My life alongside God's word volume 3. 21st century issues section.
– by Anthony Poggo
What do we mean by the word ‘media’? The dictionary defines media as “the main way that large numbers of people receive information and entertainment, that is television, radio and newspaper”. The dictionary I was referring to was written before the age of modern methods in Information Technology advancement, like the Internet, mobile phones and social networks.
Another way of looking at the word ‘media’ is to look at it in a broader sense, the means of passing a message in a specific way. In our Bibles for example: Noah used the ark, Genesis
6:14, 22; Moses used the staff, Exodus 4:17, 20; Nehemiah used the city wall, Nehemiah 2:17-18; Jesus used mud for healing the blind, John 9:6, 11; and God used the rainbow,
Genesis 9:12-15; the dove, Matthew 3:16; and the cross, Luke 9:23.
In our subject there is a hidden understanding that the media can corrupt one’s mind, hence the need to keep one’s mind pure. What does the word ‘pure’ mean? Two of the
dictionary meanings I selected are first, “clean and not containing any harmful substances”. And second, “without evil thought or actions, especially sexual ones; morally good”.
Is the media evil?
I would like to make it clear right from the beginning that the media is not evil in itself. In fact I use the media a lot. We are living at a time where the media drives everything and so we cannot ignore it. Until recently I wrote a column called 'Just a Minute' in the Sudan Mirror newspaper. I did this for two years doing two articles per month – articles of around 1,000 words. I used this as a ministry opportunity where I handled current issues from a Christian perspective. For example, I did an article on ‘polygamy’ asking the question whether polygamy was the cause of any problems in Sudan?
What is important is that we should always sieve or filter what we listen to, watch or read from the media. For example, a Christian who is involved in watching pornographic material is playing with fire. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord, Ephesians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:1. Whatever you, do it for the glory of God, 1 Corinthians 10:31.
If you can’t, then don’t do it.
Be careful of what the media promotes!
There are things that the media promotes that are in contradiction to the word of God. For example, there is a column called Soul Mates. These past weeks I saw a 35-yearold
lady looking for “a God fearing and financially stable man”. I would encourage you to find your friends in a Christian fellowship – unless there was a column like this specifically for Christian believers. Even then, I personally would still be reluctant to use it.
Be careful of the amount of time spent
We need to watch what we spend our time on, because it is often at the expense of time invested in Bible reading and prayer. I have a habit of listening to the BBC for at least 30
minutes when I wake up in the morning. I find that I am not able to spend 30 minutes in the morning in prayer and the Bible. This is a challenge for me.
Be aware of addiction
You know the word addiction applies not only to drugs but also to the media. The dictionary gives one of the meanings of being addicted as “spending all your free time doing something because you are so interested in it”.
What I find is that when I am in Nairobi, I cannot miss watching “Who is smarter now?” and “Stomp”. I also like watching the 9:00 evening news and on Friday nights, News Shot and Bulls Eye. How about Soap Operas? Several years ago, when I was a theological student, although time was so precious, I found time to watch ‘The Rich Also Cry’.
Watch what you watch!
Apart from being addictive, some of the media programmes that you listen to or watch have bad language – the F and S words are used often and just like that. Some even use the name of Jesus as a cursing swear word, see Exodus 20:7, where God clearly forbids this.
Let’s concentrate for a moment on the word ‘pure’. I looked up this word in a Bible Concordance, which is a book that lists words in alphabetical order and gives all (or most) of the biblical verses that contain the said word. I therefore looked at the verses that contain the word ‘pure’. Here are some of the most important verses that suit our purpose
because they impact our vital subject. They include the following:
Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a pure heart, O God”
This is a verse that is from the psalms that David recited as part of his confession after he fell into the sin of adultery. That sin developed from him first seeing what he should not
have seen, a woman bathing, 2 Samuel 11:2. What David is saying, from his own experience, is that if our hearts are full of impure thoughts, they will lead us into further active sin. This means the kind of media material that we read, watch or listen to can contribute into impurity in our minds, which leads into sin of action.
