His Kingdom is Forever

February 12, 2015 — Leave a comment


I was reminded in a devotional from John Piper this morning that Abraham Lincoln was born on this day 206 years ago. He was areligious well into his 50′s until suffering drove him into an encounter with Jesus that ultimately resulted in his conversion.

After witnessing the horror of war and the death of a child, he said of suffering “I’ve been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.” Peter, speaking for the disciples, said almost the same thing to Jesus in John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I was burdened yesterday by some people in my circles who are hurting deeply, mainly with illnesses where the prognosis is not encouraging or even hopeful. The world is broken. May the hurt here remind us that our hope is not in anything here on earth. It is in Him alone. As the old hymn says, “The body they may kill; His Truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.” God, may that deep, rich, hopeful truth marinate deep into my heart.

My Edamamistake

January 8, 2014 — 6 Comments

I apologize for the recent silence. It is due to a few factors.

  • The holidays were upon me, and I partook in mass amounts of family time, whereby I spent much of it asleep on the couch with my mouth agape in a food-induced coma.
  • I recently started a new job and, not wanting my new employers to think I am a lazy punk, I have actually been working hard for them.
  • I also recently bought a car, a big boy decision whose trepidation I cope with by researching every tiny detail and endlessly parsing numbers and haggling with multiple dealers until they all hate me and sell me a car at a lower price just to make me go away. I will post about this decision soon.
  • Thanks to you, my post about Santa went viral, and I have been unsure how to best follow that.

But I am a blessed man. Some of you have asked me why I have not been blogging. Julia ran into a friend today at Costco who asked her why I’ve gone silent. So she has encouraged me to write tonight. I love her for this.

So being a story teller, I thought it would be most appropriate to begin 2014 with a self-depricating tale of my own foolishness, hence the title of this post.

I started a new job recently. We had a meeting with a client today in downtown Atlanta. People that live inside the I-285 perimeter will tell you that Atlanta has Midtown, Downtown, Buckhead, and I think there might be an Uptown. I’m never sure because from out here in the suburbs, everything inside the perimeter is “downtown” to me. If you find this to be an uncultured perspective on life in Atlanta, you will certainly want to read on, as I am about to prove your theory.

Our meeting finished just after noon, so we decided to go to a nearby Japanese dive for lunch. As we walked in, I leaned over to Brent, one of my employers, and asked, “So what do you get when you guys come here?”

“Bento box,” he said firmly, pointing to the item on the menu. I saw “chicken teriyaki” and my mind was made.

“I’ll have the chicken teriyaki bento box,” I said to the girl behind the counter.

She appeared as though she was two holes away from getting her facial piercing merit badge, and seemed annoyed by the fact that I was in a good mood on this frigidly cold, blustery winter day. For a moment, I felt thankful I was able to watch my food being prepared just on the other side of the sneeze glass. I glanced over at the food inspection certificate on the wall. “100 A,” it read. I relaxed a bit inside.

Once our food was ready, we picked it up and sat down. The bento box had salad (which I did not eat), edamame, fried rice with teriyaki chicken, and four California rolls with wasabi and ginger on the side. Suddenly, I realized how hungry I was, and I reached for the edamame first.

Photo Credit: leff via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: leff via Compfight cc

Now, I should say I know virtually nothing about edamame. I only learned such a thing exists a year or two ago when Julia passed them to me as a snack. “What’s this crap?” I asked, staring at the tiny green peas with my brow furrowed.

“It’s edamame,” Julia replied without looking at me. She was unimpressed with my skepticism, though she knows I do not take to new foods lightly.

“Eda…” I trailed off. “They look like peas,” I said.

“They are peas. Try them.” She had that tone in her voice that hinted subtly at a dare. I like peas, so that day I decided edamame were on the “Hayden approved” list.

So sitting in front of my edamame today over lunch, I reached for them first, thinking Julia would be impressed when I told her I ate edamame today. They were cold. Unexpected, but acceptable. They were also encased in pods with tiny little hairs. Did I eat them like this last time? I wondered. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember.

I looked over at Brent. He had gone straight for the meat first. My kind of guy. I looked over at Adam, who was telling us about how he had gotten an Xbox One for his birthday, but without any games to play on it, his only option was to use it as a $500 voice-controlled channel changer for his cable TV. So he wasn’t much help, either. I was on my own.

