Fifty Shades of Grey

February 27, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey was the number one rated movie in the U.S in its opening weekend. In its first week, it grossed over $300 million counting domestic and foreign box office sales. According to reviewers, it has 20 minutes of sex scenes and a great deal of nudity. Clearly large numbers of people are seeing this movie.

I’ve mentioned this movie to raise a question. Do Christians draw a line at not seeing certain kinds of entertainment? Seventy-three percent of the US population identify themselves as Christian. So if I combine demographic information with box office sales, I would have to say a large number of Christians draw no lines and have no qualms about viewing any of this.

But should we? I think what is at stake is our purity of heart and our clarity of thought — Christian thought.

Sexual immorality, adultery, murder, and warfare are a part of many narratives including the Bible. The question becomes one of how are they portrayed. My concern is not just with sex but with violence and profanity as well. How are these things handled, and what do they do to our hearts and minds?

I do not want my entertainment to make me a voyeur. The definition of voyeur is “a person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity.” I do not want entertainment with simulated (or real) sex or nudity. How can I watch something like this and not be turned into a voyeur? Jesus warns about the danger of lust (Matthew 5:27-30) and the danger of having sexual immorality and adultery in our hearts (Mark 7:21-23). How can this kind of entertainment be consistent with following Jesus?

I do not want my entertainment to harden me to violence and suffering. I don’t know how I can keep that from happening, if I am shown every kind of violent act graphically. I realize that violence is plot point to much drama, but I’m concerned about how it is portrayed. I’m concerned about how much of it I consume.

I do not want my entertainment to shape my worldview. I want my worldview to be shaped by the Bible. That means even in the things that I watch, I need to evaluate the message of the film. All kinds of non-Christian messages are present and must be evaluated critically. We must be active viewers. I’m not wanting to withdraw from culture but to engage it.

I have found some tools helpful in making informed choices. The Internet Movie Database (IMdb.com) web site has a Parental Guide which allows you to see content advisory information. It is helpful to parents, but it is helpful to anyone trying to make good decisions. Dove.org provides movie reviews. Their main concern is to help people find family friendly films, but their reviews also give detailed information on sex, language, violence, drugs, nudity, and a category they label as other — lead characters that exhibit disrespect for authority, lying, cheating, stealing, illegal activity, witchcraft or sorcery and whether there are any consequences to this behavior.

What I am suggesting is that we need to be a lot more black and white in our moral view towards entertainment and a lot less fifty shades of grey.

Advertisements

Prayer for the Persecutors

February 20, 2015

The image is arresting. Men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on a beach in front of their captors. The captors are dressed in black and have swords. The headline reads: “21 Coptic Christians Beheaded by ISIS.”

As a Christian living in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century, I’ve read about persecution in history. Now I’ve witnessed it in the 24 hour news cycle.1 Whatever prejudices we may have encountered as Christians in our country seem ever so slight in comparison.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a blessing to those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:11-12). Jesus says that such people should rejoice because their reward in heaven is great. Later in the same sermon, he instructs: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45, ESV).

What would that look like? Beshir, the brother of two men who were beheaded on that beach, was interviewed on television. His comments are thought provoking.

ISIS gave us more than they asked when they didn’t edit out the part where [the martyrs] declared their faith and called Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith. . . . I thank ISIS because they didn’t cut the audio when they screamed, declaring their faith.”

Believe me when I tell you that the people here are happy and congratulating one another. They are not in a state of grief but congratulating one another for having so many from our village die as martyrs. We are proud of them!

Beshir was asked about the airstrikes against ISIS.

Since the Roman times, we as Christians have been targeted to be martyred. This only helps us to endure such crisis because the Bible tells us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. However, the air strikes were a good response by the government.

Today I was having a chat with my mother …. I asked her, “What would you do if you see ISIS members walking down the street, and I told you that was the man who slayed your son?” She said, “I will ask for God to open his eyes and ask him into our house because he helped us enter the kingdom of God!”

