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Reality, Utopia, and Christ

Well, in my last post I mentioned an email that a friend of mine sent out to several people mentioning an article he came across on the movie “Avatar” actually resulting in depression for several viewers.  He asked some good questions: What strikes your mind as you read it? What does it say to you about Christianity (the religion) as we know it, the current level of Kingdom influence in our world, and about what we should be doing?

Well, I have given everyone who comes by to visit my site a few days to respond, and since neither of you did, I’ll go ahead and post my own response to these questions my friend asked…

I have not seen the movie, but I think it is a sad indictment that culturally we have moved so far away from the REALITY of God’s Word that a movie about a virtual world and the possibilities within *that* place, stir us to greater heights and depths of emotion than what is taking place not just here in the *real* world, but also in the heavenly realm which is our real home.  We were not made to be permanent residents of this world, but rather we are warned not to fall in love with this world, not to be dragged away by passions that can only be satisfied by it, and to live here as aliens… as *sojourners*.  This brings us into a conflict that affects all of us–believers and unbelievers alike.  We cannot find our satisfaction here.

I think it is important, though, to remember who we ARE as a result of the Fall.  In the book of Romans, Paul lays it out pretty clearly and we can see this image of man reflected back through everything we see on television and in the movies.  Collectively speaking, this is who we are:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

It is little wonder that someone who is confronting this *reality* (whether it is a result of seeing a movie, reading their Bible, or dealing with the recognition of their own depravity) would become depressed.  It is depressing news.  Any time we begin to really see the impact of man’s fallen nature and the effects of our sin on God’s creation (whether it is our own personal corruption or the collective corruption of mankind), it is overwhelmingly depressing.

For the believer, though, we have a blessed hope.  We are the “called-out” ones.  But paradoxically, we are not called *out* of this world when we hear His voice.  We are called *into* it.  We are given a savage mission: to live IN this world as aliens and strangers, to *suffer*, and to work as unto the Lord.  And He has given us a task: to glorify Him, to be a witness for Him to the ends of the earth.  He has promised us joy in this, but He has also promised us suffering on His behalf.  We will toil, we will suffer, but we will not lose heart.  We have a blessed hope, a Rock, a Refuge, and an eternal home.

For the one without hope in Christ and who wants even a temporary escape, nothing provides like technology.  In fact, I think it is this desire to “escape reality” that has driven most of the major advances in technology over the last hundred or so years, and truth be told it isn’t just unbelievers who are guilty of falling victim to it.  It throws an appealing lure, and it is natural for us to take the bait.

“Real life” is hard.  It demands sacrifice and serving others.  “Real life” does not always work out the way we would like it to.  We are not in control of it.  It includes wayward children, strained marriages, death and disease, addictions and abuse.  It places demands on us we do not always want to meet, requires more from us than we often want to give, and also tends to grant us far less than we would like to have.  It can be painful, difficult, and full of trial.  No wonder, people want to check out and look for some way—ANY way—of escape.  If you look with eyes that can see, most of the way people use technology in their daily life is “escape”… a way of staying distracted (i.e. “entertained”) so that they can forget about “real life” for a while.

Some find their escape in sports, others in movies… or some other visual form of entertainment (TV, game systems, computer games, pornography, etc.). For some, it is cell phones, texting, Facebook, shopping, collecting, or whatever else brings some pleasure for a time.  But it is always and only for a time.  That’s because for the believer and unbeliever alike, there is no real and lasting satisfaction to be had in this world.  The grass withers, and the flower falls… moth and rust destroy… thieves break in and steal.  We were not created to be satisfied in a fallen world tainted by the corruption of sin and death.  For the one who has no real, eternal hope in Christ, they find their “best life now”–finding some small joy in trinkets and distractions, though only for a little while.  BUT GOD

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Don’t run past that last sentence too quickly.  We are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (we are a NEW creation in Him) for good works.  We are not saved by good works, but for them.  Now, if this is true, then as I said earlier we are not saved OUT of this world, but INTO it.  We are called to be salt and light, and instruments for His glory.  We are not our own, but have been bought with a price and are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).

And we can find our encouragement and our greatest example in Christ, who did not look for any way of escape, and who would not be distracted from His eternal purpose, but for the JOY set before Him endured the suffering…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

BE OF GOOD COURAGE! Listen one more time to the words of the Apostle Paul.  Do not be depressed or discouraged—be it by a movie or by a man.  The Apostle who suffered countless beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and death itself for His love of Christ could experience all those things with JOY because His eyes were right.  He wrote to encourage the church in Corinth:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

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Is TV Really So Bad (Joel Beeke)

Is TV Really So Bad?

by Dr Joel R. Beeke

We are living in a sin-sick, morally degenerate, and pleasure-mad world. Our society continually demands entertainment, amusements, and pastimes at an ever-increasing level.

What is the goal of this “continual-entertainment” spirit? To keep modern man happily busy.

In a certain sense, entertainment does succeed in its goal. It keeps thousands and millions busy.

