A while back I was working on something in the garage and, while I worked, I was listening to an episode of a religious podcast called Can I Say This at Church where the host was interviewing Aaron Niequist, a pastor and author. The subject of the interview was about the Niequist’s most recent book, The Eternal Current: How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning, which focuses on living intentionally for Christ. Out of the whole conversation, the thing that stuck with me most from it was when it was mentioned that a person’s bookshelf and/or movie collection show what he or she really believe and it is important to take a look and see if yours reflect what you say you believe, and if not, it may be time to make some changes. I immediately knew I needed to make some changes, which I will get into shortly.
I never really thought about a person's book and movie collection being a reflection of their faith, but it makes sense. While I don't like to admit it, when I go into someone's home, one of the first things I do is to try and evaluate their movie and book collection, without being too obvious of course, to determine what type of person they are, what interests they have and what type of things they occupy their time with. On some level I have always known that what a person reads or watches says a lot about his or her personality. I know I am not the only one who checks out other people’s book and movie collections to get an idea what they are like either, so I have always kept that in mind when I have people over to my house and I am well aware of the fact that I am being judged based on my movies and books, and even on what my book to movie ratio is. Still, I had not consciously equated what I spent the most of my time reading or watching being a reflection upon my faith. Sometimes you know something all along but don't consciously acknowledge it until it slaps you in the face.
I didn't have any x-rated movies or slasher films, but if I am honest about it, I had some movies that I would not have been conformable watching watching with my grandmother, my pastor or with any of my friends from church. Heck, I would not even be comfortable admitting that I own them and may or may not have moved a few movies out of view before I had friends over. I shudder to think of watching the films in question with Jesus, but everything I do, everything I read and everything I watch is done in the presence of God. Jesus sees everything I do, say or think, and while I am sure he is not judging me, I am sure he wishes that I would make better choices.
When I thought about what my movie collection said about my faith I immediately knew I had to rid some things out of my life to make my private life reflect what I want people to think of me, though I will admit I had a difficult time parting with a few things and even made some attempts to justify keeping them. It is always easier to justify what you are currently doing than it is to make a change, even if the change will make your life easier or better, or at least it is that way for me. To try and curb my desire to keep things that I knew I shouldn't, I wrote out a list of specific criteria that a movie or book must meet before I could keep it and the justification had to be based on more than entertainment value. One of the big determining factors had to be that if a book or film took my thoughts away from what is good or if they made me want to do things that are not worthy or righteous than they must go.
After all these years with me I know myself pretty well, so I knew myself well enough to be painfully aware of the fact that if I didn't make a criteria to judge my book and movie collection by that I would justify keeping many things that I knew I should not keep. About a year ago I got rid of hundreds of movies because I wasted too much time watching the TV. A lot of the movies I got rid of were funny movies that had no other redeeming qualities, but mostly I got rid of movies I didn't watch often or movies I didn’t really enjoy watching. For a while a some years ago I had a bout of depression and buying movies was a way to cope, and I think my movie buying got entirely out of hand.
At any rate, I am proud of myself for getting rid of all of those movies last summer, but it wasn't far enough or drastic enough to make a big difference, still, it was a start in the right direction. I am sure that if I would stop wasting so much time on things that don't matter such as facebook and the television I could more easily reach my goals and I would probably be able to play "The Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash on my guitar already. I jokingly say that if I spent as much time playing my guitar as I spend on the computer and television that I would play like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix. Of course, that is an overestimation of how quickly I could learn or an over estimation of how much time I waste, or both, but you get the point.
So many times I have been a little tired so instead of practicing guitar or making metal art to sell on ETSY I would just sit and watch a dumb movie, and to compound the issue, a lot of the time the movies I watched were not wholesome, were not educational and did nothing to put me in a better mood, and after the hour or two that I wasted I was farther from God than I was before watching whatever it was that I had watched.
