How To Make Wise Media Choices (Part I)…
How and Why to Choose Media Wisely:
Books, Internet, Movies, Music, T.V., & Video Games
The average American consumes six or more hours per day combined of media—internet, movies, music, texting, t.v., & video games. Wow. When putting that much of anything into our minds and/or bodies, it is important to be wise and savvy in understanding what effects such exposure has on our lives.
The different forms of media, like a scalpel, can be used for good or bad—to mend or maim, hurt or heal, build up or break down—it’s a question of how the scalpel is used. The same is true with the media.
But is the media you’re experiencing or eating making you spiritually healthier: physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.? Is it bringing you closer to God, or pulling you farther away from Him? Is it helping you fulfill God’s dreams for your life, or is it hindering you? Is it telling you how to live, or is Jesus telling you how to live? This two part lesson will not feed you the answers to these questions, but will hopefully (with God’s help and your hard work) help you to figure out the answers in your own life.
The purposes of this two part lesson and format are four-fold:
1. To create ways (bridges) for parents and Middle School aged children to communicate together by giving them items to discuss that are relevant to their daily lives;
2. To help shift the leadership of the spiritual development of Middle School aged children from pastors and “professional Christians” to parents now and eventually to the children themselves more and more as they become adults;
3. To serve as a sort of “ingredients and nutritional content label” for media as a whole (not necessarily for specific shows, websites, songs, books, movies, etc.) so that you can help your 5th-8th grade children to understand why it is important for them to monitor what they are putting into their minds and what effects it may have on their thoughts, mood, beliefs, and actions. This lesson also strives to help students to know how to determine if a particular show, song, etc. is healthy for them or not.
4. Finally, this lesson is designed to help your children critically and analytically examine what they put into their minds and hearts so that they can grow closer to Jesus; so that they can know, love, serve, enjoy, and worship Him; so that they can become who He made them to be; and so that they can more brightly shine for Him in this world.
It is my prayer that you will notice the LORD Almighty meeting with you as you strive to meet with Him…
Luke 11:33-36 (The Message Paraphrase)
33-36“No one lights a lamp, then hides it in a drawer. It’s put on a lamp stand so those entering the room have light to see where they’re going.
Your eye is a lamp, lighting up your whole body. If you live wide-eyed in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar.
Keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky. Keep your life as well-lighted as your best-lighted room.”
Part I: Why Our Media Choices Matter
Main Point I. Whether we realize it or not, when we read books, watch movies, listen to music, watch t.v., and play video games, we are learning something; we are being taught something; we are being persuaded to believe something. I am trying to persuade you of something right now!
For Example: There is nothing wrong with being in advertising—do not get me wrong here. Advertising is an exciting field for people who are very smart and extremely creative.
But…you need to know that there are thousands of advertisers being paid A LOT of money each day to persuade & convince you of different things, wise things and unwise things, such as:
-that you NEED to buy their product,
-that you are more of a real man or woman if you wear certain clothes,
-that you will be considered cool and popular if you act a certain way,
-that your own personal happiness (e.g. good feelings inside your mind) is the most important thing in your life,
-that this life as we see it is all there is, so you need to have as much fun as possible RIGHT NOW or else you’re wasting your time (“The one who dies with the most toys wins”),
-that you don’t need anyone to tell you what to do—you can figure life out on your own,
-that “newer” is better and “older” is outdated, less relevant,
-that you must always experience something—good or bad—in order to learn about it, etc.
Questions to Consider:
1. What are your thoughts about this so far? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Why?
2. Why does it matter that you are always learning/being taught something when you experience different media? Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of this?
1. Watch one of your favorite t.v. shows (and the commercials in between as well) with your Mom and/or Dad and/or best friend. What are the messages of the show/commercials? What are the characters/writers/producers trying to get you to believe? Do these messages agree with the Bible? What would happen if you chose to believe/live out those messages in your real life? What would the consequences be?
