Tim Challies

I think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right man, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

Tim Challies

There are certain topics I return to on a regular basis and, if you are a regular reader of this site, you know that one of those topics is pornography. I return to it again and again because I see the damage it is doing and I see the despair of those who are caught up in it. My goal for today is simple: I want to give you 7 good reasons you need to stop looking at porn right now.

1. The Cost to Your Soul

I want to begin here: With the cost to your soul. If you are consumed with pornography and unwilling to put this sin to death, you have every reason to be concerned with the state of your soul. God promises that if he has saved us we will gain new passions and new affections. We will have not only the ability but also the desire to replace sin with holiness, to replace immorality with sexual purity. If you have no sorrow for sin, if you have no real desire for victory, if time and again you recklessly choose your sin over your Savior, you need to ask yourself this: Do I love pornography enough to go to hell for it? If this sin continues to dominate your life, it may stand as proof that you do not have a saving, sin-slaying faith. For the sake of your soul, stop looking at pornography.

2. The Cost to Your Neighbor

Even those who know next-to-nothing about the Christian faith know this: Christians are commanded to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Just like Jesus, Christians are to esteem others higher than themselves and to place the concerns of other people ahead of their own. Of all people, Christians should know that pornography exacts a high cost of those who create it—the cost to their bodies, to their souls, to their mental well-being, to their dignity, to their future. A vast amount of the pornography you enjoy is created by people against their wills. The simple fact is, by watching porn, you are watching rape and deriving pleasure from it. You become a willing participant in sexual violence and you allow that actor on the screen to suffer for your pleasure. For the sake of your neighbor, stop looking at pornography.

3. The Cost to Your Church

At a time when the Christian church is crying out for more and better leaders, an entire generation of young men and women are infantilizing themselves by their dedication to pornography. They are in perpetual pornolesence, that period between the conviction of sin and the determination to do anything to stop it. In this time they constantly choose sexual immorality over God and their spiritual growth is stunted. For the sake of your church, stop looking at pornography.

4. The Cost to Your Family

There is scarcely a pastor ministering today who has not seen a family crumble and fall under the weight of pornographic addiction. Men are tearing apart their families for the sake of illicit pleasures; women are shunning the attention of their husbands in order to read or to watch what is forbidden and what seems to promise greater and easier satisfaction. Children are being exposed to pornography through the trails their parents leave behind. Fathers are inviting Satan into the home by their commitment to what God forbids and what Satan loves. For the sake of your family, stop looking at pornography.

5. The Cost to Your Mission

The Lord’s commission is an urgent commission because it is a matter of eternal life and death. Time is short and hell is forever, which makes the Christian’s business an urgent business. And yet so many Christians are distracted by something as evil and as wasteful as pornography. Their attention is arrested, their energy depleted, their usefulness undermined. Don Whitney says it well: “If there are any regrets in Heaven, they will only be that we did not use our earthly time more for the glory of God and for growth in His grace. If this is so, this may be Heaven’s only similarity with hell, which will be filled with agonizing laments over time so foolishly squandered.” For the sake of your mission, stop looking at pornography.

6. The Cost to Your Witness

Christians are called to be different, to stand out from the rest of the world by their desires and by their behavior. Christians are to put sin to death and to display the power of God in removing and destroying all competitors. And yet so many Christians have had their witness shattered when the sordid truth comes out and when others learn that they profess faith in Christ on the one hand, and are consumed with lust on the other. Parents undermine the gospel they have been telling their children, pastors undermine the gospel they have been preaching to their congregations. For the sake of your witness, stop looking at pornography.

7. The Cost to Your Savior

By making light of pornography you are making light of the death of Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian, you acknowledge in your profession of faith that the cost of forgiveness was nothing less than the death of God’s beloved Son. Jesus suffered and died for your sin. How can you, as a Christian, then toy with your sin and take it lightly? How can you cling to it? As Spurgeon says with his customary eloquence, “Sin has been pardoned at such a price that we cannot henceforth trifle with it.” For God’s sake, stop looking at pornography.

