Surpass Our Understanding: Culture-Wise Family
A Sermon By Dr. Ted Baehr
Do you want: Media-Wise Children? Culture-Wise Children? So, does God.
The scriptures for the day of this sermon tell us that God’s blessings will surpass our understanding, including blessing us with culture-wise children who will keep the faith.
How do we get the blessings that surpass our understanding, including blessings like culture-wise children?
First, we pray to God to pour into our hearts such love toward Him so that we obtain the promises that exceed all we desire. Thus, the prayer that’s being said in churches all around the world on the day of this sermon leads us to First John 5:1-6:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey His commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey His commandments. And, His commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And, this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
“This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.”
So, to teach our children to be media-wise and culture-wise, we must first teach them what it says in First John 5, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Do your children want to be born of God? Do they want to inherit the promises? Do they want to be friends of Jesus? How do they get that? They must believe that Jesus is the Christ.
Next, to love God means to keep his commands. Of course, that’s a very difficult instruction because we think that His commands are going to be restricting and burdensome. But, it says in First John 5, “To keep His commands are not burdensome for anyone born of God who is filled with His Spirit.” In other words, if we keep the laws of the land, such as we drive on the right side of the road, it keeps us from getting in an accident. The law keeps us from going to jail, from harm’s way, from being lost to self-destruction, and from the destruction of others.
So, by the gift of faith, as we read in Fist John 5, we have the victory that conquers the world. What is that victory? It’s a victory from all our slavery to sin, lust, greed, malice, envy, etc. We’re delivered from all of that and delivered from the curse of the law.
How? We must believe that Jesus is the Christ and live in the Holy Spirit.
So, I hope you believe that Jesus is the Christ. and I hope you’re living in the Holy Spirit.
John 15:9-17 adds something very special:
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you. And, I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask Him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’”
This is great news. Obedience to Christ’s commands is joy. And, His command is to love one another, because, as First John 4:19 says, “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
Now, a lot of people I meet are not experiencing joy in their life. So, where do you get joy?
Well, in John 15:9-17, Jesus tells us that God loves Jesus, Jesus loves you, and you love Jesus by obeying His commands. When you obey His commands, you have joy. You have joy, and you become a child of God. You become a friend of Jesus. He chose you and me. It’s a free gift. It’s not something you have to work to earn. So, in Him, you will bear fruit, and that fruit will last, and part of that fruit is your children when you remain in Him. Thus, God will give you what you ask in His name, in Christ’s name.
Let’s get specific about media wisdom which comes out of all that understanding of God’s Word written, the Bible.
I grew up in the entertainment industry. For many years, I was a far-left rebel ideologue, who got saved by God’s grace at the age of 28. Coming out of the dark side, I said how do we encourage Hollywood to clean up its act. At that time, in the mid-1970s, most pastors said you’re not going to be able to do that.
So, we showed Hollywood how to do better box office every week through a detailed economic analysis of the box office, known as our Report to the Entertainment Industry, which shows that movies with faith and values do better at the box office because about 120 to 140 million people go to church every week, but only about 24 million people go to movies every week. The church is a gigantic institution, with a big audience.
My wife is Argentine. The Spanish speaking audience is a big audience. The African-American audience is a big audience. The church is a much bigger audience and includes members of all the other audiences.
There was an interesting study from Harvard that appeared in the newspapers in the Spring of 2018. Harvard of all places, which probably isn’t the most Christian-friendly place in the world, said that the church is growing. In the United States, the number of churches has grown by thousands, and the number of theaters has decreased. Harvard had to admit that the church is growing.
The result, thanks to God’s blessing our ministry, has been a tremendous growth of faith and family movies produced and released nationally in theaters. When we started MOVIEGUIDE® in 1985, the major studios in Hollywood released few movies with any positive Christian content or values at all – less than 2%! Incredibly, in 2017, at least 170, or 62.04%, of the major movies released theatrically by the movie industry contained at least some positive Christian, redemptive content! Also, when we started in 1985, less than 6% of the major movies were aimed at families. In the past 10 years, movies marketed to families have increased to nearly 40% of the top movies released in your local movie theaters. Finally, since we started in 1985, there were only about one or two movies being released theatrically with strong, explicit, or overt Christian content or values, but last year there were 75 such movies!
