Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I never got to be a wiseman, until now

Christmas growing up always centered on church with the big event being the Christmas pageant.

In those days, we just called it the Christmas “program.” We were simple folk and “pageant” sounded a tad too uptown.

I always wanted to be a wiseman, but never made the cut. It was very disappointing and I'm not sure I've ever gotten completely over it.

By the time I was grown enough to fit the part, our little church had moved into the “modern day” by discarding the traditional reenactment of the Nativity.

Instead of the brilliant simplicity of the Christmas story read from the Bible and enacted by kids and teens costumed in bathrobes, towels, ingeniously pinned sheets, and a silent toy baby in a manger playing the part of Jesus, we moved to “skits” and “cantatas” that were supposed to make the Bible story more relevant.

These were miniaturized dramas and musicals cast in some contemporary setting that modernized the story of Jesus' birth. It wasn't so much about Him any longer as about the season and good feelings. Or so it seemed.

My attitude toward this was not progressive. I preferred the traditional retelling of the events. Still do.

Getting to the big day

On Christmas Sunday, which was whatever Sunday fell just prior to December 25th, that's when it all happened.

In the morning service, it was always the little kids reciting lines from pieces of paper the size of fortune cookie fortunes.

All ages from the little to the small to the tiny participated. But no big kids, adults, or teens; they were on in the evening service.

Always there were a couple of little ones who couldn't remember the four or seven words they were tasked to memorize, and so had to be coached by their teacher or parents mouthing the words, s-l-o-w-l-y, one at a time, exaggeratedly.

And, of course, there were the precocious kids that recited perfectly every word with the diction of an experienced Thespian.

Show offs.

But it was all adorable. And touching.

Parents ran to the front and jockeyed for position to capture the precious moment featuring their child sharing some tidbit about the coming of the Child.

In between the shuttling off stage and on stage the various age groups, we all sang Christmas carols.

Silent Night. O Come All Ye Faithful. Joy To The World. All the traditional greats.

We knew the tunes. We knew the words. And we sang our hearts out.

In fact, the carols during worship service (or what we called “the song service”) began on the first Sunday of December. The typical hymns, songs, and choruses were all sidelined. The month of December was all about singing the Christmas carols – the songs of the season sung only this one time of the year – and nothing else. Period.
Sidebar: Editorial comment 
I find it infinitely ironic that, today, there are worship leaders who refuse to sing more than a smattering of carols, claiming that people are tired of the them because they hear them over and over again in stores and on the radio throughout the month. Yet, these same worship leaders will put up the same choruses and songs week after week all year every year! Their arguments are baseless and they are nothing more than Christmas carol Scrooges and Grinches.
Back to the pageant prep

We began preparations right after Thanksgiving for the pageant. The casting calls went out, adult assistants were recruited, and the rehearsals began.

But really, we all knew the different parts by heart. The only questions were who would be cast as whom based on age and growth spurts. Whoever had the better looking bathrobes also factored in.

I moved up dutifully through the ranks.

I did the morning service several times as a small child, saying my part, and, later, participating in the song flute choir.

Everyone knew that every fourth grader was given a song flute at school so there was no dodging this duty.

And now the big show!

After my years of morning service appearances, it was onto the big stage of the evening service, our stage being nothing more than the raised front of the sanctuary. A wire was strung across the front and hung with sheets that acted as curtains. We kept it simple.

Over my years of Sunday performances I was an angel and a shepherd.

For boys, the progression went more or less like this: angel, shepherd, wiseman, and then, if you were lucky, Joseph, or maybe the innkeeper.

Every once in awhile a Roman soldier or miscellaneous bystander was tossed into the mix.

Do you see the problem here?

The same number of kids moved through the ranks, but while there was always a need for a “host” of angels and any number of shepherds, there were only three wisemen, one Joseph, and one innkeeper.

The competition for these roles heated up as we aged. It was all a matter of numbers. Although I’m guessing some backroom politicking went on among the mothers.

For girls, it was worse since they had to jump directly from angels to Mary and that was pretty much it.

Again, on occasion there would be a need for a female bystander or the innkeeper would get a wife. Sometimes girls even got to play shepherds. But these were all hit and miss.

Don’t forget the candy!


The pageant wasn’t the only thing we looked forward to on Christmas Sunday. Besides dreaming of the sweet part in the pageant we also longed for the special bag of candy.

Every year on Christmas Sunday every person in attendance got a small white paper bag of candy. There was also an orange or an apple included, but the candy was the real prize.

We all prayed that the bag we got would have one or two extra of those little caramel candies with the white sugary filling. Those were gold.

The handing out of the candy happened after the morning service and was executed decently and in order. No one took more than one bag unless a family member was home sick. After all, it was the season of colds and flus.

But the men who handed out the bags knew who was there and who wasn't and we didn't even have to ask for the extra bag; they knew.

As times changed and inflation grew as steadily as we did, the bags held less and less and the selection of candies became more limited.

Finally, before they were abandoned altogether, the fruit was eliminated and all that remained were a few pieces of the cheaper hard candies. The anti-sugar movement was the final stake. Bah! Humbug!

Being a real-life wise guy

I miss the bags of candy and the pageants. And I’ll most likely never get the chance to take on the role of one of the three wisemen in one.

