Sunday, December 27, 2015

Paying for Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they shall be called children of God.

Late in January I'm sharing the pulpit at our church with Jason, one of the young men in our young adults group, called "Pulse." Jason and I have been leading weekly Bible studies together, along with several other young adults in the group, for the past few years, and I've really grown to appreciate and enjoy his leadership. He's passionate about the Word and about Truth and I'm praying that preaching a sermon alongside me at our church will be used by God in unique ways in his future to minister to the Body of Christ.

As you can see from the verse above, the sermon is on Matthew 5:9, the "Blessed are the peacemakers" verse in the Sermon on the Mount. In preparation, we've been studying the concept of "peace" in the Scriptures. I'd like to take a few blog posts to share what I'm hearing and learning, and to see what your thoughts might be on this subject.

What is the meaning of peace?

Most people know that the most common Hebrew word for peace is Shalom. What they probably don't realize is the root meaning of the word Shalom: "It has been paid for."

This word therefore reflects a key biblical and life truth that true peace must always come at a cost. Since time immemorial, the human race has been in conflict — brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, nation against nation, and ultimately, human beings against their Creator. Peacemaking (which is a process and cannot happen instantaneously ... note the word "making") always involves a price that is paid (by the peacemaker) to bring two parties previously in conflict into unity.

It's one of life's severe ironies that peacemaking can be a very violent process. "Officers of the peace," or police officers, as we know them, carry weapons and are authorized to use them to make or enforce peace. It is well known that the two atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ultimately created peace and probably saved tens of thousands of lives (even as they killed thousands and wounded many more) by bringing a dramatic end to the Second World War in the Pacific Theater.

Every enlisted soldier knows that he or she may be called upon to pay the ultimate price for his country, for the sake of peace. And most fathers are also willing to do the same thing to protect their families.

In the Bible, our quintessential model for peacemaking is Jesus Christ. Even before His birth, He was dubbed "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." In fact, He is not simply a peacemaker; He personifies peace, according to Ephesians 2, where Paul details wonderfully the price Christ paid to earn the title:

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility ...

We know from the accounts of Christ's crucifixion in the four Gospels that His life wasn't taken from Him against His will. In John 10:18 Jesus assures us: "No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Jesus laid His life down, shed His blood and allowed His body to be broken, to create peace between us and God. Because of the price that He paid (and not on the basis of anything we have done), we are no longer enemies of God: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

So Jesus truly is our Shalom; He paid the price so that we can be reconciled to God.

This then gives rise to a number of questions, which I'll take a look at in subsequent blog posts, but you can be thinking about a few of them now:
  • If peace is a result of a debt that has been paid, what does peace look like after this act of redemption?
  • If Jesus is our Peace, then what did He mean by passages such as Matthew 10:34 ("Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.")?
  • And how was Christ's role as peacemaker reflected in events such as overturning the tables of the Temple moneychangers?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

"Not by might, nor by power ..."

“So he [the angel] said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)Zechariah 4:6 is my life verse not because I’m good at doing what it says, but because I’m a very “Type A” person who has a tendency to push hard to try and get things done in my own power, rather than to rely on God’s Spirit. God has convicted me of these tendencies over the years, so a number of years ago I adopted Zech. 4:6 as my life’s verse to remind myself that the only truly good things that happen in my life come about not because of any skill, strength, or brilliance I might think I have; but rather, because of “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” Every day I want to ask Him to fill me with His Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13) and to be in control of what happens.

We live this Christian life together, so I would ask you to help me rely more consistently on Jesus, in addition to praying this prayer yourself every morning: God, please grant us the gift of your Holy Spirit today, and work in each of us to accomplish Your purposes. Amen! (Read more ...)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Passionate about sharing bad news?

As a social media community manager, lately I've noticed a trend in the assault on faith by what I would call "extremist atheists."

I differentiate "extremist atheists" from other kind of atheists because this particular flavor seems very passionate about convincing others that there is no God, or at least sticking it to those who believe there is. It's always seemed to me that your normal, run-of-the-mill atheist wouldn't be so motivated. Life is short, after all; why go to all the trouble if there is no God, there is no hope for our future; and there are no absolute foundational moral values (which follows on the heel of "there is no God," in my opinion). What's the point? The logical thing would be to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

But the extremist atheist is "evangelistic." Actually, that's not exactly the right word, since "evangelism" means "to share good news." It's also come to mean simply "the passionate support of a cause," but the root of the word is the Greek euaggelion, which is literally "good news." Since atheism's news really is bad news (there is no God, no hope for a bright future; when we die, that's the end of the story), I would propose the use of the Greek word diaphémizó, which instead means "to share bad news," instead.

So "evangelistic" would become "diaphemistic" in the case of the extremist atheist. They are passionate about sharing bad news. And bad news, unlike good news, really does have to be sold. You have to work at it. Who wants it?

The diaphemistic atheist would object they are simply crusading for the purpose of supporting and disseminating the truth. (Assuming their claim to know that there is no God can be supported logically and demonstrated to be the truth.)

What's interesting to me, then, is how the recent strategy I have seen being used by diaphemistic atheists flies so heartily in the face of logic. What strategy is that?