Then, I thought about green beans and snap peas and snow peas, all of which are consumed pod and all. Suddenly feeling unusually confident in this, I took a sasquatch-sized bite into the edamame pod, tearing it sideways like a lumberjack might bite off a slab of beef jerky.

Photo Credit: Wesley Chan via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Wesley Chan via Compfight cc

But edamame pods are not to be taken down easily, and as I tore the pod with my teeth, a line of edamame pod strings hung awkwardly between my fist and my mouth. I struggled and tore until enough of them had broken free for me to have a mouthful.

Crunchy, I thought to myself as I continued to chew. And chew. And chew.

As I chewed, I began to wonder why people like edamame. It tasted the way a vegetable garden smells. It was bland, and distinctly earthy. About the time I began to think I would likely not have another bite (due to the amount of work involved), Adam leaned over and politely said to me, “You know, Hayden, you don’t have to eat the pods.”

“Ah,” I said, suddenly remembering that Julia had never given me the pods. I reached for my napkin to dispose of the wad of peas and string in my mouth. In good company but feeling a bit embarrassed, I was reminded of David Spade’s quote from Tommy Boy:

Yes, I am.

So what did I have for lunch today? Edamame with a side of humility. And they were both good for me.

Julia is singing this song at church on Sunday. It’s been in our heads for the last couple of days. It’s a very different kind of Christmas song, and I really like it.

“If you told me all about your sorrows, I’d tell you about a cure,

If you told me you can’t fight the battle, there’s a baby boy who won the war,

The war was won by a baby boy.

Alleluia, we can sing it,

Alleluia, Heaven’s ringing


Endless hope and relentless joy started with a baby boy”

The longer I’m a parent, the more it becomes clear to me that I’m a rookie at this child raising stuff. Everything is new. Still, I’m committed to get things right the first time as much as I can.

When it comes to Santa, Julia and I decided long ago that we would have that discussion once the time came that our boys were old enough. Our culture’s message about Santa is that we must “believe.” Believe, believe, believe.

But believe in what?

The message of Santa says there’s a big dude far away that kids must believe in–even though they can’t see him–and that he does nice things for them if they are good all year. But if they choose to be naughty, they will be punished and receive things they don’t like.

Sound familiar? Is it any wonder why I grew up mistaking Santa as an archetype for God? I think the concept of Santa also helped fuel my legalistic approach to life with Jesus, too. For many years, I thought that if I was good, Jesus would like me. Even now, I am a recovering legalist.

But regardless of your background or to what degree you celebrate Santa, the inevitable outcome of kids believing in him is always the same: they discover the truth. There is no Santa.

Are You Perpetuating A Lie?

Some of you may freak out that I even typed those words, but to me, the discovery that Santa is not real pales in comparison to a child discovering that his parents are liars. And make no mistake about it. If you tell your kids that Santa is real, you are lying to them.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

In time, all kids–including yours–will learn that Santa is not real. But they never have to learn that your words are not real. We’re committed to always speak truth to our boys. So at Christmas, we’ve made a choice to refrain from perpetuating the Santa lie.

So, let’s have the truth about Santa Claus:

  • Santa Claus does not exist.
  • He does not live at the North Pole. Hardly anything does.
  • Elves don’t make toys. Or cookies. Or shoes.
  • Reindeer don’t fly. Neither do sleighs.
  • It’s impossible for anyone to make a world tour in one night.
  • There’s no such thing as magic.
  • The Santas at the mall are not Santa, nor do they work for Santa. They are businessmen who sport a unseasonably thick white beard for 11 months out of the year in order to make major bank taking pictures with your terrified kids at Christmas time. And more power to ‘em, too.

So when we speak the truth about Santa, it may feel like we are not left with any of the good parts of Christmas, but I respectfully disagree.

All the Best Parts of Christmas Are 100% True

People ask me sometimes, “if you don’t do Santa, what do you do?”

We do the truth.

Honestly, I’m jealous for my kids’ affection, and I don’t want a nonexistent, overweight elf-lie getting credit for the awesome gifts we give our kids. Santa doesn’t love them; their Mom and I do. And Santa sure doesn’t pay for Christmas presents; we do. And that brings me to sharing the best parts of Christmas that are 100% true.

