passwords

loginI don’t think I am the only one who has come to hate passwords, am I? In the good old days of telephone banking I might have to remember one password along with my date of birth and mother’s maiden name. I was rubbish at it. I could remember my date of birth and mother’s maiden name but kept forgetting the password.

Now password protection is everywhere and we are told to use a different password for each website and password-protected activity. How on earth are we meant to remember them all, and what chance do we have at remembering which password was for which event?

I have to remember a password to log onto my computer. And periodically my computer tells me that the password has expired and I need to choose a new one. Not re-use an old one, but create a new one! The pressure of trying to come up with a new combination of characters that would be difficult to guess and easy to remember causes my eyeballs to swap places and my brain to deflate like a sat-on whoopee cushion. And then when I switch the computer back on I have to try to remember the new password and the sneaky variations of capital letters, numbers, symbols and other special bits. And while I am typing these things in all I am shown is a series of dots so there is no way of knowing if I have typed the wrong thing. I’m sure that the stress we feel at that time is not healthy for us.

And then there’s the anxiety caused if the password that I have typed in is deemed incorrect. Now what? I try typing it again.

Nope.

I try variations on a theme.

Nope.

I try the old password (just in case).

Nope.

I type in the password as I remember it but R E A L L Y slowly.

Nope.

I start complaining to the computer that I am typing it in correctly in the hope that it will be sympathetic to me.

Nope.

I get to a place where I am almost in tears and, as a last resort, type in the password again.

And suddenly it’s deemed acceptable!

And that’s just to get into the computer. Next I am confronted by passwords for my email, for websites and for all manner of other things. And for some of them, if I get it wrong too many times, I then get presented with some squiggly letters and numbers that I have to try to interpret and type in to prove I’m not a robot! They’re almost impossible to read.

Others don’t ask me for the whole password, they just want the 3rd, 7th and 17th character from the password. How am I supposed to work that out?

And all of my other gadgets have password protection too.

Aaargh!

The only consolation I have is that if I am finding it this hard to get into my computer and logon to websites then perhaps those who have malicious intent will also struggle.

The thing about computer passwords is that you have to type them in perfectly for them to be acceptable. You have to have the right characters, the right case for the right characters, and the right characters in the right case in the right order. One mistake and it’s…

Nope.

As I reflected on my password angst I thought that perhaps this is a good analogy for the good news of Jesus: To be in God’s presence we need to get the password absolutely right: and the password is our life. One mistake and it’s…

Nope.

But the good news is that Jesus has given us his password – his perfectly-lived life. His death was the moment that his password became universally available and gives us complete access to God. And it always works. All we have to do is use it.

And while I am sort of happy with that parable, I am also discontent with it. Because it makes it seem as if God wants to keep us away from him and that he wants to keep us out. In fact the opposite is true. God wants us with him, he wants us to know him, to experience him, to be with him forever. He loves us so completely that we will never fathom the depths of his love. I get the feeling that rather than wanting us to remember the right password all he really wants is for us to want to gain access to him, to want to know the password. He will then supply the password and everything else we need.

Be blessed, be a blessing

that moment when your computer needs to update and you need to use it… urgently

I usually prepare my sermons in the first half of a week. That gives me space to reflect on it and adjust things. I usually wait until the Sunday morning to do any final adjustments before saving it as a PDF and sending it to my tablet computer from which I like to preach. This is what works for me.

Yesterday morning I switched my computer on just before 8am and gone to get a cup of coffee. When I got back to my computer I was faced with a message that told me that Windows 10 was installing new updates and that it may take a while.

old-man-window
Sometimes you have to wait for ages for your windows to update

Oh.

I needed to be on my way soon after 9.30am.

I did research options to see if I could intervene and stop the process but none of them seemed safe enough to attempt if I wanted to be certain of accessing my computer afterwards.

I then prayed. I prayed that the update might finish in time for me to access the computer and get hold of the sermon, or that at the least I might be able to remember enough to preach something close to what I had been working on earlier in the week.

I thought of an update(!) to an old joke that I could tell at the start of my sermon: A preacher’s computer decided to update itself on the Sunday morning so he couldn’t access his sermon. He had to go to the church without his notes. As he stood up to preach he explained the situation to his congregation and finished with these words, “… so today I will just have to rely on the Holy Spirit for my sermon. Next week I hope to do better.”

I posted something on social media via my phone so I could get some sympathy (with hashtags in case Microsoft monitors them) and perhaps some extra prayers. Other Ministers expressed that they were having similar problems – solidarity in frustration.

