Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Danger of 'False Conversions'

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In a new book by Vince and Lori Williams, Falsified: The Danger of False Conversions, the issue of how some modern-day churches (many of them classifying themselves as "seeker-sensitive") water-down the Gospel message is tackled. (Christian Post has a good review of this book here.)

A tree is recognized by its fruit. -Jesus
The Williamses' thesis is that a one-sided view of conversion as simply expressing a belief in Christ, as promulgated by many churches, has led to a high number of converts who have missed the key truth that conversion also involves repentance (turning from sin, to God).

In other words, Jesus not only provides complete forgiveness from sin (available to us as we believe in His grace), but also the power to live a changed life (available to us as we cast our lot with God in dependence on His Holy Spirit).

As a child, I clearly remember being told that the way to be saved was simply to believe. Romans 10:9 was frequently quoted: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

So true. And yet, Scripture clearly indicates that there are different kinds of "belief." There is, for instance, the kind that fallen angels have: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." James 2:19 would seem to indicate that mere "theological" belief is not the type of belief that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:9.

But then there is the kind of belief that John the Baptist spoke about in Mark 1:15, when he said: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!

When the time comes for true conversion, wholesale change, the first step is repentance.

There is also the faith that the writer of Hebrews speaks of in chapter 11, as he recounts Old Testament heroes whose belief drove them to obey God, to seek to please God, to take risks for God. "All these people were still living by faith when they died" (verse 13). Faith wasn't simply a theological expression of belief. It was a way of life, of changed life.

"Such belief (in the good news of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness) must be coupled with repentance. For salvation is not merely "fire insurance" designed for some life hereafter, in the sweet bye-and-bye. A biblical view of eternal life shows that it begins in the here and now. Jesus said in John 10:10, "I come that you might have life, and that more abundantly." He wasn't simply talking about Heaven in that verse. He was speaking of conversion, the life that He purchased, that He desires us to have, from this point onward: forgiven, free, cleansed, pure, and holy. Not just holy, but also wholly ... wholly owned by God.

This is not to say that the hope for Heaven, for a life far better than the one we can have here on this fallen earth, is not a key part of the believer's sustenance. But the "fire insurance" view of salvation, which says, "Heaven is the only thing that matters," is as out-of-balance as its opposite, the view that God's kingdom will only exist here on this earth. The statement that eternity begins now is true in so many ways; life after death must logically be a continuum from life before death.

A scriptural view of the saved person demands that their life bears evidence of their conversion. In John 15:16 Jesus told His disciples: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruitfruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you." And in Romans 7:4 Paul wrote: "So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." As Jesus said, in Matthew 12:33, "A tree is recognized by its fruit."

Many agree that "false conversions" have indeed compromised and corrupted many in our modern-day churches, causing many to live with a false sense of security, believing that they can live however they want (living for themselves rather than for Christ) here on earth since they are "guaranteed" entry into heaven. One has to wonder if Christ won't say to such people, when they cry out, "Lord, Lord!" in the day of judgment: "Depart from Me ... I never knew you!"

How about you and I? Do we simply "believe the right things" (theologically speaking)? Or have we truly repented of the sin that drove Christ to the cross? Have we turned away from our dead life, toward the new life that Christ offers? Does the fruit borne in our life bear evidence of the seed planted in our heart?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our Annual Christmas ... er, Easter ... Letter

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Well, I have a confession to make. I wrote the following post back during my Christmas break ... and just now (three months later) discovered that I never pressed the "publish" button! So, for those of you who have been holding your breath in anticipation, here is my annual "Christmas letter." Almost in time for Easter.

Taking a week off work around Christmastime has become a tradition, and also a great opportunity to get that annual review of our year done!

For me, there are three primary highlights of 2011: 1) My job transition at World Vision, 2) becoming grandparents, and 3) the growth of the young adults ministry God has blessed us to lead.

World Vision's Media Relations
website is packed with good info
for journalists.
1) The Web Guru Does Social Media

For those of you who are unaware of this, I've gained several "unofficial" titles during my 18+ years at World Vision. One of my favorite is "Dark Lord of the Web" (bestowed on me in a chapel by our president, Rich Stearns, after I got World Vision's initial internet program off the ground back in the late 90s and early 00s). Another is "Web Guru," which was actually the official job title bestowed on me by my friend and boss (approx. 2006), Robert Coronado (who also helped launch the first website on April 25, 1997).

