Tag Archives: Culture

James Boice on Television

I would like to call my next witness to the stand to testify against the offender. . .

These are all excerpts from James Montgomery Boice’s essay “Whatever Happened to God?

People have lost any real sense of the fact that when we come to church we come to worship and learn about God. Years ago I spoke at a conference and my topic was on a number of the attributes of God. Later I got some feedback from a gentleman who was listening to my presentation. He had been in the church for thirty years, and in fact was now an elder, and that was the first time that he ever heard a series of messages on the attributes of God. And after hearing this his friend asked him, “Well, whom did you think you were worshiping all that time?” But he hadn’t really thought about those things and I’m convinced that we have literally thousands of people in our churches today who really seldom, if ever, think about who it is they are worshiping, if they think about God at all.

Now, I think there are some reasons for this. One reason is the terrible impact of television on our culture which has produced a virtually mindless age. Television is not a medium which shares information well, it is primarily an entertainment medium. It puts pictures on the screen onto which people project their own aspirations and desires, and because it works so powerfully and is so pervasive it has the tendency to transform anything it touches into entertainment, and it does it very quickly. One of the most significant books I’ve read in the last few years in terms of what is actually happening to the mind is Neil Postman’s, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show-Business. It’s not that entertainment itself is bad. But television is most damaging when it tries to be serious. So when you put news on TV, you get brief little soundbites encased in slick images, and this is not really information, it is entertainment.

This happens to politics, it happens to education, and according to Postman, it happens to religion. Postman even raises the question of what one loses when one puts religion on television. It is obvious what there is to gain: a mass audience, money. But what do you lose? He argues you lose everything that is important: tradition, creeds, theology, etc. And he says above all, you lose a sense of the transcendent. And what he means is that you lose a sense of the presence of God. When Christians meet together to worship God, whether it is in a cathedral or a simple chapel, typically there will be prayers and open Bibles for the study of God’s Word. There is a sense that God is present in these activities. And you lose that when religion is put on TV. All you have on television is the picture of the star of the show who is the “entertainer.” Postman says God necessarily, in that kind of medium, comes out second banana. And when the preacher becomes the star of the show he begins to think and act as if he is a Hollywood star then you have the kind of tragedies that we’ve seen in the industry. Postman has a very serious comment at this point. He says, “Now, I’m not a theologian and maybe I don’t have the right word for it, but I think the word for it is ‘blasphemy.'”

All of this would be irrelevant if it were not for the fact that all this has a significant impact on our churches. So just as God is absent from televised religion, there is tremendous pressure to push him out of our church services in favor of a more upbeat entertainment-oriented Sunday morning visit. We do all kinds of things to fill in that vacuum, but as Augustine said, we are made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in him. In my judgment, we have a hollow core at the heart of evangelicalism, and that is the cause of all the restlessness.

If there is any doctrine that rivals God’s sovereignty in importance it is the holiness of God. But do we have any sense or appreciation of the holiness of God in our churches today? David Wells writes that God’s holiness weighs “lightly upon us.” Why? Holiness involves God’s transcendence. It involves majesty, the authority of sovereign power, stateliness or grandeur. It embraces the idea of God’s sovereign majestic will, a will that is set upon proclaiming himself to be who he truly is: God alone, who will not allow his glory to be diminished by another. Yet we live in an age when everything is exposed, where there are no mysteries and no surprises, where even the most intimate personal secrets of our lives are blurted out over television to entertain the masses. We are contributing to this frivolity when we treat God as our celestial buddy who indulges us in the banalities of our day-to-day lives.

First, ours is a trivial age, and the church has been deeply affected by this pervasive triviality. Ours is not an age for great thoughts or even great actions. Our age has no heroes. It is a technological age, and the ultimate objective of our popular technological culture is entertainment.

