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Call Us Crazy! 5 Reasons Our Church Voluntarily Pays Taxes

ishot-041Six years ago this month Redemption Church was planted out of chaos and in hope. Since that time, Jesus has seen fit to not only keep us alive, but has stirred us to thrive. It has been a season loaded with times of uncertainty, yet consistently each uncertainty has been upended by the gracious incursion of God’s provision.

One of the most amazing things is related to how God put all sorts of crazy pieces in place to make it possible to purchase an old bank building along with two adjacent lots on the main street of our city. We are not yet able to use the space for Sundays, but it’s trending that direction within the next two to three years – which is incredible since just two to three years ago we thought there was no way possible we would ever have a building of our own in our city. God still does BIG things.

In becoming property owners, we also wanted to face bigger questions as to the use of our property. A component of our mission statement is “for the good of our city” as highlighted in Jeremiah 29:7. How then would our space fulfill that mission? What things could we do to show our love for the city? To show our commitment to the cares and needs of the community? How could we be good stewards, not only of the facility and finances related to it, but also to exist for the welfare of the city Jesus put us in? So far we’ve come up with a lot of ideas, many of which are already underway in the space as it currently is. But one of the truly novel things we came up with was an added step that I’m not certain I’ve come across before; we proactively decided to voluntarily pay property taxes. Crazy, right? Maybe. But it’s missionally crazy, and if you’re going to be crazy you might as well do it for missional reasons. So why have we chosen to do this? Here are the 5 core reasons.

1) To Display Solidarity with Our Community

Communities need resources to be communities. In the case of cities and counties these resources come in many forms, but one of the key elements is fiscal resources that are acquired by taxing the members of a community. Thus it was our conviction that we could display a heart for “the welfare of our city” by making the conscious decision to contribute, as an organization, in a way that is similar to the inhabitants of our city. Some may find this an odd way to display solidarity, or they may say there are better ways to spend money on community needs. But we believe there is a different form of generosity that is displayed when you let another party that is commissioned to lead a community to decide the best way to use resources for that community. In this way we display that we are in the community like everyone else.

2) To Show Goodwill toward Our City

Believe it or not, being a city official is difficult work. Whether this is an elected official or an employee of a particular department, there will always be the stress of a collection of citizens with different views on how a city should be managed. This stress is compounded by how the city is going to pay for it. This is why to some degree city and county officials don’t get vigorously excited when they hear that a church wants to buy up 5-500 acres for a new campus. It’s not driven by opposition to religion. Rather, there is no revenue for a tax-exempt building and as long as it is a church it will not generate revenue. Thus in a strange sort of way, not only are churches not paying customers, but they take up the space of something else that could be. Therefore, if we are in this “for the good of our city” then one of the ways we can truly stand behind this conviction is to invest in a way that puts tax money where our mission mouth is. In fact, it’s been fun to see how quickly pleasant surprise come across the face of community officials when they discover our position. In this way we display that we are concerned with the concerns of those who lead our city.

3) To Remove an Understandable Area of Criticism

I will assume that most of us have come across some meme on social media that shows a picture of the most ornate church cathedral or megachurch with the caption “tax churches now”. While as a pastor I know that this is a provocative image dislodged from a whole plethora of facts, there is another fact that still remains; the unbelieving communities that we are seeking to reach see this exemption as odd and unfair. It’s a perk for churches, but it’s equally a stumbling block for those not in churches. And if our mission is to remove unnecessary stumbling blocks for the sake of Christ, then for us it made sense to remove this stone in the path of our mission field. In this way we display that the souls that we hope to see saved matter more than the money we can save.

4) To Govern Our Own Sense of “need” vs. “want”

Churches have a strange pull to want more than they need. More staff, more supplies, more tech, more budgets, more of more. This is also true when it comes to space. We tend to believe that bigger buildings will equal bigger crowds, even though we’ve all been lectured ad nauseam to the contrary.  We have still blazed ahead with multimillion dollar debt loads that we can’t easily manage since “we built it and they didn’t come – just like everyone told us from the get-go”. Now, I’m not saying big is bad. Nor am I saying that there are not legitimate space needs in churches that are growing. But I do believe churches would make more conservative decisions on buildings and debt if they also had to consider the taxes on the facilities they were building. For us, our future expansion looks to maximize a footprint that is efficient and effective without being intrusive or ostentatious, especially as we look toward future generations which may be more inclined toward minimalism and outward investment. In this way we model that restraint is a virtue that allows for the freedom to pursue opportunities God places before each generation.

