This page is mostly for personal and spiritual posts (a.k.a. non-fiction).
My fiction-only blog, about my novels and other similar examples of popular art, can be found here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Vast Wasteland

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: So be careful how you live, not as fools but as those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity for doing good in these evil days (Ephesians 5:15-16). Bonus Reading: Matthew 5:29-30

Movies, TV, and music so dominate the lives of many, including Christians, that they have no time to think about anything spiritual. Add net-surfing, computer games, sports, and other hobbies, and we have a society drowning in entertainment! Our souls are so constantly submerged in a sea of pleasure-seeking that we rarely break the surface to study the Scriptures, worship God, and serve others.

Satan wants you to waste your time. Too often our pursuit of pleasure preoccupies the mind, consumes the energies of the body, and drains the checkbook. So we fulfill Paul's forecast of the last days (2 Timothy 3:4), when people "love pleasure rather than God." That's why you must set strict limits on the amount of time and money you spend on entertainment.

The application of the surgical language in today's Bonus Reading to your entertainment choices is clear: If something you watch, read, or listen to influences you toward evil in your heart or actions, stay away from it. If you find yourself consumed with a particular hobby, get it out of your life until such a time that you can enjoy it in moderation and propriety.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted with permission)

My Response: To be a faithful disciple, I need to eliminate or cut back on …

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Joker and Monty Python

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: But let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of you, and don't think of ways to indulge your evil desires (Romans 13:14). Bonus Reading: 1 John 2:15-16

In the movie Batman, Jack Nicholson's Joker has more fun by far than anyone else, leading audiences to appreciate and remember this psychotic murderer more than any of the good guys. Another surprising example of the glorification of evil is a Bibleman episode in which the Scripture-quoting hero is boring compared to the villain, who gets to star in his own MTV-like video. After watching this show, my children couldn't quote any of the Bible verses, but danced around singing over and over, "I am the prince of pride; I've got an ego ten miles wide!"

The concern of today's Bonus Reading is the heart. John doesn't say that we can't view or listen to anything that comes from worldly artists, but he does say we're not to love the lust and pride in them, and often presented by them. So I can split my sides with my friends and older children as we enjoy the unique, insightful humor in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, while skipping scenes like the "virgins in the castle" and the cartoons depicting God. I can expose those examples of inappropriate humor by explaining to my family and others why those parts are wrong, and in doing so we can enjoy a spiritual benefit as well as a good laugh.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: I'll plan to lead an informal evaluation of the next movie or TV show we watch together.

Thought to Apply: Indifference to evil is complicity with evil.—SOURCE UNKNOWN

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Laugh Lines

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes--these are not for you.… Don't be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins (Ephesians 5:4, 6). Bonus Reading: Ephesians 5:4-14

God hates sin. It is therefore wrong for us to enjoy it in any way. Unfortunately, much of modern entertainment is designed to make money by appealing to our sinful nature. This is obviously the purpose of most sexual content, and much of the violence motivated by ungodly revenge and uncontrolled rage. But the popular arts appeal to our sinful nature in more subtle ways, such as our covetousness (beautiful stars, rich characters, exotic locations) and pride (motivations of self-glory).

In today's popular art, God and religion are played for laughs, and jokes about sex have almost become synonymous with the concept of comedy. But the Bible is very clear that both of these matters are not to be played for laughs. The third commandment says, "Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God," and the hottest hell is reserved for those who mock God. [Today's Bonus Reading] uses similar language in regard to sexuality. It is a sin worthy of God's anger and condemnation to be amused by jokes about Him. It is equally wrong to laugh at coarse sexual humor.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: Have I ever turned off a TV show part way through it or walked out of a movie or play? Should I have?

Thought to Apply: Television makes so much money at its worst that it can't afford to do its best.—FRED FRIENDLY (broadcast news producer)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Talk Back to Your TV (and other entertainment)

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Keep away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Bonus Reading: Philippians 4:8

If you soak up the media with your brain in neutral, you'll be captured by the enemy's destructive ideas. To apply today's Key Bible Verses to the entertainment you enjoy, keep your brain in gear, know your Bible, and evaluate based on what it says. Talk back mentally to your TV, music, books, and the movie screen. When you see or hear something good, note the truth communicated or illustrated. If it's bad, note how and why it displeases God. That's conquering rebellious ideas and teaching them to obey Christ ( 2 Corinthians 10:5).

If I enjoy a certain kind of music, I can thank God for giving musicians the talent to produce it. But when the words aren't coming from hearts that love Christ, I'll often intentionally hear or sing them with an elevated meaning. Many songs on love and sex written about an unmarried couple can apply to my relationship with my wife. Single people can think of the lyrics as describing a future marriage relationship. This is applying today's Bonus Reading command by finding the good in the things we observe and disciplining our minds to dwell on that. Of course I don't sing or let my mind dwell on songs that can't possibly be reinterpreted like this.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: Do I passively accept media messages or do I talk back to them?

Thought to Apply: All television is educational television. The only question is, what is it teaching?—NICHOLAS JOHNSON (former Federal Communications Comm. chairman)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Take Jesus to a Movie?

(Christianity Today publishes a devotional called "Men of Integrity," which recently adapted some material from one of my books for a week of readings. I thought you might enjoy seeing them...)

Key Bible Verse: And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17).