But, for all of us, there are opportunities to be wise men and wise women every day. The Bible offers a lot of guidance on how to be wise. Here are four key tips:
  • Shun Evil: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7, NIV).
  • Embrace God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalm 111:10, NIV)
  • Seek Wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NIV).
  • Bank Knowledge: “Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14, NIV).
Being wise in life is a lot tougher than donning a bathrobe and a cardboard crown and standing silently next to a makeshift manger as the narrator intones the Word.

Real-life wisdom requires doing the Word.

There have been days that wisdom ruled. Others where, well, I played the fool way too well. Fortunately, God’s grace can redeem even the dumbest episodes.

His grace was made flesh in a manger in a cave a couple thousand years ago. About two years later, the original wisemen, the Magi, found him, were overjoyed, and worshipped him.

Those wise men had to travel from afar to find the Child, the King of kings. Today, we only have to travel to our knees and this King will take up residence in our hearts and be near to us day in and day out.

How to be a wise man or wise woman today? "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

So, I guess I made it after all!

But I still miss those bags of candy.

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Merry Christmas! What are some of your Christmas memories? Feel free to share...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Early to Christ, late to faith, on time in the process

I’m not a sports fan so was not that familiar with Joe Gibbs. I know, there are some readers who are at this moment aghast. Others, still, are not surprised.

But I did read an article about Gibbs posted, oddly it seemed, in the Belief section of CNN.com.

I guess Gibbs has coached and now owns a NASCAR racing team. The article described him as an “NFL legend.”


Okay. That’s cool.

His sports accomplishments were not particularly intriguing to me. What was interesting, however, was his description of coming to Christ.

You see, Gibbs is a Christian. Like me.

With Christ sidelined

He’s apparently experienced some rough times in his life and hasn’t always been faithful to his faith.

But now, he’s renewed his relationship with God and is taking his faith much more seriously.

The article puts it like this:
“Gibbs says he found comfort amid the turmoil in a renewal of his faith. A life-long Baptist, Gibbs says he’s not fond of denominational distinctions and says he and his wife have always gravitated toward, ‘Bible-believing churches.’”

“He became a Christian at a young age, ‘I made that decision when I was 9 but I spent a part of my life drifting, you know, I was on God’s team but I wasn’t playing for him.’”

“He says spiritual mentors like a Sunday school teacher in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and some of his Redskins players helped him get back on track with a deeper, more meaningful Christian faith even while the struggles were at their worst.”

“‘Part of playing the game of life is you’re going to have some losses,’ he is fond of saying.”
I can’t recall where, but I also recently read another article about someone else who had a similar childhood conversion experience.

They grew up in a Christian home, were always at church, accepted Christ, and then went on their merry way, more or less ignoring the responsibilities of their commitment.

I can relate.

Playing for real in the game of life

This was akin to my experience growing up in church. On one hand, growing up in a godly home had real positive benefits. But, accepting Christ as a kid in such a situation can be problematic.

I know many of my friends and relatives who grew up in similar situations will agree.

The issue is that it is widely accepted in evangelical churches, particularly those that lean more conservative, that one who comes to Christ has a clearly defined before/after reality.

Before Christ, whatever sinning you did, at conversion, becomes washed in the blood and that’s that. It’s done and it’s not generally counted against you.

Even in situations where divorce is a huge no-no and can exclude you from many church offices and ministries, if the divorce occurred before, then no harm, no foul.

However, if after you have accepted Christ you go through a divorce – even if it wasn’t your idea – you are marked as anathema. No exceptions.

Divorce is only one issue. There are many “sin situations” that can be thrown into this before/after conundrum.

It’s a tad disheartening.

From shifting sand to solid ground

The thing is, when a person accepts Christ as a young kid, or even a teenager, how the heck can you really understand what you’ve gotten yourself into? Especially if “the decision” was all anyone was after and no real discipleship followed?

For me, I felt pretty much on my own. But I was determined to understand the implications of my faith and did the best I could to learn. I read my Bible, usually. Read lots of books. Listened to the sermon every Sunday. And so forth.

But taking all of that and figuring out how to apply it within the demands of real life didn’t come naturally. After all, our natural inclination is away from God, not toward him.

Needless to say, there was trial and error – a lot of error – before I really began to get a handle on what living in faith meant and how to walk it out. I’m still working out a lot of the details.

One truth I’ve learned is that it is not about a single moment of magical transformation; rather, it is about a lifetime long process.

Holiness doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes time to get imparted holiness ingrained into one’s being.

Frankly, I’ve been around a lot of Christians and I’ve never met one yet who has managed to life a perfect “after” life.

Seeds, soil, and seeing things differently

Jesus tells a parable that’s recorded in Matthew 13:3-13:
"Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.’ The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.'"
As explained in most sermons, the seed is supposed to be the Word of God. The landing place of the seed is supposed to represent us. In these sermons our lives are characterized as either receptive “good soil” or resistant “rocky places.”

I’m not sure such a simplistic interpretation hits the true heart of the story.

I don’t think that our lives are always one kind of soil or another, but varies over time.

There have been days where I’ve been so dazed and wounded by life that, as much as I love God’s Word, I wanted nothing to do with it or him.

And there are others when I gladly wanted to be over-planted!

And then there was me as kid who didn’t always get it but kept at it as I’ve aged.

Rejuvenating fallow ground

Soil often starts as stone that gets worn and broken down over time. Sod that has been packed down from being a path can be tilled and broken up. Thorny ground can be cleared of weeds that choke good growth. Shallow patches can become deep, fertile areas as leaves and other natural debris accumulates and decomposes into rich soil.