One day after work I took a hard look at my movie collection, and while holding each movie I asked myself if I would be comfortable asking Cathy to watch it with me. Cathy is one of my best friends and we met at church when I first started attending Wellspring three years or so ago. Cathy is truly one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing and her relationship with God is on a whole other level than mine, but then again I don't know what her demons are and what she hides before I come over. Honestly though, I doubt there is anything about Cathy's life that she has to hide from her friends at church or from her family.
Cathy being about as good as a person can be and her relationship with God is part of the reason why one of the criteria for determining whether or not I would keep a movie was whether or not I would be comfortable watching it with her, or if instead, I would be embarrassed or ashamed to have her know that I own it in the first place. I cleaned house and got rid of over two hundred movies, which when you add that to the three hundred or so movies I got rid of last summer and the eighty or so I have left, it is a painful illustration of just how much of a problem I had.
I am ashamed to admit that whenever I knew Cathy was coming over to my house I quickly removed some movies from my shelf and hid them behind the shelf. I logically knew that if I felt the need to hide the films than they were things that I should not be watching in the first place, but I had always found a way to justify viewing them, but no more. I want to be the type of person when I am home alone that the people at church think I am. A life of hypocrisy is not good and stunts a person's relationship with God, and with other people as well.
An example of the type of cinema that I got rid of is the HBO television series Game of Thrones, a show that is masterful at story telling and masterful at cinematic art, but is rife with gratuitous blood, gore, violence, nudity, is perverse and has no real redeeming qualities. Even the heroes on Game of Thrones are horrible people and not worth rooting for. In the show everyone is too busy killing each other and fighting for the iron throne to notice the Night King and his massive army of undead soldiers, slowly but steadily, approaching to end all life. To be quite honest, if the army of the undead killed the entire population of Westeros it would be all the better because there is not one among them that is good and even the best of them kill without remorse, worship idols, cheat, steal, torture, commit acts of incest and rape and indulge in promiscuity and drink copious amounts of alcohol. Role models the heroes of Game of Thrones heroes are not.
I have thought about ridding my life from such filth for quite a long time but I just could not get myself to do it and many times I would take movies off of my shelf and throw them into a box only to put them back the next day, or sometimes the same day. When I heard the statement that my movie collection reflects what I believe in and hold as important more accurately than does what I say does, that is what pushed me over the ledge. How much I had previously enjoyed watching a specific film or show had no determining factor in my decision on whether or not I kept it. People can enjoy all sorts of things that are not good for them, but the enjoyment of something that is bad for you is not a sufficient reason for not abandoning the practice, habit or action.
I am not just trying to get rid of negative things in my life but I am also trying to live more intentionally for Christ and fill my time with things that are worthy and productive. The Bible says "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).
I can't watch filth or gratuitous violence to the glory of God, but I can play the guitar for the glory of God, I can write podcasts to the glory of God, I can read wholesome and uplifting books to the glory of God and I can make art to the glory of God. I want to follow the admonition of Paul the apostle, "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" (Phillipians 4:8).
I have been a Christian for a long time, but, though I know I am saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and faith alone, not of anything I can do least I boast, I am not sure that my private life and actions reflect that faith and I want and need that to change. If the life of a Christian is indistinguishable from the lives of those in the world than there is a problem. As humans we have no choice but to be in the world, but as Christians we have make the choice to not be like the world.
I am not judging anyone or trying to tell anyone else that they have to change such and such about their life of that they must get rid of movies or books, that is between you and God. I examined my life and determined that changes needed to be made and that I needed to live more intentional for Christ, and I also determined that I could make better use of my time. As a natural result, some things had to be eliminated from my life and I had to be careful what I filled that void in time with, and I made this choice on my own without any coercion, without anyone asking me to or suggesting that I do it, and without any influence or prodding from anyone.
