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The False Teachers
April 16, 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 will look at a man who commands more followers than perhaps any other person in the world: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known also as Pope Francis.

Pope Francis

Pope FrancisJorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, the first child of Italian immigrants Mario and Regina. He graduated from college as a chemical technician and pursued that career for a short time before entering seminary at the Diocesan Seminary of Villa Devoto. On March 11, 1958 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus and over the next decade studied and taught in a variety of disciplines. He was ordained a priest in December 1969 and made his final profession with the Jesuits in April 1973.

In July of that year he was appointed Provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina and held that position for several years before resuming his work as a priest and a teacher and, later, as spiritual director and confessor to the Jesuits in Cordoba. As a priest he was loved and admired for his kindness and willingness to engage in patient dialog with his students and parishoners. However, he also walked into a political quagmire as the military sought to assert its dominance over the nation. He was accused of complicity with the military forces in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, though he has strenuously denied the charges which have not been satisfactorily proven.

In 1992 Pope John Paul II appointed Bergoglio titular Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary of Buenos Aires. He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and was quickly elevated to Cardinal in 2001. After Pope John Paul II died in 2005, some reports indicated that Bergoglio received the second-most votes in that papal election, though Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) was eventually elected to succeed John Paul. As a cardinal Bergoglio gained a reputation for his low-key lifestyle, his commitment to social justice, and his doctrinal conservatism, proving himself an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage and public efforts to introduce free contraception. One of his friends says, “He’s as uncompromising as Pope John Paul II, in terms of the principles of the Church - everything it has defended regarding euthanasia, the death penalty, abortion, the right to life, human rights, celibacy of priests.”

When Pope Benedict XVI voluntarily resigned as pope on February 28, 2013, the papal conclave elected the 76-year-old Bergoglio as his successor. He chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi and his lifestyle of simplicity. He is the first Jesuit to be pope, the first pope from the Americas and the southern hemisphere, and the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years.

As pope, Francis immediately made his mark by maintaining his relatively austere lifestyle and eschewing much of the formality that has marked previous pontiffs. He chose not to live in the Apostolic Palace but instead to reside in the Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse. He wears simpler vestments than his predecessors and insists that he wants the Roman Catholic Church to be a church for the poor. He immediately began planning reforms to the Vatican’s expansive bureaucracy, emphasizing efficiency and transparency.

Francis has given hope to both conservatives and to progressives within the Roman Catholic Church, sometimes by apparently contradicting himself. While insisting that the Church’s view on sexuality will not be the subject of negotiation, he has also said “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” He has also hinted toward a kind of universalism saying, “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying—and this is the fundamental thing—that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

In the year since he became pope, he has received wide acclaim both from within the Roman Catholic Church and from far outside it. In 2013 he was named Person of the Year by TIME magazine as well as LGBT-interest magazine The Advocate. Esquire noted his simpler dress and named him The Best Dressed Man of 2013. Fortune magazine ranked him at the top of their list of the top-50 leaders while Rolling Stone featured him on the cover of a recent issue.

April 16, 2014

Here are some items for the Christian reader: Thabiti Anyabwile’s new book Captivated is just $2.99 on Kindle; Preach by Mark Dever is $0.99. Westminster Books has a few of the excellent 9Marks books on sale. Banner of Truth has a spring sale which is highlighting one of my all-time favorite books: The Cross He Bore. Use coupon code challieschb to get 40% off that book or code springsale2014 to get 30% off the other sale titles. (The sale is North America only.)

Christianity Packs Its Office and Leaves the Building - This is a clever and insightful bit of writing. Jonathan Leeman imagines a public square without any Christianity.

5 Easter Errors - Here are 5 common errors to leave out of your Easter sermon.

Don’t Make My Funeral About Me - This is great stuff from Nancy Guthrie.

Music and Meaning - Harold Best has fascinating things to say about worship and music. In this article 9Marks asks him a few questions and he provides thought-provoking answers.

Christians Get Depressed Too - David Murray has now released 5 short films about Christians and depression.

Why Did Methuselah Live So Long? - “Anyone who’s ever played Bible trivia knows that Methuselah lived longer than anyone else. He died at the ripe old age of 969. But have you ever wondered why?” Read the article and you’ll find out.

