookering part ... this was one of those stories that they teased with a good hook, and kept doing so throughout the entire tedious hour-long broadcast, only to present it at the very end. So I had to endure all the rest of the relatively meaningless drivel they call news, not to mention all those hideous ads, before they finally got to the Big Story.

And what was that proof? That big story? Let me summarize it for you here ...

... some little-known archaeologist opened up a crypt of some sort in the middle of Jerusalem, right between two apartment buildings. Apparently there are a lot of these crypts around, supposedly dating from the first century. There was some dust inside that may or may not have been human remains. They made a big show of very official-looking scientists scooping it up into vials as if they were going to do some fancy DNA tests or something.

(And I'm curious ... if you are testing for Jesus' DNA, what exactly are you looking for, anyway? Half of the strand points to mom, but the other half does WHAT precisely? Does God's DNA glow or something? Of course, if you don't believe Jesus was raised by God from the dead, you probably don't believe he was actually the Son of God, either ... do you?)

But no, there was no big announcement regarding DNA, disappointingly. When it boiled down to it ... drumroll, please ... the big evidence was that this crypt had the names "Joseph," "Mary" and "Jesus" inscribed on it.

At this point I was at a bit of a loss. How exactly did this prove that Jesus was married? And had a son? They didn't really explain. The only thing they mentioned was James Cameron's crazy and unsubstantiated theory, derived I think from an apocryphal account which has been thoroughly debunked, about Jesus supposedly marrying Mary Magdalene and impregnating her before He was killed and buried. If this sounds familiar, you've probably been reading some of Dan Brown's entertaining works of fiction. Which I think may be where James Cameron came up with his theory. I'm not sure who's the chicken and who's the egg here.

Anyway, simply referencing the James Cameron theory seemed to be the end of that train of thought. Quite disappointing.

And as to the other "proof," the names etched in stone, one has to ask a few rather embarrassing questions. For instance:

Was Christ's the only first-century family with members named Joseph, Mary, and Jesus? Slate Magazine doesn't seem to think so:
Christ's given name, commonly Romanized as Yeshua, was quite common in first-century Galilee .... Archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 Yeshuas from the period of Jesus' death.
WHAT?!? You mean Jesus is buried in 70 other places around Jerusalem too?

Also, the Patheos blog "The Secular Outpost" says Jesus was "the sixth most-common name for Jewish males of the time period." Joseph and Mary were also very common names, by the way.

And that's assuming that the inscription was referring to who was actually buried there, and wasn't added by someone at some point as some sort of a blessing or epitaph on whoever was buried there. All kinds of possible explanations.

So, I've been kicking myself all day for wasting an hour listening to this kind of hogwash, when I could have been out walking in the sunshine and enjoying the morning air. I may or may not start watching the Today Show again once they stop getting their news second-hand from the National Enquirer.

But, on second thought, I guess this type of thing should be good for your faith. If hacks like those desperate writers at The Today Show seem to have to obviously dig so hard for dirt to throw at the magnificent name of Jesus this time of year, then the Easter message must really be getting through to somebody, right?

So, let's all repeat it together, shall we:


Monday, March 30, 2015

Celebrating a transition to Glory

Today we're reflecting on the life and legacy of Darlene​'s dad, Frederick W. French, who passed peacefully into glory on the morning of March 30 at about 3:30 a.m. in Victorville, CA. He was 95. For many years Fred had been anticipating this homegoing, and we are very grateful that he is now in the arms of the Savior he was so excited about seeing face-to-face.

Fred was a beautiful example to us: of single-minded devotion to Jesus, of care and concern for his family, and of integrity with all with whom he did business. Before he retired he was a valued agent of Allstate insurance, and at one point was celebrated as what they called a "Life Millionaire" for his extraordinary life insurance sales.

After he retired and they moved to live full-time in Wrightwood (where they had vacationed for many years), he worked tirelessly with his son-in-law Jerry and other contractor friends to build and sell custom homes in that community. His fingerprints are on many of the beautiful homes in that quaint mountain town.

He also loved (and even composed) sacred music. He kept a tape recorder on the bed stand near where he slept because he would often dream of tunes, and woke to hum them into the recorder for later development. He even produced a tape recording of his songs at one point after "retirement."

Fred led such an interesting life. When he was a teenager growing up poor on a farm in New York he came down with tuberculosis, then incurable, and spent seven years in a sanitarium. That's where he met Dottie (also a patient). After a cure was developed they were both treated and released, whereupon they married and moved from New York State to California, where they grew their young family, attended evangelistic services and received Christ, and helped start a vital and growing young church. (Darlene had 3 siblings. Her younger sister, Lori, passed away at the tender age of 14. Her older sister is Sharon bonds, and her older brother Gary French.)

In his latter years, Fred dictated his fascinating life story to Dottie, who typed it out and passed it along to us. Darlene and I had the privilege of putting it together into a small autobiographical book which you can now read on Amazon Kindle.

