1) What negative thoughts come to mind when you hear the word “church?” What positive thoughts?
2) Last week we talked about sanctification –AKA “Holiness” – John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement once said “You can no more be a Holy hermit than a Holy adulterer” – what does he mean by that? Have you seen this to be true in your life, or in the lives of others?
3) Read Hebrews 10:22-25, why are church gatherings necessary for believers?
4) The word church can have lots of different meanings. The word we use comes from a German word that could be interpreted “house of God,” but in Christian theology we don’t believe that God resides in our church buildings. The Greek word that we translate as “church” in the Bible is “ecclesia” ἐκκλησία – which at the time referred to a democratic gathering of Greek political leaders. Given this information, what is the difference between “a church” and “the Church?” (also known a the universal church, or the ecclesia.) Why is it important to know the difference?
See: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=g1577 for more info on the word ecclesia (as well as any other greek words you have questions about)
5) Read Acts 2:42-47 – what would you say were the goals and purposes of the early church? How is this different from the modern, American church?
6) Jesus preached to thousands during his ministry. Why do you think he chose 12 to spend more time with? Do you have someone discipling you?
7) Throughout the new testament there is one word that is translated as “disciple” or make disciples, mathēteuō, as seen in acts 14:21 where it says “after preaching and making many disciples…” And the word didasko as in acts 15:1 where Luke talks about the false teachers who came to said that all Christians had to go through the Jewish right of circumcision to be saved. What do you think the difference is between making disciples and teaching?
8) Read 1 Tim 2:1-2 – What does this passage tell us about our roles as disciples?
9) If you are being poured into by people who are discipling you, are you discipling anyone else?
10) How are you engaging with a gathering of believers at least once a week for worship and discipleship? What next step can you take? Serving in a church? Discipline others? How can this group help?
1) What are some negative things that come to mind when you hear the word “Holy?” What are some positive things?
2) Did you grow up hearing about the “Holy Spirit?” or “Holy Ghost?” what have you heard about it?
3) Read John 14:26, Romans 8:26, Acts 1:8 – what roles does the Holy Spirit play in our lives according these passages? Have you seen that in your life or the lives of others?
4) Read Galatians 5:22-23, have you seen these “Fruits” in your life or in others? Have they ever surprised you?
5) Read 1 Corinthians 2:14 and 1 Corinthians 3:16-17
see: biblereasons.com/holy-spirit for more reading on the Holy Spirit.
6) Sanctification is a big, churchy word. It simply means to be made Holy. One definition of it “Becoming the kind of person who would be comfortable in heaven.” Have you heard people talk about Sanctification before? What comes to mind when you hear it?
7) Read 1st John 1:8 then read 1 John 3:6 – why do you think these two verses seem to conflict? (notice the verb tenses) and what can they teach us about a Holy life? Is holiness just about avoiding sin?
…This is a big topic that theology nerds love to talk about, so if you’re having trouble grabbing hold of it, remember Jesus told us in last week’s passages to simply “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.”
8) read 2 Peter 3:18 – do you think Sanctification is a process or does it happen in a moment? What has it looked like in your life or in the lives of Christians around you?
9) Read Romans 12: 1-2. Be honest, do you believe that you can be made Holy in this life time? Do you believe that God’s sanctifying grace is at work in your life? Why or why not?
10) What practical steps can you take this week to allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life?
1. What comes to mind when you hear the word grace?
2. What is the difference between mercy and grace?
3. Can you think of a time that someone (other than Jesus) extend irrational seeming grace to you or someone else you know?
4. Read Jeremiah 1:5 , Ezekiel 34:11, 16, John 12:32 what do these verses tell us about what we call “Prevenient Grace” or grace that goes before us?
5. Look back at your life, can you think of specific ways that God was at work to call you to him before you even knew him? Maybe even before you were born?
6. Read Ephesians 1:7, Titus 3:7, and Romans 5:21 – Do you have trouble believing God justified all of us on the cross? That he forgave you? That he forgives others?
7. Read Ephesians 2:8 and James 2:14-26. How would you explain the balance between faith, works, and grace in salvation?
8. Read 1 Corinthians 6:11 and 2nd Corinthians 5:17 – After being Justified – or made right with God, there is another work of Grace, called “Sanctification” or being made Holy by God. Have you ever heard of this word, what does it mean to you?
9. Read Matthew 5:48. (if you have time read all of Matthew 5 beforehand) At the end of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, after talking about all the ways his followers should live he hits us with this. But don’t freak out just yet. Read Matthew 6:33 what does this tell us about how we can be made Holy and Righteous?
10. How can you live into God’s grace this week? Is there someone you need to show grace to? Are you seeking his Kingdom first?
[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”From How Beautiful by Twila Paris”]How beautiful the hands that served the wine and the bread and the sons of the earth. How beautiful the feet that walked the long dusty roads and the hill to the cross.[/parallax_quote]
Yesterday in worship we played a video that had a shot of Matthew Gamble, a Frazer Staff Member, filling out our new connect card. Matt happened to be walking by when I was shooting the video and I asked if he could be my hand model. We got the footage and I threw it in the video.
As I was leaving church of the day after service, I saw Matt and his family heading out. Matt’s oldest was saying to him that she recognized his hands in the video and it occurred to me, that’s exactly what children of God do: we recognize our dad’s hands.
[parallax_quote animation=”fadeInUp” author=”Psalm 104:24 NLT”]O Lord, how many are Your works!In wisdom You have made them all;The earth is full of Your possessions.[/parallax_quote]
I’ve been known to indulge in a disagreement with an atheist from time to time. I was in one a while back in which we very quickly reached a premise upon which we could not agree. He clearly believed that the good that the church does is in no way an evidence of anything greater, but simply something it does on its own without any outside help. I’m sure he would say the same about the cosmological argument of God, that all the beauty of creation manifested entirely on its own.