IRS Gets Taxes, Jesus Gets My Heart - “Despite feeling a distinctly American inclination to don war paint and drop a few 1040 forms into the nearest harbor around this time of year, the vast majority of us will provide the government with the requested forms on or before the appointed date. And yet, other than avoiding the unpleasantness of penalties and prison, why should Christians pay their taxes? Or should they?”

The desire for even a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing. —Paul Tripp

Tripp

Porn-Free Family
April 15, 2014

I am a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

The Porn-Free Family Plan

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor.

Plan

You’ve heard the old maxim: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The maxim applies well to what we are attempting to accomplish here. A successful plan will need to account for every device in your home that combines an Internet connection with a screen. So let’s get to work.

Step 1: Inventory
You need to know exactly how many Internet-enabled devices you have in your home. To do this, you will need to take an inventory. Make a list of all your Internet-enabled devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Don’t forget the Playstation 3, Xbox, smart televisions, Apple TVs, iPods, and e-reader tablets. Even a Kindle reading device has basic web-browsing capabilities. A family recently reported that after doing this they were shocked to learn they had 22 devices to account for!

Step 2: Budget
Decide whether you are able to make Internet security a regular and recurring monthly expense. Where it used to cost money to access pornography, today it often costs money to avoid it. While there are free options available, the best services have a cost associated with them. A budget of $20-$25 per month will allow a family to take advantage of the premier options.

Step 3: Learn
Now that you have taken your inventory and have a better grasp of the devices your plan needs to account for, it is time to learn about the options available to protect those who use them. There are four broad categories of protection we have available:

  • Filtering. Filtering proactively detects and blocks objectionable content. (Examples: If your child does an Internet search for “naked girls,” it will block the search; If your child mistakenly clicks a link to a pornographic web site, it will block access to the site.)
  • Accountability. Accountability software tracks web sites visited from different devices and then prepares and delivers regular reports. (Example: If your child visits a pornographic web site or performs a search for “naked girls,” the accountability software will note it and include it in a report emailed to you.)
  • Parental controls. Parental controls block certain functions of modern devices (Examples: Preventing the use of the Internet browser on an iPod Touch; preventing the use of the Facebook app on a tablet).
  • Communication. We cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, so the plan must also involve regular, deliberate and open communication.

Because none of these offers complete protection, the wise plan must use some combination of all four. The Porn-Free Family plan uses the following tools:

  • OpenDNS. OpenDNS uses filtering to automatically block objectionable web sites for every device connected to your home network. It is activated by making a small change to the settings on your existing router. 
  • Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes tracks the web sites visited by your computers and mobile devices and sends regular email reports; it also offers optional filtering that can be configured specifically for each member of your family.
  • Parental Controls. Parental controls allow parents to disable certain functions on devices.
  • Meetings. The most indispensable tool is regular, open, deliberate communication between parents and their children.

Step 4: Discuss
Before you begin to implement the plan, it may be a good idea to meet with your family to explain what you are about to do and what you hope to accomplish by it. You will be inconveniencing your family and putting rules in place that will impact them, so it may be wise to discuss these things with them.

April 15, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: Raised? by Jonathan Dodson & Brad Watson ($2.99); Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous ($2.99); Ten Who Changed the World by Daniel Akin ($2.99).

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife - Sooner or later people are going to catch on that these new discoveries don’t actually change anything. But for now, read Al Mohler on Jesus’ supposed wife.

A Passion for the Gospel and Golf - “On Sunday Bubba Watson, one of the most untraditional golfers on the PGA Tour, was the winner of the 2014 Masters Tournament. But golf isn’t Watson’s top priority. What he considers most important can be gleaned from the description on his Twitter account, @bubbawatson (‘Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer.’) and his website, BubbaWatson.com (‘Loves Jesus and loves sharing his faith’).”

Thankful That I Became Blind - “In her autobiographical book entitled Fanny Crosby’s Life-Story (1903), Crosby narrates the following account in which she expresses her thankfulness to God that, in His providence, she became blind.” It’s well worth reading.

When Marriage Is Hard - “Weddings are solemn ceremonies. While it seems romantic and idealistic on your wedding day to pledge your undying love and devotion to the man of your dreams, the truth is it is excruciating in real life. Very few married couples get very far into their marriage before reality sets in and these vows demand something from them.”