I argue that the chief cause of today’s mindlessness is television, as I discussed earlier. Because it is so pervasive-the average American household has the television on more than seven hours a day-it is programming us to think that the chief end of man is to be entertained. How can people whose minds are filled with the brainless babble of the evening sitcoms have anything but trivial thoughts when they come to God’s house on Sunday morning if, in fact, they have thoughts of God at all? How can they appreciate his holiness if their heads are full of the moral muck of the afternoon talk shows? All they can look for in church, if they look for anything, is something to make them feel good for a short while before they go back to the television culture.

Second, ours is a self-absorbed, man-centered age, and the church has become sadly, even treasonously, self-centered. We have seen something like a Copernican revolution. In the past true worship may not have taken place all the time or even often. It may have been crowded out by the “program,” as Tozer maintained it was in his day. But worship was at least understood to be the praise of God and to be something worth aiming at. Today we do not even aim at it, at least not much or in many places.

In this television age of ours, preachers are expected to be charming and entertaining. And so your sermons have to be shortened because people have short attention spans, they are funny if they can be, and you have to eliminate any theological material that would cause people to think, and you most certainly do not bring up negative theological material like sin because that makes people feel uncomfortable. Preachers want to be liked, and in order to be liked today you have to be entertaining. I am reminded of Jesus’ harsh words to the Pharisees about wanting to be popular, seeing the smiles from the folks in the market place. As our Lord said, “They have their reward.” But for pastors who are looking for more than smiles, and parishioners who are looking for more than to have their ears tickled, our Lord gave a very simple explanation of what the exposition of the Word is really all about. “You search the Scriptures thinking that in them you have eternal life: yet these are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). The preaching of God’s Word is about Christ, and him crucified. This central message is food for our souls. But we are settling for junk food.

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Book Review: Shadow of the Cross by Walter Chantry

Who wants to read a book on “denying self”!? Everything in our culture urges us to esteem self. The “world” (as the Apostle John would call it) encourages us to please self, to satisfy self, live for self. When people in our self-bloated culture begin to have that uncomfortable disturbance, discontent with the reality of self… that disquiet in their spirit because they are so saturated with self-this, self-that, self-centeredness, selfishness, what do they do? Do they seek God? Ha! No, they venture on a quest to “find themselves“, as if somehow they lost this crucial aspect of their identity. How completely antithetical to everything the “world” teaches are the words of our Lord:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28)

“Self” is the most common source of the infection that sickens our soul, and our constant consumption of it, the cause of our condemnation. But the example of Christ, and the teaching of Christ and His apostles is clear. That which has true and lasting value is found not in the self-serving, self-loving nature of our flesh, but in loving and serving to others, submitting to one another in Christ; this is a gift of grace that is only available through the Spirit. But as Chantry writes:

“Often the Bible describes sin as selfishness. Isaiah 53:6: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way’. 2 Timothy 3:1-2 states the obvious in shocking terms: ‘This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves…’ That is the disgusting reality of our generation. Men are making decisions with only one consideration, ‘their own selves’.” (page 11)

Chantry rightly defines the problem, then discusses the ONLY true solution to it, even as the Apostle Paul said to the foolish Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). It is only through the cross of Christ that we may die to self and live for others. Chantry elaborates on the meaning of the cross of Christ, as well as what it means to take up our own cross.

He goes on to discuss the Christian theme of self-denial as with reflections on how it should be practiced in Christian liberty, in marriage, in ministry, and in prayer. Each of these chapters is thoughtful and thought-provoking. The book is not very long and can be read in just one or two sittings. But I would encourage you to read it more than once, and to chew on what Chantry puts forth here. It is no substitute for the direct teachings of Scripture on this important matter, but as a reflection and an aid to meditation, it is extremely helpful and I might say even necessary to combat the over-indulgence of “self” that our society forces on us daily.