In such a living process, there is no clear demarcation between “before” and “after,” but rather a long timeline of change and growth marked by periods of drought, storms, and other temporary setbacks.

Even ground devastated by a raging fire recovers over time. The more care it receives, the faster it is restored.

Given the rich grace of God and his persistence in conforming us to his image, we who have lives besotted with sin that happened “after” our initial commitment are able to recover all the more quickly with each sincere repentance.

If this is your experience, don’t give up on yourself even if others have. They are like the legalistic Pharisees that Jesus rebuked.

To you and me, after each screw-up coupled with repentance, Christ always says, “I forgive you. Let’s keep walking together.”

God doesn’t discard the wounded; he restores us, re-seeds us, and allows us to produce “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

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Hang in there. And let me know about your experience as "soil."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Basically and simply bold

It’s always fun to get free books, right?

I signed up to be a reviewer for a group called Handlebar* and the first book I was sent is “Bold as Love: What can happen when we see people the way God does” by Bob Roberts, Jr.

It must be a really good book since it’s endorsed by the likes of Jimmy Carter, Dale Hanson Bourke, Bob Buford, and others.
Makes it a tad intimidating to review the book in any way but glowingly positive! But I’ll do my best.

The thrust of the book is a call to Christians to truly love their neighbors – all neighbors or all faiths and all “tribes” – as the Bible intends. A daunting task, to be sure.

Through his personal experiences and the efforts of the church he pastors, Roberts “shows [us] what it looks like to live our faith daily in the global public square among people of other faiths – Jews, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists.”

However, in this book, Roberts recounts primarily his dealings with Muslims as the basis for his examples and prescriptions. He clearly knows and rubs elbows with many Muslims, apparently around the world.

In a very simple writing style, Roberts addresses five fears he says we need to overcome as we reach out. These are the fear of physical harm, the fear of hostility from those we may perceive to be our enemies, the fear of hostility from our friends for mixing with those outside our own camp, the fear of having one’s own faith challenged to the point of possibly going over to the other side, and the fear of fear itself.

Whether these are legitimate concerns in your own efforts to reach out to your neighbors, you will have to decide on your own. Roberts does give examples of how he experienced and dealt with each.

He does caution against labeling outreach initiatives as inter-faith, preferring the term multi-faith instead. Inter-faith implies setting aside disagreeable elements of every faith and finding common ground on beliefs that can be shared. This tends to compromise and water down each. However, multi-faith implies each group working alongside each other respectfully with all beliefs fully intact, cooperatively seeking the common good.

Roberts did make an excellent point early on in the book. He states, “When we fight a mosque being built [in the U.S.], we are just making it harder for Christian churches to be built in other lands where people may be fearful of Christians.”

If we believe in and support Christian missionary efforts around the globe, then we must be tolerant of the same kind of efforts by those of other faiths, and be a loving witness of the Gospel that God plants right next to us. If we show tolerance and love to them here, they are more likely to respond in kind there.

This is not so much a handbook on how to do multi-faith outreach ministry as a recounting of experiences and thoughts from one who is doing it. Roberts provides some insight into what an individual or congregation can expect as well as good things to do and not so good things to avoid.




To learn more about Bob Roberts, click here: http://northwoodchurch.org/staff_bio.php?id=15
To visit Bob's blog, click here:  http://www.glocal.net/
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* As part of the deal I was asked to post an honest review to my blog as well as on the book's Amazon page.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The British are coming – again! Time to “Tuck the punc[tuation]!”


Is it the 1770s all over again?

We decisively kicked the Brits off our sacred shores once upon a time, but they’re creeping back in today.

They’re showing up in our news programs, commercials, TV shows, and movies. While they can cleverly manage to blend in by disguising their accents and mannerisms on the air, on paper they give themselves away.

And their influence is beginning to fog the writing of our countrymen.

It’s time to gear up the revolution all over again! To arms! Or, to pens! Or, PCs! You know what I mean.

Eats, shoots, and spellz weird

The first big assault came in 2003 with the bestselling book by Lynne Truss titled, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

It’s a great little book that trounces on those atrocious errors of punctuation peeving off those of us who passionately care about such things.

But there is one little issue: The author, Lynne Truss, is an Englander. A Brit from across the pond. A citizen of the United Kingdom. Not one of us!

Why is this a problem?

Because the “British style” of writing has significant variations from the grand old punctuation comprising our more sensible “American style.”

These cheeky Brits also indulge in some annoyingly weird spelling aberrations.

For example they insist on using an “s” in many words where a “z” (which they call “zed”) is supposed to go. They also fool around with “er” endings, throw in a random “u” and “r” here and there, and pointlessly convert “og” endings to “ogue.”


The correct American spelling
The aberrant “chiefly” British spelling
Capitalize
Capitalise
Magnetize
Magnetise
Theater
Theatre
Catalog
Catalogue
Favor
Favour

Doesn’t that just get your knickers in a knot? Harrumph!

You can quotation mark me on this

But let’s get back to punctuation issues and what is fast becoming the most egregious infiltration of the offal British style tainting American writing today.

When it comes to quotation marks, the Brits play fast and loose with usage pushing punctuation outside the pale.

