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?

Myth of the Mean Girl: Living without Masks


I recently had a couple of conversations with a man about relationships between women. In one conversation he talked about his young daughter and her best friend and their love/hate relationship with one another, and in the other he mentioned the ever complex friendships between his wife and her friends. In both conversations he eventually ended his observations with a hopeless sounding statement of, “But you know, girls will be girls.”

He was talking about women hurting one another other with words and actions, about spending unhealthy amounts of time together until we blow up at one another, about betrayal and competition and unforgiveness. He’s bought into the myth of the Mean Girl. Our culture is built upon the idea that women are “Bridezillas” and “Real Housewives”, that we are “Gossip Girls” and “16 and Pregnant”, or that we are participants on “The Bachelor”, competing with one another for the attention and affection of a man. Young girls today watch tv and are taught to treat one another as competition at best and mortal enemies at worst. Girls believe this is how women are to behave, and so that is how they behave.

I used to believe the myth, too. Even in the church, all I had really seen was gossipy competition and hurt feelings, with excuses ranging from hormones to home life, but never hearing that there was another option for how women could behave.

But then I spent some time in a little town called Wake Forest (my parents kindly refer to it as the “seminary bubble”), surrounded by people who, for the most part, were genuinely pursuing Christ and desperately seeking to serve Him and be conformed to His image. There, I found a group of women who were more interested in pleasing God than pleasing one another, who were seeking Christ more than a husband, and who desired to learn from one another more than they desired to prove they were better than everyone else.

Does that mean we were without drama? Of course not! I distinctly remember one tear-filled confrontation between myself and two friends that ended in my throwing a pencil at one of them. I cried on a professor when she compared me to another student and I defiantly declared that I was NOT that person and then intentionally completed a project the way I wanted to, just to drive the point home. We had hopeless crushes on indecisive men and sometimes responded to the corresponding broken hearts with a frustrated “I told you so”. I was jealous when I friend was chosen for a position over me, and had many snarky conversations about “those girls”; the cute, and therefore shallow, ones that we were convinced were not “serious students” like us because they only came to seminary to land a husband. Sometimes, girls will be girls.

But there was a distinct difference in that time of life compared to previous times, and I have tried to carry it with me since I left that precious circle of friends. The difference is that, when we walked in the flesh and hurt one another’s feelings, we didn’t just move on with life, piling offense upon offense. We faced the moment and faced it together. We sought the wisdom of Scripture, we confessed our sins and shortcomings, we asked for forgiveness, we prayed together. Then we worked to walk together in the Spirit. We studied the Word together. We confronted weaknesses in our friends’ lives before they became strongholds of sin. We opened ourselves up to humble and transparent examination and offered the same to one another.We lived for a season without masks, and it was life changing. No one had it all together, and no one expected anyone else to have it all together. In fact, we called you out on it if you started acting like you did!

In short, we lived lives of discipleship together. We desired to be more like Christ and we expected our friends to help us along in that journey, not hold us back from our goal. The Christian walk is the only race in which every person who crosses the finish line is a “winner” and in turn, makes every other finisher that much more victorious. We are “more than conquerors” because we are not competing against our fellow runners; we’re all on the same team!

So will girls be girls? Yes, as long as we believe the lie of the world that we are competition for one another and as long as we hold one another back, pursuing goals of our flesh and our pride, devouring one another with our words and deeds. But if we will commit to humble discipleship, to encouraging one another, if we will transparently walk alongside one another and bear one another’s burdens as teammates and not enemies, then the type of girls we become will be more like Christ and not like the world.

Women don’t have to “be girls”. We can be like Jesus.

How have you fought to overcome the “myth of the mean girls”? How does your circle of friends lift one another up instead of tearing one another down? Can women walk in the Spirit together, in grace and Truth, or will girls be girls?