It was just a few years ago that everyone was talking about hell. One disaffected Evangelical had decided to use his platform and popularity to question the very notion of hell, and, not surprisingly, he caused quite a stir. The crisis came and went, of course, and it had at least one happy outcome: Many Christians had to examine what they believe about hell and come to stronger and better conclusions.

I believe in hell. I do not believe in some version of hell that owes more to Dante and The Far Side than sacred writ, but the hell I see revealed in the Bible—a hell of eternal, conscious torment. I wish there was no such thing as hell, but I have deteremined to live by the Bible and I simply cannot deny what the Bible makes plain.

But what if I did? What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I can think of at least four major denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of unspeakable torment.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what seems so clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture

Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve either joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly, it is present in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.

I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church

If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.

If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

I Will Deny the Gospel

I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.

If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.

Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.

I posted a version of this article in 2011. Image credit: Shutterstock

PrayerRequestLast night I sat with a group of men from our church and talked about prayer. And, as usually happens, our thoughts turned toward unanswered prayer or prayer that is answered very differently than we had asked or hoped. Why are there times when God seems not to answer? If a good Father would never give his children a stone in place of bread, why does it seem like God sometimes does this very thing?

The best way I know how to answer is to point to the cross. God’s people wanted deliverance from oppression. They wanted a Messiah. They wanted a Savior. Then that Messiah came. That Messiah told them that he was there to deliver them. That Messiah triumphantly entered Jerusalem as the prophecies had foretold. And then that Messiah was brutally murdered.

What happened? What did it all mean? Was this the answer to their prayers?

I think of Jesus’ disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion, as the sun rose on the Sabbath day and their conquering Messiah lay cold and dead in the grave. They must have been perplexed. They must have wondered. They must have been confused and overwhelmed. Or maybe underwhelmed. Was this the answer to their prayers? What had happened to the promise of victory? When would they receive the deliverance they had been promised.

The Sabbath day came and went. And then they came to the first day of the week and an angelic messenger telling them, “He is not here, but has risen.” The fog began to lift.

What Jesus would accomplish made little sense to them when he described it in advance; what he was accomplishing made little sense while he endured it; what he had accomplished became clear only when they could look back on it. They just needed to wait. It all became clear in time.

And we often find ourselves in the same place. When we pray, and pray earnestly, and praying desiring God’s glory and fame, we know that he will answer and will give what we desire most. But we need to be patient. Like the disciples, we need to look to past, present and future with eyes of faith, trusting that in time everything will become clear.

 

31DaysOfPurity2-0171Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day twenty-one:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

This passage tells us to come to Christ in our weakness and in our sin. Yet we often prefer a route that is opposed to Hebrews 4:16. I cannot describe it any better than Heath Lambert has:

Mental punishments are not helpful because they deal with sin in a self-centered way instead of a Christ-centered way. Meditating on how miserable and pathetic you are only perpetuates the sinful self-centeredness that led you to look at pornography in the first place. Condemning self-talk still has you standing center stage as you reflect on what you think you deserve because of what you did. … The only way to break this vicious cycle is to get outside of yourself to Jesus. You need to stop talking to yourself in categories of condemnation and begin talking to God in categories of confession. (Lambert, 26)

Jesus doesn’t need your condemning self-talk. Neither do you, for it accomplishes nothing good. What you need is to believe the gospel and boldly draw near to the throne of grace. It is here—in our Great High Priest—that you will find the healing that you long for. It is here that you will find the mercy and grace that you so desperately need.

Lord, you were tempted just as I have been tempted. I am thankful that where I have failed, you have succeeded. You know how strong temptation can be. You know what it is like to be in a mortal body. You can sympathize with my weakness. I am grateful that you know my frame and remember that I am but dust (Psalm 103). Rescue me from foolish self-talk and replace it with your words of grace. You say that when I confess, I am clean. Help me to believe you. Today I draw near to your throne of grace confident that you will meet me with mercy and grace to help in this time of need. 

