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March 30, 2015

GrovelI am not easily offended. People will sometimes apologize to me for something they have said or something they have done, concerned that I was offended at their behavior. But I rarely am. It usually doesn’t even occur to me to be offended. But then there is that one situation with that one friend.

A long time ago a friend really did offend me. He hurt me badly, actually. In the aftermath he did the right thing. I spoke to him and expressed how his behavior had hurt me, and he apologized. And that should have been enough, right?

But this is the one offense in my life I found it difficult to move past. And I mean that—for many years this offense existed in its own category in my life. It was the one wound that was so slow to heal. And I sometimes wondered why. Why was this one so hard to let go? Why did I still bear the weight of it, even much later on?

As I thought about it and as I prayed about it, I came to see that somewhere along the way I had decided that my friend was not sorry enough. My memories of the moment told me that he was not contrite enough. His assessment of his actions never quite seemed to measure up to my own. At least, that was my perception of the matter. What grieved me merely bothered him. That was how I perceived it and that is how it sat heavy on my heart.

It took me a long time to see that I was expecting too much. I was expecting the wrong thing. My friend expressed remorse and asked forgiveness, just like he should have. There were no amends he could make and no further actions he could take to make things right—that was not the nature of this offense. So he moved on. We remained friends.

But sometimes that old hurt would creep up. Sometimes I would find myself hurt all over again by that old offense. And I came to see that I wanted to measure his response by his sorrow. I wanted to see him grovel a little, as if this would prove his remorse. I wanted to see him shed a few tears for his offense against me. I wanted him to look and act sorry enough to satisfy my wounded ego. I had judged his apology sincere but insufficient, well-intentioned but trite.

Until one day I understood that he could never be sorry enough. He could never apologize deeply enough. He could never grovel contritely enough. He had done it all just right: He had apologized and asked my forgiveness and gotten on with life and relationship. The fault was with me, with unfair standards, and with unjust judgment.

I had to see that no one can ever be sorry enough. No one can ever be contrite enough. Not him, and not me. The same freedom I enjoy from the Lord—the freedom to ask forgiveness and then immediately enjoy the promise of that forgiveness—that is the very same freedom I was denying him. God doesn’t make me grovel. God doesn’t make me come back again and again to beg forgiveness for that very same sin. God sees the heart, he sees my remorse over my sin, and he forgives to such a degree that I can have absolute confidence in his forgiveness. If God were to grant me forgiveness only when my sincerity was sufficient, only when I properly understood the depth of the offense, and only when I expressed a fitting degree of remorse, I fear that few of my sins would be forgiven.

As is so often the case in life, I was holding someone else to standard I could not hold myself. I can never be sorry enough. He can never be sorry enough. But I can imitate God in granting free and full forgiveness and in letting the matter rest.

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March 27, 2015

The very heart of the human condition is a faulty assessment of self. We think too much of ourselves, and think of ourselves too much. We overrate our importance and underestimate our depravity. Ultimately, we elevate ourselves to the place reserved for God.

In the face of such insanity, we need to know who we really are. We need to have a right assessment of self.

Who am I? It is a question we have all asked at one time or another, at least in one of its variations. And every man has his own answer. Every philosophy and every religion has its own response.

Most of them tell me to look inside. I am told to look within, to search myself for the truth, to search myself for my own identity. But I never seem to find it. I can’t quite seem to pin it down. The mere conviction that I can find answers within stands as proof of my faulty self-assessment. The simple fact is that I cannot know myself as I really am. I am too blind to see myself, too far gone to find myself.

Here is what I have learned: To know myself, I need to look outside of myself. My best assessment of self does not come from within but from without. It does not originate with me but with God.

The Bible is an inestimable treasure because of what it teaches me about God, but it is equally valuable for what it teaches me about me. It does not reveal only the truth about deity, but also about humanity.

If I want to know who I am, if I want to know why I exist, if I want to know where I’ve gone wrong, if I want to know my deepest meaning and purpose, if I want to properly assess myself, I need to look outside myself. I cannot know these things apart from God speaking through his Word. The Bible is different from every other book in this way: Where I read all those other books, the Bible reads me.*

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

The Bible searches me and tells me where I have erred. It examines me and tells me what I need. It tries me and evaluates my every thought and attitude. Ultimately, it reads me and tells me who I am.

