David's Blog

Beware the power of entertainment!!

For a society like our own where there is no end to the entertainment available to us via screens, here is an important reminder from Tony Reinke of Desiring God of the powerful grip such visual media can have on our hearts if we're not careful. Definitely worth reading and pondering. The original article appeared here: Desiring God article



A movie so good it ruins you.
Would you watch it?

Article by  Tony Reinke    Senior writer, desiringGod.org

It’s the question the late David Foster Wallace puts before every reader of his novel Infinite Jest, the Shakespearean book title that doubles as the name of a movie within the encyclopedic tale.
In the story, the movie Infinite Jest so captivates hearts and eyes that no other entertainment can compete — the McGuffin of the novel, the plot-trigger for bigger themes to center on. “A lot of the book is about an art film director who comes up with a film that’s so entertaining that anyone who watches it never wants to do anything else,” said Wallace in an interview. “Then the interesting question becomes: If such a thing exists, do you avail yourself of it or not?”
“If a movie were fatally good and lethally entertaining, would you see it?”
In the novel, even the U.S. government does its best to investigate the addictive movie and its consequences. Body strapped to chair, electrodes stuck to temple, a lab mouse of a man watches the movie, narrating to researchers the opening scene, that is, “before the subject’s mental and spiritual energies abruptly decline to a point where even near-lethal voltages through the electrodes couldn’t divert his attention from the Entertainment.”
Having seen the film, and wanting nothing more than to watch it repeatedly, the “victims” are consigned to psychiatric wards. “The persons’ lives’ meanings had collapsed to such a narrow focus that no other activity or connection could hold their attention. Possessed of roughly the mental/spiritual energies of a moth.”
If a movie were fatally good and lethally entertaining, would you see it?

Death by Candy

In Wallace’s 1996 interview with Judith Strasser on Wisconsin Public Radio, he voiced his personal anxieties over our amusement culture. The book is “a kind of parodic exaggeration of people’s relationship to entertainment now,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s all that different.”
He was sounding an alarm.
In the novel, U.S. and Canadian relations are strained to the point that certain Canadian elements attempt to broadcast the movie into the U.S. as cinematic subterfuge — an attempt to get America to “choke itself to death on candy.”
Wallace has managed to create a metaphor for America’s entire entertainment industry in one seductive film — so seductive, that the great challenge for the U.S. government is determining how to warn people not to watch the film without causing everyone to rush out to see it immediately.
“I think a lot of this sort of hugger-mugger in the book comes down to the fact that the government can’t really do a whole lot. That our decisions about how we relate to fun and entertainment and sports are very personal, so private that they’re sort of between us and our hearts,” he says. “In fact, there’s a fair amount of high comedy at the government, going around ringing its hands trying to figure out what to do. These decisions are going to have to be made inside us as individuals about what we’re going to give ourselves away to and what we aren’t.”
The novel is a pointed question to America’s citizens: Will they “have the wherewithal to keep from entertaining themselves to death?”

Screens Better Than Life?

The novel was future looking, out a few years, but not too far. We’re living in his future, and he intended his alarm to ring loudest today. “The book is meant to seem kind of surreal and outlandish at first and then, in sort of a creepy way, to seem not all that implausible,” he said twenty-two years ago.
“At some point we’re going to have virtual reality pornography. I would just invite you to think about, given the level of people whose lives are ruined just by addiction to video peepshow stores now — what sort of resources we’re going to have to cultivate in ourselves and in our citizenry,” all to not give ourselves over to this technology? “I mean, maybe that sounds silly, but the stuff’s going to get better and better and it’s not clear to me that we, as a culture, are teaching ourselves or our children what we’re going to say yes and no to.”
“By indulging in the candy of entertainment, we are left with a weakened appetite for our daily devotions.”
Without being anti-entertainment or anti-TV, Wallace could sound the warning. “I think somehow, we as a culture have stopped or are afraid to teach ourselves that pleasure is dangerous, and that some kinds of pleasure are better than others, and that part of being a human being means deciding how much active participation we want to have in our own lives.”
“We have to reevaluate our relationship to fun and pleasure and entertainment because it’s going to get so good, and so high pressure, that we’re going to have to forge some kind of attitude toward it that lets us live.”
He was right. Media continues to get better and more vivid. CGI effects are becoming more moving. Movies more stunning. TV dramas more compelling. Actors more persuasive. “We’re going to have to come to some sort of understanding about how much we’re going to allow ourselves, because it’s probably going to get a lot more fun than real life.” He was speaking of TV, movies, gaming, and mass media, but even social media and the Internet, while democratizing voices, would not make our screens less addictive, and Wallace knew it.
Screens will become more fun than real life. “And the better the images get, the more tempting it’s going to be to interact with images rather than other people, and I think the emptier it’s going to get. That’s just a suspicion and just my own opinion.”