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Todays devotional was prepared by Mike Leake. Mike is associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Jasper, IN. He and his wife, Nikki have 2 children (Isaiah and Hannah). Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and regularly blogs at mikeleake.net.

31 Days of Purity

Through the month of March, I am inviting you to 31 Days of Purity—thirty-one days of thinking about and praying for sexual purity. Each day features a short passage of Scripture, a reflection on that passage, and a brief prayer. Here is day five:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5)

It took God’s heavy hand of discipline for David to understand a simple truth: we need to confess our sin to God. We do not confess our sin so God will know what we have done—he already knows every deed, and even every thought and intention of the heart. We confess that sin for our own benefit, to acknowledge it before him and to seek his forgiveness. Though God assures us that at the moment of our salvation all of our sin is forgiven—past, present, future—still we need to confess our sin before the Lord as an acknowledgement that every sin is ultimately directed at him, that every sin stems from a lack of delight in what he promises, and that we have knowingly, willingly, damaged our fellowship with him.

Do you confess your sin before the Lord? A mumbled “Forgive me” once a week will not do. Confess your sin—even that shameful sexual sin—honestly, humbly and thoroughly. God knows it all, but he will hear your confession and, because of what Christ has done, it will be his joy to offer full forgiveness and reconciliation. Here is his promise to you: “If you confess your sins, I am faithful and just to forgive you your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Father, I am a sinner. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). And still, far too often, I seek pleasure in what you forbid. I allow myself to believe that your pleasures are inadequate and that something or someone holds out what I need or what I deserve. I confess my sin to you. I confess that my heart has desired what you say is evil; my mind has pondered what you say is sinful; my eyes have looked with lust instead of love. I confess my sin, I acknowledge it to you, and I joyfully receive your forgiveness.

What Now? Consider joining our 31 Days of Purity Facebook group. It is optional, but you will find it a good place to go for discussion and encouragement. (Note: that Facebook group is for men only; here is one for Women Supporting Men).

Porn-Free Family

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.

Prepare

Let’s get started in putting that plan in place. This will take a couple of hours, so set aside the time, brew yourself a coffee, and get to it!

Step 1: Create Passwords
Master password. At the very top of the list is creating your master password. Your whole plan may fail if you choose a bad password or fail to protect it. Make it good (something that is difficult to guess and combines letters with numbers) and make sure you store it somewhere safe if you are not certain you will remember it. You may also need to create a 4-digit master password for mobile devices.

Family passwords. You also need to create a password for every other person in your home. Create passwords that will be easy for them to remember, but hard for others to guess. Every child needs to know his own password and only his own password. Make sure you record these passwords somewhere safe. If your children use mobile devices, you may also need to create mobile passwords for your children—usually 4-digit codes. Once again, make sure you know these codes and make sure you store them somewhere safe.

Step 2: Sign Up & Create Accounts
With your passwords in place, it is time to sign up for the services you will be using.

OpenDNS. We will begin by signing up for OpenDNS.

  • Visit OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) and look for their Parental Control Solution. OpenDNS Family Shield is a great place to begin (Alternatively, OpenDNS Home VIP is the optional, premier solution and costs $19.95 per year).
  • Create a user account for yourself using your master password.
  • Take a look at the different filtering options and set the ones appropriate for your family. Whatever you set here will apply to every device that accesses the Internet through your home network.
  • Note: It would be best to set the filter to block more rather than less, and to loosen it if and when you find that it is blocking too many sites.

Covenant Eyes. You have signed up for your filtering; now it’s time to sign up for the accountability software.

  • Visit Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) and create an account using your master password.
  • Add each member of your family as a user and assign the password you created for each of them.
  • Sign up each user for accountability monitoring and have the reports sent to your email address every 3 to 7 days. Choose an accountability level appropriate to their age and maturity.
  • If you would like to have user-specific filtering in addition to the general filtering with OpenDNS, configure that as well. Choose a filtering level appropriate to each person’s age and maturity. It may also be wise to disable Internet access during certain times (Example: Disable all Internet access for your children after 9 PM and before 7 AM).
  • Note: It is best to set the filter and accountability to block and report more and to relax the filtering levels only if and when it is proving cumbersome.

