A Spiritual Discipline

So when I was in high school my best friend Bub and I made a pact never to watch rated R movies again. We weren’t supposed to be watching them anyway, so it really wasn’t that hard of a sacrifice, but it was one that we stuck to for years. We thought that was part of what it meant to be a Christian. When the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, it kind of threw us for a loop. Jesus himself was starring in a rated R movie. So what was an honest legalist to do?

Looking back on it I think we had a pretty narrow view of what following Jesus was. We defined it primarily by what we did not do. And we didn’t do it well.

It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I watched another rated R movie again (at least one that Jesus didn’t star in). And my immediate reaction was guilt. I had broken a promise. And I had probably ticked God off.

I know this probably sounds silly, movie ratings really no longer say a lot about the content of a movie. PG-13 can be worst than plenty of R movies. But I’m telling you this because in my junior year I discovered something that changed the way I thought about what I watched.

Grace.

I found that God was good, and that Jesus wasn’t just waiting on me to mess up so he could deep-fry me. I started to get a larger perspective on the purposes of God in my life and in the world, and suddenly what I watched started to seem pretty insignificant.

But I’m starting to change my mind.

For a while, I watched whatever I wanted. No restrictions. I was free after all. And if you were to call me on it (Mom) I had a well-thought out theological explanation for why you were an idiot Pharisee. But I noticed after a while that I didn’t like who I was becoming, how I was responding to people, or how I was thinking.

When I watched movies devoid of hope, I became more cynical. When I watched movies that were excessively violent, I got angry easier. When I watched movies that exploited or demeaned women, I looked at women differently.

Now we actually have a set discipline about what kind of movies we will watch (it normally has nothing to do with ratings, but content, story etc.). I know this makes me sound antique. I kind of feel like my parents even writing this. But I’m not Amish,* and what I think is acceptable is certainly going to be considered unacceptable by others. And what doesn’t work for me, maybe fine for others. There’s no hard and fast rule for this. But I’ve learned to think about this in different terms.

What if it’s not about angering a God who’s already kind of mad? But what if it’s about who God is wanting you to become?

In First Peter, Peter is talking about this strange way of relating to God that frees a person up from sweating bullets. And Peter should know. He’s had plenty of opportunities to learn. He knows now that it doesn’t matter how well you wash your hands before you eat, God isn’t concerned about the outside, but the inside. That may sound like common sense, but let me assure you it wasn’t. Religion always veers toward the externals, and black and white rules are great at keeping people in step.

There’s a time where Peter is chilling on a roof and he has a dream. God shows him in this dream a bunch of pigs and tablecloths. And tells him to eat. Now Pork chops have not caught on with Jewish people and Peter knows better, despite what some Pigs in a Blanket dream is telling him. So Peter refuses, eventually God convinces him, and Peter learns what many of us have known for years. Pork is also from God.

For Peter, grace tastes an awful lot like bacon.

But Peter also knows the dark side of freedom. So he writes to a group of people like us, and reminds us of this: “Live as free People, but do not use your freedom to cover up evil.” I think Peter knows exactly what he’s saying. He’s soaked in grace long enough to know that there are some deeper truths it has to offer.

See the subtle temptation of freedom is to think there are no consequences to your behavior. But I’m learning more and more this isn’t true.

For the past few weeks I have been in a Church History class with ACU, studying and learning from the earliest followers of Jesus. And if there is a word to describe them it’s this: different. They weren’t like everyone else, in a good way. They had learned how to be holy.

Have you ever met people like this? People who seemed to just have a different demeanor or spirit? Maybe it’s that they are patient or kind, or filled with joy. Or better yet, have you ever tried to be like those people? Just set your jaw and try to will-power better behavior? And failed?

The basic human truth about our nature is that you will become like the person you practice being. That is, the way we spend our days, the habits we develop over time, shape the core of how we act for a lifetime.

This is why I have been trying to discipline my life more lately. I have learned that the behaviors I try to control typical are just symptoms of a deeper issue. Richard Foster says this is the gift of Spiritual Disciplines. It allows you to If you battle with addictions or over-indulgence…fast habitually. If you battle with materialism, try the discipline of generosity.

The historic, Spiritual disciplines help to put the finger on the real issue.

This is not a way of transforming yourself. It’s about opening yourself up to the Spirit of God in a way that makes your habits more accessible. If the Spirit is the wind, than think of Spiritual disciplines as a way of setting up sails.

In case you are wondering this really isn’t a blog about what movies you watch or don’t watch.

It’s about laying down cheaper freedom to find a deeper version of it.

It’s about allowing God to form you into who you were always meant to be.

And that’s grace too.

*Blogging Tip: If you are going to make fun of someone on your blog, make it the Amish. They’ll never see it.

About jonathanstorment

My family and I love reading, traveling, daddy/daughter dates, playing hide and seek, good music, and long meals with friends. We still miss LOST, and all four of us have Superman uniforms. We are passionate about bringing Heaven to Earth and want to follow Jesus while repainting discipleship for those around us. We are followers of Jesus and I preach at the Highland Church of Christ. We participate in something called A Restoration Movement, and we've come to realize that might be larger than we thought.

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