Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Prayer: Perseverance. Not Perfection.

One of the things I frequently hear people say, whether they be avid church goers or not, is this:  “I just don’t know how to pray.”  Google this, and you’ll definitely find thousands and thousands of suggestions on how people should pray; as it seems  that those who think they do know how to pray are more than willing to help out and/or offer their opinions.  I think this is great; unless, of course, one of these generous folks is extoling their way as the correct way or the only way.

When I first returned to the church five years ago, I was decidedly in the category of people who were confused about praying; at least in a way that I thought would be acceptable to God.  I was pretty certain my half-hearted attempts at asking for help during those years of my personal wilderness wandering wouldn’t cut it now that I had returned to church and was committed to taking God a lot more seriously.

Luckily for me, not long after I joined my church, the women’s weekly Bible study group offered a class reading a book by Bill Hybels called “Too Busy Not To Pray”.  There are two things I remember most about that study.  First and foremost, there is no right way or wrong way to pray; the most important thing is TO pray.  Some people go about their praying in a very methodical fashion; praying at the same time, following a particular process for their devotional time, always ending their prayers in the same way, etc.  Others are more flexible; waiting for the opportunity in their day to arrive when they have sufficient time and are in the right frame of mind to pray.  Still others pray while they are communing with nature, say,  while out walking the dog or taking a long bike ride.  And some never stop praying; they wake up with a prayer and keep it up all day long until their head hits the pillow and they fall asleep with a final prayer on their lips. 

I really liked learning in that study that “anything goes”, because it did seem to me that praying should be as individual as the person doing the praying, as distinct as the relationship they had with God at that point in time in their lives.   It troubles me immensely when I hear someone say something like, “One should never pray while they are lying in bed!”, or,  “You must always start your day with a prayer!”, or, “Don’t ask  for anything for yourself, only pray for other people!” because I think this both discourages people from praying (because none of it feels natural to them) and also gives them prayer performance anxiety (which, when you think about it, is about as counterproductive a thing imaginable when you’re talking to God!)

Although Bill Hybels reassured his readers that there was no right or wrong way to pray, he did provide some suggestions on how one might pray, which was really helpful for those of us who were clueless.  Over the years I’ve used many of his suggestions, modified them to my own style, and allowed them to continue to evolve (which has wrecked some havoc with my OCD tendencies but I’m fairly certain God’s working with me on this!)

The second thing I remember most about his study was a prayer format that provides some structure while still allowing for a considerable amount of flexibility and freestyle.  It’s called ACTS (hey, what do you know, that’s even a book in the Bible J )  Actually, I think the ACTS format is loosely based on how Jesus taught us to pray with the “Our Father”/ “The Lord’s Prayer”.

So,  the idea behind ACTS is that each letter stands for a different part, or  aspect of your prayer.  You begin with A, which represents ADORATION.   Here is where you offer your awe, your respect,  your reverence to God.  If you think about The Lord’s Prayer, it begins with adoration, “Our Father Who Art in Heaven HALLOWED by thy name.”  How long does one offer adoration before moving on?  I guess it all depends on how you’re feeling/what’s going on.  I have a tendency to pray the Psalms, so sometimes I’ll pray the entire 46th Psalm because I think it’s a perfect illustration of God’s majesty. Ditto for Psalm 100 (and many, many others!)

Next comes C, which  you’ve probably already guessed means CONFESSION or CONTRITION or CONVICTION. Any of those C words will suffice (but just don’t think CONDEMMNATION, please).  Boy, this sure is a personal part of the prayer, but the idea behind it is to CLEANSE.  Again, there are plenty of scriptures that can be inserted in here to get the ball rolling (Psalm  51 contains a lot of good verses, this is when King David was hanging his head low after the whole Bathsheba/Uriah episode).

Then there is my favorite, T, which stands for THANKSGIVING.    About the same time I did the Hybel study, I started keeping a Gratitude Journal.  It’s no big thing,  I use small notebooks picked up from the dollar store to record each and every day things that I’m grateful for.  Yeah, admittedly there are some days when I have to really think of something, but that doesn’t happen too often.  Here’s an example from one of my recent days: 

-Mom B brought us food.  YUM!
-A long day, thankful for the ability to get a lot done
-Received a nice compliment from John
-My cactus is blooming; a lovely spot of color to brighten my day
-Received a very sweet thank you note from Analee

So, after you’ve offered adoration, contrition and thanksgiving, the last piece is what is typically the longest for most people and that’s S for SUPPLICATION.  I at first wasn’t sure why this particular word was used for what I took to mean “requests”, but I think the supplication aspect is more about your demeanor as you make your requests.  The dictionary defines “supplication” as:

Supplication (also known as petitioning) is a form of prayer, wherein one party humbly or earnestly asks another party to provide something, either for the party who is doing the supplicating (e.g., "Please spare my life.") or on behalf of someone else (e.g., "Please spare my child's life.").