Computers. Now you need to create user accounts on each of your computers and laptops (and tablets if they allow multiple users).

  • For every computer in your home you will need to create an account for each person who uses it. This means that if there are five people in your family and they each use the family computer, you will need to create five accounts—one for each of them.
  • Create an account for yourself using your master password and ensure that you have administrator privileges.
  • Then create a user account for each family member using the password you created for them; make sure that they do not have administrator privileges.

Let me offer a warning: This step can be laborious, especially if you have multiple computers. Persevere!

Step 3: Install Software
Now that we have created our accounts, we can install and activate OpenDNS and Covenant Eyes.

Install OpenDNS on your router. OpenDNS is activated with a simple change on your home router and managed through an online interface at www.opendns.com. You will need to refer to OpenDNS to learn how to change the appropriate settings. As soon as you do this, your filtering will be activated. Just like that, you are already beginning to protect your family.

Install Covenant Eyes on every laptop and desktop computer in your home. Visit www.covenanteyes.com, log in to your account, download the appropriate software, and install it. Log in to each account on each computer and ensure that the Covenant Eyes software is running properly (look for the “open eye” icon).

Mobile Devices. If you have decided to allow browser access on your mobile devices, install the Covenant Eyes browser on those devices (typically by visiting an app store and downloading the app). Note: If you wish to have Covenant Eyes on your mobile devices, you will also need to use parental controls (see below) to block access to any other browser on those devices.

Gaming Consoles. Remove Internet browser access on all gaming consoles. Also consider removing access to YouTube, Netflix and other video sites.

Other Devices. Return to your inventory list and see what other devices you need to account for. Your plan will only be as strong its weakest point.

Step 4: Apply Parental Controls
Set parental controls on all mobile devices. To make this effective on devices owned by your children, you will need to set a parental control password and use this password to ensure only you have access to the parental controls. Here are the settings I recommend for devices used by children:

  • Ensure devices lock as soon as they are no longer in use.
  • Turn off web browsing. If your children need web browsing, install the Covenant Eyes browser and use parental controls to block access to all other browsers.
  • Turn off the ability to install new apps without inputting your password.
  • Turn off the ability to change their own password or account information.
  • Consider turning off Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps (since these apps often have a built-in browser that will allow them to visit web sites while bypassing all accountability software).
  • Consider turning off the camera access if you are concerned that your child may misuse. Be especially cautious with applications that combine social media with a camera (Snapchat, Instagram, etc).

Congratulations! You made it through. You know what devices are in the home, and you have accounted for each one by installing filtering and accountability software. There is just one problem: Everyone in your family is upset with you! So now it is time for that family meeting.

Meet

We tend to believe that problems caused by technology can be solved by more technology. However, what is stronger, better, and longer-lasting than even the best technology, is character. The family meeting is where you discuss and emphasize the importance and the growth of character.

I suggest having an occasional family-wide meeting to discuss the system, and regular one-on-one meetings with your children to ask them specific questions and ask for specific feedback.

Step 1: The Family Meeting
The actual content of the family meeting will depend to some degree on the age of your children. Here are some ideas for talking points:

  • Concern. Because of your concern for their well-being, you have taken actions to protect them as they use the Internet. Explain that you do not view your children as criminals or porn addicts, but that you do wish to protect them from online dangers. Depending on the age of your children, this may be a good time to explain that there are so many people who struggle with pornography that they may need to expect that some day they will face the temptation as well.
  • Privacy. Your children—and especially young children—should have no expectation of privacy when they use their devices. They should know that you will have liberty to check their devices without their permission and that their online actions will generate reports that you intend to monitor. You are doing this in order to love and protect them.
  • Passwords. Everyone needs to know the importance of passwords and that you expect them to protect theirs. They may not share their passwords with their siblings or their friends.
  • Readiness. You need to speak to your children about Internet safety outside the home. Talk to them about what to do if they are accessing devices in other people’s homes. Explain to them what they should do if someone shows them pornographic or otherwise inappropriate material.
  • Mom and Dad. If you have decided to hold yourself to the same standards—to use filtering and accountability software (something I recommend!)—this is a good time to explain that to the children.