Who am I? I will never know until I open the Bible and ask.

*I think I have heard that phrase, or a similar one, attributed to R.C. Sproul, but I wasn’t able to track it down.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 26, 2015

Pray without ceasing,” Paul says. Simple words, but a seemingly impossible challenge. How can you be expected to pray all the time? In chapter 54 of their work A Puritan Theology, Joel Beeke and Mark Jones dive deep into Matthew Henry’s great book A Method for Prayer to distil what he says about the importance of praying through all of life’s circumstances. As it turns out, there is no great trick to it. What follows is at times transcribed and at times adapted from A Puritan Theology.

Begin Every Day with God

Henry writes, “It is our wisdom and duty to begin every day with God.” You always have something to talk to God about. He is a dear friend, so it is a pleasure to know him personally and to walk with him intimately. He is also Lord over you and over everything that touches your life. Shall a servant not talk to his master? Shall a dependent not talk to his provider? Shall one in danger not converse with his defender?

Let no obstacle hinder you from coming to God. Though God is in heaven, he will hear your cries from the depths. Though God be fearsome, he grants believers the Spirit of adoption to have freedom with him. Yes, God already knows what you need, but he requires your prayers for his glory and to fit you to receive mercy. Though you are busy with many things, only one thing is necessary: To walk with God in peace and love. So for that reason you ought to begin each day with God.

Why should you dedicate morning hours to God? Because God deserves your best and not just the day’s leftovers when you are tired and worn. For many or most of us, the best hours are the earliest hours. Not only that but, as Henry wrote, “In the morning we are most free from company and business, so we should give him fresh thanksgivings and fresh meditations on his beauties. In the morning as we prepare for the work of the day, let us commit it all to God.” Begin every day with him, and give him the best part of your day.

Spend Every Day With God

You need to begin the day with God, but you also need to spend the day with God. In his explanation of Psalm 25:5 (“for you I wait all the day long”) Henry explains that this involves a patient expectation of God to come at his time, and it involves a constant attendance upon the Lord in the duties of personal worship.

The Christian’s constant attendance upon God throughout the day is captured in the phrase “to wait upon the Lord.” Henry said, “To wait upon God is to live a life of desire towards him, delight in him, dependence on him, and devotedness to him.” Constant dependence is the attitude of a child toward his father in whom he trusts and on whom he casts all of his cares. This waiting on the Lord is something you can do every day, and not just the days you gather for public worship. You do it in private worship, in family worship, and in corporate worship.

Wherever you go or whatever you do each day, search for abundant reasons for prayer and praise. As James wrote, if you are sad, then pray to God; if you are happy, then sing praises to God (James 5:13). That covers all of life.

Close Every Day with God

Just as you begin your days with God, and spend your days with God, you should also close your days with God. Henry insists that you may end each day in contentment only because you have the Lord as our God. “Let this still every storm, command and create a calm in thy soul. Having God to be our God in covenant, we have enough; we have all. And though the gracious soul still desires more of God, it never desires more than God; in him it reposeth itself with a perfect complacency; in him it is at home, it is at rest.”

When you lay down to rest at night, Henry advises you to lie down with thanksgiving to God. You should briefly review his mercies and deliverances at the end of each day. “Every bit we eat, and every drop we drink, is mercy; every step we take, and every breath we draw, mercy.” You should be thankful for nighttime as God’s provision for your rest, for a place to lay your head, and for the healthy of body and peace of mind which allows you to sleep. You can lay down and sleep in peace, resting your soul upon the intercession of Christ to grant you peace with God, and forgiving your fellow men of all their offenses against you so that your heart may be at peace with God and man.

Begin the day with God. Spend the day with God. Close the day with God. “This life of communion with God, and constant attendance upon him, is a heaven upon earth.” Indeed.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 25, 2015

Earlier this month Crossway announced that they are considering March Pastor’s Wife Appreciation Month, and this on the occasion of Gloria Furman’s new book The Pastor’s Wife. To mark the month they have offered blog articles and video interviews featuring wives of well-known pastors, and many of these articles have been very helpful. You can find the list right here.