Parents’ (and Grandparents) Love for Their Children

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

We love our boys. They are an absolute gift, and it is our pleasure to provide for them. Once a year, it is our extraordinary pleasure to surprise them with all sorts of Christmas goodies. It’s the dedicated time of year where our love manifests in gifts, just as God’s love for us manifested in the gift of the presence of Jesus Christ. What a true joy that is!

God’s Love for His Children

Christmas is all about Jesus, and we celebrate the reality that He not only exists distantly as the deist would believe. Rather, He exists intimately and personally in the here and now.

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

He is Emmanuel: God with us. He didn’t have to come, but He did. That incredible, impractical love became tangible when a teenage girl and her fiancé became parents to a baby boy that was conceived right in the burning heart of God’s love for us.

He is true. And His presence changes everything.

The Example of St. Nicolas’ Selfless Love for Others

The real inspiration for Santa Claus is a man from the early 4th-century named St. Nicholas. Not much is known about his life, and much of it has long since morphed with legend. What is known about him is that he was an orphan from a wealthy Christian family who became known for his generosity and care for children. St. Nicholas’ inspiration for his selfless generosity was Jesus, which is an example worthy of emulation.

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Standing in stark contrast to the lie of the modern, secular Santa Claus myth is the reality of St. Nicholas and his devoted life of service to Jesus Christ. It’s a story worth retelling. And it’s absolutely true.

How We Teach Santa

We don’t want our kids to be the ones with the Santa allergy, so we don’t make Santa out to be a bad guy. He’s not unwelcome at our house. In fact, we enjoy him. We have books about Santa, and we like to have fun with the story, but we make it clear to our boys that their presents come from real people that love them enough to give them one.

Santa Claus is just a character. That means we treat him the same as Wolverine, Cinderella, and Darth Vader. These characters are totally fine when kept in their appropriate context. We have lots of fun with them, but they have their place. We’d no more try to convince our boys that Santa is real than we’d tell them Superman is real.

When you take Santa out of Christmas, you’re not degrading the Christmas experience. You’re enhancing it. You make the message of Christmas shine for what it really is: a true story of love-made-manifest for the people you love most. After all, that’s what Christ did for us.

What a beautiful Christmas truth. Ho. Ho. Ho.

I’d just sat down to begin my workday this morning when my phone rang. It was one of my spiritual mentors. I’m blessed enough to have a few spiritual mentors, but this man is the one God has used repeatedly throughout the last decade, plus. He’s a dear brother with a deep love for Jesus. When he serves up his godly wisdom, I listen because when he speaks, it’s often the voice of Jesus I hear.

I picked up the phone, greeting him by name.

“Hey man, I was just thinking about you and wanted to call you and tell you that I love you and that God is using you in big ways,” he began. He went on to encourage me in my career and ask how I was doing and to remind me that he was praying for me.

Photo Credit: » Zitona « via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: » Zitona « via Compfight cc

I was so encouraged by that. What an amazing way to begin a week.

I’m so blessed to have incredibly godly men like this man in my life. They challenge me, they push me spiritually, and they never settle for seeing less than Christ in me, yet they are quick to give grace and a loving hand of correction when I need it. It’s an honor to call them brothers.

That type of care is a debt I can never repay, and they would thump my ears for even calling it a debt. They know they’ve been forgiven greatly, and it is their pleasure to labor in my life and spur me on to settle for nothing less than more of Jesus, more of Jesus, more of Jesus. And it is my pleasure to pay that forward in the lives of other men as the Great Commission calls me to.

It’s the benefit of choosing to live in community with other believers.

That simple phone call was a great reminder for me this morning, and so I wanted to challenge you, too. Men, do you allow yourself to be known spiritually by other men? Women, do allow other women the opportunity to know you and labor in your life? Conversely, are there people in your sphere of influence that may look up to you? How can you encourage them to believe the truth and want more of Jesus?

I love this quote from the movie, Gladiator:

What we do in life echoes in eternity.

This life is your opportunity to speak into others’ lives in ways that create eternal echoes. But before this can happen, you have to be in community with others. Where is your community? Are you a part of a group of other believers that can encourage you and spur you on to love and good deeds? Are you placing yourself in spheres that allow you to love and encourage others to do the same?