I have found that whenever I try to make positive changes in my life there is always someone who will try to rain on my parade by making me feel like an idiot for making changes or will try to convince me to not make any changes. Some people I know think I am crazy for getting rid of some movies and shows and say they don’t think it matters what you watch, but of course, those people don’t go to church and just believe in God in a general, undefined and ambiguous way. Other people, when they find I am trying to make positive changes take it upon themselves to corrupt me and put an end my progress toward bettering myself.
There is, I think, a tendency among humans to look back upon and miss things they have given up in their pursuit of God and in their efforts to better their lives. The Bible is full of examples of people who longingly looked back on their old lives, even when their old life was unfulfilling or painful, such as the Children of Egypt wanting to go back to Egypt and to slavery, but the Bible is also full of clear illustrations that show without doubt that God is not pleased with us longing for our old lives. When we give up something God wants us to truly give it up and not keep thinking about it and wishing we could go back to that place, continue seeing that person or persons, or continue doing an activity that we have given up. We can never move forward if we insist on holding on to things from the past.
The children of Israel were in bondage to the Egyptians for hundreds of years, and when Moses came along, there was no one alive among them who had actually experienced a time of freedom as slavery and hardship was what they were born into and therefore all they knew. Praying for deliverance was a common prayer, and many of those praying no longer had faith in what they were praying for and had given up all hope of freedom. Most everyone by now has heard of the Academy Award winning movie Twelve Years a Slave, well after 400 years a slave, who could truly blame the children of Israel for giving up hope of deliverance?
Once the children of Israel were freed through many mighty miracles from the hand God they did not make it far before they started to complain against Moses and against God and before they started to want to return to their old life. It always baffles me how quickly they forgot how difficult and unpleasant their previous lives were, and how they forgot the mighty workings of God so quickly. Many Bible scholars extrapolate from the verses in Exodus that it took the Children of Israel approximately seventeen days to reach their camp at the Red Sea, and they made camp there eight days.
When the Egyptian army was seen approaching, approximately twenty five days after the exodus from Egypt, some of the children of Israel cried out and said, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would be better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14: 11-12). The people had already forgotten all that the God had done for them, despite the fact that even at that point he was providing a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Once the children of Israel reached Mount Sinai they again quickly lost faith when Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, and not only did they want to return to Egypt to a life of bondage and servitude, they also made an idol to go before them, worshipped the idol and gave in to all sorts of evil practices and lasciviousness.
When Lot and his family were saved from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah they were the only righteous people there. The night before the destruction of the cities, a mob of people wanted Lot to send out the visiting angels, or his daughters, so they could gang rape them, yet when Lot and his family were leaving, Lot’s wife could not resist the urge to look back longingly at the city, despite being commanded by an angel not to do so, and was turned into a pillar of salt as a result.
My mother likes to say that when people give their lives to God they like to keep the devil on the string so just in case it doesn’t work out with God, and I think there is a lot of truth to that. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” (Matthew 6:24) and Paul taught that we are either a willing slave to sin or a willing slave to righteousness (Romans 6: 15-23). If we try to live in both worlds we are not going to be satisfied and such a life does not bring about salvation as we are not fully accepting Jesus as our savior. When we live in the world but also try to live a life for God we don’t enjoy our sinful life because of the constant guilt we feel for our actions as we know with full confidence that they are wrong, and we are not engaged with God because we are devoting our time to the world instead of to him.
One man approached Jesus and said he wanted to follow him but he first had to go and say goodbye to his family and Jesus’ response was, “No man who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9: 61-62). To put the illustration in terms that can be easily understood I will relate the relationship to God with a romantic relationship. Imagine that I started dating a wonderful woman, but instead of enjoying my time with her and showing her the respect she deserves, I was constantly comparing her to my ex and spending many hours a day pining for my ex and wishing we were still together. Not only would that not be fair on either of us, especially to my girlfriend, but it would also ensure that the relationship would be unhappy and would ultimately end in heartache.
