In the World… But Not of the World- Adam Keeton
I told Adam that I needed him to write me a post right after he told me that he had been writing some for me. I love this man and I am very happy to work with him and to use his writings in my posting time slot. I realize I am WAY late, but I didn’t realize he had sent me this post until now. Even though it’s no longer my day, I am posting this because I thought it was very thought-provoking, very interesting, and I haven’t posted super recently. So here is another piece of Adam Keeton’s brain that I hope will spark EDIFYING and HELPFUL conversation. 🙂
Last time I had a guest post, I gave some lessons I have learned in my years at college. Considering I am still feeling reflective—and considering that God has been bringing 1 Corinthians 8-12 into my life over and over again over the past few weeks—I feel I am going to comment once again about something God has been teaching me over the past few weeks.
DISCLAIMER: Even though this is probably one of the most controversial posts I have ever written, I think it is appropriate for Singular Spectrum. Singular Spectrum is all about diversity: we all follow one God, one path, and one way to get to him, but there is a spectrum of views along that path. You probably won’t agree with some things I am about to say. In fact, some of you will flat out disagree and get mad at me. That is okay. I know what my convictions are and where I stand with God. I hope that through prayer and discernment we can find a common ground.
Now that I have scared you, let me start by telling you where I am coming from. I placed as my Facebook status yesterday:
“The more I watch them, the more I fall in love with the Paranormal series. 3 was probably the best yet.” (If you are unfamiliar with the Paranormal Activity series, it is a home-movie style film involving a demonic spirit attacking—and in some cases possessing—people in the film.)
This status was met with opposition from the beginning, mostly from people who don’t know me very well. They are justified in their concern; people have the right to be concerned about what I watch and how that reflects on the lives of others, especially if I am broadcasting it on Facebook.
People started to comment on the status, questioning my participation in watching such a controversial film and asking me if that is something I should really watch. At first, I was very frustrated. Who are these people to tell me how to live my life? Most of them don’t even know me! The frustration subsided as I realized who I am in Christ and what my convictions were.
But still, just a word of caution for future reference to those of you who feel the need to point out the mistakes in other people’s lives: (to quote John Maxwell) “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” What others said to me on that status had no effect on how I live my life because it neither come from someone who has authority over me nor did it come from someone who knows me intimately. Granted, I weigh in everything they say (because I was taught to always remain teachable), but their comments carry very little weight in reality.
With that said, I will talk about why I watched that movie and other movies similar to it. First, I watch them because I enjoy them. I analyze movies. Before God called me to ministry, I was looking at film schools across the nation and almost applied at them. I greatly enjoy every aspect of movies: the cinematography, the score, the script writing, the color scheme, the costuming, and the characterizations. I want to believe that I would be a good director, but sadly I will never know unless God allows it. When I watch movies, I do not get involved in them. I tend to watch them from an artistic and theatrical point, much like an artist examines a painting. What happens in the plot of the movie (or what the characters say or do) doesn’t faze me because I see past it into the creation of the work. Because of this, I am able to watch many things that many people cannot watch. Because of this, it was difficult for me to watch The Passion of the Christ because I kept analyzing how they did the makeup and the intimacy of the camera angles. Jim Caviezel was not Jesus to me. I had a hard time seeing that movie as a representation of what Jesus went through, although my parents and friends bawled their eyes out after watching it. I walked out of the theater feeling nothing, which made me feel horrible, as if I was less of a Christian for not getting anything emotional out of the film. It wasn’t until I prayed about it a lot and did some introspection that I understood why it didn’t affect me. God taught me a lot about myself from the experience.
Secondly, movies are my methods of how I relate to people. I’m not exceptionally talented at anything. I cannot do sports well, I cannot do art, I cannot sing nor do anything with instruments, I am not an exceptional writer, and I am not charismatic. I simply don’t have anything exceptional I can do. I’m not complaining about it, on the contrary, I feel very well spread out in what little I can do. I’m well rounded in many areas rather than being exemplified in one particular area. I have discovered that movies are something EVERYONE has in common. No matter what your talent is, everyone watches movies. I immerse myself in movies in order to generate conversations and give illustrations relating to the Gospel. I pull almost everything in a movie back to the cross when I try to relate to people (although I will admit, some of the illustrations are a stretch; I flat out don’t watch certain movies because I believe them to be junk and have no value to anyone).
