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Tim Challies

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January 12, 2015

One of the more popular blog posts I’ve written, and one that seemed to resonate with many of those who read it, is the one in which I declared the goodness of the ordinary, or really, the goodness of being ordinary. Ordinary has since been a popular theme in Christian publishing, with two books now sharing that title, and a host of others carrying similar ones: Boring, Mundane, Normal, and so on. I’m glad for this new emphasis.

Way back when I wrote that article I said this: “Ordinary is a book I have lived. I live it every day. I live an ordinary life, pastor an ordinary church full of ordinary people, and head home each night to my ordinary little home in an oh-so-ordinary suburb. I preach very ordinary sermons—John Piper or Steve Lawson I am not and never will be—and as I sit with the people I love I am sure I give them very ordinary counsel. A friend recently confessed his initial disappointment the first time he visited my home and got a glimpse of my life. ‘Your house is so small and your life is so boring.’ Indeed. It’s barely 1,100 square feet of house and forty hours every week sitting at a desk.”

And not much has changed. My mortgage is a couple of years closer to being paid off, but the house hasn’t gotten any bigger or fancier. My preaching skills have probably increased just a notch or two since then, based simply on preparing and delivering quite a few sermons. But there hasn’t been any sudden or dramatic improvement. And my life? It is still just about the same, I think. I love to live it despite the fact that it is almost always very mundane. In fact, I love to live it exactly because it is almost always very mundane.


You knew there had to be a “but” in here somewhere. Over the past couple of years I have learned something about being ordinary: I am comfortable with “ordinary” as my self-diagnosis, but I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I am comfortable hearing it from others. That’s the new battleground. I can see my own ordinariness and be okay with it, but it still hurts when other people see and acknowledge it.

I have realized that diagnosing myself as ordinary can carry with it some pride. “I’m the ordinary guy” sounds humble, but can still pack a proud attitude. That’s the sinful human heart, I guess—able to boast about a lack of skill or a lack of talent just as much as an abundance of each. It’s pathetic, but it shows that somewhere and somehow I still want to be a big deal, even if the big deal is being ordinary. I still want to wear a label. I have learned that when I say I am ordinary, I am sometimes actually bragging and maybe even hoping that people will respond to my statement with some kind of a correction—”Oh, no, you’re not. Not you.” That does something to me that my heart quite enjoys.

But then there are the people who agree with my diagnosis. Or who even somehow communicate that they had already come to that conclusion. I have counseled people in my church who really wanted one of the other guys, but had to settle for me. I have been invited to speak at conferences or churches where I have learned—or just been told—that I am plan b or plan c. We really wanted those other guys, but they were all too busy doing other important stuff, so we’re settling for you. And the public has said it as well. I’ve written books, and the books have sold, but not in noteworthy quantities. It’s not that I expected a book on spiritual discernment or a book on Christians and technology to go shooting onto the New York Times list of bestsellers, but, you know, like every other author, I couldn’t help but dream a little.

I’m realizing that somehow I still want to be a big deal—an ordinary big deal, as if that makes any sense. I want to be ordinary by my own assessment, but special by other people’s. I struggle to let go of the desire to be a big deal. And God gives these gracious little pokes, these jabs, to remind me that I’m not. I’m not a big deal. I couldn’t handle being a big deal.

I’ve got a feeling that the people who do the most for God are those who are most content to be ordinary. Some of them remain unknown and unnoticed through their entire lives. Others are elevated and admired. But I suspect that the ones we love the most are the ones who can be satisifed with either a profile or invisibility, with either much or little—whatever God gives. There is beauty in that. I want that.

I guess what I am seeing is that it takes ongoing training to be and to embrace ordinary. It is not a one-shot deal. I want to be content with ordinary, and I need to be, because more and more I see God’s gracious evidence that this is exactly who and what I am. I’ve just got to learn to love it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 07, 2015

I once watched a master glassblower at his craft. I had pulled off the highway to look for coffee, a small pick-me-up during a day-long drive. And in that search for a decent cup, I spotted his studio, a converted warehouse, far off the main street of a small Pennsylvania town. One of his assistants invited me in and for a time I sat, mesmerized, as I watched him work.