5) To Prepare for a Possible Future

Quite honestly, the odds of property tax exemptions sticking around in our post-Christian climate are not in favor of churches. Already we know that the question of the constitutional legality of exemptions for clergy are working their way through the court system. Some project that property tax exemptions for churches will be next to follow. In light of these strong possibilities, we opt to prepare ourselves in the present for the future. By including property taxes in our budget now we have been able to adjust our overall budget so that we are acclimated to this particular cost of doing ministry in our culture. If that day ever comes, we will have already been doing it far before that day. In this way we proactively mitigate sudden budget hikes that would harm our missional priorities.

In the end, am I saying all churches should do this? No. Am I saying that we are more missional, trusting, godly, sacrificial, (fill in the blank) for doing this? No. Is this a creative way we have been led to connect with and build bridges within our community that most churches have not considered? Yes. Ultimately the question for all churches is not what they are required or free to do in matters such as this, but what is Christ leading them to do in order to display commitment toward the welfare of their city?

Why I Write My Sermons In A Bar


One of my “insider” interests is learning how other pastors handle sermon prep. What I have discovered is no two pastors are ever exactly the same except that all have a process, every step in the process is intentional and the whole thing begins with with an initial Monday morning panic, “Can I make a message out of this by Sunday?”

My process isn’t terribly novel. In general terms, I prefer to preach either expositionally (through books of the Bible) or theologically (some people call this “topical” and yet my focus is more on the theology of a theme than merely good advice giving). Where I may differ from many of my fellow preachers is that my prep is sliced into two distinct environments. It begins in the lab of my study and ends in the field that is a bar.

In The Lab That Is A Study

I recently read an article that said pastors should not have offices, but studies. I like that. So I have a study. My study is like a lab; a controlled environment with everything I need for the task of research. I begin in the lab by copy-and-pasting a double-spaced version of my biblical text for the week into a Word document. I then read the passage over and over, identifying patterns, scribbling notes, logging insights and asking random questions with each pass. I would guess I scan and scribble through the passage around 20 times, usually finding that the most valuable insights hit around the 15th pass. From there I do my exegetical work. For those unfamiliar with our hip clergy nomenclature, exegesis is when we seek to understand the meaning of a book of the Bible in its original language, culture and context. It may sound dull, but for Bible nerds this is the biblical peanut butter to our theological jelly. Once that is complete, I pile my desk with books and read till I feel I need to unbuckle my mental belt like its a post Thanksgiving Day dinner.

As the above process unfolds I regularly shake out the cramping in my right hand. I’m feverishly jot down informational aggregate on my narrow rule TOPS white legal pad, using my Pentel 0.7mm mechanical pencil and rotating through my pile of Ticonderoga Emphasis highlighters (shameless product placements) to mark varied themes with various colors (yellow is technical, green is illustrative, pink is pithy, orange is for us today, blue is transitional and purple is key points). Finally, I figure out the key breaks in the passage that will act as transitions through the sermon and I put each of those sections into a PowerPoint build. By the end of my time “in the lab”, I have logged around 20-30 hours and piled up anywhere between 10-20 pages of notes. With my lab research done I grab my ESV Bible, research notes, TOPS pad, Pentel pencil and head to a bar.

In The Field That Is A Bar

Labs are pristine, antiseptic and protected. That gives us the ability to research in ways that are ideal, controlled and precise. Field research is messy, inconvenient and unpredictable, yet true to life. A local bar (a cantina technically) is my field research. It is the last stage in my process and the location where I put the majority of my sermons together.

As I walk in, the familiar Latino bartender greets me with our customary ritual, “Amigo! Mac and Jack?” Mac and Jack’s is hands down the best African Amber on the planet and is brewed just over the hill. I give him my usual thumbs-up and find a place to sit down. My table is the far back corner. It gives me the best view of the room.

On this day there are two middle-aged women at the far booth. Each has a margarita the size of a kiddy pool. They are loud, animated and angry – at a man. The one on the left is mad at her man. The one on the right is mad at the same man, but only as a show of solidarity for the friend across from her. Hell hath no furry like two angry women with a gallon of margarita between them.

I smirk and think, “I’m glad I’m not that guy.” And I write.

Further to my right, two men sit at the bar. One is retired, has a cane, wears a veteran hat and is eager to initiate a conversation with anyone who sits within three seats. A couple seats down is a young guy, blue collar, no wedding ring and looks like he came straight from moving a mountain of dirt with his bare hands and then used his face as the wash cloth. He’s sipping Fireball, watching the soccer game and riding that fine line with the vet of being just polite enough to keep conversation at arms length without being disrespectful.

I’m like the younger guy. I’m sad for the older guy. And I write.

Closer to my immediate left are two young women in their 20’s. I can hear how the one feels betrayed because she just found out her boyfriend has a porn issue. Her friend seeks to console her, assuring her of how the boyfriend in question doesn’t deserve her. Suddenly one of the the two loud margarita ladies unexpectedly shouts, “Men Suck!” and the consoling 20 something responds, “Amen!” (Yes, you would be surprised how much “Amen” comes up in a bar). The laughter and camaraderie cuts away the anger and betrayal for a few brief seconds before reality returns, and with reality the conversations.

