3 Wise Filters that Will Improve Your Entertainment Choices

Greasy fingers met in a communal popcorn bowl, and laughter overpowered the details of dialogue: “Hey, somebody rewind! I missed that line!” It was family movie night, and the flickering image on the screen played second fiddle to the allure of an extended bed time. With cold pizza congealing at room temperature on the coffee table, we were entertained by stories that fed our imaginations and showed up in the kids’ make believe long after the credits rolled.

Raising kids pre-internet was a dreamy business compared with the challenges young parents navigate in 2019. In the days of VHS, long before Andy Crouch’s wise and urgent tweets about “putting technology in its place,” we managed tech by setting a kitchen timer for games of Oregon Trail (played on a clunky desktop computer) and by reserving screen time for Disney movies watched en masse on Friday nights.

Colossians 3 offers three tests—three wise filters for my entertainment choices to help me to embrace the positive without falling into the trap of making entertainment into an idol that interferes with godly priorities and habits of holiness. I’m writing about Paul’s insights for the June Redbud Post, and I invite you to join me over there, where the theme is Entertainment Exhaustion. Whether you use your free time to read a book, play a game, or watch a movie with your family, you are called to bring every activity into connection with Jesus. It’s my sincere hope that the offerings you find over on the Redbud Post will both encourage and inspire you today.

Giving thanks to God,

 

 

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How to Keep the Main Thing as the Main Thing

When D.A. Carson had the opportunity to interview two well-known and highly influential American theologians, he went straight to the core of their long ministries with this question:  “You have not succumbed to eccentricity in doctrine, nor to individualistic empire-building. In God’s good grace, what has been instrumental in preserving you in these areas?”

Their reply came with passion:  “How on earth can anyone be arrogant when standing beside the cross?”

When Jesus chose the humiliating path to the cross, He beat a clear trail for His followers. D.A. Carson issues a call to return to the cross as the main thing in our communication of the gospel. In our relationships, our prayer life, our career goals, and our personal choices, we demonstrate the depth of our commitment to the cross in a way that mere words cannot equal.

Truth from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is an anchor to The Main Thing. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life is Carson’s exposition of a well-loved epistle. Although Paul’s words have become the source for many a swoon-worthy Instagram post, they are a gritty call to fellowship in the gospel, where the focus is obedience, self-denial and a muscular commitment to the well-being of others.

The Gospel is the Main Thing

I am often convicted that my conversations and my hospitality look and sound pretty much the same as anyone else’s. While we gather around my dining room table for “fellowship,” we are most likely to be sharing stories about common interests and family news, and I wonder:  Why does the topic of God’s glorious rescue plan rarely make it to the conversational flow? Why are we not inquiring of one another about the “good work” God is determined to accomplish in us?

Carson states the goal:

“The fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers.” (21)

The Main Thing About the Gospel is the Cross

Because Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross,” the cross becomes not only a symbol of our following life. It becomes “the supreme standard of our behavior.” (51) Self-denial is not second nature, and it is one thing to say, “I’m willing to be a servant for Christ’s sake,” but quite another thing when someone actually treats us like a servant. Carson employs the word “slave” to describe this and clarifies the self-emptying behavior as Jesus “making himself a nobody” (56)–our greatest fear in this selfie culture!

New believers will benefit from this primer for persistent progress in the faith, but seasoned followers of Christ will find their comfort zone invaded and their notions about Christian leadership and the faithful walk challenged and expanded. Paul’s message is unapologetic and his thinking about contentment, prayer, anxiety, rejoicing, and unity among believers ratchets up the “normal Christian life” to a standard that takes me back to the gospel as the only means by which this following life can be lived. Carson puts his finger on the soure of my dilemma: If I were living faithfully by the standard set forth in Philippians, the Gospel would quickly become the main thing for me as it was for Paul.

Many thanks to BakerBooks for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Rejoicing in Hope,

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Readers looking for more wisdom and biblical insight from D. A. Carson will appreciate his work in Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. You can get a preview in preparation for the Lenten season from my review here.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life or Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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All You Have to Be Is Desperate

By midwinter, the empty canning jars on my basement shelves are beginning to overtake the number of full jars.  Clear glass glints beside the jewel-toned beets, briny pickles, and thick spaghetti sauce.  By practicing the dying art of canning, I pay attention to these containers, knowing that a family of six can put away as many as sixty quarts of green beans in the space of those seasons between gardens.  Truly, the container is secondary to the contents.