I realize now that to someone who doesn’t know the father, he just sees a generic pair of hands; it could science, it could be man, it could be luck. But when we see it, we recognize our father’s hands. We know what his hands look like. We know the way they look. We know they can look like regular people’s hands. We know that his hands often look like happenstance. But we know the difference between mere chance and our father’s hands at work. After all, when the disciples didn’t believe Jesus when they saw his face, they believed when he showed them his hands.
[home_circle_callout_line]After he said this,he showed them [/home_circle_callout_line]
[home_circle_callout_line highlight=”true”] his hands and side.[/home_circle_callout_line]
[home_circle_callout_line]The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. [/home_circle_callout_line]
[home_circle_callout_line]John 20:20 NIV[/home_circle_callout_line]
So, in what unexpected places have you recognized the father’s hands?
If you’re not letting the rocks cry out or donkeys speak to you occasionally I think you’re missing out, because it happens to me all the time.
How it started for me:
When I was a kid, like most children who grew up in a Christian home, my Mom was concerned about the kind of media I consumed. She wanted to be sure that the TV shows I viewed, video games I played, and movies I watched were at least somewhat consistent with a Christian worldview. The problem was both my parents were working full-time by the time I was four and I was a fourth child ergo Mom didn’t have the time to sit and watch every cartoon with me or sit as I played through all 40 hours of The Legend of Zelda.
As such, if my mom came in from play practice and I was watching a show, instead of freaking out and telling me to shut off the TV (ok she did that a few times too) she would usually put it to me to explain why I thought this show was ok. She would ask me to explain it. I soon realized that if I was going to be allowed to watch TV I had to start looking at the deeper meaning behind the media I was viewing. So I quickly learned to identify the good, the evil, and the values being espoused in a narrative. That’s where it started with me, as a child who wanted to watch TV and play video games.
The most recent step in this process for me came this past spring when I was taking a class for my MFA studies called Motion Picture Theory and Style. We did a lot of discussion of “film as text” and how to “read” a film. In the middle of this rather lofty, graduate-level class I had to write a lengthy paper analyzing the work of a director discussing his style across at least three films. (explan-a-brag incoming) When my professor returned my paper she commented that it was clear that I was far advanced in this area. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that it was because I started analyzing TV shows as a kid that now I was viewing everything as a text to be read. Suddenly I’m a good student, because I’ve been studying for this most of my life.
Beyond the academic analysis and using words like “formalism” and “intertexuality” even in my papers I have to subtly note when I see a figure who shows sacrificial love, as well as portrayals of good and evil that are consistent with a Biblical worldview. Still today, I’m looking at popular media to see where God’s truth is. It’s like a treasure hunt, a game I learned as a child that I see as more important now than ever.
Still there’s the question of Scripture, what arguments could be made, looking at the whole of scripture, for the importance of seeking truth in popular media? I believe there are several to examine.
When turning to scripture, I try to avoid developing a belief system and then looking for verses out of context that, when combined, support my position. At the same time, I can’t totally avoid seeing God’s truth played out in the larger world and then seeking confirmation in his Word, while at the same time realizing that if the confirmation isn’t there, I might be missing something.
To me the first evidence that media matters to God is in the Gospel of John verse 1:1.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
This scripture was brought alive for me recently over and over again as I traveled to the lands of the New Testament with Tom Wright. Every time I asked for a sound check with him he would quote this passage, often times swapping to the original Greek.
What does this have to do with media? Well, the Word was the first medium, the original means by which truth was communicated, and one of God’s three persons was and is characterized as being both that medium and its message. The Word, John goes on to say, became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus Christ was the Word before he was Flesh. That to me says that God cares deeply about the media through which his message was communicated, the most important one, of course being Jesus and the second most important one being us, that’s why he became human, but before he did, he was first The Word.
I think you may be overextending this metaphor…
No, I’m not saying that the Holy Word of God is somehow equivalent to every other form of the various media out there, but I am saying this: God the father is often said to be cosmic and indescribable, the Holy Spirit is often compared to elements in nature like water, fire and wind. But other than human titles like Warrior, King, Brother, Master, and Lord – the object lesson we’re given for Christ is him as “the Word.”
The word used for “Word” there is “logos”, and it is where we get the English word ‘logo,’ a visually distinct identifying mark. It is often also translated as “plan” or “reason” and it is used by philosophers as shorthand for all of life’s meaning and purpose. When we examine a film for the Biblical narrative, we’re looking for that Logos.
Paul uses this word three different times in three different books and when you hear it, know that Paul means everything, and I believe that we should include the media we consume with that.
Whatever you do,
Whatever, meaning everything, should especially make our ears perk up when we read the scriptures.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
This is a popular passage and for Good reason it seems to cover a lot of ground, but if you don’t read the rest of the Chapter, especially the first sixteen verses leading up to this you might miss how exactly Paul says to “do it all in the name of Jesus.” Paul lists off all the sins that the church members in Colossae used to participate in, and says they’re no longer part of that life. Then he says to do everything in the name of God.
Whatever you Consume,
Next in Corinthians Paul says this:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
This context is pretty interesting, Paul is responding to concerns about eating food that may have been used for sacrifice to Apollo. I was recently in Corinth and part the temple to Apollo there is still standing, as well as a nearby market entrance – it was likely that people would go and buy animals there, take it to be used as a sacrifice to Apollo and then bring it home for dinner. Obviously this concerned the early Christians who might be served this meat, unknowingly eating something that was intended for the worship of another God.