To this point, the bulk of the articles have focused on the struggles that can come to the pastor’s wife: the hurt, the expectations, the difficulty in making friends, and so on. Since I am married to a pastor’s wife, I can attest that these are real issues. But Aileen and I put our heads together and would like to offer an article that looks at the pastor’s wife from an alternate angle: the privilege of it. Because despite the difficulties, the pastor’s wife does experience some unique privileges. We have written this little article with the pastor’s wife in mind in the hope that it will encourage her.

(Note: It is always dangerous to speak very broadly, but for the purposes of this article we will assume that this pastor and his wife attend a good church that takes seriously the biblical qualifications for a pastor.)

Here are 6 privileges of the pastor’s wife.

She Is Married To a Godly Man

If this pastor and his wife attend a church that loves the Bible and that honors the qualifications of a pastor, then the pastor’s wife is necessarily married to a godly man. In fact, she is married to a man who exemplifies godliness. This is not to say that her husband is perfect, of course, but it does give her the privilege of being married to a man who can be put before the congregation as one who lives a life that is above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2). With so few men called and qualified to the office, she enjoys a rare but noteworthy privilege.

She Is a Godly Woman

There is no biblical office of the pastors’ wife, and neither is there a specific list of qualifications for a pastor’s wife. However, it is clear that a man cannot be qualified to the office apart from his wife. Unless she is willing and unless she is godly, he simply cannot be a pastor. And so the church’s affirmation of a man to the office of pastor is an affirmation of his wife’s godliness and spiritual maturity. She has the privilege of having the church agree that she is godly and mature, and will only help, not hinder, the work of her husband.

She Has a Good Marriage

The pastor’s wife is not only married to a good man, but she also enjoys a good marriage with her man. His life is worthy of imitation, and so too is his marriage. After all, the Bible says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2) and that he “must manage his own household well” (1 Timothy 3:4). These qualifications, when filled out, indicate a man who loves and treasures his wife, and who leads her as Christ leads the church. His marriage to his wife testifies to the church that he is capable of leading and loving his congregation.

Her Husband Nurtures His Children

An elder must be a man who raises his children to be submissive (1 Timothy 3:4) and whose children are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (Titus 1:6). This indicates a father who is involved with the care and spiritual nurture of his children. The pastor’s wife will play a critical role, of course. But this qualifier indicates that the father takes an active interest in his children and raises them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. She enjoys the privilege of a husband who loves and nurtures their children.

She Is Admired

A pastor is to live above reproach and to live worthy of imitation so that he serves as a model of godliness. Do you want to know what it means to live the Christian life? Look to your pastor and live like your pastor! It is little wonder, then, that he is admired and worthy of the honor given to him. And it is little wonder that his wife is admired as well, because he is not qualified to the office apart from her, but through and because of her. In this way she is admired by the church community and she, too, is held up as a model of godliness.

She Is Married to a Respectable Man

Finally, the pastor’s wife has the privilege of being married to a respectable man. There are some vocations that command a degree of respect in the wider community, and the pastors’ wife is privileged to count her husband among them. In fact, the Bible demands that he be thought well of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7) so that he is both known and admired in the wider community. The pastor’s wife is married to a man who is an involved and upstanding member of the community where no one thinks evil of his life or character. She feels no shame when she interacts in the community, because her husband is a respectable man.

The pastor’s wife has a unique calling, and one that comes with particular challenges. But it is also one that comes with considerable privileges. So, pastor’s wife, we honor you, and we thank God for the privileges you enjoy.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 24, 2015

When I was growing up and still living with my parents, my family supported ministries based in the USSR, and on our fridge we had a big poster covered in photographs of Russian pastors who were imprisoned or endangered because of their faith. Every night in our devotions we would pray for one of them, that God would bless and protect him. Meanwhile we lived in middle-class suburbia in Toronto. We freely told our neighbors about Jesus, we went to church twice each Sunday, we read the Bible openly, and even went to Christian schools. It did not seem fair that we had it so easy.

And we still have it easy. It is still remarkably easy to be a Christian here in North America. We have never faced systemic persecution. We have laws that protect our freedom to worship and our freedom to believe what we believe.

That’s not to say, though, that we never suffer. We still do face scorn and mockery, and especially so as the culture around us proceeds farther and deeper into paganism. Though the burdens we bear are light compared to what some others have had to carry, they are burdens nonetheless. I was recently studying 1 Peter 4 and found 5 reasons that we can and should rejoice even now when we are persecuted, or even in that day when we face much greater persecution.