The artist did not say what he intended to make, and for a time it was impossible to tell. He began by gathering molten glass around the tip of a long rod, the glass glowing a viciously beautiful bright orange. He carried that unshapen blob of glass to a workbench and began to roll it back and forth. Then it went to a different furnace, then back to his bench, and back, and forth, and back, and forth, shaped with fire and shaped with force. And then, at just the right moment, he lifted that rod to his mouth and began to blow into it, forming his work from the inside, carefully, gradually, inflating it, adding contours, curves, shapes. It began to take form. The finished work was stunning, a beautifully, perfectly misshapen vase of vibrant greens and bright yellows and subdued blues.

I love words. Words are like molten glass, raw material just waiting to be gathered, to be rolled and blown upon, to be formed and contoured, to be transformed to a finished work of art. The glassblower begins with a picture in his mind—a picture of a finished work of art. Each one of his actions is designed to take that object from his mind and bring it to life in his studio. The writer begins with an idea, information he means to convey to others, and he labors to shape the raw material of words into a finished work that expresses that information with nuance, with freshness, with force. The degree to which he succeeds is the degree to which he is satisfied with the result.

Words are the very best kind of raw material. Words are my favorite art form and I indulge my passion with these amateurish attempts to imitate the true artisans. But the greater joy by far is reading a great book. It is in those great works that I stand in the art gallery, see the artist at his craft, wonder at his skill, and marvel at his mastery of his medium. This is where I see the true master at his craft. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 05, 2015

It is one of my clearest memories from twelfth grade (apart from the one I mention at the end of this article). It was my final year of high school but my first year at Ancaster Public High School. I was in sociology class when the teacher asked this: How many people here eat dinner as a family at least twice a week? Two of us put up hands—me and the only other Christian in the class. Everyone else told about how their family scattered all over the house, clustering around the various televisions. It shocked me, as I had only ever known family dinners. It hadn’t occurred that there could be another way.

Eating dinner together was a tradition Aileen and I adopted and, with only occasional exceptions, is one we maintain today. Here are some reasons we prioritize eating together.

It Keeps Us Healthy

Eating family meals is associated with physical health, and we eat together as a means to keep the family healthy. One recent study found that children who do not eat with their parents at least twice a week are forty percent more likely to be obese. This may be because the family eats restaurant food instead of home-cooked food; I heard last week that restaurant food tends to have 60% more calories than a home-cooked meal. Or it may be because the children are left to prepare their own meals and gravitate toward what is convenient—almost always prepared food that is low on nutrients and high in calories. When we eat together, we eat the same food, and Aileen is careful to prepare meals that are both nutritious and delicious (though, to be fair, the kids aren’t always as convinced as we are about the deliciousness of the meals…).

It Keeps Us Relationally Healthy

Because of our busy schedules we can usually only manage to guarantee one meal all together each day. When we eat this meal, we try to make sure that it has relational value, not just nutritional value. It is here that we are able to slow down and just talk as a family. It is here that we talk about what we experienced that day and what plans we have for the next day. We sit and talk about whatever is interesting or important to us—the girls hear the experience of their brother as he navigates high school, while he hears about my workday, and Aileen tells us what she did that day. It keeps us in-touch with one another and adds to our relational health. While we might all prefer to grab a plate and go, there is value in inconveniencing ourselves for the sake of the others.

It Keeps Us Spiritually Healthy

Eating together is also an important part of our family’s spiritual health. Through the years we have found it nearly impossible to carry on family devotions unless we eat together—we just do not have the opportunity or the discipline to create the opportunity. And so we closely associate eating together with family devotions. We begin our meals by praying to thank God for his provision. We end our meals by reading a short passage of the Bible together, talking about it, and praying once more to ask God’s blessing on us. This is a critical part of our family’s spiritual health and training. Slowly, day by day and year after year, the kids are exposed to God and his Word through these short times of worship.

It Keeps Us Financially Healthy

Eating out is expensive, and perhaps more so here in Canada than elsewhere. Eating prepared food is also expensive, and especially when accounting for many and varied tastes. By far the most financially-healthy solution is to prepare our own food, to eat the same thing, and to eat it together. Aileen plans well, shops carefully, uses what she buys, and cooks us meals that are both great and economical.

It Keeps Us Behaviorally Healthy

Okay, so I may be pushing a little too hard on the “healthy” theme here, but let me explain what I mean. Study after study shows a correlation between eating alone and rebellion, so that teens who do not eat with their families are many times more likely to be involved in drinking and drugs and other destructive behavior. While eating family meals is no guarantee against rebellion, it does provide a means to prevent, detect, and respond to it. The author of one study writes, “While substance abuse can strike any family, regardless of ethnicity, affluence, age, or gender, the parental engagement fostered at the dinner table can be a simple, effective tool to help prevent it.”