In the passage Paul basically says not to worry about it, as long as you are doing it to God’s glory it doesn’t matter if it was intended as a pagan sacrifice.
This speaks hugely into the way we view secular media. We find these various popular narratives and we ask, should we even engage with this? I think Paul would say yes, as long as you can do it to God’s Glory – whether in word or deed, whatever you consume – do it unto God.
Ok, this isn’t a post on gluttony
I should point out that in Corinthians he does say that if you know for certain that a particular meat was used as sacrifice to Apollo, not to eat it to be a good witness of your faith. I do feel like Paul would say that anything you know a show or movie is definitely made to worship a false god, you shouldn’t consume it. You’re not going to find a Christ figure in 50 Shades of Gray.
Whatever is true,
Finally, for me the simplest filter for me as a question of whether I should be participating in any popular narrative, is in Philippians chapter 4.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
If you can’t find truth in it, then it isn’t worth your attention. If it isn’t pure then it isn’t in God’s will. If it isn’t admirable, then don’t waste your time on it. That’s the standard that has been set for you. Don’t stoop to anything less.
There are three approaches that Christians can take to secular media. Only three – meaning that whether you intend to or not, you have taken one of these views.
Cause they’re totally separate things!
If you’ve never given this any thought, then it’s likely that you’ve been compartmentalizing things. Compartmentalizing is placing boarders between your faith and the other parts of your life. You may have learned that your faith needs to be at work in your family, that it should have an impact on your work life, and obviously you’ll be thinking about it most during church events. If you’re like most Christians, you probably haven’t given much thought to how your faith should be at work in the entertainment you consume.
To be clear: this is about more than sex, language, and violence – this is about the truths and worldviews that you are allowing to enter your mind week after week as you sit in front of your TV, watch a movie, read books, or surf the web. Some of the most truth-filled programming may contain violence, occasional foul language and perhaps even some suggestive material (though I’d be cautious of that because it is the one we’re told to flee from in 1 Corinthians 6:18.)
If you are a regular consumer of media (watching approximately 30 hours of TV a week and going to a movie about every two weeks) and you’ve never quit watching a TV show or walked out of a movie because you felt convicted, then it is likely that there is some compartmentalization going on. If you’ve ever clicked the “Private Browsing” option on your phone, Tablet or PC – then you’re definitely compartmentalizing your faith away from the media you consume and that is never God’s best for you.
In some ways, this is the one Christians are most known for, even if we more often compartmentalize our faith, Christians are thought of as people who vehemently oppose pop culture. Though this has and is changing, as Hollywood has seen that Christians are a market and creating stories that are respectful to our beliefs will behoove them at the box office. I hate that people think this of Christians, but at the same time there are things we need to reject, as I talked about in my entry about my three rules for watching movies*.
This one is more complex, because whereas compartmentalization is always wrong, rejection is oftentimes right, though if you always choose this approach then you’ll likely miss out on some of the blessings God has for you. Taking that “Rejection View” obviously means that you take the view that says ‘because much of, or most of the various forms of popular media are not God-honoring I will not participate in it.’ And of course, that’s based on a very, true, truefact™with which all of us can agree, but that doesn’t mean it’s the whole truth.
There are times where we have to take this position; parents need to reject some media from their lives to protect young children. There will always be things in the media that we need to protest and say ‘That is Wrong!” when we see it depicted as if it were right. Young Christians, upon first coming to Christ may be in need of a ‘cultural cleanse’ where they remove themselves from the larger culture and immerse themselves into the word, similar to Paul’s seven years in Antioch, studying the scriptures and becoming “the Apostle Paul” who would go on to speak to the Greeks about their own poetry, and understand the scholarship of most of the major cultures in the Roman empire. It seems clear that Paul didn’t stay in this position his whole life, and for good reason; there is a danger to rejecting things indiscriminately and for too long.
While a person who compartmentalizes is definitely being “of the world,” A person who totally rejects the culture risks no longer being “in the world.” When you’re disengaged from the cultural narrative then you loose your ability to speak the vernacular and therefore effectively communicate with non-Christians. This isn’t a problem if you have no intention of teaching the Gospel outside of the church, but if you plan on engaging with people who don’t already know Jesus, it is important to know the stories they’re hearing on a regular basis and be able to use them in such a way that they can hear see Jesus even in the secular media; that the meat that was used to sacrifice to Apollo can be used as healthy food for them.
Finally, if you’re not engaging with the culture then it is likely that you’re missing out on God speaking to you through some surprising means. Like Balem’s Donkey in Numbers 2, or Jesus’s warning that the rocks will cry out in Luke 19:40. You don’t want to miss the unexpected places from which God will speak because you were determined that God can’t use rocks or donkeys.
This is ultimately where I believe we need to all land on this issue. We need to be willing to engage with the popular narrative up to a point such that we can be willing to learn from it, and that we can appropriate it for the use of the Kingdom.
Can this go too far? Yes. I’m not a fan of people trying to shoe-horn every film into some super-specific allegory for the gospel. I love Star Wars. I believe there are Biblical truths in Star Wars. There are truths about anger and fear dominating your life, truths about temptation and redemption, truths about good overcoming evil and truths about the nature of wisdom and choosing your mentors well. But I can say this for sure: it is not an allegory for the Gospel. There are many preachers who have tried to say things like “the Force is the Holy Spirit” or “Obi-Wan is Jesus” or maybe “Luke is Jesus” or “Yoda is Wisdom personified as in Proverbs.” Okay that last one might hold water, but for the most part Star Wars cannot be made into an allegory, and when watching it with your kids, I think you need to explain that while “The Force” is cool, it’s fictional and largely equivalent to pantheism in the real world, and while it may be similar to The Holy Spirit, it is not an allegorical one to one equivalent. Saying otherwise is theologically dangerous.