 

shutterstock_166980404A few months ago I began a short series called “The False Teachers.” I wanted to look back through church history to meet some of the people who have undermined the church at various points. We looked at historical figures like Joseph Smith who founded Mormonism and Ellen G. White who led the Seventh Day Adventists into prominence, and we looked at contemporary figures like Benny Hinn, the prominent faith healer, and T.D. Jakes, who has tampered with the doctrine of the Trinity.

I will soon be starting a new series looking at The Defenders, Christians known for defending the church against a certain theological challenge or a specific false teaching. I will be focusing on modern times and modern issues such as inerrancy and Open Theism. But before I do that, I wanted to reflect on some of what I’ve learned as I’ve spent time considering false teachers and false teaching. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from false teachers.

False Teachers Are Common

The first and most fundamental thing I learned about false teachers is that we ought to expect them and be on the lookout for them. They are common in every era of church history. This should not surprise us, since the Bible warns that we are on war footing in this world, and that Satan is on full-out offensive against God and his people. And sure enough, history shows that whenever the gospel advances, error follows in its wake. When and where there are teachers of truth, there will necessarily be teachers of error. Perhaps the most surprising thing about false teachers is that we continue to be surprised by them.

False Teachers Are Deceptive

False teachers are deceptive. They do not announce themselves as false teachers, but proclaim themselves angels of light, people who have access to wisdom others have missed or misplaced. As Denny Burk says, “False teachers typically won’t show up to your church wearing a sandwich board saying, ‘I am a false teacher’.” Instead they begin within the bounds of orthodoxy and announce themselves only slowly and through their subtly-twisted doctrine. They turn away from orthodoxy one step at a time rather than all at once.

False Teachers Are Dangerous

False teachers are dangerous, and part of what makes them so dangerous is that they will affirm so much that is good and true. They will not deny all of the doctrines upon which the Christian faith stands or falls, but only select parts of it. They draw in the unsuspecting with all they affirm and only later destroy them with all they deny. There is an important lesson: We only know a person when he understand both what he affirms and what he denies.

False Teachers Are Divisive

False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honoring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. Amazingly, it is often those who stand fast against falsehood who get labeled as divisive. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.

False Teachers Give People What They Want

As Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy he warned that the time was coming when people would not endure sound teaching (and hence, sound teachers) but instead they would have itching ears and demand teachers who would satisfy this itch. False teachers do this very thing. Their concern is not for what people truly need, but for what people want. The concern of the Christian is the exact opposite—the gospel does not address what we want, but what we need!

False Teachers Are Not Innocent

False teachers know they are false teachers. This may not be true all the time, and perhaps some false teachers deceive themselves before they deceive others. But I believe most know who and what they are; in fact, I believe most know and delight in who and what they are. They are not naive people who have taken a wrong turn in their theology, but evil people who are out to destroy others. Their attack on truth is far more brazen than we may like to think.

False Teachers Cannot Tolerate the Gospel

False teachers simply cannot tolerate the gospel. At some level and in some way, they will always add to or subtract from the pure and sweet gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They may affirm the Trinity or inerrancy or the deity of Jesus Christ, but they will never fully affirm the gospel of the Bible.

Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?” She asked the question with tears rolling down her cheeks. She had come for the ride, and for a final chance to kiss me goodbye, as my wife dropped me at the curb outside terminal one.

Her sister, eight years old, had come along too. An eminently practical child, undisturbed by most emotional drama, she simply said, “Bye, daddy!”, gave me a quick peck on the cheek, and went back to her book. Her older brother had been content to skip the ride in favor of staying home. But she, the eleven-year-old, was distraught. She had been weeping for the entire half hour it took us to travel from home to the airport. Her cheeks were stained by tears, her eyes full of them, when she hugged me and kissed me and kissed me again. “I love you daddy. I’m going to miss you so much…” And a moment later, “Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?”

My family is accustomed to having me travel. I do it fairly often—usually every month or six weeks. But most of those are short two-day trips and I am home almost before they really realize I’ve been gone. Plus, in some ways life is good when I’m gone—the family gets to eat out more, there is more “fun time” with mom, and one of the girls usually ends up in my bed. But every couple of years I go on a longer trip, like this one to Australia.

“Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?” she asked. And I understood immediately that it was a good question, and a tough one for an eleven-year-old child. I don’t know all the reasons it is so difficult. But it is. We all know it. We have all experienced the pain of saying farewell.

I believe it’s hard because goodbye is an unnatural state. We were created for fellowship—unbroken, sweet communion with God and with one another. The first and most crushing goodbye was God’s goodbye to his people, to Adam and Eve, when they declared independence from him. They had severed themselves from his fellowship and it would take the death of his Son to restore communion.

In a world like this, goodbye is always accompanied by fear. It carries the fear that this may be the final goodbye. Alongside the goodbye is the knowledge that at some point we will each bid the other a final farewell, that there will be a final kiss, a final hug, a final “I love you,” at least on this side of eternity.

For my sweet girl to say goodbye to her father carries that entrenched fear, that deep-rooted inevitability that there must be a final goodbye. Goodbye is difficult only because this world is broken.

She misses me when I am gone, and I miss her. The separation is difficult—the separation from her good morning cuddles, her goodnight kisses, her for-no-reason tokens of love, her sighed “I love you.” But we are just a short week away; there are only a few mornings and a few evenings apart. We will only miss one drive to church listening to Anne of Green Gables and a few evenings of sitting together in the living room reading By the Shores of Silver Lake. But then there is the fear, that back-of-the-mind, out-of-sight but never out-of-mind trepidation that this goodbye might be the final goodbye and, even if it is not, that the final one must come.

It is hard. It is hard to be the girl who misses her daddy, and the daddy who misses his girl. But this is not the time for despair. This is not the time to mourn as those who have no hope. This is the time to give thanks to the one who guarantees that in him there are no final farewells, no permanent separations. It is the time to look forward with hope and joyful anticipation to the time we will never fear saying goodbye.

My girl and I may be separated for a few days. Or maybe the Lord will decide that I do not return from this trip. But even then, the separation will be short because we know, and we believe, in the words of the poet: “One short sleep past we wake eternally, and death will be no more.” In that day death will be gone, and so too will every painful goodbye.

 

There are times I grow weary of good things. Things I love. Things I would not want to live without. Things that have the ability to make my heart beat a little bit faster and keep my mind racing when I ought to be asleep. They are good things, but somehow, through time or familiarity or neglect or something else, they begin to feel not so good. I wish it wasn’t this way, but it seems to be yet another cost of being a sinful person in a sinful world. Even the best things feel like bad things at times.

The Bible is one of God’s great gifts. Without it I would be hopelessly and utterly lost. I would not know who I am, who God is, or what he desires from me. That Bible is living and active, it is the very words of God recorded and preserved for me. Reading the Bible saved my soul and transformed my life. It gave me meaning and purpose and direction. And yet even it can seem so humdrum at times. Drab. Uninteresting. A chore. A duty. Even it can seem like a not-so-good thing.

There is no one on this earth I love more than my wife. She is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. I am deeply dependent upon her—I’ve been married to her for almost my entire adulthood—and really wouldn’t know how to go about life without her. I love her dearly. Yet at times, too many times, I can find myself growing frustrated with her. Short-tempered. Surly. Just plain angry. In those moments, or in those extended times, it’s like I’ve grown weary of the gift. For a time that good thing becomes a not-so-good thing.

Children. Vocation. Location. Everything I love, every good gift, can fade in time.

I have come to realize something about those times when I grow weary of good gifts: This weariness makes a statement about me, not the gift. The weariness is so often a direct result of my neglect. I have neglected to cherish the gift and honor the giver.

Kevin DeYoung says “The most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible.” And in the same way, the most effective means for increasing our love for the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. To know it is to love it. When I don’t love it, it’s inevitably because I haven’t been spending time in it. There is no gift of God that returns commitment with apathy. No, the commitment returns confidence, love, respect, enjoyment, gratitude.

The most effective means for sustaining and increasing my love for my wife is to spend time with her. If and when I find myself growing weary of such a good gift, the problem is me, not her. The problem is inevitably my neglect. I have stopped spending time with her, pursuing her, enjoying her. I have stopped seeing her as God’s good and perfectly-chosen gift.