Here's an example on the wall of the Facebook site managed by the Christian humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse:

The lone commenter, our thoughtful diaphemistically atheist friend Marcus, would have us believe that if there really was a "Lord" He would not have "stood idly by" to let such a horrific thing as the Paris attacks happen. Rather than "standing idly by" He would somehow intervene when such terrible tragedies occur.

In Marcus' view, there are three possibilities. 1) The Lord, if He exists, is good and doesn't wish evil to happen, but is apparently incapable of stopping it. He is therefore not Omnipotent. Or, worse, 2) The Lord is not good. He simply doesn't care. Those terrorists can destroy lives all day long, it's none of His concern. Or 3) There is no such Lord. (And I'm guessing this third option would be the one the diaphemistic atheists support.)

Marcus obviously feels this is a thread hanging out of the garment of faith, which threatens to unravel the whole thing. So, in the name of logic, let's tug on that thread a bit and see what happens.

If the Lord was willing to intervene to stop the Paris attacks, it follows He must also be willing to intervene to stop other horrific evils: Let's start with the "big ones" — all wars, all terrorism. Maybe if you're of one political inclination you would add climate change, corporate greed, animal cruelty to the list. If you're another, you might add governments which oppose human freedom, abortion, hunger, disease, etc.

Now you're getting down into the weeds a bit. If a good God was willing to intervene to stop terrorism, wouldn't He also be willing to intervene to stop child abuse? Neglect? Traffic accidents? The coyote killing my child's favorite cat? Etc.

The world is full of evil and pain. Anyone with a brain knows that much of that evil and pain is caused — intentionally or not — by careless people who do wrong things. A husband cheats on his wife. A teenager commits suicide. A lonely and addicted man drives drunk and plows head on into a van on a family vacation, seriously injuring or killing its occupants. God must necessarily intervene to stop all these things, if we require Him (if He exists) to intervene to stop the Paris attacks. And if you don't support this statement, you're going to have a really hard time knowing where to draw the line. (If you can draw that line, that must make you God, right?)

So how would God "intervene" and stop our frequent tendency to do evil to our fellow human being and cause them pain? The only possibility would be through some divine intervention that violated our free will, right? He would necessarily have to turn us into automata that just did whatever He told us to do, mindlessly. Frankly, we wouldn't be having this discussion, if that were true.

I think the Christian narrative gives a much more logical answer to this dilemma. God created human beings "in His own image" — and a key aspect of that image is that we have inviolable free choice. When we are confronted with matters of right and wrong, big or small ... to steal a pencil, or to unload an AK-47 into a crowd of unsuspecting shoppers ... He allows us to choose, and doesn't forcefully override our choice. (In the Narnia Chronicles, C.S. Lewis called this the "Deep Magic," those inviolable principles of the universe, of justice and right and wrong, which God follows because they are His nature.)

But God is good. He is working to redeem a broken world suffering from the wrong choices of those He created with free will. That redemption is partial and not yet fully complete. But the price has been paid, God has taken the results of all our wrong choices and experienced the ultimate consequences on our behalf. And through that act He is working to gather to Himself a people in whom free will is working the right choices, from the center outward.

The redemption isn't fully realized yet, and things may get worse before they get better. There will be more Paris attacks, more child abuse, more hunger and starvation, more disease, more pain and injustice. But the injustice is temporary. Ultimately true justice will be served and the world made right — the right way, without violating the inviolable principles of the universe.

I would warn diaphemistic atheists that they too someday will be served justice. The Bible says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" God is not mocked. All things are working out for the good in accordance with His purposes, to those who believe.

On Thanksgiving, be thankful that you were created with free will. You can choose to mock. You can choose to be part of the problem, and not part of the solution. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

I've always thought of this passage in the way I think it was (mainly) meant to be thought of. In context, John the Baptist, whom Jesus said was the greatest prophet, was speaking about the coming of the Messiah ... his friend and cousin, Jesus Christ. He realized that once Jesus had been publicly identified, he must begin to step out of the limelight, to fade back, to let Christ take center stage.

But recently God has been doing some things in my life and heart, some difficult things, but some good things. And as I was reflecting on those things and read this passage, I suddenly saw it in a whole new light.

No, I'm not going to "reinterpret" John's message here. I agree, he was speaking primarily about stepping back and letting Jesus take center stage. God must get the glory! John knew that he had been appointed as the forerunner, the one who "made straight he way" for Christ's coming. Once Christ had come, his job was now primarily to simply get out of the way. In fact, very soon he would be going to a damp, dark, prison cell; and then he would be beheaded at the request of Herod's daughter. He had run the race, and he finished well.

But to me, this is a great example of how God sometimes speaks to us through His Word, using a familiar passage to convey new truth to our hearts directly by His Holy Spirit.