The Apostle Paul told his followers in Philippi to “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God.”   Philippians 4:6 

Excellent advice!

Again, people approach this differently.  Some have a standing list of people they pray for every day and add in others as the need arises.  Some will  make petitions on behalf of groups of people, such as “my family”, “my friends”, “the children of the world”, “those who are grieving”, etc.  For me it often depends simply on my own frame of mind whether I individually name all the people I pray for plus their request or take a broader approach.  I don’t worry about it, because I know God already knows what I’m going to say before I say it and He already knows what all of these dear people need.  I do almost always end this phase of my prayer by praying specifically for what I need most from Him at that moment; I can assure you, it almost always begins with a P (Patience or Peace!)

I like to end with requesting something along the lines of a blessing right before I say “Amen”.

I mentioned that I like to pray the Psalms (and other scripture), especially as those ancient authors were far more eloquent than I could ever hope to be.  Following is one ACTS prayer I compiled using mostly verses from the Psalms (with a little bit of Romans thrown in for good measure!) I find myself praying this or one of the others I’ve written  on those days when I just can’t draw any new words out of my heart, into my brain, and through my mouth.  I share in the spirit of providing others guidance in moments when they, too, might be struggling with what to pray.

One last thought about praying.  God desires perseverance, not perfection! “Rejoice in hope.  Be patient in suffering.  Persevere in prayer.”  Romans 12:12

Mrs. B

Lord God Almighty, none is as mighty as you.  In all things you are faithful.  I will always sing  of your constant love.  I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.  I know that your love will last for all time, that your faithfulness is as permanent as the skies.

I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want but do the very thing I hate.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (opportunity to be specific).  Wretched person that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I will praise you Lord with all of my heart.  I will tell of the wonderful things you have done (opportunity to be specific).  I will sing with joy because of you.  I will sing praise to you Almighty God!

Listen to my words,  Lord, and hear my sighs.  Listen to my cries for help, my God and King.  I pray to you Lord, you hear my voice in the morning.  At sunrise I offer my prayer and wait for your answer (opportunity to list prayers and petitions).
Ah Lord God, it is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you.

May the Lord give strength to His people.  May the Lord bless His people with peace.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Spoof Proof Yourself On Facbook

Spoofing is rampant on Facebook these days.  What is spoofing, you ask?  It’s when someone creates a Facebook account using your exact name and in many cases, your current profile and cover photo.  They then send friend requests to your current friends who may or may not accept said request.  If they do, they are then subject to private messages from “you” extoling some great marketing idea or how to get free money or whatever.  Usually, this sends up a red flag to your friend and they track you (the real you) down as ask, “What the…?” and you then  realize you’ve been spoofed.  Or, the Spoofer simply goes through your friend list finding those who don’t have secure privacy settings and starts  spoofing them.  Or, they do both.  It’s a mess.

How can they do this?  Because more than likely your privacy settings are allowing THE PUBLIC to see what you are posting, including your pictures, your friends lists, etc.  Also problematic; if  you “Like” or comment on a friend’s post or picture or link or whatever and they haven’t set their privacy settings correctly, then your activity related to their post is now also, you got it, open to the public.  You cannot control what your friends do or don’t do, but what you can  do is to go through a  Privacy Checkup to ensure 99% of your activity (including your pictures and your list of friends, the primary targets of Spoofers) are protected.  And then beg and plead with your public-oriented friends to do likewise.

I’ll walk you through several steps to get you protected but before I do, a needed clarification.  In these cases your account HAS NOT BEEN HACKED.  The Spoofers do not have access to your real account (although it’s always a good idea to change your password on a frequent basis).  Yes sometimes  people do get hacked, but it’s not as frequent as the spoofing.  Doing what I am suggesting will help you in both regards.  Also, of course, having your friends contact you whenever they see something out of character seemingly coming from you is also very important.  Once the Spoofer knows “the gig is up”, they’ll move on to some other person whose account is dreadfully public.

Ok, here we go.

Step One:  Run a Privacy Checkup. 