1 Corinthians 15:33 (NLT): “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for ‘bad company corrupts good character.’”
Main Point II. The messages that we get through various media can easily change us over time (how we think, what we believe, how we act, etc.), both for good and for bad.
For Example: When you put food into your physical body by eating it, lots of changes occur in your body. Here are just a few examples:
A. your mood can change (just ask your Mom how she feels after she eats chocolate! :)), which can affect the decisions you make (if you’re sad or happy) and how you treat others,
B. you can become energized or sleepy (remember the food coma after Thanksgiving dinner? The chemical L-Tryptophan, found in turkey meat, is believed to cause sleepiness),
C. you can become physically ill or even die if you eat undercooked meat or a gallon of Haagen Dazs (I know from experience!).
Just as you cannot eat food or drink liquid without something happening/changing in your physical body, the same is true with our minds—what we put in it affects us, and not just our minds, but also our spirit/soul as well.
Think About It: Think about how much media the average American consumes each day: approximately six hours. That’s the equivalent each week (42 hours) of a full time job…watching t.v., playing video games, surfing the internet, watching movies, listening to music, etc.!!! Wow…
-Imagine if you studied history or science for six hours a day for the past 5-10 years—how well do you think you’d do on your tests at school in those subjects?
-Imagine if you played a sport or instrument for six hours per day for the past 5-10 years—how good do you think you’d be at that sport or instrument?
-Imagine if you ate potato chips and ice cream and fast foods for six hours per day for the past 5-10 years—how sick do you think you’d be? Would you even be alive!?
-Imagine if you read your Bible, talked & listened to God, and served others for six hours per day for the past 5-10 years—how strong would your faith in Jesus be now? Doing anything for that length of time (42 hours per week for many years) will change us—for good or for bad. But many of us never read our Bibles to balance out this time. It’s no wonder that knowing Jesus is so hard—we don’t give Him a chance! We barely let Him step foot on our lawns, let alone come inside our hearts and minds! Will you clear out space for Jesus over Christmas break? Will you use your Christmas break to break a little from your dependence on media, and start to taste and see how delicious Jesus really is?
Questions to Consider:
1. What are your thoughts about this so far? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? Why?
2. How are you being affected by the media you are eating each day? How has your character, actions, and beliefs changed over the last year or two?
1. Watch your favorite t.v. shows and movies: what are the traits, qualities, and beliefs of the characters on those programs? Do you share any of those traits with those characters? If you do, are these good qualities that you share? It is it wise to “hang out” watching these characters every day or every week? Why or why not?
Philippians 4:8 (The Message): “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
Main Point III. Real Life—Let’s Be Honest!:
Reading the Bible, talking & listening to God, and going to church are difficult for a lot of people! These important activities are often considered boring nowadays…Why do you think many people believe these things are boring?
One of the reasons reading the Bible is so hard is because it “tastes” so much different than what we are used to consuming with our eyes, ears, and minds. The average t.v. commercial changes scenes once per second; once PER SECOND! That’s thirty flashes of the camera for every thirty second commercial. Wow! So what’s the big deal about that?
Well, because of this, we are all used to not having to concentrate for a long time on the same thing. When we watch movies, t.v., or play video games, the camera tells our mind when to move on to the next image, and so we move on once every second or two or three. Plus, the images have lots of loud sounds, colors, flashing images, and scenes of people saying and doing different things. The screen captivates us and grabs our attention forcefully. Our minds are trying to soak in all of the stimuli and interpret/understand it, but we are controlled by the camera and have to stop thinking about the last scene and start thinking about the current one every couple of seconds. It’s tiring and confusing at times, but we get used to the pace and even begin to like it.
Try It Out: Get a bunch of different board games where you have to play against another person taking turns, like chess, checkers, Connect 4, Battleship, etc. Set them up all around your living room with one member of your family stationed at each game. Then turn on some of your favorite music—turn the volume up a bit! Now go to each board game for 1 second only and take your turn (the other player at each game stays and gets more time to think). How hard is it to make good/wise/strategic moves in these games? How often do you lose?