Media Temperance

All of this was more than theory for Wallace, who ditched his TV. “I don’t have a TV because if I have a TV I will watch it all the time.” And that’s the simple self-awareness needed in the video age.
“I don’t own a TV, but that is not TV’s fault. It’s my fault,” he reiterated. “After an hour, I’m not even enjoying watching it because I’m feeling guilty at how nonproductive I’m being. Except the feeling guilty then makes me anxious, which I want to soothe by distracting myself, so I watch TV even more. And it just gets depressing. My own relationship to TV depresses me.”
Not all of our TVs should go in the garbage, but we should all cultivate media self-awareness. This is where media temperance begins. Not by asking: “Prove to me my shows are sinful”; or “Give me media diet intake restrictions”; or “Prove to me my gaming is wrong.” It starts with self-reflective awareness as we seek to preserve higher pleasures by saying no to lesser indulgences.

Endless Good of TV

The problem with video gaming is not that gaming is evil, but that it’s immersively good. Gaming franchises are getting bigger as gameplay becomes more lifelike. We live in an age when all the aesthetic manicurists of digital visual pleasure culture have reached staggering heights of power and influence. They’ve never been better. And they’re getting better.
The problem with TV is not that TV is evil, but that TV is endlessly good at giving us exactly what we want whenever we want it. Our in-demand platforms continue to bulge with options, new releases and classic favorites from past generations. As the whole history of TV is offered to us, our new TV releases are getting more complex and textured, more graphically stunning, demanding more immersion and focus from viewers.
What it all means is that we, the viewers, are lured with ever more glittering bait to passive drift into an escapist dream from our boring lives with “whispers that, somewhere, life is quicker, denser, more interesting, more . . . well, lively than contemporary life.”
Daily life will never compete with the tele-visual magicians of Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Hollywood, and HBO.

Going Forward

I’m not suggesting that indulging in entertainment will leave us with no time for our morning devotions. I’m suggesting that by indulging in the candy of entertainment we are left with a weakened appetite for the solid nourishment of our daily devotions. The greater danger. We are not meant to barely survive with the spiritual energies of a moth, but to flourish in the alertness of the Spirit’s presence.
“Not all of our TVs should go in the garbage, but we should all cultivate media self-awareness.”
If Wallace were still alive, he’d certainly still be calling for us to walk out such a thought experiment to challenge our entertainment diets. But Christians are equipped by Scripture to take up the conversation from this point. These are very personal decisions between us, our hearts, and our God, all for the sake of our soul and for the sake of our kids, protective convictions that will make it possible for us to truly live, and to give our hearts away — not to a flickering screen that cannot love us back — but to give ourselves away to the spiritual pleasures of a Savior who promises to love us back because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Some thoughts on how to read the Bible with profit

Here's an article from Simon Wenham who works for RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) and which was published in their Slice of Infinity emails which they send out to anyone interested. It was published under the title 'An Experimental Fellowship'. You can find out more about RZIM & Slice of Infinity here http://rzim.org/