Peace & Blessings,
Simple Mann

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Culture of Distraction Ad Infinitum

I read Tim Challies post today on the interruptive and distracting nature of the technologial society that we live in.  His post today brought to mind some of the things I was thinking about in a post I added here several weeks ago in response to Christianity Today’s review of the movie, “Sex and the City”.  I don’t have time for a long blog this evening, so I’ll just put the links here for you to hunt down the meatier discussions if you feel like going there.  I think both posts compliment each other well, but I understand if your time is limited and would not want to be a distraction.  🙂

Peace & Blessings,
Simple Mann

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Worldliness, War, and the Epistle of First John

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Skip Athey has a post on his blog entitled Culture War? that I think is well worth the read. In it, he writes:

The fact is, that most Christians are following the same patterns as the culture, though perhaps ten or fifteen years behind. Our model of family today doesn’t differ greatly from the model set forth by the feminists fifteen years ago. We are running a few years behind the secular humanist culture and we think we are doing well! Tragic!

Go check it out.

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God Is Not a Grandfather!

My friend and fellow blogger Skip Athey has a post on his site titled “The Consequences of Forgetting God”. Here’s an excerpt from this post:

We are living with the consequences of turning away from the truth of God’s word and embracing lies. Even within the church we have adopted these lies as if they were the truth and ordered our homes and churches accordingly. What are the lies we have adopted? The answer to that in my next blog entry, first, I want to look at the Scriptures and see that this practice is not new to our generation.
(Judges 2:7-15)
In this text we find that Joshua was at the end of his life, the Lord had just reminded him to remind the people of what God had done for them and not to turn away from the word of God. We find in verse seven, “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua.” Next we read that Joshua dies then in verse ten we read, “And all of that generation was also gathered to their fathers…” Those who served with Joshua had died and now their children were in charge. At the end of verse ten a very sad statement is made, “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”

When I read this post, it reminded me of something similar I had read when going through the Crown Financial study. Taken directly from the perspective on Eternity in the study manual, it says:

In 1904, the country of Wales experienced a dramatic revival. Thousands of people were introduced to Christ, and the results were dramatic. Bars closed because of lack of business. Policeman exchanged their weapons for white gloves because crime disappeared. Wales was so evangelically minded that it sent missionaries all over the world.

One of those missionaries traveled to Argentina where on the streets he led a young boy to Christ. The boy’s name was Luis Palau. He has since become known as the “Billy Graham of Latin America.” Palau visited Wales to express his thankfulness for being led to Christ. What he discovered was astonishing. Less than one-half of one percent of the Welsh attended church. Divorce was at an all-time high, and crime was increasing.

As a result of this experience, Palau produced a film titled God Has No Grandchildren. The thrust of the film is that each generation is responsible for passing on the faith to the next. In Wales, the impact of Christianity had all but disappeared.

Each generation is responsible for passing on the truths of Scripture… to it’s children. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.

——

I think one of the greatest temptations that we face in this culture of affluence is to embrace the culture while ignoring God. We live in a culture that flat out denies Christ and everything He represents. We live under the influence of idols and most of the populace is so numb that they don’t even wonder why the vast majority of people in America are taking prescription drugs for depression or anxiety, living without happiness through jobs, marriage (or even more commonly divorce), parenting, and every other experience. Most people get what little joy they have either from direct sin-interaction, or from watching some mindless shows on TV that help them forget for a little while how miserable they are.

WHAT!? What is wrong with us!? Ninety percent of the rest of the world would *gladly* suffer in our place! For all our luxury and comfort and convenience, we sure seem to be a miserable lot. Most of the people I’ve known in my life who do not know Christ only know happiness in depravity. Of course, that is not too surprising because without Christ, we are utterly depraved. What amazes me, though, is that more people don’t ask themselves, “Just what is going on? How can I have so many things to be thankful for, yet continue to be so miserable?”

Obviously something is missing, but too often people don’t even realize that what is they need is the very thing they mock, distort, deride, and run from. I know all too well. I lived in complete ignorance of Christ for the first 27 years of my life and was blind to my need for a Savior. I have no idea why or how God chose to open the blinded eyes of my foolish heart when I rejected Him so completely. Yet for some reason which I may never truly comprehend, He did. I will never stop thanking and praising Him for it because I know it was most definitely nothing I did on my own, or deserved in the least. For His own good pleasure and His own glory did He turn my heart toward Him. And now, as a parent, I feel such a great responsibility to everything in my power to make His Word known to my children, with the hopes that they will hear His call, and hopefully long before I did. I really fear for the generation to come because even this generation that I am a part of has largely fallen away.