Having said this, that is exactly why you should examine the movies you watch, so that you can see where there are both truths and inconsistencies in the stories you’re consuming. You should do so with discernment*, looking for areas where it is true and areas where it isn’t true, and also understanding that you’ll come up with some different answers than your friends. You may have read my review on Disney’s Film, Tomorrowland*, but you’ll be interested to know that my friend Ken Roach, who I’d say is easily much smarter than I am, took a very different approach than I did on the same film. We have a little debate in the ensuing episode of the mid week mix up
Also it gives you in-roads to speak to other people. So this should surprise no one: I once was in a debate with a group of fellow nerds about the nature of God. Some of them didn’t like me using the word “fear” in reference to God. I reminded them that it is in the Bible multiple times, and that the word is ‘fear’ not ‘respect’ or ‘revere’ as some believe. They didn’t like that – they wanted God to be all feel-good all the time. And I understand that, because when the idea I should fear God was introduced to me, I was bothered too. But aside from the fact that it is in scripture, it just makes logical sense; the being that created the universe, when you see him don’t you think you’ll be afraid? Why do you think that every time in scripture when the angel of the Lord shows up the first thing he says is “Fear Not” if he wasn’t terrifying to the people that saw him? But the debate wore on and I actually was accused of being Pharisaical for using too much scriptural evidence. That’s when I realized that these people are not going to be convinced by scripture because they think they’ve made up their minds. That’s when I realized I had to show them that they already knew this to be true in the stories they love. So I posed this:
Let me put it in a way perhaps more tactile to this crowd: say you’ve never heard of Batman. You’re walking in the street late at night and you see a tall muscular guy lurking in a corner dressed in dark armor and a cape, you’d probably be afraid, right? Then another guy with a knife comes out of no where and batman jumps out at him- knife guy didn’t see batman before and now he’s terrified and you’d be thankful. You’d love batman, you’d do anything for batman. In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God is, what we want God to be, what kind of God we’d run to. Scripture is clear on multiple occasions: it’s the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom, love comes after that. Also this is why God sent Jesus, so we do have a person of God we can chat with, identify with, run to, etc. but that doesn’t make God any less powerful. God installing fear is a good thing for us, because he’s on our side. . . but Fear is only the beginning. 1 John 4:18 says perfect love casts out all fear. But there has to be fear first to fully understand that love. I’m totally about God’s Love and mercy. That mercy, however, is cheap if we think that God isn’t also righteous, Holy, and powerful. All I’m saying is it is not out of God’s character to do things that may seem unpleasant to us, even violent- but it’s the fact that he is capable of such that makes his love more amazing, and frankly far more comforting; in the battle of Revelation, I’d much rather take sides with a God I can fear.
Suddenly I had their attention. I had demonstrated a scriptural truth using a comic book character. Now theologians much smarter than me can debate the exact accuracy of the metaphor, but the point remains. It was Batman that ended the argument. That was all it took – It was Batman that put it in a place where they could understand. Yes scripture has to be paramount as the standard by which all stories are judged, but often the easiest way we can get the truth of Scripture through to people is resting in the the stories to which they cling.
Now the real question is did you picture batman as Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, or Christian Bale? (Note that George Clooney was not an option, and the jury’s out on Ben Affleck.
The process of watching a movie to look for God’s story is different for different people, that’s why Ken and I often come up with different readings from different films. You may look for the Christ figure, the higher power, the values, or the depiction of good and evil. But if you want to start doing this for yourself, I think it comes down to a few things:
Know scripture. If you don’t already have a consistent and full foundation of Biblical knowledge, you need to sit down and read the Bible. Like I’ve said, you need to give the Holy Spirit a vocabulary. You’re not going to be able to read films for what they’re worth if you haven’t learned the story for which you’re looking.
Look for scripture’s story. Once the stories of scripture are written on your heart then you will likely begin to see the stories everywhere. Much in the same way that binge watching a TV show makes you relate everything that happens in the following days to that TV show, immersing yourself in the Biblical narrative will allow you to see when it shows up in the popular narrative.
Talk about it. Find someone else and discuss your thoughts – ask questions, debate if you disagree, and use it as a way to get to know each other and more importantly, get to know God’s story.
Wrap it up already
To me it comes down to the simple fact that any given medium in itself is just that, a medium, and while the medium does say a great deal about the message, it doesn’t change it’s meaning. As long as we’re clear on scripture then things will be clear to us. And if there’s one takeaway from this it really should be that reading and understanding the scriptures will give the Holy Spirit vocabulary in such a way that will allow God to speak into your life in ways that are often surprising and powerful. He might use rocks, a donkey, a profanity-ridden podcast, a comic book character, or any number of things to speak to you, but he will only speak if your hear is prepared to hear from him.
I love this clip from the 1939 version of the hunchback of Notre Dame because it shows the tension of the transition from the old way of communicating the gospel to the new way, but in a much earlier time. I love the bishop’s words as he looks at the cathedral and considers the power of the printing press. Also notice who in the scene takes a “rejection” approach and who takes an “appropriation” approach. It’s only three minutes.
Don’t miss that last part – this was the old way, the printing press is of our time. Then know where the printing press used in that scene sits today; in the lobby of the Asbury University commuincation arts building where students are taught about film, television, graphic design, and interactive media. Just like the cathedral of Notre Dame represented the old form, now the press does and it sits as a symbol of the passing of the torch from one generation of story keepers to the next.