“The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” —D. L. Moody
The Bible may be one of the best-selling books of all time, but it is a resource that polarises opinion. Some atheists are strongly opposed to it, as they maintain that scripture contains unhelpful, ill-informed, and incorrect teaching that is positively harmful for today’s society. Others take a more disinterested view of it, as they see it as a largely irrelevant piece of literature from a more primitive time, which inevitably contains an eclectic mixture of both good and bad instruction. By contrast, Christians believe the Bible is not only the word of God, but it is completely indispensable for all of humanity.
In truth, of course, many believers find parts of scripture difficult. Some of it is hard to understand or relate to, and the teaching doesn’t always have a lasting or deep impact. One obvious reason for this is that people have busy lives and whilst they often invest a great deal of energy developing their professional skills or taking part in hobbies or leisure activities, they simply don’t spend much time reading the Bible. Another reason is that often Christians only engage with scripture in a fairly surface-level way, like a sportsperson preparing for a contest by training in a manner that provides only limited improvement.
RZIM Chaplain, Tom Tarrants, suggests that people should look to the example of George Müller (1805-1898) for guidance in this area. The latter was an evangelist who achieved fame not only for helping hundreds of thousands of British children in his orphanages and schools, but also for his steadfast faith that the providence of God would meet the considerable needs of his many ventures. Yet he is less known for the life-changing discovery he made in 1841, which lay behind the deep joy and faith that defined and drove his ministry.
Although he had routinely prayed each morning for over a decade, he realized that his mind often wandered and it could take some time before he was conscious of any comfort, encouragement, or humbling of his soul. He eventually came to the conclusion that “the first great and primary business” he needed to attend to was the nourishing of the inner self, so that the soul became “happy in the Lord.”(1) This, he stressed, was far more important than focusing on how to serve or glorify God, because reaching the unconverted, helping others, and improving one’s character or behavior were all dependant on being spiritually nourished and strengthened.
In order to achieve this, he stressed that a believer had to enter an “experimental fellowship with God,” which required reading and meditating on the Bible. This process involved, firstly, asking for the Lord’s blessing upon his scripture and then to meditate on the word “searching, as it were, into every verse, to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the Word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.” Asking the Spirit for help in considering God’s word, pondering over it, and applying it to his heart, he almost always found that within a few minutes his soul was “led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication.” In other words, despite not giving himself to prayer, the meditation almost immediately led him to it. By speaking to his Father and friend about the things brought before him in the Bible, he found that he was “comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed.” Furthermore, the process also ensured that the teaching would sink in, rather than disappearing from his mind like water through a pipe.
After he had been doing this for some time, he would move on to the next part of the passage turning it “into prayer for myself or others as the Word led,” whilst continually bearing in mind that the object of the meditation was to gain food for the soul. In doing so, he was able to achieve a “peaceful if not happy state of heart” that he claimed was vital for his ongoing ministry. Indeed, he explained that the blessing he received gave him the “help and strength” to “pass in peace” through the deeper trials of life.
What astonished him most of all about this revelation was that he had not heard about the approach from any believer, whether in print, public ministry, or private conversation. It was as plain to him as anything, that this had been taught to him by God. Furthermore, such was the “immense spiritual profit and refreshment” that he derived from it for over forty years that he “affectionately and solemnly” urged all believers to do the same.
If you find the Bible difficult, or doubt its power, or simply want a new way of reading scripture, then why not try Müller’s approach for yourself? Not only did this “experimental fellowship with God” provide him with a deep happiness in his soul, but it was also the foundation upon which he was able to do some amazing things, often in the face of considerable challenges. After all, as he pointed out, “How different it is when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials and the temptations of the day come upon one.”

Simon Wenham is research coordinator for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Europe.

(1) Quotes taken from G. Müller, Autobiography of George Müller (London, 1906), 152-154.


Encouragement for our personal witness

Here is an article by Glen Scrivener which appeared on the Gospel Coalition website which gives encouragement to every Christian to love their neighbour &, where an opportunity is given, not to be afraid to share the good news of Jesus with them. I found it here  The Guy with the Mic   :- 

The Guy with the Mic Doesn’t Speak for the Room


I love preaching to students, and I get dozens of opportunities each year on university campuses across the UK. Usually I’m invited as a guest of the university’s Christian Union, their strategy to reach fellow students based on four cornerstones: deep friendships, personal invitations, free lunches, and, when it comes to talk titles, unashamed “trolling.” I absolutely love Christian Unions, and I heartily endorse three of these four foundations.
The trolling part involves talk titles that, in the interests of “engaging the difficult questions” end up delivering the hapless speaker—occasionally me—before an audience of undergraduates to address the issue of why God is such a genocidal maniac/homophobic bigot/hell-loving kill-joy, and so on. As I’m about to address the assembled students, it always occurs to me that 90 percent of the audience would have shown up just for the sandwich. Nonetheless, I step up to the plate and speak to the topic because I’m polite enough to do what the Christian Union tells me and contrarian enough to enjoy the argument.

GUY WITH THE MIC

During one outreach the Christian Union organised a lunch around the topic: “Does God Hate Women?” The students had the wisdom to bench me for this talk and invited a woman who spoke to the subject brilliantly. So there I was in the audience, doing what every evangelist does in such circumstances (mentally stealing every one of her illustrations), and after 20 minutes of winsome gospeling, the floor was thrown open to questions.
At this point the president of the Atheists and Secular Humanists Society stood up, grabbed the microphone, and began an interrogation that lasted the allotted 15 minutes. The speaker did excellently, answering with Scriptures, wisdom, grace, and humour. The subjects veered from women, to slaves, to homosexuality, to hell, to Old Testament war, to transphobia. She kept smiling, kept answering with grace, but all the while the shoulders of everyone in the room rose steadily until no one had any neck left. At last a poor student had to get up, cut off the atheist, and close the meeting, sheepishly inviting inquirers to a meeting that night.