Once you’ve immersed yourself in community with others, God will use you to impact lives in amazing ways.

And sometimes, all it takes is a simple phone call.

A couple of years ago, Julia got an email from a friend asking why she had emailed out a link to apparent spam. By the time a few more email replies from friends trickled in, Julia had figured out she was the victim of an email hack. After the initial wave of panic, she quickly changed her password on the account which, thankfully, she still had access to.

As it turns out, the hacker’s IP address came from Beijing, China. They had only used Julia’s account to send spam and did not appear to access any of her emails. Had they read her email, they would have had access to years worth of personal information, including credit card numbers, photos of our kids, private conversations–you name it. It was scary stuff and a reality check for us.

Photo Credit: mafate69 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: mafate69 via Compfight cc

Since that hack on Julia’s account, I’ve seen posts on Facebook from friends who have had a similar experiences. Many of them marvel at why they were selected for an attack and how on earth the criminals guessed their password.

If this has happened to you, don’t beat yourself up, but you should know it is often the result of people being lax with their online security. You know not to leave your house key under the door mat because it’s the first place a criminal will look. Online security is the same way. It’s likely that criminals know the game better than you, and if you make it easy for them to exploit you, they will.

With that said, let me share three simple points to help you shore up your online security, lest you be the victim of a hack that exposes some of your most personal data to hackers with nefarious intent.

What Should You Do If You Are Hacked?

If you realize you’ve been hacked, step one is to log in to your account immediately and change your password. This will lock out anyone who had access using the hacked password.

Once you do that, it’s a debatable question of etiquette as to whether you email everyone again to let them know and/or apologize for the hack. My thought is to not bother with the second email. It should be obvious to most people that you were hacked and did not intent to send a link to such an incredible weight loss product/cheap v1agra/R0lex watch. People should know to avoid clicking on spammy links by now.

How Did The Hack Happen?

I don’t know what the actual percentage is, but according to my own sarcastic opinion, 99.99% of the time these account get hacked, it is due to one simple reason.

You are using the same username and password combination elsewhere on the web–quite possibly everywhere on the web.

This is how hackers were able to access Julia’s email account.

Look, I know you feel like you’ll never remember which whacky password went to which website, but you just have to stop using the same one for everything. It’s the digital version of the key under the door mat. Criminals are out there hoping you will do this. In fact, they depend on it.

Photo Credit: Christophe Verdier via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Christophe Verdier via Compfight cc

Here’s how these hacks happen. Much like houses, some websites are more secure than others. Email providers like Gmail, for example, are locked up like Fort Knox. Other sites like that photo printing website where you made your Christmas cards or that free music service you listen to are less secure. Hackers can exploit weaknesses on these smaller sites to get them to cough up username and password combinations. And it’s not really all that hard for them to do, either.

Once they have those stolen username and password combos, they can try them on a myriad of larger, more secure sites like Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon, etc. If you’ve used the same username/password combo all over the Internet, you’ve made it highly likely that these hackers will be successful accessing your secure accounts with the same username/password combos stolen from less secure sites.

How Can You Keep Your Accounts Secure?

If you use these four tips when creating a password, you will go a long way to keeping yourself safe online.

Have a unique password for every online account.

This single step will prevent the vast majority of hacks, but this alone is not enough. Your password also has to be robust, even complicated. I know it’s hard to remember random passwords, and that leads us to the next tip.

Use a phrase you can remember.

Think of a phrase like “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” abbreviate it, then use that as a starting point for your new password. Now you have “thaawtsom.” Make the phrase you use relevant to the website you are on so that it’s easier to remember. So this phrase about music might be the password phrase for Pandora or iTunes, for example.

Make passwords complicated.

Passwords should never be shorter than 8 characters, and longer passwords are even better. The more complicated they are, the more difficult they’ll be to crack.

Now, let’s take the phrase we used earlier and mix in a few upper and lowercase letters, like this tHaawtSoM. Now substitute a few letters with numbers: tH44wtS0M. Then add in at least one special character, like this: ¡tH44wtS0M! and now you have a password that is less random but very secure.