And I looked again at the passage from which I was preaching and tried to recall what I thought I was going to say.

By 9am I was entirely ready to leave: the car was packed, the satnav knew where to direct me, and I was clean and tidy. But my computer had only reached about 75%.

By 9.30am we were at 96%. But the final 4% seemed to be taking ages.

At 9.38am the computer announced that it had finished installing the updates. I smiled with relief and waited for it to boot up.

Except that the booting up was taking much longer than normal, presumably because it was still updating itself.

I managed finally to get into the computer and print off the sermon (on paper, not high tech tabletty stuff) and leave the house by 9.45am. I got to the church safely and on time and all went well from there…

This morning I tried to find out if there were settings I could change to ensure that this didn’t happen again. I couldn’t find a ‘ask my permission before installing updates’ setting. Instead there was a setting in which I declare my normal working hours within which Windows should not install updates. It had been set to 8am – 5pm. The updating process had happened just before 8am, but it took well over an hour and a half that took it into my declared working time. I have now adjusted that setting so that my declared working hours start earlier and finish later (at least as far as my computer is concerned).

So I offer a few reflections:

Did God speed up the updating process? I don’t think so. But he gave me the patience and serenity to cope in what was a very frustrating time. That often seems to be how he answers prayer – changing me rather than the circumstances.

Will I change the way that I work? Probably. I will transfer the sermon to my tablet earlier in the week so I have a back up I can use, but still do my final preparation on a Sunday morning and if necessary send a newer version to the tablet at that stage. Do we adapt ourselves to others or expect them to adapt to us?

What else have I learnt?

  • That God is more reliable than the other things I rely on to fulfil the calling he has placed on my life and I need to rely on him more and them less.
  • That it’s helpful having some good friends who offer good advice, prayers and (if nothing else) make me smile. I need to be ready to do the same for them.
  • The computer programmers who designed the software don’t appear to have thought through the implications of not asking us whether it is convenient to update at that particular time. How often do I pause to think through any unintended implications of my actions that may inconvenience others, even when they seem like a good idea?
  • It would have been helpful if a pop-up message had told me that they weren’t going to ask my permission to update in future so I knew what to do about that. How often does my failure to communicate fully with others cause them upset?

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the router

Yesterday I got home after visiting a church and was surprised to see that our Broadband connection had stopped working. I phoned our service provider and they checked the line and couldn’t see any problem.

network cableThey decided that they needed to send an engineer out and I was a bit alarmed at being told that if the fault was because of something we had done there would be a £60 call out charge. I was alarmed because with the work converting our garage to a study the phone / internet connection was moved and I was worried that we might be at fault, even though it had been working well previously and nothing physically had changed or moved.

I was also miffed that because of other meetings the earliest that I could accommodate their visit was Friday this week!

This morning I had a brainwave. The router supplied by our internet provider was new and had been working okay, and we still had the old router which worked well until I unplugged it to put the new one in. So I plugged the old one back in and it worked – the internet connection was live!

I phoned our internet provider and eventually spoke to a nice man, explaining what I had done. He was delighted to be able to say that he knew exactly what had happened. The new router must have done a firmware update while I was out and had adopted a setting that was incorrect. He talked me through what to do, and ‘tadaa!’ we now have our broadband connection back, the engineer is not needed and £60 is not in peril. Woop!

It may be a tenuous analogy but I think that God’s Spirit is in the process of upgrading the firmware of believers. The Bible calls it ‘spiritual fruit’ (Galatians 5:22-23) but it’s the same thing – we are being improved, made more like our Creator intended.

But (and this is where the parable of the router update fails slightly) there are occasional incompatibility issues. Sometimes we have to move on from past habits, attitudes, actions, grudges and other negativity that is holding us back from fulfilling our potential. It’s not easy because some of these things become like a security blanket or a teddy bear that we are comfortable with and don’t find easy to let go.

But the upgrade is worth it. If we let him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

change is inevitable apart from a vending machine (as I have previously said on this bloggage)

image

Things have changed a lot since I was a teenager. Technology has changed significantly (I am sat in a room with two other people who are also typing on their Turing Machines*) and has affected how we access and share information as well as how we communicate with one another.

There’s a line in the hymn ‘Abide with me’ that says, “Change and decay in all I see…” This reflects an attitude that correlates change with negative outcomes. I have to say that I don’t share that approach. This is not a nostalgic bloggage about how much better things used to be or a lament about the things we have lost. It is a recognition that change is not necessarily bad.