I grieve. I pray. And I write.

Behind me around the corner is the restaurant area. Just within earshot I can hear a family. The newborn baby is crying and big brother (who may be all of 4-5 years old) is repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored!” Dad must be lost on his phone because of the terse female voice that comes next, “Are you going to deal with your son?”

I remember. And I write.

After a few minutes a third man appears at the bar. I’ve seen him a few times before. White collar, wedding ring, never really talks. He sits at the bar for one drink in a small glass and leaves. It seems to be his soft space between stressful worlds.

I look. I ponder. I pray. And I write.

It is in this immersive environment where I begin to construct my final thoughts; pushing what I have studied through an ether vastly different than the atmosphere of my study. As I do my mind bends toward various questions as the message unfolds:

How would people in a bar understand this?

Would people in a bar know what to do with this?

Do people in a bar even care about this?

What biases might the two younger women have about the importance of this?

What words or ideas would the unmarried dirt covered guy be unfamiliar with?

What questions would the married business guy and his one drink have about this?

What confusion might be stirred up for the worn out parents with their two young kids?

What objections would the loud margarita ladies have about this?

What conclusions would the retired veteran have about this?

What humor, illustrations, word pictures or pop culture references can I use that most of the people in a bar would instantly understand?

What religious clichés are so loaded that they might sabotage what I believe people need to understand regarding this?

How can I do all of this and still ensure that Jesus, above all else, is honored and pleased with what I say?

Now obviously I don’t systematically walk through these questions after every point. They are more the natural consequence of the environment as I compile the sermon. Completing my message in a bar forces an awareness of and sensitivity to people in real life. It unlocks the questions in a way far more authentic than anything I might duplicate by just imagining people in the isolation of my study. And I do this, not in the hopes of understanding the “lost”, but so as to understand people; not the least of which being the “saved” ones. The bar is a transparent microcosm of the same realities, challenges and conversations “saved” people face. A bar is filled with the same kind of demographic diversity that a church seeks to create. And ultimately a bar is popular for the same reason a church; because people are looking for a safe place in which some seek to hide, others want to connect and still others invest to belong.

Mind you a bar isn’t a perfect place, but neither are people. Praise God that His Bible, His Gospel and His Grace always is.


An Interview On “10 Things Pastors Hate To Admit Publicly.”

RoRHere is a link to an interview I did this last week with my UW Professor buddy Tony Gill at Research On Religion. It is a more personal reflection on the “10 Things Pastors Hate To Admit Publicly.”

I encourage everyone to check out Tony’s podcast. He hits a niche aspect on religious studies that many advocates of religion do not have the opportunity to highlight in a more neutral capacity.

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything Is 43

As a pastor I would like to verify that we are a funky bunch. In one sense we are commissioned with maintaining a heritage of historical belief, but equally we must invest into the cultural nomenclature such as understanding, “The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.” Down the road I will dedicate an entire series to the wonky things pastors think, read, watch and feel, but for now I want to attempt to stay on task with my theme of the day – pastors and the need to see the power of 43 (not 42 – sorry Douglas Adams).

Starting off in the second chapter of Acts we see the birth of the Spirit Infused Church. It is a powerful display of the radical transformation that came with the resurrection of Jesus and the launch of His Unstoppable Force known as the Church (Matthew 16:18). And when we roll into Acts 2:42 we see the four-fold priority of the Church when it says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42). Now in part, why we pastors love this is because it sounds a bit like a formula – the 4 marks of a healthy church. Yet I have been in a few churches where these 4 traits were the centerpiece functionally, and yet even the air smelled stale. Now don’t get me wrong, there was nothing flawed in the technical execution of these four traits. The Word was preached accurately, people interacted personally, prayers were uttered genuinely and communion was devoted fully, but something was still stagnate. They had nailed everything in 42, but they were missing the central reality of 43…

And awe came upon every soul…” Acts 2:43

It is far too easy to assume that function produces passion, that rule keeping establishes pace setting and that guarding the gate will ignite the heart. Yet the world Jesus invaded was replete with a loyalty to the religiosity of 42, but devoid of the worshipful hunger of 43. Thus what we need ask Jesus and His Spirit to produce in our churches is…

  • Biblical moorings and spiritual desperation.
  • Emboldened teaching and embedded fire.
  • Personal fellowship and spiritual excitement.
  • Communion and co-union.

I pray that we would not settle for conservative churches with an absence of presence, but that we would strive to see Jesus cultivate dynamic churches through the display of His attendance – in word, communion, prayer and fellowship, all in anticipation of His awe-filled union among us (1 Corinthians 14:26) .