Struggling With Pride

Quite frankly, I have been struggling with pride issues — mostly related to my professional life. For 22 years I've had a good run at World Vision, and God has used me there to pioneer a number of new things which have been very successful, starting with our internet program which I began in 1997. I also began our most successful online product (online child sponsorship), and launched our online Gift Catalog (which has also been very successful). I launched our first corporate intranet; helped our international office bolster its web presence and start an emergency communications extranet called "WVrelief"; and launched most of our social media platforms. Finally, most recently, I've been involved in a number of re-iterations of our web presence; in search engine optimization and usability testing; in creating a web and social media presence for World Vision's (now-defunct) public radio program; and in helping improve our media relations division's web presence and social media and blogger relations. And currently I am a member of the corporate social media team, where I am doing some innovation activities, including managing our social media platform communities, creating a "social listening" strategy, assisting with social content and analytics, as well as "other duties as required." 

In most cases, after getting a new program up and running, I moved on to something else and let the people who were good at fine-tuning them and truly making them successful have at it. That's just kind of how God wired me, to be that bleeding-edge pioneer, to start things that others could then run with.

In all this I recognize that God could have (and certainly would have) used anyone else available if I hadn't been there. There's nothing particularly special about me in all this; in fact, most of the people I work with are far better trained and more talented in the specific aspects needed to manage and operate all these technologies and processes. I work with far better technologists, content marketers, and program managers than I am. I am a journalist/writer by training, and while I use that skill in my work, somewhat, it's not primarily what has caused all these things to happen. Honestly it's just a matter of "right place, right time" ... in other words, it's something God has done and I've been blessed to be a part of it.

But as I suppose it always happens, while we are tempted to live in the past, our glory days become eclipsed to some extent by the here and now. Now that all these programs have been up and running smoothly (thanks to the hard work of others), I find I struggle to a certain extent with pride issues! My "flesh" wants to be recognized and lauded for all "I've done." I want to be treated special. Now if someone at work says or does something that doesn't feel like respect, rather than just chalking it up to oversight, I'm tempted to grumble about being "put out to pasture" or "kicked to the curb." It's pretty ugly at the heart of it. So I'm trying to repent and let the Lord deal with it.

And the way the Lord deals with our pride is to humble us. I don't know about you, but I don't like being humbled. It hurts!

A Raging Battle

I know (in my head) that my value lies in what Jesus has done for me, not in anything I've done for Him (or others). My identity, my legacy, should be God's grace and not the various ventures He's allowed me to be a part of. My treasure is Jesus ... not my resume!

But unfortunately my heart doesn't always agree with my head. This was the mental battle raging between my head and my heart when we entered into our annual Day of Prayer on October 1 this year. World Vision does this the first day of each new fiscal year, and it's always a refreshing and challenging time, and God always uses it to shape me in ways that I badly need to be shaped. Our theme this year was taken from Exodus 33:14-15 ...
And he (God) said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he [Moses] said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.”
The first speaker for the day drew a very distinct line between "working for God" and "being with God." It's the old Mary / Martha dilemma; you can be so busy working for God that you neglect to be with God. In this passage Martha missed the presence of Jesus and the opportunity to sit at His feet and be changed by Him because she was too busy hosting Him! In fact, Christ tells us that there are those who will devote their entire lives to doing amazing things in God's name, and in the final judgment, He will say to them: "Depart from Me, for I never knew you." Jesus called these people "workers of lawlessness." But they were working for Him! But the true and primary work of God, the first requirement of the Law, is to "love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." You can't love someone without seeking their presence.

It was in this context, wrestling with these thoughts, that God suddenly used John 3:30 to speak truth to my heart. "He must increase, but I must decrease." If we want God's presence to increase in our lives, then we must make room for it. And the only way to make room is by "lightening the load" of our pride, throwing some of ourself overboard, as it were.

The Relationship Between Humility and Seeking God

Someone has said "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking less about yourself." I am too self-absorbed, too self-focused. To seek God's face (which in the Hebrew is synonymous with His "presence") is simply to stop thinking so much about myself and my own interests and my own dignity and the respect other people should be paying me; and to start thinking more about God and what He wants and who He is and how I can draw closer to Him.

When we begin thinking less about ourselves, and acting in accordance with those thoughts (which is true humility), we allow God to tip the balance toward His glory. He increases as we decrease. He becomes present in an ever-more-weighty (and "weightiness" is the key concept behind the Hebrew word for "glory") manner.

This idea (being rewarded by God's presence if we set ourselves aside and diligently seek His face) is not a theoretical or isolated concept in Scripture. It's repeated over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, witness Jeremiah's prophetic words to the Israelites who had been disciplined by God through exile:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord ...
It's a promise! And God is always true to His promises.

How do you make more room for God in the midst of your own busy life? Do you ever struggle with pride issues, and if so, how is God dealing with this area in your life?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hearing God's still, small voice

Recently a Global Media Outreach contact asked me, "What is the difference between instinct, and the direction of the Holy Spirit? How do I know when the Holy Spirit is speaking to me?"

I responded:

That's a very good question, a very important question! I know from personal experience that it can be quite challenging to discern (when you hear a "still, small voice" in your spirit) what is coming from you, and what is coming from God.

How does God speak to us?

First of all, I think it's important to realize that the Holy Spirit speaks to us in a variety of ways. The most significant one, I think, is through Scripture and prayer. As you are reading or listening to Scripture and meditating on it, and praying over it, many times you will realize something that God is trying to apply directly to your heart. This is the Holy Spirit speaking. As a Bible teacher, this has happened to me, time and again.