Simply because they’re loud, we imagine they’re representative.

As the music played and we began to let our shoulders descend from around our ears, I turned to my neighbour Mark, a 19-year-old economics student. “What did you make of that?” I asked. He was quiet for a bit. Then he said, “Oh I wasn’t listening to that guy. It’s just . . . my grandfather died last month, and I’ve just been wondering what it’s all about. What do you reckon?” And we were off.
We spoke for a good hour, rooted to those plastic seats, still holding our paper plates, and talking all the while of Jesus. We opened up a copy of John’s Gospel, which the Christian Union was giving away (this is the fifth cornerstone of university outreach in the UK, and it’s brilliant: lots of free Gospels!). As we opened up to John 1, I glanced around the room. Half a dozen similar conversations were happening. Engaged enquirers were talking to Christian students and listening—really listening—to gospel truths. Most took copies of John’s Gospel. Many, including Mark, returned that night. In fact, he heard the gospel and believed.
Ever since my motto has been: The Guy with the Mic Does Not Speak for the Room.

CLOSED CULTURE, OPEN NEIGHBOUR

As you may have guessed, this anecdote is also a parable. The guy with the mic is anyone with a platform, culturally speaking. It’s the talk show host, the media commentator, the columnist, the celebrity, the mood we pick up on the airwaves. And simply because they’re loud, we imagine they’re representative. But what does their amplified opinion have to do with your neighbour? The amplified voice might despise Christianity, but your neighbour just lost a loved one. They’re wondering what it’s all about. Maybe they’d even be open to looking at the Bible with you. So why don’t we turn to them and ask?

You’re not called to love ‘the culture’ as a concept. You’re called to love your neighbour.

Here are two broad reasons why we don’t: The brash among us are too busy yelling at the radio, despairing at “the culture,” and fantasising about how our devastating ripostes would skewer the guy with the mic. The shy among us are too busy cowering away from our neighbours, expecting each to be as difficult as the guy with the mic. In both cases, we give far too much credence to the guy with the mic.
As one small but instructive example, a recent survey in the UK asked non-Christians whether they considered Christians “homophobic.” Among non-Christians who say they know a Christian, only 7 percent said they did. What’s fascinating to me is that whenever I quote that statistic, Christians instantly shoot back, “I don’t believe it. I bet it’s different in my town/workplace/demographic.” Maybe. But statisticians ran the survey, and you’re going with your gut. Is it possible you’re giving too much weight to the atheist with the mic? Perhaps you’re excusing yourself from fruitful outreach simply because you’re afraid of a projected image of what “the culture” believes. But you’re not called to love “the culture” as a concept. You’re called to love your neighbour. So why not turn to your neighbour and start the conversation?

NO PLAN B

Whenever I read Jesus’s parable of sowing the seed (i.e., preaching the Word) in Matthew 13, I imagine a little dialogue:
Disciples: Lord, what’s our evangelistic strategy for really hardened people (v. 19)?
Jesus: Preach the Word.
Disciples: Right! Yes! Good one, Lord. But now, get this, what if they’re really shallow? They have no depth, no sticking power (vv. 20–21).
Jesus: Preach the Word.
Disciples: Wow! Okay! Really doubling down on that preaching the Word thing. Great. But, here’s a curveball for you, Jesus. What if they’re choked by worries or by consumerism (v. 22)?
Jesus: Preach the Word.
Disciples: Starting to see a pattern here. And I’m guessing if they’re open to the Word we . . .
Jesus: Preach the Word.

Jesus even speaks of weeds growing up (vv. 24–30)—noxious teaching in our midst that destroys people—yet still he doesn’t recommend plan B. There is no plan B. There is only plan A: “Preach the word.”
If this soil won’t hear, we sow on another. And another. And another. If this hearer is hard, we don’t get out the crowbar. We don’t beat them into submission. We sow into the next heart, and the next, and the next.
There is good soil. We have good seed. So ignore the guy with the mic. Turn to your neighbour and speak of Jesus. Preach the Word. The fields are still white for harvest.


Glen Scrivener is an evangelist and author of several books, including 3 2 1: The Story of God, the World, and You and Four Kinds of Christmas: Which Are You?. Glen also directs the charity Speak Life, which released a four-episode evangelistic mini-film, Meet the Nativity, in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2017.