2. Psalm 119:9 “How can a young man keep his way pure?”
This is one of the most important questions in scripture. The answer is given in the second part of the verse. The answer is: “By living according to your word” – the Bible. Having a daily reading of the word of God with regular prayers is one
of the ways in which we can grow spiritually. Empty spaces soon get filled with clutter and rubbish! Our minds are no exception.
3. Habakkuk 1:13 “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil”
Although in this verse the prophet was referring to God and the wicked lifestyle the children of Israel and their oppressors had slipped into, it can actually refer today to TV
and the Internet, and to books and magazines. Since God cannot look on evil, very bad things, surely we Christians must not when we have any choice in the matter?
4. Philippians 4: 8 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever
is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is
excellent or praise worthy – think about such things”
Paul is saying the influence of one’s thoughts inwardly deeply affects one’s life outwardly. Whatever a person allows to occupy the mind will sooner or later determine what they
say and what they do. What Paul is saying is that when we come to think about all these good influencing things, it will result in a wholesome thought pattern, leading in turn to
What is Christian media?
The Lausanne documents pose these questions: Is Christian media defined by the producer being a converted Christian?
Is the message consistent with biblical truth? Can Christians produce bad media? Can non-Christians produce good media with Christian values? Christians usually describe non- Christian media as “secular media”. Is there a problem naming the media this way?
According to the secular Wikipedia, “Christian media can either refer to Christians who work in secular media, or media that is Christian, or refer to various aspects of mass media which are primarily targeting the Christian demographic. The conservative Christian right and fundamentalist Christians have been especially active with media ventures”.
In 2004 the Lausanne Committee insightfully concluded their deliberations by writing that Christians can produce bad media and non-Christians can produce good media, as well as the other way around. Media is largely neutral itself. The key is how both the producer and the receiver use it. All Christians need to have a discerning eye to see and understand the difference between what is beneficial for them to see, listen to or read, and what is detrimental for them – therefore they should keep well clear of it. They concluded,
“We call upon the Church to use media to effectively engage the culture in ways that effectively draw non-believers toward spiritual truth and to proclaim Jesus Christ in culturally relevant ways”.
The words ‘pure’ and ‘holy’
The words purity and holiness can be used interchangeably. Holiness is an attribute that is expected from all Christians. In the various laws that are listed in Leviticus 19 the first law says: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy”, verse 2.
In 1 Peter 1:13-21, the section begins with the word ‘therefore’. In English, when you see this word, you need to ask yourself what is this word there for! Here it is to connect the subsequent verses to the preceding information. Having praised God for salvation and the hope that we have as Christians in the Lord, Peter now lists a series of exhortations or imperatives describing what the born again believer was to do. Before doing this, the reader was to get prepared, verse 13. We used be told in athletics: ‘Get ready,
steady and go’. This is why Peter says the reader was to prepare himself for action.
The believer’s living hope should lead to a life of personal holiness. We are saved to live holy lives. Salvation should mean an about turn in our lives. It requires us to be obedient
to our Lord Jesus. This involves being self-controlled and also setting our hope on Christ's return. As Christians, our focus should be on the return of Christ.
Verse 14 assumes that the readers were already God's children. They were children who were obedient. Such children should say “no” to their previous, pre-Christian lives. Before you knew Christ, there were desires that you had. These desires must now disappear. They must go away. You and I lived such lives due to ignorance. Now we do not
have to live such lives any more. We know how we should live our new Christian lives.
The call to holiness is a call to life as God expects us to be. The new lifestyle should not reflect the previous life of ignorance in sin but the holy nature of our heavenly Father
Who called us and gave us new birth.
The call to holiness is not a call to absolute holiness, which cannot be achieved in this world. Holiness can never be obtained in an instant. We live in a world of “instant”
everything - instant coffee, aspirin for instant pain relief, etc. There is no instant holiness. It is a lifelong process. All areas of our lives should become completely conformed to God's
will shown in His word. This should be our ongoing prayer.
Is the other media against the culture of reading?