The very words themselves reveal this fact. The word amusement comes originally from the French and literally means “to stare at fixedly so as to prevent musing or thinking.”  The word pastime speaks for itself. It means to kill or use up time as a thing of little value; to pass time away. The root of the word entertainment means to divert. Thus it implies something which takes us away or diverts us from the normal, real world of everyday life.

In other words, entertainment, amusements, pastimes are things which keep us busy – busy avoiding the realities of life and truth as they are set down in God’s Holy Word. They keep us busy avoiding thinking about eternity, hell, heaven, sin, God, Christ, salvation, our own selves, and especially our need for a new heart.

But if entertainment succeeds in its first goal of making man busy it fails miserably in its second: happily busy. Never has there been so much restlessness, dissatisfaction, and yes, unhappiness – in spite of the millions who immerse themselves in modern-day entertainment. Despite our freedom from poverty, our multiplication of opportunities in nearly every walk and aspect of life, plus our continual drinking in of entertainment – no age has been as unhappy as modern man.

Entertainment can never give enough – it always leaves an empty feeling behind. The more it is practiced and relied on, the emptier it becomes.

It has turned our society into an object of pity, for we are victims of our own system. Society goes full cycle, from being pleasure-hungry to pleasure-mania to pleasure-boredom.

But do you know what is even worse? Not only the world, but also the church has begun sliding down the slippery slope of entertainment which can only end in sin, and disastrous results.

Satan does not stop with liberal churches only. He comes also among us. We who believe that the truth is still preached among us – who know so well that the Word of God says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” who read continually, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” – are also beginning to fall victim to the idolatrous god of entertainment.

Step-by-step some are beginning to look for new things (in the church and outside of the church) with which we entertain and keep ourselves busy. Step-by-step the old-fashioned, plain gospel message with its emphasis on the necessity of conversion, is being increasingly de-emphasised. Less and less time is being spent praying together as a family, reading religious books together with children, talking together in family circles about spiritual matters.

Are we not all guilty? Do we not all fall short in experiencing the reality of the seriousness of life, death, the judgment day, and eternity? Today we have a carefree, laughing society, but you never read in the Bible that Jesus took life lightly. Rather, especially referring to our day, He said: “Watch, and pray, and again I say unto you watch!”

But by nature we don’t watch. By nature our question is, “How far can I go and still not sin?” instead of, “How far can I flee from sin and avoid the very appearance of evil?”

At the very heart and center of our modern entertainment spirit stands TELEVISION. This is an obvious fact. Television sets are in the homes of 97% of Americans today and 91% of all television time is dedicated solely to the purpose of entertainment. Entertainment-addiction and television-addiction cannot be separated from each other.

Our society has become TELE-HOLIC. On a night when wives do not leave home, 95 out of 100 will spend it watching TV and 85% of their husbands will do likewise. Among teenagers, 80% will follow their parents’ example, and 75% of children will also spend their evening drinking in the sin shown on TV.

There are people, however, who do not believe that television becomes an object of slavery in the home, and for that reason we have to consider the power of it in the homes where it is allowed. I shall seek to show you from plain facts that a television owner usually becomes addicted to TV with respect to (A) TIME, (B) SIN, and (C) CONTROL.

(A) TIME. The average TV viewer spends 5½ hours per day watching TV. By the time an average American youth becomes sixty-five years old, he will have spent fourteen years of his life watching TV (compared to one year spent in church, Sunday School, and catechism if he comes faithfully to all). In the U.S.A. children three to five years old spend fifty-four hours every week watching TV, which is 64% of their time awake. When the average graduate from high school receives his diploma at seventeen years of age, he will have spent 11,000 hours of his life in school, but 22,000 hours watching TV. Every time an adult sits down to watch TV, he/she averages 3½ hours of watching time before turning the TV off. Children are glued to TV for an average of 2½ hours per sitting. With the exception of sleeping, the average American will spend more time in his life watching TV than anything else – yes even more than working. Do we not have a tele-holic society with respect to our precious, God-given time?

(B) SIN. TV is a flood of sin. It numbs its watchers against all ten commandments.

First commandment:  Anything we put above God becomes an idol. Modern man has become addicted to putting TV before God.

Second commandment:   If not in reality, in practice TV has become a graven image in the hearts of most of its watchers.

Third commandment:  TV causes its hearers to become addicted to hearing the name of the Lord used in vain. Profanity is used so often that it becomes an inoffensive thing. Few TV watchers realize that every time they willingly watch and hear such things, all those sins are reckoned to them on account of their willing participation.

Fourth commandment:  Even the Sabbath Day is not holy enough for TV watchers to keep it turned off, or, if a small percentage may still do so for conscience’s sake, desire and craving for it usually remains even on the Lord’s Day.

Fifth commandment:  TV does anything but honor father and mother. It continually degrades fatherhood and motherhood, and even frequently glorifies the disobedience of children. Family life, respect for authority, and obedience to government are repeatedly violated on program after program.