Step 2: One-on-One Meetings
Parents and their children will benefit tremendously from having regular discussions about online dangers and concerns. The conversations will vary a great deal depending on the age and maturity level of the child. Here are some questions you may consider asking:

  • Are you able to access everything you need to access online?
  • Are you feeling tempted to look for things online that you know you shouldn’t look for?
  • Do you know if your friends are looking at pornography and talking about it?
  • Have you looked at pornography since the last time we met?

I trust you have prepared yourself for some push-back and some frustration, especially at the beginning. Your children will probably find that they cannot access certain sites or that they need to input passwords where before they did not. Your spouse may find that she cannot access certain sites she wants to. Persevere, and address each issue as it arises.

Monitor

The plan is in place, and your family is now benefiting from some level of protection. But this not a plan you can set in place and simply leave to run its course. It requires monitoring and maintenance.

  • Covenant Eyes Reports. Covenant Eyes will send you regular reports. Do not expect these reports to be as helpful as you want them to be. You will need to take some time—two or three minutes—to look carefully over the report looking for anything that seems amiss. Follow-up with any of your children whose report shows a red flag.
  • OpenDNS Reports. OpenDNS also collects reports, including pages and searches it has blocked. While you will not know who is responsible for these blocks, you would do well to keep an eye on them, to look for patterns, and so on.
  • Adjust. As your children grow older you may find that you need to adjust their privileges. You may also find that as they grow older they face greater temptations which will require fewer privileges. Be willing to adjust accordingly.
  • Maintain. Covenant Eyes updates their software on a regular basis. As they do this, you will want to install the new updates.

Conclusion

And that’s the Porn-Free Family Plan. It takes a couple of hours of hard work to set up, but it is time well-invested. Even then, this plan is not fool-proof—no plan is completely fool-proof. There will be ways around it for those committed to finding those ways. Covenant Eyes will occasionally block something harmless; OpenDNS will sometimes fail to filter something that obviously ought to be filtered. Yet the plan will suffice for most families in most circumstances. You are well on your way to training and protecting your children.

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:

And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.” (Proverbs 5:6-14)

You are battling not just for personal purity, but for their lives. Plead with them to save their lives and to save their souls!

Take Measured Action

By looking at pornography your children have violated your trust and shown themselves unworthy of it. That trust will need to be earned and regained over a period of time as they prove themselves responsible and obedient. You will need to be actively involved in training your children to use their privileges well and to use the Internet and their digital devices without this kind of behavior. You need a plan that will account for their devices and their lack of Christian character. I will turn to this plan tomorrow.

Get More Done This Week

The law of entropy seems to apply to every area of life in this broken world. Without constant effort to the contrary, houses get dirty, gardens get overgrown, cars get rusty, habits get sloppy, children get unruly. If you leave it alone, whatever it is, it gets slower, not faster; sloppier, not neater; worse, not better.

Like everything else in the world, your ability to get things done is always spiralling toward chaos. If you allow yourself to coast for a few weeks, your life will get less orderly, not more orderly. Not only that, but you will soon find yourself neglecting the important tasks in order to focus on the urgent tasks. Before you know it, you’ll be off-focus and out of control.

Here are 8 ways to take control and get more done this week (and every week).