Photo Credit: Danny Nicholson via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Danny Nicholson via Compfight cc

If all else fails, iCloud keychain is a new feature for Mac users in Mavericks and iOS7 that will suggest very complicated, random passwords for sites you visit. You only have to remember your iCloud password and Safari will remember the rest. It’s pretty handy and works well for me. LastPass and 1Password are similar paid alternatives that have been around even longer.

Never use obvious passwords.

If you are using passwords like “password” or “123456″ you are asking for trouble. You may be interested to see if your password is on the list of the 25 worst.

Don’t Gamble with Your Digital Security

You know not to leave the house without locking your doors, but many people take their security far less seriously. Ironically, a hack can do much more damage than a house break in. So do what you can to stay safe out there. Change your passwords today if you know they are not secure! The web is only going to be as safe as you make it.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the dangers of buying your kids iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches, and other Internet-connected devices. The main takeaway from that post was simple: unless you have a plan to aggressively monitor what people and content your kids and teens have access to on that device, then it’s probably going to be more of a liability for your child than anything else.

I wanted to create a follow up post to help parents understand how they can control access to content on devices they already own.

So What’s A Parent To Do?

When I was growing up, the ultimate cool-but-forbidden thing was to have a TV in your bedroom. My parents never allowed that for the simple reason that they didn’t want me to watch networks like MTV while I was alone. Instead, they preferred to monitor the content I put into my head.

Now, iDevices allow access to content that makes the MTV of the 80′s and 90′s look like the Disney Channel. Why would you leave your kid alone with an iDevice? Simple. You shouldn’t. But what if your child or teen already has an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. What should you do? Here are a few tips.

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad via Compfight cc

Use the Built-In Parental Controls.

Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions. You’ll be asked to enter a passcode. Be smart and make it one that your child doesn’t know and cannot guess. Then, go through and lock down Safari. This will remove Safari from the device.

As an alternative to Safari, download and install Mobicip. You can read an older review I wrote for Mobicip here, but it’s what is known as a “safe browser.” It doesn’t prohibit all nefarious content, but it helps. It also won’t provide the same deeply integrated experience as Safari because Apple doesn’t allow users to choose their own default browser, but the experience is tolerable and worth the modest inconvenience.

Adjust for Allowed Content.

While you’re enabling Parental Controls, on the same screen, you can restrict the type of content that can be downloaded from iTunes and the App Store by adjusting the allowed ratings. Don’t forget to adjust Siri and turn off “explicit language.” It may also be a good idea to turn off “web search content,” lest Siri is told to fetch unsavory things.

Adjust Location Services.

You may also want to tweak location services. Apps are able (with your permission) to report the device’s geographic location. In some instances, this information is generalized to the nearest city or town. But in other instances, the phone can report your exact geographic location with accuracy down to within a few feet.

For example, did you know that photos taken from your iPhone are set by default to contain location information? It’s called geotagging, and that geotagged data travels embedded in the original photo wherever the photo is sent.

This picture I took in my office contains GPS metadata that is accurate, even down to the side of the house where my office is.

This picture I took in my office contains GPS metadata that is accurate, even down to the side of the house where my office is.

So as a real-world example, let’s say your child takes a photo and sends it to a friend or to a blog. As long as the original file is not altered, all the original metadata, including the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken will travel along with the photo. Anyone can then view the metadata file embedded using a reader like this one to view all the info about that photo. If the GPS coordinates are included in that photo, it is possible to find out not only where your child lives, but the area of the house where the photo was taken.

Yes, it’s very creepy. By the way, your iPhone works the same way. So think about that the next time you snap that bedroom mirror selfie.

To be fair, many social media sites resize and resave the image, and the metadata, including the location, is stripped out. But original photos that are emailed or sent via SMS still contain that data.

Use OpenDNS On Your Home Router.

I don’t want to make this post too technical, so I will explain DNS (Domain Name Service) as simply as I can and to the best of my own understanding. In the early days of the telephone, a user had to first dial the operator and ask to be connected to the person they wanted to talk to. The operator’s job was to connect the call. DNS works similarly.

Photo Credit: MarkGregory007 via Compfight cc

DNS works kind of like an old school telephone operator. Photo Credit: MarkGregory007 via Compfight cc

To use another analogy, DNS is also like a taxi driver. You get in the taxi and say to the driver, “Take me to the airport, please.” It’s the driver’s job to translate that information to a physical address and take you there.