In a world like this, and in a sinner like me, even the best gifts lose their luster. Or they seem to. The gifts lose their luster when I neglect to honor the giver and to cherish the gift.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

 

This may well be the most moving and encouraging video I’ve seen in a long time. YembiYembi: Unto the Nations chronicles the work of modern-day missionaries Brooks and Nina Buser as they take the gospel to the unreached YembiYembi tribe in Papua New Guinea. It tells of their call to missions, their long labor, the remarkable response to the very first time they shared the gospel (and God’s kind providence in the moment), and the great celebration the day they delivered the very first complete New Testament. Watch it and be encouraged!

To watch the video, Click here.

 

Parent-Child BondMonday morning. 5:40. Cup of coffee. My desk in a corner of the basement. Life is good. And this morning I find myself pondering the fact that my kids are getting older. It is inevitable, of course, but what once felt like a crawl to adulthood seems like it has become a sprint. Just this weekend my youngest turned eight years old—no longer a little kid. She’s become too big to pick up and toss around. Or maybe I’ve just become too weak to even try. She rarely comes over to me anymore to plant herself on my lap for no other purpose than that she needs a cuddle and the reassurance it brings. Maybe she doesn’t understand that I need the cuddles too.

It was with a twinge of remorse that I realized I can’t relate to her as a little kid any more. For so long our love language has been the language of absurdities: “Mommy says you don’t want birthday presents this year, so mommy and I are going to use the money to go out on a date.” We used to have such fun with these, teasing one another back and forth with increasingly absurd statements. Now all I get is rolled eyes and the one-word exasperated exclamation, “Daddy!” I guess it’s time to stop, time to find something new, time to learn a new language.

I also have a son who is choosing the high school he will go to next year, and a sixteen-year old girl (well, she’s actually eleven years old, but she may as well be sixteen). And at this phase of life, I am finding parenting so easy and so difficult all at once. I am finding parenting such a joy, but a joy that is mixed with new kinds of sorrow. I know now that there are some kinds of sorrow a parent can only experience as his children grow up and grow older. There’s the sorrow of missing what they used to be, and the sorrow of seeing them make the same mistakes I made once upon a time.

Parenting was grueling in the phase dominated by midnight bottles, night terrors, and endless dirty diapers. It was grueling but predictable. It was exhausting, but primarily on the physical level. We didn’t have to serve as counselors and psychiatrists. If we were up late into the night, it was to walk and bounce a baby to sleep, not to counsel a heartbroken little girl about cruel words blurted by her best friend. What kept us awake and sleepless were the cries of simple gas cramps or hunger pains, not the cries of emotional pain following a bad decision. When a toddler crosses boundaries it may require a brief and simple punishment; when a teenager crosses boundaries the result may be much longer-lasting, much more complicated, much more sorrowful.

Aileen and I pray as we crawl into bed at the end of the day. We try to, at least. This used to be our time to ask the Lord to keep our children healthy, to give us wisdom to know how to train them in obedience, to help keep us from growing exasperated with another late night and another two-in-the-morning diaper change. Simple stuff in retrospect. Raw and real, but simple.

Now when we pray we are asking the Lord to give our kids wisdom to negotiate the problems they have caused in their own lives because of their own immaturity and foolishness. We are asking the Lord to give us and wisdom as we consider issues that will have a life-long bearing: Christian high school or public high school? Computer science (the route with the great career possibilities) or history (the route that inspires both joy and passion)? We are asking the Lord to give our children patience and godly character as they learn to live in the presence of those who are spiteful and mean. We are asking the Lord to give our children godly character to go along with their profession of faith in Christ.

The Lord was so good and so kind to us through the little kid phase. It was difficult at times and there were days or even weeks at a time when we went through life with that dead-eyed look you see in so many new parents—parents whose children have kept them up too late every night for a month. But God was with us and he worked in us. We grew in faith and love not despite this time but through and because of this time. We have no doubt that he will do the same as we parent bigger kids and teenagers.