Thank you Dr. David Wells for pointing out the need for Acts 2:43 in “God In The Whirlwind.”

Boys vs The Porn Apocalypse (Pt. 5): Technology Sucks!

MB PostsIn almost every sense of the meaning I find that technology sucks. It sucks time, money, energy, electricity, emotion, innocence and focus. This isn’t to say that I reject the positive aspects of the electronic age, but advancement has come at a cost. And the cost is not that we have, but that we have too many: too many emails, text messages, tweets, articles, posts, blogs, games, options, shows, channels and interest. In my immediate family alone we have 5 people with a total of 20 Internet, satellite, or texting capable devices:

  • 5 Mobile Phones
  • 5 Computers
  • 3 TV’s (connected to a satellite provider)
  • 3 Tablets
  • 2 Gaming Platforms (1 TV based / 1 Handheld)
  • 1 Blu-Ray/Netflix Player
  • 1 Wireless Router/Modem Combo

Now here is where this really sucks, each of these are a portal to various levels of porn. Anything going out is a conduit for bringing unwanted things in. Therefore, if you are seeking to establish protections for your boys, while still remaining connected electronically to the outside world, be prepared to have a lot of your life and time sucked away to do it, but realize it will be worth it! In this final post to the series I will outline all the various ways you can get ahead of these opportunities. By tomorrow I can imagine that many boys will be very bummed to find that the way they were getting their secret fix is now coming to light.

Where To Start?

For the last couple of years I have sought to be rather vigilant in this area, but this Christmas we gave our son both a computer and a mobile phone and with that came the challenge to proactively work through additional safeguards. And challenge was no understatement. So challenging in fact that it’s pretty tough to plug all the holes. I can guarantee that outside of removing every electronic conduit in your home you cannot establish an airtight seal that will keep out the noxious fumes of hard-core porn (straight, gay and other), soft-core porn, sexting, sexually suggestive programing, sexual articles/stories or sexual advocates that are contrary to your values from your home. This is particularly why I saved practical measures for last and emphasized discipleship first. Jesus is your first and greatest offense, “controlling” technology is a useful, but incomplete defense.

Additionally as a disclaimer – I am not an IT engineer. I am a pastor with a moderately average knowledge of technology. I don’t give the following solutions as the exhaustive manual on “How To Porn Proof Your Home.” I could have gone to friends far more knowledgeable than I in this field, but I am running with what I know specifically as an encouragement. Some reading this will be very savvy in the overall realm of modern communications. Others will be more like me and have to hunt for answers. That means it takes some work. It will suck some time. It will keep sucking time since technology and adolescent prowess evolve at lightening speed. Yet the investment of time will pay off with a life of healthy dividends.

A Clear Edict

I find that with teens you can never be clear enough. As adults we are used to reading between the lines or understanding the intent of things, but for an adolescent abstract thinking is still developing. Therefore having clear, non-sarcastic, non-belittling guidelines from the outset makes a world of difference.

  • “I can look at any of your electronic devices at any time I want without warrant, warning or permission. This is not to invade your privacy, but to protect your heart and mind.”
  • “I get passwords to all sites, devices and email connected to you and I will be monitoring them. This is not to pry into your personal life, but to safeguard it.” (Remember parents, our goal isn’t to “catch them” but to “grow them.”)
  • “I can grant or revoke any privileges you have electronically for the sake of your good. This is not for the purpose of punishment, but to honor my biblical responsibility to Jesus as your parent.”

In all of these, never feel bad as a parent for not being as carefree as other parents. There is a fine line between carefree and careless.

Rerouting Your Router

Your Wi-Fi Router is perhaps your most unconsidered device when thinking about porn. Makes sense since it doesn’t have a screen and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never heard of a 12-year-old boy was aroused by three blinking lights. Because of this many parents assume that protection begins at the device with the screen. Now a few years ago this was easy since Wi-Fi was a computer only feature, but today many kid oriented devices are Wi-Fi enabled such as the Nintendo DS or PlayStation Vita, not to mention that devices such as Xbox, Wii and PlayStation all come with Internet features. With so many options one way to put up a respectable detour is to address your router. On my home network we run OpenDNS. It’s free and it’s pretty effective at blocking content at the router (unfortunately it does not typically work for those of you cursed with a satellite provider due to their configurations). You can customize it to a limited degree and it is password protected (don’t pick any family familiar passwords – use your 4th grade teacher or something they would never guess). What is especially great about this is that it blocks most every device that connects to it regardless if the device has filtering software or not. Therefore outside of your son discovering the password or resetting the whole router it’s a good first line protection. Sometimes it blocks non-offensive content, but again this is a small price to pay.

P.S. Knowing the technological brilliance of some boys I would advise you both change the password on occasion and keep it recorded someplace non-electronically. Also make sure you still have control of the router by intermittently typing in your password, thus making sure they didn’t reset and type in their own. They can be crafty little hackers.