Simply put, DNS is kind of like that operator or taxi driver because DNS servers take the website name input from a user (like “haydenwreyford.com”) and then connect that user to the server address where that particular website lives.

By default, your internet service provider (Comcast, Charter, UVerse, etc) has DNS servers that connect you to websites. OpenDNS is a 3rd party service that provides their own DNS service as part of their FamilyShield parental controls. The community of users provide feedback on objectionable sites, which are then added to the black list.

As a result, Open DNS is able to block pornography, proxy servers, phishing sites and some malware. Essentially, its taxi drivers are smart enough to refuse to take you to certain places if the place is known to be shady. You can also whitelist and blacklist sites for your own account to further customize what content OpenDNS allows you to access.

OpenDNS offers premium features, but basic site blocking is free. You can sign up for it here. If you tell your home router to use OpenDNS servers, then any device connected to your home network will have the same filtering applied–even laptops and desktops, and even computers of guests. If it’s connected to your home router, it will be filtered. OpenDNS has a handy walk thru for adding filtering to your router or computer. Again, I strongly recommend doing it at the router level for the most protection.

NOTE: If you have a device with a data plan, like a 3G iPad or an iPhone, if it’s not connected to wifi, OpenDNS can’t filter those devices. Unfortunately, AT&T (my service provider) won’t allow users to select 3rd party DNS servers. So this is one way for kids to get around your protected home network. They can just turn wifi off and fall back to mobile data to browse unfiltered. This is where filtering apps like Mobicip come in handy and can pick up the slack.

Add Access Controls on Your Router.

In addition to setting up OpenDNS on your router, nearly all routers have access controls that allow you to set time-based limits for certain devices. So if your kid has a wifi iPad, but you only want him to use it between the hours of 5pm-8pm on weekdays and 10am-9pm on weekends, you can do that. Just set up your router to recognize that unique device ID and only allow access between the hours you set. This is a highly under-used feature.

You’ve heard it said that “nothing good happens after midnight.” If you believe that, then you can shut your entire home network down after midnight, if you want. So learn to use your router like a filtering tool.

Be A Parent.

Being a parent means making tough calls. It often means your kid won’t like your decision. Be their parent, not their friend. Supervise them. Be proactive. Get involved. Monitor them. If you wouldn’t let them run with scissors, then don’t buy them an iDevice that they can use away from your supervision.

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Compfight cc

I want to help parents to understand what these advanced devices are capable of. Many parents just simply don’t know. Your job now is to take this information and make the best call possible for your child and your family. And to that end, I hope this was helpful.

Was this information helpful to you? Please leave a comment below and be sure to repost and share!

As the Christmas season kicks off with Black Friday this week, parents are busy making gift plans for the kids. At the top of wish lists everywhere are internet-connected smartphones, tablets, laptops, and music players. Most parents are very well-intentioned when it comes to deciding what to give their kids for Christmas, but many never consider the inherent risks of the Internet and the responsibility that comes with giving a child an Internet-connected device.

When parents hand a child an Internet-connected device, they give them access to the Internet and everything on it. Most parents understand that kids should be monitored when watching TV, but many fail to exercise that same caution with iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices. Many parents never check the devices to monitor a child’s activity, and some even allow kids to have private, unsupervised time with these devices.

My heart here is to simply inform non-tech savvy parents of the risks of giving an Internet-connected device to any child or teen–regardless of how well-behaved they are. So, let me just state my two main points up front:

  1. Any time you give your kid or teen an Internet-connected device, you should have a plan in place to monitor everything they do on it.
  2. For many of you, buying these gifts for your kids is simply a bad idea.

So just how easy is it for your child to have access to objectionable content online?

It’s Easy To Find In Their Browser

private browsing

Private browsing leaves your internet tracks virtually untraceable.

Traditionally, parents could monitor what sites have been visited on a computer or device by checking the browser history. But a few years ago, a browser feature called “private browsing” emerged. When enabled, private browsing allows a browser to “forget” its website history and anything else that would leave a trace behind. Now this feature is now standard on modern web browsers, including Safari for iOS.

If your child wants to erase his Internet tracks behind him, it is very easy to do, and you’ll be none the wiser.

Private browsing is easier to enable in iOS7.

Private browsing is easier to enable in iOS7.