Sixth commandment:  Instead of “thou shalt not kill,” one study reached the conclusion that by the time a child is fourteen at least 18,000 violent assaults and murders take place before his eyes. Another study confirmed that the average child between five and thirteen years of age soaks in 1,300 murders each year, so that violence, assaults, and murders no longer speak the message of sin or its consequences. Murders, hatred, violent actions and words assume  the role of normal behavior. The average child’s program contains thirty-eight acts of violence per hour (adult program: twenty). A New York City judge who spent his life in courts judging juvenile delinquents and teenage criminals has plainly said that those who investigated the situation know that TV is a prime cause of crime. Another judge said: “Parents, one hour of TV can teach your children more crime, rebellion, smart-aleck freshness, and sex than you can counteract in months if you work at it.”

The trouble with violence on TV is that it does not show the real consequences of violence. The guilt that is left behind in the soul of the murderer, the bereaved family, the orphaned children, the filled hospitals, and the solemn graveyards are not shown. Especially in children’s programs violence is often totally unreal. Their heroes are often crushed or blown into pieces and moments later reappear unscathed. TV is artificial violence glorified instead of showing real violence in all of its ugly and terrible long-term consequences. Is it a wonder then that there have been thousands of examples of tragedies nationwide when children have “played TV together”?

Seventh commandment:  How can the TV viewer remain pure with respect to the seventh commandment when seven out of eight references to sexual acts on TV take place between those who are not married? How can he remain pure when the TV viewer sees on an average of three times every hour sexual misconduct between unmarried adults? How can he remain moral when countless circumstances, conversations, immodest dress, actions, and behavior all point to the excitement and acceptability of sinning against the seventh commandment in a false and unrealistic way?

Eighth commandment:  Can an hour be found that goes by when TV actors do not unashamedly steal before their audience? It is not wonder that thousands of thefts in real life have been patterned after TV plots and heroes.

Ninth commandment:  Lying against a neighbor becomes a normal, acceptable, and even expected form of behavior on television shows.

Tenth commandment:  Covet is a desirable word for TV viewers. Constantly they are reminded through advertisements of a stream of unending luxuries which they are told they shall never be happy without. There is always something they must have which they don’t have. The programs themselves are not an exception. For one man to covet another man’s wife (or vice versa) is the main theme of entire shows.

From beginning to end TV glorifies sin. On TV the only thing that is “sin” is morality. TV applauds sin, approves of sin, and forces its watchers to minimise sin through tens of thousands of countless repetitions. Over and over again the traditional family life is despised as old-fashioned: fatherhood is replaced with heroism via pathways of sin; motherhood is rejected as demeaning; obedience from children is laughed at as being too boring to be entertaining.

TV has become a catalogue of sin, and all studies reveal it is getting worse. It has become the devil’s classroom. The devil is smart enough to throw in a little religion too, and occasionally even a little morality, to pacify consciences enough not to throw it out. Does not TV make a tele-holic society with respect to sin when it feeds lust, perverts morals, presents impurity as love, pictures murder as thrilling, exalts nakedness and indecency as beauty, and seeks to legitimize all kinds of sin against every command of God?

(C) CONTROL Here the addiction becomes even more serious. Thousands of family fights take place regularly because no agreement can be reached on which show to indulge in. In American homes 35% of mealtimes are spent in front of the TV set. Nightly thousands of parents realize the programs that will come on are demoralizing and harmful for their children but yet are so hungry themselves to drink in the sin which they contain that they often let their children watch it too, having no power to control it.

People who say they can control TV are usually speaking idealistically, not realistically:

(1) Our natural hearts love sin, our ears listen for sin, our eyes look for sin. That is just the problem with TV. It is not the box itself that is the problem, but it is our hearts. TV shows what the heart of man wants to see. We have enough “TVs” already in our hearts without buying one for our home. It is our “TV hearts” that are inclined to TV sets. We do not stand above a TV watcher – just the opposite. We desire to come so low that we confess we would not trust our own heart with such an instrument.

(2) Who is able to keep sin from flashing before them on the screen at any moment, whether it be through the program being watched or through advertisement?

(3) Is a person who has owned a TV set for some time, and consequently become hardened to many sins, really qualified to know what is necessary to “control”?

Man does not control TV. TV controls him. Only one study of many will prove this point. Approximately four years ago in St. Catharines, Ontario, the newspaper headlines read one day: $500 paid for disposing of TV. The article went on to say that a study was done in Detroit in which the goal was to find out to what degree people are controlled by TV. Two hundred fifty families were scientifically selected from various races and classes to be offered $500 if they would live without their TV set for one month. After thirty days they could take it back in, and receive $500 free. Out of 250, only fifty families agreed to do it. How many families “made it” through this trial of thirty days? Eight! The other forty-two forfeited their $500 sometime during the month – one family took their TV back in on the 29th day. The eight who made it through were interviewed extensively. All said it brought their family closer together without TV. Six fathers said they first learned to know their children. One father said: “The day that I disposed of our TV  was the first day in twenty-five years that no one was killed in our living room, no sirens screamed, no shots rang out, no artificial merriment told us when to laugh, and no one slashed anyone else.” And what was the final result of these eight families of whom seven said their family life was considerably more rewarding without TV? The last line of the article tells us: “All eight families took TV back in.”