And sometimes His commands are very direct. Once I was visiting a renter, driving a small pickup truck. I stopped by to pick up rent. When I spoke with the lady of the home at the door, I did notice there were young children around, but didn't think much of it. I went back to my truck and started the engine, prepared to leave. Suddenly I had a very distinct and shocking impression that something was very wrong. It was just as if someone had shouted "NO!" but I didn't hear an audible voice, or anything like that. I sat there, stunned, my foot on the brake. It was a very strong impression, and I had no idea where that had come from.

Confused, I put the car into "park" and got out and looked around. To my shock and horror, I discovered a young boy, maybe 3 years old, sitting playfully on the back bumper of my truck. Had I backed down that driveway, as I intended, I would have probably run over and possibly killed him.

I am absolutely sure that God issued that very direct and unmistakeable command to me, in order to save that child's life. (Read the whole story here.) I also put dreams and visions in this same category: Dramatic ways God occasionally (but not usually) speaks to us.

Another way the Holy Spirit speaks to us is through brothers and sisters in Christ who are committed to God and whom you trust to tell you the truth. If a brother shares something with me, I take it to God in prayer. "Is this true?" I ask. "Is this from You? Please confirm this, if so." Then my conscience (which is yet another way the Holy Spirit speaks to us) will often let me know whether or not it is.

Confirming the still, small voice

Finally, there is that "still, small voice," impressions we gain, and wonder whether or not that is God speaking to us. God's interaction with Elijah, on the run from Jezebel, teaches us that He usually does not speak in a loud voice, it is usually just this — a still, small voice. I think this is mainly what you are interested in learning. If you get such an impression, I would take the following steps in order to confirm it:

  1. First, it must not violate any principle of Scripture. For instance, is what you are hearing in complete harmony with the character of God and the fruit of the Spirit? If so, it may be God speaking.
  2. Take it before the Lord in prayer, and ask Him to confirm it. God is never in a hurry. I believe He loves it when we wrestle with Him in prayer in an attempt to discern His will. I've never been disappointed after doing this.
  3. There are times when it is very difficult to decide which course of action God desires you to take. It is at these times I believe it MAY be appropriate to "lay out a fleece." Remember? This is what Gideon did in Judges 6 when God was impressing upon him to lead Israel. He said (and I'm paraphrasing for length): "If you will save Israel by my hand, then give me a sign." He laid out a fleece (the skin of a sheep) on the ground overnight. He asked: "If in the morning there is dew on the fleece only, and not on the rest of the ground, then I will know you are leading me." And in the morning it was so. But, he still had doubts. So that night he prayed, "If in the morning there is no dew on the fleece, but on the ground all around there is, then I will truly know that you are with me." And the next morning, it was so. So Gideon knew that God was speaking.

I don't recommend this third option, in most situations, because to me it borders on "testing God." (Especially, doing it twice, as Gideon did!) Obviously this was a very special situation and Gideon wanted to be absolutely sure he was hearing God correctly. If he had moved forward thinking that God was leading, when He really wasn't, it would have been disastrous for all.

Praying for shut doors

Along the lines of a fleece, if I think I am hearing a still, small voice from God, in addition to praying it over, and filtering it through Scripture, and talking with trusted Christian friends, I will finally pray: "God, I believe I hear You speaking to me. So I am going to step out in obedience. But Lord, you know that I am dull of hearing. If I am not hearing You correctly, Lord, would you please shut a door in my face and prevent me from misrepresenting Your will." I don't believe God will let us misrepresent Him, if we truly seek His face in a matter.

Is that helpful? Please let me know what you think.

- Larry

By the way, sometimes God will speak to you, through others (or to others, through you), and they (or you) won't even know that's what is happening. This has happened several times in my life. God has spoken a divine word to me through someone who had no idea he was sharing something from the Lord. Or I have shared something with a brother — a thought, or an impression, or even an opinion — which God used to speak truth to their heart. Later, they shared with me that it was God speaking to them, through me. Even though I was unaware of this at the time.

When have you heard God speaking to you? What did that look like?

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Third Miracle

I was chatting with someone on Twitter tonight who asked if I'd ever experienced a true miracle. I told him about the three big ones in my life, and how I had blogged about each. First there was the Muslim taxi driver in Trinidad who came to Jesus after God used him in a miracle. Then there was the time in Southern California God protected a small child (sitting unbeknownst to me on the bumper of my truck) from injury as I was about to back over him.

And finally, there was my mountainbiking accident in 2003. But when I started looking for this on my blog, I soon realized I had never actually told the story here. So, here goes.

It was August 2003 and my wife and I were taking our daughter Mandy to Southern California for her first day of college at Pt. Loma Nazarene University (PLU). We drove down in order to haul her stuff, so I also took my mountain bike, as I had long wanted to do some biking in the beautiful mountains of the Angeles Crest Forest.

I had a full day to kill before orientation at PLU, so I started early on a Friday morning, parking my car at a popular trailhead then grinding up a long, arduous forest service road (which eventually turned into hiking trails). Four or five hours later I had achieved a peak which crowned the local ski summit. I rested up a bit then started downhill, which was my reward for the long, grueling hours of uphill work.

