Eric V. Snow Sermonette 07-10-04 UCG Ann Arbor, Michigan
Could this be your worst spiritual enemy?
(Hold up copy of the Sunday newspaper)
You might be saying, “Huh?” But consider this: Every time we open a book, turn on the TV, rent a video, go to a movie, listen to a song, buy a magazine, or cruise the Internet, a spiritual struggle looms. Will what we consume through our media choices increase or decrease our physical desires? Will our media choices make us more spiritual or more carnal? We naturally tend to value what we spend our time thinking about. We as Christians have to be spiritually discerning about what we choose to watch or hear. The media aim to persuade us to act on our physical desires, such as by wanting and then buying things, in order to increase their ad revenue. So we have to guard our eyes, our thinking, and our feelings so we aren’t being manipulated into wanting something that is sinful or simply unnecessary.
S.P.S. We Christians need to avoid making media choices that produce greed for material possessions or which stimulate sexual desires.
It’s true that we human beings have natural physical desires that God created in us. We do have natural desires for (say) food, water, clothing, and shelter. But we can’t blame God for when these desires exceed their lawful bounds. For by our own choices, by what we watch and by what we think about, we can increase our desires artificially far beyond any God-given natural levels. And when our desires exceed their proper bounds and become sinful, they will consume us. We’ll find them hard to ever properly satisfy lawfully.
The French author Francois Rabelais (1494?-c. 1553), in his famous novel about a giant called Gargantua, noted that “The appetite grows by eating.” We shouldn’t think we’ll reach a point that our desires are satisfied when we let the media, through ads or the activities of the characters or players it portrays, constantly keep stimulating them. Contentment can only be reached if we restrain our desires, not merely by getting this, that, or the other thing.
Notice how the unwary youth joining this gang puts his life at risk spiritually, not just physically. Our own desires can kill us spiritually whether they ever get physically satisfied some or not.
Consider again the Sunday paper: This section (hold up the ads) can be our greatest enemy in making us want things that we don’t really need or don’t need as much as they want us to get.
For example, how big and how expensive of a house should someone get? Does it have to be in a prestigious neighborhood or community? Does one have to live in (say) Bloomfield Hills or Grosse Pointe if Ferndale or Livonia will do? Will it take two people working full-time to pay the mortgage? If the married couple have children, will they have locked themselves into the need for daycare (i.e., paying strangers) to raise their children because of their previous choice of buying an expensive home? Or suppose it requires one person working 60+ hours a week to pay for it? Will that person (normally a man) neglect his relationship with his wife, children, and God to pay for it. Does one need (say) 3000 square feet when 1500 will do? If a married couple plans on having only 2 children, do they need a house with 4 or 5 bedrooms? Is having the big house merely a way to impress friends, neighbors, or relatives?
Use Ferndale illustration when lived in house there, didn’t need most of it as a single man. Notice how specifics bring this issue to life; vague generalities about not being materialistic don’t cut it. Also notice the issue is “strain”: Someone with a good income that doesn’t normally have to work more than (say) 50 hours a week can have a nice house in a nice neighborhood without any guilt. But those who work extremely hard and long to have the same house need to consider whether they are guilty of greed and materialism.
The same principle applies to buying new cars, RVs, boats, vacation homes, computers, furniture, major appliances, etc.
Skipping the Sunday ads or not watching TV can help us not be materialistic since we get less bombarded with the constant message of “Buy, buy, buy.” Sarcastically, we may say the “Great Commandment” of Christmas is “Buy!” But I’m afraid that’s the standard tendency of a capitalist system as well. And when one buys more, the incoming bills then encourage people to go out and work more to pay for the material possessions. Our wants then become our masters, not our servants, when we’re locked into a lifestyle that costs us many hours on the job to pay for. “Simply your life” priority of HWA: Have we totally forgotten?
But there’s another natural desire that will be constantly stimulated by spiritually bad media choices: Sexual desire. And this issue shouldn’t be swept under the carpet and ignored since advertisers, artists, producers, authors, actors, etc. constantly manipulate and promote these desires in order to grab our attention so they can make more money and promote immoral views of what is permissible sexually. Consider, for example, how many positive gay characters populate the movies and TV shows in recent years, which plainly is deliberate if subtle propaganda.
This in principle applies to our media choices as well, not merely to people we actually see. And men especially will have a problem here. Two recommended books: Joshua Harris, Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust, Stephen Arterburn & Fred Stoeker: Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation. Bouncing eye tactic of theirs should be applied to media choices also, not just to actual immodestly dressed women.
For example, whenever the ads during sports on TV come on, especially the Superbowl, it may be a good idea to always automatically “zap” the commercials. Using the remote to change the channel to something safe like (say) C-span or CNN. Why? How often do they use (say) scantily clad women to sell beer or something else?
We ought to know watching X-rated movies and reading sexually graphic romance novels are wrong. But even many R and PG-13 movies are saturated with revealing scenes or crude jokes that are double entendres. Even much of regular prime time TV sit-coms have the latter problem, such as (say) “Third Rock from the Sun” or “Frazer” in recent years. Consider the episode of “Seinfeld” that dealt with the lead female character’s decision that she only wanted to be with “sponge-worthy” men.
Joshua Harris, Not Even a Hint, pp. 117-18: “Entertainment goes straight for our hearts. Have you ever thought about this? Media never reasons with us in its attempts to convince us to love lust and sin. You’ll never see the CEO of a television network standing in front of a flip chart explaining why adultery is good. But that same CEO might have his company create a television drama that engages your emotions and, through the power of the story, makes thesinful act of adultery seem appealing. Television and film stir up feelings and emotions that bypass our minds and go straight for our affections. The incredible power of media is that it can make something evil look good or exciting without appearing to make any argument at all!”
Let’s consider the Sunday paper’s ads again. Is there any man here tempted to look all too carefully at the lingerie ads in the department store inserts? Are there magazines or catalog sitting around the house with women in all too revealing clothing or poses on the cover or elsewhere? Fred Stoeker’s tactic: Tear off the covers! Consider billboards by the highway that may be just too eye-catching?
Create good habits to create the bad habits, such as by learning to automatically look away when (say) the actors and actresses in movies or TV start doing things that shouldn’t be looked at. Or, do we want to automatically look towards them?
Optional (controversial): The general stimulation problem: A steady diet of the wrong TV, movies, romance novels, videos, popular music, etc. increases the sexual drive far beyond its natural levels, and make it much harder to manage. The inevitable outcome? One result is the 12-letter “M” word. We shouldn’t ignore this issue because it’s unpleasant to even think about. But it’s not just a problem limited to unmarried men, since married men and even women can give in to it also. (Offense issue: use example of Christ when visiting hometown, and bringing up how gentiles could be closer to God than Jews: Did He have to bring that up? Offense taken on hearers’ part not necessarily proof sin occurred on speaker’s part. Turn over rock briefly analogy, compare to sermons dealing with people leaving gay lifestyle in some detail). The sumo wrestler analogy in Arterburn and Stoeker: Starve him!
In conclusion, we have to make careful media choices so that our physical desires aren’t made unnaturally large. We have to guard our eyes, our minds, and our hearts continually if we want to be holy and righteous. We have to fight materialism and wrong sexual desires constantly whenever we watch TV, rent videos, cruise the Internet, listen to music, reading romance novels, etc. We must give up any idea that we have a “right” to be entertained or that it’s a requirement in our lives. If we don’t control our desires, our desires will end up controlling us, and ultimately they will destroy us. As James explained: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).