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

grrrrr computers

tempting
tempting

I had one of those grrrrr moments over the weekend when my hitherto reliable computer decided it was time to become unreliable. (Before I go any further I would like to make it clear they do not want any “should have bought a Mac” comments please!)

Windows users will know that in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen is the icon for the Start menu. This is the place from which you access your programs and the bits of software that lurk behind the interface and which contain various settings that allow you to customise your experience. Rather annoyingly my Start menu decided to stop. When I clicked on it I got a “critical error” message with a reassuring comment that Windows would try to resolve the problem when I signed in again.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

So I signed in again. Same problem.

You get the picture. I checked various online forums and discovered that I was not unique in having this problem. Eventually I found a link on Microsoft’s support website that enabled me to have an online chat with one of their “Answer Tech” people. She was very polite, sympathised with my problems, and reassured me that she could sort them out.

And eventually she did. It involved creating a whole new me – or at least a new profile – and more or less starting again. The process of starting again took a very long time (and is still not complete). I have had to transfer all my files across. I’ve had to find a way of setting up my email accounts so that I did not lose the emails to which I need to reply (and those which I saved). I’ve had to try to remember passwords for websites and programs that I have forgotten.

grrrrr

But in the midst of the grrrrr have been a couple of moments when I have been able to stop and assess whether or not I needed to reinstall certain software. It’s the sort of software that keeps telling you how important it is and how necessary it is for you to synchronise your life on your computer with various mobile devices. And I’ve sometimes wondered whether it is as necessary and important as it thinks it is but never had the courage or time to turn it off and see what happens. But now, with the new me, I am able to run programs without the software and am finding that actually it s not as essential as it has been telling me.

And actually the timing is quite good because for the last month every time I have switched on the computer the apparently essential software has reminded me that my year’s support is about to expire and I need to pay them some money in order to keep it going. Now I realise I don’t need to. This will save me some money and also stop the annoying pop-up messages. Win win!

And it made me wonder how much of what I consider to be essential to my life really is that important. Last week and Sally and I swapped cars so she could go a long journey in more comfort and I found myself disliking her car because it was not as comfortable or fast or luxurious as mine and didn’t have all of the gadgets and gizmos that mine came with. But it’s a car. It goes. It stops. It’s more than most people have in this world. Cue another attitude adjustment to turn up the attitude of gratitude.

In the Bible many people found themselves challenged to address what is important and essential in life by their encounters with Jesus. When it boils down to it it’s not stuff that matters. The bottom line is that convenience is not essential. You can even live without all of the things that you consider to be priceless because of their sentimental value (even though that might hurt a bit). If you had to do a reinstall of your life there are lots of things you could do without.

What really matters is the quality of the relationships we have with other people and with God. Those are the irreplaceable essential vitally important things, aren’t they? They are what’s really priceless.

So how much do you value them? Are they the priority in your life? Does it show?

Be blessed, be a blessing

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…

blinking icons

If you are a PC user (Windows 7) you will know that in the bottom right hand corner of the screen is usually a set of small icons that indicate the main open programs that are running at the time. Most of them are fairly static. Occasionally you get I get a little blue circle on an icon to indicate that it is busy doing something in the background. Sometimes (and usually causing alarm) there is a little red cross on the flag, indicating that something important needs attention.

But the disappointing thing is that the icon that indicates that I am connected to the internet is static. It’s just a little picture of a computer that is connected to something. It used to be the case (in an earlier version of Windows) that there would be two little computers in the icon and the screen on each one would flash when the computer was sending or receiving information. I liked that, especially when it got frantic! That showed me that something was happening. This morning I noticed a little icon going frantic. It is the icon for Google Sync, which synchronises my calendar on this computer with the calendar on my tablet. There were arrows going up and down like mad things, illustrating that the program was doing its job and syncing. But this does not mean that the static icons are indicating that the other programs aren’t doing anything. In fact I don’t want the anti-virus icon to start flashing alerts, that would be really alarming!

As a Minister it is sometimes tempting to think that God’s only at work in the people in whom it is obvious that he is at work. When we can see someone who is actively putting their faith into action (most obviously seen in Baptist churches through Believer’s Baptism) we rejoice. But that does not mean that God is not at work in the lives of the people who are gently, quietly, surreptitiously going about their lives. It seems to me that God more often works through the unspectacular than the spectacular.

That’s one of the many ways in which he surprises us. It’s along the lines of Jesus saying that greatness is seen in service. He spoke of seeds germinating unseen in the ground before bearing fruit. He spoke of hidden treasure and of yeast working unseen yet permeating the dough. He entered this world hidden away in a stable. He achieved his aims by dying.

