Monday, September 27, 2010

The Journey, A Serious Man - Part 8

Recently, I took some time off. I decided to go on a camping trip and do some hiking in the mountains. If you’ve read any of my entries on The Journey, you know I’m on a personal mission to rediscover God and how he works in the world. Sometimes, the best place to do that is in the wilderness. I think our lives have become too complicated and often dependent on technology. God is out there, and he is speaking to us. But can we hear him through the clutter and chaos that defines our daily lives?

My goals on this trip were simple. First, take a sabbatical from today’s mass media and media culture. I would suggest this is good for all of us, especially those who work in the media. It’s amazing what getting away from the daily dose of television and movies will do for you. It can bring clarity and redirection back into focus. Another goal was to see if I’m on the right track with my ministry. Have I heard from God? Is the book, A Media Culture Crisis and my blog what God is truly saying to me? My final goal was to assess what a friend had recently told me. He called me a serious man. I believe he meant it in a good way. But what does that mean?

Taking a break from the media is essential. It’s amazing what we get used to and what we accept as normal. Do you think that the world we have created is what God had intended? Perhaps, we have made things a bit too complicated. Being in the wilderness, life seems so simple. In fact, after a few days, it seemed to be the normal thing to do. Get up early each day, eat breakfast and go hike all day. Almost every day I climbed a mountain. There’s simplicity in this routine. Getting to the top wasn’t really the goal. It was the process of doing it that brought the real enjoyment and contentment.

It’s funny how you find God along the trail. He speaks to you in every aspect of nature and creation. Out there, there are no distractions. Your mind can be completely focused on the things of God. You know what God really cares about? He’s concerned with our relationship to him. And he wants us to take care of the people around us. That includes our family, friends and even strangers. It’s really that simple. That’s what God cares about. Forget about the thousands of books written each year on theology or spiritual growth. I’ll save you the time and the money.

So why do we make it so complicated? I wish I had an answer for you, but I don’t. However, I have come to understand that the media, whether by design, accident, chance or fate, has been used to distract and insulate us from the things that truly matter. And after you spend some time away from it, that realization will become obvious.

I’m a media guy, and I love the media. I know it has the ability and the power to do good. I’m not telling you to throw your television or your mobile media device in the garbage. My goal is only to offer you some perspective. Edward R. Murrow warned us over 50 years ago how television and the media can be used in a way to amuse us and distract us from the realities of life. If you ask me, I think he has turned into being a prophet.

As far as confirming what God has spoken to me over the past few months, I believe the book and this blog is an adequate reflection of what God is currently doing in media and entertainment. I’m convinced I’ve heard from God, and I’m sharing what he said with you. I hope you have found it helpful.

Finally, the title of this entry is A Serious Man. After much reflection and prayer, I would have to agree with my friend. That is exactly what I am, a serious man. I am serious about the vision that God has given me. I believe we need more serious people today. We live in a serious time with serious issues. We have accepted today’s media culture as if it is a normal reflection of the way we should live our lives. We need people to stand up and question this. We need serious people to tell us that business as usual will not cut it. We need serious people to tell the Church that a drive-by Christianity will not cut it. We need serious people to tell people of faith we must embrace a missional approach to the way we live our live our lives; otherwise, if we continue on our current course, we may very well see a different gospel preached in the future.

Whether we like it or not, this is a time to be serious and determined. So I will agree with my friend. I am a serious man. If ever there was a time to be a serious man or woman, it is now.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Does Christianity have a future ? Part 4

The battleground will be the media. Whatever direction the media culture ultimately points to will be the determining factor on how our current generation will view Christianity. That’s why we have no choice but to enter into this arena. As difficult as this may sound, in the future God’s truth and glory may reside in the media culture and not in the Church itself. It could provide a refuge for a remnant of the God’s truth.

The media culture presents unique challenges to the future of Christianity. But it also has given us an incredible opportunity to reach out to a new generation who live and breathe in today’s media church. How do we maximize our opportunities? How do we meet the challenges? And what’s our best strategies? With an uncertain future, one thing is clear. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We must make certain that our message is pure. There is only one God and one way to heaven.

Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” NLT Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” NLT

The media culture has exerted an enormous amount of pressure on the fundamental teachings of Christianity. Members of the church of media are searching for spirituality and are likely to see Christ as one of the answers but not the ultimate one. We must be clear. Christ is the only way. There is no second option. All roads do not lead to heaven.

