“The Filter Factor” — Sermon Rewind

United Methodist Churches rarely do series on what’s called worldview.  We tend to leave those to the independents, the non-denominationals, the evangelicals.

Yet that is what BrainWashing is — a series focusing on the grid through which we look at the world and its values.  Not so much what we think, but how we think.

And my prayer was that yesterday’s message was among the most practical of the lot, with multiple intersection points for people’s lives.

Here’ it is: The Filter Factor.  Bottom line:  Filter out the ‘never enough’ so you can factor in the ‘always sufficient.’


You know what I love to hear?  And when I say I love it, it’s not love in the sense of “Oh, I’m crazy about that,” but more in the sense of “that’s hilarious that people REALLY believe that way.”  Anyway, now that THAT’S clarified for you, I love it when people say, “Oh, TV doesn’t affect my behavior or impact my thinking a bit.”  Sorta like the guy who was buying some Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes at the store and a researcher asked him, “Sir, do you think your purchase was influenced by their TV commercials?”  “Oh no!” the man answered. “That had nothing to do with it.”  “Then why did you buy them?” the market researcher asked.  “Because,” the man replied . . . “they’re GREAT!”  Nah, TV had nothing to do w/ that!

            Think about it, GS – and while the rise of niche TV and shows that are streaming dilutes this just a bit – why is there TV?  Why do magazines exist?  Radio programs?  Even newspapers?  Not to entertain you!  To sell you products!  By definition every piece of media we have (even PBS & NPR!) is there to get you to buy the products that are advertised in & on them.  No media is there to do you a public service; it’s there to sell advertising.  And the advertising is there to influence your thinking and adjust your behavior.  And at one level, this is great (not Tony the Tiger great, but pretty great) because it keeps economy rolling.

            But in recent weeks I’ve come to a new . . . appreciation . . . for just how brilliant TV, radio, mags, even internet sites are at all this.  Because do you know what they do?  They convince you that what you have, who you are, is never enough.  They are masters at stirring up discontentment within you . . . and the discontent can only be remedied if you buy the product in question!  But we are saturated with media that tap into the dissatisfaction that lurks just below the surface of most of us.  And, given the right trigger, most of us go into a tailspin regarding how our lives as we know them simply aren’t enough.

            Think about it!  You see imagery like this (Food pics, delectable from menu covers or TV ads) and what?  I’m hungry.  No you’re not.  You were fine until you saw that picture.  But the picture created in you discontentment with the current state of your stomach!  And your diet!  Or you see this: (AV of Mega IPhone 8?) and immediate you think:  “Oh man, what I have is so lame.  I won’t be ANYBODY at all until I have THAT!”  Before you saw that picture/commercial, what you had was fine, but now you know what’s better which renders what you have as obsolete.  Never enough.  Apple in particular – can we just admit this? – is a master at making you crave something that five minutes before you didn’t even know existed.  From invisible to indispensable like THAT.  It’s not just advertising.  These days with reality TV and the different idols and Shark Tanks, the job of all programming on TV & through the net is to convince you that what you already have is never enough.

            Think about it.  If you spend enough time in front of your TV or your computer screen, you’ll learn your house isn’t enough, your clothes aren’t enough, your mate isn’t enough.  Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse, you see this ad and realize to your horror that even your bathtubs have never been enough:

cialis bathtubs


  And get this, marrieds:  it will convince you that the sex you are having in marriage is never as exciting or satisfying as the extramarital sex those actors and actresses are having. 

            And then, and the, if you watch cable TV news all day long – and I KNOW this happens with retirement age people because I’ve seen it myself and you tell me this is what you do! – there is never enough controversy and drama.  The world is going to hell because it’s too liberal if you’re watching Fox News.  And the world already IS hell because it’s too conservative if you watch MSNBC.  You subject your mind, unfiltered, to a daily barrage of digital media and every bit of discontent you have will surface because what you’ve got is NEVER, NEVER ENOUGH. 

            That simmering discontent is hard-wired into us, apparently, even if we’re not immersed in media.  That’s one reason I love Paul so much, and there are few places where I love him more than in 2 Cor. 12.  This is such an interesting section, because look at 12:1-4:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

First of all, he’s talking about himself in the 3rd person there but Talbot won’t hold that against him.  Second, don’t get all riled up about “three heavens”!  It’s not like he’s saying there is a really good heaven for Baptists but Methodists get the bottom rung.  Not at all.  The first heaven is the sky. The second is the night sky (stars). The third is the realm with God, of which there is ONE, not several.  And Paul gets a living color sneak preview of it!  Drop-in, get hors d’oeuvres in heaven, and leave.  Hard to top that, correct?  But even in light of that unmatched experience, Paul wanted more in 12:7-8:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

He had some sickness, some affliction, some ugliness, and even a living color tour of heaven is not enough to compensate. 

