Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Culture in Limbo


On Tuesday morning I was out and about doing some errands that I had put off for longer than I should have. One of the things that I had sorely neglected was changing the oil in my little ’05 Honda Civic. In fact I am not even inclined to tell you how long it has been since my last oil change. So as I sat and waited in the large comfortable waiting area at one of our local Firestone stores, I was confronted by American culture. Head-on, in-your-face, unapologetic American culture. . . at least that is the impression I am getting from a lot of voices these days.

It was delivered to me in crisp-clear, digital, flat-screen TV. I had a comfortable chair in a comfortable room and yet my heart was very uncomfortable. I encourage you not to think of yourself as strange and “old-fashioned” if your heart is uncomfortable with a lot of what is going on in our society these days. There are a lot of unspiritual voices who think they are providing good spiritual advice to our world when it is nothing more than a lowering of the bar of what is really right.

So dealing with this uncomfortable feeling in my heart, I chose to over-ride it for two reasons. First, I did not want to go outside and wait. Secondly I thought that I would do what most Americans do, just sit and watch, don’t change the channel, don’t think, don’t do anything, just let Hollywood unscrew the cap on my head and pour the drivel right in on my brain. What is also interesting or alarming was that no one else in the room even remotely appeared to be uncomfortable with the plot that will describe for you. That just tells me how desensitized our culture has gotten to sin.

I also need to tell you that this was between 9:25—10:00 AM, not PM as in nighttime but broad daylight, apparently this was daytime television at its finest being broadcast in HD. It was on the FX Network and I have no idea what the name of the show (or movie) was. The plot which took about two minutes to figure out was very ignorant. Compare that to Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Christo and it is going to take you at least a couple of chapters to even begin to figure out what is in store for you in this great piece of literature (but that is for another day).

This young man was apparently involved in an extortion scheme that involved blackmail. He carefully had entered a plush 5-star hotel and through nefarious means breaks into one of the rooms on the umpteenth floor. He bursts into the room with a digital camera and begins yelling and snapping off pictures at a couple in a bed in the back of the suite. Just so happens that the couple is two men in an apparent homosexual tryst and while one might argue that nothing explicit was shown enough of the situation was shown to lead the thoughts into knowing exactly what was occurring.

This fellow doing the detective work continues to take pictures while one of the men is begging him to stop that it was all a mistake and so on and so forth. Suddenly the intruder makes a deal with the man about getting his girlfriend back to which he agrees to help if he will just delete the pictures and not tell anyone about the compromising place he has been found in. The rest of the time was given to this young man’s sexual pursuit of a quite immodestly dressed (and acting) young woman to which he accomplishes before the “show” was over.

I can already hear the shots being fired around the world about how I should have gotten up and said something or at least asked for the channel to be changed. Which I have done before, one time was in a packed out restaurant and suffice it to say I did not win friends and influence diners on that day. In fact quite a howl was raised by those at nearby tables. The reason that I asked for the channel to be changed is that I did not want my kids exposed to some soul-killing content.

However on this day, I over-rode that quiet, convicting voice of the Spirit within and found myself in the plight of a sinner simply because I chose to expose myself to something that America feeds on every day. For you see, I don’t have a television, never have had one and probably don’t foresee getting one anytime in the near or distant future. Furthermore, I grew up without one because my parents did not own one either (thanks Mom and Dad!!!). How deprived I have been not being exposed to that kind of fare! Or have I really been deprived? I shall do some writing on that at a later time.

One of the great challenges facing pastors in our times is contending with the voices of the world that feed people this kind of content every day. A pastor, if he is lucky, has the ability to preach to people about 30 minutes on Sunday morning, 50-60 minutes on Sunday night, and 60-75 minutes on Wednesday evenings which totals around 2 ½ hours a week out of a total of 168 hours. What is very sad is that I know men who can sit and watch a 3 hour ballgame but when a sermon starts hitting the 30 minute mark, they feel violated. It is all a matter of what you are feeding your soul!

Sadly spiritual life during the week is sorely neglected by the majority and only a very few spend time alone with the Bible and with the God of the Bible in a place of prayer. If you are going to make it through this world successfully, you must prayerfully ransack the Bible, it cannot be hit and miss! I have one more shot at 1st John which will be next Wednesday night and a lengthy series will be concluded. I have spent close to 60 sessions with our church and it has been soul impacting for me as I hope it has been for them. But in totaling the hours that I had a Word document open, I have spent 188 hours and 51 minutes working through this book. This total doesn’t include other time spent reading commentaries and scribbling notes on legal pads or times that I found myself either convicted and driven to prayer or exulting in the grace of God which also put me on my knees. I might add that 1st John 2:15-17 was clanging in my soul Tuesday morning when I took a little bit of American “life” in.