Tele-holism. Knowing it does more harm than good, and still keeping it – that is slavery.
Dear friend, I urge you to dispose of TV today on the following grounds:

(1) It is against the word of God. In Psalm 119 the Lord commands us to turn our eyes from vanity. The entire Bible speaks against television because of its unending list of evils.

(2) The sinfulness of television damages your own soul. Every secular and/or religious study has revealed TV’s over-all effects. Since you know that we are fallen children of Adam and Eve, corrupt, and prone to backsliding, why do you unnecessarily feed your own corrupt nature with still more corruption through this instrument of sin?

(3) Studies on television reveal that TV also hinders the God-given treasure of family life and communion. This alone should be reason enough to dispose of TV immediately.

(4) By keeping television you are stepping on and fighting against your own conscience.

(5) You are wasting precious God-given time for which you will have to give an account one day. Would it not be far better that you take the time spent watching TV to read Scripture or good books, or listen to sermon tapes?

Do yourself a favor: for the Word of God’s sake, the church’s sake, your own soul’s sake, your family’s sake, your conscience’s sake, dispose of your television today. Do it permanently before you become its lifelong slave.

Finally, may it become the prayer of all of us with David: “I will set no evil thing before my eyes. Turn Thou my eyes from beholding vanity.”
(Pilgrim’s Gate; Condensed)

(This article from Fair Dinkum, Free Autralian Magazine, issue 52. All statistics are taken from studies conducted between 1979 and 1999.)

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Necrophilia and Narcissism (Take Two)

A couple of days ago I wrote a post entitled “Necrophilia and Narcissism”, and got a good response from someone who read that post.  I am always thankful when someone takes the time to leave a comment, and especially when they challenge me to think more deeply about what and why I believe.  I would like to take a minute and personally thank you, Daniel, for taking the time to comment and to challenge my position and assumptions.

I purposefully included a broad spectrum of vices and devices in that group.  Few would argue against death as the ultimate end of anger and violence, although some may not see the evident end of it in things like pornography and adultery.  To my mind, pornography and adultery are the same.  Jesus makes that clear in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28). But we don’t necessarily even have to look at someone lustfully with our eyes; it might be concealed in the dark thoughts of our mind where no one else can see but God.  And concerning the ends of adultery, the Proverbs are very clear that the end of adultery is death.

We know the same is true for alcohol and drugs, and that the word which is commonly translated as sorcery from the Greek in Galatians 5 in Paul’s list of “bad fruit” is from the Greek “pharmikea” from which we get “pharmacy” and “pharmaceuticals”.  The death sentence was also proclaimed on diviners and necromancers (i.e., those who communed with the dead for knowledge).  And I’m sure we all know someone who has been effected by death produced by drugs and or alcohol, whether by a drunk driver, overdose, or some other tragic consequence of their influence.  Surely, most of us have seen someone we know become someone we no longer knew at all as a result of drug or alcohol addiction.  I can speak from painful and personal experience to these things.  (And God has delivered me from many addictions, as well – cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, pornography, so again I have some experience with these things.)  The door to addiction is called pleasure, and that is what draws people into alcohol, drug, and sexual addictions.  But the Proverb is true that says: “One who wanders from the way of good sense will rest in the assembly of the dead. Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.” (Proverbs 21:16-17)

Many will also admit that cigarettes cause cancer and that there is no life-giving benefit to smoking cigarettes.  Yet, I know many people–both friends and family–who despite knowing that there is no medical benefit and much evidence of the harm that smoking does to the body, still smoke.  Many of them have kids.  I would assume that they are at least somewhat aware that 20 or so times a day smoking *this* cigarette right here right now might cost them several years of life down the road with their kids and/or their grandchildren, but they do not feel compelled to stop.

So those may be obvious.  But television?  Junk food and soda pop?  Coffee?  Too much sugar?  Pharmaceutical drugs?  These are things that our culture says are okay, right?  Even Jesus drank in moderation didn’t he?  There is a Proverb that reads, “Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:30-33) And another that says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” (Proverbs 31:4-5) These do not reflect the character of Christ at all, but they certainly reflect the character of many who love their alcohol today.

