Someone rings the doorbell of your home. It’s about 7:36 in the evening. You’re sitting down. Your phone is somewhere on the couch next to you, ready to check Facebook when you get bored. The television is on, and you are watching something you really, really like. It’s so good you decide the dishes can wait.
But the doorbell rings.
You check yourself fast. You are in some lounge wear, but nothing too uncommon for anyone to wear, in their own house, after a long day. So you walk over to the door, and peek out of the window. It’s a man. Unassuming. Nice. One hand in a pocket. The other holding a pizza. You didn’t order a pizza, so you assume this nice young delivery man has gotten the address wrong. So you open the door. As soon as it opens, you see his smile. It’s a good, healthy smile. Good dental work. He opens the box and says, “Your favorite, right?”
And it is.
“I thought you would like this. Mind if I come in?”
Yes, he really said that. But it’s not creepy. It’s somewhat familiar. Especially after he introduces himself.
“My name is Jeshua. Most people call me Jesus. And I decided to come to your house today. And I brought pizza.”
And he is telling the truth. You realize, at that moment, in some ethereal way, that the Son of God is standing on your porch, with your favorite pizza.
“I just came to watch some TV with you. Do you mind?”
And there is the question. Do we mind?
Forgive my literary allowances. I mean no disrespect at all. It’s a similar story, really, to when Jesus visited Zacchaeus, the tax collector, to share dinner with him (Luke 19). Jesus interrupted Zacchaeus’ life.
If Jesus really, truly, came to your door, to watch TV with you, what would be your very first instinct? Be honest. Because if you’re just brushing aside that question, then you are failing to realize that Jesus is already present, in your company, as you watch television.
That makes us very uncomfortable. It made me very uncomfortable.
I rationalized every viewing moment in really crazy ways, and here they are. You may find them familiar:
- If the storyline featured good, triumphing over evil, then it obviously had to be a spiritual program of deep searching.
- I would look for glances and nuances of Gospel in shows, and movies, in hopes that if I found just one moment of “Gospel,” then my time, and money, would be worth it.
- I always offered a disclaimer when reviewing a particular program, or movie, for some friends. I would always be sure to mention how spiritual it was. And then be careful to say, “It’s a little violent in some areas.” Or, “If they had only cut out the sex scene, the movie would have been awesome.” Or, “I just wish they wouldn’t cuss so much.”
Those rationalities began to generate a fair amount of friction, though, when I began to radically rethink what I watch, and how I chose to be entertained. This post is the third of such posts, detailing my decision to ultimately cancel my TV, but this one veers into some other territory, including films and movies, and my decision regarding how I approach those as well.
I am not, and will not judge, your viewing preferences, though. Everyone is on their own journey. This is mine.
The first time I ever truly thought about discretion with movies was when I was in junior high. I was in a class, at a popular student seminar, in the midst of a weekend of worship and learning. The teacher, whom I do not know, and will probably never know, made a comment in his class that made me think about what I decided to watch. I disregarded his advice for a long time, but that comment eventually made me rethink everything.
He commented on movies, and entertainment. And he said this, quoting from a passage in Psalms 11:4-7:
But the Lord is in his holy Temple;
the Lord still rules from heaven.
He watches everyone closely,
examining every person on earth.
The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked.
He hates those who love violence.
He will rain down blazing coals and burning sulfur on the wicked,
punishing them with scorching winds.
For the righteous Lord loves justice.
The virtuous will see his face.
“The Lord hates those who love violence.” That was the statement.
I was offended.
It was an all-guys class, and the teacher was teaching about what it meant to be a man. And his statement was vastly different from what a room-full of adolescent guys wanted to hear.
Because we are taught life in violent ways. Really. We are taught to watch violence. We are taught to be entertained by violence.
Football is violent. MMA is violent. UFC is violent. Most, if not all films and movies, have violence.
And if you love any of those violent things, then, at best, you are offended. At worst, you’ve already left this site.
If you stayed, though, you probably began to dissect the meaning of this verse. I did. And your first thought in this dissection probably was what is love? Because the pronouncement in this passage is against those who love violence. And your reaction is probably somewhere along this train of thought: I don’t love violence. I have never loved violence. And I really don’t want God to hate me.
And then your reaction probably goes in this direction: so, then, what is violence? Does that mean actually killing people? You probably don’t regularly kill people.
Or … could it mean watching people kill other people, even if it is simulated? Could it really, truly, mean that?
That kind of reaction, and dissection, kept me from making any changes in my viewing preferences. I was fearful to further investigate, and decipher, the love for violence for which the psalmist writes.
And all the while, I spent lots of money to watch movies that were gruesome and violent. Twenty years after that class, I began to make the connection. I don’t “love” violence. But I have certainly supported it. I have bought hundreds (thousands?) of tickets for movies that were violent, and disturbing. I watched television programs where violence was prominent.
Something had to give.
On vacation in 2009, my wife and I went to the theater while our daughters remained with my wife’s parents that evening. We were going to see an action flick of some sort. Our oldest daughter was eight, and we let her know that we were going to the movies, and that we would be back later. We were leaving, and my six-year-old daughter (at the time) asked my eight-year-old daughter what Mommy and Daddy were going to see. My eight-year-old answered her question with this: “They’re going to see a bad show.”