If you haven’t watched it yet, this past Sunday I had the honor of sitting in on a discussion as part of the message at Frazer, to discuss the importance of Story and how it is at the core of who we are. If you missed it, it covers some more ground around the importance of story as well as some of what I’ve discussed here. If this topic interests you I really recommend you check it out below. Also think about hopping over to my friend, Ken’s blog. Where he talks about many of the same topics.
So what do you think? Where do you see God at work in popular media? Comment below!
*shameless plug to get you to go back and look at old entries
This past week at Frazer UMC, where I work here in Montgoemry, Levi Garnder, our minister of outreach, brought a great message from the text of John 5. This year we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of John and this past week we talked about Jesus healing the man by the pool. Here’s some of the Scripture from John 5:
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
This scripture is so poignant to me because of the seemingly silly question Jesus asks in verse six: “Do you want to be made well?” You’d think that would be a no brainer, that anyone would see this man and know that just by looking at him that he would desire nothing more than to be made well. Jesus knew enough to know that it wasn’t the case. I think the detail of that question and the answer are in scripture intentionally to teach us about being victims of our circumstances, because even more interesting is the man’s answer. He doesn’t say “yes. of course. duh. what kind of question is that?” He makes an excuse as to why he can’t be made well. He says “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up and while I’m making my way someone else steps down ahead of me.” In this answer is his honest answer: “what I really want is for you to feel bad for me.” Because this man had a hard life. He had been sitting by this pool begging for 38 years. It’s quite likely that he survived on hand outs from the others who came by to step into the pool. It was likely that the people walking by felt bad for him and he realized that if he actually were to be healed that as wonderful as it might be, then he might have to do real work. So did he want to be healed? Deep down, of course. But the false-self that he had created depended upon his sickness to maintain his way of life.
If we’re honest, we like to use their painful history as a tool, or worse, a weapon. We lord it over people or try to use it to further our careers and social standing. In reality this kind of use of our pain is almost always toxic and usually won’t create any sustaining foundations on which these structures can last. This is why many popular musicians have such tragic lives. They often start off with the usual issues we all have: issues with their family, faith, & finances. Once they’ve worked out their finances they have a choice to move onto their family and faith or they can start inventing new problems. They don’t want to be made well.
One of my family’s favorite movies is film based on a book by the same name Cold Comfort Farm. It’s rich comedic satire of Jane Austin’s writings – and it cleverly lampoons many of the common plot devices she and other similar authors use. In the story a young woman goes to live with her strange relatives. Her great aunt is up in her room all the time and never leaves. When asked she says “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.” And as comical as this might sound it’s become a reference that my whole family understands. If one of us refers to someone who “saw something nasty in the woodshed.” It means they’re hanging onto something unfortunate in their past. They don’t want to be made well.
Ken Roach and Jerrod Dorminey Captured it well in their original Blues Song “the Bethesda Blues.” Featured in this past week’s worship service.
The rest of this post I wrote three years ago. It was one that got several comments on my old blog, including one asking me how someone can get out of the victim mentality. I was surprised at the question but also frustrated that I don’t have a good answer that would fit every situation. The best thing I can offer is this: If someone wants to get better, they can get better. That’s why I believe the man by the pool truly wanted to get better, even if he was playing the victim. But there are those who want to be victims their whole lives. I really believe that prayer is the only thing that can help someone who doesn’t want to be made well. Divine intervention then counseling either from a professional or a wise mentor. Some people just want to cling to their sickness and make excuses when they should cling to Christ and defy everyone’s expectations.
Original Post from June 2011
A great way to stay trapped Perhaps the greatest lesson that my father taught me about life from a early age is that a victim mentality gets you nowhere. Likely everyone that regularly reads my blog would agree with me, but recently I saw some posts on Facebook that reminded me that some people earnestly believe that it is perfectly acceptable for individuals to rest on the excuses generated out of whatever unfortunate circumstances their life has given them. To those people I’d like to say: that’s perfectly fine. From a secular point of view it is totally acceptable for you to use your past as an excuse for your current behavior, if you wish to stay trapped your whole life. That’s perfectly ok, no one will force you out of captivity. A person in a victim mentality is much like a person who has been beaten, bruised and forced into a cage. Later, whether days or years, the bruises heal and someone will come to them with the key to their escape. Most will not use the key, however. Why? Because once you’re free you no longer have the excuse, you have to take full responsibility for yourself. Most people would rather be able to lean on the excuse of what has been done to them; garnering sympathy and demanding that people be sensitive to what has happened to them.
Before I continue, I should specify that I do believe that there are many reasons for a person to be a victim that they truly cannot help. Mental Illness or chemical imbalances caused by genetics are among them. But just as those people must choose to submit to therapy and/or medication; those who have chosen to be defined by their most tragic and painful moments, they need to eventually lay it all down to be truly free.
I also should say that I do believe in being as sensitive to people as is reasonable in every situation. I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy through which some people have lived and I would never deny them grief, anger, or mourning; all three of which are holy emotions expressed by Jesus himself. However, there is a massive difference between feeling and expressing a holy emotion and allowing yourself to fall victim to your emotions. The difference is in this phrase: “Because ______ happened to me I must always react by ______” When you say that you are becoming victim whether in a small or large way. By contrast each time you say “Despite the fact that ______ happened to me, I will choose to ______” you are choosing to not be victimized.
The Bible tells me so
Please understand that I’m not so arrogant as to say that people shouldn’t be affected by the tragedies of life. I don’t pretend to understand all of the different causes of strife in the world or the pain that people have experienced, but I do know that from a scriptural worldview its impossible to say that a victim mentality is acceptable.