1. Plan Your Week

I know it’s a cliché but it really is true: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If you don’t plan your week, you will only ever be reactive, responding to whatever concerns and opportunities arise. To take control of your week, you need to plan your week. Take a few minutes on Sunday evening to plan out your entire week, from Monday morning to Sunday evening. You don’t need to have something planned for every minute of every day, but at the least you should plan your work week. If you are married, it is best to do this with your spouse so you can be sure you are properly accounting for appointments, evening activities, and any other commitments you may otherwise forget. Make sure everything that happens at a specific time is on your calendar and that you have set alerts or reminders. Make sure that everything you need to do is in your task-management system (whatever that system is). Get as much as possible out of your brain and into your system.

2. Block Your Time

As you begin to determine what time you will use to accomplish your tasks, block time to specific tasks instead of general tasks. This may be something you can do at the beginning of the week, or it may need to be a day-to-day kind of task. You will need to be adaptable here, but simply blocking your week into work, family and sleep won’t do it. As you plan time, assign particular tasks to particular times. Plan that block from 10 AM to 12 PM on Tuesday as not only “Office Time” but “Write Bible Study.” Plan that block from 3 PM to 5 PM on Tuesday as not only “Meeting” but “Meeting With Marketing Team.” Take into account the times you are at peak productivity and reserve those for your most mentally-demanding tasks. I am at my peak in the early morning hours, so that is when I tend to do my writing or sermon preparation. By mid-afternoon I am flat out of energy and creativity, so this is when I tend to do my maintenance tasks and other chores that are necessary but routine.

3. Manage Your Tasks

An essential element of productivity is the implementation of, and reliance upon, a system that will get the list of things you need to accomplish out of your brain and onto paper or into software. You need to create a system and then rely on it. As you plan your week, and as your week unfolds, you need to use this system to capture, organize, and manage your tasks. When you reach the office on Monday morning and see that time in your calendar blocked off for “Weekly Maintenance,” your task management software should have a list of all those tasks waiting for you. As you receive phone calls and emails, and as you sit in meetings, you will constantly be adding new tasks that need to be done. Rather than relying upon your memory, you need to get all of these into your system so you will remember them and execute them at the best time. I am heavily dependent upon Things, a Mac-based application that syncs seamlessly between my computers and my mobile devices. Wherever I am, I have it with me. I always input my tasks with a verb followed by a colon like “Write: Email to Francis” or “Plan: Sunday Evening Sermon”. This keeps me from using my to-do list as a place to store random thoughts and forces me to make every task an action.

4. Control Your Distractions

As you attempt to focus on what is most important this week, you will inevitably face distractions. Each of us faces unique distractions so each of us needs to learn to identify the ones that most apply to us. The most common distraction is email. Few things distract from real productivity more than constantly monitoring email. Learn to do your email in batches and do it no more than three or four times a day. At the very least, shut down your email once you have responded to what is in your inbox. (See my article 8 Email Mistakes You Make.) Another common distraction is social media or those web sites we unthinkingly visit when we have a spare moment or are just desperate to take our minds off the difficult tasks before us. I rely on Nanny for Google Chrome to keep me from my most distracting sites during my most productive hours. I call it “my outsourced self-control” and it saves me a lot of time.

5. Claim the Cracks

The cracks are those times between other things—the five or ten minutes sitting in the waiting room, the small piece of time between the two meetings, or even the commute to and from the office. Those cracks can easily add up to several hours a week. Instead of using that time in the waiting room to grab your phone and swipe through Facebook or Pinterest, use those moments knock out a couple of the quick tasks that you can complete in just three or four minutes. Instead of using your commute to listen to sports radio, claim it for phone calls or listening to a good book. I once knew a pastor who committed to praying behind the wheel, praying out loud from his prayer list while driving from one place to the next.

6. Track Your Time

I don’t recommend tracking yourself all the time, but every now and again, for a week or two, it can be very helpful to track your entire day or even just your workday from beginning to end. There are some excellent tools that help you do this very thing: Time Doctor is one I have been using recently. Toggl and RescueTime are similar. Through automation or semi-automation, they allow you to keep tabs on what you are doing throughout the day. By measuring your day you will be able to identify those times when you are most productive, those times you are least productive, and those times you are just wasting time. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself and how many hours you dedicate to things that don’t really matter.

