Why A Comfort Dog

Why a Comfort Dog

This past weekend our church welcomed Lily the Comfort Dog at Good Shepherd. This is the second time now I have added a Comfort Dog to the staff of a church. The Comfort Dog ministry is a ministry of Lutheran Church Charities. You can visit the Comfort Dogs website at k9comfort.org.

You may be wondering what a Comfort Dog is. This is a video I made which I believe captures the essence of the ministry.

What you are able to see in the video is people interacting with others in a nursing home and Walmart. The dog is used to create a bridge to others. The Comfort Dogs seem to open up conversations that never would have happened without the dog. The dogs help people open up. They help people share. They help people get help for whatever may be affecting them. As you heard in the video, it is not about the dog, but the about people in need of hope and healing.

If you would like Lily to come and visit your church, school, or organization make sure to email her at . If you would like to help financially support this ministry you can donate on our church website at gs4nj.org/secure-donation. We also covet your prayers that God would bless and prosper this ministry to bring comfort to many people.

Radical Book Thoughts (Chapter 7)

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David PlattHere are some reflections on Radical, chapter 7: There is no plan B. In this chapter, David outlines 7 different “truths” revealed in the book of Romans.

  1. All people have knowledge of God.
  2. All people reject God.
  3. All people are guilty before God.
  4. All people are condemned before God.
  5. God has made a way of salvation for the lost.
  6. People cannot come to God apart from Christ.
  7. Christ commanded the church to make the Gospel known to all people.

The point is that Jesus is “the Way” and he has commissioned the church to make “the Way” known to the world. There is no other way. There is no other option. God has given us an important role in his plan of salvation.

Maybe the most striking part of this chapter came at the end. Here David pointed us to many Christians in America asking the question: “what is God’s will for my life?” All the while billions die without a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The world does not have time for us to ask what is God’s will for my life. The calling is clear. It’s time to “GO!”

Why I Am Declining the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

So I have been nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. If you have not seen this challenge then you have been living under a rock. It has been a great thing for raising funds and awareness for ALS research.

Certainly this challenge has meet it’s objectives. People are asking questions and talking more than ever about ALS. More than $15 million as been raised through this campaign and I am sure this number is rising. ALS is now at the forefront of people’s minds.

With all that said, I am going to decline the challenge. On so many levels I think it is a really great thing. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has long been known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The ALS Association website has a lot of great information. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain. A person with ALS loses the ability to control their muscles and essentially become entombed in their own body. Approximately 5,600 people in the US are diagnosed with the disease each year with an estimated 30,000 Americans currently living with it. There is no cure for ALS. There are treatments that help people maintain independence for a prolonged period of time. But the life expectancy of a person diagnosed with ALS is typically 2–5 years from the time of diagnosis. There is no doubt that it would be great to find a cure.

So why am I declining the challenge? The first question to be asked is: “what exactly are we supporting?” The ALS website provides information on where the money goes. Only 27% of funds received goes into research. So recognize that most of the money you send does not go towards finding a cure. And when it does come to the research, recognize that embryonic stem cells are used in that research. This may make some of you uncomfortable.

For the 15 million raised, another question to pose is: “will we get any closer to a cure?” According to my calculations, this campaign has helped the ALS Association raise more than half of their budget from last year. Even with all the money raised, there is no guarantee. We may never find a cure even if hundreds of millions were raised.

A third question I ask is: “what about other charities?” The funding for ALS research seems to be doing well right now. But there are many many other charities out there that do not have an ice bucket challenge and are in need of funding just as much and even more. Check out this Wall Street Journal Article about other charities looking for their own ice bucket challenge. I wonder if the ice bucket challenge is having a negative or positive impact upon these other charities.

Another question to think about is: “what is the human impact?” ALS is considered a rare disease. It is not nearly as widespread as something like cancer. You may not know anyone personally affected by ALS, but I imagine you know someone affected by cancer. So for what I want to support first, I want to be able to support something that will ultimately affect more people.

Another great need in the world today is water. There is an irony in this that while we as Americans dump water over our heads in the name of charity there are 3,000 children who die each day because of contaminated water and poor sanitation. We should not feel guilty that we can dump water over our heads. It is not like we can send our water to other places that lack adequate water. But let’s recognize there are many people in this world who are in great need of something we take for granted. The world water problem has a solution. There is a cure. There is tangible results. The more money that is donated the more wells that can be built.

