I haven’t watched a movie or a TV show now in nearly 4 years. I know: ‘Do you live in a cave with no electricity, or what?!’ Nah, my cave has electricity in it, just no TV.
We could call it a social experiment, and to a large degree it has been. I wanted to see how my life, and thinking would change were I not watching TV.
At some point (near the end of my TV watching days) I watched a movie that was made about the shooting that happened in an Amish school some few years back (great movie btw its called ‘Amish Grace’ – its historical fiction; that is: the Amish were so forgiving in the situation that the moviemakers had to fabricate a fictional character to hold the killer in un-forgiveness in order for there to be some degree of conflict for the plot-line. The forgiving response of the Amish in that situation was nothing short of supernatural – and ought to be an acknowledged testimony of Christ to the whole world.); early in the movie, one of the elders was preaching a sermon to the congregation. He said: “An Englishman once asked me: ‘Can you not be a Christian, and still watch TV?'” The elder sighed, “That would be difficult.” He responded, then he expressed that any activity that is not done to the express purpose of honoring Christ, naturally draws our affections away from Him. To be a Christian is to spend the whole of one’s life moment by moment in adoring Christ.
I was already moving in the direction of eliminating TV from my diet. I’m no legalist on this topic, so don’t let me lose you here in assuming that I will go on some tirade about how Christians should not watch TV, and that if you do you’re in sin, or something to that degree. I share here because I think some of the principals of this thought are essential – and are lost in the church today.
At some point in my Christian development – not too many years back in fact – God began revealing to me tendencies, and traits that I was walking and living in which I found to be destructive (if not actually sinful). As I prayed about these tendencies I found that consistently the root of certain habits, lifestyle traits, and thought processes that I had developed were things that I had learned from certain individuals that I looked up to (one individual in particular – but I’ll not discuss that at length here).
I found, then, an astounding principal at work, namely: the principal of discipleship. Discipleship is a learning principal. Some equate the word ‘disciple’ with the word ‘student,’ which is accurate, as the terms are *nearly* synonymous. In common vernacular, however, a student learns certain subjects from their teacher. A teacher is employed to educate students regarding particular topics.
The concept of discipleship, however, has significant differences. A disciple learns EVERYTHING from their teacher. In Eastern forms of discipleship (rather, in the biblical form of discipleship) the disciple attaches himself to the Master (or teacher). The disciple does not ONLY listen to the Master lecture, and instruct (specifically what we think of as teaching) the disciple also scrutinizes every aspect of the Master’s behavior, and learns from them how to respond in every situation.
Thus the distinction: a student learns certain topics FROM the teacher. A disciple LEARNS THE TEACHER. Everything the Master does, the disciple learns to emulate perfectly. How does he walk, how does he talk, how does he eat, how does he dress, etc., etc.? All these things the disciple is observing, and learning.
The end goal of discipleship is to make a replica of the Master in every way. Then, once the student has learned exactly how the Master does all things, he can go off on his own, and employ those things. Over time in the trade as the disciple learns what things work best for them, then their own identity apart from the Master begins to emerge; they decide over time what traits or tendencies may be discarded or replaced. They may find improvements to the old way of doing things that they learned from the Master – but they know that they had appropriately learned a tried and true method that worked for the trade as the foundation of their actions. Once they have been FULLY discipled, they can begin their trade at a professional skill level – anything beyond that is learning and developing BEYOND their education as through practice – in time – the disciple becomes a Master worthy of emulation. (If you are into movies, or have seen: ‘The Raman Girl’ it is an excellent illustration of basic discipleship. Star Wars does reasonably well in depicting it also.)
Discipleship is a basic principal of Christianity – this is how the twelve learned from Christ, and it is how they, in turn, taught the early church. Jesus left the command that we go and make disciples of all people (Matt 28:19). In Western culture we don’t quite grasp the concept as readily as Eastern cultures generally do, but the fact is: this is not merely a cultural design of some sort, discipleship is hardwired into the Gospel. In fact, it is hardwired into humanity.
Let me re-emphasize, and then further clarify that point: discipleship is not only a cultural trait, it is literally the way that God hard-wired humans to learn. It is completely relational form of education, and it is built into your own psyche.
If you do not intentionally select a ‘Master’ to learn from, your soul WILL gravitate toward certain people, and you WILL learn things from them. Everybody has role-models. Whether or not you’ve ever even thought about it, there have always been people in your life that you have modeled your behavior after; so True and universal is this principal in humanity that I don’t even have to couch this statement in ‘generalization.’ I GARANTEE that YOU have had, do have, and will have role-models in your life. You may have learned your fashion sense from your mom, or big sister; you may have picked up certain ways of talking from older kids on the playground, you may adopt certain phrases or speech patterns from cool characters on TV, etc.
God made us to be emulators. He designed us to watch and learn not only subjects or topics, but EVERYTHING. God designed us to have role-models.