When quotation marks are needed, the true blue American Patriot will faithfully place the punctuation at the end of a sentence securely where it belongs, inside the marks.
  • For example (American Style): Sally said to Tom, “Hey, let’s go shopping!”
Note that the exclamation point (!) is tucked inside the closing quotation mark (”).

The Brits, snubbing their nose at our exceptional grasp of punctuation toss periods, question marks, and the like outside the enclosing arms of the embracing quotation mark.
  • For example (British Style): Sally said to Tom, “Let us hie ourselves to the local shop”.
Makes you feel a little queasy, doesn’t it? It’s plain un-American.

If you are an American writing for an American audience remember to “Tuck the punc!” In other words, tuck that end-of-sentence punctuation inside your closing quotation mark.

Don’t ask why, just do it. It’s the Yankee Doodle Dandy thing to do.

The encroaching British blight

I’m seeing this punctuative slippage more and more among America writers.

It crops up provocatively in social media and blogs.

One blog that I enjoy from time to time has at least one contributor who, even after having this pointed out to them, continues to abuse their otherwise interesting content with improper Brit-style punctuation-shunning closing quotations.

Grrrr.

Print is not immune, either.

Someone recently loaned me a copy of a self-published book written by a thoroughly American citizen where, throughout, the improper British style was used.

It was so jarring I couldn’t finish the book.

Further confusing the issue is the Internet which, oddly, is not American-centric.

The British style shows up on sites originating from Great Britain as well as countries that were formally under British control (India, South Africa, et al) and its close friends (Canada, Australia, et al).

Just as the colonies shook free of British rule, let’s spread the word with the fervor of Paul Revere and end this incursion of the baleful British Style into our exceptional American ways of writing.

In this, we must beat back Britannia! You can quote me.

Always “tuck the punc”…except

Are you doubtful that what I’m telling you is fair, balanced, accurate, and true?
Then check the transcripts – uh, I mean, check the style manuals!

There are several authoritative American style manuals you can refer to verify the validity of my voicing of this issue.

The Associated Press Stylebook states the rule most succinctly:
Follow these long-established printers’ rules:
    -- The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks.
    -- The dash, the semicolon, the question mark, and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
Oops. That last part implies there may be some exceptions to the “tuck the punc” rule. Here are examples of a few:
  • When an exact term is being specified and the punctuation is not part of the term or phrase. In this example, the period is not part of the password: The password for this account is “frabjous21”.
     
  • Or, as in this example from TIME, where a specific phrase is being quoted and the quotation marks do not apply to the entire sentence: …decades-old Anglais claim that “the French don’t bathe”.
      
  • The same is true in this example: How would you interpret  the phrase “out of left field”?
Because the exceptions can get a little confusing, you may want to refer to a style manual such as The Associated Press Stylebook referred to as the AP, The Chicago Manual of Style referred to as CMOS, or the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association referred to as the APA.

You can also check out the Yahoo Styleguide online at http://styleguide.yahoo.com/editing/punctuate-proficiently/quotation-marks.

One rule to rule them all

Okay, the punctilious among you will probably cringe at this, but I’m going to recommend that, generally speaking, you don’t sweat the exceptions.

To keep things simple, when in doubt, the one rule you need to remember when it comes to where to place punctuation in relation to quotation marks is, “Tuck the punc!”
  • If you are writing for a scientific journal or working on your doctoral thesis, then pay attention to what the APA says.
     
  • If you are writing a book and get a little confused and feel it’s important to be precise with the exceptions, refer to CMOS and lean on your copy editor.
     
  • If you are writing an article for a consumer publication (online or in print), then follow the AP.
Otherwise, if you’re writing an email to a friend, a post or comment on Facebook, a blog entry, a memo for your workplace, a letter to a client, or developing a proposal for a customer, then remember to always “Tuck the punc!”

It’s the American way!

Please don't tread on our grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Click on the image to see it full size.

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Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012 Mullings

So, it’s here at last. E-day. Time to rock that vote!


While we anticipate waking up tomorrow (or staying up through the night) to learn who our President is, we’re already being warned that it could be a few more days.

“O frabjous joy! Callooh! Callay!”

Whenever the totals are tallied and the dust is settled, the reality is that one man will emerge as our President.

I can say with confidence that regardless of who that man is, I’m not going to be in a panic if it’s not the one I voted for. Nor will I thumb my nose at the “other” camp if the tide goes with my vote.

But I wonder about how others will handle things.

Watching the posts on Facebook and reading the comments tacked on to online articles, it looks like many people are going to be awash in anger and adrift in disappointment.

My hope, however, is that all of us can pick ourselves up, dust off the campaign detritus, and find a way to work together to support the man our nation elects to lead us.

No “spiking the ball” or end-zone antics from the elected side.

No grumbling, accusing, or conspiracy spinning from the other side.

Rather, let’s shake hands, congratulate one another for surviving the merciless acrimony, and – together – hold our elected officials accountable.

Regardless of who wins today we need our elected officials to serve us, governing on our behalf, instead of nurturing their egos and fueling their never-ending campaigns.

It’s time to let the vitriol abate and replace it with conciliation, cooperation, and uncommon common sense.

The hateful bickering at every level by all parties (as well as their supporters and detractors) has been exceedingly wearying. Let’s be done with it already.

Still, there are some I know will have a hard time of it.

I have friends and acquaintances who are diehard Obama/Democrat/Liberal detractors, diehard Romney/Republican/Conservative detractors, and others who, as best as I can tell, are detractors of all sides.