Many can help their pastors by getting rid of their TV and getting all the soul-numbing images and thoughts out of their minds so the Word can literally be grafted to the soul as a skin-graft would. Our hearts are worldly because of what we put into them. The bigger question for me is how can we “dine” on the same fare the world does and still be called saints? How can we watch shows that exalt sin, glorifies the creature more than the Creator, and drags our soul through violence, sex, and vulgarity and it not affect the spiritual life of a man? If I put the Philippians 4:8 test on this “show” how will it fare?

From the book by John Piper (which you can download free at the link), Don’t Waste Your Life, chapter 7:

Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the ads are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust, no matter what program you're watching. The greater problem is banality. A mind fed daily on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. Its facility for this great calling is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial and so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers, and the capacity of the heart to feel deep emotions shrivels. Neil Postman shows why.

What is happening in America is that television is transforming all serious public business into junk. . . . Television disdains exposition, which is serious, sequential, rational, and complex. It offers instead a mode of discourse in which everything is accessible, simplistic, concrete, and above all, entertaining. As a result, America is the world's first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death. (Neil Postman, "Amusing Ourselves to Death," (Spring 1985): 15, 18. See his book by the same title, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Viking, 1985).

Sobering thoughts for those who are alarmed about the spiritual state of our nation and its churches and there are more than just a few “redneck” preachers who are concerned about it.

So for those who will not hear my heart cry. . . .Go ahead. . . sit back. . . watch. . . waste your time. . . waste your mind. . . waste your life. . . waste your soul. . . but while you sit back and watch in the so-called stream of “entertainment” there are a few militants out there who are going to rage against the system and plead with you and beg you not to waste your soul on the ignorant, baneful, and trivial. . . I am going to be one of the few! By the way, I need some help. . .

7 comments:

Big Papa said...

I am with you Bro. Harrelson. Even though I am only 18, I completely agree with what you are saying. I look back at the few years of my life and realize how much time I have wasted even without a television in my home. I can't imagine how much time would be wasted if TV were a common thing in my life. It is sad to hear some of my fellow teenage friends, even in church, talk about all the junk that they feed themselves with movies, books, and other things of the sort. I have a tough enough battle with temptation and the flesh without feeding it tons of trash. Just so you know you are not alone, even the younger generation is behind you. Keep pushing for whats right. Thank you.

Paul Nolan said...

Bro. Harrelson,

What an excellent post! I too agree that the real danger of television is not necessarily the content on it, but the amount of time that it robs from people who are called to do much higher things than sit and be numbed by Hollywood and the media's propaganda.

God help us to awake to this understanding!

Me and My Thoughts said...

Great read!! Keep up the good work!!

Anonymous said...

Brother Harrelson,

What you say is so true and I am compelled to stay away from such things. Let me say one other thing, when you begin to allow yourself to watch such shows and movies, it is not as captivating, but it is as the saying goes "the more you get the more you want" and unless God speaks to your conscience to really desire to be different and you have the guts to do so, it is a difficult thing to break away from. God has spoke to me and I'm so thankful. I have tears as I read this. The thing is you can talk and talk until you are blue in the face and still only God can make the difference. Thank you for your preaching. I appreciate you.

Wayne said...

In 1980 I was given a book entitled "Four Arguments for the Elemination of Television," the book had nothing to do with relegious perspectives but cautioned against overexposure resulting in yet to be diagnosed (then) problems. Looking back I realize the man predicted HDD and similar problems. We ordered a two cases of them for our chuch two years ago.

Ryan Gustason said...

Great blog and a great post. I enjoy reading them. Keep it up Brother!

www.pentecostalblogger.com, Ryan G.

Jerre said...

For what it's worth, God still deals with this younger generation.
A young lady (new convert) walked into her house to see her boy watching TV and thought this is not how I want my kid to be raised. Together with her spouse they got ride of their TV. She testified and said there is a peace that she's never felt in her home before.
TV is a spirit that needs to be thrown out.
Rev Jerre Long