Now, in moderation, some things are fine.  I have children.  And I have appetites of my own.  I happen to like coffee a lot.  But if I drink too much of it and not enough water, it is bad for my body.  My body lets me know if I’m drinking too much coffee and not enough water.  And if I do it for a long period of time, it gets worse and worse.  I don’t have a problem with a bowl of ice cream or a couple cookies after dinner.  But if one of my kids wants to drink soda and snack on candy, cookies, and crackers before a meal, and then claim they are not hungry when it’s time to eat their vegetables, I know they are not getting the nutrition that they need.  And if this persists for days and weeks and months and years. . . well, there may be one more member of my family who dies at an early age because of obesity and diabetes.  If they never learn to develop healthy appetites and feed their bodies the nutrition that they need–and they never develop that necessary sense of moderation–well, the end of such is death.  That is just the simple truth.  The Apostle Paul writes in his epistle to the Philippians: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-19)

And the big problem with our American society today is it does not teach any sort of understanding of moderation or “delayed gratification” (or a true sense of self-sacrifice for that matter).  But rather it encourages a spirit of “I want it here, I want it now, I want it hot, and I shouldn’t have to wait for it or work for it.”  The family meal has almost vanished, and a real appreciation of food and nutrition is lacking in our society like never before.  But our heart-attitude toward food is really not specific to just food, but to almost everything in our society.  Speaking in admittedly sweeping and general terms, I think it is obvious that we are a people who have very little appreciation for anything, and who live with a sense of expectation.  Indeed, the basic marketing principle that underlies our whole consumer society is that “we deserve” all these things being sold to us.  The focus is entirely all on self and self-gratification.  Narcissism; the love of self.  But the Apostle writes to the church: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

And what of television?  Well, I guess we’ve agreed that pornography and violence produce death, but isn’t that 90 percent of what television sits on?  Most of the shows on TV (even most professional sports) package up some form of sex and violence, encouraging anger, dissension, and adultery all the while selling and reinforcing those primary principles of entitlement and instant (self) gratification.  Television like nothing else in the last 50 years has taught us to devalue everything around us, promoting sex and violence, and a continual discontentment with what we have–always telling us that to want more, to not be satisfied with what we have, whatever it may be–whether our home, our car, our job, our material possessions, our spouse, our children, our very lives. . . which ultimately means dissatisfaction and discontentment with God, our great provider of ALL things.  This is the basic message that television promotes and it is at enmity with God.

Now, please understand — I have not gone off the deep end.  I am not advocating the destruction of television sets and soda vending machines all across the land.  But I think it is good and necessary to point out that even those thinks that we accept as harmless to determine what sort of fruit they ultimately produce.   It is also good to examine our own hearts and our appetites to see if they are balanced.  And if they are not, to take steps to correct them.  As I said in the article, sometimes it is our appetite that is not healthy moreso than the thing we crave itself…. that “our voracious consumption of it only works to bring about death.”  “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:1-5)

Now the other important point of the post, and what I was really shooting for (but probably missed) was not just the Necrophilia, but perhaps more importantly, the Narcissism.  I think it is true that the vast majority of us are drawn to (or “consume”) perhaps one or more things that unchecked and unmoderated could contribute or bring about our demise, but it is usually pretty easy to see the effects of these things and to recognize when we are no longer in control of our appetites, but they in control of us.  The greater danger it seems to me is not the Necrophilia, but the Narcissism.  Even when it comes to own our Necrophiliac tendencies, our usual habit (at least mine anyway) is not to lament over our own Necrophiliac tendencies and to cry to the Lord for help, but to see them in others and wag our heads and make mouths at them (Psalm 22).  Isn’t this typically the beam in our own eye.  I’m sure it is in mine.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

And even when we do we lament and cry out, how much more often is it for our Necrophilia than our Narcissism?  How often is the condition of our heart truly more like the Pharisee than the Publican, whether we state it so or not?  That was the point that I really wanted to emphasize.

My motivation in the post was not to condemn everyone who has an addiction–be it to coffee, soda, sugar, and/or fast food. . . or anger, adultery, alcohol, and/or drugs.  I think there is actually a positive aspect in that addictions (and their consequences), when they become strongholds, can sometimes drive us to our knees so that we cry out to our Sovereign Lord for mercy.  Often the corruption of our lusts and desires and our complete helplessness to break free of them reveal our great need for a Savior, which is the place we really all need to come to if we are to be born again (John 3:1-15).

But when it comes to Narcissistic self-love and pride, I think it must be exceedingly rare that we are driven to God in despair for that.  It is the Narcissistic tendency rather than the Necrophiliac one that poses far greater danger because it masks the inner decay and the decomposition of the soul.  The Narcissistic tendency wants to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil not so much because we really want to be like God, but because like the serpent, we desire to sit in His throne.  And the Necrophiliac tendency wants to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, in spite of the fact that God has told us that to do so will bring death.

It is not that one tendency is “better” than the other, and both are dangerous to the life of the soul.  But I do think that the one is a bit more honest and obvious in both its effect and its assessment, and if for no other reason than that, it may serve to bring one to the Cross, recognizing the significance and the need for a Savior.  And yet, for those of us bound up by either one, the only hope of escape that we have is Christ, and that the God of all grace would mercifully open our eyes to the depths of our own depravity and reveal to us this great need for deliverance, for redemption. . . for Christ.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:1-15)

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Necrophilia and Narcissism

Two terms that evoke strong reactions.  One speaks of the disgusting “love” of the dead.  The other speaks of the disgusting “love” of the self.

Necrophilia. . .

Cigarettes.  Alcohol.  Sugar.  Artificial sweeteners.  Coffee.  Soda.  Gossip.  Pornography.  Adultery.  Anger.  Sex.  Violence.  Television.