A recent back injury is making me conscious these days of another container.  Paul the Apostle would have called it a clay pot.

That image suits me well.
Serviceable.
Functional.
Sturdy.  At least, I’ve always thought so.

But, feeling the brittleness of my mortal clay, it’s clear to me that I’m prone to breaking, and the sharp edges leave me bent and moving about with caution.

On one level or another, everyone fights the battle of fragility at some point in life.

So lest I fall into the mistaken notion that New Testament saints were bullet proof, I return to the words of Paul who strains his apostolic thesaurus to come up with metaphors adequate to the description of his own deep need:

 “We are hard pressed.”

Really?
Did his time move relentlessly forward as the work piled higher?
Did mounting expenses dwarf his income and suck the air out of his dreams?

“We are perplexed.”

Endless word of widespread persecution and death may have mirrored our present-day newsfeed, blaring a stream of events so unbelievable that emotions struggle to keep pace.

How does one meet all the needs, answer all the objections, filter all the choices?

The perplexity and the pressure are overwhelming to me, but Paul seemed actually to be strengthened by it:

“We are not crushed.”

Across the centuries, I strain my ears for the Uncrushable Wisdom, listening for a raspy voice, ruined from the blatant misuse of vocal cords in outdoor speaking engagements and thick with gravel from having traveled around in a tired body.  In exchange for Paul’s emptiness, God offered treasure: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” (II Co. 4:6 ESV).  He became so full that the sheer force of Jesus’ life offset the pressure and permeated all the empty spaces.

I’d love to make that man a sandwich and sit down with him for just a few minutes – or even to stand at the kitchen counter.  I want to ask him how it all worked for him.

Here’s what I think Paul would say:

“All you have to be is desperate.”

***

I called the State Prison yesterday. It’s located in my little town but I’ve never set foot on its grounds. There are people living there who need everything that I take for granted.

The polite and expectant voice that answered the phone did not suspect that I’m sort of “That church lady,” and that I have absolutely nothing to offer to people who live behind bars. She might have suspected (from my halting presentation) that I had not prepared a speech to explain why I was calling her, but the words “literacy volunteer” came to my mind and my mouth at the same time. Reading, writing, resume preparation—I could do this. I could use words to build a bridge to people who frighten me with their crushing problems.

Who do I even think I am?

Yeah, I’m desperate.

***

Paul clutched his own empty canning jar with both hands and lifted it up to the One who fills.

The container is secondary to the contents. “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God” was the only thing that could have accounted for Paul’s strength and resiliency—not his brittle clay, but his glorious contents as a Christ-bearer, without which he might have actually collapsed into his own hollow vacuum.

There’s a kind of humility inherent in being just a container. If I should ever be allowed to walk through the door of the State Prison and to help someone hone reading and writing skills; if I should gain their trust sufficiently to share eternal Truth with them, it will not be my prerogative to make the message all about me. In fact, the more “me” there is in the message, the less the message will be about Jesus. Who wants to eat ice cream that has begun to taste like the carton?

As Mary became a chalice into which the life of God was poured, my emptiness is an invitation for God to pour His fullness into me—whatever my assignment for 2017. By filling and indwelling believers, Jesus makes sure that the world will continue to see God in the flesh. As God’s expression of what He is like, we become broken bread and poured out wine.

There is no greater fullness.


 

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

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When You Don’t Know What to Pray

I’m a note-taker and a scribbler, so the pages of my favorite Bible are highlighted in yellow, underlined in pencil, and inscribed with various colors of pen, but my favorite and most meaningful markings are four sets of initials lightly penciled beside select verses.  These are my four sons’ initials, and they draw my eyes toward words of prayer from the mouths of Old Testament kings and prophets.  They bring to mind prayer requests from the pens of New Testament apostles.  They are reminders that there can be more to my prayer life than my own tired words rolling mechanically from my lips.
From the time my eldest son was born, I have “collected” Scriptural prayers for my boys, and as I have been reading in the book of II Thessalonians, I have encountered four prayers from the heart of the Apostle Paul in Corinth on behalf of his spiritual children in far-away Thessalonica.  Now with my “baby” at age thirteen, my oldest married and a dad, and the middle guys busier than ever, I find that my prayers, like Paul’s, need to come from a place of longing to see them, but, at the same time, trusting the sovereign protection of their Heavenly Father.  Because my prayers (like me) tend to be weighted down with anxiety and a bit short-sighted, I love to soar with the wings of these scriptural prayers for my boys:
Capture
Today I’m visiting over at Soli Deo Gloria, a community where the welcome sign is always out.  Click here to finish reading about Paul’s prayers for his spiritual children in Thessalonica — words that have shaped my own prayer life — and while you are there, be sure to take note of the many topics covered by other writers who speak truth from the Word of God.