And so we eat together as often as possible and try to make the most of it. Now let’s be clear and realistic—we are a pack of sinners, just like every other family, and we are busy, just like every other family. Sometimes we cannot eat together, sometimes we are rushed and don’t have time to read the Bible together. Sometimes we can barely stand the sight of each other, the conversation tiptoes along the edge of civility, and the kids seem to want to rip each other’s heads off. But we measure long, not short, and continue to eat together night after night. We continue to count it a great blessing.

December 31, 2014

We have come to the final day of 2014 and are at the cusp of a new year. I find it only appropriate to close the year with prayer—prayer that thanks God for the year that was, and prayer that looks with joy and expectation to the year that will be. Here is my prayer:

My Good and Gracious Father,

You have brought me safely through another year. This was a year in which I saw and experienced so much of your goodness. You were good when you gave, and you were good when you took away; you were good when the sun shined upon me and you were good when the night fell around me. You were only, ever good.

In your Word you give the sure promise that you have loved me since before the foundation of the world. That love was always with me and held me fast through another year. You led me in each step I took. You led me around the wilderness to the places of cool rest and quiet. You led me through dark valleys to the joy beyond. You were there even in times when I wandered and went astray. There was nowhere I could go that was beyond your love, beyond your reach, beyond your care and compassion. You are so good and I am so grateful.

Father, I trust and I believe that your love and your kindness will be my theme in the year ahead. I entrust the future to you and I do it with joy and with confidence. I do it with sure hope that you already know each step I will take and that you will be with me to direct each one of them. 

If you have appointed trials and tribulation, I know that you will guide and comfort me through them all. If I have to pass through persecution or times of deep temptation, I can have full confidence that you will never leave me nor forsake me. If this is to be the year you call me home, I can receive that with joy, knowing that I will rejoice to be in your presence at last. If this is the year that Christ returns—Please, may it be the year that Christ returns!—, then I will join with all Creation in rejoicing and praising your name.

But if you grant me length of days, and if you grant me health and safety through the year ahead, it is my prayer and my deep desire that I would live them all in your service and to your glory. Please grant me a grace that guides, sustains and sanctifies me every day and every hour, that in this new year I would not live a moment apart from you. Let me rely on your Spirit to supply every word I need to speak, to direct my every step, to prosper all I do, to build up my faith, and to grant me the heartfelt desire to display your glory, to advance your kingdom, and to declare your gospel.

Whatever may come in the year ahead, I pray that you would glorify yourself through me. In times of joy or sadness, in times of security or trial, in times of peace or temptation, make yourself known and make yourself great through me.

I pray this in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.

This prayer was based in part on the two new year’s prayers in The Valley of Vision.

December 30, 2014

I am a bad blogger. The good bloggers know exactly who reads their articles, how many pageviews they get each day, how people found their way to the articles, who their average visitor is, and on and on. But statistics and I just don’t get along, so most of the time I don’t know any of those things. However, last weekend I put in a bit of effort into generating some year-reports and thought I would share a bit of what happened here in 2014. Consider it a brief recap of the year that was.

More than 3,000,000 people visited the site in 2014, originating from 230 countries and territories (Top countries: USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa; shout-out to the person who visited from North Korea!). 78% of the visits were by Americans, and the top states were, in order, California, Texas, Florida, and Georgia, with the top cities being Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, and Chicago. Together, all those visitors generated a little over 12,000,000 pageviews while also clicking 3,600,000 links to other sites (largely through the daily A La Carte articles).

Twitter sent the most visitors to the site, followed by Google and Facebook. People who found the site through search engines did so primarily by Googling my name or a massive assortments of mis-spellings; beyond that, the top search terms were “Benny Hinn,” “Paul Washer,” and “porn.” More than half of the visits this year came from tablets and mobile devices. 