Now imagine playing games or doing activities in this rapid way for 42 hours per week (that’s 1,800 seconds, and the average commercial has one scene change per second!) and then being asked, once a week, to sit still and listen to a sermon or message at church for thirty minutes. How hard would it be to sit still & concentrate when you’re used to such constant and intense visual stimulation? Would you feel “bored”? Would you want to be there?
So when we come to church, we try to have video clips when possible, we try to play music as much as possible, we try to engage you with physical movement as much as possible too. But even that does not compare to watching a sitcom on t.v.—church is much, well, slower. And therefore many kids (and some adults) believe that church…and God…are, well, boring.
The same is often true with the Bible. We don’t know how to sit still for ten minutes and focus on a page with a bunch of little black squiggly marks on it. So our heads start to hurt, the words are not instantly understandable (we’re used to Google answering our questions in 1.8 seconds), and we get sleepy; so many of us never—literally NEVER—read the Bible. (When’s the last time you opened and read your Bible outside of church without being forced to? When was the last time before that?) So we try to read the Bible and go to church, but it doesn’t taste like the rest of our media-saturated lives, so we don’t eat the Bible anymore, we don’t experience church anymore. We don’t meet much with God (and so some of us start to believe that He doesn’t exist, or that He does not care about the details of our daily lives).
For Example: It’s like a person who only drinks soda, coffee, and sugary juices. If you give them water, they’ll probably say it tastes bland, flavorless, and is, well, boring. But they need water to live! And water isn’t boring. Just take a drink of ice cold, crisp, clean, and clear water after you’ve played basketball for an hour or after you’ve just eaten a thick peanut butter sandwich—water literally tastes delicious!!!
For Example II: Or, it’s like a person who only eats salty chips, fried fast food, sugary candy, and tons of sweets for dessert all the time. If you give them a plate of vegetables, they might say that it tastes terrible, bland, boring, etc. But vegetables really do not taste boring—they can be so delicious (if prepared properly!). It just depends on what our taste buds are used to. Sugary and rich foods can block and clog our taste buds so that we don’t enjoy the natural flavor in healthy foods. We sometimes need to stop eating the fried and fatty foods for awhile to cleanse our taste buds; then, when we eat healthy foods, we’re actually able to taste their natural flavor. We’ll see that they do in fact taste delicious and often times we’ll start to choose to eat healthier, not because it’s better for us, but because it actually tastes better too! I didn’t eat food for an entire day once (it’s called fasting—don’t do it until you’re at least 18 years old because you’re still growing right now and you need to eat!) because I wanted to grow closer to God. When I started eating food again, I ate some crackers. Saltine crackers. And I couldn’t believe how much flavor they had! Seriously—they tasted like a juicy steak!
True Story: The LORD blessed my wife Sarah and I to honeymoon in Maui for twelve days starting the day after we got married. One evening we got dressed up and went to a fancy restaurant with a fantastic ocean view (the restaurant was so fancy that it had a beautiful pond inside of it with white and black swans and a whistling duck…that’s right, a real whistling duck. I wouldn’t have believed it either, but it’s true!).
The meal featured different courses—soup, salad, appetizer, main course, dessert, etc. After we finished with one course, our waiter brought each of us a little dish filled with a small scoop of what we thought was ice cream. We smiled at each other, called the waiter back over, and confidently told him, “Excuse me, sir—we didn’t order dessert.”
The waiter smiled a bit and straightforwardly said, “That’s not dessert, young man. It’s a pallet softener.”
Needless to say, I was embarrassed at having pretended to be a cultured man of experience as I walked through the restaurant only to have the waiter humble me with a lesson in fine cuisine.