It’s Easy to Find Inside “Innocent” Apps

It’s hard to imagine that kids would create their own porn or nude and compromising photos to share with each other, but that’s exactly what “sexting” is. Now, there’s even an app for it.

Screenshots from Snapchat.

Screenshots from Snapchat.

Snapchat is intended to look like just another photo app, but it’s become enormously popular as a tool for sexting because it allows the sender to send a message, photo, or video and specify an amount of time the recipient can view the message before the message deletes itself. When used to send inappropriate content, it’s kind of like a digital peep show.

But what many teens don’t realize is that anyone can take a screenshot of that photo by pressing the Home and sleep/wake button on their iDevice simultaneously. Now, that content that was intended to be ephemeral has been captured permanently and can be shared like any other photo. Snapchat created an in-app warning to inform a sender if the receiving party takes a screenshot of the chat, but by then, it’s too late.

How popular is Snapchat? According to TechCrunch, it’s about as popular for sharing images as Instagram and Facebook, combined. Instagram sees about 50 million photos uploaded per day, while Facebook sees about 350 million. Snapchat sees a whopping 400 million photos uploaded per day, and it’s still growing. Recently, there have even been rumors of new funding and even a $3 billion acquisition by Facebook. You can Google more info about Snapchat and sexting than you care to read.

Just a few things you may not want your child exposed to.

Just a few things you may not want your child exposed to.

It’s worth noting that Apple has basic parental controls built into iOS that allow you to prevent downloads of apps with certain ratings. But keep in mind that even if your child never downloads an app like Snapchat, they can still receive unwanted content on their device involuntarily if it is sent from contacts by other means.

Even if your child is a well-intentioned Snapchat user, the app is designed to hide the user’s digital footprints. So the app intends to inhibit a parent’s ability to monitor their kids’ conversations. And what mixes better than kids and a lack of accountability?

It’s Easy To Find On Social Networks

Objectionable content abounds on popular social networks like Twitter and Vine. Twitter and Vine both allow obscene content and have no controls whatsoever for foul and inappropriate language. Even though the iOS Twitter app is rated for ages 4 and up, your child can find inappropriate and even pornographic content on Twitter with a simple search.

It’s also worth noting that while hardcore pornography is not allowed on YouTube, inappropriate content is plentiful. It may not be porn, but you won’t want your kid to see Miley Cyrus’ latest videos. And that’s just one example. Beyond sexual content, YouTube has plenty of violent content, including videos of death. And outside of sex, violence, and other objectionable content, YouTube is full of sophomoric foolishness like soda bottle bombs and cinnamon challenges that are just unwise for parents to allow unmonitored access to.

Beware of the seemingly innocuous social networks and video sites. When in doubt, it’s better to know what your child is doing online than to be clueless about it.

It’s Easy to Find In Built-In Browsers

You probably use them all the time without realizing it, but many apps have their own built-in browsers. If you click a link in Twitter, Facebook, and many other apps for iOS, the app will launch its built-in browser to view the link. Because these browsers don’t have the features of traditional browsers, there’s no way to view the browsing history in them, thereby making them just as untraceable as private browsing.

So What’s A Parent To Do?

I’ve also posted a few tips parents can employ to help keep the Internet on a leash, but the reality is that there is no sure-fire way to prevent your kids from being foolish on the Internet except one: to be an educated, active, watchful parent. It’s up to you to take an active, even aggressive role in the digital lives of the children living in your house.

Your responsibility as a parent in a digital age is a big one. Don’t be fooled by those (including your own kids) who would have you believe that your involvement is snooping or an invasion of privacy. Those are lies. You love your kids. Knowing where they go and who they are with is vital to your role of being an effective parent. This is even more true in the digital world, where the places they go and the people they are with can be much less clear and, thereby, far more precarious.

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The Ocean of Eternity

November 22, 2013 — 2 Comments

About the time this post goes live, I will be at a funeral. A friend’s dad died this week from cancer that he’d only learned about a few months ago, and the family asked Julia and I to help lead worship for it. We are honored to do that for them.

