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Skydog
April 24, 2014

The Internet has become an indispensable resource for the home and family, but every parent has grappled with properly managing and overseeing that resource. We all know the dangers that lurk out there, yet still believe in the value of maintaining access and the necessity of training our children to use it wisely. As the Internet matures, we are gaining some great new tools to help us.

Skydog is designed to help parents manage and oversee their family’s digital lifestyle. It is comprised of two complementary components: a wireless router (to replace your existing router) and an online app (accessible via computer or mobile devices). Between the two of them they offer a powerful and accessible suite of tools.

Here are some of Skydog’s most noteworthy features:

  • Monitoring. Real time visibility into who is using the internet, and when, from the web or your mobile phone. Get a text—or send one to your kids—when they’ve exceeded their limits.
  • Filtering. Skydog filters inappropriate content on your children’s devices, by user, by time of day which gives you peace of mind, knowing their Internet experience is safe.
  • Visibility. Wherever you are, 24/7, you can see if your network is down and why, as well as who is using your internet, what they are doing, and even set limits on what they can do.
  • Control. Create individual profiles for all users to ensure the best Internet connectivity experience for each. View per-user information that is easy to understand such as time spent on set web sites, data downloaded or uploaded, and web browsing history.
  • Optimization. Set limits on bandwidth for certain users or devices, at any time, so you have the best quality for that streaming movie or important Skype video call.
  • Protection. webRover, a brand new feature, allows parents to create a kid-friendly portal to websites that have been vetted and reviewed by Common Sense Media.

In short, Skydog offers a suite of tools for both management and monitoring. It is useful in prevention, useful in real-time, and useful in reporting. (Watch this video for an overview and learn more at their site.)

Perhaps the greatest strength of the Skydog solution is the ability to create user profiles and to then assign devices to those profiles. In this way I can create a profile for my son, decide when he can access the Internet and what level of filtering should be applied, and then assign his iPod and any of his other devices to that profile. I can also see reports of all he has accessed through any of his devices. (Note: this is also a weakness because a family computer can only be assigned to one profile, making it impossible to use multiple profiles on one machine. The Skydog team reports this as their number one feature request and is working on a solution.).

Skydog is also relatively simple to set up and manage. I say “relatively” because I have a background in both computer hardware and software and am able to orient myself quickly. Still, I think most parents will be able to do the setup and management with relative ease. This is all done through the online interface, making it as simple as it can be.

A short time ago I shared a Porn-Free Family Plan and, for sake of simplicity and cost-effectiveness, did not include Skydog. If you use the Porn-Free Family Plan or one like it, you may be wondering how Skydog fits in. Essentially, it can replace or supplement OpenDNS while adding a few extra functions. It will not replace Covenant Eyes. We use it Skydog my home and, while I do not regard it as an essential tool, I do find it a helpful add-on that offers an extra layer of protection.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When technology causes a problem, we tend to look to technology to fix our problem. The problems of pornography, cyber-bullying, and other online dangers need to be addressed primarily through the development of Christian character. For this reason a parent cannot expect that technology alone will cause a child to learn to do what’s right, and learn to love to do what’s right. However, Skydog, like other tools, can be very helpful in preventing sinful actions and can work hand-in-hand with parents as they train their children. I highly recommend it.

In North America, Skydog is sold through Amazon. Note that Amazon’s return policy allows you to buy it, try it, and return it if you don’t find it a helpful solution.

Skydog

April 24, 2014

I don’t see new Kindle deals today, but I do see some falling prices: Answering the Call by John Ensor ($3.96); The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan ($1.99); Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson ($3.49); Five Points by John Piper ($5.80); Creation by Andrew Davis ($1.99).

Sinner, Come Home - Al Mohler was one of many who was deeply affected by John Piper’s sermon at Together for the Gospel. He writes about it here. “Softly and tenderly still rings in my ears, and John Piper’s anointed exposition still rings in my heart. I am thankful beyond words to know that others will hear this message. Don’t dare miss it.” (Watch the video here)

Youth-Driven Culture - Stephen Nichols writes about the elevation of youth over the elderly in the church.