I had a lot of fun slaloming down the dirt trails, and then reacquired the forest service road. It was a rough, single-lane asphalt road, bordered on the south by a steep drop into a canyon far below. But I was enjoying myself, and after it turned to asphalt I let the speed out a little.

Hence I was going a little too fast, perhaps 25 mph, as I turned a corner coming down the hill maybe halfway or so down. In front of me suddenly appear a gully filled with large rocks, where the asphalt had washed out. Had I been an experienced mountain biker, rather than trying to brake I would have brought the nose up high and tried to power through the rough spot. Instead I hit the brakes with all my might. And slide right into the washout.

My front tire caught the asphalt lip on the far side of the washout and pitched me forward. I took the full impact of the broken asphalt on the far side of the gully, right on my face.

Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet. The top portion was crushed by the impact with the asphalt. (I have no doubt I would have died, had I not been wearing one.) But, unfortunately, I wasn't wearing a face shield!

Five of my top teeth were snapped in half by the asphalt. My lips were smashed. In the crease where my upper lip joined my lower lip, on the left side, my cheek was torn open about an inch or two. (Standing on my left side, with my mouth shut, you could see my molars through the wound.)

My nose and right eye were badly abraded by the asphalt. Somehow my nose wasn't broken, but my right cheekbone was. (I didn't know this at the time. I knew something was broken there, but thought it was my jaw.)

My right knee was also torn open and blood was pouring down my leg as well as my face.

Healing up from my injuries.
I lay there or sat there on the asphalt for awhile, my head swimming, stunned and grappling with the sudden immensity of unbearable pain. Eventually, I struggled to my feet and began to examine my bike, which was no longer rideable. With nothing else to do, I began to limp down the hill toward home. But I had no idea how far away that was.

I had seen no traffic whatsoever all morning and was very alone. (Had it been a Saturday, there might have been hikers.) I had also had 0 bars on my cellphone all morning -- no signal whatsoever.

So I limped along down the hill for about a half hour, making as best time as I could, but I doubt if I traveled more than a mile down that hill. Probably half that. And then, I began to feel quite faint, and suddenly knew I couldn't take another step. I had lost a lot of blood, the pain had been intolerable and I felt as if I might pass out. So I sat down by the side of the road and considered my situation. I took my cellphone out again and stared at it. 0 bars. I had no options.

That was when it hit me ... I hadn't prayed! I couldn't believe it. It was a half hour since this accident, and I was in desperate straits. I was ashamed of myself. I called myself a Christian, one who trusted in God to save him. Yet I hadn't even prayed about this very desperate situation. (To this day, I have no idea why.)

So I shot up the quickest and most desperate prayer of my life. I think I said, very out-loud: "Please help me, Jesus! I don't want to pass out here and become food for mountain lions. I don't want to die. I need a miracle!"

I then looked down at my cell phone again. Zero bars.

But suddenly, in front of my amazed eyes, it shot up ... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 bars! I thought I must be hallucinating.

I dialed 9-1-1. It started ringing. I counted 20 rings before there was an answer. "9-1-1 ... what's your emergency?"

I explained that I was in the Angeles Crest and I'd had a serious mountain-biking accident and needed help. There was an awkward pause. "Angeles Crest? You mean as in Los Angeles?"

"Yes, the mountains north and east of Los Angeles," I replied. "Where are you?"

"San Diego," he answered. About 150 miles due south of where I sat, covered in blood, on that dusty roadside.

That wonderful 9-1-1 operator then jumped into action. "Don't worry," he said. "We'll figure out exactly where you are, and get you help. Do you know what county you're in? Are you in Los Angeles County?"

"I'm not sure," I told him. "I'm near the border between Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, I think."

"Well," he reassured me, "I'm dispatching a rescue helicopter from San Diego right now. But I'll also get both San Bernardino and Los Angeles county rescue units on the line and we'll figure out which one is closest to you."

As it turns out, L.A. county rescue was closer. They said they knew approximately where I was and were dispatching a rescue unit up the trail.

As soon as that was over, the 9-1-1 operator said reassuringly, "Okay, Larry, I'll stay on the line with you until they get there." I was about to say, "That's great," when all of a sudden the line went dead. I looked and the 5 bars of service dropped back down to zero.

But, I told myself, they knew where I was. So I just sat and waited, as patiently as I could and trying to keep conscious, about another 20 minutes or so, until I finally saw a swirling dust cloud on the road as the rescue squad from L.A. County made its way up the trail. (I've never been so happy to see a swirling dust cloud before!)

The rest is something of a blur. They put me on a back and neck brace, which was excruciating due to my injuries. In the ambulance on the way down to the hospital, I was going into shock, so they gave me oxygen and started an IV (after numerous tries in my collapsing veins, my rescuer finally found a vein in the back of my hand), and I soon began to feel slightly better. I called my wife and as calmly as possible told her what had happened. ("Hi honey! You'll never guess where I am ...")

Darlene and my daughter drove down to the emergency room, and my very patient wife (who is an R.N.) even helped stitch up the wound in my cheek. After lots of x-rays and bandages, I was released.