So that was 2014 at a glance. Through it all, here were the 10 most popular articles of the year:

  1. Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers. I guess the title about says it all. It blindsided me that this would quickly become the most popular thing I’ve ever written.
  2. 7 Good Reasons To Stop Looking at Porn Right Now. I do not plan to stop writing about the evils and dangers of pornography until people stop looking at pornography!
  3. 6 Deadly Enemies of Marriage. In this article I reflected on some of the foremost foes of Christian marriage—the foremost foes I saw creeping up to assault my own marriage.
  4. The Porn-Free Family Plan. I am thrilled to see that so many people read this article and that so many have taken steps to protect their families.
  5. Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas. Sometimes I am criticized for writing about pornography too often, but with 3 articles on pornography in the top 5, I think it shows how prevalent an issue it is and remains.
  6. The False Teachers: Benny Hinn. I wrote a series that focused on false teachers and the entry on Benny Hinn was most popular.
  7. Destroy a Church in 4 Simple Steps. This article came from reflecting and preaching on 2 Timothy 4 where Paul shows how churches can be destroyed from within.
  8. Heaven Is For Real. I wrote this review in 2011, but the release of the movie adaptation got people thinking about it again.
  9. 7 Things a Good Dad Says. I thought of the fathers I want to be like, and here are the things I hear them saying to their kids.
  10. Why I Love an Evening Service. Our church is one of those old-fashioned ones that clings to an evening service, and this article tells why I love it that way.

Before the year comes to a close I would like to thank you for reading the site for yet another year. Blogging remains one of my very favorite things to do and I regard it as an amazing privilege that I get to do it at all. I consider it no small honor that you choose to spend some of your precious time right here. So thank you. And here’s to 2015!

December 29, 2014

We have all heard the statistics: 50% of people make some kind of new year’s resolution, but 88% of those resolutions ultimately fail. That is more than a little discouraging. But I still believe in new year’s resolutions. I believe in them as a convenient opportunity to evaluate life and to make choices about living life better. I have done a fair bit of reading on how to make resolutions work, and it turns out that though there are many reasons your resolutions may not work, the most common ones are easy enough to avoid. Here are some tips on making wise resolutions and on making them stick.

Make Resolutions, Not Wishes

The most likely reason your new year’s resolution will fail is that you haven’t actually made a resolution—you have made a wish. On December 31 you may decide that in the year ahead you will lose weight, or read your Bible more often, or finally stop smoking. Those are all good desires. But this is not the time to wish upon a star and hope that you will magically change; it is the time to firmly resolve to change your life. Make sure that you are resolving, not wishing.

Make Just 1 Resolution

With that heightened sense of optimism that seems to come with the dawning of a new year, it is easy to believe that this is the time to change everything you dislike about yourself. But January 1 is not a realistic time to change every part of your life. You will dramatically increase your chances of success when you force yourself to make just 1 resolution. At the very most, make no more than 2 or 3.

Convert Your Resolution To Habits

Though you are more than your habits, you are certainly not less. Through most of life you follow your habits—you do those things you have wired yourself to do. Whatever your resolution is, you need to prepare to turn it into a habit. Willpower is enough to get you started, but you will need habit to sustain it. Resolve to change your bad habits while also developing new and better habits. But be warned: Changing habits takes both time and patience, so you will need to prepare yourself for a long and difficult battle.

Make a Plan

You will almost certainly fail in your new year’s resolution if you do not enter the new year with a plan to succeed. Do not decide that you will exercise more; determine that you will exercise for 30 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon at 3 PM. Do not hope to read your Bible more; choose a reading plan, determine how many days a week you will read your Bible, and decide when and where you will do it. Plan how you will build your new habit and then stick to your plan. It will take 2 or 3 months for that new habit to form, so be patient. Reward can be a powerful motivator in building new habits, so consider building in a system of small rewards.

Share Your Resolution

These well-known verses from Ecclesiastes give us a helpful tip: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Resolutions work best when they involve another person. Tell a friend about your resolution, and ask him to hold you accountable; his involvement will strengthen your resolve. Even better, pair up and make the same resolution as your friend so you can work toward a shared goal.

Plan For Temptations and Setbacks

Your resolutions may fail because you have not anticipated and planned for the inevitable temptations and setbacks. If you are trying to live with virtue, you can expect to face all kinds of temptations to slip back into your old ways. Plan in advance how you will respond in those moments when you are tempted to revert to that behavior you hate. Also plan in advance what will happen when you actually succumb to the temptation, so you will not slip into despair and give up. You will fail if you do not expect to be tempted and to experience setbacks.