What they all have in common is that they are all strongly and irrationally anti many things, while not being clearly for anything positive. They are vehemently resistant to reason and suspicious of cooperation.

My gut sense is that no matter who our President is or what party holds a majority, these people are never going to be happy or satisfied.

Why? They live in a self-fueled milieu of fear, anger, paranoia, rumor, and distrust that seems to provide a tenuous sense of self-importance.

I’m praying they’ll be able to move on and be okay. But that's up to them.

Like I said, I’ll be fine whatever the results are.

As I stated in my previous blog post:
…on November 7th, regardless of who wins office, we must remember: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV).

Just because your candidate won or lost the election doesn’t mean you no longer are obligated to love your neighbor – who voted for the other guy – as yourself. As Paul reminds us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV).

Vote your conscience. Honor God. Love and respect your neighbor. Seek peace and justice for all.
Of course, you can always vote for Mr. Bean!

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Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pivoting the premise: Choosing the preferred of two goods rather than voting for the lesser of two evils


I’m choosing to reject the idea that an election is nothing more than a forced choice between the lesser of two evils. Instead I’m choosing to look at elections as an opportunity to vote for the preferred of two goods.

Most men and women who hold or seek political office, regardless of party affiliation or philosophical bent, are intelligent, well-intentioned citizens. There are exceptions, but they usually get put out of office sooner or later.

Candidates arise from “We the people of the United States.”

We are the people

Government is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

We are the people. The people are us. What we get in the way of government is what we choose.

Those who serve in elected and appointed offices arose from the midst of us.

Those elected were elected by us.

Those appointed were appointed by those we elected to represent us.

If candidates arise who are truly evil, then they arise because we allow them to and we choose them. And if they persist in office, they persist because of us.

We get what we ask for

The candidates who are elected get elected because, at least to some degree, they reflect our values, our desires, our intentions, our morals, our hopes, our dreams. They get into office because we view them as a means to achieve what we want; what we believe is best for ourselves and our country, state, county, or town.

If what we want is evil, then we will choose evil to represent us.

If what we want is good, then we will choose good to represent us.

I do not believe, on the whole, that either Obama or Romney represent evil per se.

Rather, they are two generally good, intelligent, capable men with very different ideas as to what’s best for our country.

Both viewpoints have been shaped and are informed by intelligence and wisdom, as well as very different life experiences and worldviews.

That they are willfully subjecting themselves to the horrific, abusive gauntlet of what we have turned presidential campaigns into in this country speaks volumes about the toughness, resilience, and perseverance of their characters and intellects.

Spineless idiots simply don’t survive such rigors. We are foolish to think otherwise.

We are the “other” side to them

To blast those who represent or support the “other” party, side, or viewpoint as evil, bad, dishonest, stupid, idiots, or worse, is to diminish ourselves, revealing our own character flaws. We’re worse than undisciplined children name-calling on the playground when we sling our own mud.

We need to stop demonizing each other and our candidates, even when they do it.

Such slamming and posturing achieves nothing positive. It merely shuts down intelligent discourse while fueling mindless anger.

To understand what this looks like and what it leads to simply consider the mindless hate-driven tauntings and attacks of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or any such radical, terroristic, anti-American group.

I’m really tired of the claims that everyone who does not support Obama is racist or that everyone who does support Romney is ungodly.

Unless specifically applied in instances where it can be substantiated, both blanket claims are without merit and serve no good purpose.

Two well-informed viewpoints; one people under God

We are being presented with two very different sets of ideas and methods for governing our country. They are different and different is not bad.

Both viewpoints, generally speaking, are valid, both are good, both are worthy of our thoughtful consideration.

And then, for President and for every other office up for grabs this November, we each get to exercise our wonderful right and privilege to vote. (If you're not going to vote, then, please, just be quiet.)

We need to respect each others’ choices and support those who are placed into office.

There’s a lot of whining that goes on regarding the failure of our elected politicians to get along and govern in a more bipartisan spirit.

If we, as the governed for whom the elected work, can’t get along with our own friends, neighbors, relatives, and coworkers who are on the “other” side, why do we expect those we elect will behave any differently?

Government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, for the people. We are the people. The people are us.

It’s time for us to start behaving the way we want those we elect to behave as they govern our country. It’s our country and our government and it reflects us to the world.

This means that when the person we voted for behaves badly or lies, or the party we align with acts without integrity, we need to call them out and hold them accountable. It’s not enough to merely point the finger at the foibles of the other side. And it's just as wrong to gloat when the other side slips.

Jesus cautioned us about this when he said, "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:3-5, ESV).

Finally

Then, on November 7th, regardless of who wins office, we must remember: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV).

Just because your candidate won or lost the election doesn’t mean you no longer are obligated to love your neighbor – who voted for the other guy – as yourself. As Paul reminds us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV).

Vote your conscience. Honor God. Love and respect your neighbor. Seek peace and justice for all.