The truth is that when you say yes to one thing you are ultimately saying no to a thousand others. Americans donate billions to charity every year. This is a good thing. Many of us have the good fortune to donate to many different things. But when we choose to donate, let’s make sure we know what we are donating to. If ALS research is on your heart then go for it.

For me right now my heart goes out to 28 children in Haiti. Our church is sponsoring the Timoun se Espwa Demen Orphanage by helping to supply food, housing, and schooling to these children. In January I will be leading a mission team to Port au Prince. One of our objectives will to help supply a solar power and a water filtration system to a well that can be used by a number of different orphanages.

So while I may decline the ALS ice bucket challenge, I am going to take some extra money to give to the Haiti Mission Work. I encourage you to be generous, but not out of guilt. Be generous in the way God leads and you cannot go wrong. If you would like to help bring potable drinking water to the children of Haiti, we welcome your support.

Radical Book Thoughts (Chapter 6)

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David PlattHere are some reflections on Radical, chapter 6: How Much is Enough?

We live in a world filled with great need. If you haven’t seen someone dumping water over their head in the name of ALS research in the last few days then you are living under a rock. At the same time we see the violence in Ferguson, MO. All the while 3000 children die each day from inadequate drinking water and poor sanitation.

There are a number of responses we can take. We can:

Avoid it

We choose not to see it. We choose not to recognize it. We don’t know about the great need, because we don’t want to know about it. Because if we become aware of it, we know we will feel compelled to do something about it and guilty if we don’t.

Ignore it

Ignoring it is similar to avoiding it. This is where we recognize the need, but choose not to respond. We often live busy lives and we don’t need anything else getting in the way.

Be overwhelmed by it

Who am I to do anything about it all? I am only one person. There is such great need. It is easy to become so overwhelmed by it all, that we just through our hands up in defeat and end up doing nothing.

Exploit it

There are many out there who take advantage of the needs of others for their own personal gain. This involves taking taking advantage of another person in despair. Prostitution is not often a desired choice for many women. It is often seen as their only option.

If you are reading this you probably thinking to yourself that you are not in the business of exploiting the poor. But we need to check our motives for helping. Is it to draw attention to ourselves? Is it to profit ourselves? Living in NJ we heard about many supposed charities to help Sandy victims. But these charities did nothing more than line the pockets of the charities organizers. To go along with that, how many church projects to help others are nothing more than a ploy recruit people to attend church. So often the motive of “outreach” is to grow our church.

Compassion

Compassion is God’s response. When we respond with compassion we are not responding with the idea to get anything in return. Compassion is motivated by what God has already done for us. God has already given me everything I need. I know that he will continue to provide everything. I believe that in faith. Compassion is not motivated by guilt. It is motivated by love. I am not going to feel guilty for what I have been given. Rather I am going to recognize the privilege in what I have been given. I am going to live in gratitude that God has afforded me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. This is not a “got to” it is a “get to.”

As you read this sixth chapter of Radical, what is God putting on your heart? I would love to hear in the comments section. How is God challenging you? What is the blind spot in your life?

Radical Book Thoughts (Chapter 5)

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David PlattHere are some reflections on Radical, chapter 5: The Multiplying Community.

The last thing Jesus told his disciples before he ascended into heaven was to go and make disciples. This is the Great Commission. This is all about the purpose of the church. For a long time I have pondered the difference between making members and making disciples. We are called to make disciples, but often we don’t go much further than making church members. Church membership and being a disciple of Jesus Christ are not the same thing. I wonder how much our church member making hinders our disciple making.

There are a number of thoughts that come to mind as I reflect on this chapter:

Am I being discipled?

Discipleship starts with me. I cannot very well disciple anyone else, unless I myself am being discipled. What are some specific ways that I can point to in my life where I am being discipled? Am I humble to be teachable? Do I have a willingness to allow others to speak into my life what may be hard to hear? Do I even have others speaking into my life at all? Is my relationship with God about looking for a fish, or learning to fish?

Who am I discipling?