Why did God make us to have role-models? Because: JESUS. God wants us to learn from, and emulate Him. He wants us to learn everything from Him, from the way we speak to the way we eat to the way we RAISE THE DEAD.
God has always wanted to have a unique, personal relationship with every single human being in existence. He wants us to be His disciples; He knew that we were too carnal to be able to learn very easily from Him – as He is an invisible Spirit – SO He took on flesh, and came in the form of a man so that we could see, hear and touch Him (1 John 1:1 & 2).
God created us to have role-models, and to learn from others. The unfortunate thing about that, however, is that in the absence of godly role-models the human tendency leans toward idolatry. If we are appropriately honoring God, and the things we look up to are only God – then there is no idolatry (‘To the pure all things are pure.’ Titus 1:15). If, on the other hand, there is ANYTHING that we are looking up to, and striving to emulate that God is NOT in: IT IS IDOLARTRY.
Jesus taught us how it can be appropriate to want to emulate a man – He was filled with God: CHRIST. It is okay – nay, more than okay: it is a good thing – to look up to people who are filled with God. Anywhere that we misplace our affections, and give them to the carnal is idolatry. We don’t worship people, ministers, or ministries, we worship God.
We are designed, and hardwired to learn from people that we look up to. Unfortunately, we too often pick the wrong traits to emulate – the bible calls this idolatry. Unfortunately, our flesh does this naturally, it automatically selects people to admire, and emulate which is why I can declare this so readily as a universal Truth. Left to its own natural attractions, your flesh will choose idols based upon its own cravings, whether it be pride (and you are drawn to people who seem to be ‘cool’), or vanity (and you are drawn to people with great fashion sense), or lust (and you are drawn to people who seem to have sexual appeal), etc., etc. Idolatry is presently abiding in the flesh of all men; it is something we need to repent of.
Just culturally I could point out that those we look up to in society often are: really skilled musicians; our favorite TV, or movie characters; sports stars, etc. What aspects of any of those traits is God in? And if we are honest with ourselves, is it because God is in it that we are drawn to such, or for some other reason?
These people become our role-models because of something they’re good at, or some accomplishment, or maybe just because they are cool. Then what happens? Society in general (and individuals specifically) begin to emulate those people. We dress like them, we talk like them, we do our hair like they do, etc. Only guess what? If Christ is not in something, yet we are modeling our lives after it, then to the degree that we give it affection we are idolizing it. We elevate the importance of certain traits.
I must admit that I am not terribly impressed with the celebrities of our day, whether they are skilled athletes, musicians, or actors. If I spent hours, weeks, months and years perfecting an instrument, I’ve no doubt I could skillfully entertain many as well. Would you like to know what would REALLY impress me?
I would be impressed to see someone open the eyes of the blind. I would be impressed to see crippled legs walk, and deaf ears healed. You would really get my attention if you raised the dead. I’m not so impressed with musical groups – they may have skill but it is under the natural; temporal; carnal order of things. Its a little bit different than what I – as a Christian – want to emulate: CHRIST.
I admit, there are a few celebrities that I’m impressed with: Billy Graham impresses me. Reinhard Bonnke impresses me; T.L Osborn. These just a few; what impresses me about them? Instead of spending their whole lives mastering in forms of entertainment, they have mastered in preaching of the Gospel, and obedience to the Holy Spirit. They have spent years not entertaining, but changing the lives of millions – and not only changing lives, but altering the whole of people’s eternal life. ‘For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.‘ (1 Tim 4:8)
I began to realize some things. I realized that like the apostles of old, where I focused my attention – that is where I learned. Whom I focused my attention upon, whom I spent time thinking about, whom I observed – these were the people I was disciplining under.
The Lord showed me a passage of scripture. Truth be told, it was to me the seed of this entire thought:
…the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.
I suppose I should back-track from teaching discipleship, as I began this with personal testimony. One day as I was meditating on the Word, and came over this verse this phrase stood out to me in brilliant rays of sunshine: ‘the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.’ (Now there is a whole lot greater depth to this thought than where I am going here, but – as I said – this particular revelation of it was the seed for this journey and realization I am discussing.)
Do you know that there are people that God likes to think about?
Were you aware that there are people whose lives God LOVES to remember, to relive, to retell even CONSTANTLY. Surely Abraham – whose biographical account is eternally recorded in scripture – and the prophets! Why is Abraham’s life recorded for all eternity, (so that heaven and earth will pass away but not one jot or tittle of the retelling of Abraham’s life will pass away)?! God REMEMBERS the life of righteous Abraham.
There is a flip side to that as well. The RIGHTEOUS are held in everlasting remembrance. No such promise is made to the wicked. In fact, it is written: ‘the name of the wicked shall rot.’ (Prov. 10:7) The name of the wicked will rot and fade away, but God will always remember the righteous.