The phrase “bad show” in our house has a wide definition, essentially meaning any show on television that we decided was not entirely good or wholesome for our daughters – programs that offer little, or no, moral lesson or educational content.
In spite of their conversation, my wife and I watched the movie anyway. We even had a brief conversation about what we could watch, and couldn’t watch, and decided that we were the adults, and we had good discernment, and different rules applied to us. Even then, I knew that decision would not last. In my heart, I couldn’t bear the thought that my daughters believed we were watching something we believed they shouldn’t watch. That sort of decision-making, as parents, would teach our kids a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. And that wasn’t acceptable for us.
Later in the summer, two months later actually, we paid money to see Transformers 2. We believed it to be a harmless movie, but the first few minutes placed the female lead in poses that were completely exploitative. I was embarrassed that I brought my wife to this movie. And I was ashamed that my daughters would one day find out we watched this movie.
So the conversation about what we watch, even before we cancelled our cable, became intense, with incredible amounts of time given to a decision we both knew was inevitable. And here it is: If we thought a movie was inappropriate for even our four-year-old, then it was inappropriate for us.
Our ability to give our children a home, where God is king, was being compromised for a couple of hours to watch something we would never watch in the presence of Jesus.
So we simply stopped watching.
We had already stopped watching movies with an R rating. So we simply dropped the rating level, and stopped watching movies with a PG-13 rating. Which meant, obviously, that our movie-watching experience was about to drastically be reduced. Most movies of any cultural importance have that rating, and so we immediately felt this decision. Most social conversations are about movies. We were immediately left out of many of those. Our exclusion, to us, was glaringly obvious.
But we stuck to our guns, especially considering how long it took us to make that decision. Movies with either a PG or G rating are all that we would watch.
Our decision to stop watching PG-13 movies resulted into two extraordinary things. It eventually lead me to cancel my television. It also led me to rethink my relationship with visual entertainment. I discovered, quite quickly, that I could actually live without movies.
There were really three, core things that eventually culminated in my decision to just stop:
- The culmination of knowing I watch everything in the presence of God …
- Refusing to lie to my daughters about what I watched …
- Refusing to let them watch some of the things I was watching.
Those were enough to convict me. They should have convicted me much, much earlier.
But there was another consideration.
As a minister who teaches teenagers, and as a minister who leads worship, I found a great amount of friction between my entertainment choices and teaching themes. It was not an easy thing to lead worship on Sunday morning, to a large church, when I spent the previous night watching movies, or programs, that just weren’t holy.
My responsibility, my ordination, and my calling, further convicted me to just stop it all.
There are countless lists of sins in the New Testament. It seems that Paul, as he wrote to the scattered churches, felt compelled, from time to time, to make things incredibly simple. He was quite adept with grand, theological themes, but even he realized, like every good preacher, that simplicity is often more powerful. Here is one of those lists, with a little bit of a prelude, from Galatians 5:
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Powerful, isn’t it? If the spirit of God, the agent of life and holy energy, really commands your life, then the desire to do evil dissipates. Reflect upon that, and think about what you watch. True, you may not be “doing evil” simply by sitting in a chair and watching any particular show or movie. I certainly didn’t believe I was “doing evil.”
But are you being entertained by others doing evil?
So, true to the previous post, I want to offer you some questions with which I struggled. Be warned, though. They will convict you.
- What do those shows, or movies, display for you to watch?
- What about Glee?
- The Office?
- Or any of a dozen movies?
- Do they exploit sex as “a thing to be had?”
- Do they use violence, and anger, to get your attention?
- Do they push the envelope of acceptability?
- Do they contain sexual immorality?
- Lustful pleasures?
- Outbursts of anger?
- Selfish ambition?
- Wild parties?
- Why are we really entertained by these? What does that really say about us?
- What does our entertainment choices say about satisfying the craving of our own sinful nature?
- Why do we feed that craving, anyway?
- What does that say about the decisions we make on behalf of our spouses?
- What does that say about the decisions we make on behalf of our kids?
And, perhaps, the biggest, and most convicting question of all is this one, which ultimately led me to make some fairly radical changes.
- Why do we fill our spare time with images, and words, that could never be displayed or spoken as worship to God?
Whatever we do must bring God glory. Every decision must magnify Him in our lives. Every word we say, every image we view, every relationship we entertain, must bring God glory. Everything must speak to God’s presence in our lives. Our preferences, addictions, and options tempt us to bring glory to our wants and desires and motives, though.
The apostle Peter writes this about our decisions:
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in this world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Abstinence is a strong word, which in our culture, has a fairly specific usage. But Peter broadens the word. Stay away from anything that wants to wage war against your soul.
The next few verses in Galatians 5 are probably more famous. Here they are:
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.
A life lived by the spirit of God is led by the spirit of God.
If your life is receiving energy and power from this pneuma, this wind, this breath of God, then every part of your life should feel its influence.
Which means that the part of your life you give to watching television, or movies, should be led by the spirit of God.
It should be.
I have one more post for you, in the coming days. The biggest question you have, probably, is how in the world do we fill our time now? You can find that right here.
Thanks for reading.