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April 30, 2014

A few days ago I tried to demonstrate how a church self-destructs. There is a sad progression that begins with the people growing weary and ashamed of truth. No longer able or willing to endure sound teaching, they get rid of the truth-tellers and accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. Inevitably, they soon turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. All of this is laid out in chapter four of 2 Timothy. In the face of this kind of assault, Paul juxtaposes the simplest solution: Preach. It’s as simple as that one step, that one commitment. The church that remains faithful to God is the church that remains faithful to the Word of God. The healthy church is the preaching church. Here, as I see it in 2 Timothy 4:2, are Paul’s specific instruction for the kind of preaching that glorifies God and protects the church.

Preach Expositorily

“Preach the word.” It is not enough to simply preach; we need to preach the Word. Preaching is only as powerful as its faithfulness to the Bible. There is no innate power in the form of preaching; the power in preaching comes from the source of the preaching. I believe the most faithful way to preach the Word is to preach expositorily or expositionally, to ensure that the point of the text becomes the point of the sermon. More than any other form of preaching, this constrains the pastor to God’s Word. Not only that, but it allows the congregation to ensure that every word is drawn faithfully from God’s Word. Expository preaching depends on a preacher with an open Bible, and a congregation with open Bibles.

Preach Persistently

“Be ready in season and out of season.” There is a call here for persistence in preaching. Preaching comes and goes in the church. There are times when preaching is loved and times when preaching is hated. Expository preaching comes and goes as well, and we are never far from the so-called experts telling us that this form of preaching will cause a church to collapse. “People don’t want to know what Philippians says, they want to know how to solve life’s problems!” But this kind of faithful, Word-based preaching needs to done in season and out of season, when it is popular and when it is woefully unpopular.

I want to pause here for one moment to speak to the New Calvinists. We love our preaching. We will tolerate nothing less than expository preaching in our pulpits and at our conferences. But I believe we need to ask whether we love it because God says it is good, or whether we love it because, at least for now, other people say it is good. When the trend runs its course and expository preaching has lost its lustre, will we still love it then?

Preach Practically

“Reprove, rebuke, exhort.” Preaching is to have a practical dimension. Though preaching teaches us about God, it does more than that. It also teaches us how to honor God and how to live for his glory. Knowing about God is good, but insufficient. Preaching is meant to save souls, to transform lives, and to spur us on in holiness. Our preaching is to reprove, to confront and correct false doctrine; it is to rebuke, to confront and correct sinful patterns of living; it is to exhort, to train and encourage in those things that honor God. Preaching is not just lobbing holy hand grenades into people’s lives, but encouraging them and caring for them. 

Preach Patiently

“With complete patience…” There is to be an element of patience for preaching, and element of patience in preaching. The pastor must be patient with the form of preaching, never grow tired of it and never losing his confidence in its goodness and effectiveness. And all the while he should preach with great patience for his congregation. The best teachers are the ones who are kind and forbearing, who know their students, and who will endure for a long time with patience and understanding. The best preaching comes alongside Christians, leads them on, encourages them in growth, week after week and year after year. The best preaching models the patience God has with us as we slowly, so slowly, grow in knowledge and holiness.

Preach Doctrinally

“… and teaching.” Our preaching is to be full of Christian truth. Paul insists that people who turn away from God will not endure sound teaching or sound doctrine, the very thing Paul calls for here. The best preaching is consistent with sound doctrine and teaches sound doctrine. This kind of preaching is not sermonettes for Christianettes, but the whole counsel of God, drawn from the Word of God.

Looking to a future in which people will not tolerate the truth, Paul tells Timothy to remain faithful to his central calling: To lead the church with and through the Word of God. It was Paul’s charge to Timothy 2,000 years ago and today that same charge goes out to you and to me. As God’s people living in that age of itching ears, we must remain confident in and committed to nothing less than the faithful, week by week preaching of God’s precious Word.

 

April 28, 2014

A short time ago I learned of a church building in our neighborhood that was for sale. For years now Grace Fellowship Church has been looking for a building of our own, so we thought we should go and give it a look. This had once been a thriving congregation. Faithful Christians had given sacrificially to construct that building. They had consecrated it to the Lord and had worshipped there for many years. Yet now that building was deserted, decaying, and up for sale.