Mandy had planned to be a nursing major at PLU in San Diego (ironically!). But when she saw my swollen and disfigured face, she decided that day to change her major to art!

The next morning the three of us drove down to PLU for Mandy's orientation. Much of that day she spent explaining to people: "This is my dad ... but he doesn't normally look like this."

After a month or two my broken cheekbone fused and healed up fine. (You can't actually set a broken cheekbone, I learned.) My dentist did wonders repairing my broken teeth, then probably took a vacation to the Bahamas afterward on the earnings. The wounds to my lips and mouth were very painful for a week or two, but eventually my cheek wound healed and now the scar is pretty much covered by my moustache. You can still see damage on my nose, if you look carefully; but I'm not a model anyway, so what the heck.

I did learn some things from this experience. I learned how to mountain-bike more safely, and never to ride without a helmet. (I've been in one other very serious cycling accident since then, and a helmet saved my life in that one, too.)

But most importantly, I learned that prayer should not be a last resort when you are in trouble! God cares about us, and He is standing by to help when we really need Him. Just remembering the sight of those reception bars on my cellphone zipping up from 0 to 5, the moment after I prayed, has bolstered my faith in many a crisis since that day.

How about you? Have you ever witnessed a true miracle?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is the Media Playing the Trump Card to get Hillary Elected?

POLITICAL RANT ALERT: Please change channels now if you can't handle it.

After watching CNN blather on this morning about Donald Trump, a couple of thoughts occurred to me when they showed the current poll with Trump way out in front of other Republican candidates (28%, nearest contender, Dr. Ben Carson, with something like 12%) ...
Can Dr. Ben Carson heal a broken GOP? (The Daily Beast)
When was the last time we heard the media elite profile ANYTHING Carson had to say? I've heard him speak, he's an incredibly intelligent fellow, and nodoubt has intelligent things to say. But you wouldn't know it by listening to CNN and the like. All they talk about is Trump said this arrogant thing, and Trump said that stupid thing, and Trump said this other angry thing. Every time he opens his fool mouth there's 100 cameras whirring.
We all know that the media elites would like for nothing more than to see Hillary get elected, but as things stand now she stands only the slimmest of chances. So what's the trump card they could play (pardon the pun), the only thing that might give Hillary a chance?
Dr. Ben Carson: #BlackLivesMatter misdirects righteous anger
to political convenient targets, ignoring true culprits. (USA Today)
It's Donald Trump, of course. If he doesn't get the numbers he wants and goes independent, he could split the Republican Party. If he stays and keeps blathering on, and somehow secures the nomination, I'd like to see a poll indicating how many Republicans (like me) would leave the party and declare themselves Independents. Once again, potentially throwing the election to HIllary.
Trump is by far the media's best (possibly only real) chance to actually get Hillary elected. No wonder they're talking about him 24x7. God forbid they should give any profile to an intelligent candidate like Carson.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Taking the Kingdom of God by Violence

Occasionally I publish posts here reflecting my conversations with Global Media Outreach contacts who are seeking to learn about Jesus or grow in their relationship with Christ. I serve as a volunteer "online missionary" with this great organization that is reaching millions of people with the Gospel, all online. (If you'd like to know more about how to get trained and serve in this way, please let me know.)

One thing I love about my contacts, and particularly those in developing nations, is the astute theological questions that they ask. These questions always force me to study Scripture to find an answer, which always blesses me immensely (and hopefully blesses them as well).

One young man from Nigeria, with whom I have been corresponding extensively, recently asked:
"Please share your understanding or opinion of this verse: 'The kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force.'"
That was a very interesting question, because I had been perplexed by that verse many times but had never received sufficient motivation to truly dig into it. But now I had it! His question spurred me to read a number of evangelical commentaries on Matthew 11:12, and the scholars who wrote them all seem to more or less agree on an interpretation which makes very good sense to me, now that I've studied it through. And I also think it has some incredible applications to things we struggle with here, today, in America ... far, far away from Nigeria! (Where the church obviously struggles with many other issues.)

Here's how I responded to my contact:

Context is always important, but it's extremely important here in this passage in Matthew 11. Jesus has been speaking about his cousin and precursor, John the Baptist, who is now sitting in prison. John "made straight the way" for Jesus by preaching repentance of sin, baptizing, and pointing toward the coming Kingdom.

The sequence (in Matthew 11) really starts in verse 3 when John (from prison) sends his disciples to inquire of Jesus whether He truly is the one to come, or whether they should expect another?

We know that the Jews longed for deliverance from Roman oppression, and expectation was high that the coming Messiah would provide that deliverance. But it didn't seem to be happening. Jesus didn't appear to be in any hurry to raise an army. And so one can understand why John, sitting in a Roman prison, was growing tired of waiting. He essentially asks: "Jesus, are you truly the Messiah? If so, WHEN are you going to bring the promised deliverance?" (I.e., "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?")

Perhaps even John the Baptist, whom Jesus said was the greatest prophet ever born, didn't fully understand the nature of the Kingdom that Christ was ushering in.