Thus, the number of movies with positive Christian is growing and can affirm your children in Jesus Christ. So, for instance, in the month of March, 2018, almost every week there was a strong movie that was evangelistic. There are only about three major movies released a week. So that means one out of the three was a movie like I CAN ONLY IMAGINE. It’s a movie about reconciling with your father and ultimately reconciling with God. A beautiful movie. Then out came PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST. The third one was GOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS. So, those movies which we have encouraged in Hollywood, and a lot of times we’ve worked on those movies, we’ve analyzed the scripts of those movies.
When I was Chairman of the Christian Institute for the Study of Media at the “Center for the Arts, Religion and Education” of the Graduate Theological Union at the University of California at Berkeley in the early 2000s, there were 500,000 studies on the influence of the mass media of entertainment, and 99% of them showed that the mass media of entertainment influenced behavior and a certain number of people who want to copy what they see.
So, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY taught sadomasochism, one of the Oscar winners featured bestiality and one TV program even taught teenagers why and how to commit suicide: 13 REASONS WHY.
How do you protect your children, because if they feature the bad, your children often will pick up on that negative content. For example, there were news reports of a student at a university who decided to copy FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, so he bound and gagged his girlfriend. This happens because people are copying what they see in the movies.
That’s why we pray people see movies like I CAN ONLY IMAGINE, PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST, and GOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS.
Here are five keys for media wisdom as informed by the Holy Spirit.
Number one, understand the influence of the media.
Now, I’ve just told you about the 500,000 studies on the influence of the mass media of entertainment when I was Chairman of the Christian Institute for the Study of Media at the “Center for the Arts, Religion and Education” of the Graduate Theological Union at the University of California at Berkeley years ago. It’s probably a million studies now. Every college and university does studies on the media. The influence of the media is clear; we see it in our children.
Every couple of weeks somebody points out to me some viral video on the Internet that illustrates the need for media wisdom. One of the most powerful videos features two little toddlers who can’t even speak. They’re in the what we call the “sensation stage” of cognitive development, and they’re watching the movie FROZEN in the background. You can see FROZEN in the background, and the two toddlers in front of the TV are copying every scene. Most people say, “isn’t this cute.” I don’t think it’s cute because they’re copying a movie. They’re getting their scripts of behavior from watching a movie. I like FROZEN, but you do not want your children getting their scripts of behavior from a movie.
At the opening of filmmaker John Singleton’s movie BOYZ IN THE HOOD, 33 people were injured, and two people died from gunshot wounds. When BOYZ IN THE HOOD was shown in one California prison, 14 people died in one night of race rioting in the prison. When NEW JACK CITY opened, riots broke out in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston. More than 1,500 teenagers rampaged through Westwood, Los Angeles. A teenager was killed in Brooklyn where rival gangs fired more than 100 shots. Violence broke out in at least eight states after the premiere of JUICE. A girl caught in the crossfire of two rival street gangs died. A man coming out of a theater showing the film was paralyzed from the neck down after he was shot. At one theater, two rival gangs had a shooting match in the lobby. So, in other words, they were copying something bad.
The mass media of entertainment influences people differently. Some people are influenced by the violence, some people by the drugs, some people by the sex, some people want to shop. 62% of the girls are ashamed of themselves after seeing the models and celebrity women on TV. Sadly, when they have low self-esteem, they’re open to abuse. Remind your children that God has designed everybody beautiful. He just designs everybody differently.
Number two, understand your children’s stages of cognitive development, which I will discuss below.
Number three, understand the grammar of the entertainment media. You might want to try with your children or a few friends a media literacy exercise that I do where I would put my hand on my cheek and ask, “Everybody look at me, and put your hand on your chin. Would you do that?” Most people put their hand on their cheek, because the visual dominates. That’s the way commercials work. You see a commercial for whatever it happens to be, whether it’s Geico, or for blood pressure medicine, or heart medicine. The heart medicine one makes you think, “Wow, I’m going to feel better. I’m not going to feel sluggish. I’m going to take Lipitor. I’m going to feel much better.” In the commercial, the guy gets up, and somehow, he’s dancing with his wife in Hawaii. When I took Lipitor, I was allergic to Lipitor. The room was spinning, my muscles seized up, and I didn’t get the free trip to Hawaii that was in the commercial. That’s also what magicians do all the time. Magicians use sleight of hand. They distract your attention.
Number four, understand your moral and spiritual values.
Number five, understand how to ask the right questions. You can find the right questions to ask in THE CULTURE-WISE FAMILY and THE MEDIA-WISE FAMILY.