I have changed: I hope that I am a better person because of that, and I am now defined more by being a husband and father than being a son and brother (although I have not stopped being that as well). I am more experienced as a human being. I am more experienced as a Minister. I hope that I am a more mature preacher. I understand things differently today and I realise today how much I don’t know.

How have you changed? How much are you willing to be changed?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Alan Turing was the first person to postulate the concept of a Universal Machine that could carry out any calculations and be reprogrammed, which he named after himself. Modern day computers are the incarnation of that concept.

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happy endings

If they had released the news ten days ago we would all have assumed it was an April Fools Day prank. If it had just come in an email we would have ignored it as a phishing attempt. If it has been a Facebook status that we were urged to share we would have thought it was a sham or a scam.

Server RackBut apparently there is a bug in some security software that was supposed to make internet transactions secure that potentially has the opposite effect and would enable attackers to steal usernames and passwords, copy data and even set up spoof websites that appear legitimate. This loophole has existed for 2 years! The ‘experts’ tell us that there is no evidence that anyone has made use of this bug but we are still being advised to change all our passwords as a precaution. If you think this could be a spoof bloggage have a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-26954540 (unless of course that is a page that has been set up using the bug…)

It’s scary stuff isn’t it? Especially in a world in which we conduct so many of our transactions online.  And especially when we are urged to have different passwords for all of our different logins and we can’t remember which ones are which! Even more so because we probably login to the same sites from different gadgets so will have to repeat the process several times for each site. I predict that the inconvenience and frustration levels of internet users will rise over the next couple of days as we all try to do what we have been advised but can’t remember all of the details!

How many of us won’t bother? How many of us will assume that it won’t happen to us? After all, how many billions of transactions are taking place online every day, what are the chances that ours will have been intercepted? And the experts tell us that they don’t think anyone has been compromised. So why go through all of the hassle?

Last Sunday morning we looked at a passage from Luke 20 where Jesus issued a warning to the people in Jerusalem about its imminent destruction, while also containing warnings about the end of time. How many people ignored him at their peril when the Romans razed the city to the ground in AD70? The film Noah has just been released which shows a man and his family responding to a divine warning even though it seemed madness to those around them until the rain started falling.

When we talk about warnings about the end of time we can seem a bit bonkers. We can seem like the people who used to walk around with billboards: ‘The End of the World is nigh’ – at best quirky and at worst suffering from some sort of delusion. And for all of those reasons I think Christians have avoided the subject – unless somehow the public spotlight shines on them when they announce the date of the end of the world (and then announce a different date when the first one proves to be wrong).

But all of the scientific evidence points us towards an end time. This planet has finite resources that will run out eventually. The sun is going to expire one day (or night). There are predictions based on probability of cataclysmic asteroid impacts on earth. The environmental impact we have made on our planet is heating it up. And even our economic systems have been shown to be very fragile. We tell ourselves that these events are a long way in the future and are highly unlikely to affect us.

And Jesus did tell us not to try to work out when it will all happen. He simply encouraged people to be ready: “watch and pray.” If we have an eye on the future we will know that this world is not all there is and that one day it will cease – so we can hold much more lightly to the things of ‘now’ that will enable us not to worry so much about them, perhaps reducing stress! And if we are prayerful about it we can invite God’s perspective on who we are and how we are.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Now to change the passwords…

my sporting prowess

Space InvadersI had a very active weekend. I went boxing and ten pin bowling, played baseball and golf (not simultaneously). For those who are impressed I should confess that this was all on our Nintendo Wii. It was the first games console in which the game interprets the players’ movements with their controllers into movement on the screen. Gone are the days when button presses had to represent movement – do any of you remember ‘Decathlon’ where we used to pound the buttons mercilessly in order to make Daley Thompson run faster, jump further and higher, throw further? It was a leap forward (literally) from Space Invaders.

Today my arm is aching from over-exuberant jabs and hooks, attempts at scoring strikes, pitches and home run hits, and swings. Yes, it serves me right. Yes, I am over competitive. Yes, it was good fun.

Computer games are getting more and more realistic. So much so that it is possible to immerse yourself in virtual reality and possibly lose yourself there.

Is it possible that we are doing a similar thing in our churches? Are we simulating the real world with Christian music, Christian computer games, Christian dating, and yes, even Christian socks (seriously!!??). And by immersing ourselves in this virtual world are we in danger of losing ourselves there and forgetting the calling of Jesus to be salt and light in the ‘real’ world?

Be blessed, be a blessing.