In that context, Jesus' words in verse 12 make more sense: "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it." In their impatience for deliverance, crowds had thronged to the counter-cultural John. And they were doing the same thing to Jesus, in an even greater way. The New Testament tells us that even His own relatives sought to take Him by force and make Him their king. Why? They were all tired of waiting for military deliverance from the Romans. They wanted to "take matters into their own hands." (Sound familiar?)

I think the message for us, today, is that God's ways are not our ways. He does not bring the Kingdom to us on our terms, He brings it on His terms. In Christ's day, that meant turning the other cheek and laying down your life for those you loved ... not raising up an army.

How Does This Apply To Us, Today?

We may be passionate for the blessings and benefits of God's kingdom, as the hearers of both John and Jesus were. Here in America, we struggle mightily with a false teaching called the "prosperity gospel" (also known as "word of faith"). Some preachers teach that God does not want you to be poor, he wants you to be wealthy. All you need to do is name it and claim it. These preachers are ravenous wolves who fleece gullible people who are tired of living in a cycle of poverty and want to have nice things.

This false Gospel is (in a sense) an attempt by violent (passionately greedy) men to "take the Kingdom of God by force" -- to make it after their own image, to define it to be what they in their own flesh want it to be and not what God wants it to be.

But Christ will never allow that to happen. Ultimately, He is the head of the Body and the Body exists to serve Him and His plan. He is the one who decides what the Kingdom is and will become. That is why we must commit ourselves to following His lead (which is completely different than thronging Him and seeking to misuse His name to get what WE want).

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Comcast is evil ...

... they bugged us for months about "upgrading" our modem (which I pay them a monthly rental fee for, like an idiot) to the latest, greatest, fastest, newest tower model. It includes an integrated wireless router which they promised would deliver greater speed. (I have "TriplePlay" with a home phone, which I didn't even want and tried to get rid of, but they were going to increase my price to remove this "service." But the home phone of course depends on their leased router.)

So I finally relent and they send this me this magnificent new device. I spend hours getting the old one all untangled and unplugged and the new one installed, only to discover:
  1. Now I'm locked into a new (Comcast-provided) network name and password. Apparently I can't change either.
  2. Therefore I have to go through all my devices (Sony set, Blue Ray, 2 Chromecasts, and wireless setups on 2 phones) and update my network settings to the new network SSID and password. Plus I have to tell everyone else who visits our home who depends on our wireless. I spent hours doing this yesterday.
  3. The new wireless signal is EXTREMELY WEAK (5 bars on the old one, 3 on the new) and crawls like a baby. I can no longer access any of my apps or features on the Sony set or Blue Ray (like Netflix), it's simply too slow and times out. On my laptop wireless, internet runs so slow I can no longer effectively use Facebook. (Which as a social media professional, is part of MY JOB.)
  4. The new tower is broadcasting some sort of new public wireless internet access point into our neighborhood (independent of my private home network -- see the linked article for confirmation). This has GOT to be affecting my bandwidth somehow, since it's all feeding through that little coax cable sticking out of my wall. (And the electricity, which I also pay for, is powering all this.)
I've joked before about how Comcast's goal is apparently world domination: to get you completely dependent on all their services so you can never disentangle yourself, and then to ream you with escalating bills from now until the day you die. And possibly longer. And now you can add to that something I never thought possible: they charge you for the privilege of providing wifi access to OTHER customers who are also paying them for it! What's wrong with this picture?

I swear, at this point I'm ready to cut my losses, throw in the towel now, and try to find some podunk internet provider who cares. I shudder to say it ... but Century Link? Any other suggestions?
I'm also considering joining this lawsuit against Comcast ... what do you think?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fire Morels

Morels in the griddle, simmering in butter and Tawny
Port over a open maplewood fire, with tri-tip steaks
and asparagus waiting to be sauteed in the gravy.
Okay, this is very possibly the best meal in the world, so I had to brag about it a little bit here and make your mouth water.

Last weekend my sister Kay and I went up to the Carlton Complex Fire burn area (off highway 153 in the Methow Valley, between Twisp and Pateros, in the region northern Washington state where the Cascades slope majestically down to the eastern plains). Our goal was to hunt first-year Fire Morel mushrooms, which typically spring up in such a burn area that has swept through Douglas Fir or other candidate trees at certain altitudes.

In case you're not aware, Morels (Morchella tomentosa, M. esculenta, M. conica and similar species) are considered to be among the best eating mushrooms in the world. They grow in many areas of the world and are common in the northwestern and northeastern parts of the U.S.A. during the spring. Michigan is probably the state where they grow in greatest abundance. They grow predominantly in the wild, although I have read about one facility in Michigan that has learned the complex secret to domesticating Morels and growing them in the laboratory.

For a reason not everyone understands, but probably relates to soil chemistry, Morels (particularly M. tomentosa, the greys) are most abundant in the spring in areas that have previously experienced a forest fire. They grow most abundantly the first spring after the fire. They are lean the second spring, but if the second spring has been relatively dry and the third spring gets good rains, they can come back. The fourth spring is the leanest of all, then they return to normal levels of rarity after that.