Fred touched many lives and I know many people will be saddened to hear of his passing. Please be in prayer for Dottie (also 95), and the rest of the family as we travel and gather together to celebrate on Saturday, April 18. We do hope you will also rejoice with us in the sure hope promised in Psalm 116:15 — "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why blog? Reason #1: To connect

This is the seventh and final post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I have examined one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

Yesterday's post looked at Reasons #3 and #2: To sell books, or to mobilize people for a noble cause. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #1: To connect.

If God created spiders to spin webs, and birds to sing, and bees to fertilize flowers and make honey, I believe He created people to communicate. In this, we are a reflection of Himself, for according to the Gospel of John He calls Himself "The Word."

While humans are not unique as communicators in the animal kingdom, for better or for worse we certainly do the most of it, and we do it the most intently. While communication can be holistically considered both sharing our thoughts, as well as listening to and seeking to understand the thoughts of others, most of us do remarkably better at the former than we do at the latter.

But, the beauty of blogging is that it encompasses both, at least to a certain extent. It provides us with a platform for sharing our thoughts with a potentially global audience, and also provides our readers with a mechanism for responding, through the comment functionality that most blogs incorporate.

When I first started my blogger liaison assignment with World Vision, I started by seeking out bloggers whom I felt would care about our cause and who might be open (if I provided the resources) to talking about it. The challenge, of course, was narrowing the field. With millions of blogs out there, many of them blogging at least weekly or even daily, how with a limited amount of time could I go about weeding out the chaff and finding and focusing on the ones with the best potential?

I was excited when, early on, I felt that I had found some good candidates. I read their blogs, enjoyed what I read, interacted with them, and contacted them asking if they might be interested in working with me. One gentleman in particular seemed amenable and I considered him an early win, as he posted some great World Vision content. So he was definitely "on my list."

A number of months later I was pitching him again, and this time he replied with a rather stinging rebuke, basically saying, "You don't read my blog. I'm not your friend. Leave me alone." (My paraphrase.) Naturally, he went off my list. I was taken aback, but as I reflected, I realized I probably deserved his rebuke. With zillions of blogs to sift through and read, I had stopped reading (and interacting with) his on a regular basis. Nonetheless I still treated him as if we had a relationship.

The reality is, those of us who blog want most to be read, and to interact with those who read us. My once-upon-a-time blogging friend was right: I no longer read him, interacted with his blogs, so I had no right to call myself a friend. No real relationship there.

At this point I started questioning myself: How on earth am I going to do this job? I had been told by consultants that it was reasonable to expect that only 1 in 50 blogs I pitched would actually "bite." If I wanted 10 or 20 bloggers to be posting my material each week, I couldn't, of course, be reading and interacting with 500 or 1,000 blogs each week. I'm too slow a reader, this is just one part of my job, and the math just didn't work. (1,000 blogs per week equals 200 blogs per day equals 40 blogs per hour, assuming I'm giving 5 hours per day to the task. I don't think I could read and interact with a tenth that number, let alone 40 per hour.)

Anyway, I haven't yet found the answer to my dilemma. I guess the goal should be to find and focus my efforts on the blogs that have the greatest potential for payback, slowly weeding out all the others. Better a high quality relationship with a smaller group of bloggers than a low quality relationship with a larger group.

I think the largest majority of bloggers out there don't really do it primarily for the pay. They don't do it to get famous, or to establish their expertise in a specific topic, or write and sell books, or to influence and mobilize a large number of people in some noble cause. They may not even do it to gripe, or to inspire. They do it for the most human of reasons: To be read, and to find, interact with, and hopefully connect with other humans during this very short time we are sharing together on this planet!

Thank you for reading through this series on blogging! Please comment and let me know your own reason(s) for blogging, and if they differ from what I've presented. List your blog and I may add it to my list (in the right nav) of blogs I follow. Thanks!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why blog? Reasons #3 and #2: To sell books, or to mobilize people for a noble cause

This is the sixth post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each post in this series, I examine one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

Tuesday's post looked at Reason #4: To practice writing. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #3: To sell books.

This is akin to reason #4. It may not really deserve to be here, but the reason I included it is because of my boss. She has convinced me to write my autobiography. I tell a lot of stories, some of them more or less true, and she always tells me: "You have THE most interesting stories! You definitely need to write your autobiography. I bet a lot of people would love it."

She may just be buttering me up and trying to get me to work harder (which is something some good bosses do, while others try instead to motivate by yelling and screaming), but I've chosen to take her at her word because that's just how vain a person I am. But then, once I decided that yes, I was going to write my autobiography, the next question was, "How?" And it occurred to me, I was already writing it, sort of, in my blog, which is where I tell a lot of my stories. Because my memory is basically about as holy as swiss cheese, I frequently have to consult my blog to help me remember all the great stories I have told. (Which might explain why some of them seem to grow in wonder the more time elapses between the event and the telling!) And so it seems natural I should use this blog as the basis for my autobiography.

So, if you are reading this, here's one thing you can feel good about today ... you are now reading something for free that someone may someday be foolish enough to pay money for, once it's been published in book form. Congratulations.

Reason #2: To mobilize people for a noble cause.