Why are we so drawn to death?  So much of what we really desire, what we are motivated to obtain and to “enjoy”–that is, what we feed on to satisfy whatever it is we must be hungering for since that is what we consume–is not only unhealthy (or perhaps our appetite for it is not), but our voracious consumption of it only works to bring about death.  Death.  How much time and money do we spend feeding our bodies, our minds, and our souls that which produces no life, but in fact quite the opposite?  Who wants to answer this question honestly?

How much of what we feed our bodies, our minds, and our souls produces and sustains life?  Do we long for healthy foods to feed our bodies, or pursue vigorous activities and exercise?  Or do we prefer junk food, candy, fast food, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs?  Instead of dumb bells or a pair of hiking boots, do we prefer a TV remote or a video game controller?

Do we feed our minds good books, Scripture, seek quiet time for meditating and reflecting on what we’re learning?  Do we seek opportunities to put what we know to use, to teach others, and to benefit those around us with what we have learned or been gifted with?  Or do we prefer to entertain ourselves with constant, mindless noise–whether it be music or television or video games?  Do we spend our time putting useful things into our mind, or do we just fill it with so much junk?

And do we spend time daily on our knees in prayer, bringing our needs before the Lord, seeking His provision in our life?  Do we read the Scriptures as if they are the very words of life, wrestling with them and begging God for understanding. . . or if understanding, begging for help with application?  Are we thanking God for all the things He is bringing about in our life, even the trials that strengthen our faith, and the afflictions that destroy our foolish pride?  Do we spend time helping others, ministering to them and meeting their needs?  And do we practice forgiveness when the Lord challenges us to live and to love as He did, sacrificially?  Or do we give ourselves to anger and a vengeful spirit?  Or to gossip, seeking the sin in others?  Or perhaps entertain lustful thoughts, hiding the adulterous hearts that beat within our breast?  Do we put unclean things before our eyes, and erect idols where only God should live?

And lest you think yourself somehow elevated because some of the most obvious entrees above are not a vice to you, then consider the second option. . .

Naricissism.

Maybe you think well of yourself because you have healthier appetites, and so you esteem yourself as being somehow better than those whose appetites seem to lead toward destruction.  Maybe in your own secret and subtle way, you pray quietly to yourself like that Pharisee, “Lord I thank you that you have not made me like these other men. . . even like this tax collector.”  Maybe you have deceived yourself, forgetting your unworthiness before the King.  Perhaps you have fallen asleep and forgotten that neither you nor your appetites are healthy, and that you are a sinner still in need of grace.  For our Lord said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Be careful you are not thanking Him that you are not like the Necrophiliac.

I don’t know if the old American Puritan Thomas Sheperd wrote these words or if Alexander Whyte penned them in his appreciation for Shepard, but I thought they reveal much of the human heart:

‘There is no difference. I am as you are, and you are as I am. Just try the thing yourselves. Just begin to love God with all your heart, and you will soon see that the more you try to do that the less will you feel satisfied that you succeed. And, in like manner, when you begin to love your neighbour as yourself you will begin to get a lesson with a vengeance in the spiritual life. Just try to rejoice in all your neighbour’s well-being as much as you rejoice in your own. Just try to relish and enjoy all other men’s praises of your neighbour as you relish and enjoy all other men’s praises of yourself. Just try to take delight in all your neighbour’s rewards, promotions, prosperities as you take delight in your own. And go on trying to do that toward all men around you, friend and foe, and you will get a lesson in the infinite and exquisite holiness and spirituality of God’s law of love, and at the same time a lesson in the abominable and unspeakable corruptions of your own heart that will make you wiser in all these matters than all your teachers.’

Necrophiliac.  Narcissist.  It is tempting to say that most of us are one or the other, but I do not think that is true.  I think there is a danger that most of us are both, although we may have certain tendencies to lean more toward one or the other.  Both are self-consuming.  And though means and motives may differ, both are self-absorbed and leave very little by way of fruit to offer others.

Christ was raised up from the dead.  He did not remain in the grave; He was raised up and is at the right hand of the Father.  If you are a Christian, you do not worship a dead man.  Therefore, if we love Him we must leave our Necrophilia.  At the same time, “By this we know love, that He laid His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  We must not be so in love with our own lives that we hold on to them and value them more than we value the lives of others.  We must also come to Him understanding that our own lives are worthless, and that He is the true life.  Therefore, if we love Him, we must reject our Narcissism.  In Christ, we are called to love sacrificially, to give our lives for the sake of another without loving those things that bring about death.

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John Piper on Television

John Piper is the next witness I would like to call to the stand in this ongoing technological trial.  In this post, Piper explains in a public response to a question he answered poorly (by his own admission) at the Advance 09 conference why he does not own (or advocate) television and rarely goes to the movies. . .

Now that the video of the Q&A at Advance 09 is available, I can look at it and feel bad all over again. Here’s what I regret, indeed what I have apologized for to the person who asked the question.