The emergent church and the market-driven church are both examples of how the media culture has impacted the Body of Christ. If we put our interests and wants ahead of God’s purpose and plan, we will fail. The media culture teaches us that we are more important and can decide for ourselves what is in our best interest. It would be easy to accept philosophies and beliefs that suggest that whatever we believe or whatever God we embrace would lead us to the truth. We must reject this. Elements of the emergent church have elevated other religions and beliefs to the level of authority of Christianity. We must reject this. The market-driven church is teaching us that it’s our happiness and well being that are important and that as long as we feel good about ourselves, there is nothing to be concerned about. We must see through these strategies. God alone and not ourselves is to be at the center of our lives.

Some may say this does not express a tolerant view; nevertheless, it is the truth. We must not compromise with the media culture on the basic teaching of the Gospel message. I am also convinced the media culture is more than willing to talk. Members of the church of media desire discussion and interaction. I believe our media missionaries should be creating art that is asking questions that particularly are aimed at the members of the church of media.

As the Body of Christ, we don’t have all the answers. It would be refreshing and perhaps a more honest approach if we just admitted that we can’t explain everything in the Bible. The Bible does contain mysteries that simply are beyond the grasp of the human mind. John 21:25 says “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” NCV That would seem to suggest there is a great deal of knowledge that for whatever reason God has decided not to reveal. I am convinced that the church of media would welcome such a fresh approach. There is nothing wrong with sitting down and talking and discussing the Word of God, as long as we are clear that there are some fundamental truths that are absolutely essential to the Christian faith.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Does Christianity have a future ? Part 7

Experiences in knowing God are not limited to a physical building or a worship service. We can know God anywhere because he is constantly revealing his presence in every aspect of life. That’s how God speaks to us through movies, television programs or other forms of media. Dr. Paul L. Cox, an ordained Baptist pastor and co-director of Aslan’s Place, said that he and a few friends went to see Star Trek. During the movie, he felt waves of the power of God come over him. As he later contemplated what that could have meant, he realized that the Lord was speaking to him in a dramatic way. The theme of Star Trek is daring to boldly go where no man has gone before. He felt the Lord was asking him if he dared to go where God wanted him to go?”

If you are earnestly looking for God, he will reveal himself to you. God uses whatever means it will take to get to your heart. That is an example of how people can have a profound experience with God at the movies.

God is at work in the world. Our experience with God can occur at any time of the day throughout the week. He will choose whatever means he desires to speak to us whether it be through people, places, nature, objects, etc. Is it fair to say that many of our church leaders want to control how people experience God? Perhaps it is a frightening concept to consider that God can work outside the walls of the church building and outside of the pre-constructed box in which we have placed God.

I believe the media church can better understand a God that they can experience in whatever way God choices to reveal himself. We have limited God and made him fit into our framework. This helps to explain why many in the church of media can have a profound spiritual experience watching media because God is speaking to them though it. We must be open to how God chooses to speak to people. God works differently with each generation.

Members of the media church have grown up in a world unlike anything we have ever seen. They are a product of the media culture. And have learned to pursue their wants and to put their interests at the center of their lives. But God will find a way to speak to them. Media missionaries will be used by God to reveal truth in a way that they can understand. The future of Christianity and media will be interconnected and dependent on each other. We have an enormous opportunity ahead of us.

Let’s complete Jesus’ plan for establishing the Kingdom of God in the media culture as well as the church of media by following his word in Matthew 28:18, “I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all my commandments I have given you. And be sure of this, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” NLT

Friday, September 17, 2010

Does Christianity have a future ? Part 6

One of our best opportunities today is to create art that reflects the divine in everyday life. The church of media is looking for an authentic experience. Can they find one in the Christian faith that occurs every moment of our life? John 4:23 says “And the time is coming when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and the time is here already. You see, the Father too is actively seeking such people to worship him.” NCV

Our experience in God is not limited to a few songs on Sunday morning. If we are to worship him in spirit and in truth, that means everything we do in life is an act of worship to God. If the church of media is looking for something authentic, this is it—a God that is everywhere. And everything we do is an expression of our love for him. This extends beyond a belief system or religion, it becomes a way of life. It transcends the physical to the spiritual.