For the broken-hearted at Christmas

Here's a reminder that Christmas is for those of us with broken hearts & empty seats at the table - it's one of John Piper's Solid Joys Advent posts - you can find out more about these posts and how to receive them at the bottom of the page here:  Solid joys 


Life and Death at Christmas
By John Piper

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
As I was about to begin this devotional, I received word that Marion Newstrum had just died. Marion and her husband Elmer had been part of our church longer than most of our members had been alive at the time. She was 87. They had been married 64 years.
When I spoke to Elmer and told him I wanted him to be strong in the Lord and not give up on life, he said, “He has been a true friend.” I pray that all Christians will be able to say at the end of life, “Christ has been a true friend.”
Each Advent I mark the anniversary of my mother’s death. She was cut off in her 56th year in a bus accident in Israel. It was December 16, 1974. Those events are incredibly real to me even today. If I allow myself, I can easily come to tears — for example, thinking that my sons never knew her. We buried her the day after Christmas. What a precious Christmas it was!
Many of you will feel your loss this Christmas more pointedly than before. Don’t block it out. Let it come. Feel it. What is love for, if not to intensify our affections — both in life and death? But oh, do not be bitter. It is tragically self-destructive to be bitter.
Jesus came at Christmas that we might have eternal life. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Elmer and Marion had discussed where they would spend their final years. Elmer said, “Marion and I agreed that our final home would be with the Lord.”
Do you feel restless for home? I have family coming home for the holidays. It feels good. I think the bottom-line reason for why it feels good is that they and I are destined in the depths of our being for an ultimate Homecoming. All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good.
Unless they become substitutes. Oh, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final, great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven.
Christmas. What is it but this: I came that they may have life? Marion Newstrum, Ruth Piper, and you and I — that we might have Life, now and forever.

Make your Now the richer and deeper this Christmas by drinking at the fountain of Forever. It is so near.

Christmas lesson from Chicago

What a Poor Chicago Family Taught Me One Christmas Eve (article by Lee Strobel - posted by Bible Gateway - Lee Strobel worked on the Chicago Tribune.)

The Chicago Tribune newsroom was eerily quiet one day before Christmas. As I sat at my desk with little to do, my mind kept wandering back to a family I had encountered a month earlier while I was working on a series of articles about Chicago’s neediest people.
The Delgados—sixty-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny—had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two-room apartment on the West Side. As I walked in, I couldn’t believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls—only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. That’s it. They were virtually devoid of possessions.
But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace.
I wrote an article about the Delgados and then quickly moved on to more exciting assignments. But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation: here was a family that had nothing but faith and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially but lacked faith—and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment.
I walked over to the city desk to sign out a car. It was a slow news day with nothing of consequence going on. My boss could call me if something were to happen. In the meantime, I decided to drive over to West Homer Street and see how the Delgados were doing.
When Jenny opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Tribune readers had responded to my article by showering the Delgados with a treasure trove of gifts—roomfuls of furniture, appliances, and rugs; a lavish Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents underneath; carton upon bulging carton of food; and a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves. On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash.
But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English: “Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do.”
That blew me away! If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me.
“This is wonderful; this is very good,” she said, gesturing toward the largess. “We did nothing to deserve this—it’s a gift from God. But,” she added, “it is not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus.”
To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything—more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus—because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters.
They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I only knew the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material—and something made me long for what they had.
Or, more accurately, for the One they knew

A prayer in the midst of all the busy-ness of Advent

An advent prayer from Scotty Smith (anglicised in its references & spelling!)

Heavenly Father, the Advent theme of “waiting” confronts me in every context of life. Why am I in such a hurry? Why the rush? At just the right time, you sent Jesus. Not a day too early, and not a day late. It will be the same with Jesus’ second coming.
But as for me, cars in front of me cannot move fast enough. Amazon and Royal mail can’t be delivered quick enough. Restaurants can’t serve me soon enough and Wi-Fi can’t be speedy enough. Worse, people can’t make their point soon enough.
I repent. Early in this season of Advent, I want to recalibrate my heart, that I might live and love at the pace of grace. Free me of my busy, cluttered, in too-much-of-a-hurry self. According to you, the only thing that counts is “faith expressing itself in love” (Gal. 5:6), not impatience expressing itself in irritability. May my “to love list” supersede my “to do list,” a thousand-fold.
Father, thank you for not being in a hurry. Thank you for waiting to be gracious to us. Thank you for not being slow about your promises. Thank you for being patient with my impatience. I lament my busyness and repent of my hurriedness. I purpose to slow down—look, listen, and linger in the presence and beauty of Jesus. Oh, come let us adore Him, indeed.
In Jesus’ wonderful and merciful and name.

Amen
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