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Thoughts? What do you think? Please share your thoughts and comment!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Blue Truth, Red Truth: Both candidates say White House hopefuls should talk straight with voters. Here's why neither man is ready to take his own advice

Here's a link to a long but excellent article from TIME:

"Blue Truth, Red Truth"Both candidates say White House hopefuls should talk straight with voters. Here's why neither man is ready to take his own advice

Below are some key quotes, but you really should read the entire article. Really!:
  • "No matter their ideology, many voters increasingly inhabit information bubbles in which they are less likely to hear their worldview contradicted."
  •  “'We don’t collect news to inform us. We collect news to affirm us,' explains Republican pollster Frank Luntz..."
  • "Human beings are simply more willing to believe falsehoods that confirm their worldview."
  • “'The more we care about politics and the more it becomes central to our worldview, the more threatening it becomes to admit that we are wrong or our side is wrong....'"
And this last quote is exactly what I keep saying to any who will listen:
  • "As it stands, the very notions of fact and truth are employed in American politics as much to distort as to reveal. And until the voting public demands something else, not just from the politicians they oppose but also from the ones they support, there is little reason to suspect that will change."
The bottomline is that until we stop taking self-righteous pot-shots at "the other side" while excusing and spinning the missteps of "our side" and start calling out both sides equally, we all need to just shut up. We will get the kind of governing that we elect and support. Nothing more, nothing less.



Friday, August 24, 2012

Telling the truth in love and paying the price


Just about any time a heated discussion crops up and Christians are involved, someone will invoke the “Tell the truth in love!”

The implication is that someone is saying something that is uncomfortable for another to hear. Perhaps there’s the feeling someone’s being a tad harsh or judgmental. At the least, the concern is that someone is being told something they don’t want to hear or don’t agree with.


So, we exhort one another to “Tell the truth in love!” as if that will unsquirm the situation. This falls into the “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!” wisdom lore. The added sugar is not particularly healthy for you.

To soften the blow of a harsh but necessary truth, we’ll mince our words, shuffle our feet, preface our remarks with qualification, and seek permission:
“Uh, do you mind if I’m honest with you…?”

“You know, to be perfectly truthful…..”

“Well, I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, but it is, you know, the truth after all….”

Often, when the one being truthed is resistant they will respond with something like, “Well, that’s your truth, but it’s not my truth!”

Who says the truth isn’t supposed to hurt?

Somehow we’ve fallen under the delusion that telling one another the truth isn’t supposed to ever be painful, especially when it’s done with “love.”

This leads to the false conclusion that if the truth hurts, what’s being said or done is hateful or mean.

The reality?

Well, to be perfectly honest and truthful – the truth, when it’s really the truth, will probably sting a little.

Truth calls out wrong and says there needs to be a change. Truth separates the good from the bad, righteousness from sinfulness, light from dark, the truth from lies.

Truth is absolute and firmly grounded in God’s word which is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).

For Christians all truth is God’s truth, and Jesus is the Truth.

Applying truth to a situation is going to sting and that’s a good thing. Like when you put iodine on a cut.

Everything hangs on the hinge of love

The phrase “telling (or speaking) the truth in love” comes smack dab in the middle of chapter 4 from Ephesians (scroll down to see the full text below). This is one of the Apostle Paul’s great letters where he is taking the church of Ephesus to task on several items. In other words, using the Gospel truth, he’s intent on whipping them into shape.

In the first half of the chapter, Paul is telling the Christians of Ephesus (and us) how they are supposed to behave, reminding them of their calling in Christ. He points them to unity in Christ through being true to the gifts (specific callings, talents, aptitudes, etc.) that they have been blessed with.

In the second half of the chapter, he goes on to tell them how not to behave. He contrasts the Christ-redeemed mindset against the mindset of the world around them (the Gentile world, meaning the unredeemed, unchristian world).

The goal is to grow up in spiritual maturity by serving one another and through thinking and behaving differently; providing a contrast to the lost, sinful world swirling around them.

One of the evidences of spiritual maturity and a key component to differentiating the faithful from the faithless is the act of “speaking the truth in love.”

In fact, love is the hinge upon which the Christian life hangs and the mark that sets us apart.

Just before Jesus was crucified, he declared to his followers, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

A great exposition on this is;"The Mark of the Christian” by Francis Schaeffer which you can read online for free at http://www.ccel.us/schaeffer.html.

Sharing hard, inconvenient truths

As Christians doing our imperfect best to live godly, biblical lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are both called out and set apart from the world, as well as called to be salt and light into the world.

When it comes to our culture, our society, our community – however you wish to define your world – we are to be in but not of.

To be perfectly honest, this often puts us at odds with those around us when certain topics arise and we take our responsible and rightful stand on the truth.

For example, when it comes to homosexuality, the Bible is very clear that engaging in a same-gender sexual relationship is wrong in any context (Romans 1:24-32).

It’s just as wrong to engage in a heterosexual sexual relationship with someone you are not married to, whether fornication or adultery (Galatians 5:14-24, Ephesians 5:1-8).

The Bible is also clear that marriage is a different gender union involving one man and one woman (Genesis 1, Matthew 19:6, Ephesians5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 11:1-3).

There are many more issues like these where the Bible is clear on what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes.

Christians have no problem with these truths.

Those who are not Christians do.

Why?

Because as Paul writes,
“[Christians] have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the [Holy] Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-4, NIV).

When, as followers of Christ, we stand on our convictions which are aligned with the Word of God and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we are generally not going to be well-received by others.

They didn’t like Him, so they’re not going to like us

Being a Christian in the 21st century means the same thing it did in the 1st century: We will be walking out our faith in a hostile world.

  • There will be haters: Jesus said bluntly, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).
     
  • There will be betrayals: "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mark 13:12-13, NIV).
     
  •  There will be false friends pretending to be Christians: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NIV).
     