When you view or listen to some form of the arts, your motive can't be merely to please yourself, and it certainly can't be to enjoy ungodly pleasures. Your motive must be to please God. Jesus said, "You must worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" (Matthew 4:10). First Corinthians 10:3o-11:1 says you should engage in only what you can thank God for, and what brings Him glory.

Many Christians haven't learned how to enjoy the popular arts in a way that brings glory to God. They've watched movies, for instance, only because they wanted to pass the time, or experience the thrill of action, romance, or a good laugh. Or the movies have been a time they were spending apart from God, because they were deriving enjoyment from things He wouldn't like.

So when a friend asks, "Would you watch that if Jesus were sitting next to you?" (a good question to ask, by the way), they could never honestly say yes, because they've never taken Jesus with them to see a movie! But I've watched many movies fully aware that Jesus is with me, and I've communed with Him during the entire movie. Next, we'll discuss how.

—Dave Swavely in Who Are You to Judge? (adapted by permission)

My Response: Would Jesus have accepted an invitation to the last movie I saw?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Balanced View of Baptism

Imagine that you were sitting in an airplane, before it left the ground, and you suddenly realized that one of the wings was very big and the other wing was very small. What would you do? You would get off that plane very fast, wouldn’t you?!

A plane cannot fly unless both wings are balanced. Otherwise it will tip over to one side and end up crashing. I want to suggest to you that our understanding of baptism is the same way. Many people tip over on one side, and many people tip over on the other side. And the right understanding of Christian baptism is “right” in the middle…a biblical balance.

So I want to tell you about two errors that many people fall into, and why they are wrong according to the Bible. Then I will tell you the truth about baptism, according to God’s Word.

Error #1

First, one error is expecting too much from baptism. Some people believe that when they are baptized in a church, that baptism is like magic. It washes away all the sins they have committed so far, or washes away the “original sin” they have from being born into a race of sinners. Others believe that because they have been baptized, they do not need to be “born again,” because that happened in their baptism. And others believe that they do not need to study the Bible, or pray, or worship, or obey God’s commandments, because in some way their baptism guarantees that they have a right relationship with God.

But the Bible clearly says that no religious ritual can make us right with God:

Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Titus 3:4-7
But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

So you see that it is not the “washing” or “pouring out” of the water in baptism that saves us from our sins and enables us to go to heaven when we die, but the “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” which happens because Jesus Christ died for us. It is not a physical washing that makes us right with God, but a spiritual washing that gives us a new heart. This is what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus, who had observed all the required religious ceremonies, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Nicodemus had been circumcised as a baby, which was the Old Testament precursor to baptism, like a seed is to the plant and the boy is to the man. But Jesus told him that all his religious activity meant nothing unless he turned away from his self-righteousness and turned to Jesus in personal faith. Nicodemus needed a new heart, and so do you and I, even if we have been baptized.

Error #2

Second, however, there is another error that people believe about baptism, on the other side. Some people think too little of baptism. They know that baptism does not ensure our salvation, because they know that we are saved by faith, but they think that baptism does basically nothing. They think of it more or less as an empty ritual with no real meaning in their lives. They do not realize that their baptism is a special means of grace that places a serious responsibility on them to live as a Christian, committed to God and His glory. They do not realize that baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is a “sign and seal” of God’s covenant of love, which means they must love God in return, or be considered a traitor by Him.

Baptism is like a wedding ceremony, in a way. (In fact, the church is called “the bride of Christ” in the Bible.) When we become married, we make promises and give rings to each other. The rings do not cause us to be married, but they are a sign that we are married. And the fact that we are wearing that ring means that our life will change in many ways—our life must change in many ways. Would you say that your life changed after you were married? I know mine did, and one way was that if I am not faithful to my covenant of marriage, I wouldl be in a worse place than if I had never been married. The same is true of baptism: once that sign has been placed upon us, we have an increased obligation to be faithful to the covenant God has made with us:

Romans 6:1-5
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

The Truth About Baptism

The truth about baptism, according to the Bible, lies in between those two errors. Baptism does not guarantee the forgiveness of sins, but it is a sign that God has made a covenant with us.

So if you have been baptized, you still must repent of your sins and believe in Jesus. You will not be able to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “I was baptized, so You should let me into heaven.” Only by trusting in Jesus Christ, and His death for our sins, can you escape the fires of hell. If you have never been born again by the Holy Spirit, ask God to give you a new heart. Tell him you are sorry for ignoring Him and disobeying His Word, and ask Him to forgive your sins because Jesus died for us on the cross. That is the only way God can forgive our sins.

If you have not been baptized, or if your children have not been baptized, you are missing a wonderful gift that God wants to give you. As I study and learn more about baptism, I have seen that my own baptism, which I received as a young boy, becomes more meaningful to me every year. How can I be unfaithful to a loving God who has given me this “wedding ring” as a token of His unending love? How could you refuse such a gift from the lover of your soul? And how could you not want to live your life for the Savior who died for you?

Acts 2:38
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.

God is speaking to you through that passage, just as he was to the people at Pentecost 2000 years ago. Maybe you need to repent right now (turn away from your sins). Maybe you need to be baptized, or to bring your children to baptism. If God is calling you to commit your life to Jesus, or to receive this sign of His love, then talk to God right now about it and tell him you will do what He wants you to do.