Your mind matters

“Don’t let the world around squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 12:2 in J.B.Phillips)

2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will. NIV

A renewed mind! Your mind matters! God doesn’t just care about the things that we do and say. God cares about what goes on inside our minds – our inmost thoughts.

In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us about secret sins, the sins in our minds.
Matt 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

But the problem is not only with sinful immoral or hateful or proud thoughts. The broader problem is that ALL the things that we say and do come from the way that we think. Our thought life has eternal consequences.
“Sow a thought, you reap an action. Sow an action, you reap a habit.
Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a destiny.”

But WHY do we make the decisions we do about how we live our lives? What kinds of things affect our thinking and our choices? What shapes our attitudes and our values?
We can be influenced by What the Bible says: What our church traditions say: What our upbringing says: What our education has taught us. But most often we can be influenced by what ‘‘the world’’ around says.

There are so many things which can influence us for good or bad. One enormous pressure which takes so many people away from God is consumerism. So many people live by the motto “Shop until you drop”, and we face many challenges as Christians because we live in a consumer society. But I will save the topic of consumerism for another day. This evening I want us to think about what it means to have our minds renewed in a world which is so heavily influenced by mass media and in particular by television. People no longer have idols made of stone or wood or metal (in England at least). This evening I want to bring under the light of Scripture one of the most powerful idols of modern times – the false god of Entertainment.

“Don’t let the world around squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 12:2 in J.B.Phillips)

The mind is a garden that could be cultivated to produce the harvest that we desire.
The mind is a workshop where the important decisions of life and eternity are made.
The mind is an armory where we forge the weapons for our victory or our destruction.
The mind is a battlefield where all the decisive battles of life are won or lost.

There are so many voices around us influencing what we do and how we live. But one of the loudest voices, arguably the most powerful of all, is the media. We know that people who get caught up in religious cults, especially young innocent people, often end up brainwashed. When they leave the cult they often need “deprogramming” from the false ideas that the cult has drummed into them. But without realising it, young people growing up today, and most adults too, are being gently brainwashed by so many different influences in the world around, and particularly by the media. We need deprogramming so that we can see the world as it really is, as God tells us it is, instead of how Hollywood and the soaps would like us to think.

Unless we turn our backs completely on television, films and nowadays the internet as well, I suspect that every one of us underestimates the extent to which our whole way of thinking, the way we look at the world and interpret what we see, is influenced by the media. Just think for a moment:-
How many murders, how many crimes, how many acts of immorality did YOU witness on TV in the last week? Or if you don’t watch television read about in a novel or magazine in the last week, not being reported as news but presented in the name of “entertainment”? Exposure to these things can dull our conscience, to the point where we no longer see evil as evil, merely as entertainment. Are there things that once upon a time you would have been shocked or embarrassed to talk about or watch on TV but aren’t any more? That’s not usually a sign of growing Christian maturity. That’s usually a sign of a desensitised conscience!

We ARE, ALL, influenced by what we see and hear. Our attitudes, values and morals ARE subtly moulded. But as Spring Harvest asked almost 20 years ago, “Who’s pulling the strings?”
Studies have proved that television programmes affect people’s attitudes to wealth and materialism, to relationships and sexuality, to religion and spirituality, and to violence when the average viewer witnesses a thousand deaths a year on television. As we watch, our Christian standards may be eroded without us realising. A phrase from the world of computers puts it so well, GIGO = Garbage in – Garbage Out!!

“Soaps operas” may seem relatively harmless, but if we just can’t bear to miss the next episode are we “addicted”? (Soaps take the top four places in viewing charts!) Spectator sport like the Olympics, or Snooker or Formula 1, or this fortnight Wimbledon, seem innocent enough, but is it really healthy to stay up so late, night after night? Then there are the studies which suggest that violence on television can lead to violent behaviour, and immorality on television to immorality and worse in real life. And what about adverts (even if we think we don’t watch them)? Hundreds of little messages every week, all reinforcing the message of “shop until we drop”. All those professionally produced “Hidden Persuaders” leading people to a lifestyle which as we will see this evening is certainly not Christian!

When it comes to religious broadcasting, some Christians say that “television Christianity” like Songs of Praise is a valuable witness. Others think it is too bland to be worthwhile and that it either leads people into a false sense of security, of “religiosity”, which means that they don’t realise their need of the gospel, or else it represents an outdated image of Christianity which turns anybody under 40 off church completely. In contrast, programmes from the X-files to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Sabrina the Teenage Witch have fuelled the dramatic increase in interest in what is generally known as “New Age” mysticism – new age, but old deception, So many films and dramas, but also so called factual or documentary programmes too, on the doorways to danger of the many forms of the Occult.

The broadcaster Sir David Frost once said something very significant. “Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you would never allow into your home.” If a stranger came into our house and insisted on talking about half the things we hear on television, we would politely but firmly invite them to leave. If a stranger walked into our homes and showed us, and even more showed our children, graphic images of violence or sexual behaviour or unwholesome activities of all kinds, we would throw that stranger out. Yet we allow the television to stay on. We parents have a great responsibility to protect our children from evils entering our homes through television. And to protect ourselves! Most people treat their televisions a bit like some people treat a pet cat – you pay it attention when you want to and ignore it for the rest of the time. Except a television costs more than a pet cat of course. Perhaps we should treat our television more like a pet poisonous snake, or a pet crocodile! Handle carefully, keep at arms length and always stay vigilant in case it strikes out and delivers a fatal bite.