What happened? How did that church go from thriving to dying? How did it slide from healthy to sick to dead? I think I know. I think Paul tells us in his second letter to Timothy, the letter he wrote just days or weeks before his death. There, in chapter 4, he looks into the future, he sees a church being destroyed, and he warns us how it happens. It’s as straightforward as four simple steps.

Before we get to those four steps we need to see one critical piece of information: this church self-destructs. The church is not closed down through government persecution; it is not afflicted by cultural pressure and does not succumb to the attacks of another religion. This church is eroded from the inside, from within the membership. This church is destroyed by people claiming to act in the name of Jesus.

Here are those four simple steps that lead to a church’s self-destruction.

Step 1: Reject Truth

Paul warns Timothy that “They will turn away from listening to the truth.” The first step in destroying a church is turning away from what is true, losing interest in the truth as God reveals it, growing weary of what God says is true and lovely. What was once a love of truth becomes a dislike and then disgust toward truth; what was once a hatred of error becomes an intrigue and interest in error. Hearts begin to harden.

Step 2: Reject Truth-Tellers

As they turn away from the truth, they necessarily turn against the truth-tellers. So Paul tells Timothy that in that day to come, “They will not endure sound teaching.” It’s not that people won’t know what is true, but that they won’t endure what is true. Because they have come to hate the truth, they will now hate those who proclaim the truth. The very teachers that once drew them will now repulse them.

Step 3: Embrace False Teachers

This church has rejected the truth and those who teach the truth. Now what? It is obvious and inevitable: They will embrace false teachers. “Having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” As these people become hardened in sin, as they grow in their rebellion, they will want to be led by people who tell them those things they want to hear. Paul uses a great word-picture to describe this: itching ears. These are ears that want to be tickled by novelty, by something that will be respectable to society and palatable to a godless world. They will soon find this kind of teacher who will justify their turning away from truth and who will validate them in their rebellion.

Step Four: Embrace False Doctrine

Once they have rejected truth and truth-tellers, and once they have found teachers who will tickle their itching ears, “They will wander off into myths.” They will now embrace full-out error, full out heresy. They will become hardened in their sin so they will now believe error is good and true. They will become so deluded and rebellious that they will celebrate what God hates and do it all in the name of God. They will wander off, just like dumb sheep wandering away from their good shepherd. The narrow road to salvation has no room to wander, but that broad road to destruction has all the room they need to wander this way and that.

The Bestsellers
April 27, 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. So far we have looked at titles awarded Platinum status in 2005 and 2007; today we advance to 2008 and a book that served as the voice of a generation.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Blue Like JazzDonald Miller was born in 1971 and grew up in Houston, Texas. He left home at twenty-one and traveled across the country until he ran out of money in Portland, Oregon, and decided to remain there. In 2000 Harvest House Publishers published his first book, Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, which told the story of his cross-country journey. The book made minimal impact until it was retitled Through Painted Deserts and re-released in 2005, following the breakthrough success of his second book.

Two years after Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance, while auditing classes at Reed College in Portland, Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was published in 2003 by Thomas Nelson. Sales were slow at first, but they soon picked up, and eventually the book would make its way to the New York Times list of bestsellers. It would prove to have mass appeal both for what Miller said and for the way he said it.

Blue Like Jazz is a spiritual memoir, a semi-autobiographical account of Miller’s spiritual transformation. The catchy title is borrowed from the world of jazz and the characteristic freedom and ambiguity of that musical genre. “I was watching BET one night, and they were interviewing a man about jazz music. He said jazz music was invented by the first generation out of slavery. I thought that was beautiful because, while it is music, it is very hard to put on paper; it is so much more a language of the soul … The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.”

Miller had been raised with a kind of cultural Christianity and had been tempted to walk away from it all together, thinking that Christianity was necessarily synonymous with fundamentalism and Republicanism. He had experienced the all-too-common moralistic therapeutic deism that marks so much of Evangelicalism. He had grown weary. What he comes to see is that Christianity is far wider and far better than what he had experienced as a youth. He comes to see that the Christian faith continues to be relevant even in a postmodern culture. He writes, “I don’t think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel.”