Yet I also realized that the truth is, many of those we look up to, and emulate as a culture are not real people at all. Why does Luke Skywalker have appeal to us? Chiefly because he operates in the supernatural; but then… so what? He’s not real, and neither are the supernatural laws of ‘the force.’ But there are real heroes, and there is a real ‘force.’ Just not after the likening of George Lucas, or Gene Roddenberry’s imaginings.
You can never actually learn the force, or how to perform the Vulcan neck-pinch, or mind-meld with someone. So what value is there in devoting the time we do into watching, and reading fictions?
I prayed on this: why had I had – and why do other Christians have – such a fixation on fiction, rather than on real people, and True events that we could learn from? God answered me clearly, concisely, and immediately on this question. No sooner had I prayed this question than this verse came immediately to mind:
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…
I think we could stringently interpret this verse to mean that people intentionally reject the Truth to deliberately believe something contrary. But that really isn’t what it says. I have had numerous conversations with Christians, where I can perceive that they are being heavily influenced in their thinking by fictional scenarios from books, or movies. When I point out that the object of their focus is, in fact, a fiction, generally the response is: ‘I know its fiction.’ Yet the thing that I perceive is that they are allowing that fiction to deeply affect the way that they think – they are being changed by it. (The bible says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.) Yet, they seem to believe that they are beyond being truly impacted, or affected by it because they cognitively KNOW that it is fiction.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Christians know that the Left Behind series is fictional; yet many begin to make theological assumptions about their end-times beliefs based upon how events are presented in these fictional books.
Exchanging the Truth for a lie (Rom 1:25), does not necessarily mean that you BELIEVE the lie: it means that you PREFER the lie. When the lie is of more interest to us than the Truth is, then this verse assuredly applies to us. It is not as though we will find ourselves in idolatry – WE ARE IN IT ALREADY.
Now, I don’t mean to say that all fiction is bad – nor do I think that God was saying all fiction is evil. The question is back to this: is God in it? Jesus told all manner of parables (now I will correct on thought here I have often heard voiced on this topic: the parables are not ‘fictional stories,’ they are spiritual Truths expressed by prophetic analogy – it would be more accurate to call them ‘allegory’ than fiction), which were in the form of short stories. (I actually started this blog with poetry, allegory, and history which I may revisit over time.) I do not think that God has any aversion to entertainment, my point is that too great an emphasis on entertainment (which our Western culture surely has) leads quickly into idolatry.
There was a time when I had become a master in science fiction – I sought out the most obscure sci-fi shorts, films and videos there were. I prided myself on Star Trek knowledge, and dug up all the 1950’s alien invasion flicks I could find in the annals of our history of the art. I delighted in being an intellectual ‘nerd’ who could quote the most obscure sci-fi films and shows. Do you know what it amounted to? Emptiness. It was vain, and fruitless – it really contributed nothing to my life but entertainment. So what if I could quote from the earliest serials of Flash Gordon, and Dr. Who? Even if I found others who had understanding to a level that I could discuss those things with – there was no depth of discussion. As a Christian I could live by the motto that these things contributed to my witness – that I could reach certain sub-cultures more easily through my knowledge of such things – but this generally wasn’t so in actuality. Why not? Because of this principal of discipleship. If what I have to contribute to the lives of sci-fi fanatics is the same idolatry that they are already partaking in, they could tell that my attentions were given as thoroughly to the same objects of attention as were theirs – how could any lifestyle change to Christianity benefit them? Could they not simply acknowledge that they are pretty sure that Jesus really was the Christ and move on with our conversation about Dr. Who? (That’s not to mention that by giving approval to those fictions does also by degree give approval to the morals that those fictions go about to support (Dr. Who’s gay-rights; undertones remind me of that point (not to mention its sundry other questionable political and religious commentaries laced throughout.))
In the absence of TV and movies for the past four years I have replaced entertainment through fiction with entertainment through studying the lives of righteous people. I have found these to be far more entertaining, as well as edifying, than the many theatricalized fictions out there. More entertaining because the events ACTUALLY HAPPENED, more edifying because these were men and women of God, whose life experiences are testimonies to the working of Christ in the world!
Currently (just for example), I am reading the Autobiography of the 16th century prophet George Fox – it is astounding (I call him a prophet because it is evident to me that that is precisely what he was, though generally in our day only the Quakers know who George Fox was (Ah! But many Americans could tell you all about a Scott named William Wallace!). Indeed, here is a book I would recommend that every Christian read (here’s a public domain digital version for interested readers).
Truth be told, this is the concept of discipleship. George Fox isn’t around to learn from in the flesh anymore – but the man had a revelation well beyond his time (indeed, beyond OUR time but it was plainly God (thus why I call him a prophet)). There are real men and women to disciple under, who demonstrate, or demonstrated the anointing of God powerfully – REAL SUPERNATURAL POWER, not theatrical counterfeits (sorry Luke Skywalker). If we can’t find anyone living to learn from, I try to collect the testimonies to glean from.
So here is one major principal that my experiment with no TV has begun to engrain in me:
…he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.