In all this, a report in the Baptist Times this week reminds us that attendance and membership of churches are gradually declining. Pentecostal and “New” churches are growing but traditional denominations are in decline. We might be comforted that Baptist Churches are showing the least dramatic decline whilst membership in the Methodists and the URC is in freefall. But the reality is that people are turning away from most churches in their droves.

And much of the reason for this comes from the kind of world we are living in today . The BBC “Soul of Britain” study just after the millennium produced some very disturbing statistics.

In Britain today only 26% of us now believe in a personal God. Less than a quarter believe that the Bible is the unique Word of God. 44% believe in some kind of spirit or life force – so nearly twice as many believe in the kind of Force described in ‘Star Wars’, rather than in the personal God described in the Bible. The popularity of that New Age understanding of an impersonal “Force” controlling destiny and events has come primarily from those films!
69% of people think we have a soul, and 25% of people believe in reincarnation. Now only 48% of people say that we belong to a particular religion – that is a decrease of 10% in the last ten years
Only about 8% of people call themselves atheists, and this figure has stayed consistent. But in 1990, 54% of people considered themselves “religious’. Today, in only 10 years, that figure has halved to 27%.
31% of people now prefer to call themselves ‘spiritual’ but NOT religious. 38% of have some kind of awareness of God and 29% claim to have experienced a ‘sacred presence’ in nature. 33% believe in a way to God outside of organised religion. 16% have tried astrology. 17% have tried fortune telling or Tarot.
When it comes to morality, 75% of people reject what traditional religions stand for, and say that there can never be clear guidelines between right and wrong. And 79% think that religious leaders are no help with moral decisions

This is the world we live in. These are the kinds of attitudes and beliefs, which (to use A.W.Tozer’s phrase) “that great god Entertainment” is spreading and reinforcing. We can’t simply assume, as most people do, that all television programmes are morally neutral. Even if most program makers are not explicitly opposed to Christian faith and Christian values, the fact is that very few embrace that faith and those values.
In America as a whole 96% of the population claim some kind of religious affiliation. A survey of 104 top television writers and executives in Hollywood found that only 55%, claim to be religious, and 45 claim not to be religious. In the General USA population 85% believe adultery is wrong, but among Hollywood programme makers only 49% think so. In the General USA population 76% Believe homosexual acts are wrong but in Hollywood only 20% believe homosexual acts are wrong. And almost half the US population believe abortion is wrong, but among Hollywood program makers only 3% believe abortion is wrong. Hollywood really is different from the rest of the USA. Attitudes of the programme makers toward moral and religious questions ARE different from the attitudes of their audience. But where Hollywood leads, the world follows! And I have good reason to believe the same patterns of belief and morality would be found in British programme makers.

We used to live a quarter of a mile from the BBC Elstree studios. When Eastenders and Grange Hill wanted to include “Christian” storylines they looked around for a nice photogenic church to film in, and so we had a few opportunities to discuss their stories with scriptwriters and producers before they were filmed. In each case it was very obvious, not only that these charming people were not Christians but also that they each had their own very strange ideas about what Christians did and what Christians believed. And “of course” they were very keen to achieve “realism” and “authenticity”, but there was no way they would ever let the facts of genuine Christian belief get in the way of a good dramatic storyline.

Eph 4:17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.

So much futility in modern thinking, so much darkened understanding, so much ignorance of God in the today’s world comes directly from the mass media which, with only rare and distinguished exceptions, goes its merry way believing that God doesn’t even exist, and teaching everybody else to believe the same.

Eph 4:21 Surely you heard of Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Your mind matters! v. 23 Your hearts and minds must be made completely new,

So what should we do? What attitude should Christians have to television and the media? Some Christians never watch television. Some don’t even have a television. That is one approach, although I don’t necessarily recommend it. If it is true that we live in a society that is dominated and moulded by the media, then it follows that some exposure to television is actually useful to help us understand our neighbours! I am also sure that relaxing in front of the TV sometimes is very beneficial in our busy stressful lives.

But our minds matter. If our minds are going to be renewed, Christians need to be much more discerning and critical about the programmes we watch. “Such and such a programme doesn’t do me any harm,” I may think. Well perhaps it is harming me, by subtly influencing my attitudes and my values and my beliefs. And even if it isn’t doing me any harm, are all these programmes actually doing me any good? Compare the amount of time most Christians spend watching television with the amount of time we spend reading our Bibles or reading Christian books, or praying. Who do we really worship – the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, or “that great god Entertainment”?

Phil 4:8 Fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable.

Arthur C Clark, who wrote “2001- a space odyssey” wrote a novel back in the early 1950s in which he predicted a dramatic decline in human progress and initiative. And the major factor causing this stagnation of civilisation, Clarke predicted, would be the expansion of television to the point where everybody was watching, wait for it, “more than three hours television a day.” Clarke was indeed a visionary. Long before it was technically possible, he recognised the dangers of passive entertainment, of channel-hopping and uncritical viewing. At that same time Tozer was warning of the dangers of “that great god Entertainment”.

“Don’t let the world around squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 12:2 in J.B.Phillips)

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