You see, a pallet softener is served in between courses to cleanse one’s taste buds from the previous food/course and prepare it for the next course so that the flavors of the previous don’t interfere with and muddy the flavor of the next. A clogged pallet can lead one to think that a food is bland and flavorless—or of a different flavor entirely. If this is important with steak and lobster, how important is it with God? Sometimes we need to stop (or limit) the amount of media we put into our minds so we can really taste God more clearly…and sometimes when we think we are tasting God to be bland and flavorless He is not—we are simply mixing Him up with the flavor we are used to eating every day. (I enjoy barbecue sauce, and I enjoy Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal—but not together!) Are you willing to choose to do limit/change the media that you consume? Are you willing to have your spiritual pallet softened?
Questions to Consider
1. What made sense above? What didn’t make sense? Any comments or questions?
2. Do you think church is boring? Why/why not? What are some ways you’d improve it?
3. Is the Bible hard to understand? Why or why not? What are some things you are good at/understand now that you weren’t good at/didn’t understand right away? How did you get better? Does the same apply to the Bible?
4. What can you do to soften your pallet for Jesus, to clear out your taste buds to really get to know Him better?
Psalm 34:8 (The Message): “Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him.”
Main Point IV. Nevertheless, what we watch and listen to does not, like food, go in our bodies and come out in a couple of days. Rather, what we put into our minds can leave a residue of mold and scum just like you see around your bathtub if you don’t wash/clean it often. Images that we see, for example, are often tattooed on our minds once we watch them—the mind is a powerful and mysterious thing. And many of you, as you start to make Jesus a priority in your lives now that you are becoming adults, will wish that you could forget some of the disturbing, unhealthy, and even sinful images that you saw when you were younger—and it will be difficult to do so. So please be careful what you watch—it affects you more than you realize, and it stays with you longer than you may want it to.
-Many of you like watching rated R movies or playing M rated video games because it’s cool to do that when you’re 10, 12, 14, etc.—it’s taboo and against the law so that can make it attractive and desirable. Many of you like to watch, for example, horror movies because they cut people’s arms off and you like the rush you get when you’re a little scared (though many of you wouldn’t admit to ever being scared by a movie!).
But most of these movies are not healthy for your minds—it’s like eating a gallon of ice cream. Yeah you can do it, but boy are you sick in the morning. Remember, you can’t spend two hours having your mind fed with thousands of images and ideas and remain unchanged. I very rarely watch R rated movies anymore and I haven’t played an M rated video game in years—I just don’t often like how I feel at the end of them.
Just because you’re legally allowed to do something doesn’t mean you should, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. You are legally allowed to eat fast food three meals per day, every day of the week. But it would wreck your life! You would feel sick all the time; you’d wind up in the hospital—it’s just not healthy to do. The same is true for certain programs in the media…
Finally, just as eating a lot of unhealthy foods often causes you to desire healthy foods less, if you are attending church here on a regular basis and do not see yourself growing more interested in Jesus, the Bible, praying, etc., you probably need to start by decreasing the amount of media you eat and increasing the amount of Bible you eat so you can clean up your pallet a bit. Even I have to do this! Are you willing to do this? Why or why not?
Questions to Consider:
1. So think about the movies that you have watched lately—do they change you for the better, or for the worse? (“I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer! :))
2. Do you see yourself growing more of a taste for God, the Bible, praying, or not? Why or why not? What has helped you desire to know God more? What prevents you from wanting to know Him more?
3. Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? A thermometer simply reflects the temperature outside or in a room—the temperature outside controls what the thermometer does. A thermostat, on the other hand, controls the temperature of a room and changes it. Whatever temp the thermostat is set to, it makes the rest of the room that same temperature. Are your actions controlled by others and what they say is cool? Do you do the wrong thing sometimes because your friends are doing it? Or do you decide to do what is right regardless of others’ opinions? Is your heart set to Jesus’ temperature for living, or to the world’s way of living?
James 1:27 (The Message): “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.”