This really is probably the most admirable reason of all to blog, so I'm going to try for a moment to be serious. In my digital media role with World Vision, I run across a lot of cause-related bloggers. They pick the topic that most concerns them, for whatever reason, and they dedicate their blog to trying to make a difference in the world by motivating people to do something about that topic.

That topic can be fairly narrow. You probably wouldn't write an entire blog focused solely on human trafficking, but I know a number of individuals who have done just that. I admire them for it, and don't doubt that they are moving the needle in some way to change the world for the better by helping eliminate the horror of human trafficking. (By the way, did you know there are more human slaves of all sorts, now, than there were during the height of the West's slave trade in Africa? Appalling. I really hope more people will become human trafficking bloggers.)

In tomorrow's blog, we'll look at the final reason people blog, reason #1 ... Why blog? To connect.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why blog? Reason #4: To practice writing

This is the fifth post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I examine one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

Saturday's post looked at Reasons #7, #6 and #5: To become famous, to inspire, and sometimes to gripe. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #4: To practice writing.

I once knew a person who told everyone she was a writer. I think she told them this to gain their admiration, because, as far as I know, she'd never actually written anything.

Oh, she had good ideas for things she wanted to write, and when I first met her, I was quite impressed when she told me some of her ideas about the pieces she was supposedly writing. The ideas were inspiring and I was eager to read what she had actually written.

But after awhile I came to the realization that she hadn't actually done much (if indeed any) writing to speak of.

In my mind, if you want to actually be a writer, you need to do two things: 1) You need to do a lot of reading. Read good writers and think about why their writing is good, as you're reading them. And 2) You need to actually practice writing. A lot.

And a blog is, of course, a great way to practice writing. Think about it: You get feedback (hopefully) from people who read your blogs. If your writing stinks, you'll probably hear a lot of silence, and perhaps not get many, or any comments. (Yes, I realize that's awkward ... it probably explains some things about many of my own blog posts!) If you know how to access analytics on your blog, they'll also tell you that very few people are reading you.

But, if your writing is halfway decent, you'll hopefully get some readers, and possibly even some positive comments/feedback. And hopefully you'll also receive some good, specific and very honest feedback from friends who care about you, about what you can do better in your writing.

How great is that?

In my next blog in this series, we'll look at reasons #3 and #2 ... Why blog? To sell books, or to mobilize people for a noble cause.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why blog? Reasons #7, #6, and #5: To become famous, to inspire ... and sometimes to gripe

This is the fourth post in a new series I'm calling "Why blog?" In each day's post in this series, I examine one or more of the top 10 reasons people (including me) blog ... and what I have learned as a professional blogger and a corporate liaison to bloggers.

My last post looked at Reasons #9 and #8: Because it's there ... and in order to inform, or demonstrate (or establish) expertise. But in answer to the question "Why blog?" today's post examines, David Letterman countdown-style ...

Reason #7: To become famous.

Jorn Barger was an influential
early blogger, but his "Robot
Wisdom" blog no longer posts.
There are a few people who, because of the quality of their blogs or their expertise at whatever they are writing about, and also because of how they've leveraged their blogs to establish their name as a guru in whatever their subject is, have become famous in doing so. More power to 'em.

But, let's be generous and say there may be 1,000 such people out there for whom this is the case. Which doesn't sound like bad odds ... until you go back to what I said about there being hundreds of millions of bloggers. All the sudden, your odds of becoming famous by blogging plummet to at least 1:100,000. Not quite so great. Stick to playing the lottery, it's a lot easier.

I actually can't think of a whole lot of people made famous by their blogs. Matt Walsh is probably one, and I'm not sure he's a good example. (He describes himself as a "blogger, writer, and professional sayer of truths." He's far-right in the rather caustic vein of Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity, and it's possible his fame — he's said to have some 40 million readers, though I wonder about that — comes as much from how "out there" he is as from his actual blogging skill. But I haven't read that much of him so I probably should stop there.)

Reason #6: To inspire.

Okay, this is a very noble, altruistic reason, right? There are bloggers out there who blog simply to uplift the human spirit. They are good writers, and they have the gift of encouragement. They have the ability to paint a vision of the way things should be, and to stimulate us toward that vision. In a world full of preachers, these are the Joyce Meyers, the T. D. Jakes, the John Pipers, or the Joel Osteens of the blogging world.

If you are a very inspiring person, with an uplifting message to share, by all means, please blog! We need you!

Reason #5: To gripe.

I rated this reason ahead of reason #6 (to inspire) simply because I feel more people are using their blogs to gripe than to inspire. There's something in the human spirit that has a need to kvetch. I've even succumbed to some of this myself. For instance, see my blog about the silverware tray on my dishwasher, titled: "Hell needn't be hot -- mere bad engineering will suffice." Yes, I wrote a whole blog post, just to grip about the silverware tray that came with my dishwasher!

And, surprisingly enough, it's actually one of my top 10 most-read posts! Go figure. I'm hoping this is because I tried to inject some humor into the situation when I wrote it, and not because people simply can't believe I'm wasting my time griping about a plastic tray in a dishwasher.

Hmmm ... perhaps "to make people laugh" should be another reason?

In tomorrow's blog, we'll look at reason #4 ... Why blog? To practice writing.