The best way to learn is to teach. What is God speaking into your life today? It is not for you to keep to yourself. Share what he is doing. Share what you are learning. As I have grown as a pastor I have learned more and more that the most powerful lessons I can teach are the things God is teaching me. That may sound obvious. But it is easier said than done. You become vulnerable when you get to this point. That is not always comfortable.

Discipleship involves relationships

I was once told that the most important thing in ministry is relationships. The second most important thing is relationships. The third is relationships. God is relational. That is why he sent Jesus so that we could know him in a personal way. His desire for the church is to be united in such a way as the Trinity (one God in three persons) is united. Relationships take time. Not just quality time, but also quantity time. Relationships are not always convenient. Relationships create heartbreak. Being relational means being willing to let go of a certain amount of control. Discipleship would be so much easier if it was about programs and events.

Imagine you plant a flower in a garden. Then you ignore the flower for the next six months. You come back and that flower may not be recognizable. It might have dried out from lack of water. It might have been choked out by weeds. The point is that the planting of the flower is not the sole investment in the flower. Neither is evangelism and conversion the sole investment in people. This is why our vision at Good Shepherd is not simply to KNOW Jesus, but to also GROW as his followers.

Focus on the few and not the many

Jesus invested himself in 12 men. For three years Jesus poured himself into these men. Besides the 12 he further poured himself into the three – Peter, James, and John. I have found that one hour spent with an individual is often worth more than a year of sermons for that person. There is nothing more powerful in the realm of discipleship than the one-on-one. The most fulfilling moments in ministry are not the big moments as much as the intimate moments. It is sharing life with Men of Courage. It is praying with and for the Deacons at Good Shepherd in a small group. It is having lunch or breakfast with church members and sharing life.

So how about you? What are some of the thoughts that stirred in your heart after reading this chapter? What does discipleship look like and mean to you?

5 Best Practices for Better Passwords

5 Best Practices for Better Passwords

We have all seen friends have their Facebook or email hacked. When this happens they start posting or sending inappropriate messages. However, there are even more sinister problems that could occur. Passwords have become a way of life. We use passwords for our email, banking, and social media. If you are like me you have dozens of passwords for dozens of different accounts. Passwords can become difficult to remember and difficult to manage. Many people struggle greatly with this every part of their lives, so I want to share with you 5 best practices for better passwords.

Use different passwords

Maybe you have one password you use over and over again. That is not good. What happens when someone discovers your password? They will have the keys to your kingdom. They will have access to your email account, your bank account, and your Facebook account. Never use the same password more than once.

Use complex and random passwords

The most common passwords for 2013 were “123456” and “password.” Needless to say these passwords are not very secure. Using names, birthdays, and common phrases are easily hacked. A common practice of substituting “1” for an “i” and a “0” for and “O” does very little to protect yourself. The best passwords are complex and random. An example of a password I might use is: 8ysLk3w[4y%vD+9ERDuZ$. It is 21 characters in length. There is a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Some letters are uppercase and some are lowercase. This password will not be easily hacked. The problem however is that you are not likely to remember this password. But I will come back to that.

Use 2 Factor Authentication

Many services like Google and Facebook now use what is called 2 factor authentication. What this means is that you need to factors to verify your account. The first factor is your password and the second factor is typical your phone. When you enable 2 factor authentication on your account it will ask for your phone number. When you log in a text message will be sent to your cell phone with a 6 digit code. You will then be prompted to enter that code to access your account. What this means is that even if someone was to crack your password they would not be able to access your account unless they had your cell phone.

Change your passwords regularly

There are many people who will change the batteries of their smoke alarms each year when we set clocks ahead and then turn them back. This is also a time of the year you might consider changing your passwords, especially on you major accounts.

Use a password manager

I use a password manager called 1Password. There is also an iOS app to use on the iPhone and iPad. There is a Windows app as well, but I am not able to comment on the use of this app since I live in the Apple world. 1Password is how I keep track of all my passwords. The idea behind 1Password is that you only have one password to remember. It is the one password that accesses the 1Password app. 1Password will store all your passwords. You can generate complex and random passwords through the password generator. The Mac app generally sells for $50, but is often on sales on the app. It is currently on sale for $34.99. The iPhone and iPad app is currently on sale for $9.99. That may seem a bit pricey in a world where many apps are $0.99 or even free, but I have found that 1Password is well worth the investment to protect my passwords. The alternative could be exponentially more costly.