This is where you can quickly monitor who can see your posts (posts means everything you post) as well as your app activity (games and  the like), view your activity log (posts you’ve liked or commented on) and, extremely helpful, view your  profile as the public would see it or even a specific friend.  Let’s go step by step here:

From your homepage (where you see your profile picture and cover picture) go to the far upper right hand side and click on the padlock icon.

Click on the top box Privacy Checkup.

This is where you want to ensure (as pictured here) “Who do you want to see your next post?” is set to FRIENDS.  If  you see a little World emblem here, it means all of your posts have up to now have been PUBLIC.

Click next and go on to the app screen.

Here you can do several things.  Ensure your activity using these various apps is set to  Only Me (or in some cases if you like to share stuff using these apps, Friends).  You can also scroll down and see how many apps you’ve accumulated (bet you’ll be surprised, I know I always am!) and remove those you no longer use/want.

After you hit next, it will take you to a final screen where you can check who can see your contact information, date of birth, etc.  I didn’t do a screenshot of this one ;-)

Once you’re done with that screen, hit finish up and it’ll tell you “Yay You’re Done!”

But, you really aren’t!

Go back up to the padlock icon and click on Who Can See My Stuff.

So now you should see that only Friends can see your posts (since you just changed it, right?  Right!)

Click on the next box, Use Activity Log.

Wow!  Everything single thing you’ve posted, liked, commented on, shared, etc., will pop up here. 

The important thing here is the emblems on the far right of each activity.   See my top one?  My friend has his privacy settings set to “Friends  of Friends”.  This means that friends of his friends can see whatever is posted on his stuff.  This isn’t as bad as seeing the world (which means Public) emblem but it still means a lot of people I  don’t know at all can see my input.  Thankfully, if any of them are potential Spoofers, they can’t spoof me!

You’ll see the rest are set to Friends.  Much much better.  I’m proud of you, Peri and Alberto!

Many I noted this morning were set to Public.  I won’t publically chastise you, but, it’s mind-blogging how many people allow the Public to see their stuff. 

Here’s a good opportunity for you (once you get your act cleaned up) to gently let your fish bowl friends know they are opening themselves up to spoofing.

Ok, onwards.

Go back to the Who Can See My Stuff to the the third box down, What Do Others See On My Timeline.  Click on View As.

Ok it’s a little small but it will bring up what  your profile looks to the public.  This is where you’ll find out how much clean up work you need to do!  Be prepared to be alarmed.

In my case, I have everything I possibly can set to Friends or Only Me.  So, the only thing the public can see is 1) My current  profile picture and 2) My current cover picture. You’ll note they cannot see any personal info, any other pictures or any friend information.

The only picture’s privacy settings that you cannot control is your current cover picture.  For whatever reason, that is always Public.  You can, however, go back and change your past cover pictures to Friends, which I’ll explain in a bit.

You can set your current profile picture to Friends and it’ll be visible to the public but not down loadable (about the best we can do, but, if you have all your other settings done appropriately, a Spoofer can’t do much with just your profile picture).

How do you change your picture settings?  It’s simple to change your future ones (you’ve already done it, remember?) but going back and changing all the pictures you’ve posted can be tedious but it’s worth it because, remember, Spoofers troll Facebook for public pictures.

Here we go.

Step Two:  Setting Pictures to Friends

First  make sure you current profile picture is set to Friends.  Here is a shot of mine (temporarily!) set to Public.  You can see the picture of course but also who liked and commented (thanks for the compliment, Cuz!)  You’ll note that the picture is also available to be share, send, tag, download, etc. This, friends, is a Spoofer’s dream.

Change the setting by clicking on the world emblem just under you name.  You should set it to Friends.

Now here is the same profile picture set to Friends.  Looks pretty boring, huh?  That’s a good thing.  

Another quick note on profile pictures.  ALWAYS check when you change your profile picture to make sure it is set to Friends.  For some reason, Facebook likes to (sometimes) default it to Public.

Now, on to a biggie, checking all of your posted pictures for their privacy setting.

Go up to the  area on your profile that says Photos and click on it.

Then click on Albums.

Here are all of your albums (including one for videos if  you have any of those).  See the little emblems on the bottom right?  

This is the privacy setting.  Hopefully you’ll see a lot of Friends emblems (e.g., my Mom and Me album) but you’ll likely see the Setting emblem on many, too (typically profile pictures, cover pictures, mobile uploads, timeline pictures, etc.)  Here is where it gets tedious so I suggest you do this when you have plenty of time and either a big bottle of wine or a Venti Starbucks.  You will have to open each album  and click on every single picture to view its privacy setting.  Every picture will have that setting indicated under your name on the upper right.  If you see Friends, move on.  If you see the world, that means it’s open to the Public.  Change it, and click on.

