Did you ever have a really good time with friends at a restaurant and just think the food was amazing, only to return to the same restaurant later and find that the food was just mediocre?
Have you ever seen a movie that was just such a blast to watch with friends, only to watch it yourself later and wonder what was so funny?
Of course! We’ve all had experiences like that. We were inspired to fixate on the things that were good and right and lovely, and everything from the experience, even the undeserving things, took on the hue of goodness.
Here’s a secret that I’ve learned:
If I focus on things that are lovely, I will grow in love.
If I focus on things that are broken, I will grow in bitterness.
The facts that I fixate on become the way that I feel.
If I choose to focus on the things about my friend that are lovely, I will grow in my love for them. If I choose to focus on their negative qualities, I will grow in bitterness and resent them.
We live in a complex world. I don’t know any perfect people, perfect organizations, or perfect places. With the exception of God, everything that I come into contact with is imperfect. It is a mix of good attributes and poor attributes.
Whether something is “good” or “bad” is a decision that I make, and it’s primarily determined by how I fixate on it.
Churches are imperfect. Like many young people, I went through a phase in my early 20s (a vocal phase), in which I focused on the broken parts of modern churches. I focused on the things that were wasteful, corrupt, and subpar. My whole view of churches became colored by that bitter lens.
Several years later I began to notice the things that were lovely. The things that were pure, and good, and noble, and the Lord restored my vision of His churches. I grew in love for His Church, for what it could be but also for what it is right now.
And here’s what I learned most of all: We can focus on things that are lovely, while still being open and honest about things that ought to change.
When we blind ourselves to all of the negative things, it’s no longer an exercise in love. It’s an exercise in willful ignorance. There’s actually no love in it at all.
Last week, we saw Family Camp with a couple other families that we love. It’s a film about a family that reluctantly goes to family church camp. You might find it on a limited release at a theatre near you. If you’ll excuse the pun, it was campy—parts were overdone, cliché, and the script often fell a half-step short.
But it was also a huge step forward from most faith-based films that I’ve seen. The production quality was excellent, the acting was passable (and some of it quite good). I laughed out loud, as did every member of my family, from two years old on up. It took Jesus seriously, explored some of the complexities of walking in faith, and was truly a family film (remember those?).
Now I have a choice to make:
I can focus on what is true—it fell short in many ways. I can convince you of how wise and discerning I am in my taste for movies. I can even couch that in a genuine love and concern for Christian media.
Or I can focus on what is true—all the ways that it was good and lovely, pure and noble—all the ways it was right.
“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 ESV)
I’m a lot happier when I follow Paul’s instructions here.
And I think Christian media needs us to do what he’s saying. Just like our churches need us to focus on loveliness, our Christian media needs that too.
Surely with our churches and with our media, there can be a place where the brokenness so thoroughly outweighs the tiny sliver of loveliness that we need not linger there. But notice that he doesn’t say “if it’s mostly excellent.” No, Paul said “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
And Paul doesn’t leave us hanging, he continues, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (verse 9)
It’s an instruction that comes with a promise. If you do these things, the God of peace will be with you. We need the God of peace with us. We need the God of peace in our media.
When we choose to focus on things that are lovely, when we love, we create a hospitable place for the Lord. In our own hearts and in the object of our affection.
And that does not mean that we are blind to shortcomings.
I can focus on all of the lovely things about Family Camp, and in the right context and constructive setting have healthy conversations about how we need to level up next time.
The same is true of your friends, your family, your workplace. You can choose to focus on the things that are lovely, but that doesn’t mean you have to say, “You’re perfect, don’t change a thing,” when the Lord creates a healthy opportunity for growth.
Today, I exhort and encourage you to focus on what is good and lovely in Christian media. If there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, focus on these things. Let’s love and honor those who are taking risks to create. Let’s use our affections to create a hospitable place for the God of peace to rest in our media.
Christian media is not just a practical application of better content. There’s something spiritual that’s happening. If there’s not, we are way off base. The Holy Spirit is at work. We spiritually participate simply by acknowledging His loveliness in the work He’s doing.
God is at work in our media. Let’s be people that say yes to forward progress, who say yes to the Spirit, even while we’re still well shy of the endzone.