Is it true that reading for leisure is disappearing from our society? Is watching television or videos the main rival of leisure reading? Before we go any further, we need to define
what ‘reading’ is. The Webster dictionary defines ‘reading’ as “getting the meaning of something from a printed form”, while the Oxford dictionary defines reading as “to look at and understand the meaning of written or printed words or symbols”. In the Bible, several passages refer to books. In Ecclesiastes 12:12 it says, “Of making many books there is no
end, and much study wearies the body”.
The apostle Paul, who at the end of his life wrote two letters to Timothy, expressed in the second concern about his books. In 2 Timothy 4:13 Paul requested his colleague and student to, “Bring my books (scrolls), especially the parchments”. In several passages of the Bible, it talks of the names of true believers being written in the Book of Life, e.g. Revelation 21:27. These references all show that a book is an ancient medium for information storage and communication.
If we agree that reading for leisure is disappearing from our society then the question is, ‘What is contributing to the decline of leisure reading?’. Is it the shortage of reading
materials? Is the progress in technology making us lean toward celluloid or digital entertainment over the written word? Is the media taking this over, driving the changes?
The global figures for literacy show us that in many countries illiteracy is not a problem but instead there is the problem of what we may call, ‘alliterates’, by which I mean
those who can read but choose not to. It is said that in some of these countries ‘alliterates’ far outnumber illiterates. ‘Alliterate’ in this context and meaning is not yet a word in our dictionaries (2015), but it is rapidly becoming one. At the moment it means: “using words beginning with the same sound or letter”. Here we use it to mean “one who can read but doesn’t; practically illiterate”.
Another category of readers is ‘dormant readers’. This refers to those who like to read and consider themselves readers but do not take the time to read. In Africa, the problem is the dearth of reading materials even if people are able and willing to read. I am reminded of what the Scripture Union International Secretary, Emmanuel Oladipo, once said on the
lack of books in the third world compared to the variety and availability of literature in the developed countries. He likened this to, “Those who have the teeth do not have the maize, while those who have maize do not have the teeth”.
I have also heard arguments that one problem is that we mainly read to pass examinations. Others have also argued that Africans are people of oral culture who find it easier to talk than read. We should not hide behind our culture to justify our lack of leisure reading. On a trip some time back by the bus from Nairobi to Kampala I noted that very few passengers on the bus were reading novels or other leisure reading materials (a handful of people were actually reading the daily paper). In contrast, when one travels on any coach in the United Kingdom or when using the London train known as ‘the tube’, one will see that very many people are busy reading either novels or newspapers. In spite of this it is said that only about 47 percent of the population in Britain read for leisure.
What are the benefits of leisure reading? Leisure reading has several benefits. Among these are the broadening of one’s vocabulary, the increase in knowledge and the relief of
stress. Leisure reading is beneficial to the mind, as reading helps the reader gain insight and knowledge about a subject previously unknown. Leisure reading can also be a time for relaxation and consequently relieves stress. Of course it can also be a gentle way of lulling a person to sleep (I have heard of people who would deliberately read a boring book when they were finding it hard to go to sleep). Reading can also be a time of fun, as a good book can be more interesting than a movie!
Whenever you read, make sure the book is a good one. The mass media produce many which are not pure and holy. The church encourages Christians first to read their Bibles
regularly for their own spiritual growth. In a time of renewal and revival, when Ezra and the Levites led the people, “They read from the book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read”, Nehemiah 8:8. The Psalm writer said to his God, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”, Psalm 119:11. Surely this underlines how the Bible is God’s media for keeping our minds, hearts and lives pure? Colossians 4:16 encourages the sharing around of books read and books to read. (You may even wish to do it
with this book!).
Our media worldwide shares and spreads much that is evil, although there is some good amongst it. As Christians may we allow others to benefit from the media that have helped
us become more pure and holy.
Originally given as a talk to the Youth group of St Luke’s Parish, Kenyatta, Nairobi, in All
Saints Cathedral Diocese, where the writer was an attached clergy from 1996-2007, before his election as a bishop.