Most Christians worship God as if he were not a spirit. Our experiences are limited to a physical place and time. You cannot take spirituality out of the Christian faith and expect there to be any truth left. No divide exists between the sacred and the secular because there is no secular world. We live in a world where most Christians leave church on Sunday morning and enter into a completely different life. For them there are two worlds, one place to worship a physical God and a second place to worship a media culture that allows us to pursue our wants. Unfortunately, many churches do not discourage this approach because it would cause people to find a more convenient place of worship where they can pursue their interests and wants ahead of God.

Our lives should not be defined by our experiences nor our by our media choices. Media missionaries must create art and truth that is defined by a relationship with God. There is no authentic experience in life outside of knowing a living God. John 14:21 says “Those who know my commands and obey them are the ones who love me, and my Father will love those who love me. I will love them and show myself to them.” To experience God is to love God. How do we love God? By fulfilling the main two commandments that Jesus talked about. Our experiences are based on the premise of putting God at the center of our lives. Everything else revolves around God’s plan. Our wants are no longer our main priority in life.

The second commandment that Jesus spoke of is to love our fellow man as we love ourselves. Again, the priority is not what we want but is to serve those around us. If we follow these commandments, we will experience God because the scripture says that God will reveal himself. 2 Chronicles says in verse 15:2 “… NLT whenever you seek him, you will find him…”. We will know him by having a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. The church of media and our current generation are searching for an authentic experience that is real, valid, worth living for. It only exists in a relationship with God. The Body of Christ must find a way to communicate this message to the media culture.

Tuesday Part 7

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Does Christianity have a future ? Part 5

The Body of Christ must do a better job of telling our stories. Let’s face it. The media culture tells stories that are interesting, intriguing, exciting, and full of drama, passion and energy. In contrast, the way we tell our stories are boring and lifeless. We have removed the mystery and intrigue from our storytelling. That’s not what Jesus intended. In Matthew 13:34-35 the scripture says, “Jesus used stories to tell all these things to the people. This is as the prophet said: I will speak using stories; I will tell things that have been secret since the world was made”. NCV Jesus was a master storyteller. He is our model for how we should tell stories to the media culture and the church of media. Everybody loves a good story. One thing I think we can all agree on is that Jesus was not boring. His stories were full of mystery and intrigue. He never told a story as if he were teaching a five-point sermon. He was wise and understood the audience had to participate in the storytelling process because the message contained in the story would only be truth if they came to that realization themselves.

George Miller, a renowned filmmaker, said in an interview in 1998 that organized religion had removed much of the poetry, mystery and mysticism out of our religious belief. This caused people to look for answers to their questions about spirituality in other places. He considers the cinema to be today’s new place where people gather and worship as they once did in church. Miller also believes that the cinema storytellers have now become the new priests. I agree. Christians can find common ground with the church of media because we both embrace the power of stories. Eighty percent of the Bible is told in the form of a story. The media culture crisis becomes an opportunity when we realize we need to tell stories just as Jesus did by making them artful, authentic, mysterious and intriguing. Our media missionaries must reflect this viewpoint because the future of Christianity may depend on it. Stories from the Bible make the best stories because they contain the truth.

The church of media seeks a common language and lifestyle. Media missionaries need to reflect what a true Christian community looks like. We have failed in this effort. So what is a Christian community and how does it function? Acts 2:44 says “All the believers were together and shared everything. They would sell their land and the things they owned and then divide the money and give it to anyone who needed it. The believers met together in the temple every day. They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food with happy hearts.” And Acts 4:32 says “The group of believers were united in their hearts and spirit. All those in the group acted as though their private property belonged to everyone in the group. In fact they shared everything.” NCV

So what went wrong? Does the Body of Christ as we know it today sound anything like this? One of the reasons why the church of media is so appealing is because it offers community and common beliefs. Our faith is scattered in a thousand pieces. We have no unity. Christians in the first century were of one heart and one mind. They were not playing at Christianity. They lived their faith by a common lifestyle and exhibited love, forgiveness, generosity, and respect for others. As long as we are continually influenced by the media culture, the Body of Christ will never come into full unity and reflect the true nature of a Christian community. Why? Because we will put our wants before the needs of the community. Not only have individual Christians committed this offence but also the church itself in some ways has become more important than the Kingdom of God and those Christ came to save.

Friday Part 6

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Does Christianity have a future ? Part 3

How can we start a dialogue with a culture that has become foreign and resistant to Christian concepts?