Funerals aren’t anyone’s favorite event because no one enjoys saying goodbye to loved ones. But funerals provide the perfect opportunity to realize the brevity of life and the end that we all must meet. It’s the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves if what we did yesterday and what we plan to do today is really going to matter, and if the answer is no, to readjust and do stuff that does matter.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post for Blueprint for Life called called The Ocean of Eternity. In light of my friend’s father’s funeral today, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share some of it here, then send you over to Blueprint for Life to read the rest if you like.

If you have any comments, please leave them here, as I’m unable to respond to comments left there.

The Ocean of Eternity

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

The summer before my junior year of college, my brother and I took part in a summer beach project in Daytona Beach, Florida with a campus student ministry from our university. We were extremely excited about it for many reasons, but one of them was because–if you can believe it–neither of us had ever seen the ocean before.

We visited my aunt and uncle on the Mississippi coast once when I was in middle school. They only lived a few blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, but their town was so close to the mouth of the Mississippi River, I remember thinking then that the Gulf water there looked a lot like the muddy brown river that ran behind our house back home. We had only seen a real ocean in pictures and on television. So we were both very excited about the idea of spending the summer on the beach.

As we drove to Daytona Beach from Georgia, the further south we drove, the more our anticipation grew. Gradually, we watched the roadside soil change from the red clay of north Georgia to the sandy soil of south Georgia. As we got closer to Savannah, spanish moss became a more common sight. Eventually, we noticed a few seagulls. Once we crossed into Florida, spotting a palm tree became commonplace. With each sign that we were nearing the coast, our excitement grew.

Continue reading at Blueprint for Life…

I’m an optimistic, upbeat, and positive guy, but if I can just be honest, life has just been challenging lately. Late Sunday night, a circumstance arose and life pretty much ninja-punched me in the throat. The result has been occasional moments of panic (which I mostly keep to myself), feelings of discouragement, and a general, foggy haze of anxiety.

Julia can tell you, I never have trouble sleeping, but I didn’t sleep at all Sunday night. The last numbers I remember seeing on the bedroom alarm clock were 4:43am. My mind was an endless din of questions and possibilities and “what if’s.” I just couldn’t calm my mind enough to let sleep take over.

Have you ever had seasons of life like that where concerns seem to make a nest in your hair?

I am extremely grateful for a solid network of friends who will pray for me and encourage me when life knocks the wind out of my lungs. It’s one of the best benefits of living in community with others, and I am so glad all I have to do is call out when I need them. Yesterday, I emailed a few of them to let them know what was going on, and they were quick to respond with great truth and encouragement that helped give my heart some reprieve.

One of these friends sent me a series of screenshots–tweets from John Piper. Each tweet was entitled “Jesus’ arguments against anxiety.” Jesus’ words were just the truth I needed to calm my storm-weary soul. Each of these points are Dr. Piper’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. They are a powerful reminder about why anxiety is a pointless activity.

Rather than worry, we should focus our energy on trusting Jesus to provide. Jesus gives these reasons why:

1. Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” -Matthew 6:25

2. God feeds the birds, and you are more valuable than they are.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” -Matthew 6:26

3. It’s pointless. It adds not one hour to your life.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” -Matthew 6:27

4. If God clothes ephemeral grass, he will clothe eternal you.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” -Matthew 28-30

5. Unbelievers are anxious about stuff. And you are not an unbeliever.

“For the pagans run after all these things [...]” -Matthew 6:32a

6. Your Father knows that you need all these things you’re anxious about.

“[...] and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” -Matthew 6:32b

7. When you seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, what you need is added to you.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” -Matthew 6:33

Another good friend sent me the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 yesterday. It had been his morning reading. In it, the author lists example after example of people in the Bible who trusted God by faith alone. The passage concludes by saying that all of them died not having received what they were promised.

That stunned me.

I had read it before, but this time, it really caught me. When crisis arises, it’s an opportunity for faith–not because we have what we need, but precisely because we don’t yet have what we need. I think the greatest reminder here, as yet a third friend and I discussed late into the evening last night, is that what we truly long for cannot to be found in this life. That’s a hard truth, but it is a reminder that we were never meant to be fulfilled by anything from this present world.

So when trials inevitably arise here, I long to be quick to suppress my natural urge to worry and put my faith in the One who will not only provide for my needs, but will ultimately make me whole again when He restores all things. Because when He comes back to fix all the broken stuff, I will have no reason to worry about anything ever again.

Man, I can’t wait for that Day.