Rejoice Because God Is Testing You

In times of trial, you can rejoice because God is testing you. Peter says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (verse 12). Even trials exist under the sovereignty of your all-powerful God, and they exist in order to test you. There are at least two ways that God tests you in times of persecution: He tests the genuineness of your faith, and he tests the maturity of your faith. When persecution comes, the false Christians are tested and inevitably run away. In the moment they are forced to suffer, they recant their faith and run away. Their faith is tested and proven fraudulent. The other kind of test is one that proves the depth or maturity of the believer’s faith. There is an important distinction between this test and the kind of test you are accustomed to. When you are in school and take a test, the purpose is for the teacher to know how well you’re doing. But when God tests you, the purpose is for you to know how well you’re doing. God wants you to be encouraged, and so he allows a trial to come, and that trial proves you who you are and how much you’ve grown. You don’t know what your faith is made of until it’s tested. So you truly can rejoice in trials knowing that God tests the ones he loves.

Rejoice Because You Share Christ’s Sufferings

The second reason you can rejoice in suffering is because you are sharing Christ’s sufferings. Peter says, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” When you are persecuted, when you undergo those trials, you are participating in Christ’s sufferings. As you suffer you inevitably come to a greater understanding of what Christ endured on your behalf, and this draws you closer to him. After all, if someone persecutes you, it isn’t because they hate you; they persecute you because they hate Christ. In this way suffering is a kind of promise from God: A promise that you are united to his Son. Your suffering is proof of your salvation. You can praise God knowing that you are sharing Christ’s sufferings because you are united to him.

Rejoice Because God Is With You

Third, rejoice because God is with you. He is near to you in your persecution. Verse 14 says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” This is a promise that God does not abandon you in your persecution, but is right there with you in the middle of it. This is one very good reason to read church history. What you find as you read about people who are being persecuted is that they have a supernatural joy and that they so often speak about God’s nearness in their suffering. When it seems that everyone else has abandoned them, they have a much deeper awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit living within them, blessing them, and comforting them. While they do not love being persecuted, they would not trade away their personal experience of God in that persecution. As C.S. Lewis so aptly said, God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain. Rejoice, because God is with you.

Rejoice Because God Is Glorified

Fourth, rejoice because God is being glorified. Peter says, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” When you suffer because you are a Christian, and when you suffer as a Christian, God is glorified. Why? We can get a hint from the book of Job. Job’s friends insisted that he was suffering because he had done evil, because he deserved it. But no, Job was suffering because God had determined it and because Satan was bent on it. As Job was shown to be blameless, and as Job refused to curse God, God was glorified. And we see that in times of persecution, Christians constantly glorify God. As they suffer they tell others about him. As they suffer they sing his praises. As they suffer they prove themselves blameless. God is glorified even in persecution, and God is glorified especially in persecution.

Rejoice Because Justice Is Near

Finally, Christians can rejoice in persecution because justice is near. Those who persecute Christians will not triumph in the end. Peter says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter asks a rhetorical question: If God even allows his precious, chosen people to suffer in this world, how much greater will be the suffering of those who persecute them? God has determined that Christians will suffer. He has determined that Christians will prove their faith and strengthen their faith not apart from persecution, but through it. And yet persecution is not the end. Death is not the end. The worst thing unbelievers can do to the Christian is destroy his body through death, but the Christian knows that in Christ he has overcome death. Christian, you can rejoice in God’s justice, knowing that God has triumphed, is triumphing, and will triumph. Those who persecute you will receive justice; God will not be mocked.

In your suffering you really can rejoice. As you are being persecuted, you can be glad. Why? Because God is testing you to prove and strengthen your faith, because you share the sufferings of Christ, because God is near to you, because God is being glorified, and because justice is not far off.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 18, 2015

I read a lot of books. I read a lot of books because I just plain love to read, and a read a lot of books because, as a reviewer, I receive a lot of them and am always trying to keep ahead of the growing piles. But the more I read, the harder I can find it to answer this question: What is a good book? What are the marks of an especially good book?

I was recently reading Iain Murray’s short biography of Amy Carmichael and in there he quotes A.W. Tozer who once said, “The work of a good book is to incite the reader to moral action, to turn his eyes toward God and to urge him forward.” And yes, this a good criteria; a good book will urge its reader to do something, to become something, to make some significant and lasting change to life. Murray goes on to say, “Amy Carmichael’s writings belong to that category. Numbers who took her books up only out of interest, put them down to pray.” Prayer: That may be the best moral action of all because it ought to come before anything else we do, any other changes we make, any other plans we form.