Note that going forward, now that you changed Who Can See My Posts to Friends, all pictures etc. should be set to Friends but it’s always a good idea to do a spot check from time to time.  You know, when you’re bored  or are getting freaked out because your friends keep getting spoofed.

And speaking of friends, that brings me to my final step in securing your privacy settings, set who can see your friends list to Only Me.

Step Three:  Protect Your Friends

Click on Friends.

Click on the eraser next to Find Friends and then on Edit Privacy.

Change both setting here to Only Me.

 This will do two things.

First, it will ensure that anyone viewing as Public cannot see any of your friends.

Second, your friends will only be able to see your mutual friends.  So, for example, I have 231 friends.  If you are one of my friends from church, you’ll only see listed those people you are also friends with.  It’ll say something like “25 Mutual Friends”.  This doesn’t mean you won’t see when the other 200 something friends comment on stuff I post, but access is somewhat limited.  This protects MY friends from getting spoofed if for some reason I fall off the security conscious truck and got spoofed myself.

I hope this has been helpful.  I don’t have all of the answers, but what I know, I’m willing to share!

Peace Out.

Mrs. B

Friday, June 3, 2016

Rescued in Silence

“Be still and know that I am God…”
Psalm 46:10a (NRSV)

Whenever I see a couple who are obviously in the throes of new love, my heart both melts with happiness for them and twinges a bit for my going-on 12 year marriage.  I find myself thinking back to the days when my husband and I first met; those wonderful weeks and months of discovering one another. During that time, I remember noticing one night (while we were vacationing in Charleston), a couple eating at the same restaurant we were who ate their entire meal without saying one word to one another.  Being giddy with passion, I assured myself that we would never become like “that couple”.  But of course, years later, our relationship has mellowed.  Considerably.

Being a new Christian is a lot like falling in love.  Everything around you seems new; the world is a joyous place, everyone is your friend, and all you want to do is share your happiness and elation with everyone. Some look at you and either smile; glad for you and perhaps remembering their own similar feelings, or frown; wondering if you’ve gone off the deep end and if you’ll ever return to the way you were before. 

As “wise old marrieds” will counsel their younger counterparts, romantic relationships will change over time. Yes, you’re in love now and hopefully always will love one another, but times might get tough; there will be challenges, disagreements, and disappointments.  But, there will also be joy, great joy; and you’ll experience all of these moments and emotions with one another as  you grow in relationship together.

Similarly, our relationship with Christ evolves and grows.  Many of us likely start off running like a horse out of the gate, exuberant with our new found belief, desiring to tell all, to help all, to do all.  Sooner or later though, we’ll hit some challenges.  We’ll discover that making the decision to follow Christ does not equate to living on easy street; in fact, quite the contrary.  Life will continue to throw at us disappointments, hurts, and perhaps tragedies.  We may find ourselves at odds with fellow Christians over matters of theology or the administration of a ministry at church.  We may find ourselves longing for days when our passion was new.  We may find our faith shaken over and over again.  We may get discouraged and want to give up. 

As couples experiencing challenging times in their relationships may often remember their halcyon days and find in those memories the strength to persevere despite arguments and brokenness, it’s in the midst of trying times when Christians can likewise renew their strength of heart by remembering all that God has provided for us in the past, and draw from these truths  the promise and guarantee that He is with us in the present and will be there in the future; He who meets us wherever we are on our path of faith, but loves us too much to leave us there.

“You have done many things for us, O Lord our God; there is no one like you!  You have made many wonderful plans for us.” Psalm 40:5 (GNB)

“When I thought, ‘My foot is slipping”, your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.  When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer me soul.” Psalm 94:18-19 (NRSV)

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.  Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he has uttered.” Psalm 105:4-5 (NRSV)

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” Psalm 138:3

And as for “that couple” in Charleston; I’ve come to realize that, for all I know, I really didn’t know their story.  They might have been giving each other the silent treatment after a knock down drag out argument on the way to the restaurant.  Or, they could have been tired from a long day of sightseeing and were content to eat their meal without expanding the energy to drudge up something to say.  Or, they may have been one of those couples that were able to talk to one another or not, just being in one another’s presence was enough.  In any case, they were together and perhaps that was all they needed at that moment in time.

Sometimes resting in Christ’s presence, grace, love, and strength; silently anticipating what is next, is all that we need, too.

“I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 (NRSV)

He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again. 2 Corinthians 1:10 (NRSV)

Mrs. B