Tribes and the Lost Art of Discernment - There is food for thought in this post on theological tribes and discernment.

The “Me Time” Myth - Melissa corrects the “me time” myth.

Is It Bullying? - Is expressing the view that homosexuality a sin a form of bullying? 

A Way to Love Your Spouse - Here’s a subtle but powerful way to love your spouse.

Don’t seek a platform for the sake of the gospel if you’re not prepared to lose that platform for the sake of the gospel. —Sam Allberry

Allberry

The False Teachers
April 23, 2014

A few weeks ago I set out on a series of articles through which I am scanning the history of the church—from its earliest days all the way to the present time—to examine some of Christianity’s most notable false teachers. Along the way we have visited such figures as Arius, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White and Norman Vincent Peale. Today we turn to one of the most outrageous charlatans of our time, a man who claims to have healed countless people. His name is Benny Hinn.

Benny Hinn

Benny HinnToufik Benedictus Hinn was born on December 3, 1952 in Jaffa, Israel (modern-day Tel Aviv), the son of a Greek father and Armenian mother who had immigrated from Greece. He was raised in the Greek Orthodox tradition but educated in Roman Catholic schools. After the Six-Day War, he and his family emigrated to Canada and at the age of nineteen he professed faith in Jesus Christ. He immediately became involved in the Pentecostal movement in Toronto and was mentored by Dr. Winston Nunes of Broadview Faith Temple.

In December 1973 Hinn traveled with other Christians to Pittsburgh to attend a miracle healing service led by Kathryn Kuhlman, the foremost faith healer of that day. Though Hinn never met Kuhlman personally, she left an indelible impression on him, and at that service he had a life-changing religious experience. Shortly after, he received a vision of people falling into a roaring fire and heard the words: “If you do not preach, every soul who falls will be your responsibility!” Later that year he began to preach and claimed that at this time God miraculously cured him of a terrible stutter. He soon began to imitate Kuhlman and even to sponsor services endorsed by the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation. In 1979 Hinn moved to the United States of America, settling in Orlando, where he met Suzanne Harthern, a pastor’s daughter who would become his wife.

In 1983 Hinn founded Orlando Christian Center and began to perform miracles and conduct healing services, claiming that God was using him as a conduit for these supernatural deeds. Soon his “Miracle Crusades” were being held around the world and, by 1989, were being televised across America. The daily talk show “This Is Your Day” followed, and is now broadcast in over 200 nations around the world. In 1999 he handed the leadership of Orlando Christian Center to Clint Brown so he could focus entirely on travel and crusades. Millions, or even tens of millions, attend his crusades each year. The largest event to date took place in Mumbai, India, where over seven million people attended over a three-day period. He claims to have preached the gospel to over a billion people, either face-to-face or through television.

In recent days Hinn has been the subject of scrutiny on a number of fronts. In 2010 his wife filed for divorce citing “irreconcilable differences.” This was shortly after the National Enquirer published photographs of Benny Hinn and fellow televangelist Paula White walking out of a Rome hotel hand-in-hand. However, nearly three years later, Benny and Suzanne were remarried at The Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando. His claims of miracles remain unverified despite a host of programs and publications that have looked for evidence. He has also been widely criticized for his lavish lifestyle, which includes a private jet, a multi-million dollar mansion, and regular stays at hotels costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per night. This extravagance led to United States Senator Chuck Grassley announcing that the United States Senate Committee on Finance would be investigating Hinn’s ministry.

False Teaching - Faith Healing

Critiques of Benny Hinn can span a multitude of areas—his Word-Faith theology, his “little god” theology, his claim that each person of the Trinity is actually his own trinity, his outright lies about his accomplishments, and much more besides. But for our purposes, we will recognize him as the world’s most recognized faith healer.

April 23, 2014

Retweeting Compliments - Nathan Bingham: “The question of whether it is acceptable to retweet compliments on Twitter is nothing new and quite an old question in terms of internet years.” Should a Christian retweet compliments others pay him?

Bart Ehrman’s Latest - Here’s a long but enlightening article on Bart Ehrman, focusing on his latest book.