Pit Stops in 1950 and Today - Here is a comparison of Formula 1 pit stops in 1950 versus today. Maybe there’s a parable for our way-too-fast lives in there.

Joshua Project - The Joshua Project has relaunched their web site. “Joshua Project is a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ. Accurate, regularly updated ethnic people group information is critical for understanding and completing the Great Commission.”

The depths of our misery can never fall below the depths of mercy. —Richard Sibbes

Sibbes

April 14, 2014

Series Introduction: I live in a small house. I work in a small office in a small church. For those reasons and others I will never have a huge library. When I add a book I almost always remove a book, a practice that allows me to focus on quality over quantity. Over the past couple of years I have focused on building a collection of commentaries that will include only the best volumes on each book of the Bible. I know when I’m in way over my head, so before I began I collected every good resource I could find that rated and reviewed commentaries. I studied them and then began my collection on the basis of what the experts told me. Since I did all of that work, and since I continue to keep up with the project, I thought it might be helpful to share the recommendations.

My focus is on newer commentaries (at least in part because most of the classics are now freely or cheaply available) and I am offering approximately 5 recommendations for each book of the Bible, alternating between the Old Testament and the New. Today I have turned to the experts to find what they say about Daniel.

Daniel

DuguidIain M. Duguid - Daniel (Reformed Expository Commentary). Iain Duguid has written several excellent commentaries and has provided the volume on Daniel for the Reformed Expository Commentary series. It comes highly recommended by most of the experts. Kent Hughes, himself the author of many commentaries, writes “It is rare indeed to find a technical scholar who is also a master homiletician and preacher. But these things Dr. Iain Duguid clearly is. Here, rigorous expository methodology, nuanced biblical theology, and pastoral passion combine to expound the gospel of Jesus Christ in the ravishing narrative and exotic apocalyptic of the book of Daniel.” High praise like that puts this one at the top of the list. (Amazon, Westminster Books)

Sinclair Ferguson - Daniel (The Preacher’s Commentary). Sinclair Ferguson’s volume is considering top-notch by many of the experts. Keith Mathison praises it by saying, “Students of Scripture should read anything that Sinclair Ferguson publishes, and his commentary on Daniel is no exception. Although aimed specifically at pastors, this commentary is accessible to a general readership as well. Very helpful.” (Amazon, Westminster Books)

DanielJohn Goldingay - Daniel (Word Biblical Commentary). This commentary is more scholarly than the two that have come before. It is said to deal well with the text and to reflect an immense amount of in-depth research into both the text and the context. Longman writes, “He gives insight into historical, literary, and theological issues concerning the book. He also demonstrates an amazing grasp of the secondary literature.” The experts do warn that he takes an unusual view of the visions in the early part of the book, suggesting they are pseudonymous quasi-prophecy. (Amazon, Westminster Books)

April 14, 2014

I hear it so, so often: “Help! My kids are looking at porn!” A few days ago one mom wrote to say that she and her husband had allowed their young teenaged boys access to the Internet to play an online video game, thinking they had taught and trained the boys well enough that they would be able to resist whatever temptation they encountered out there. They were wrong, and had just learned that for the past four months, when mom and dad left the house for a date or to run some errands, the boys had been looking at pornography. What should they do? How should they respond?

I have dedicated a lot of attention over the past several years to the battle against pornography and would like to offer a two-part answer. Today I will address the immediate response and tomorrow I want to help you put together a plan that will protect your family in the future, both preventing those who want to look at porn and protecting those who don’t yet know that it exists.

For today, here are some suggestions for how to respond when you learn that your children have been looking at or looking for pornography.

Don’t Despair

Different parents react in different ways when it comes to their children and pornography. Some treat it in a matter-of-fact manner while others respond with more emotion and can find themselves on the brink of utter despair. Guard yourself against those depths of despair. While this situation is difficult and painful, it does not mean the world is ending; it does not necessarily mean your children are unsaved and certainly does not mean they are unsaveable. By looking at porn they have opened up a window to their heart and you now have the opportunity to address it in a helpful way. Despair will only interfere with your ability to do this effectively.