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Rounding Out the Narrative

Character development is my favorite part of reading a book, whether it’s a work of fiction, a biography, or an historical account.  The individual’s motivation, inner dialogue, sense of humor, use of language, and interaction with other characters is fascinating to observe.  In Empire’s End, Jerry Jenkins has taken on the challenge of melding a biographical account of the Apostle Paul with fictional events and characters to round out the narrative where the historical record is thin.

Saul of Tarsus, a small, balding, and bookish man in his thirties, was thrilled with the effectiveness of his tireless efforts to destroy a cult known in first-century Palestine as The Way.  Driven by his ambition and by his zeal for a pure Judaism, he and his team were merciless, swift and brutal in extinguishing followers of the so-called Messiah, until one day, on his way to wipe out a community of Christ-followers in Damascus, Saul was blinded by a bright light, heard the voice of Jesus Christ, and his life was forever altered.

Any Sunday school child could provide an overview of Saul’s new life as Paul the Apostle, for it comprises over half the book of Acts and his journeys have been mapped, color-coded and included in curricula and Bible studies the world over.  Empire’s End includes what every storyteller worth her flannelgraph has been incorporating for decades:  the addition of details from sound research and a sanctified imagination to bring the story to life. Whether it is called “biblical fiction” or “fictionalized scripture,” this genre provides at least three important services to readers:

1.  Enhanced descriptions of setting and historical context.
The political shenanigans behind the scenes in the Roman Empire, the harsh and unforgiving landscape that Paul traveled, and many cultural norms are simply taken for granted in the New Testament.  Luke’s purpose in penning the book of Acts was to record, or, in his own words, “to give an orderly account,” (Luke 1:3) — not to capture attention or to entertain.  A biblically astute reader will distinguish between the author’s additions and the basic details given in Scripture.

2.  Transformation of the beads into a necklace
We all know that Paul went over the city wall in a basket, but then the next verses in the Acts account put him in Jerusalem.  Later, we learn that somewhere along the way he spent time in the desert.  Jerry Jenkins has pieced together all the exciting cliff hangers of Paul’s early ministry and suggested how Paul might have travelled, where he might have lived, and even whom he might have met in his travels.  Jenkins has invented a few miraculous occurrences to account for things, but when you consider that he’s writing about the guy who restored Eutychus to life, survived a poisonous snakebite, and was transported out of the body, it’s hard to accuse him of straining the imagination.

3.  Flesh layered onto the bones
Returning to Paul’s narrow escape from Damascus in a basket, have you ever wondered who lowered him over the wall or what it felt like inside the basket?  How did he escape once he hit the ground?  How did Paul’s background and knowledge of Scripture impact on his new life?  How did he receive teaching during his three years in the dessert, and how did he even survive?  Did his sin-tendencies and old habits from his former life ever flare up?  These are some of the questions Empire’s End addresses.  Extremely powerful are the instances in which Jenkins uses content from Paul’s epistles in his reconstituted and hypothetical thought processes.  For example, when Paul is struggling to accept the authority of the watchmen guarding the apostles, the words of Philippians 2 come to his mind:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Himself the form of a servant . . .”

Paul’s tender relationship with Barnabas, his instant and promising connection with his young nephew, and the fact that the story comes to a screeching halt before Paul begins a single missionary journey make Empire’s End a story that absolutely begs for a sequel.  Therefore, I expect that readers looking for a follow up to book one (I, Saul), and Empire’s End will not be disappointed . . . or Left Behind.


 

This book was provided by Worthy Publishing in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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I link up with these communities on a regular basis:  Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way