The first question to me and Mark Driscoll was, “Piper says get rid of my TV, and Driscoll says buy extra DVRs. How do you reconcile this difference?”

I responded, “Get your sources right. . . . I never said that in my life.”

Almost as soon as it was out of my mouth, I felt: “What a jerk, Piper!” A jerk is a person who nitpicks about the way a question is worded rather than taking the opportunity to address the issue in a serious way. I blew it at multiple levels.

So I was very glad when the person who asked the question wrote to me. I wrote back,

Be totally relieved that YOU did not ask a bad question. I gave a useless and unhelpful, and I think snide, answer and missed a GOLDEN opportunity to make plain the dangers of the triviality you referred to. . . . I don’t know why I snapped about the wording of the question instead of using it for what it was intended for. It was foolish and I think sinful.

So let me see if I can do better now. I can’t give an answer for what Mark means by “buy extra DVRs,” but I can tell you why my advice sounds different. I suspect that Mark and I would not agree on the degree to which the average pastor needs to be movie-savvy in order to be relevant, and the degree to which we should expose ourselves to the world’s entertainment.

I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.

If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.

There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them.

I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.

I’ll put it bluntly. The only nude female body a guy should ever lay his eyes on is his wife’s. The few exceptions include doctors, morticians, and fathers changing diapers. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). What the eyes see really matters. “Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Better to gouge your eye than go to hell (verse 29).

Brothers, that is serious. Really serious. Jesus is violent about this. What we do with our eyes can damn us. One reason is that it is virtually impossible to transition from being entertained by nudity to an act of “beholding the glory of the Lord.” But this means the entire Christian life is threatened by the deadening effects of sexual titillation.

All Christ-exalting transformation comes from “beholding the glory of Christ.” “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Whatever dulls the eyes of our mind from seeing Christ powerfully and purely is destroying us. There is not one man in a thousand whose spiritual eyes are more readily moved by the beauty of Christ because he has just seen a bare breast with his buddies.

But leave sex aside (as if that were possible for fifteen minutes on TV). It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ.

One more smaller concern with TV (besides its addictive tendencies, trivialization of life, and deadening effects): It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. Don’t waste your life is not a catchphrase for me; it’s a cliff I walk beside every day with trembling.

TV consumes more and more time for those who get used to watching it. You start to feel like it belongs. You wonder how you could get along without it. I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television. So we have never had a TV in 40 years of marriage (except in Germany, to help learn the language). I don’t regret it.

Sorry again, for the bad answer. I hope this helps.

Pastor John

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Thoughts on the Rapture

The more I think about “the Rapture”, the more convinced I am that it has already happened.

And that it is happening right now.

And that it will continue to happen.

It happened when the Holy Spirit visited the believers in Jerusalem.  And it has been happening ever since.  The “rapture” is the calling out of the believers from the world.  That is what it is and what it means.  It’s what occurs to the “called-out” ones.  It’s not people floating up toward heaven in their earthly bodies, but it is the spiritual ascent of a once earthbound nature ascending meet the Lord in glory.  Even now, the Lord Jesus Christ is breaking forth from the clouds on the white horse, wielding the Sword of the Spirit and claiming His own out of the world.  Even now, judgment is being pronounced and some are being called out.

What happens in the Rapture?  The world loses its hold.  It loses its appeal… loses its grip on some poor sinner’s soul.

The rapture happened to the early church, and has continued to happen since its formation as the Spirit has continued through history to call men out of darkness for His good pleasure.  It is happening right now.  And it will continue to happen.

But not only is this true for the church, it is true as well for the individual. . .

What happened to me?

I was raptured.

I was a vile and worthless sinner who justified himself.  I didn’t believe in sin. . . the worst that I would confess was maybe a couple of bad habits.  Because I saw no sin in me or in the rest of the world (I was totally in denial of this doctrine) I saw no need of a Savior.  I didn’t imagine myself needing to be saved by anyone from anything for any reason.  I was depraved and liked the way I was.  I liked the the alcohol and the cigarettes and the other indulgences I partook of.  I saw nothing wrong with any of that.  I was totally content to live for my own self and for my own self-pleasure.  Though I had gone from an atheist to someone that thought they knew much about God, and loved Him, the truth is I hated Him.  I would not read His word.  I hated Christianity with a passion.  I fancied myself enlightened and thought Christians narrow-minded and ignorant.  I mocked them and rejected Jesus as “the Savior” and the “only way”.  But then one day because of His great mercy, God opened my eyes.  He gave me a new heart.  He convicted me of sin and showed me how great my need for a Savior really was.  And it began that day.  I was raptured.  I was called out of this world.

What is happening to me?

I am being raptured.