There are four basic components of media literacy:
Access. You don’t want children to think that whatever it is the iPhone, the iPad, etc. is a magic black box. Children think that it’s magic when they’re in the imagination stage, so they have to have access, they have to learn how to use it. When I was in Tasmania, they weren’t having access by having it in their hands, they were going to a library to get it. Give them access.
Analyze. Help them ask the right questions.
Interpret, because that’s where you need your theology.
Create. Creating is very important. If you see any Marvel movie, there’s always special effects. You see Sesame Street, there’s special effects. One of the things you can do is create with a child. If you’ve got a cell phone: you put the child in front of a wall; you videotape your child for a few seconds with your cell phone not too long; you tell your child to move away from the wall out of the camera range; you videotape the blank wall; and, when you play it back, it looks like your child has disappeared, but the child knows that they have not disappeared. You want to break the spell of the media by showing your child that this special effect of disappearing is not really happening.
How do children know and discern? How do they perceive the media at each stage of cognitive development? How can they use and abuse, not abuse the media at each stage?
There are five stages of cognitive development. To find out more, you should read THE MEDIA-WISE FAMILY.
The first stage of cognitive development is called the Sensation Stage, from birth to two or three years old. Babies are in the Sensation Solipsistic stage. They’re not egotists; they’re not egomaniacal; but, they think they’re the center of the universe.
In the Sensation Stage, they learn through their senses. What does that mean? They’ve got to use their senses. The American Pediatric Society, the British Pediatric Society, and every medical organization concerned with children recommend that children in the sensation stage from zero to three should not be looking at screens. They should not be distracted from using their senses. They should practice opening and closing doors, until you get bored with them opening and closing doors and say, “Don’t do that!” They’ve got to do it! They need to crawl, grab, look, listen, and use all their senses.
Once upon a time, I was preaching in a church in San Antonio, Texas at a big church. I went to say hello to the pastor, and he was crawling on the floor underneath his desk. I thought he’d lost something, so I said, “Can I help you.” He said, “No, I’m doing my exercises.” The University of Texas found that if you had ADD or another learning difficulty, it was because you had not used your senses enough in the first few years of your life, so the University of Texas recommended that the patient crawl under desks, climb on jungle gyms, and do all those things they should have been doing as babies.
Babies must use their senses and absorb what they learn through their senses.
The next stage is the Imagination Stage, from two years old to seven years old. They acquire representational skills, as well as mental imagery, drawing, and symbolic play. They acquire language and may talk a lot. They have one-dimensional interactions, so they think that everybody thinks like they do. They think that their thinking process is everybody’s thinking process, and they look at the world syntactically and semantically. Thus, they look at the action and at the special effects, but, they don’t know that they’re special effects. Of course, they copy and imitate what they see which becomes their scripts of behavior.
When I was the Director of the TV Center at City University of New York, one of my professors was Jim Day, who was one of the founders of Children’s Television Workshop as a program to teach children in the inner-city language and math. That program was called “Sesame Street.” Jim would take his CUNY class once a year to watch how they made “Sesame Street.” Children’s Television Workshop would assemble a test audience and have them watch an episode of “Sesame Street.” At the same time, they’d have a distractor machine trying to distract members of the audience. If anyone in the audience looked at the distractor machine, the producers would edit into the program another cut, another fade, another dissolve, another character, so the audience would not move their eyes from the “Sesame Street” episode. That production process was intended to capture children in the imagination stage.
Once upon a time my son Peirce when he was little invited brought a little friend overnight who had nightmares all night long. The next morning, I asked the young boy what was bothering him, and he said that his father had taken him to see the R-rated movie TOTAL RECALL, an extremely violent movie. The boy said that he didn’t like the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger shoots Sharon Stone, who is posing as his wife, and says, “Consider that a divorce.”
When I called his father to tell him of the fears expressed by his son, he replied that his son was a man and that he took his son to a lot of R-rated movies. I noted that his son was in the imagination stage of cognitive development and was incapable of dealing with the violence in many R-rated movies. I said that taking him to see these movies was like putting him on the front line of psychological and spiritual warfare just like sending children into battle without adequate training and before they are big enough to carry their weapons. After three months, the father called to say that I was right and that he could see that his son was disturbed by the movies to which he had taken him.
The Concrete Stage is the next stage from seven to eleven years old. They now perceive two points of view. So, they say everyone thinks differently than I do, so I have to get a little clique or a club or a gang of my friends together. They typically view media by the emotional response of the characters. They think everything is realistic, even JAWS. Of course, as they did in the imagination stage, they copy and imitate what they see which becomes their scripts of behavior.
