Garbage in, Garbage out: How do you know what’s good for you?


Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Growing up, we had a pretty matter of fact standard for what we could and could not watch, read or listen to.

Garbage in, garbage out.

If mom thought something was influencing us negatively, it showed in our behavior, and it was immediately nixed.

Garbage Pail Kids? Burping, farting, snotty kids? Not in the Mason house.

Goosebumps? Fear Street? Anything else written by R.L. Stein? Why would you purposefully read something that’s gonna give you nightmares? We all liked our sleep too much, so they were out.

“What’s the harm?” you may be quick to ask, much like my brothers and I did at the time.

But what my mom and dad knew was that, as kids, we were prone to burp and fart and pick boogers and have nightmares without a bit of external assistance. Those things come naturally, and training generally does not include encouraging the things that come to us naturally.

Some things in life were obviously out. Other things, not so much. They had to be considered carefully and the benefits and detriments weighed out. But without fail, things were either placed in one category or the other.

Because the fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as neutral information intake. Everything we consume impacts us for good or for bad. The results may be subtle, but a lifetime of exposure to things that are against biblical principles shapes our mindset. Even if the negative impact is the fact that we are no longer uncomfortable watching shows with consistent vulgar language or extended sex scenes, those things shift our worldview.

So how do we build a constructive, positive worldview? Scripture doesn’t leave us without guidance on this matter. If you want to know how to make positive and constructive choices for how to spend your leisure time, consider the following questions based on the two Scripture passages above:

First, from Philippians 4:8,

1. Is this true?
This doesn’t mean we should abandon fiction; true also means “loyal, faithful, accurate.” Is what you’re watching or reading or hearing considered faithful, consistent to what you believe about the world?

2. Is it honorable?
To be honorable is to be held in high esteem or respect. Is your favorite brain candy respectable? Is it held in high esteem? I would venture to say we could all agree that watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition or Undercover Boss are more honorable ways to spend time than perhaps Jersey Shore. Entertainment that has no redeemable value should be questioned at length in your heart and mind.

3. Is it just?
This is where we lose a lot of television and music. To be just is to be “based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.” Anything that objectifies people, glorifies abuse, brutality or immoral behavior isn’t just. And watching it repetitively will numb your heart and mind to the consequences of such behavior.

4. Is it pure?
This is relatively self-explanatory. If your favorite movies and music and shows are sexually explicit or full of foul language, ask yourself, “How is this helping me?” If it’s not helping, what’s the point?

5. Is it lovely?
Simply put, does what you put into your heart and mind consistently show you the best or the worst in humanity? I’m a big fan of shows like Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU. But after a day of watching a marathon on USA, my general outlook on life is depressing. When we consistently feed on the dregs of humanity, we expect the worst from people and can even begin to forget about the goodness of God in this fallen world.

6. Is it commendable?
Can you formally praise it? Do you feel the need to hide what you’re watching or reading or listening to? Could you share with your small group or your family how you spend your time without feeling embarrassed? Would you want a younger family member or someone you mentor to be doing what you’re doing?

7. Is it excellent?
This is the one that I tend, for better or for worse, to get hung up on. Some “brain candy” is just plain bad. Poorly written, poorly acted, poorly sung. All creativity is possible because we as people are created in the image of Creator God. If you’re going to enjoy the creative nature of humanity, spend your time and energy enjoying GOOD creation.

And from 1 Corinthians 6:12,

8. Is it helpful?
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s beneficial for you. Ask yourself how this thing you like so much is helpful to you. Sure, quoting hours of Insert Favorite Sitcom Character Here is hilarious fun, but if you can quote your favorite show more than you can quote verses that speak truth into your life, you may want to rethink how you spend your time.

9. Is it enslaving me?
Even the best things can become harmful when they control our lives. If something has become such a fixture in your life that it alters how you live, it may be time to evaluate its place in your life. The gift of DVR has helped that issue with our lives being controlled by a tv show, but this idea of idolatry goes beyond just television. If you consider your favorite entertainment when making decisions about relationships or other commitments, you may be enslaved to it.

These questions revolutionized my television watching and music listening. When I began being convicted about the things I was taking into my heart and mind, I did a media “detox” for several weeks and reset my tolerance to questionable material, then I began re-introducing shows and artists into my life. I compared them to these questions and determined what could stay (and in what amount) based on how they held up to the scrutiny of Scripture.

So how do you determine how you spend your time? What entertainment in your life would be kicked to the curb if you examined it under the light of the Word?

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