Filter His Computer & Password Protect All Others

I am a big fan of program called X3 Watch. Having said that, it’s worthless for a boy. We have it on all our computers and the reports go to my wife for overall accountability. Yet for a boy we need more than getting a report of the 200 porn sites he hit over the last 7 days. Therefore on my son’s computer we put Net Nanny. It’s customizable for both content and times of use (I don’t allow it to have internet activity between 9:00pm-7:00am). It is password protected, generates activity reports and can be accessed remotely.

In addition to this we do not allow him to use his computer in a bedroom or any room where a door is closed. We basically handle his computer like a loaded weapon and Net Nanny as the safety. In other words for the non-gun readers: just because it has a safety doesn’t make it safe and additional precaution is mandatory. If your son only has a desktop and it’s in his room – take it out, it’s just that simple.

On the additional computers in the home I would advise either installing Net Nanny or at a minimum running X3 Watch for general monitoring, but restrict access through password protection. Again pick a password your kids do not know and set those computers to need that password anytime they are turned on, opened up or come out of sleep mode (setting the sleep mode to every 15-30 minutes). A boy on a mission will look for any device not secured.

Making Mobile Devices Less Mobile

This is the tricky one right here. Not only do you need to be mindful of the obvious ones, but also the subtle ones such as sexting, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, or the 4 other options that just came out in the last 45 seconds since I started this sentence. The other part that is tricky is that unlike computers and routers that have a bit more uniformity, every mobile device is radically different from platform to platform or carrier to carrier. Even more challenging is that most of the operating systems on mobile devices are not designed to allow for a single program to monitor the whole device (such as Net Nanny on a computer). Therefore you will have to do some homework on your devices, but here is what I did with our son’s iPhone. I’m sure others can add solutions for Android and Windows in the comments section below.

The iPhone/iPad Itself

In the “Settings” – “General” – “Restrictions” I set a 4 digit passcode and disabled:

  • Safari (the web browser)
  • Camera (if your son needs a camera, give him one without digital sending ability)
  • FaceTime (it automatically turns off with the camera)
  • Installing Apps (this is HUGH – if you leave this on he can go get any other Web Browsing App he wants thus working against your efforts. If he wants an App you can do it with him. I give my son time every once in a while to do a big app download over 20 minutes and then I look over what he downloaded before I disable to Installing feature)

In the place of Safari I purchased the Web Browser App Mobicip. It’s very much like Net Nanny for an iPhone, but it’s the actual browser and not a program that monitors browsers (which is why you need to disable Safari and restrict Installing Apps). I also limit the times it can be used in the remotely accessible settings panel (again between 9:00pm-7:00am)

The Service Provider & Texting

With AT&T there is a month additive you can buy called Smart Limits. This allows you to control hours of usage and restrict texts that can come in or out through an approved phone list. In this I have only allowed family and close known friends to be on the text list. If he needs to interact with a person not on that list, a good old fashion phone call is perfect. Texting lowers too many inhibitions for adolescent kids and so not even giving the option until they have a couple of years under their belt is a good thing. And for the first time in this whole series I would say this goes doubly for girls.

On texting as a whole you shouldn’t have as much a fight if you start off with limits. If you are seeking to implement these later down the road it may be a bit harder.

IMPORTANT – Turn off (or never turn on) iMessage on their iPhone. iMessage bypasses Smart Limits since it is Web based, not Provider based. You may have to do some homework as to settings in Apple ID accounts so they can’t turn it on themselves as easily.

Additional iPhone/iPad Devices In The Home

If you don’t opt to take the same measures on your own devices, make sure you set “Autolock” with a “Passcode Lock” that only you know. Personally I have adopted the same standards for my own phone that I placed on my son’s. It is a way of standing in solidarity with him.

Keeping PlayStation From Becoming Play(boy)Station 

In our home we have an Xbox360 in the living room (again, no potential Internet access points in kids bedrooms unless they are controlled by an hours of usage option). Our particular Xbox is a bit older and so it does not have an onboard Wi-Fi option. When we choose to access Microsoft Live we establish a Wi-Fi bridge via an Ethernet cable and one of our laptops. Therefore the Xbox is dependent upon another device that I have more control over based on the above precautions.

Obviously this is not everyone’s situation. Most new consoles and handhelds have built in Wi-Fi, thus having the OpenDNS option is a benefit in blocking the use of the browsing clients on console and handheld gaming platforms. Luckily some of the systems also have their own content filtering options as well. Some of these options may have better protections than others as far as passwords or pin numbers to engage or disengage the content filtering. The reality again is that we can’t just do it once and never check in again on it. Each device will suck some time to keep monitored, but the initial set-up instructions for the top brands are below:



HBOooo That’s What “TV-MA” Means

Premium channels and Pay Per View options are another area where the definitions between entertainment and “mature” entertainment are being blurred, and this too creates an opportunity for our boys. Now some of you may feel safe because you don’t pay for premium programming such as HBO, Showtime and Cinemax, but throughout the year these channels offer free trials with opportunities for soft-porn viewing. There are also the Adult Pay Per View options that offer “discreet” billing (i.e. the title is nameless on your billing) and thus are easily overlooked when paying bills or billing is automatic.