Be Careful with Shame

There may be a tendency to compound shame upon shame, to want to ensure that your kids are feeling the shame they ought to feel. But be careful with shame. Our goal is to have the Holy Spirit convict your children of their guilt more than to have mom and dad make them feel a deep shame. It is very possible that you are feeling embarrassed or feeling a sense of failure as a parent, and this may lead you to be harsher than you ought to be. Your goal is not to convict your children of their shame before mom and dad, but to assist the Holy Spirit as he convicts them of their guilt before God.

Ask Questions

Whatever else you do, you need to communicate with your kids. It is easy for a parent to assume he knows why his children have been looking at pornography, but I’ve learned over the years that there are a host of reasons. Some children look at porn purely out of lust and curiosity; some do it primarily to fuel masturbation; some do it out of a desire to be disobedient and act out against the authority figures in their life; some do it out of a response to abuse they’ve suffered in the past. Where the temptation will be to bludgeon your children with reasons they should not look at porn, your time will be spent far more effectively if you are able to slow down, ask lots of questions, and engage them in conversation. Find out what the allure is. Find out what need it seems to be meeting. Prepare for uncomfortable discussions about topics you don’t want to discuss, like masturbation and even abuse. Don’t let their bad behavior distract you from addressing their hearts.

Go to the Gospel

I said earlier that by looking at pornography your children have opened up a window into their hearts. They’ve opened it up and shone a spotlight onto a particular sin. They’ve shown that they are dissatisfied, that they are lustful, that they are disobedient to God and to their parents. And that’s just who the gospel is for—for the dissatisfied and lustful and disobedient. All of this presents a powerful opportunity to get straight to the gospel. The gospel offers them forgiveness, but it also offers them hope that they can overcome this sin, that they can be rescued from the guilt of the sin, that they can find a deeper and more lasting satisfaction than what pornography promises. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.

Plead With Them

I believe that as a parent you have many opportunities to teach your children, but only a few opportunities to really plead with them. This is a time to plead with them, to plead for their lives and to plead for their souls. You are older and wiser than your children, you understand the Bible more than your children, and you know the long-term cost of a commitment to sexual sin. If ever there is a time to plead with them for their life and for their souls, this is it. Allow Solomon to give you your words:

April 14, 2014

Here are some new Kindle deals: An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture by Andrew Davis ($0.99); Francis Chan’s books are on sale: Multiply ($4.99), Erasing Hell ($3.82), Forgotten God ($4.99), Crazy Love ($4.99). Preaching the Cross by the Together for the Gospel speakers ($3.99); Atheism Remix by Al Mohler ($1.99); The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever ($0.99); Truth Endures by John MacArthur ($3.99).

The Final Days of Jesus - This is from the Crossway blog: “In this week’s video series, well-known New Testament scholars explore the background and significance of the history-shaping events that occurred during Jesus’s last week on earth.”

I Will Praise You In This Storm - You ought to read this one. “Tornado watches and warnings are relatively frequent in eastern North Carolina. We pay attention to them, but don’t let them upset our routine too much because nothing ever comes of them, or they are always somewhere else.”

Going for Blood - “…I’m lost. I am distraught. Last night I couldn’t help it—I needed to see blood, so I scratched myself with my razor. Just a tiny bit of blood. A tiny scratch….” Ed Welch writes about cutting and other self-inflicted pain.

Did You Read About Reading? - Last week I linked to an article about reading and skimming. Here’s a follow-up which analyzes how many people actually read the whole article on reading. Answer: not very many.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease? - This fascinating video explains what the disease is and how it progresses.

China’s Church Demolition Campaign - “Communist Party in Zhejiang rejects claims of campaign against Protestant churches but one official describes Christianity’s growth as ‘excessive’.”

Confess sin. It always helps you to see the cross of Jesus more clearly. —Ed Welch

Welch

The Bestsellers
April 13, 2014

A short time ago I launched a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. Today we look at a book that introduced many of us to one of this generation’s most popular preachers. The book is titled Your Best Life Now.

Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen

Your Best Life NowJoel Osteen was born on March 5, 1963, the son of John and Dolores (known as “Dodie”) Osteen. John founded Lakewood Church in Houston Texas on May 10, 1959, and pastored the church until his death in 1999. While he began his career in ministry as a Baptist, he later experienced something he believed was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and founded Lakewood as a haven for charismatic Baptists. By the 1980s John and Dodie had become well-known among their fellow charismatics. The church had over 5,000 in attendance and their services were broadcast across the world. From a young age Joel was involved in this work, laboring behind the scenes in support of the family ministry.

When John Osteen died suddenly of a heart attack on January 23, 1999, Joel, who had preached his first sermon the week before, succeeded him as pastor with his wife, Victoria, serving as co-pastor. Very quickly, the church exploded in growth and Joel’s broadcasts become more popular than his father’s had ever been; his sermons, full of homespun wisdom and messages of self-empowerment, were heard all over the world and it was only a matter of time before he penned his first book.

In October 2004 FaithWords released Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. The book is framed around seven steps meant to instruct the reader in living out God’s big dream for his life.

  1. Enlarge Your Vision. Osteen begins the book by teaching that God wants to make our lives easier and provide his people with special advantages and preferential treatment. We need to learn to expect good things from God so, for example, if we are in a crowded parking lot, we can pray, “Father, I thank you for leading and guiding me. Your favor will cause me to get a good spot.” Throughout the day we ought to declare “The favor of God is causing this company to want to hire me. The favor of God is causing me to stand out in the crowd.”
  2. Develop a Healthy Self-Image. In this section Osteen teaches that we are what we believe, that we need to think positive thoughts. “God sees you as strong and courageous, as a man or woman of great honor and value.” He bases much of this on the story of Abraham and Sarah, saying “I’m convinced that the key to the promise coming to pass was that Sarah had to conceive it in her heart before she was able to conceive it in her physical body.”
  3. Discover the Power of Your Thoughts and Words. Osteen wants us to believe that our thoughts and words have creative power. “Our words become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you allow your thoughts to defeat you and then give birth to negative ideas through your words, your actions will follow suit. That’s why we need to be extremely careful about what we think and especially careful about what we say. … Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out, you give birth to it.”
  4. Let Go of the Past. We need to let go of past hurts and past failures, knowing that these will only keep us from the blessing and favor God wants to pour out upon us.
  5. Find Strength Through Adversity. Osteen wants his readers to know that we cannot allow adversity to stop or slow us. “God has promised that He will turn your challenges into stepping-stones for promotion.”
  6. Live to Give. In this section he calls for compassion and kindness, using the principle that in order to receive, we have to first give. “If you’re struggling financially, go out and help somebody who has less than you have. If you want to reap financial blessings, you must sow financial seeds in the lives of others. If you want to see healing and restoration come to your life, go out and help somebody else get well.”
  7. Choose to Be Happy. In this final section he calls the reader to a life of happiness and excellence. “If you will start taking care of what God has given you, He’ll be more likely to give you something better.”

The great promise at the end of it all, is that by following these seven simple principles, each of us can have our best life now.

Sales & Lasting Impact

Your Best Life Now quickly debuted on the New York Times list of best-sellers and remained there for more than two years. By December, just three months after its release, Your Best Life Now had tallied over 500,000 sales and was awarded the Gold Book Award. In May 2005 it achieved 1 million sales and received the Platinum Book Award. To date it has sold over 4 million copies.

Osteen’s book was widely criticized by Christian leaders for ignoring the gospel of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice in favor of a gospel of financial and life-wide prosperity. While Osteen claimed to be teaching biblical principles, he was instead picking and choosing isolated verses of the Bible to teach self-empowerment much as Norman Vincent Peale and so many others had done before him. In a helpful review of the book, Greg Gilbert summarizes it well: “Yes, Osteen talks about God throughout, but it is not the God of the Bible he has in mind. Osteen’s God is little more than the mechanism that gives the power to positive thinking. There is no cross. There is no sin. There is no redemption or salvation or eternity.” He continues: “If Joel Osteen wants to be the Norman Vincent Peale of the twenty-first century, he has every right to give it a shot. But he should stop marketing his message as Christianity, because it is not. You cannot simply make reference to God, quote some Scripture, call what you’re saying ‘spiritual principles’ and pass it off as Christianity. That’s the kind of thing that will have people ‘enlarging their vision’ and ‘choosing to be happy’ all the way to hell.”