Also, they are legalistic. This is very important. In the Concrete Stage, if they see in a movie that somebody does something good but is not rewarded, they think it’s not worthwhile to do good. If somebody perpetrates a crime in the movie and doesn’t get punished immediately, the child thinks he or she can get away with this crime. The perpetrator must be immediately punished for the crime.
In the Reflection Stage from twelve to fifteen years old, they develop abstract thoughts. They’re in self-reflection. They think if they have a spot on their shirt that everybody’s looking at them. They typically view the media semantically, in terms of the individual elements such as the language, the sex, and the violence. In that stage, when they hear the language they want to copy the language. When they see the sex, they want to copy the sex. When they see the violence, they want to copy the violence.
The last stage is the Relationship Stage. In the relationship stage, you now know that everybody looks at the world differently, but you are not threatened by them. They understand that there are differences. Every tree is different. Every leaf is different. They like the differences.
If they have a biblical worldview, they’ll look at the world ontologically and think about the nature of reality. As Christians we believe we live in a real world, with real pain and real suffering, that needs a real savior.
Even when you’re making a movie, you have to have reality. The creator of STAR TREK, Gene Roddenberry, said you can send the spaceship into the far reaches of space, but he would train his actors for a month that every time they press one button, the audience knows that they’re pressing the thruster, and if the actors press another button, the audience knows that they’re pressing the phaser. You can’t break the rules of the reality you set up. Some movies do, but usually they don’t do well.
So, in the Relationship Stage, they look at the world ontologically, because they want it to make sense. They also look at it in terms of “how do you know,” which is epistemologically.
To become media-wise at each stage, and for anybody at any age of development, you have to help your children to think through the consequences of their actions. If they’re driving too fast, the consequences are that you’ll get in a car wreck. If you’re taking drugs, help them to think through the consequences.
To think through the consequences, help them to ask the right questions, such as Who is the hero, what is the premise, how is love portrayed, how is reality portrayed, how is God portrayed, etc.
Now, every year there are good heroes and bad heroes in movies. Desmond Doss in HACKSAW RIDGE is a good hero. He’s willing to die to save people, more than 70 people. However, there are bad heroes. In the movie business, we call them the protagonist, and you now call him the hero. The protagonist forces the action. The protagonist is the one who wins at the end. In AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, Thanos is the protagonist because he wins in the end, but his goal is to kill half of the population of the universe to restore balance to the universe. Clearly, the movie is making fun of that kind of environmentalist viewpoint. Thanos is radical, however. He starts the movie killing half the people on every planet he visits.
What is the premise in INFINITY WAR? The premise is the idea that the only way we can restore balance to the universe is by killing half the people – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.
How is love portrayed in infinity war? Thanos says he loves his stepdaughter, but then he kills her so he can get more power just like an ancient Greek ritual at one of the horrible pagan temples in Greece. Thus, love in INFINITY WAR is portrayed as a lust for more power. But, what is real love? Real love in HACKSAW RIDGE is Desmond Doss. It’s giving, sharing, and taking care of other people.
My wife’s been on chemotherapy for 23 years. It’s when life gets tough, and you’ve got to rush them to the hospital on Sunday morning, and you can’t go to church, that you’re doing it because you love them.
How is reality portrayed in a movie or TV program? In the Christian, biblical worldview, reality has to be a real world, with real pain and real suffering, because then you need a real savior.
How is God portrayed in a movie or TV program? Is God portrayed just as a demigod, or is God a God who’s omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent?
Of course, we could go through all of the 150 questions, but if you want to know what the other questions are, it’s best to read THE MEDIA-WISE FAMILY and THE CULTURE-WISE FAMILY.
So, always tell your children that God loves them. Remember what Jesus said in John 15:9-17:
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
When you and your children believe in Jesus, He will give you and your children his Holy Spirit to make you and them more than conquerors.
At the same time, help your children understand that loving God by keeping His commands is not burdensome, but brings joy. Do you want really deep everlasting joy? Then, loving God brings real joy.
Also, help your children to discern the good and the bad by asking the right questions.
Be wise through His Holy Spirit to choose the good and reject the bad. One boy told me on a radio program, “I’ve got discernment. That’s why I can see these bad films.” I replied, “But you don’t have wisdom. Wisdom is choosing the good.”
Do you want the victory that surpasses all understanding?
Love God and obey God’s commands so that you will become heirs to God’s Kingdom, bear fruit, receive joy, have a more abundant life, and so that God will give you what you ask – A Media-Wise and Culture-Wise Family!