The best solution here is to set the rating on all your TV receivers to an acceptable level and block all adult channels behind a passcode that only you know. This is perhaps the easiest safeguard of all the opportunities for pornography.

Not Necessary Pornography, More Like Impuregraphy

The last thing I would add is so vast I needed to make up a word. Much of this whole series has been dedicated to the sometimes narrowly viewed theme of pornography, but the issue is much bigger. It entails any electronic opportunity that would misinform, ill-define or put at risk a biblical example of sexuality. Many of these are especially difficult to block because they sometimes fall into the realm of non-filtered content. It may come in the form of provocative movies through Amazon or Netflix, or through highly questionable (but technically permitted) videos on Break, Vimeo or YouTube. It may not even be sexually explicit as must as sexually contrary to your views (something even more serious with the tender and impressionable age of adolescents when kids are in search of an identity before they are capable of discerning one). Personally I know I can’t monitor every possibility, but what I have done is restricted all the major video sites on my son’s mobile device via the “Blocked Sites” option in Mobicip and then only allowed him access to such sites on his computer in the living room with the family around.

The Big Idea

Overall you as a parent are their best guide, filter, advocate and advisor. Thus you must be perpetually connected, talking and monitoring. You must be displaying a healthy and open view of biblical sexuality. And yes, it will be awkward for everyone involved. So start the uncomfortable discussions, ask the leading questions and share your own challenges. In short you want to be discipling their heart. Use the technology to your advantage like texting your son on how’s he’s doing or if he has questions. Just as texting lowers inhibitions in the negative, it can also be a means of him opening up to you as well so that you can swing around later with a face to face.

Our calling as parents is clear, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). Training isn’t exclusively commanding actions. Nor is it merely blocking opportunities. It is a concert of Bible, gospel, wisdom, heart, mentoring, failure, repentance and grace – along with additional protections that aid in keeping their hearts from corruption so that they may grow into the godly men Jesus seeks.

Boys vs The Porn Apocalypse (Pt. 4): Jesus Died For Porn

MB PostsIn dealing with our sons struggles with porn we must assure them of a solution. The gospel of Jesus is a message that both rids us of our shame and empowers us to overcome the strong biological, emotional and visual draw that is associated with pornography. Again I want to reiterate that making pornography impossible to access is not the solution, making it undesirable is. Therefore the most effective way this temptation will be resisted is to make obedience both a realistic possibility and an internal want. And that begins with understanding the power of the gospel.

Titus 2:11-14 says, 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Three things must be imprinted into our sons hearts:

1st: Grace  Is – Grace is the unsolicited, unearned and undeserved favor of God. In dealing with our sons we must remember that what they most need is a personal God who conditions their desires. We don’t want our boys thinking the way forward in overcoming porn (or any other sin) is chiefly a matter of self-determination, but rather it’s a matter of reformed affection that comes through a growing understanding of the power of grace. Helping our boys develop gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice and forgiveness begins to lay the foundation for a life of obedience both in public and private.

What is especially good for us to remember is that it will always be grace – not law – that ultimately protects and liberates our boys. Thus if you simply jump to the end of this series on “the laws of practical porn proofing” and do nothing else, you may in fact taunt your sons to sin without even intending to. In Romans 7:7-12 Paul shares a profound truth regarding the law. There he says that the law entices – not curbs – sin. This is why you see people at the Grand Canyon throwing rocks just a few yards down from a “Do not throw rocks!” sign. The mere sight of “don’t” makes people want to “do” (especially in the adolescent brain). The reason is because the function of the law is to incite our natural rebellion, thus proving we need God’s grace to heal our defiant hearts. Therefore “don’t” – by itself – often works against us. Because of this the electronic safeguards we implement will be nothing more than challenges for our boys to hack unless they are coupled to a bigger sense of Jesus and grace.

2nd: Grace Saves – It saves us not only from the penalty, but the power of our sins; to renounce our rebellion and reinforce righteousness. Both of these are critical because we need our boys to know that resisting temptation is both an act of running from sin and running to Someone and something righteous (2 Timothy 2:22).