So I paused and began to think of the books that have caused me to stop and to pray, to put down the book and to go straight to the Lord. And here are just a few of them:

  • The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. Few books have impacted me as deeply as this one, with its slow, beautiful meditations on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. When I reviewed it ten years ago I wrote, “I was often compelled to stop and worship, to stop and meditate, or to stop and dry my eyes, thanking Christ for His immeasurable sacrifice.”
  • The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. The Holiness of God is remarkably effective in two ways: In exposing the sinfulness of the reader, and in exposing the holiness of the Creator. As I came to a deeper understanding of my own depravity, I couldn’t help but to come to a deeper appreciation of God’s holiness. I had to stop and pray often, calling upon God for his forgiveness and thanking God for his mercy.
  • A Praying Life by Paul Miller. I have learned not to take it for granted that a book on prayer will actually help me pray. Certainly, though, the best ones do, and Paul Miller’s A Praying Life is one of them. It gave me a hunger for prayer; I looked forward to getting to the end of a chapter so I could immediately start applying it.
  • John and Betty Stam by Vance Christie. It is not only theological works, or Christian living works, that can drive us to pray, but also biographies. One biography that caused me to put it down to pray was Vance Christie’s work on John and Betty Stam. The Stams were such normal, relatable people who had such great love for the lost, that when they faced the ultimate cost of their faith, I just had to ask God to give me that confidence and that fervor.
  • Look and Live by Matt Papa. There is something beautifully poetic about this book. Papa teaches no new truths, but finds new and fresh ways of explaining those same old truths we love so much. Several times I was captivated by the beauty of the good news, and could only pause to pray.
  • Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen. Of all the books I have ever read, besides the Bible, I don’t think any has done such a work in my soul as Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. I have read it repeatedly, and every time it has forced me to pray, to confess sin, and to seek God’s grace as I attempt to grow in holiness.

I’m sure there are others besides these 6, but they give just a sampling of books that meet that precious criteria: “Numbers who took her books up only out of interest, put them down to pray.”

What are some of the books that fall into this category for you? What are books that have forced you to stop and to pray?

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March 17, 2015

It is tax season again. In just a couple of weeks a lot of us will be writing a check to the government, or, far better, hoping that the government will be writing a check to us. It is this time of year when, more than any other, we are forced to think about taxes, so once again I find myself pondering the first few verses of Romans 13. Paul is writing to the church at Rome and telling them that each one of them is to actively obey the governing authorities in every situation. He makes no exceptions; he simply commands them to obey all the time—”Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” It’s interesting to think about what Paul was commanding here.

He was writing to people who lived in Rome, people who were under the authority of a government that worshipped idols, that was systematically out to conquer and subjugate the world, that made death a form of entertainment, that promoted slavery, that was utterly ruthless and actively opposed to God. This was the government that was always on the verge of breaking out in persecution against the church. It was the government that had put Jesus to death. Paul was telling these Roman Christians to give honor, respect and taxes to the very government that paid the wages of the men who crucified Jesus, who mocked him, who spat on him, who rejoiced in his death.

And yet the Christians were to obey these rulers, to give them honor, respect and taxes—whatever was asked of them.

Taxes were obviously an urgent issue to people in those days since both Jesus and Paul had addressed it. These people were paying taxes to a government they did not believe in and paying taxes that would go to the soldiers who took advantage of them. Yet Paul and Jesus agreed: pay your taxes. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

I believe that there are at least two reasons that we are to pay taxes to the authorities. There is practical value in paying taxes and there is also a kind of important symbolic value.

Practically, we pay taxes to support the rulers in their work. Without our taxes, they cannot be set aside to do this work of governing us. If we believe in authority, if we believe that God has raised up governors to rule us, we see the need to pay them so they can do the work of ruling. I suppose this is similar to what we find in the church. If you believe in the value of pastors, you’ll be willing to give money to the church to support the pastor in his vocation.

There is also a kind of symbolic value to paying taxes. By paying taxes we affirm that we understand the intrinsic value of authority. Paying taxes is one very practical way that we prove our obedience to God and prove our understanding of the authority he has given to government. It’s a way in which we put our money where our mouth is.