A Historical Adam - Nathaniel Claiborne is blogging his way through Four Views on the Historical Adam. Reading the series is a good way to orient yourself in the debate. (Hey, Nathaniel, how about linking each post to the ones that came before/after it?)

Cell vs Virus - This is so simply done that even I can begin to understand it.

You Can’t Claim a Promise - Barnabas Piper tells you why you can’t claim a promise.

Worship in the Inconvenience - In this article at True Woman, Susanna writes “Most of life as a mother is worshiping when circumstances are inconvenient.” Ain’t that the truth. “I read the Bible while my baby is tugging at my feet and my three-year-old is wanting my lap. I pray broken sentences in the car while there is arguing in the back seat, and I want to yell for quiet.”

A Testimony to God’s Goodness - David Murray calls this one of the most powerful testimonies to God’s goodness he’s ever heard. It’s an encouraging one.

Most men pray more for full purses than for pure hearts. —Thomas Watson

Watson

April 22, 2014
Four Blood Moons

I most often read Christian books that appear to offer the opportunity to grow in knowledge and obedience to the Lord, but occasionally I see one soaring up the bestseller lists or otherwise making an impact and decide to read it just to see what the fuss is all about. Such was the case with John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons. The book has lingered near the top of the Amazon charts for a few weeks now and has received nearly one thousand five-star reviews. For those reasons I decided I would give it a read.

We have just experienced the first of a series of four lunar eclipses. Acccording to NASA, “The action starts [started] on April 15th when the full Moon passes through the amber shadow of Earth, producing a midnight eclipse visible across North America. So begins a lunar eclipse tetrad—a series of 4 consecutive total eclipses occurring at approximately six month intervals.  The total eclipse of April 15, 2014, will be followed by another on Oct. 8, 2014, and another on April 4, 2015, and another on Sept. 28 2015.” These four consecutive total lunar eclipses will each result in the moon appearing red for the duration of the eclipse. This phenomenon is known as a blood red moon.

Well, if you are deeply involved in biblical prophecy, this is the kind of thing you will find difficult to ignore. After all, Joel 2:31 says, “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Hagee believes that “God uses the sun, moon, and stars as signals to mankind. He uses the heavens as His divine billboard announcing coming events.” He says:

The sun, moon, and stars are unmistakably connected to Israel and biblical prophecy—and that connection inspired this book. God will use them to light up the heavens with an urgent, top-priority message for all mankind. What is God saying to us? How does the past hold the secret to the future? What is about to happen on planet earth? Everything is about to change … forever! Keep reading, because this message from God is so urgent to Him that He sovereignly arranged the sun and the moon to perfectly align themselves to create a Tetrad—four consecutive blood moons.

It turns out that over the past five hundred years, blood red moons have fallen on the first day of Passover three separate times. “Tetrads linked to Jewish history have happened only three times in more than five hundred years. And it’s about to happen for a fourth time.” By doing some historical research, Hagee has determined that each of those moons have happened at a pivotal moment in Jewish history: 1492 (the expulsion of the Jews from Spain), 1949 (the U.N.’s recognition of Israel) and 1967 (the Six-Day War).

Now it’s important to understand that Hagee believes the Jews were and still are God’s chosen people and that all God’s promises and covenants with the Jewish people are still in effect today. “The Jewish people are still the apple of God’s eye. They are still cherished and chosen of God. And they are still the people of covenant—a covenant God has pledged to keep forever.” He also believes that God has a special relationship with the United States of America, since, as the Jews were expelled from Spain in and around 1492, they were soon welcomed to America. “The mantle of prosperity was lifted from Spain and placed upon the shoulders of an infant nation that would become the United States of America.” America has been given the special privilege of protecting God’s people and, therefore, America needs to be especially vigilant about the sign of the four blood moons.

Four Blood Moons is a disappointment. Books like this will always prove a disappointment. At the end of it all Hagee won’t say what we should expect or exactly when we should expect it. He merely says that something big is going to happen in the near future. Vague predictions based on misused Scripture have a way of coming about.

I suppose we have already read this book, or others like it, a thousand times. It is, of course, based on endless speculation (and, as many have pointed out, another person’s research). What do we do with a book like Four Blood Moons? I say we ignore it. Let me give four reasons.