Last night, I rented Paranormal Activity 3 and told my friends I was watching it. Two of my friends came over to watch and brought with them their friend. This friend I have become acquainted with because of many of our previous conversations. He is a gay atheist (about as far as you can get from Christianity). We all sat down and watched the movie together, and afterwards, had a discussion on demons and the problems with the movie. Through those conversations, I am able to share Truth into the life of my gay atheist friend. Sure, he disagrees and thinks I am wrong, but I am still sharing Truth. Surprisingly, he is strangely comfortable being around us Christians all the time because we show him so much love—even though we talk about Jesus every chance we can get! Him and I have had dozens upon dozens of conversations this year about Jesus and what Christianity is all about, and other than movies, there isn’t much we have in common. Our entire paradigms are in different ballparks. I needed to find a common ground.
With that said, movies are not the only way I relate to people. Another thing people have called me out on is alcohol. I will occasionally have ONE drink (not enough to even get me buzzed) with a friend while we talk about spiritual things. When I went to my friend’s 21st birthday party, she was serving alcohol. She wasn’t going to invite me in first place because I was a Christian and she assumed all Christians were anti-alcohol, but she mentioned the party by accident to another friend while standing next to me and quickly added, “Oh Adam! You’re invited too!” She was surprised when I actually showed up. At first, she was stand-offish to me and obviously uncomfortable with my presence at the party because she didn’t know how I would take it. After I ordered a margarita, all her barriers dropped down, and she treated me like another one of her friends. She shared with me some intimate things in her life as I shared intimate things in mine. Neither one of us even got buzzed from the alcohol; we just talked. Through something as controversial as alcohol, I was able to speak Truth into her life.
I have discovered that people who do not know Christ personally have these negative views of Christianity. Living at a secular college, I am surrounded by those who do not believe in Christ every day. I listen to them and talk to them, hearing everything they say. I have found that people have a very negative view of Christians and Christianity, NOT the Gospel. In fact, most people WANT to talk about the Gospel, but are uncomfortable with Christians and the religion that has become of Christianity. These people who do not believe in Jesus say we (as Christians) are hypocritical—saying one thing then doing another. They say we are judgmental, telling them where they are wrong and then telling them to change before Christ will accept them. We tell them, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t curse, and don’t be gay,” (as if they can control their feelings). They say we are prude and our lives are focused only on doing the right thing rather than focused on what we believe. They see us as these prude, arrogant, puritans who they cannot relate to.
Those who do not know Christ find it even harder to relate to the Christians who have been saved most of their life. I am one of those Christians. On the flip side, it is hard for us to relate to them because we haven’t done many of the things they have done. But we forget (and I am including myself when I say this) that we are just as deprived as they are—only we have the cure to the sickness. They see us as high and mighty and better than them, trying to force them to change rather than showing them the Gospel and allowing Christ to work in their lives.
Two days ago, I was an extra in an independent film. The film was a zombie film, and naturally, I was a zombie. I loved it. I love film. I love everything about it. While on set, I talked with the cast and crew. Naturally, they asked about my major and what I was doing with it afterwards. When I told them I was going to be a pastor, they were taken aback and asked, “Don’t you think this stuff is, like, satanic or something? Shouldn’t you be against these types of movies?” I laughed and told them what I believed; about the Truth of scripture. I was changing their paradigm about Christianity. They relaxed and we talked about what church should be like and what they think is wrong with the church. One lady even said she would start attending church if she knew the people there weren’t so stuffy.
Another story: my very vocally atheist professor who I have had for several years in many classes asked me what I was doing with my Psyc degree when I graduated. After, I told her pastoralship, she was surprised at first and then was serious for a moment, silent in thought. I was expecting her to go off on me and tell me I was wrong when she finally said, “You would make a wonderful pastor. I am so happy that is where you are going into. You are much more reasonable than all those other Christians I have met. I always enjoy talking to you and having you in class.” I thanked her and I was leaving, she said, “And Adam?” As I turned around she said, “Thanks for praying for me,” and went back to her podium. A vehemently strong atheist thanking me for praying for her! Wow! I was so humbled that my ministry had impacted her that way!
To me, this is what ministry should be. We should be drawing people closer to the Gospel, not pushing them away. I feel this is my ministry: to change people’s minds about Christianity and show them what we are really about. Those who do not know Christ are no different than those of us who do know Christ. We only have the Truth that God radically changed us. That’s it. We are still sinful. We still make mistakes, but we have hope where they do not. We are dramatically changed from the inside out where they are not. Does that make us better? No! But it should give us a deep seeded passion to tell them about what happened in our lives. Instead, we focus on what we should and should not do. Rather than focus on purity, we need to go into the world and make disciples as Jesus commanded us. We need to be in the world and not of the world (forgive me for using a cliché line).
