NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Missionary pioneers Adoniram Judson, William Carey and Lottie Moon. Corrie Ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
They were real people dealing with big challenges. They lived real adventures and changed the world in one way or another.
Television programs full of make-believe characters have never changed the world. In fact, many of today’s “reality” shows create faux worlds. Watch long enough and your reality becomes what’s being broadcast from an electronic box instead of what’s taking place beyond your walls.
Unfortunately, that’s what is happening. The average American household watched more television this past TV season –- eight hours and 11 minutes per day –- than any previous season since television viewing was first measured in the 1950s, according to a recently released Nielsen Media Research report. Think about it: That’s the equivalent of an average work day!
There are reams of paper recording the research written by experts who study the effects of media. Does television have an effect or doesn’t it? Does it shape public opinion or not? Does it reflect or promote violent and sexually explicit behavior? There are enough studies supporting each of these positions that arguing one position over another comes out a wash.
But in reality, based on observing people and relating to individuals through 55 years of ministry, I comfortably grab an early computer programming mantra: Garbage in; garbage out.
Interestingly enough, the problem is not the programming as much as it is the individual’s choice in subjecting himself or herself to content which, for the most part, has generally become vulgar.
Jesus addressed the issue long before the first camera was invented. “Listen and understand,” he said. “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:11, HCSB). The disciples needed clarification and he spelled it out for them in verses 17-20, again saying “[W]hat comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a man.”
Jesus knew the heart produced evil and it was the heart that needed to be changed.
James addressed the issue, as well, when speaking of the tongue being fire (James 3:1-12). Near the end of that passage he juxtaposes blessing and cursing, asking, “Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?” He concludes by saying, “Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.”
It is with this same logic that Paul wrote about the transformation of the mind in Romans 12. It is the transformation of the mind that leads to the purifying (sanctification) of the heart that enables us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is an active passage. Paul is telling us to pursue holiness aggressively. The first step to becoming holy is to fill our minds with things of God. I’m sure Paul would advise that we be more prudent with our television viewing.
Please don’t hear me say we should walk away from culture, disappear into monasteries and turn a deaf ear to the cries of a lost world. No way! To the contrary! What the spiritually lost need are examples of holy lives active in a godless world. The church has for too long been ineffective because we embrace the world more than we embrace holiness. Or, we go to the other extreme and shut ourselves off from the world, which often leads to a piousness that exudes a condemning attitude. Jesus was very much in the world, but the power of His divine authority was communicated through His humility. His humility made him approachable. Those who approached and believed were transformed.
But Jesus’ greatest impact came because he was in the world, among people, building relationships and communicating the truth of the Gospel. He was not fettering away the hours with mentally passive pursuits. He was out walking among the people, not sitting at home.
Christians have exchanged the dynamic life of action and activity for living vicariously through “Desperate Housewives” or watching Tiger Woods week after week crush golf balls down a fairway. We’d trade the suspense of real life for the fabricated suspense of working a crime scene with the “CSI” detectives. Again, I’m not suggesting you put your television in the trash, but I am suggesting two things.
First, any one thing that diverts our focus from God places that thing above God and it becomes an idol. I’d hazard a guess that most people don’t spend eight hours a day with God. The Bible addresses the imbalance created when our indulgences are taken to unhealthy excess.
Second, if the church is going to have a positive impact in the world, Christians have got to get out in the world and live and be living testimonies of transformed lives. Erwin McManus, in his recently published book, “The Barbarian Way,” talks about how we’ve domesticated Christianity and taken the adventure out of being a follower of Christ. I agree! Read Acts 2. The total mobilization of the first Christian community in Acts 2 was the key to Pentecost. We will never impact our world’s culture with only a spiritual “SWAT team” approach. It will take all of us.
We are actors, participants in the divine drama of redemption. We’ve been given key roles and what’s more, our roles matter for eternity. God never intended for us to just watch and observe.
Think about it: God could have broadcast the story of His love for us on the big screen of the galaxy, but instead He sent His Son to physically walk among us. Jesus exchanged the comfort of heaven for the adventure of redemption.
Is the adventure you’re living real or make believe?
James T. Draper Jr. is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.