“Am I interrupting anything?” At my editor’s words, I looked around the kitchen I had dove into in hopes of muffling the noise of the TV in the next room. “Ummm . . . not exactly,” I muttered. “I was ummm . . . don’t think any less of me . . . I was watching (insert popular reality show about dating).”
To my relief, she burst out laughing. “Melanie, that is hilarious because a girlfriend of mine just texted me before I called you that I had to watch it. She’s been trying to convince me to watch it for YEARS. But I texted her back and said, “Look, I am NOT watching that because I am editing a chapter this girl wrote about the struggle to honor God with our relationships. How could I watch it!?”
Crap . . .
“That’s pretty funny!” I burst out in an awkward laugh that wasn’t even believable to me.
Anxious to change the subject, I asked her if she was calling about the latest chapter I’d sent her to edit. “Yes, I wanted to ask about how you have the verse ‘everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial’ in the last paragraph. Right now, it’s just not flowing with the rest of the text.”
(Insert more awkward laughter from me.)
Seriously? Was this a joke? That was the verse she just happened to be calling me about? Long after we hung up the phone, I sat staring at my computer screen in disbelief.
Still, I wasn’t going to take what had just transpired too seriously. Those funny coincidences . . .
Years ago, I used to watch another popular primetime show in secret—the kind that would raise eyebrows far outside the church. Occasionally my secret would accidentally slip out and I’d be stuck trying to explain how the show really wasn’t that bad. But all it took was one glance at the stricken look of my listener’s face as I tried to explain the real “heart” of the show, to know I was defeated in any attempts at justification.
So, I just became all the more determined to keep my mouth shut. I was done apologizing, done even thinking about apologizing for a show I happened to like. It was between me and God. PERIOD. And that wasn’t a problem since the show wasn’t a stumbling block to me. Honestly, it wasn’t. It was too ridiculous to be taken seriously, too ridiculous to have any effect on my life.
Or so I thought.
Just a few days before that oh-so-funny and coincidental call from my editor, I found myself asking the Lord “WHY?! Why is this show supposedly ‘bad?’ It’s not hurting me!”
“Does it please Me?”
I stopped in my tracks in the dim hallway and shook my head mutely. “No, it doesn’t.”
“Is that not enough for you?”
I didn’t answer. Truth be told, it hadn’t been. Everything was permissible, right? And I couldn’t help but think as long as I wasn’t mastered by it, I was ok.
Days later, watching that very show, my editor called and well . . . you know what happened.
I wish I could tell you that I don’t miss either of those shows. That I don’t find myself walking at the speed of a tortoise when I pass a TV they happen to be playing on. But then I think about His words: “Does it please Me?” and I want that to be enough for me. I think about David’s cry that he would set before his eyes “no vile thing,” and I wonder what I have put before my eyes. I think about Paul’s words in Romans, “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves,” and I wonder what I have unwittingly condoned.
Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
—Eph. 5:15–16 (NIV)
This script plays in every area of my life, with everything I feast on with my eyes or my time. But it’s just a show! I just need to tune out for a while. It makes me laugh and Lord knows after a day at work, I need to laugh. But if I am in the fight of my life as a believer, then doesn’t it stand to reason that my entertainment, even my works of fiction, matter to my soul, either pushing it toward my Creator or numbing it to the things that break His heart?
For what has become of the people of God when the things that break His heart are little more than entertainment for us? I realize that there are times will there will be gray areas, areas where something neither seems to be right or wrong, where it never seems to either honor the Lord or dishonor Him. There will always be movies that push the envelope, provoking us to think, raising important questions that need answers. But God help us when the things that break His heart are little more than listings on our DVR, tickets in our hands, or pages left to turn.
“ . . . Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
-Eph. 4:1 (NIV)
Is this right here—what we’re feasting our eyes on, what we spend our time on—is this worthy of the calling we’ve received? Or in our freedom, could we have forgotten what slavery looks like? We rescue the poor, we feed the hungry, and maybe even wear our Toms proudly, thinking we have arrived. Yet sin stains our eyes, only serving to fuel the rumble of our laughter as we pass the time. The very things Christ died to set us free from are in our Hulu Que, recorded on our DVR, filling our bookshelves, and relived in our conversations. We are not subjected to it unwillingly. Our eyes were not forced to look upon such tragedy. We came to the table willingly. Ran to it. Recorded it so as to be sure not to miss a moment.
But it does not hurt us. It does not cause us to stumble. We are able to walk away unscathed, without a mark on us. Nothing broke in us. Nothing ached. Nothing cried. It was . . . nothing.
And it is in that nothing that lies the greatest tragedy. For how sick and hardened must our hearts be not to be revolted when we see the very things that Christ died to set us free from? No, they may not be our chains, but don’t be fooled—
THEY. ARE. STILL. CHAINS.
These chains are bound around countless people around us—enslaving them to unbelief, to sins that have deafened their ears, hardened their hearts, and blinded their eyes. Sins that have shackled them to Satan, separating them from a relationship with their Creator, from peace and hope and life as we know it.
Imagine carrying around a backpack your whole life that was too heavy to lift off, too entwined in your flesh to lay down. It ate at you, sickened you, dimmed your hope, and emptied your soul. And then one day, by the grace of God, it was pulled off your back. Would seeing others carrying around their backpacks of all different sizes be funny to you? Or what if they were paid to just pretend to carry those backpacks around?
Yet this is what the majority of what graces our entertainment has become—a parody of slavery that offers no hope, no answers, no glimpse of redemption through Christ.
This is not the message of the gospel. There IS hope. There IS life. There IS love and redemption. Freedom is more than possible—it is what we were destined for. It is why we still live and breathe—to proclaim that there is life and it is found in Christ. The darkness, the chains, the dungeons, and the fire, are what we were rescued from. They are what kept us from knowing and experiencing the greatest gift imaginable—the immeasurable love of God. They were never meant to be comfortable to us, let alone our pastime, our entertainment. As believers we must be jealous for the body of Christ and jealous for ourselves. Jealous for our minds, our thoughts, our time, and our hearts, because we are in the fight of our lives—even during primetime.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light . . . and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret . . . Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
(Ephesians 5:8–14 NIV)
“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.”
(Psalm 101:3–4 ESV)
“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. . . . You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:12, 20 NIV)
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. . . . So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, SO THAT THEY MAY BE SAVED.”
(1 Corinthians 10:23–24, 31–33 NIV)
“Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”
(James 1:26–27 MSG)
“He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.”
(1 Peter 2:24 MSG)
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”
(Ephesians 5:3–7 NIV)
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
(Rom 12:1–2 NIV)
“The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them.”
(1 Tim 5:24 NIV)
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. . . . Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips…since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”
(Colossians 3:1–11 NIV)