Hagee misuses Scripture. Hagee routinely misuses Scripture as he draws out his prophecies. He appears to read the Bible literally or metaphorically entirely on the basis of whether doing so suits his purposes. He approaches the Bible with his mind made up and then goes looking for proof of his assertion. Not surprisingly, he finds it wherever he needs to find it.

Hagee reads history conveniently. Four Blood Moons reminds me of the infamous book The Bible Code in its ability to predict the past and complete inability to say anything meaningful about the future. Hagee picks and chooses the historical events he will pronounce as significant while simply ignoring the ones that do not fit his point. He does not say, for example, that three of the four eclipses in this tetrad will not even be visible from Jerusalem, rather an odd fact if they are meant as a sign to and about Jerusalem. (An excellent article at AiG explains more about the lunar calendar and the occurrence of eclipses.)

Hagee writes as an American for Americans. It is always strange to read books like this from my Canadian perspective. Hagee believes America is a special nation in God’s eyes. But why is this true of America and not Canada, or Switzerland, or Vietnam? Why is it America that needs to heed these warnings and not any other nation? Though the gospel is for all nations, tribes and tongues, this is a book by and for Americans.

Hagee is not clear on the Messiah and the Jewish people. Hagee has a great admiration—envy even—for the Jewish people. His admiration is so pronounced that he appears to deny their need of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The most cruel and false love of all would be to assure Jews that they are saved by virtue of their Christ-less faith. Yet Hagee seems to do just this, extolling Jewish faith and practice and refusing every opportunity to call Jewish people to turn to the Messiah who has already come. If he actually does believe they ought to turn to Christ, he does not make this at all clear.

Of course we already know something will happen in the future, though we do not know if it is near or far. The Lord will return! But God, in his wisdom, has chosen not to reveal his timing to us, and has warned against predicting it. Such speculation based on the moon and stars is little more than Christian astrology. We do far better to just enjoy the blood red moons as another of God’s displays of beauty, and not as a vague prediction of coming events.

April 22, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne ($3.99); The Church by Mark Dever ($0.99); Gospel Commission by Michael Horton ($3.99); Center Church by Tim Keller ($3.99); For the City by Darrin Patrick & Matt Carter ($3.99).

Are We Expecting Too Much or Too Little? - Are we expecting too much or too little from church?

Churchy Gimmicks - The new issue of Credo magazine looks like a good one. It’s free for the download! There’s also a new version of Themelios available.

Heaven Is Scary … For Real - I’m glad to see this article at CNN. “Yes, the Bible teaches that heaven is a place of ultimate comfort, with “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). But it is also a place where the reality of God’s unbridled majesty reigns supreme – and that’s scary.”

God and the Gay Christian? - Al Mohler: “This morning we released God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, a free e-book, and it is the first in the Conversant series I am editing. This free e-book, in which I am joined by colleagues James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert, addresses the biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral issues raised by Vines’s new book.”

Interpreting “Physick” - Here’s an interesting (and kind of morbid) article about eighteenth-century medicine and medical procedures. 

The Most Christian Nation - China is on track to become the world’s most Christian nation. By 2025 there could be 160 million Protestant Christians in the country.

Christianity is the only religion whose God bears the scars of evil. —Os Guinness

Guinness

April 21, 2014

I am one of those New Calvinists, I guess, which means I am part of a crowd that values preaching, and expository preaching in particular. Of course I was an Old Calvinist before I was a New one and was raised in a tradition that valued preaching just as highly. For my whole life I’ve been around preachers and preaching.

I spent a good bit of time last week pondering the nature of God’s Word and thinking specifically about Paul’s mandate to Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” That’s a passage about preaching, but it’s also a passage about just plain reading the Bible out loud. It intrigued me.

I travel a fair bit these days and often enjoy worshipping in other churches, and here is something I’ve noticed: We tend to be far more committed to the second part of that command than to the first. We love our preaching, but what about the public reading of Scripture? Most churches I visit will read the Bible immediately prior to the sermon, and some will read a text in sections during the sermon, but few just dedicate themselves to reading the Bible aloud. Conferences, too, are known for their preaching, but not necessarily for their emphasis on reading the Bible. Last week I found myself wondering why this is. I wonder if our emphasis on preaching has inadvertently nudged it out.