I think many Christians focus selfishly on living a life of purity: trying to make themselves perfect before God in a very self-righteous way. While it is noble to try to be perfect, it is pointless. We will one day be made perfect by God, so trying to get there on our own is pointless. Besides, we simply cannot. Does that mean we should just keep sinning and do whatever we want? Definitely no! Sinning so rampantly is stupid and insulting to God. When God changes us, we should want to do what is right—not for our own selfish gain, but because we know it offends God. That offense is different for each person. Granted, there is a standard on what is right and wrong, but I think many times we take what is a personal sin for us and apply it to the world. For me, music is very difficult to overcome. I have to be careful what I listen to or it will change my attitude. Just because I cannot listen to a certain type of music doesn’t mean I should tell everyone that they cannot listen to it too. I have friends who treat music the same way I treat movies: they can let all the negativity and junk thrown in the songs run off their back and not faze them. Just like I reach people using movies, they reach people using music.
I live in the light of 1 Corinthians 8-14 when it comes to this topic. We should be holy for the sake of others, not for ourselves. Everything is permissible but not beneficial. I live by that statement. As the Bible alludes to, each person has their own things they struggle with (for some of those who are weaker, they struggle with eating food sacrificed to idols). One of my best friends is a Christian who struggles with homosexual feelings. When I am with him, we cannot talk about anything sexual because he gets uncomfortable. Another of my friends has a history of alcoholism in his family, so he does not drink. While I am with him, I do not drink or talk about drinking. Another one of my friends gets very upset with the types of movies she watches. When am with her, we watch Disney and Pixar films and I don’t talk about the other films I have watched. Paul says all things are permissible and not beneficial, but he also says he becomes all things to all people. I try my hardest to become all things to all people. Alcohol is not a sin, so I may drink a beer with my friend so he will loosen up and talk with me about the struggles with his girlfriend. I watch Paranormal Activity to glean knowledge that I can later use in conversations. I even change my language around people so I can relate to them more (and I’m not talking about cursing; I cannot talk to my high school farming buddies with the same college language I use at a prestigious university).
Not to mention that each of us in the body of Christ has a different part and different role to play. I think sometimes many well-meaning (but wrong) Christians think we all should be like them: we all should be an eye. However, as Paul says, “If all of us were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?” I have had people at my church tell me that I should not watch certain movies because of their influence over my life. They want me to be an eyeball. I cannot be an eyeball. They are the eyeball. I am the ear. We all have our different parts to play in the Body. We simply cannot all be the same.
My ministry is out in the world. I will be doing some things other parts of the body will not like, mostly because they cannot understand. An eye cannot possible know what it is like to hear, because they only can see. Just because they eye can only see, they have to understand the ear’s function and let the ear do its work, even though they don’t understand how or why. I simply minister in a different way than most people. Some people don’t like it. I do not like the way other people minister. I do not like people who street preach or do door-to-door evangelism. I cannot understand that style of ministry. Does that mean I should stop them or tell them to quit and that it is ineffective? Absolutely not! If that is what God has called them to do, then by all means, do it! I will support you 100%!
One of the biggest criticisms I get is that I am compromising my faith. I am not compromising my faith when I witness. I’m not out doing illegal drugs or attending radical cult groups in order to share the Gospel. Those are obvious sins. However, I do become all things to all people in order that I may win the few.
So I tell you to minister in the way that God has designed you. Carefully weigh in your ministry beside the Bible. Find the area God has called you to. Seek out your passion and follow it, and don’t let others dissuade you because they do not understand. If God has called you to go be a missionary to a foreign country, then by all means go be a missionary! Don’t let other people’s fear of your safety stop you from going. If God has called you to work with the homeless, don’t let someone discourage you and tell you that you are just enabling them and that your ministry is pointless. Do what God has called you to do and ALWAYS make sure you keep the Word of God close to your heart. Read it daily. Continually compare your life to His standards and check your heart daily to make sure you are in the right spot. Don’t compromise with the world. Be in the world, but don’t partake of it. If you have immunity to a certain sin, use it! Just like some people are immune to certain diseases, so is it with other Christians and sin. I am immune to movie-junk. Find your immunity and use it for the will of God.
Above all, put on love. Love is what holds us together. Love is what allows me to not eat meat with my vegetarian friends. Love is what stops me from saying words like “dumb,” “crap,” or “stupid” around other friends who may be offended by those words. Love is what allows me to watch a movie and discuss the implications with an atheist who is gay. Love is what allows me to go into a bar and play pool or darts with my friends while being their sober driver and drinking Coke.
I leave you with this: remember that there are BILLIONS of people out there who do not know Christ. Don’t let inferior little things others are doing distract you from the Truth: that people are dying and going to Hell each day and we are doing nothing about it. Instead, we sit in our churches, arguing over what to do with the budget and arguing over whether or not we should switch to chairs or keep our pews. The eternal lives of others are much more important than the miniscule things that we turn into important things. Live as Christ lived. Go into the world. Be in it, but not of it.
Following His call,