7. Learn to Say No

You are not truly managing your time well until you find yourself saying “no” to a lot of good opportunities. There are a lot of good things that aren’t the best things. There are a lot of good things you could do that you shouldn’t do because they will take you away from the most important things. Learn to confidently say “no” or “not now” to meetings, conference calls, invitations, and other opportunities.

8. Entrust It to the Lord

Finally, entrust it all to the Lord. The Lord may interrupt even your best-laid plans. While I believe there is great value in planning and preparation, God’s divine interruptions may be the most important part of your week. Knowing we serve a sovereign God allows us to prayerfully entrust it all to his hands, believing that whatever he does will be good. We can’t ever be so committed to a system or to a plan that we are unwilling or unable to break and change our plans to reorient ourselves toward the good things he provides for us to do. “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). It is far better that way.

(While I implemented all of this prior to reading Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next, that book will certainly help you to use your time well and wisely to accomplish the most important tasks.)

I’m so busy. You’re so busy. We’re all so busy. We’re so busy that we can’t possibly fit one more thing into our schedules, or one more relationship into our lives. That’s life in North America, or perhaps just life in the twenty-first century. In an article in the New York Times, Tim Kreider says that we all have a stock response: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.” It may be a stock response, but it’s not a particularly good one.

I’ve noticed something in my own life that I find both interesting and disturbing. It’s this: People keep telling me how busy I am. People assume it. It might be because they just can’t imagine anyone being anything but busy. Or maybe it’s because I am giving off those busy vibes, somehow convincing people that I have way too much to do and way too little time to do it. I receive phone calls that say, “I know you’re so busy, and I’m sorry for taking more of your time.” I receive emails that say, “I’m so sorry for asking you this.” I even feel like I need to look and act busy since otherwise people may start to think I’m lazy. Are those the only options we’ve got: busy or lazy?

Here’s the thing: I don’t consider myself busy. When I speak at an event and do a question and answer session, I am often asked something like this: “How do you do all that you do?” My answer is usually something along these lines: “I actually don’t do all that much and live at quite a relaxed pace. This is because I’ve been deliberate in eliminating everything but the few things I want to give attention to: Family, church (both as a member and a pastor), friends and writing. What you see me do is just about all I do!” And that’s it. There just isn’t a lot more to my life than that. If my life is pie-shaped, then each of these things gets a slice of the pie and there just isn’t much left over at the end. I am okay with that. I don’t need time for much else.

This is not to say that I go through life free from all anxiety and without the stress of approaching deadlines. Neither does it mean that I spend my days surfing the web and chatting mindlessly on the phone. Not at all. I do my best to work hard in the times that I’ve set aside to work. I even measure my use of time every now and again so see where I am using time well and where I am frittering it away. I do my best to be fully present with my family in those times that I’ve dedicated to them. The same is true of friends and neighbors. I block off time to write and try to fill that time with as many words and as many ideas as possible. This is the ideal, though it is so difficult to maintain. One thing constantly wants to intrude on the other, so work times infringes upon family time and writing time falls into devotional time. But when I’m at my best, life is structured and life just isn’t busy.

Kreider makes an interesting point:

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

There are spiritual dimensions to busyness. There are spiritual consequences. Kreider says, “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” There is truth in this. We can feel reassured by busyness and strangely comforted by it, even as it saps us of all strength and keeps us from feeling as if we are succeeding at even one of our responsibilities.

There is a cost to busyness, but there is a more subtle cost to being perceived as busy. When people believe that I’m busy, they also believe that I am unapproachable. This is what has disturbed me the most. People at church may want or need some of my time and attention, but because they perceive me as being so busy, they may be afraid or embarrassed to ask for it. My kids may want some of my time but believe that dad is too busy for them. This is what disturbs me most, that my busyness, or the perception of busyness, makes me less effective in the areas in which I want to do well. That cost is too high to tolerate. So let me say it again, primarily to reassure myself: I’m not busy. I have all the time I need to accomplish the things the Lord has called me to.