I had transitioned, prior to that time, from our Marketing Dept. back to our Communications Dept. in order to focus on web content and editing our monthly e-zine. When I began work for Robert I helped with the relaunch of our homepage, as well as implementing search engine optimization and analytics technologies for our new site, and running a usability testing lab. I was secunded for a few months to start an emergency relief extranet for our international office, then took a three-year assignment with World Vision's public radio program, developing two web properties (one supporting daily spots on Christian radio stations, and the other supporting our hour-long weekly public radio show) as well as social media efforts.

But in March of this year my team was informed that World Vision was ending support for the radio program, and I actually got a layoff notice, which was a first for me. I and my radio team colleagues had a few months to wrap up the show and begin looking for new assignments. I applied for four other positions within World Vision (and several without), and in April was offered a position as social media strategist with World Vision's innovative and highly successful Media Relations department.

In many ways this has been a dream job for me, and I have been enjoying it very much. I work long and hard hours, managing the Media Relations internet site (with the help of several very able interns) as well as working on our social media strategy (connecting with journalists on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Linked In), including blogger relationships, internal PR and other related special projects.

I get to do some (limited) writing -- mostly limited to 140 character Twitter posts, several times each day! -- and blogging, including occasional guest blogging for World Vision's corporate blog site, which I actually started back in 2005 but which has come a long way indeed since those early days.

And now since I am an official "social media strategist" I also find myself paying a lot more attention to my personal blogs, where I have been trying to post engaging content at least once or twice each week, and nursing my "Klout score" (currently 45 ... my goal for the New Year is to get it up over 50, and eventually I hope to match my age!). Editor's note: Klout score now up to 54! I'm now half as influential as Justin Bieber. Supposedly.

Klout, by the way, is one measure of social media influence. Most people who are just starting out and "playing" with social media have a Klout score in the teens. You can get up in the 40s if you work at it and have a very decent influence within your networks. If you are a public personality, a highly visible organization like World Vision, or really experience success connecting on social media, you can get it up into the 50s and beyond. If you are a Lance Armstrong (70) or a Guy Kawasaki (85) you can rise further. You may even aspire to Justin Bieber, who tops the Klout scale at 100 with his nearly 17 million Twitter followers. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, I wander. Reigning it back in, hopefully you can tell I'm enjoying my new role with World Vision and am looking forward to whatever the next wave (Google+? Pinterest?) brings. It really is a blessing to work with such great people and to use my gifts and skills, and to indulge my fascination for new technology, all for such a great cause as being the hands and feet of Jesus to the poor!

Annabelle Ivy celebrating Christmas
at our house!
2) Can You Say Gramps?

2011 wasn't technically our first year as grandparents, as Annabelle Ivy Teeter was born on December 22, 2010. But it was our first full year. We were able to visit with Annabelle three times during the year: First in June, when the Teeters (including Mike's parents) flew out to Seattle and we launched a week-long road trip to Southern California, where we visited every grand tree betwixt here and there (and saw many other grand sights as well, including the always-breathtaking Yosemite Valley). Then again in the fall, when Darlene and I were able to spend a weekend on the Teeter farm in Osterburg, Pennsylvania. And most recently, during our Christmas vacation week, where we were able to stay at our favorite B and B (with Nathan and Becky too) in North Bend; take a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the snow and then follow it up with a nice German dinner and a walking tour of Leavenworth; and then celebrate family Christmas at home.

I know everyone's grandbaby is the cutest in the world, but all those others are imposters and for us it's true. Annabelle took her first real steps while she was here, which was very exciting. She is one of the happiest babies we've seen. She has pretty, dishwater-blonde hair and blue eyes and is very thoughtful, funny and creative. We were very sad this morning to have to put them all back on the plane.

This photo was taken at 11:11:11 p.m.
on 11/11/11, while we were celebrating
the wedding of two of our members.
3) Elim has a Pulse

Elim is our church, one of the first Evangelical Free churches founded in the USA (back in the 1880s), and Pulse is the young adults group that Darlene and I started there 10 years ago this coming summer. For several years we struggled to gain traction, but now the group is a steamroller, with 50 young adults on our list and 20-30 at many events. We typically have several events each week, including a Friday night meeting and a Sunday morning book study at Starbuck's.

The young adults in our group are awesome! They love Jesus, they serve selflessly each other, our church, and needy people in our community, and they are growing in their relationship with Christ and one another. We couldn't be more blessed with this group, and we are looking forward to seeing what the next decade brings.

Well, I have tried to include photos illustrating all our year's blessings, though I realized I really didn't have a good photo of my team at work (I'll have to take one as soon as I get back) so I put a graphic of our website there instead.

