F.A.Q.: Called To . . . What?

It’s no secret among my friends that I have an irrational hatred of telephones. To be completely transparent, this animosity frequently devolves into an outright phobia. Part of it is a generational thing, it would seem, as the Internet is rife with jokes (many self-deprecating) at the expense of the up-and-comings’ disdain for Bell’s claim to fame. But I can’t pin all of the blame on groupthink. After all, it’s my personal psych profile which reads “intense dislike of using the telephone for interpersonal communication” (or at least it would be if I had an actual psych profile). And why, do you ask? Because I don’t care for surprises. I am not a man given to randomness, and my phone always rings unexpectedly. That interruption was not a pre-programmed part of my day, and yet it demands my immediate attention nonetheless. To make a call is to force that same disruption into the live of someone else. Truly, it’s nigh unforgivable. This is why I sometimes simply let my cell go to voicemail and why I must mentally brace myself before making a call of my own.

Ghastly things, telephones. Beastly.

Luckily for me (and for people like me), when God places a calling on our lives, He doesn’t use a telephone. He does, however, use a variety of other means of communication. Prayer is one oft-used medium, particularly listening prayers geared specifically toward discernment. Reading Scripture is also helpful to discern a calling — just don’t treat it like a Magic 8 Ball. (For those who opt to neglect this warning and pursue the first vocation visible upon randomly opening their Bibles, I offer the additional caveat of the sheer number of slaves and prostitutes present in our holy book.) Fasting can aid discernment, as can any of the unmentioned spiritual disciplines. Most commonly, it seems to me, God uses other people to show us our calling.

How, you ask? Think about your time in school. (Try not to shudder. Still upper lip and all that.) If you had a truly good teacher at some point along the way, which I hope you did, they encouraged you to pursue a certain path. “Have you ever thought about studying _______?” “You’re really good at ________; maybe you should look into that more in the future.” “I think you’d make a great _______!” Other people besides teachers may have done this as well. Parents, friends, spouses, church members, pastors. This external affirmation of one’s internal gifting is quite possibly God’s way of nudging you along the path to your calling. Of course, those people can be wrong at times, too. I remember one teacher I had in high school who was positive I should go into radio (it would seem I had the voice for broadcast journalism, just not the face). But even the misapplication of a gift still points to a talent to be used. And where the voice of God unites in our hearts and the hearts of others (hopefully), there our calling lies. Occasionally God may call us to a task in defiance of others, yes, but rarely will He have us reject so many other Christian voices.

Perhaps I need to back up a step. We’ve talked about how God may issue a calling, but what is a calling, anyway? It’s what we consider a vocation (from the Latin vocare, “to call). Your calling is the work God created you to do. Now, don’t get me wrong: you can have a calling outside of your career (consider bi-vocational pastors, for example). On the flip side, a calling doesn’t have to be religious in nature. Perhaps you’re called to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a stay-at-home mom (or dad). But you could also be called to be an elder, a deacon, a pastor, a song leader . . . you get the idea. Frederick Buechner phrased it this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Unadulterated bliss may not be a required component of calling, but bitterness and cynicism are right out, too. Put another way, as a common saying has it, your calling is to fix the problems you see in the world. Sick of pollution? You could be called to fix it. Have a passion for bringing lost souls to salvation? You could be called to do it vocationally. Illiteracy deeply troubles you? You could be called to teach. Your calling is your calling because your very soul won’t let you rest at night until you pursue it. Find your calling by finding where your passions meet a need in the service of the King.

And once you have your calling, do exactly that: work to use it for the kingdom of God. That’s why He called you in the first place: to use the gifts and graces you were given in His service. Whether you’re called to be a shepherd of souls or a sweeper of chimneys, your life can bring glory to God, and your calling can help bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ.

So when God calls, answer.

That’s Entertainment

The recent release of the Deadpool movie causes mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, they put one of Marvel’s most entertaining characters on the big screen (chimichangas optional). On the other hand, “The Merc with a Mouth” is exactly that: a mouthy, vulgar, profanity-laden anti-hero. I find it telling that when typing “Deadpool review” into the search bar, the second autocomplete option is “for parents.” If you try “Deadpool ch” (like you’re searching for Deadpool with the aforementioned chimichangas,” the third option down is “Christian review.” As fun as the movie may be (I haven’t seen it), it raises some issues about propriety, parenting, and the theology of media.

We live in a world saturated with media. Everywhere we look, everywhere we go has some sort of image/song/video. We haven’t been safe in the car since the invention of the radio, and now DVD players are prevalent in “family vehicles” (which I put in quotation marks because I operate under the assumption anything labeled “family” involves spending time with one’s family, not isolated into individual consumption of Loony Tunes or Spongebob Squarepants; but I digress). While you’re stationary, there are a variety of options: the cinema, Netflix, smartphones (another way to avoid talking to anyone), the Internet (in all its beautiful and horrific glory), iPods . . . you name it. It’s little wonder the average person encounters 600+ advertisements a day as a conservative study estimated. No matter where we turn, we’re bombarded with media and the ads which keep it going. (And the ads are frequently more vile than the actual programming.)

Several obvious questions arise from all of this. How do we decide what to watch/listen to? Are there biblical guidelines about mp3s and Internet usage? If something is labeled adult, can I watch it in good conscience as long as I keep it away from my children? How much swearing, sex, and violence is permissible until I’m obligated to change channels or leave the theater?

I think the simplest answer is simply to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and maintain an attitude of constant discernment (and constant vigilance). In order to do that, however, we should take a look at a few keys verses:

  • Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
  • A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  (Luke 6:45)
  • What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them. . . . Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them. (Matthew 15:11, 17-20)
  • Be holy, because I am holy (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16

In our world, many things compete to fill our hearts. The entertainment industry is a major player, seeking to shape our thoughts and opinions just as much as it tries to take up our time and provide amusement.  When our hearts encounter evil things on a regular basis, they slowly change to reflect that input. And while it may give you nightmares or anxiety, there are far more dire consequences than that. Think about it: do you tend to swear more after you’ve been around people who swear constantly, or do you use more profanity after studying your Bible? Are you more likely to come home drunk after a night at the bar or after a night playing board games with your small children? Do you become so desensitized to violence after watching episode after episode of a particularly violent show that you forget seeing such gore is not normal in the real world? Do you crave violent, abusive sex after watching reruns of The Brady Bunch, or does that come from prolonged usage of pornography?

What we let inside our hearts and our minds eventually gets reflected in our souls. Our personalities can change simply because of the movies we see, the books we read, and the songs we listen to. Once that internal change happens, then the things which defile us — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander — start showing up in our external lives. You didn’t mean to become a habitual liar; it just sort of happened after binge-watching __________.  You were horrified your toddler used that word . . . and then you remember where he/she heard it. Repeatedly.

For this reason, Paul says we should dwell on things with are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. When we let these things into our lives, our hearts become oriented towards them, just like the negative things. We become receptive to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit shapes us into people of holiness, we begin to show the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The garbage is cleared away, the weeds are torn out, and we become a fruitful people who live lives pleasing to God.

Don’t get me wrong: you can’t hide from everything which might potentially be offensive. It’s important to maintain a critical attitude of discernment to determine what is and what isn’t appropriate entertainment. If you follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I believe you’ll make the right choices about your media consumption. Just take time to consider what you watch and listen to, always with an attitude of holiness. And if all else fails, remember two things: God will always love you, and every television comes with an off switch.