Paul’s command to Timothy that he devote himself to the public reading of Scripture can be better understood by looking to 2 Timothy 3 where Paul speaks about the nature of God’s Word. When we understand what God’s Word is and does, we better understand why we ought to read it. Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Paul isn’t talking about the Scriptures as they are preached here—not yet—but the Scriptures as they are, as they are read, as they are understood, as they are absorbed by the Christian.

Paul uses two groups of two words to explain how the Bible functions and what it accomplishes. The Bible is profitable for teaching and reproof. These are words related to doctrine, to the positive teaching of truth and to the correcting of falsehood. The Bible teaches us truth and it convicts us of error. The Bible is also profitable for correction and for training in righteousness. These are words related to living, to the correction of unrighteous ways of living and instruction in godliness. The Bible teaches us how to live and convicts us of sinful habits and patterns.

And because it does all of these things it completes us, it grows us in Christian maturity and prepares us to do those good things—those good works—that God means for us to do. It prepares us to do good things that are done not to make us look great, but to make ourselves diminish so that God can increase all the more.

Once more, the Bible does not need to be preached in order to do this. It just needs to be read. God’s Word alone has the power to do this because those words have been breathed out by God; in that way it has a supernatural power no other words can have. Preaching has a role, to be sure, but preaching only does what it does because the Bible is what it is. God allows us to preach and even tells us to preach, but he does not need preaching in order to change us and mature us. The Bible alone can do this. The Bible is its own preacher, its own counselor, its own teacher, its own evangelist. If we have de-emphasized the public reading of the Bible because of our love for preaching, the solution is not to diminish preaching, but to re-emphasize the reading.

So here’s the question: Do you commit yourself to the public reading of Scripture? Do you read it in your church, even if you cannot explain it at the time? Do you read it in your home, with your family, even if you do not have a lot of opportunity to explain and apply it? If the Bible is so powerful, and if the Bible accomplishes so much, it would be ridiculous not to read it, not to read it faithfully and consistently and expectantly.

And here’s another question: What do you expect when someone reads the Bible to you? Do you expect that it will teach and train you? Do you expect that it will admonish and correct you? Do you expect that as the Bible is read, God himself will speak to you and convict you of sin and unrighteousness and teach you about himself and how to live in a way that honors him? You should expect nothing less.

April 21, 2014

There are just a couple of new Kindle deals that may interest you: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper by Thabiti Anyabwile & Ligon Duncan ($0.99); Thinking. Loving. Doing. edited by John Piper & David Mathis ($2.99); The Faithful Preacher by Thabiti Anyabwile ($3.49). And in case you missed them Saturday: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear ($1.99); Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada ($1.99); The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken ($2.99).

The Moral Majority Is No More - Owen Strachan writes about the infamous Millennials. “How, exactly, will Millennial Christians—in a jaded generation but not of it—engage with politics, with the public square? The way Millennials answer this question will play a vital role in the public prospects of Christianity in America and the West.”

The iPad Is a Tease - If you’re interested in technology, you may enjoy this article about the iPad and how it, and other tablets, may have peaked largely because they can’t possibly live up to the hype.

Walking Through Depression - Randy Alcorn discusses his battles with depression.

Honey Badger Houdini - This is a fun little video from the BBC.

Secular Humanism Depends On Christianity - “Theo Hobson, in the British Spectator, critiques the New Atheist insistence that we can have morality–indeed, a better morality–apart from religion.  In doing so, he shows that even today’s secular humanist morality, which the atheists take as axiomatic, actually derives from Christianity.”

A Faith That Fights - Aimee Bird: “Christians are disciples, and therefore by definition, we are disciplined. … By using the illustration of a Grecian Olympic fighter, the preacher to the Hebrews teaches us that part of our discipline in the Christian life is conditioning. We need practice.”

The first sign of spiritual life is to feel that you are dead! —Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Lloyd-Jones