            Yet in reply, God thunders back 12:9:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Whew!  And even though Paul wasn’t immersed in modern media culture, even though he didn’t spend too much time on the internet or too much time glued to CNN, I see the connection here between us, the media, the internet, and your mind:  you’ve gotta Filter Out The Never Enough So You Can Factor In The Always Sufficient.  Listen: your brain is just like any other part  in your body – it becomes what it consumes.  And if it is subject to an unending barrage of the culture’s stimuli, if you put it as puddy in the world’s hands, that’s how it will turn out.  It will become the perfect product of the world.  This is true for you even if you don’t believe a word I’ve said about Jesus.  If you without filtering and adjusting stick your brain into the soup of the info/entertainment, you will end up with a mind for whom nothing – even heaven! – is ever enough.  It matters what you consume mentally.  Junk food in leads to discontent beyond.  If you put your mind at the mercy of the world, the world will show no mercy in return. Filter Out The Never Enough So You Can Factor In The Always Sufficient.

            A couple of years ago, I came to a pretty startling realization.  See, driving into work I would listen to Sports Talk radio.  Now, if you’re not familiar with the format, the idea for the hosts to be snarky, sarcastic, and combative.  Snarky. Sarcastic. Combative.  That’s what I’d listen to all along Hwy 160, onto 49 and right here into Moss Road.  Snarky. Sarcastic. Combative.  And in addition to the programming, who is the major advertiser on local sports talk?  The Men’s Club!  Where there ain’t no gentlemen!  Great.  Add one word:  Snarky. Sarcastic. Combative. Lustful.  Well, you know what I realized?  By listening to that coming in to work, guess where my mind was when I arrived?  You got it!  Snarky, sarcastic, combative, and lustful.  So I decided:  I’ve got to filter that stuff out.  Music works.  Music is good.  Sometimes even Xn music!  And how do I arrive at work now?  Rocked out!  Well, I’d say more creative and lyrical for sure.  It makes a difference.  I shared this one time with a good friend who assured me it was exactly the same for him.  Filter Out The Never Enough So You Can Factor In The Always Sufficient.

            You know why all this matters so much?  Because so much of our media saturation renders us passive – as a friend of mine said, “Our brains go into low gear with TV” (and I told him I was stealing it for a sermon!) – and we subtly begin to live vicarious lives through the characters we see.  That’s why the Bachelor/ette, Idol, Shark Tank shows are so popular – because those lives have GOT to be more interesting than the one I’m living!  Oh no, no, no.  The life you have been given is enough, more than enough when you filter out smut so you can factor in the Savior.  Live your life and not someone else’s.  Filter Out The Never Enough So You Can Factor In The Always Sufficient.

            Now: I don’t want you to hear what I am not saying.  I’m not a prude.  I am not advocating that you eliminate TV, internet, secular music.  I tried the “no rock because it’s the devil’s” thing when I was in my 20s and it just wasn’t going to work.  And isn’t it interesting that a rock band – an obscure one named The Call – is the one who helped me come back to faith?  But after acknowledging that I’m not a prude and that I’m not in favor of eliminating all media can we also acknowledge something else?  That our danger for the most part at GS is NOT having people who are extreme on the spiritual side & are so wrapped up in Scripture they have no contact with culture.  Our danger is much more likely that we have people on the other extreme of constant media immersion.  I’d say WAY fewer you read the bible TOO MUCH than read it NOT AT ALL.  And the tragedy of that is that you miss out on the riches contained in the library.  If you never even get your library card, much less make a visit!, your mind so easily turns to MTV inspired mush.

            I just long for the longing of Psalm 42:1:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.

For you to take the time and make the effort to ponder the great truths we find not only in Scripture but in great thinkers of the faith even to this day.  Man, I encountered an understanding of Romans 8:32 – 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? – from earlier this spring that changed everything for me.  Another pastor wrote that God the Father had genuine affection for, fondness towards God the Son and has done so from all of eternity, and so the pain of “giving him up,” of completing what Abraham only started, was almost more than the Father could bear.  I’d never considered the emotional impact of the crucifixion on God the Father – and I’ve been preaching for a quarter century!  That’s just one of a hundred insights you can gain in a year if you turn the TV off, move away from the screen, and sit down to read & pray.  Or if reading is hard, sit down to listen to Scripture and to pray.  Filter Out The Never Enough So You Can Factor In The Always Sufficient.

            It’s weird, but I’ve been reading a lot about Teddy Roosevelt recently (AV).  He was president from 1901 – 1909.  But I know way more than I should about his life.  Yet the interesting thing is to see how they passed the time in that era before TV had been invented and really before electricity was commonplace.  Do you know what his diary and letters records him doing for leisure? Reading books, writing letters, enjoying the outdoors.  Those three.  And when he was dating, you know how he wooo-ed his two wives (first one died)?  By reading out loud to them!  Poetry, Shakespeare, even novels.  And you wonder why the guy is on Mt. Rushmore (AV).  Guys:  next weekend, read to your lady friend!

            Actually, for real, we have Daily Reading Assignments this week like we do every week. Here’s what I want you to do: read them out loud.  And if you are married and/or involved, read them out loud to your mate and then have them read it out loud back to you.  What does Scripture say about itself?  Faith comes by …  HEARING.  So I want you to hear.  Not the relentless clutter of 36 hr a day news, not even the Tennis Channel, but the word.  And let that word be the first step you take – and you know better than I do exactly what needs to be filtered out so that truth & beauty can be factored in – towards a thorough brainwash. The kind that lets you see just how sufficient is our God.