Additionally, they need to realize that the powerful draw of temptation is not as powerful as the ability to overcome. Sin and righteousness are not dualistic in the life of the believer. Temptation isn’t an equal and opposite force. In the believer’s tug-of-war over sin the Holy Spirit is the anchorman who shifts the balance of power. In the pull of the Holy Spirit we have what is needed to overcome moments of enticement (Romans 8:1-4 & Galatians 5:16-26). Paul knew this in struggling with his own temptation when exasperated he says, 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7). I know that kind of frustration. I know that sense of failure. Who will rescues me from my failures? I love the answer, 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7). Paul knew temptation, but he also knew that grace saves us from that sense of inevitability regarding failure. This is why he told the sexually charged and confused Corinthians, 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The key here is helping our boys to see the value of redirecting their attention when temptation comes; to reestablish focus when the internal booty-call suddenly arises in their temptations. Romans 8 reminds us that, Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Helping them learn to set a positive foothold for their mind will give them a powerful tool for life-long peace.

3rd: Grace Inspires – Grace must be communicated in a way that helps our boys become “zealous for good works.” We as parents must not reduce the inspirational power of grace by making it a synonym for law. Our tone must be that of understating, direction and hope. We are to bring empathy, boundary and the conviction that goodness is way better. We parent from the posture of sinners coming alongside fellow sinners with the reminder that we all overcome by grace. We are the living embodiment of how our boys understand Jesus and grace. Thus we must be careful to not take their failures or sins so personally that we fail to provide them with an accurate picture of who God is and how He empowers us to overcome ourselves in hope.

Grace Tips

  • Help your son to see that Grace is something we receive while Law is something we do. Therefore to receive daily overcoming Grace he must seek Jesus as the source of that grace through ongoing prayer. A great rule of thumb is to encourage them to talk out loud to Jesus so that he is more real in their life.
  • Help him realize that in God’s common grace, Jesus has provided many opportunities to avoid tempting situations such as hobbies, sports, chores, friends or the like. Distractions when tempted are a wonderful form of common grace. It also follows the pattern of 2 Timothy 2:22 when it says, “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace.
  • Help him begin disciplines such as quiet-times or devotional book readings that fortify his inner spiritual life. The Word of God has power and the life of the Holy Spirit in him is strength. We don’t want to overcome porn with Law (since that is impossible – Romans 7:7-11), we want Jesus to shape his heart with Grace and Truth (John 1:17 & Romans 12:1-2).
  • Help him to know that Jesus died for porn. Specifically that Jesus took the sin of his porn viewing and suffered for it on the cross, so that he could be totally forgiven and made new (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let him know that while you will be taking some precautions to protect him, those are not designed to punish him or throw his past in his face. Reinforce that Jesus was punished in his place so he could be forgiven and move forward.

Friday: Final post to the series, “Technology Sucks! Safeguarding The 7 Primary Ways Porn Gets Into The Home.”

Boys vs The Porn Apocalypse (Pt 3): Your First Contact To His First Contact.

MB PostsMost of us as parents will need to get comfortable with the fact that our boys first contact with porn will be much sooner than we would care to admit, particularly if we fail to provide safeguards far in advance. And typically the way most patents find out is not through a proactive confession or a yelp of shock in the adjacent room. No, most parents find out by stumbling upon an already established habit. It typically comes when you walk in on a flushed and deflecting boy or you decide to open a browsing history on his device of choice only to find a list of titles that make you flushed like a caught boy. In these instances a vast array of emotions can crush into your gut: shock, worry, anger, disappointment or disgust. All of these are understandable; it’s your first contact to his first contact. Yet before you decide to react from the circus in your gut, slow down so you can wisely respond to the real problem – his heart. His heart sin (manifest as porn viewing) is an opportunity for you to reinforce the sin conquering grace of the Gospel. With that in mind here are some responses to consider:

If you find out – don’t avoid, but engage.

Occasionally there are parents who would prefer to jam their heads in the sand and just pretend like they didn’t see. Or worse, there are parents who avoid it because they don’t believe such habits are really that wrong since “boys will be boys” (and because the parents themselves have the same habits). To be clear, both make for poor parenting (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Ephesians 6:4 & Proverbs 6:15-23). Let me help us all out right now, if pornography is a part of your diet either individually or as an additive to your marriage “take out the log of porn that is in your own eye so you can deal with the speck of porn that is in your son’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). Either resolve to remove it or seek out a safe confidant who can help you begin to overcome it. Whatever you do don’t leave it unaddressed, in your own life or his.

If you find out – don’t freak out, but draw out.

For some parents this is hard. Especially since some of the things you find may be uniquely graphic and disturbing. Keep in mind that when it comes to pre/early teen boys and pornography you have an unequipped mind crashing into an unregulated world that can lead to a remarkable display of discriminant viewing. For a parent the result can be such a high level of shock that they react with the blunt force of shame and guilt. Unfortunately shame is a powerful tool of the Devil to drive sin underground in the lives of people. If we shame our sons in this context it can inadvertently create an environment by which their heart is never addressed and so they simply learn how to better hide their habits.