Simple enough. But here’s a way I have to apply this: When I pay my taxes, do I pay them joyfully? It seems inconceivable that I’d be commanded to do something and then be allowed to do it hesitantly and with complaining. And I sure complain a lot about taxes.

I love to complain about taxes, and always feel justified doing so. I love to mumble about it, to grumble about it, to resent it. If there is a respectable sin in the Christian world, surely it is complaining about government. I hate that the government demands a hefty share of the money I earn. Yet with all the authority of God behind him, Paul tells me to pay my taxes and to do so with honor and respect. I have no right to grumble, no right to gripe or complain. Yet too often I react like a toddler who has been told to put away his toys—I do it, but my whole demeanor, my whole heart attitude, screams that I hate doing it, that I’m doing it only because I fear the consequences of not doing it.  So I pay my taxes, all the while harboring a deep resentment.

I am convicted by God that if I am to give what is owed to those who govern me, those who have been given authority by God, I must learn to give them the money they ask, but also give them the honor and respect they deserve.

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Image Credit: Shutterstock (Note: This article was adapted from one I published in 2012)

March 16, 2015

Exit
You are obviously going to snap a picture of yourself when you’re pregnant—or of your wife when she’s pregnant—and share it with the world through Facebook or Instagram or your network of choice. You know the picture: standing in profile with the shirt pulled tight so we can see the bulge of the belly and reply, “So excited! Can’t wait to meet the baby!” It’s a new tradition, and a good one I think. We get to rejoice with those who rejoice.

And then you’ll have to snap a picture of mom in the hospital with the newborn baby nestled on her shoulder. And one of the proud dad. And one of the baby in her car seat as she prepares to come home for the first time. The first time eating solid food. The first time trying to take a few steps. The obligatory bath picture with the new brother or sister. The first day of school. These are all moments to share with your friends and followers so they can celebrate with you. It’s one of the great joys of life here and now.

It’s not just the photos, either. It’s the things your children say and the things they do. It’s the adorable words they mouth, the words and phrases they butcher. It’s the streaking and the temper tantrums and the unintentionally brutal insults that are hilariously exasperating parts of childhood. You love to capture or describe these and share them with the world. So do I.

But I wonder: What is your exit plan? Do you have one?

I want to give you two things to think about. One is a heart-level consideration and the other a practical-level consideration. Let’s start practical.

Our children begin their lives as an extension of us. They do this in a very literal and physical sense, but also in a social sense. For a time, children experience life alongside of us and through us, almost indistinguishable from us. But they grow and keep growing, and as they do, they become their own people. They turn 8 or 9 and develop social consciousness and awkwardness. They turn 13, and get their own Facebook account, and suddenly some of what was so cute to us is a liability to them. The cute photo of your toddler in the bath—do you really want that photo there when she turns 13 and her friends start looking through her Facebook account? Or when she is 16 and applies for a job and the prospective employer immediately does an Internet search for her name? Will she really want that photo there?

The thing is, sooner or later your kids will become their own people, and have their own network of friends and followers. And when this happens they will find that for the past 13 years you have been building their online profile. It used to be that only the children of monarchy or celebrity had their picture taken and shared from the moment of birth. Now it’s all of them. What kind of profile will they walk into when they are old enough to care?

And now that heart-level consideration. Because our children are an extension of ourselves, we often take pictures of them and share anecdotes about them because of what these do for us. A great photo of me with my child makes me feel better about myself, and makes you feel better about me. Win-win, right? But our children start to get it. At least, mine did. They started to understand that the photos of them—some of the photos of them, at least—were really for me. I was not considering whether my children wanted to be displayed before hundreds or thousands of others—I was considering only whether I wanted them to be displayed there with me. And they had to ask me to stop. “Dad, I don’t want everyone to see this. Don’t put this on Twitter.”

At some point you need to evaluate when and why you post those pictures, and who they are really meant to serve. At least in my case, I know that so many of them were meant to serve only me. I could portray myself as a great dad or a good Christian, and use my kids as little more than props. They were props, not people, and it revealed something ugly within me.

I say all of this only to make you think, and to help you ask the simple question: What is your exit plan?