Don’t envy those in whom spectacular things are happening. Don’t think that God is not working through you and in you simply because your experience seems more mundane. God may well be at work under the surface, behind the scenes, without frantic action on your icon. Be faithful, be consistent, be a good free sample of Jesus, and you are doing all that he wants!

Be blessed, be a blessing

A bloke was struggling with his new computer, so he called the help desk.

The man on the phone started to talk in computer jargon, talking about mice, icons, RAM and the like, which confused the poor bloke further.

“Listen,” the bloke politely said, “This is all going over my head. Please explain what I should do as if I were a four-year-old.”

“Okay,” the computer technician replied. “Son, could you please put your mum on the phone?”

Time travel solves many problems

Yesterday my computer forgot who I was. In fact I’m not sure it even knew who it was. I tried to log on to the computer in the afternoon and was told that my user profile was corrupted. This meant that I could not access the computer as myself and it would not open up in such a way as to allow me to log on as someone else either.

What followed was not pretty. I will not give you the full gory details but there was some growling, a few frustrated exclamations of, “No!” and plenty of furrowed brow. None of the suggestions on the Internet* seemed to be very helpful or easy. in the end I decided the best thing was time travel.

Crashed car

In Windows speak that is known as a system restore: taking the computer back to a previous saved point in its history where everything works properly following a crash. This process is irreversible so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I clicked to activate the system restore and with a considerable amount of relief that it worked: eventually. The computer had to reinstall some updates that had taken place in the intervening period but for the most part no harm has been done other than to my stress levels.

Or at least that’s what I thought. this morning when I tried to activate my speech recognition software it told me that the user profile for that piece of software has also been corrupted. This means it has forgotten all of the words that I have taught it and is having to relearn my style of speaking. Because I’m feeling much calmer, there’s only been one gentle “Grrr”.

I’m thrilled that my computer has a system restore process. Without it I might still be gnashing my teeth and the computer might have been reduced to a smouldering pile of plastic and microchips.

I don’t think we have a system restore points as people. We can’t go back in time and pretend that some things have not happened. Instead God offers us fresh starts, wiping the slate clean, looking at us as if we had never done anything wrong if we seek forgiveness through Jesus. Yes there may be some consequences from what we have done that we need to work through with other people. But God’s forgiveness is absolute and limitless. There is nothing that we can say or do that he will not forgive we come back to him. God’s grace is perfect love poured out on imperfect people to bathe us in his perfection.

Bathe away!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

This is an oldie but a goodie:

At a computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated: “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving twenty-five dollar cars that got 1000 miles to the gallon.”

In response to Bill’s comments, General Motors issued a press release stating: if GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever your car would crash twice a day.

2. Every time they painted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn, would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to re-install the engine.

4. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would only run on five percent of the roads.

5. New seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.

6. Occasionally for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

7. GM would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of Rand McNally road maps (now a GM subsidiary), even though they neither need them nor want them. Attempting to delete this option would immediately cause the car’s performance to diminish by 50 percent or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation by the Justice Dept.

8. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

9. You’d press the “start” button to shut off the engine.

* those lateral thinkers among you will have realised that accessed it from another computer in the household

the parable of the PC

There are all sorts of variables when it comes to choosing computers. Yes, for apple-ites I am talking about PCs. You have to consider the processing chip speed, how many cores in the processor, the amount of RAM, whether it is 32 or 64 bit, graphics cards, screen resolution, and so on. All of those characteristics together determine how fast and powerful your computer is. And if you are looking to buy a new machine there are places that will promote one aspect of the machine, its strengths and neglect to tell you about the weaknesses that hamper its over all performance.

Several parabolic thoughts occur to me from this geekiness. One is that a computer could be used as an analogy of a church or a denomination. We have to work within our budget and seek to make the most of the resources we have. But we have to recognise our weaknesses as well and not seek to do things that those weaknesses will prohibit without addressing those weaknesses.

A second is that it is always possible to look at another computer enviously, while not acknowledging that what you have is a remarkable, impressive, oustanding feat of engineering, design and technology. Extrapolate that to looking at your own church, denomination, etc and affirm the positives.

And finally, and this is what got me thinking down these lines, my own laptop has 4GB of RAM but is a 32 bit system, so Windows 7 will only use 3GB of the RAM. There is 1GB (a quarter) of unused capacity. It seems a real shame that the full potential power of the laptop is unutilised: inhibited by the operating system. How do I inhibit the potential of others, or fail to recognise their potential?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

From http://jokes.christiansunite.com

My husband Jeff and I incurred several problems while assembling our new computer system, so we called the help desk.

The man on the phone started to talk to Jeff in computer jargon, which confused us even more. “Sir,” my husband politely said, “please explain what I should do as if I were a four-year-old.”

“Okay,” the computer technician replied. “Son, could you please put your mummy on the phone?”