I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again. 2 Cor 1:8-10 Living Bible
Or, Perhaps more to the point. . .
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake Col. 1:24a
There are many many more scriptures about rejoicing in suffering. So from a scriptural standpoint, we see Paul – beaten, tortured ‘doomed to die’ and what does he say? “That was good.” Wait, what? “Powerless to help ourselves” “that was good” “overwhelmed” “that was good.” “crushed” “that was good.” seriously. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve come to realize this. Christians are blessed with the hope in Christ and the ability to say that our suffering only brings us closer to Him and by suffering for Him, we take part in the fellowship of His suffering. We go from “that was bad” to “that was hard” to “that was good.”
Is this some kind of sickness? Perhaps masochism? By no means! Looking back and saying something was ‘good’ is far different then deriving pleasure from it. Again, there is nothing wrong with anger and mourning. The only reason why Paul is able to look back at the bad times and call them good is because he realizes they brought him closer to Christ. He realizes that Christ’s resurrection power is at work in our lives, but to access that power we have to die. Think about that for a minute. Its easy for us to think of Christ’s death on the cross as the great tragedy of history and his resurrection as the restoration of that tragedy. Christ’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible without His death. A Christian view of suffering is simply realizing that without death there can be no resurrection.
On the practical end of things…
Even if you’re not looking at this from a scriptural perspective, say you’re an agnostic or a secular humanist, then look at it from the purely practical end of things. If we decide that there are some things in life that a person cannot be expected to recover from, some wounds that cannot be healed; that’s fine, but do you really want to work with someone who’s single greatest aim in life is to make sure everyone is sensitive to their life’s tragedies? After a while there must be a reasonable expectation of growing from your past, and becoming responsible for your present. I don’t say ‘moving on’ because I think that insinuates that you must ignore your past, not at all, instead you grow from it and become stronger than ever.
Steven Covey, the writer of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about this in the first Habit. Which is “Be Proactive.” He simply states that a part of being proactive is taking responsibility for yourself and your behavior. He suggests that the main meaning of being responsible is being able to choose your response.
Most people who have a victim mentality get angry at the insinuation that they are somehow to blame for their attitude. They act as if that’s tantamount to being told that they are to blame for the tragedy in their life or their genetic make up. That’s a huge leap in logic. Between stimulus and response there is a narrow space where you can choose. You’re not Pavlov’s dog, forced to salivate by every bell that rings. You’re not a programmed machine, who’s brain will always produce the same reaction given the same set of circumstances.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Ben Carson. Dr. Carson is the preeminent pediatric neurosurgeon active today. He’s participated in several firsts in his field including the first separation of siamese twins that were conjoined at the head. This is featured in a movie called “Gifted Hands” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Dr. Carson. In 2008 Dr. Carson was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honor in our nation. That’s impressive, but what’s more impressive is that Dr. Carson came from a low-income single parent household in Detroit. At a young age his parents divorced and his mother struggled to find employment as she couldn’t read – the only work she could maintain was that of a house keeper where Ben would later say “She observed that successful people spent a lot more time reading than they did watching television.” And she implemented a rule that her two sons would read two books a week from the library. You can read more about
Ben Carson’s upbringing on NPR’s website.
The reason why the victim mentality is so pervasive is because there is only one alternative: work. It takes work to overcome the setbacks, the emotional stresses, the tragedies of life. No one would’ve blamed Ben Carson for being a below average student, he had a number of things against him. But his mother chose to fight that and later he chose to fight that as well, working hard to get into med school and then working hard to become the best doctor he could be. That’s because they chose not to be victims of their circumstances. Most people can’t even admit that they’re choosing to be victimized because If you admit that you can do something about it and choose not to do something about it, it becomes your fault. I wouldn’t be writing about this if it weren’t a struggle for me also, but one thing I’ve realized is that once you are real with yourself about where you are choosing to be victimized then you can start to allow the solution permeate throughout your life.
I’ve struggled with having a victim mentality about many different things. There are some ways in which I continue to deal with it. One small example is the fact that I’m not an athletic person and most of my growing up years I allowed myself to be victimized by that, but as I grew up, I began to fight the impulse to feel victimized and I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried new activities. Now I have a whole list of sports and activities that I really enjoy, even if I’m not the best at them. Stepping out in this manner has opened so many opportunities to me that I would have never had if I had rested on the laurels of victimization. I think the message paraphrase of the Bible phrases paul’s words in Philippians well:
I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Phil 3:12-14
I think one of the mistakes we make when trying to overcome our victim mentality is the idea that we need to have it all figured out, that we need to somehow be totally fixed before we relinquish our victim status. In reality, we just have to admit that we don’t always know exactly what the path to healing is going to look like and we need to trust that it ends at the feet of Jesus. Whatever your excuse is for not living a full and healthy life, that’s not God’s will for you. I can tell you he wants you to take hold of you inheritance now. Yes you have eternal life in terms of length, but you also have abundant life in terms of height and depth, so stop making excuses and grab hold of the abundance that Christ has given you.
In an effort to not be judgmental, I believe that we’ve lost discernment – and while discernment may look like judgment, it is actually entirely different.
“Who are we to judge?”
This is the phrase that is most often said when the average Christian explains why they decided not to confront a friend about their sin. I have recently come to the belief that this is blatant misunderstanding about what it means for a Christian to recognize sin.