I find that since that day, there has been a lot of change taking place.  Some things happened quickly, almost instantaneously.  Some things have taken some time.  But over time, I have found that I don’t want to listen to certain kinds of music that want to glory in the world and the flesh, that boast in man and all the sin that dwells in the domain of darkness.  I do not want to watch scary movies I once enjoyed.  I do not even want to go to video stores for all the grotesque or lewd movie cases.  I really don’t care to watch tv shows or movies that are blatantly opposed to Scripture.  I have a hard time with so many movies because they are all about willfully desecrating the commandments (you shall not kill and you shall not commit adultery takes out about 95 percent of Hollywood’s options right there).  I am not interested in “the news”, or politics, or political discussion.  I don’t spend several hours during the week or on the weekend watching sports.  I don’t want to go play pool and hang out at a bar.  I don’t want to drink or smoke cigarettes (or anything else).  I don’t want “a buzz”.  I don’t want to go to concerts or spend hours talking about sports and other meaningless stuff.  I don’t even enjoy riding in a car with coworkers on the way to a restaurant when they are listening to God-abominating music or engaging in crude conversations.

I want to talk about God!  Nothing makes me happier than spending time with my brothers and sisters in the faith, sharing with them, meeting needs, talking about the things of God, glorifying Him in word and deed, studying the Scriptures, and praying and giving thanks to God for everything I can see Him doing, sharing with my wife and my children the glory of God.  “What is wrong with me?” the world would ask. I’m being raptured!  I’m being called out of this world.

And the more I ask “What is right with this world!?” the more it asks, “What is wrong with him!?”

What is going to happen?

I will be raptured!

I am not getting any younger.  The days of my youth are behind me and the grass is already beginning to wither, the flower beginning to fade.  Where once there was a proud (or shall I say vain) crown of locks, there is only skin.  The whiskers of my beard grow whiter by the month.  The aches and pains in my body increase, and I know that at some point I will probably get sick and die, unless the Lord sees fit to call me out suddenly.  But one way or the other, one day I will no longer be in this body or this world. . . but I will dwell with the Lord in glory forever.  The thoughts of this world will fade away, and the thought of me in this world will fade just as quickly.  Here I am but a vapor.  But on that Day I will be with Christ forever.  I will be raptured!  I will be forever called out!

Oh, take me, Lord.  Rapture my soul.  But before you take me out of this world completely, take this world out of me and let me shine as a light for your glory.  Just for a little while.  May it please You, my King, to glorify Yourself through me.

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Communion and Unity

As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper tomorrow in our little congregation, I have been reading and reflecting on some things that I read in Philip Ryken’s book, The Communion of the Saints.  As with all of his books that I’ve read, it is full of insight and I thought it worthwhile to share a few things here that have been beneficial to me.  In chapter seven, entitled “The Communion Table”, Ryken writes:

The Lord’s Supper is a solemn ordinance, and there are a number of potential dangers to receiving it.  One is unworthy participation, which results in sickness and death.  The apostle Paul warns that those who are not worthy to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper will eat and drink condemnation to themselves by not discerning the Lord’s body.  This is why many of the Corinthians were “weak and sick,” and why some had died.

Whether a Christian is worthy to take part in the Lord’s Table is not easy to determine.  The prodigal son said that he was not worthy to participate in the father’s household and asked only to be made a servant (Luke 15:19).  The Roman military officer who built a synagogue for the Jews considered his house unworthy to entertain Jesus when the Lord came to heal his servant (Luke 7:6).  Yet both of these men received grace.  What makes us truly worthy is a correct understanding of our unworthiness before God, together with a firm resolve to obey him irrespective of the cost.  This is how Calvin summarized the worthiness that God requires:

[L]et us remember that this sacred feast is medicine for the sick, solace for sinners, alms to the poor; but would bring no benefit to the heatlhy, righteous, and rich — if such could be found. . . . [T]his is the worthiness — the best and only kind we can bring to God — to offer our vileness and (so to speak) our unworthiness to him so tha this mercy may make us worthy of him; to despair in ourselves so that we may be comforted in him . . . moreover, to aspire to that unity which he commends to us in his Supper; and as he makes all of us one in himself, to desire one soul, one heart, one tongue for us all.

Notice how Calvin concludes: by emphasizing our commitment to be united to all the saints in Christ.

Just in this little section I found some beautiful nuggets.  The statement by Calvin (and elaboration by Ryken), that it is our proper understanding of our unworthiness that allows God to work in us to make us worthy recipients of His grace was very good.  But the end of the quote, and Ryken’s additional emphasis regarding “our commitment to be united to all the saints in Christ” is excellent.  I shared this with a brother last night and we both felt convicted, confessing that we have both always thought of taking the Lord’s Supper more with regards to our communion with Christ, underemphasizing in our minds (and our hearts) the communion with those saints with whom we get to share this marvelous feast.  Instituted by our Lord, not only to draw his disciples closer to Himself, but to bond them even moreso to one another, it was at the feast of the last passover, after the bread had been broken and the wine had been poured, and the disciples had partaken that John records these words of Jesus:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

What grace.  We have a Saviour, who not only died for our sins, brought us from death to life, ransoming and redeeming us from the dominion of darkness, but who also graciously grafted us into the body of His bride.  We have forgiveness in Christ!  We have life in Christ!  We have redemption in Christ!  We have fellowship with the saints in Christ!  HALLELUJAH!  WHAT A SAVIOUR!

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