On air, Beshir prayed this prayer: “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught.”2

1This is certainly not the first case of persecution in the news. For more information about persecution, see http://www.persecution.org.

2Anika Smith, “Brother of Egyptian Martyrs Prays for ISIS,”
https://stream.org/brother-egyptian-martyrs-prays-isis/


Truth and Credibility

February 13, 2015

Bryan Williams, the anchor for NBC Nightly News, has been placed on a six month suspension without pay. The problem is that he has told a story about his reporting during the Iraq war where the helicopter he was on came under RPG and AK47 fire. Military witnesses claim that was true of another helicopter that day, but not the one Williams was on. The story raises questions about his credibility.

Williams has received some severe criticism in the media. This incident has raised questions about other reports he has made. Questions are being raised about some of his first person reporting during Katrina, and did he really rescue puppies from a fire?

What I find intriguing about the media is that they are the same ones who have given us reports through the years that suggest lying is normal. “Everyone lies,” they report. One expert said, “Lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.” In the course of a week, people deceive 30% of the face to face contacts they have. Society, we have been told, often rewards and encourages lying. Lying is presented as a social lubricant that prevents us from hurting people’s feelings. One article ended with the reflection that “perhaps our social lives would collapse under the weight of relentless honesty.”1

This kind of theme has been in news reports off and on for the past twenty years. Humanity may have trouble telling the truth, but I’ve never bought the premise that it isn’t a big deal. In my mind the wisdom of scripture confronts us. Lying is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 6:17). “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19, ESV). “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10 ESV). Being honest matters; lying has consequences.

So which is it for the media? Is lying a serious matter than undermines credibility or is lying something everybody does and is really no big deal. History would seem to suggest that it depends on the slant of a particular news story.

In life, however, I’ve known some habitual liars. My approach around such a person is to be extremely guarded. You can’t trust them. You can easily be hurt by them. In the real world, there seems to be a connection between telling the truth and credibility.

1https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199704/the-truth-about-lying


What Is Biblical Meditation?

February 9, 2015

In popular culture meditation is a relaxation technique. You usually close your eyes and attempt to slow down your breathing and breathe more deeply. Then you may imagine the parts of your body relaxing one by one starting with your feet and going up to your head. Such methods do help a person to relax, although I would provide two cautions. Our minds are not meant to be empty for long. The old adage — idle hands are the devil’s workshop — is applicable to our thoughts as well. Further, relaxation doesn’t dispense with our need to pray and so “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV).This relaxation technique may at times be helpful, but it is not biblical meditation.

Biblical meditation is a reflection or contemplation on something and not an emptying of our minds of thoughts. The noun or verb occurs 30 times in the New King James Version. Other translations may have fewer occurrences but may use synonyms like muse, ponder, and think.

The righteous meditate on the law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Psalm 4:4 instructs: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psalms 4:4, NKJV). Although the psalm is not explicit, it would seem that we are to ponder our relationships and how we will handle them in the light of God’s will. Meditation may be on God’s character (Psalm 63:6) or his dealings with his people. Paul instructs us to meditate on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, or are of good report (Philippians 4:8).

Meditation in Eastern religions has to do with their world-views. In Hinduism, the world is an illusion. Buddhism views desire as the problem to be extinguished. The following chart provides a helpful comparison.

Biblical Meditation Eastern Meditation
The goal is to fill the mind with good things. The goal is to empty the mind.
The goal is personal responsibility before God. The goal is the loss of the individual self (which is viewed as an illusion in Hinduism) or the loss of desire (Buddhism).
The goal is to draw near to the personal God. The goal is merging with impersonal cosmic oneness (Hinduism) or the extinction of desire (reach Nirvana in Buddhism).
The goal is withdrawal for reflection so that we might act properly in life. The goal is detachment from life.

Biblical meditation is closely related to prayer and scripture reading. It is the filling of our minds with thoughts on God and his will for us.