Note: This is an updated version of an article first published a couple of years ago.

If you keep even half an eye on Christian publishing, then you know that gospel-centeredness is a major theme today, and especially so for publishers targeting their books at the New Calvinists. While this is undoubtedly a trend, and one that will at some point begin to slow, the point is clear: the gospel matters, and it matters to everything. There is no area of life outside the purview of the gospel. The gospel matters in the pulpit, in the home and in the family. The gospel matters at work as well.

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The Gospel at Work is a new book from Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger and its big idea is this: You work for the king, and this changes everything. No matter what you do, your work has value because you are doing it for the Lord and who you work for is far more important than the details of what you do. This means that there is no such thing as a meaningless job and no such thing as a job that is insignificant.

Much of the book is structured around two of the ways that we can allow our work to become sinful. Each represents an extreme. For some the temptation is idleness at work while for others the temptation is idolatry of work. Some hope to find their significance and worth in the work they do so that work becomes “the primary object of our passions, our energy, and our love. We end up worshiping our job.” But then others “can slip into being idle in our work. When we fail to see God’s purposes in our work, we don’t really care much about it. We fail to give any attention to it, or we despise it and generally neglect our responsibility to serve as if we are serving the Lord.” And, sadly, both of these extremes are celebrated in our culture.

The challenge of The Gospel at Work is to avoid those extremes, and the way to do that is to work out the implications of the gospel in what you do.“ If you are a Christian, we want to challenge you to begin connecting the reality of what God has done for you in Christ to your job, thinking carefully about how this applies to and changes the way you think about your work.”

Now some of the gospel-focused books I have read fall a little bit short in actually connecting the gospel to the subject at hand. Thankfully, that is not the case here. The gospel tells us that we have a new master, a new assignment, a new confidence, and new rewards and in all of those ways it counters the temptation to make too much, or too little, of work. Let me provide an extended quote which helps show how carefully these authors have thought this through:

Because of Jesus’ work on the cross on our behalf, because he lives and reigns right now, we have identity, belonging, love, acceptance, forgiveness, adoption, justification, and reward. It is all ours for all eternity. Because that’s true, we are gloriously freed from having to pursue those things (or, rather, cheap imitations of them) through our work. Do you see? We don’t need our work to provide an identity for us. We already have an identity in Christ. We don’t need it to give us a place to belong. We already have been adopted by God because of Jesus, and we belong to his redeemed family. We don’t need work to make us loved or liked or accepted, nor do we need it to prove to ourselves that we’re worthwhile. Why? Because all of that has already been secured for us by Jesus! So where does that leave our work? What role does that leave for it to play in our lives? Simple. It leaves our work liberated from the impossible demand to provide something for us that it was never meant to provide and from the excuse that it doesn’t matter, and we are set free to live lives of joyful, heartfelt service to our King!

As the authors progress through their subject, they provide a brief, but sound, theology of work, and then progress to practical matters: choosing a career; finding that difficult balance between work, family and church; handling difficult bosses and co-workers; being a Christian boss; and sharing the gospel at work. In every case they work outward from the gospel into practical counsel and guidance.

Where the book impacted me deepest is in its discussion of success. The authors redefine success, drawing it away from money, power, influence, change, or a respectable standard of living. From a biblical perspective, success is far simpler: it is measured in faithfulness. We are not all equally talented and we do not have equal opportunities, so we need to be very, very careful not to measure ourselves against one another. That can be a fatal mistake. Instead, we are to measure success by faithfulness to God in the things he has called us to do. That was very freeing to me and very encouraging.

The Gospel at Work is a powerful and helpful book exactly because the gospel really does matter at work, just as it matters at home and in the church and everywhere else. And since we all work somewhere, sometime, this is a book we would all do well to read.