Why are we afraid of appearing judgmental? Mainly because that’s the stereotype that Christians have been handed and unfortunately, this isn’t unfounded at all. Christians who fall on the other end of this spectrum are equally guilty of muddying the waters of judgement and discernment.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
I’m going to take a stab at an interpretation of this scripture: we’re not supposed to judge. I guess that’s pretty clear. I think the first mistake about this is a misunderstanding about what it means to judge. In the modern context of the word ‘judge’ we get it half right. We understand that saying ‘that is morally wrong’ is judging. But we neglect the other side of that same coin, that saying “that is morally right” is also judging. If you follow Christ you no longer have the right to decide what is right and what is wrong. You’ve given that up – that is up to God and God alone. You never really had the ability anyway and by following Christ you have given up your imagined right to do it, placing it on the cross.
This was a mind blowing revelation to me – the idea that “Judge Not” applies to either direction. The idea that when a person says “that’s ok” they’re being equally judgmental as the person who condemns. Looking now, I know I’ve been guilty of both. I brought this before a friend of mine and he asked me what I though about those times where a clear judgement call needs to be made – that is where discernment enters in. Take a look at this scripture, it may seem to conflict with the one mentioned earlier, but it actually has a very different meaning:
Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 1 Corinthians 2:15 NLT (emphasis added)
Krino vs Anakrino
In Scripture there are two common words that are translated as “judge” ἀνακρίνω “anakrinō” and κρίνω “krinō” – the greek prefix “ana” means upon or against, so krino happens first, followed by anakrino. Krino means judgment as to condemn, to rule, to damn, to determine the law, to decree. This is the word used in the phrase “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1. Anakrino means to examine, to reason, to search, to ask questions or to discern. This word is used in the passage “…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11.
What we now know as “judgement” is krino. What we now call “discernment” is anakrino. Judgement is a function of God; he makes the law, he makes decrees and he decides what is right and wrong. Discernment is a function of His followers; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is different from Judgement in that it recognizes instruction from an external source and puts it into practice.
When a cop pulls you over for speeding, do you say “don’t you dare judge me!” No, because you know that there are laws that he’s abiding by – he’s not making the judgement on what speed is dangerous – that was already done – he was merely doing his work as an officer of the peace; following the authority that has been placed over him.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. Corinthians 2:14 NIV (emphasis added)
What many people today call judgement is actually discernment, someone expressing what the Holy Spirit is speaking to them about what is right and wrong. God has already judged – now it is for us to discern what that judgement is and that only comes through the Holy Spirit. Just as judgement is always wrong for us to do, discernment is never wrong. Though, it can be carried out incorrectly; we are told that we must be gentle in our use of discernment.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Gal 6:1
This is often when people call christians judgmental. Instead of being gentle, they are ungracious, condescending and ultimately un-Christ-like. Gentleness is a key to the proper use of the gift that is discernment.
We’re not supposed to judge; we’re not supposed to make a call on what is wrong OR right based on our own internal moral code. We’re supposed to discern, with the guidance of the Spirit, what God has already judged. To do otherwise is to say you believe you’re smarter than the creator of the universe. So give up your gavel to God and leave the judging up to Him, but don’t neglect discernment; those with the spirit can discern all things.
I’m a big fan of metaphors. My church just finished a teaching series today. ‘Ignite’ was its title and I’m pausing today to meditate on the image of ignition because I think that it’s a powerful metaphor. References to fire are very common in the Bible; there are over 500 times where fire is referred to in some way. Here’s one Patrick has used a few times for his messages.
I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Luke 12:49 NIV
Though 1/5 of the fire mentions in the Bible refer to God, In this particular metaphor Jesus isn’t the fire. As Jesus is a member of the trinity, to me it seems that he’s not referring to God the Father or to the Holy Spirit. I think the fire refers to something else. More on this in a moment.
About a month ago we finished a series called “Breathe” Another powerful image. Let’s take a look at another verse of scripture:
And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
John 20:22 NIV
The Holy Spirit is often referred to in scripture in terms of Air.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8 NIV
The Holy Spirit – breath, wind, air, oxygen
___________ – Fire, ignition, kindling
So what is this fire?
I looked up a scientific description of what take place when fire is created. Here’s a paraphrasing of what I found on citizendium.org:
The flames of a fire are the result, or side-effect, of a chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel source (wood, or gasoline, for example). The steps for fire creation are as follows:
a fuel source is touched by heat until it reaches its ignition temperature
oxygen breaks down larger molecules into carbon dioxide and water vapour
this reaction produces visible, glowing heated gas
If you’re like me this gets your mind going. And going. I think that metaphors are often weakened by over-explaination, so if you want to stop there and just consider this for yourself, I don’t blame you.
So, really what is this fire?
If the Oxygen in this equation is the Holy Spirit then we are the fuel. We are what gets set on fire. So what is this fire? Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch.TV calls it … “It.” He wrote a whole book entitled “It.” Upon first reading, I thought that “It” was just the Holy Spirit, but after discussing the book, I realized that “It” had to be a special interaction of the Holy Spirit with the people of the church. So what is this fire? Well if it isn’t God – and it isn’t us I think the only thing that it could be is… Fire. Sorry if that’s anti-climactic.
When people are excited don’t we say that they are ‘fired up?’ When a sports star scores a streak of points don’t the commentators say “He’s on fire!” I don’t think there’s a better word for fire than “fire.” If you need to get specific, it’s the ‘fire of the spirit’ described in 1st Thessalonians
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”
1st Thessalonians 5:19 ISV
Step by Step
I think there is a TON you can draw out of this metaphor. Assuming the Holy spirit is Oxygen and we’re the fuel – consider…
Heat is applied to ignite something
Different fuels have different Ignition Temperatures
Oxygen breaks down the molecules within the fuel
The reaction produces a visible, glow.
Here’s the part where I over-explain.
To ignite, you need Oxygen and Fuel you need people to be interacting with the Holy Spirit.