But I do miss playing with them. Not pushing toys around the living room floor. I’ve never been able to tolerate the kind of playing and am almost always able to intercept it with, “How about daddy reads you a story instead?” It’s the playful playing, the absurd playing, the nonsense playing. The kind of playing only little kids and their parents enjoy.

Life is good. Parenting is a joy (when it’s not agony). God is sovereign. And now it is time to wake them one-by-one, to rouse them for devotions, to get them their breakfast, to send them to school. Suddenly that most mundane of routines seems like it may be the most important thing I do today.

 

Skydog

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

 

For some time now we have been exploring the history of Christianity through a collection of objects. Each of these objects helpfully signifies or encompasses a person, an event, or a period of history crucial to the growth and development of the Christian church. These are objects, historical relics, you can see and touch and experience. You can stand in The Braccio Nuovo at the Vatican Museum and see Augustus of Prima Porta, standing today as he has for nearly 2,000 years. You can visit the Basilica of Bom in Goa, India, and see Francis Xavier’s forearm, enshrined there. You can visit the Angus Library of Regent’s Park College in Oxford, England, and sit upon William Carey’s couch. As we come to the twenty-fifth and final object, it is fitting, I think, that it is not an object at all. It is a virtual object that exists only in bits and bytes, and one that can be infinitely duplicated and freely distributed. As we complete this series on the history of Christianity, we turn to LifeChurch.tv’s YouVersion Bible App.

Craig Groeschel founded LifeChurch.tv in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1996. He and a handful of congregants began to meet in a small double-car garage lit with nothing more than a pair of $20 construction lights. Very quickly, though, the little church experienced explosive growth and was forced to move to a larger location. Today, eighteen years later, LifeChurch.tv is a multi-site church that reaches tens of thousands of people every weekend through their eighteen physical locations and their online church. Collectively they are considered the second largest church in America.

In 2006, Groeschel and his team developed the idea for YouVersion, an online Bible for a new, digital world. At this time YouTube was becoming a household name, Twitter was in its early days, and Facebook had just opened its doors to the public, having previously been reserved for college students. The people at LifeChurch.tv realized that the world was rapidly changing and that the church would be forced to adapt. They found themselves thinking back to the days of the printing press when, for the first time in history, the Bible suddenly became widely available. They understood that another revolution was underway and they began to consider how they could take advantage of this digital explosion to carry the distribution of the world’s most popular book.

They dreamed big. They dreamed of more than merely distributing the Bible in digital form. They dreamed of allowing readers to have access to the Bible in every possible language, to interact with it, to annotate it, to share it, to form a global community of Bible-readers and Bible-lovers. Though such interactivity is common and expected today, this was still a new idea in 2006.

Bible AppThe team at LifeChurch.tv developed YouVersion.com and, having secured relationships with various Bible publishers, launched the site in September of 2007. They waited in anticipation, but were surprised to see that the response was muted. There was little interest. Though Groeschel and his team were tempted to give up, they first wanted to attempt one more thing: to create a mobile version of the site. They saw that people were migrating from desktop computers to mobile devices—iPods and smartphones—and wondered about the possibilities. Apple’s new iTunes app store provided the perfect means of distribution, so LifeChurch.tv rapidly developed a Bible App and chose to give it away for free. They anticipated they might see 100,000 downloads in the first year, but achieved 80,000 in the first three days alone. Even better, they found that people were not only downloading and installing the app, but actually using it. They were reading the Bible, looking up passages, and sharing what they learned with their friends.

Very quickly the developers began to add new languages, new translations, and new features. And the rest, as they say, is history.

By early 2014, the Bible App had been installed on almost 125 million devices, with 49 million of those happening in 2013 alone. The app now offers 739 Bible versions that together represent more than 460 languages. Many of these versions are available in audio formats, and in 2013 users of the app listened to 595 million chapters of the Bible. The most-read chapter that year was Romans 8 and it was read, on average, four times every second through the entire year. The app has been used to complete an astonishing 15 million reading plans and, all together, its users have spent more than 84 billion minutes reading God’s Word.