  • There will be lies preferred over truth: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (1 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV).
     
  • There will be wolves among sheep: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:15-16, NIV).
     
  • There will be scoffers: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water" (2 Peter 3:3-5, NIV).
     
  • There will be persecution: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them” (Luke 21:11-13, NIV).

So now what are we supposed to do?

It can be hard being a Christian knowing that merely living out our beliefs will mean we are viewed and labeled (wrongly) as bigots, homophobes, haters, prudes, unintellectual, backwards, stupid, and many more much worse things.

In fact, being open about our faith could cost us jobs, relationships, clients, promotions, and more. It can draw abuse to ourselves and our families.

But living out our beliefs, our calling, our commitment to Christ does entail from time to time speaking truth to others and into our culture, our society, and our communities. It’s what Jesus did and commands us to do as salt and light.

A few years ago, atheist comedian Penn Jillette received a gift of a New Testament from a business man who had attended his show. He posted a video about the experience. He described the man as a sane, nice, kind, and a good man who looked him in the eye.



Jillette stated, "If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you believe it's not really worth telling them this because it would be socially awkward...how much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that.”

The bottomline is that telling the truth (the Gospel) about the Truth (Jesus) is about as loving as one can be, even when it’s not what others want to hear.

To do otherwise, to withhold the truth, is to truly be a hater.

Yes, there are fools in the world and God loves us

Not too long ago someone posted on a social media site a statement to the effect that “God has an opinion about atheists.” They then quoted Psalm 14:1 that states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Another person, an atheist, took offense and posted, “So, are you saying God is calling me a fool?”

This was followed by a well-meaning Christian who was trying to tell the truth in love who posted, “Oh, no! God doesn’t mean that you’re a fool. God loves you!”

The truth of the matter is that, yes, God does love atheists! But that’s not the whole truth. Yes, God loves atheists…

  • And yes, God does mean it when He says in his Word that those who don’t believe in Him are fools (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1, Luke 12:20).
  • And yes, the truth is those who deny Christ, who deny God, who refuse salvation, and who reject the transforming power of the Holy Spirit are going to hell Mark 9:43-48, Luke 12:1-10, Luke 16:19-28, 2 Peter 2:1-9).
  • And yes, the truth is that all of us who persistently and willfully choose sinful living over godliness will reap consequences (James 1:15).
  • And yes, the truth is that Jesus came to earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead so that our sin and sins can be redeemed and forgiven (John 3:16-20).
  • And yes, if we confess our sinfulness and need of Christ, we can be made righteous (1 John 1:9).
  • And yes, we are to love those who hate us, pray for them, treat them respectfully as we truthfully share the Good News (Matthew 5:39-18, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9-10, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Jude 1:18-25).

When it comes to “speaking the truth in love” it’s not about being nice, sweet, and conciliatory.

It’s about saying things, intensely, sincerely, in our best Jack Bauer demeanor, but non-threateningly, such as, “You and I are going to die and spend an eternity in hell if we don’t make some serious changes. Now!”

We say it because it's the truth. If they walk away, we don't shoot them in the knees, but we also don't pat them on the head and say "It's okay," as if we're validating their sinful choice.

Instead, we love them, care about them, stand with them when they're in pain, pray for them, give them a cup of water when they're thirsty, be a friend to them, and continue to remind them from time to time of their need of salvation.

Truth applied lovingly pulls no punches, stands firm in its God-endorsed validity, and is spoken with humility and tears, knowing those who reject God’s truth and who reject God are facing an eternity in hell.

And hell is no party. And that’s the truth.

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Ephesians 4, New King James Version (NKJV):
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men." Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another. Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

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Thoughts?
FYI: My blog posts have fallen off over the summer due to "life happening." I'm hoping to get back in the full swing of things over the next few weeks as we move into fall. Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Have a domain name and website but don’t know who’s hosting them? You could be in big trouble, baby!

You could lose control of your domain name and your website if you don’t heed the advice I’m sharing in this post.

While I don’t offer the service any more, I’ve built a several websites for individuals, small businesses, churches, and organizations over the years, and helped refresh and maintain others.

It was sadly amazing the number of situations, when the site already existed or a domain name had been purchased, where the client did not know with whom their domain name or site was being hosted!

They had no or very incomplete written records and only a few generic emails that could provide clues. This has been true even for larger companies and organizations!

In fact, it was not unusual for a website to do go “down” only to discover the client had either not renewed their domain name or had failed to pay their web hosting fees.

Tracking down the necessary information and getting online accounts restored can take hours on the phone and days of investigation. And you may not be successful.

Based on conversations with others who build or manage websites for clients, this is all too common.

Can you imagine the magnitude of losing your domain name and website data that you’ve worked for years to build up? I’ve had to console those who went through exactly this experience. It’s not fun and starting from scratch is costly.
WARNING!
  • If you fail to manage your domain name properly or renew it on time, you could lose it forever!
  • If you fail to manage your webhosting service or pay your fees on time, you could lose your site files forever!
Clearing up some terminology confusion

Part of the issue is a failure to understand some basic terminology around the types of services that it takes to get a website up and running. If you’re going to be online you MUST understand these basic terms; no excuses, amigos and amigas!

If you already have a website or are thinking of getting one developed, you need three services: ISP, domain host/registrar, and web host:
  • Internet service provider (ISP). This is the service that will connect you to the Internet using dial-up (not a good way to go), DSL, cable, or a wireless solution. All of the major phone companies and cable companies offer ISP services, but there are other options.