Finally, as a Christian I want to offer this: Pray. Pray as you consider all the resolutions you could make, pray as you choose one as your area of special focus, pray as you begin to work toward new habits, pray when you face temptation to slip away from those habits, and pray to thank God when you see success. Bathe your life in prayer, and make those changes for God’s glory, not your own.

How To Make a Resolution That Sticks

Do you want to make a resolution that sticks? Then here’s what you can do:

  • Make 1 resolution and make it a specific and realistic one—big enough to be meaningful, but small and defined enough to be attainable.
  • Decide what habits you will need to break and what habits you will need to form in order to succeed.
  • Create a plan that will train you in that new habit while replacing any negative habits.
  • Tell a friend about your plan and ask him to check in with you on a regular basis.
  • Plan in advance how you will meet with temptation and how you will deal with failure.
  • Pray consistently and persistently.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 24, 2014

We know so little about Jesus’ birth. While it has been the subject of billions of dramatizations and endless speculations, the historian Luke gives it all of one sentence: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

It is almost frustrating, isn’t it? If I had been writing the story of Jesus’ life, I would have written paragraphs and pages. I would have explained why Mary was traveling with Joseph to begin with, why no one in Bethlehem welcomed them into their home, why there was no better place for them to stay than a barn, who was with them when that baby was born, and so much else. I would have filled out all of those details and removed all of the speculation.

But you know what? I probably would have drowned the story in detail. We see it often in the Bible: God does not give us all the details we want, but he always gives us the details we need.

When it comes to the birth of Jesus, we get all the details we need to understand one thing with the utmost clarity: Jesus comes as the least. Luke opens this part of his account of Jesus’ life with the name of Caesar Augustus, the mighty emperor, the man who can speak a word and make millions of people do his bidding. With a word he can force them to travel significant distances to do something as simple as register for taxation. This is Caesar the strong, Caesar the proud, Caesar the powerful. He is the greatest emperor of the greatest Empire, and the mightiest man on the planet.

And then Luke switches his attention to a little baby, born in the most ignominious circumstances. Born to a virgin, born away from home, born in a barn, laid to rest in a feed trough. The contrast is powerful and undeniable. 

We would imagine, of course, that the Messiah would be born high, a son of great privilege. We would expect that he would be born in circumstances more befitting a king. He should have been born to royalty, not to peasants, he should have been born in a palace, not a barn, he should have been born surrounded by the finest doctors who would have safely ushered him into the world.

But no. Everyone in town turns away his parents. They have nowhere else to go, so he is born in a barn and is laid to rest in a feeding trough.

Why? Because God will teach us something through Jesus. He will teach us that we see this world completely backwards. He will teach us that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to be nothing in the world’s eyes. He will teach us that the way to exaltation is through humiliation, that the way to go high is to go low. And he will teach it first and best through his very own Son, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” He came as the least, and he came for the least.

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 23, 2014

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of blog. There are blogs that provide a platform for content creation and there are blogs that provide a platform for content curation. The creators are the ones who think of the ideas and write them out a few hundred words at a time; the curators are the ones who collect other people’s ideas, provide links to them, and sometimes comment on them. Both kinds of blog can be very successful and both kinds can be very helpful.

When I first began blogging, I was committed almost entirely to content creation. I was interested in exploring new ideas, reading new books, and discussing current events, and I found unexpected joy in doing it out loud and in public through the Internet. At that time I was (sinfully) opposed to curating content and linking to other people’s material. Somehow Envy had shown up and convinced me that if I did that, I would diminish my own readership. The best thing, and the safest thing, he told me, was to pretend that my site was the only one out there worth reading. It was both stupid and prideful. It’s rather embarrassing in retrospect.

One day I became spiritually convinced that I was sinning. God had given me a platform and it was only fair and good that I use the platform to highlight others who were creating excellent articles. As often as not, these articles were far better than anything I was writing at the time. I understood that I could be a bigger blessing to those who read my site by pointing them elsewhere. Discovering that sin, and dealing with it, brought a certain freedom to my life and to the way I wrote. I was free to celebrate the brilliance and the success of others, and free to share it with those who visited my blog.

Eventually the blog evolved into both daily curation and daily creation. I continued to write a daily article, and I determined I would link to other people’s sites most days as well. The curated part of my blog is what I call A La Carte, a daily round-up of articles I found interesting the day before (or sometimes even that very morning).