We need a strategy. We can apply the concepts presented in the parable recorded in Matthew 13:3-23. It is the story of a farmer who scatters seed among the fields. Jesus talks about seed falling on many places that fail to take root, but in verse 8, some of the seeds fall on fertile soil that produces a crop that is 60 to 100 times what has been planted.

A harvest does not magically appear. It requires preparation and strategic planning. It must be put in the right soil, one that is broken up and moist so that it will grow. It must also be nurtured and watered before it will produce a harvest.

We are throwing seeds in many places with little or no return. The key to reaching this generation for Christ is determining what fertile soil is. Today’s fertile soil is the media, and it can be used to reseed the culture with a Biblical message. The media can only be part of the solution, along with many other things, including the power of prayer, unity in the Body of Christ, and racial reconciliation, as well as teaching that emphasizes the Bible as the source of all truth.

What we do in the next ten years will affect what Christianity and society will look like in America for the remainder of the 21st Century. Christianity has always been a moving target. God’s Word never changes. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. But Christianity has evolved over the centuries. It has constantly been a work-in-progress. Christians have therefore interpreted the Bible differently for each generation according to the current cultural perspective. Today’s media culture presents a unique challenge to the Christian faith. No one can accurately predict what Christianity may look like in the next 20 or 50 years. A significant amount of truth has been added back to the faith over the last couple of centuries. We believe Christ is the only way to obtain salvation and that salvation is only available through grace. Is it possible these teachings could be lost again to future generations?

The market-driven church and the emergent church, along with the media culture, is changing the face of Christianity. If we don’t respond and maximize our opportunities to reach out to this current generation, we could very well see a different Gospel preached in the future. Perhaps it will be one in which there are many pathways to heaven. The Ten Commandments could become the Ten Suggestions. Other religions may be elevated to the same level as Christianity. We could very well teach a philosophy that all religions are equal and contain the same truth that will lead all of us to a transcendent heaven. We must act fast. Our window of opportunity is closing.

Friday Part 4

Friday, September 3, 2010

Does Christianity have a future ? Part 2

By the age of six, the average American child will have spent more time watching television than he or she will spend speaking to his or her parents in an entire lifetime. More than 6 hours a day are spent watching movies, television or videos. Dick Rofle, Head of the Dove Foundation (which identifies movies and videos meeting family standards) states, “When you spend that much time watching something, you have just developed new role models and a new window on life. And I think that’s the destructive value of some TV and movies…. Viewers get the wrong impression and a distorted view of what life is really like.”

Recently, the cable television industry sponsored a study that was conducted by Media Scope. In their findings, Media Scope stated that society reflects the values of film and TV.

George Barna has been quoted, “Young people’s belief system is the product of the mass media.” Barna also conducted a landmark 2004 study which offered surprising results about the connection of faith and lifestyle choices. His findings have led him to conclude that faith seems to have little or no impact on one’s lifestyle choices, including so-called born-again Christians. Could this be a direct impact of media and its influence, not only on the culture, but on Christians as well? Most experts agree that we have entered into a post-modern and post-Christian society. What started this transition, and how can the Church have a better understanding of cultural relevancy?

To begin with, the Church needs to break out of its Christian subculture. We have Christianized everything. For example, in the late 1970s, Christian recording artists started signing with emerging Christian record companies, which launched a new era of contemporary Christian music. Subsequently, this has lead to the creation of an entirely new industry and subculture. Up to this time, recording artists who were Christians released their material on mainstream labels, such as Capital and RCA. Their music was bought by Christians and nonChristians alike. The lyrics weren’t watered down for a secular audience. The message they were presenting in their music was a Biblical view on life. Early artists who pre-dated the rise of contemporary Christian music had a significantly greater impact because they had access to a broader audience. The creation of the new contemporary Christian industry ended all of that.

Next, we need to understand the concept of cultural relevance and how we become culturally relevant to the people we are trying to reach? We need to recognize who they are, what their needs are, and how to identify with their lifestyle. We have moved from a “one dominant” culture to a “multicultural” society—from Western influence to Eastern influence, from a low-tech society to a high-tech society, from communicating primarily with words/books to communicating through images/film and from a Christian worldview to a society with many world views, including Eastern religion, New Age, and secular. The Church is trying to communicate with the world in a language few understand today because the vast majority of the current generation has no point-of-reference in relating to Christian faith.

Tuesday Part 3