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 12, 2015

Family Technology
Even at the best of times there is nothing simple about raising children. But throw in a million new technologies—new devices and social networks and apps—and things get far more complicated still. This is every parent’s challenge today. Yesterday I offered a few tips on living well in a digital world and today I want to offer some tips on parenting well. I will use the same format: 3 things you need to put off or reject, and 3 things you need to put on or embrace.

Reject Ignorance, Embrace Education

You need to put off ignorance and in its place put on knowledge. Whenever a new technology invades society, we see a consistent pattern: the older people tend to reject it while the younger people embrace it. The older people are perfectly content with the technologies they have always known, while the younger people are excited to try something new. The younger generation surges forward and the older is left behind.

This is true of parents. Parents often feel intimidated by new technologies, so do not bother to investigate them. Instead, they hand their children devices without really understanding their power and capabilities, and that leaves the children as the ones who bear all the risk. This is what we saw at the dawn of the Internet, where parents handed their children a computer and an Internet connection, never even considering that their children might just look for and find pornography. As a consequence, we found an entire generation of young people addicted to porn. Why? Because the parents did not do what they should have done. It is easy to blame the boys, but we also need to look to those parents who did not fulfill their responsibility.

So parent, you need to reject ignorance and choose education. As new technologies come along and as existing technologies evolve, you need to remain educated about them. Before handing your children those new, shiny gadgets, or before allowing them to join those new, exciting social networks, or before letting them download the new apps everyone else is using, you need to educate yourself. Reject the temptation to be passive and ignorant, and instead force yourself to get educated.

Reject Folly, Embrace Responsibility

You need to put off foolishness and embrace responsibility. Today we are handing our children power tools and then acting shocked when they cut off their hands. This is absurd, and we should expect that our children will make serious mistakes if we do not guide them. So parent, you don’t need only to educate yourself, but also your children. You need to have a plan for introducing new technologies to your children and for monitoring them as they use them. This is your responsibility—the responsibility of having a plan.

Whatever plan you implement needs to account for both training and monitoring your children. Think about training your teenager to drive the family car. When that child turns 16 and gets his learner’s permit you would never just hand him the keys and say, “Have a good time and be back by midnight!” You would get in the car, take him to a mall parking lot and allow him to drive around in circles for a few minutes. Maybe if he did exceptionally well you would even allow him to drive home. You would instruct him, watch him, and give him greater privilege as he showed greater ability and responsibility. When it comes to a car, trust and privilege are hard-earned and quickly-forfeited. And in the same way, you have no business handing your children a mobile phone or signing them up for Facebook without providing instruction and guidance.

The Bible assures us that folly is bound up in the heart of a child. The consistent message of Proverbs is that young people are lacking in wisdom and desperately need parents to teach them how to live with virtue. This puts all the responsibility on you. When you give your child a computer, a mobile phone, or a social media account, you are giving something that has immense power. Your child can use these things to do so much good, but he can also use them to do so much evil. If folly truly is bound up in the heart of a child, you need to assume that without guidance, your child will use them for evil. You need a plan: a plan that will help teach children to use those technologies responsibly. Where should you begin? You could begin with The Porn-Free Family Plan or with my book The Next Story (the second edition, that is, which has “The Porn-Free Family Plan” as a new chapter). Don’t be a fool; instead, embrace the responsibility that God has given you.

Reject Fear, Embrace Familiarity

By this point you may be thinking that these new technologies are just too risky. You may want to take the Amish approach and find ways to keep all of these technologies far away. You may feel it, but you cannot succumb to it. After all, this is the world your children are in, and it is far better to train them now while they are under your care then to send them off ignorant. So this is your solemn responsibility before God, to train them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord even as they use a mobile phone or even as they use Facebook.