Mat 9:35 Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.
Mat 9:36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.
Mat 9:37 Then He *said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Mat 9:38 “Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

May we all pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out His workers into His harvest.

Peace & Blessing,
Simple Mann

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The Work and the Worship (Perspective)

A friend of mine sent me a link to his worship leader’s blog site, and he had a short (but thought-provoking) entry pertaining to the effect the economic downturn will most likely have on our churches.  Here is the entry in its entirety:

I recently heard someone say in the context of how churches will behave economically in the downturn…

The last thing to go in the American Church will be lights and sound. The first thing will be their mission budgets.

Who knows, maybe the Church of Christ has it right in that regard. What would acapella worship with a thriving missions budget look like in Kingdom terms? A lot better than a big worship budget but no missions budget. But that wouldn’t be that different then when times are prosperous now would it?

That got me to thinking and I posted a reply.  Since I haven’t had time to do much on my own site lately, I thought I would go ahead and copy my reply here:

In the secular world, sports take precedence over education. We see high schools and universities pouring money into sports programs, and when budgets need to be adjusted it’s almost always in the area of education, not in the arena of their favorite “pass-time”. Unfortunately, I think in many ways our church has absorbed our culture, and sadly I think the statement is probably correct. It is the missions budgets that will go first, and for exactly the same reason as it does in our secular institutions. Because where we put our priorities all too often is not in educating the ignorant (whether that be a secular education or taking the gospel message of our Lord Jesus Christ), but in vain-glory of our own selves. Even secular education, when it succeeds, should help a person to appreciate more of the world and culture they live in, pushing their focus out beyond their own selves to see a bigger picture. How much more important is it for the Church to do this for the body of believers–by reaching out to the *un*believers in need of a Savior? This is the education the world needs to turn away from their own selfish and sinful nature and to see their need for a Savior. But alas, I fear that when it comes down to it, as the person above said the economic downturn will probably just mean less incentive to our “teachers” while the crowds still gather in the stadiums to be entertained. I pray it won’t be so.

Peace & Blessings,
Simple Mann

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Pledge Allegiance?

I read another post on a blog site earlier this week that had to do with displaying the American flag in our churches, and it really got me to thinking about where we find our identity and where we place our allegiance. Granted this is a long rant, and will probably rub some people the wrong way. But for me it is a matter of conviction, and a question of where we place our values and find our identities.

I am no great theologian, but I have thought for several years now that it is simply wrong to “pledge” my allegiance to any but God. Our government–like any government–is made up of people, and as a result, it is imperfect and fallible. It is not my God, should not be worshiped or put above God, although I deeply appreciate those who serve our nation under the guidance of our Lord, just as I am thankful for the people who give of themselves in service to the Church. I am also thankful to live in a country like the United States where we may freely worship. It is unfortunate, though, that here in America, a country where we have some of the greatest freedom in the world to worship God openly and without fear, we are so spiritually tepid and lethargic that most of us do not even do that well. There are many other places in the world today where people who love and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ do so under the threat of death, yet they worship fervently and appreciatively for what He has done. Here, we suffer little more than mild discomfort or criticism, yet most self-professing Christians shy away from publicly proclaiming Christ for fear of a little bit of ridicule. Yet, we will all put our hands over our heart and pledge our allegiance to a FLAG, and do so proudly whenever there is an opportunity so that we may show off our patriotic spirit. Why is this?