    Every ISP offers several levels of service that relate primarily to the upload and download speeds. Dial-up is slow and can be as little as $10 a month. DSL is fast, cable is a little faster, and either can run anywhere from $20 to $100 or more per month.
  • Domain registrar/host. You will need a domain name/URL for your website; those providing these are called domain hosts or domain registrars. A domain name (aka URL or universal resource locator, also called a web address) looks like this: www.DOMAINNAME.com.

    When you sign up with a domain host, you will need to check to see if the name you want is available. You will also be able to choose what kind of domain you want, such as .com, .net, .info, .org, .biz, etc. You may want to obtain your domain name with several of the available suffixes as a way to protect your brand.

    You will also be able to use your domain for your email address, such as YourName@DOMAINNAME.com. You shouldn’t be paying more than around $10 or so per year for a domain name; avoid services that want to charge you $25 or more a year for a domain name.
  • Web host. Once you’ve chosen a domain name/URL, you’re ready to select a web host where your website will actually reside. Most web host providers offer several levels of hosting, each level including different kinds of features. Only buy what you need; you can always add features later if the need arises. Webhosting runs as little as $4 a month and up from there, all based on a wide variety of factors. (Caveat: You get what you pay for.)
Some ISPs also offer domain and/or web hosting. Many companies provide both domain registration and web hosting services, but not ISP services. It’s okay to use two or three companies to get the kind of service you want. Shop around and put together the best package that fits your needs and wallet.

Anyone who is online will have their opinions as to who offers the best services. Ask around for suggestions and then visit company websites to get a better handle on what they offer and their pricing.

And now, the most important pieces of advice you need to heed, and I’m not kidding!

Once you’ve chosen your service providers, there are two very critical things you need to do:

1. Keep written – printed out on paper – records!

This is a biggie. Once you’ve signed up for your ISP, domain, and web hosting services, print out important information about each.

Here is the minimum information you want to put into your file folder for EACH service:
  • The name, mailing address, email address, and phone contacts for the provider, including their web address/URL.
  • Your account number.
  • Your login and password for each account.
  • Your email address and other contact information that you have used for that account.
Create a file folder for all of your online accounts. Print out receipts and instructions you receive via email and place them in these folders. Write down the login and passwords associated with each account, including the date you created them.

Yes, save your emails as well, but also print them out and put them in a file folder where you can find the information easily!

2. Keep your online accounts up to date!

Whenever you move and get a new address, change ISPs and get a new email address, get a new phone number, etc. you MUST update all of this information online for each of your accounts.

And then update the information in your written, printed out files.

And if you change the password to one or more of your accounts, write and date it in your written, printed out files.

Trying to access an account or transfer a domain name with lapsed and outdated information in the online account is an arduous ordeal that you want to avoid. No matter who your service providers are, the phone support agents are seldom particularly helpful or empathetic with your plight.

Keep written records and keep your online account information in synch and up to date.

A couple of good bonus tips

Now that you’ve obtained your basic services for getting your website up and running, and have your file folders all up-to-date with your printed out information for each service, here are a couple of additional tips to keep in mind:

1. Pay attention to those renewal requests!


When you obtain/register a domain name, unless you choose the option to register privately, your personal information will be visible online.

To get an idea of what can be seen, go to http://whois.domaintools.com and type in any website URL. In fact, most domain/webhost providers will have a WHOIS search link usually located at the bottom of their homepage.

Once your information is out there, unscrupulous companies will try to trick you into “renewing” your domain with them, usually at outrageous prices. They will send you very official looking letters telling you that you must renew now or lose your domain name!

Don’t fall for these!

Simply compare the name of the service in the letters to the name of the service you have in your files; if they don’t match, toss the letter. If you have any doubts, call your service provider whose number you have in your files.

Most providers will only send you renewal reminders via email. Pay attention!

If you don’t pay attention you’ll end up paying exorbitant fees and having your domain switched to a different provider without even realizing it. If you receive a renewal request, make sure it’s coming from your provider; check your paper records!

2. Get professional help! 

Many web host providers also include do-it-yourself web building apps and a variety of templates. Unless you know what you’re doing and have a true sense of design, don’t use these!

You’ll most likely end up with a bland, generic site that looks like a hundred other sites. Or, worse, you’ll just make a mess of things and have no idea how to fix it.

Hire someone who can put together a decent website at a reasonable cost and who will be around to help you maintain the site. Look at websites you like and find out who built them; contact those companies and learn more about their services.

If you do want to do it yourself, take the time to learn how to do it right!

Perhaps you want to use Dreamweaver or WordPress or something else; that’s great! Just take the time to learn the tools before you invest in a webhost service, and then go with the service that best fits your needs and that will work with the tools you’ve chosen.

Again, anyone who is already online can offer tips, suggestions, and cautions. Ask around and carefully vet the various options available.

Finally, one more time, keep up-to-date written (printed out) records, for crying out loud! Don’t make me say it again.

Oh, and by the way, while I don't design websites any longer, I can help you with your content. After all, a good website must have good, well-written content to be successful! Contact me.

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Thoughts?
FYI: My blog posts have fallen off over the summer due to "life happening." I'm hoping to get back in the full swing of things over the next few weeks as we move into fall. Thanks for your patience!