No one wants to date a person who is stuck in the past and God doesn’t want us to follow Him unless we are ready to actually commit ourselves to him. When I was in college I went on a date with a young woman who was a widow and all through our first date all she wanted to talk about was her late husband, and while I respect the fact that she will always love him, I was not impressed that she was not getting to know me and only seamed to want me to be just like her deceased husband. At the end of the date I politely told her that I was not interested in seeing her anymore and thought that she needed more time to get over her husband before dating, otherwise she was just wasting time and was not being fair to whomever she was dating.
I think what we talk about, what we spend money on and what we spend out leisure time doing says magnitudes about us as a person and about our faith and dedication to God. When a person says that they have always been interested in a specific subject but in the thirty plus years you have know them he or she had never mentioned it even once before now, their claim to have always been interested in it is subject at best. Likewise if we say we are interested in what God has said, yet never open the Bible and spends all out time on worldly pursuits our actions show the truth that we are not all that interested in God. The good news though is, regardless of how far we have strayed or how long we have been gone, Jesus will eagerly accept us back with open arms.
When we were younger, my younger sister had a massive crush on a celebrity but she denied it at the time, but based on how much she constantly talked about him we all knew she was, to borrow a term from Friend Own in the movie Bambi, twitterpated. It is, more often that not, easy to determine what a person likes and what they don't, and it is often not what he or she says it is.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is reported to have said, "A man is what he thinks about all day long," and I can't argue with that. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled, (Matthew 5:6), which could be summed up by saying, "blessed are those who voluntarily submit to every change God asks them to make in his or her life."
Most faithful Christians will say they would willingly do anything they were asked to do and would give up anything they were asked to give up, but when that is tested they fall short of their previous resolve. I know people who compare themselves to the heroes or heroines of the Bible and when the Bible characters did the right thing in a situation, like Daniel when he prayed despite knowing he could be put to death for it, they say they would do likewise. The same people, when the character in the Bible did not do what was right, like when Peter denied Jesus, they say they would not have failed like that and would have done the right thing. If any of us truly believe that when we say it then we are either deceiving ourselves or else we have an overinflated opinion of ourselves. Everyone fails sometimes, it is what we do with that failure that matters. Where Peter once denied Christ, he later willing gave his life praising Jesus instead of saving it by denying Jesus.
I have known many Christians who claim they would do anything God asked them to do, yet when it becomes apparent the thing they put the most value on is what God is asking them give up they buckle, like the young ruler who asked Jesus what he must do to be saved and then left sorrowful when he was told to give up his power and vast wealth. God may not be asking us to give up our money, but whatever it is will likely not be easy for us to give up. The issue with the young man was not his wealth, it was that he placed his wealth above God in his desires. Anything we place above God is something we must eliminate from our life expeditiously and with great prejudice.
I don't much like chocolate, and in fact, I hate most forms of it, so if I was asked to give up chocolate it would be no big whoop, but if I was asked to give up fishing I would have to do some serious soul searching. Now, I highly doubt that I would be asked to give up fishing since I don't place it above my relationship with God, I listen to religious podcasts or pray most of the time I am fishing, and there are no negative impacts on my life or relationships as a result of fishing. The point I was making though was that when we put things in a higher place than they deserve to be or if they take our thoughts away from God, we need to reevaluate the situation and get rid of them if need be, regardless of how much it hurts.
Jesus said that it is better to remove off a body part such as a hand or an eye and go to heaven without it than it is to keep it and go to hell. Jesus wasn't suggesting self-mutilation, but he was suggesting that whatever keeps us from God, regardless of how much we love it or how much we will miss it, it is better to do without it and go to heaven than to keep it and go to hell. Even on the less extreme side, it is better to rid our lives of things that distract us from what is important so we have a better relationship with God than it is to keep them and have our relationship suffer. God never leaves us, so if we feel that God is distant we need to move closer to Him because it was us that drifted away, not God.
It may be difficult at first to change your life to live more deliberately for God, but I can promise you that while it may not make your life easier, it will make it more worthwhile and more fulfilling.
Above all, remember, God loves you and longs for you to have a relationship with him.