People often ask me if can predict what will become of all of these technologies exploding onto the scene around us today. I never know what to say except this: God is going to use them in unexpected and amazing ways. He will glorify himself through them; I am utterly convinced of it. How do I know? Because God has always done that through every scary technological innovation. Think about it:

  • When people first began to record things in writing instead of relying on their memories, many people were terrified, thinking that writing would breed ignorance. But God used writing in the best way—to record his Words, so even today we can find manuscripts going back thousands of years that contain what we now know as the Bible.
  • One of the greatest technologies in the Roman world was the Roman road system. It was created to quickly move soldiers from place to place so they could dominate other peoples and crush rebellion. But the same roads that carried the feet of soldiers carried the feet of missionaries who took gospel to the distant corners of world.
  • The printing press came along in the 1500s and people feared its power. But what happened? Soon the printing presses were churning out Bibles, and the Bible sparked Reformation. Not only that, but the Bible became the bestselling book of all time.
  • Radio came along and before long the gospel was being broadcast all over the world.
  • The television was invented and soon people were watching services and crusades and the gospel was flying to distant lands.
  • Digital devices allowed people to create apps, and very quickly Christians were churning out Bible apps. Already those apps extremely popular, and more and more people today are experiencing God’s Word in app form. And that’s okay. That’s beautiful. God is using digital technologies too.

We tend to think that no one has ever endured what we are enduring today. The truth is, this is a recurring pattern. Time and time again the world has witnessed technological explosions that have changed everything. Today we are at a new frontier, and we—you and I—have to do the difficult work of learning to use these things well. Instead of choosing fear, we need to choose familiarity. Instead of fearing new technologies, let’s investigate them and look for ways we can use them to advance God’s cause. Let’s investigate the benefits and the risks, and learn how to use these things to carry out God’s calling. And then let’s put them to work in doing good for others and bringing glory to God.

(If you prefer to watch than read, you may be interested in watching this talk I did at the recent Ligonier Ministries National Conference.)

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 11, 2015

Put Off Put On
The world has changed, hasn’t it? The world we live in today is not the world as it was a few years ago. In just the past few decades we have entered into a digital world, and you and I are the ones who are learning how to live in it, and how to live in it with virtue. We are the trailblazers here, learning how to use these incredible, world-changing technologies to carry out the commission God has given us. These new technologies can be used to do so much good, but they can also be used to do such evil.

When the Bible tells us how to live as Christians, it so often tells us that we need to put on and put off. It tells us that there are habits, patterns, and behaviors we need to stop, and new habits, patterns, and behaviors we need to begin. Today I want to look at 3 things we need to put off and put on as individuals, and tomorrow I will look at 3 things that we need to put off and put on as families.

(Note: Just yesterday Zondervan released a second edition of my book The Next Story and it comes complete with a few updates, an added chapter, and a new subtitle: Faith, Friends, Family, and the Digital World. It covers some of this material, plus a whole lot more.)

Reject Distraction, Embrace Focus

Put off the distraction that pollutes this digital world and instead embrace deep focus. It is no great secret that this digital world brings all kinds of new ways to be distracted. Our technologies seem to evolve toward distraction, so that every new generation of device finds new ways to call us away from one thing and toward another. Our devices beep, buzz, flash, and chirp—whatever they need to do to gain our attention. Over time we have trained ourselves to obey them, which makes me wonder: If we need to respond to our phones every time they beep or buzz, do we own them, or do they own us? As our devices evolve toward distraction, my concern is that we are becoming people who love and long for distraction. We enjoy those distractions and almost come to depend upon them.

There is a cost to this. As Christians we are responsible to grow in wisdom, but wisdom comes only with effort. Information is easy—we are surrounded by it all the time—, but wisdom comes through concentration and meditation, and through carefully applying the truths of Scripture to our lives. How can we meditate and concentrate if we are always distracted? I used a printed Bible for many years and it never once beeped or buzzed or otherwise distracted me. But when I read the Bible on my phone, I am only ever a flash or chirp away from being completely side-tracked. I am only ever a click or swipe away from indulging in Netflix or YouTube or any other number of distractions.

The consistent call of the Bible is to be people who ponder God’s Word, who ponder the world around us, and who constantly grow in wisdom. We can only do this when we break away from our distractions and choose to focus. So Christian, put off distraction and put on concentration and meditation. Control your devices so they serve you as you grow in wisdom and grow in godliness.

Reject Isolation, Embrace Visibility

Put off the isolation of anonymity and put on the accountability that comes with visibility. I have often pondered what the Admiral Lord Nelson once said, that beyond Gibraltar every man is a bachelor. What he meant is that once British sailors sailed beyond the borders of their own land and empire, they very suddenly became different people. Once they moved beyond the accountability that came with visibility, they changed. As they sailed away from civilization, and wives, and parents, and families, they also sailed away from civilized behavior. Where they were alone and unknown they were free to behave however they wanted. And they behaved very badly.

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