You also need the heat to be turned up. Similar to the way that a sick person’s fever burns away the flu, heat turned up on people burns away the junk in their lives. As much as no one wants to be in crisis – don’t our priorities fall in line when the heat gets turned up? Mark Batterson said “Everyone wants a miracle but no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one.” You still need oxygen though, so be sure to allow the Holy Spirit in.
You have to reach the ignition temperature. You know, striking a match is easy – getting a large bonfire going isn’t quite as easy, but once you get it going, it’s even harder to put out.
Once the fire starts, the Oxygen has to break some things down. The person or people who are on fire will experience life-change and some of it may seem destructive or even be painful. Some relationships may change or break down – some habits and may have to come to an end while new disciplines have to replace them.
The reaction is always evident to anyone watching; it produces a glow. You cannot hide fire. It produces more heat (yes, more heat) to all those around and it creates light, chasing away darkness. The funny thing about fire is that it tends to spread the more it touches things and you can’t really control it. But keep in mind, without oxygen the fire goes out.
I could go on – there are so many good images that come out of this metaphor – pulling a coal away from the rest of the fire will cause it to burn out more quickly, putting it back in the fire reignites it. But you get the picture.
So when you feel like the heat is getting turned up and you can’t take it any more, try not to worry, you’re just that much closer to being ignited. So make sure you’re getting plenty of fresh air.
I throw the word worship around a lot. I mean, I probably use it 50+ times a day. If I’m honest, most of the time I misuse the word – using it in one of the following three ways:
Worship is the music that happens before and after the sermon
Worship is a weekly hour-long event (often called a ‘service’ for some reason) that is a combination of elements ranging from entertaining videos to ‘talks’ and ‘testimonies’
A lifestyle in which the worshipper defers to God in every major opportunity.
All of these do fit into one verse or another, but none of them represent one of the most common greek words for worship. I know it’s right on the tip of your tongue so I’ll help you out, it’s προσκυνέω. As found in the phrase “Hey how on earth do you pronnounce ‘προσκυνέω’?” In case you, like me, missed most (or all) of your second (and first) semester of greek the word is pronounced “proskuneō.” Proskueno appears in the New Testament 59 times and each time it is translated as ‘worship’. Here’s the definition:
1. to crouch, crawl, or fawn, like a dog at his master’s feet; hence, to prostrate one’s self, after the eastern custom, to do reverence or homage to any one, by kneeling or prostrating one’s self before him; Used therefore of the act of worship.
2.to kiss the hand to another as a mark of respect, to do obeisance, etc. to another, especially of the Oriental fashion by prostration, hence to worship.
Listen, I’m not going to write any self-righteous paragraph about how we should all aspire to view worship more like this. I just challenge you to read this definition and really meditate over it. This isn’t the only word that relates to worship, but I just thought it was a startling and vivid image and not one that readily comes to mind for me. For a list of words that are related to praising and worshipping check out this page.
Do you ever think of the enormity of the gift we’re given in worship?
I brought this up because of something that our senior pastor Tim Thompson talked about this morning. He was discussing the importance of being plugged into worship. He mentioned a boy who said to his parents “Do I have to go to worship?” to which his father responded “No, we don’t have to; we get to”
If you actually believe in what the Bible says you have to consider how fortunate we are to be invited into God’s presence. To really frame it, I just want to parallel a few scriptures.
The first is the last several chapters of exodus. These chapters outline the specifics for the construction of the Tabernacle. If you haven’t read it recently (I’ll admit it’s not generally considered some of the more inspiring verses of scripture) check out Exodus chapter 26. Look at the insane detail that is given. In all of this God is saying “This is what you have to do to commune with me.” and not everyone got to really be with him. God dwelt in the tabernacle in one place, the “Holy of Holies” this phrasing was a common Hebrew idiom and you see it all over the Bible; Lord of Lords, King of Kings etc. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. Check out chapter 16 of Leviticus (again, not the favorite among youth leaders looking for scripture that’ll easily relate to this generation) this details the process of bringing a sacrificial lamb into the most holy place.
Doesn’t all that seem difficult, tedious and unnecessary? It is …. now. But only through the blood Christ. When Jesus died the curtain in the Temple was torn away. To those of us who have been following Christ for any number of years this is an all-to-familiar scripture but since most of us weren’t raised in first century Palestine, it means little. So let me remind all of us what this means.
Take a second – really think about it.
I’ve been a Christian so long that I’m bad about taking it all for granted. God – let it sink in. God. . . the God of the heavens and the earth who created the sun, the moon and the stars (why are they always in that order?)… The same God who created tiny seeds that can grow into a giant redwood… The same God who is beyond our understanding… The same God who took human form and died on a Cross… who had every reason to demand that we come groveling to Him – he came to us. He left the most holy place and made himself available to us.
There are so many times in scripture where the writers of the New Testament do a great job of going through the Old Testament and explaining what it means under the New Covenant created by Christ. The book of Hebrews is written for the Jewish believers, so it focuses on the Old Testament and seeks to explain why and how Jesus is the fulfillment of those scriptures.
So now read Hebrews 9 Check out the first few words:
Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. Heb 9:1
Yeah. Yeah it did. Now look at Chapter 10
18And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb 10:18-19
Put it into prospective
Let me encourage you again, go back read Exodus and Leviticus. That was worship to the Hebrews! That was what they thought of when someone said “Worship” The tabernacle; that was the model worship center. That’s nothing like what comes to mind for me when someone says ‘worship.’ Now read Hebrews 9 and 10. Worship – worship as we know it, is a privilege, an honor, a gift. How blessed are we? We get to worship.