Keep the big idea always before you – his heart. You want him to turn away from sin not merely for fear of getting caught by you, but because he has a fear of the Lord than cause him to hate sin (Proverbs 8:13). You want to recall the wisdom of Proverbs 20:5 Though good advice lies deep within the heart, a person with understanding will draw it out.” You are the parent of understanding who can help draw out in your son what he knows deep down is God’s best. Therefore you want to ask questions more than make statements. Monologuing is easy for parents, but boys only hear about 1/5 of what is said in a “corrective” lecture. Because of this you’re better off to hit your intended target by opening a dialogue by which you can begin to deposit wisdom through conversation.

Now at this point many of you may be asking, “How do I open the duologue ?” I get it. For most parents dealing with sons and porn is a rookie situation. All those “What To Expect When Your Expecting” books didn’t prepare you for this. With that in mind I want to help us identify some Gospel oriented questions to ask our boys. To do this however I want to start with some less than ideal questions many parents ask and then move to the useful stuff.

Questions You Don’t Want To Bother Asking:

Why are you looking at these things?

It’s a redundant question that may inadvertently fuel a shaming tone. He’s looking because he’s curious, aroused and sinful. You know the answer better than he does. Besides the answer itself contributes nothing to the solution. Leverage good Gospel questions, not filler questions.

Do you think this is acceptable?

Obviously he doesn’t. If he did he would do it openly in the living room during family time. He hides it because he knows its wrong. This, like the previous question, is redundant. More importantly it is a misdirected question. The filter we always want to use in regard to sin is not “What do you think?“ but “What does Jesus think?” In Psalm 51:4 David says to God, Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” In viewing pornography a boy is harming himself and grieving his parents, but he is sinning only against Jesus who died and suffered wrath for his porn viewing. Thus it only matters what Jesus thinks.

What would your __________ (sister, mother, grandmother, friends, etc.) think of this?

The question hints that you may in fact broadcast his sin to Nanna. This may not be your plan, but it will make him wonder. Aside from that it works much like the previous question. The issue is not about what others think; it’s about what Jesus thinks. This is especially important since it is easy to find large pockets of people who affirm  sinful practices as good and commendable. As soon as we make humans the primary consideration we are at the mercy of whatever they consider to be sinful.

Do you know how exploited these women are in pornography?

If your son is under 16 years of age he really has no idea – even if you tell him. Abstract thinking hasn’t fully developed and so a sense of empathy toward people they do not know, and who “appear” to be willing participants, is of limited value in dealing with adolescent temptations. This isn’t to say that this question isn’t an important one to address, but if we try to use it as a tool to repulse them away from pornography it will not be effective.

Talking With Our Boys – A Gospel Starter:

Parenting is sinners raising sinners. Therefore we should engage the conversation as a fellow sinner who realizes the need for and power of the Gospel. That is the tone that sets the opener statement, “I want you to know that I understand where you’re at right now. I want us to talk about it. Would you like to talk now or in about an hour?”

This seems trivial I know, but it shows this is bigger than a fifteen minute chat. What you’re saying is you’re prepared to take time to work this through; therefore you’re prepared to give him some time to think this through before you talk. It also reinforces the tone of a dialogue verses the “were talking about this now mister” approach that all but guarantees he will not open up to you.

Once sitting down to talk (in a quiet, non-public, uninterrupted space) here are some “drawing out” questions:

  • When did you first start looking at these kinds of things?
  • What kinds of things have you looked at?
  • How often have you been looking?
  • What do you believe Jesus thinks of what you’ve been looking at?
  • Do you know Jesus has given us what we need to overcome our sins? (notice the solidarity of “us” and “we”)
  • How can I help you out on this?
  • What are some ways we can guard against this happening in the future?
  • Is it cool if you and I pray together every night about this for a while?
  • I’m going to ask you every few days how it’s going. Will you be open with me if I promise not to freak out toward you?

Now trust me when I tell you that the questions above are far easier to list than ask. And take my word for it; you’ll be lucky to get 20 words from him in the entire encounter. Yet it’s less about getting answers and far more about creating an open environment for you and your son to acknowledge  sin and seek grace. He must know you have empathy and understanding more than you have judgment. This doesn’t mean you lack concern or disappointment in the conversation, but you need to have a tone by which he knows you really do understand where he is at and you want to help him along the process. And that is a key word for you to lock in – process. His temptations will not end with one heart felt conversation. The longer he has had to feed the habit the harder it will be to overcome. You are beginning a journey with your son that will consist of many conversations like this (and a few failures too). Therefore the biggest most powerful way to help him is to every time point him to what Jesus has done and can do.

Coming Up Wednesday: Pt.4 “Jesus Died For Porn”