I would venture to say that your average homeless person appreciates a half-eaten hamburger from McDonalds, rescued from a garbage can, more than a millionaire who eats a $100 meal at his favorite five star restaurant. When conditions are hard and food is scarce, how much more are even meager scraps of food appreciated? We have every opportunity to serve and worship God here, yet most of us–perhaps because of the luxury we enjoy, fail to make the most of the opportunities God has afforded us. We squander them. Instead of loving God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind (and loving our neighbors as ourselves), we fill our lives with trivial things that distract us from our sole purpose in life, which is to glorify God. We have TVs, cell phones, computers, cameras, DVD players (many of us in our cars even), game systems, and countless other gadgets that all work to isolate us from others and even more so from God. And while verbally, we may pledge our allegiance to a flag, what we really pledge our allegiance to is a lifestyle… a lifestyle of flesh consumption and soul corruption, and then we announce to the world how proud we are to be so “blessed”. But blessed are the meek, Jesus said. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, and blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness. James borrows from the Old Testament and tells us, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

To “pledge your allegiance” to a flag seems to me to directly violate the first two commandments so blatantly that I am almost amazed so few Christians take to task this daily ritual in our schools when it seems to stand in direct contradiction to the commandments of God’s word. It is interesting that an atheist will take his case all the way to the Supreme Court because the words “under God” happen to be in the rote script our kids rehearse daily, yet few Christians take offense that our children are basically taught to place the flag and their country OVER God (despite what the words might say). There is no question that the motive behind this “pledge” is a sense of “patriotism” (i.e. to honor and fellowship with the United States government) and not religion (to honor and fellowship with God). In fact, the “under God” portion of the pledge was not actually added until much later on after it was originally written.

And not only does this practice of reciting the pledge daily seem to violate the first two commandments that have everything to do with revering and honoring God, they also stand in direct contrast to Peter’s message to the early church and the first Christians. This is what the rock whom Christ used to found His early church had to say:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”

And this is the word which was preached to you.

(1 Peter 1:13-25)

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
(1 Peter 2:9-11)

God does not care where you live or where you have your citizenship. If He did, He would not have chosen Nazareth over Jerusalem when He came incarnate. The Lord is sovereign, and will put you wherever He wills, but your identity in Christ is not to be found in the world or the kingdoms of men, but in the Kingdom of God.

Now, I believe that pride is the first shade of selfishness, and selfishness is the root of all sin. In the verse “The love of money is the root of all evil”, it is selfishness that is at the root. All of the Ten Commandments were given to combat the innate selfishness that resides within us as a result of the Fall. The first four pertain to selfishness in our relationship with God; the last six pertain to different aspect of selfishness in our relationships with others. “Selfishness”, simply put, is elevating and esteeming our own self-nature above God, which was the path of descent for Lucifer mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. It seems to me that we, here in America, live in a culture that values and encourages this type of pride and selfishness above all else. A quick read through Galatians 5:19-21, where Paul discusses the deeds of the flesh, should serve as a painful reckoning as to the “state of the nation” and the real values held by our culture. Indeed, the things Paul underscores as the “deeds of the flesh” are actually marketed (in a more subversive manner) in all of the media and literature most of us are exposed to daily:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

“Proud to be an American”

How many evangelical Christians have sung along with this popular song… and sung along proudly. But Paul rightly said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Most of us who have sung that song so loudly and proudly have probably never stopped to wonder, “Why are we proud to be an American?” Am I better than someone who was born in Cuba, Nigeria, Portugal, or Peru? Should I feel a great sense of pride that I was born and live in one of the wealthiest and most self-glorifying and self-oriented nations in the world? Should I be proud that I am one of small percentage of the world’s population that can enjoy all of the “modern conveniences” the rest of the world’s population has to do without? Or that I can work “hard” in an air-conditioned building for eight to ten hours a day, drive my comfortable air-conditioned car home everyday, eat whatever I want with my wife and kids in our comfortable air-conditioned home, and never have to look at or concern myself with the sick or the poor? Should I be proud that I even have the time and resources to work on a website in my “spare time”, as if my vain thoughts are so important I should place them here where anyone can read them? Oh, foolish pride… dare I pledge my allegiance to thee? Or like Paul, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

I am curious as to what comments you might have, so please feel free to leave them.

Peace & Blessings.

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