A La Carte has become one of my favorite things to do. Every day I comb through a long list of blogs and other web sites; I scan through Twitter to see what others are talking about; I rummage through lists of hundreds of marked-down Kindle books to see if I can find one or two that I can recommend; I find a thought-provoking quote to cap it all off. And almost every day I find myself smiling at the privilege that is mine as I do it all.

My criteria for A La Carte is simple: I look for stuff that I find interesting. My philosophy here is quite simple: I am a pretty normal person and have pretty normal tastes. If I find it interesting and worthy of a few minutes of time and attention, I suppose other people are likely to as well. If I find it humorous or downright hilarious, there is a pretty good chance you will find the same.

In any case, it’s a pleasure to find the information, it’s a pleasure to read the information, and it’s a pleasure to bundle it up and put it out there. Thanks for continuing to read it.

December 22, 2014

No one expected that the Messiah would come how he came. Yes, the people knew that at some point God would send a Savior, but they could hardly have expected that he would be born to unknown parents and that he would enter this world in a barn. They would hardly have expected that their Messiah would be born in the lowest possible circumstances.

Why was it important to God’s purpose that Jesus be born so low? There are many things that God meant to teach us through the life of Jesus, and one of them is that exaltation comes through humiliation. The way to be great in God’s eyes is to be nothing in the eyes of others. 

The greatest people are those who stoop the lowest—and no one could possibly stoop lower than Jesus. And that is why Jesus was willing to be born in the way he was born. He came to serve, and there is no service that was too low for him to do. His birth would provide a glimpse of his entire life, and a fitting introduction to the kind of life he would lead. Consider these words from just a little later in the Bible:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Do you see it? Jesus could have been born to the greatest people in the greatest of circumstances. He deserved nothing less. But he meant to demonstrate that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to go low. When he was older, Jesus would say, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus had every right to every privilege and every comfort. But he rejected them all so that he could serve us. He served us by being born into this world. He served us by living a humble life in this world. He served us by being crucified out of this world. Through his birth, his life, and his death, he shows that the way to be great in God’s eyes is to go low, to love others, to serve others, to give up comfort, to give up privilege, and to do it all for God’s glory.

Porn-Free Family
December 18, 2014

This Christmas a lot of children will receive porn from under the tree. It not what they wanted, and not what their parents intended for them to have. But they will get it anyway.

The first iPod, the first tablet, the first laptop—these are today’s coming of age rituals. We give our daughter her first iPod and she responds with joy. While we know there is lots of bad stuff out there on the Internet, we never imagine that she—our little girl—would ever want to see it or ever go anywhere she is likely to find it. We give our teen his first laptop, warn him about the responsibility that is now his, and send him on his way. We make a mental note to follow up in a couple of weeks, but are sure that he will do just fine. “He will talk to me if he has any questions or temptations, right?”

The statistics don’t lie. According to recent research, 52% of pornography is now viewed through mobile devices, and 1 in 5 searches from a mobile device is for porn. The average age of first exposure to pornography is 12. Nine out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls will be exposed to pornography before the age of 18. 71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents. 28% of 16-17 year olds have been unintentionally exposed to online pornography. (source)

The fact is, giving your children computers, iPods, tablets—any of these devices—gives them access to the major gateway to pornography.

The statistics are intimidating, but not inevitable. There are things you can do to protect your family. If you choose to give your kids digital devices for Christmas, be sure to take measures to protect them.

You will need to have at least 3 goals.

Your first goal will have to be teaching and training. You need to teach and train your children to use their devices responsibly. This kind of training is an indispensable part of responsible parenting in a world like this one. Train your children to use these devices well, and as they prove themselves, allow them freer access and more responsibility.

Your second goal will have to be guarding your children from seeing or experiencing what they do not know exists. The innocent ought to remain innocent without being unintentionally exposed to pornography or dangerous situations before their parents have been able to teach and train them.

Your third goal will have to be preventing your children from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists. Children and teenagers are insatiably curious and are taught from a young age to use the Internet to find answers to their questions. This is a dangerous combination when it comes to adult matters, and especially matters of sexuality. The concerned parent will want to make it as difficult as possible for his children to access dangerous or pornographic material, even if they want to.

There are different ways to achieve these three goals, but as a starting point, why don’t you consult my Porn-Free Family Plan. It is not a perfect solution (There is no perfect solution!) but it is a good one, and will at least get you on your way.

Read: The Porn-Free Family Plan.