In closing I realize there are many more highlights to our year than those I was able to mention above ... our niece (Lauren's) wedding; Elim's freezing nights ministry, a great mushroom season, and many more. But most of all, we are grateful for the love and companionship of many friends this year; for good health; that we both have great jobs despite all the difficulties in the economy; and for the protection and blessings showered on us by our Savior who loves us! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Let's Get Siri-ous

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After years as a died-in-the-wool PC-only guy, I finally experienced the Apple revolution in my life this year, wholly through circumstances beyond my control. (Work bestowed upon me an iPhone4S ... since I lost my Android at the Newark Airport ... and then an iPad2. They then gave me a MacBook Pro and instructed me to use it to build a media display system. So I really had no choice.)

But I confess I have thoroughly enjoyed my induction into the halls of Appledom. These are amazing devices that are changing the communications landscape at a phenomenal rate. And since using them I have felt empowered to do things I have never done before ... or at least to do some old things in a new way.

For example: This week I have been locked in my house with my devices. Again, through no fault of my own. I am one of those rare birds who contracted Influenza-A despite being vaccinated against it ... twice. The first two days I could barely lift my head off the pillow, let alone carry on a sentient conversation with Siri (the iPhone4S' intelligent voice agent). But after the fever broke and boredom began to set in, I started playing with my new toys.

I admit Siri intrigues me (she provides some truly creative answers to the weirdest questions you can think of ... for instance, try asking her what her favorite color is), and so I began to wonder if others were feeling affected by her nonhuman presence in the same way I was. Thus I did a web search on the words "Siri" and "relationship." One of the results that caught my eye was this article in Scoopertino: "Apple introduces Siri Pro: For serious Siri lovers."

I'll let you read the article, but before you get too far I should warn you about their tagline: "All the news that's fit to fabricate." So I'm not sure what in this article we can believe, and what not; but one thing I actually wouldn't be surprised were accurate is this statement: "Over 65% of the questions and commands put to Siri by iPhone 4S owners indicate the user’s desire for a deeper bond." Boys will be boys (with their toys).

So, I began to wonder ... rather than use my new iPhone4S to strengthen my relationship with a robot, are there ways I could use it to strengthen my real relationship, with my real, flesh-and-blood wife? Hmmm. And suddenly, the light went on and I got an idea ...

(Conversation with Siri ensues ...)

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love her."

SIRI: "I can help you with that. But first, I need to know who you are."

Now that was an eye-opener. I've been talking to Siri for several months now, and apparently she doesn't even know who I am yet! Wow. At least Darlene took the trouble to memorize my name before our first date.

So, Siri proceeded to tell me how to go into my iPhone settings, the Siri module, and identify myself as the owner of my iPhone. (Which I'm sure will probably get me on somebody's marketing or spyware list. But oh well, it wouldn't be the first time.)

Once that was accomplished, maybe five minutes later, I started over:

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love her."

SIRI: "I can help you with that. But first, I need to know who your wife is."

Seriously, Siri? You are one smart computer. Aren't you smart enough just to go digging into my Facebook profile, see that my spouse is listed there as Darlene Short, compare that information with my address book and pull her up without further adieu? Apparently not.

But naturally, Siri told me how I could quite easily now go and click on my wife's name in my iPhone address book. And so I did so. Five minutes later, I was sure she now knew who my wife was. So I started over, a third time:

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love her."

SIRI: "I can help you with that. I am prepared to send the following message to Darlene Short:

Message from Larry Short: "I love her."

Insert here a moment of panic, stabbing of buttons, desperately trying to stop this heartless silicon ghost from sending my wife a message informing her coldly that I have given my heart, after 33 years of marriage, to a mindless machine.

Thankfully I was able to stop the message, delete it, and start over again. A fourth time:

ME: "Siri, please tell my wife I love you ..."

... but suddenly I stop, a chill of suspicion running down my spine. That just sounds oh so wrong. "Siri, please tell my wife I love you." How can I be sure Siri won't send the following message:

Message from Larry Short:
He wanted you to know that he really loves me.
You don't even hold a candle to my gigahertz processors, baby.
Why not pack it in right now?

I think that no matter how far we come, it's going to be hard (after HAL9000 and SkyNet) to ever truly trust an artificial intelligence again.

But, after a half hour of trying, I decided my investment was too much not to take the risk. With voice trembling, I authorized the transmission of the message: "OK, Siri. Send it."



Fast forward to dinner out, last night, our favorite Mexican restaurant. I waited patiently, but Darlene made no mention of any message.

So, dying of curiosity, I finally brought it up: "Did you get a message from me today?"

"Sure," she said nonchalantly.

"What did it say?" I asked. At this point she gave me a quizzical look.

"I love you."

Huge sigh of relief.

"So," I continued, as she picked at her tostada. "What did you think about that?"

"I can tell you in a moment," she replied thoughtfully. "But first, I need to know who you are."