Halt! Who goes there?

This phrase is probably familiar to anyone who has read a book or watched a film in which a person (or group) approaches a sentry. The sentry commands the party to stop and to identify itself verbally before coming closer. If the party asserts that it is “friendly”, then the guard gives the command to “advance and be recognized”. Once the party’s exact identity is verified to the sentry’s satisfaction, they are allowed to proceed.

Moving about on the internet is not so different, is it? Have you needed to enter a user name and password lately? Answer extra questions? Enter a separate code? I’m not even going to wait for you to answer that.

We are frequently asked to identify, authenticate, and verify ourselves in this world of ours. With more than 7.5 billion people estimated to be wandering the globe, it is often important to be certain that people are who they say they are. Confusion, deceit, or fraud can have disastrous consequences.

At work, I am guiding the staff and members of Wycliffe Germany toward the use of stronger forms of authentication for the systems we use. Some of us are caretakers of information about people, places, or situations that needs to be protected. When someone seeks to view an email account or open a file, we want the system to respond, “Halt! Who goes there?” To reduce or eliminate the possibility of unauthorized access, we put safeguards in place such as multi-factor authentication.

I’m not going to drone on and on about this topic. You can recall for yourself how you authenticate yourself and others while traversing the internet or even just answering the door. We do it all the time!

Some of the things we use to prove that we are who we say we are

What fascinates me is how often I come across the themes of identity, verification, and authentication as I read the Bible. Given the particular role I fill within a family of organizations focused on God’s Word, I can’t help but notice! Here are a few of my favorite examples, as reflected in the New Living Translation:

  • In Exodus 4:8, the Lord gives Moses instructions for authenticating the Lord’s commission to him: “‘If they do not believe you and are not convinced by the first miraculous sign, they will be convinced by the second sign.'”
  • In Deuteronomy 18:22, the Lord shares how to identify a prophet: “‘If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message.'”
  • In Joshua 9:3-15, the Israelites fail to verify the identity of the Gibeonites, accepting fraudulent evidence: “So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord.”
  • In Judges 6:17, Gideon verifies that it is the Lord commanding him: “‘If you are truly going to help me, show me a sign to prove that it is really the Lord speaking to me.'” The sign freaks him out a bit.
  • In John 5:36, Jesus identifies himself this way: “‘I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me.'”
  • In John 13:35, Jesus tells the disciples, “‘Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.'”
  • In Acts 2:22, Peter reminds the crowds, “‘People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know.'”
  • In James 2:18, the author asserts the authenticity of his faith in this way: “‘I will show you my faith by my good deeds.'”
  • In Revelation 2:17, Jesus promises the following to the faithful: “‘I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.'”

See? The whole thing is woven through with authentication and verification. One could go on and on. When you read, keep an eye out for these themes. I will mention just two more:

  • Matthew 7:20, “‘Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.'”
  • Galatians 5:22-23, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

And those two things give a person a lot of food for thought—pun intended. When you pray, please ask our Father (and Gardener) to produce abundant, excellent fruit in our lives as we serve him through Wycliffe here in Germany. And may he help you yourselves to prove to the world around us just how fruity you are! Wait, that didn’t come out right. May the fruit of your lives prove your identity in Christ to everyone you meet!

You can’t take it with you anyway

Last night, our office was robbed — as well as several others across the International Linguistics Center. The thieves broke a window near my desk, and they stole all of the laptops that they could, including the MacBook that I use. Argh. Two other buildings were broken into in a similar fashion, and we don’t know yet how many laptops, monitors, and projectors were taken. As I write this, we’re working from a conference room while waiting for the fingerprint team to show up. Ugh.

The “positive” thing is that the thieves may have made some mistakes in leaving evidence such as fingerprints and footprints. As you work and go through your own day, please pray for the capture and arrest of these criminals — as well as for the recovery of the stolen equipment.

In the end, though, I remember that none of this stuff is that important: “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33, NIV)

The people on this campus are working hard to give people around the world the opportunity to gain that treasure. If you don’t have that treasure for yourself — if all you have are the things of this world — then look to the man who made the statement above, because he’s the only one with the key to that treasure.

How secure are YOU?

Data security is of increasing concern within Wycliffe. From the translation project in a sensitive area of the world to the financial data center, nearly every part of our organization has information to protect. The first word in data security is encryption, the scrambling and obfuscation of data to the point of being unreadable or inaccessible without the right password(s) or key(s). It’s possible to encrypt any form of data, whether it’s your email messages, your connection to a website, a phone call, or the files on your hard drive.

On the Dallas campus, I serve a number of people who need to be concerned about the security of the information that they use and carry with them when they travel. Today, I spoke to a group of Wycliffe counselors who have legal and ethical obligations to protect their client files from prying eyes. Many of them acknowledged that they don’t do nearly enough to secure that information, and they were all interested in what counsel I could give them.

I talked to this group of counselors about two encryption solutions: TrueCrypt encryption software and the IronKey encrypted USB flash drive. The first is free and the second is, well, not so free. Both are excellent. Click on the links to see more information about each. I’ve been practicing using both products lately so that I can be equipped to advise people who need encryption and assist them in putting encryption to use. In October, I plan to present the IronKey product to my peers from around the world at our biannual technical conference. I’ve also been involved in an online discussion about data security with some of those same people. I’m not a security or encryption expert, but I know a good idea when I see it … and use it.

Do you have information that you wouldn’t want someone else to see? Encryption’s not a subject for the timid, but neither’s identity theft. Think about it. If you have a question, post a comment.