Kay can hike the slopes like a mountain goat, if there
are possibly any Fire Morels to be found up there.
They also grow occasionally in areas of timber that has been harvested, and in old apple orchards primarily in the Northeast. Here in the Puget Sound region, we occasionally get them in beauty bark beds, which contain ground bark from Douglas Fir trees which I assume have hosted the Morchella mycelium. I'd been looking (fruitlessly) in the forests of Puget Sound for them for years, when a friend who lived a mile away sent me a snapshot of a mushroom growing in his lawn. "It looks like a dog turd," he said. "What is it?" I recognized it immediately as a Morel, and quickly rid him of his infestation.

There are several varieties of "false Morel" so you have to know what you're doing, harvesting them. There are Verpa bohemica (which grow in lowlands under the cottonwoods common in this area), which look and taste a lot like true Morels, and most people can eat them (if cooked well, as you also have to do wtih true morels), but a higher degree of incidental allergies occur with them. The Wikipedia page on Verpa says they are "edible if properly prepared." (By the way, check out the meaning of "Verpa" on that page. I won't repeat it here!) The most telling difference between Verpa and Morchella is that the latter is hollow inside, whereas the former is filled with white fluff.

My son and I have also found "Snow Morels," Gyromitra (gigas or montana), which look a bit like a calf brains or disfigured black morels (though the color is more reddish). They are also said to have an excellent flavor, but have a toxin related to hydrazine (the primary component in rocket fuel) which must be cooked out first (avoiding the fumes). And even so most experts advise not eating them due to the risk, according to what I've read. The ones we found, we threw out. Better safe than sorry.

Anyway, last Sunday afternoon we started hunting about 3 p.m. By 6 p.m. we had thoroughly searched two of the three canyons that we had identified as potential candidates on a map, but hadn't yet turned up a single Morel. (We did find one lonely Bolete! Slightly off-season.)

There were several mushroom buyers who had set up shop down in the town of Carlton, so we descended the mountain to go talk with them. While there, we saw a number of hunters coming in with bins full of Fire Morels. I struck up a conversation with one, and told him we'd been hunting all afternoon and hadn't found any. He laughed out loud.

"It took me three days up here, hunting, before I got into my first patch," he said. "But once I figured out where they were hiding, it wasn't too bad."

I was glad he shared that. I didn't feel as bad then about my lack of patience.

I told the mushroom buyer I didn't want to return home empty-handed (we only had time to go check one more canyon before dark fell), and asked if he could sell me any. He said he couldn't, but he would give one of the sellers from whom he was buying permission to sell to me instead! "I was going to pay this guy $7 a pound for his top grade Morels," he shared. "Ask him what he would sell them to you for."

The answer was $10 per pound. Which was way less than I expected to pay for top-grade, table-ready Fire Morels*. So they sorted through his bins of blacks and greys (and a few blondes), and weighed out slightly more than a pound into my bag. I paid him $10.60, and then tipped the buyer my remaining change ($4.40) for his generosity. Even $15 didn't seem too bad (to me) for reaping part of the benefit of his three days of work (and our five hours of fruitless searching).

After we thus procured something to show for our trouble, we went and hunted in our third canyon, once again without finding anything, until it became too dark to continue. Kay helped herself to a few of the morels I'd purchased, and we parted ways.

The weather turned nasty that night on the way home, and a bad accident involving a hapless deer and a trailer full of motorbikes in the lanes right in front of me delayed my return until about 1:30 a.m. But, despite all the bad luck, I returned home a happy hunter with my nearly-a-pound of top grade morels.

Nathan and I found these nice Black Morels during our Spring 2014 hunt.
Most of what we found, we located in the first hour of two full days of
hunting. And we ate them all that first night!
And Monday night my son and his wife came over and we cooked them up into the meal pictured above: tri-tip steaks seared in a cast iron skillet then grilled over an open flame fueled with chunks of maple hardwood. The morels were sauteed in the meat juicy pan with butter and a sweet Tawny Port. The gravy that resulted was then used to saute a nice bunch of asparagas. With more butter.

Add mashed potatoes and watermelon chunks, and wash it all down with a nice Cabernet, and we duplicated for our spouses the meal that Nathan and I had enjoyed in the mountains of Eastern Washington following our first successful morel hunt in the spring of 2014.

"What did you think?" I asked my wife, after dinner.

"They were good," she said, "but after years of you talking about how wonderful Morels are, I think you set my expectations a little too high. They're just mushrooms, after all. And it must be disappointing to have to buy them, after driving all that way."


Where we hunted was about a four-and-a-half hour drive from home. Each way. But, I don't regret it. It's the Mighty Morel we're talking about here, after all! And it's not every day you get to enjoy one. I do plan to go back, once or twice more before the season is over. And find one (or hopefully more), I will!

*About Morel grading: Three grades are used to describe a Morel just brought in from the field. Grade 1 means table ready -- crisp and fresh. Grade 2s have some flaws which relegate them to "dehydrate only" status. And grade 3s are moldy, or broken, or floppy, and otherwise not worthy even of being dehydrated. They are usually thrown out behind the tent, into a pile which the buyer hopes will, next year, spring forth some nice, new mushrooms right near his buying spot!

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.