Through Miller’s time at Reed College, and through the relationships he developed there, he describes his arrival to a form of Christian spirituality that is imprecise and difficult to define, just like jazz music. Where jazz is nearly impossible to score, so the Christian faith is difficult to define, describe and limit. Where many Christians see life as a journey guided boldly by the Bible, he sees life as more of a meandering journey. “For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained.”

This journey is told through skillful, self-deprecating writing, and an irreverent tone that draws many people, and young people in particular. In his memoir he arrives at an ambiguous relationship with many key doctrines of Christianity, with sin, with the local church. “At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.”

Sales & Lasting Impact

Sales of Blue Like Jazz began slowly, but began to increase after a couple of years. In 2007, three years after its release, the book had sold 500,000 copies and was awarded ECPA’s Gold Book Award. Just one year later it had crossed the one million threshold and was awarded the Platinum Book Award.

Blue Like Jazz was released at the dawn of what became known as the Emerging Church movement. Miller’s journey from fundamentalism to Christian spirituality quickly branded him as a leader in this movement even though he was not officially a part of any Emerging organization. His voice was a fresh and powerful one and extended through that movement and far beyond. His writing attracted many young people—primarily Gen-Xers—who were equally disaffected with the faith of their youth. In many ways, Miller became their spokesman, putting into words what many were feeling and desiring. Jonathan Leeman says it well:

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

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 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.

The Bestsellers
April 20, 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. So far we have looked at three titles that were awarded Platinum status in 2005; today we advance to 2007 and a surprise bestseller.

90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper

90 Minutes in HeavenIt is not often that a book races to the top of the bestseller charts and opens up the way for a whole new genre of Christian literature. But such is the case with Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven, a book that spurred an entire genre of what I refer to as “Heaven Tourism” books.

Don Piper was involved in radio and television ministry when he determined that he had been called to be a pastor. In 1985 he was ordained as a Baptist minister and was soon serving in Houston as a minister of education and single adults. It was shortly thereafter, in 1989, that he had an experience that would forever change his life and ministry. Fifteen years later, in 2004, he would team with Cecil Murphey and Baker Publishers to release 90 Minutes in Heaven, the book in which he described his experience.

On January 18, 1989, Piper was driving through rural Texas, returning from a Christian conference that had ended a little bit earlier than expected. As he was crossing a long bridge with water on either side, an 18-wheeler owned by the Texas Department of Corrections swerved over the center line and hit his Ford Escort head-on. Piper was killed instantly. The steering wheel impaled his chest and the roof collapsed on his head. Emergency medical technicians responded and pronounced him dead, laying him on the road and covering his body with a tarp.

Dick Onarecker and his wife Anita had been at that same conference and were driving the same route. They pulled up to the scene shortly after the EMTs had declared Piper dead. Onarecker later said, “The Lord just impressed on me very emphatically very urgently that I was to pray for him.” Ninety minutes after his accident, Piper awoke to hear that pastor praying and singing.

It was what happened in those ninety minutes that became the subject of his book. Piper claimed he was immediately transported to heaven. There he saw people he knew and loved—relatives, teachers who had gone on to glory years before, and friends who had died in high school. Each of these people was the age they had been when they died. They were joyful and welcoming and were there to help him through the gates of heaven. Ahead of him was a gate that looked as if it had been carved from a giant pearl. The streets were made of gold and beyond the gate was a light too bright to imagine and the sound of an angel choir. “In all honesty,” he said, “as awesome as the sight was, the sound was more amazing. I heard literally thousands of praise songs. They were all praise songs. I really couldn’t see anything. I was so preoccupied with the people around me, I couldn’t see anything. But you could sense this hum of wings hovering all about you, like you were being ministered to by angels, and they were observing this whole episode.”

And then he heard the sound of Onarecker singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and realized he was joining in. He was alive and was quickly transported to Herman Hospital in Houston where doctors found that his body had been completely shattered. He would have to live with chronic pain and endure an excruciating recovery that required some thirty-four medical procedures. The book documents his time in heaven in about fifteen pages and the context and recovery in about one hundred and eighty.

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.

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 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:

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