The Bible App represents a new era in the history of the church. The digital revolution is an entirely new phenomenon and it is changing everything. Most importantly, it is changing the way people read and experience God’s Word. Our survey of church history has shown that for most of the history of Christianity, access to God’s Word has been scarce. Historically, the Bible has been both rare and expensive. But in a digital world, the Bible can be infinitely duplicated and distributed with no cost at all. We are in a time of transition from an era of scarcity to an era of abundance. As the Internet extends to the farthest reaches of the earth, so too does the reach of God’s Word.

We end this series almost 2,000 years after it first began. We end it in a world so very different from the world that birthed the Christian church. And we end it in a time full of promise and possibility. God has promised that his Word has always been living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. If God has worked so powerfully when this Word has been rare and expensive, we can only imagine how he will work at a time when the Bible can so easily be within the grasp of every person on earth. We can only imagine how God will glorify himself in a world like this.

Ben Zobrist
Ben Zobrist

I met Ben Zobrist at the first conference I ever spoke at. I was in Nashville, at Community Bible Church, to speak on discernment, and someone introduced the two of us, telling me that Ben was a major league baseball player with the Tampa Bay Rays. I think he was manning the book table at the time. We talked for a few minutes and he told me that the next time the Rays came through Toronto, I should look him up. I did that, and it has become something of a tradition, so that once or twice a year I spend a few hours rooting against him, and then, after the game, we get together to spend some time catching up. It has been fun to watch his rise from a utility player and pinch hitter bouncing between the majors and minors, to a two-time All Star who is undoubtedly one of the most under-rated players in Major League Baseball.

What I appreciate about Ben is that he seems unchanged by the fame and the fortune that have come his way through being a professional athlete. He is as down-to-earth today as the day I met him, still a small-town pastor’s son unimpressed with his own success. He is a humble guy who sees his career as a unique opportunity to speak about Christ. As he has established himself as a great player, he has seen those opportunities grow.

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Ben and his wife Julianna have teamed up with Mike Yorkey to write Double Play. This is really four different stories woven into one: Ben’s long climb to the major leagues, Julianna’s growth as a professional singer, their spiritual journey as individuals and then as a couple, and the tale of two people falling in love. Each of the stories is enjoyable and well-told. They open up their lives with honesty, yet without exhibitionism. You won’t have to be a hopeless or sheepish romantic to enjoy reading about how they met and fell in love and (finally!) married. You won’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy reading about Ben’s struggles and successes at the plate.

A few aspects of the book merit special mention.

Ben tells about his early career as a major leaguer where he struggled and found himself demoted. He went through an excruciating depression where he blamed God for his failure and just wanted to give up. Yet through this time, and with the help of his pastor Byron Yawn, he came to see that he had made baseball into his idol, the one thing in all the world he felt he needed to succeed at in order to experience joy and fulfillment. It was only when he was able to identify this as idolatry that he was able to recover his joy in the Lord.

Julianna shares that as a young girl she was sexually assaulted. She describes how this affected her and how the weight of it has carried into her adult life and even into her marriage. She describes Ben’s kindness and patience in helping her come to terms with what happened to her. Those who have experienced similar grief will be helped, I think, by her openness and honesty.

Finally, the Zobrists make no attempt in Double Play to hide or disguise who they are and what they believe. From the first page to the last, the book is soaked in their Christian faith. Both Ben and Julianna grew up in Christian homes as the children of pastors and both of them have a deep and mature commitment to the Lord. They go to a great church today and, despite the difficulties of a career that involves seven months a year of near-constant travel, they celebrate it and are committed to it. They get the gospel and are eager to share their faith with those who read their story.

Sports memoirs vary greatly in their quality, and, though I admit my bias, I can say confidently that this is one of the good ones, up there with the likes of R.A. Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up (my review). Zobrist is one of baseball’s best players and one of the sport’s men of true character. His story—and Julianna’s—are worth knowing. If you like baseball or if you like memoir, you’ll enjoy this book.

[Note: Double Play is $4.99 in audio format at Christian Audio. You can get the print edition at Amazon. R.A. Dickey’s Wherever I Wind Up is also $4.99 at Christian Audio.]