This is a continuation of my previous post.
I sat in the recliner uncomfortably watching Steve, my college pastor, flip through the channels. At 20-years-old, I was two years into a self-imposed, religious fanaticism that focused more on following rules than following Jesus. And Steve was violating one of the central tenets of personal holiness: thou shalt not watch non-Christian television [insert thunder and lightning here].
But I enjoyed spending time with Steve, so I bore with him as he watched TV (after all, it was his house). However, I did not – no, I could not – look at the images on the screen.
Steve, an otherwise decent person, seemed to have no conscience when it came to television viewing. First, he watched a rerun of the old sitcom “Cheers,” where most of the scenes took place in a bar – I repeat – in. a. bar. With people drinking beer.
Then Steve moved from Cheers to Rambo – a movie about deadly, violent warfare. I couldn’t decide whether to go to the bathroom to pray for Steve or just leave his house altogether.
Steve started flipping through the channels again, and I squirmed in my recliner, chewing my nails, sensing an unquestionable, Holy Spirit conviction to rebuke my college pastor.
“Me, Lord? Dost Thou calleth me to lead this fallen man into the light?” I wondered[eth].
When Steve stopped to watch a news report about an unsolved murder (a story about real people killing other real people), I knew it was time. After all, Scripture tells us to confront those who are in sin (Matthew 18:15-17). So with boldness, I steeled myself.
“Steve,” I said quietly.
“Yeah,” he said, taking a deep swig from a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew, a drink to which he was addicted (I would address that issue another day – one must choose their battles carefully in matters of spiritual warfare).
“I don’t see how you do it,” I said.
“Do what?” he said, his gaze fixed on the death tube.
“I don’t see how you can sit there and allow yourself to be entertained by sins Jesus died for.”
Silence . . . I had spoken. I would wait for Steve to be convicted by the Holy Spirit.
“Okay,” said Steve.
I continued. “At first, I sat here without saying anything, but then I realized I could no longer remain silent. Through the television, you have invited sin into your home – plain and simple.”
Steve paused for a moment, then looked over and said, quite seriously, “This really bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does,” I replied.
“Okay, well let me ask you this,” he said. “Is it going to cause you to fall into sin if I watch television? And before you answer, let me be clear – I will stop watching TV for the rest of my life if you say yes.”
Again, there was silence; but this time, I was speechless. With television images flickering in my peripheral vision, I debated whether to take the offer.
On the one hand, I wanted to save Steve – and everyone else – from the evils of television (I had already successfully lobbied that year to have the commercials turned off during our church’s Super Bowl party – “You’re welcome, everybody!”). But on the other hand, I didn’t believe it would cause me to fall into sin – and it also struck me as selfish to force him to quit watching television just so he could accommodate my personal moral code.
I cleared my throat and reluctantly said, “Actually, Steve, I think I’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “I’ll be fine.”
But I wasn’t fine. My faith was shaken.
Steve’s offer (or was it a threat?) had – if only for a moment – led me to question whether my rules had anything to do with loving Jesus or loving other people.
Up until that point, I felt justified anytime I could make someone feel guilty about anything. And I felt an even greater sense of justification when I could arm-twist someone into obeying my moral code (like the time I cajoled that guy into destroying all his non-Christian CDs).
Steve’s offer penetrated my Pharisaical moral code and made me ask myself, “Joshua, where does it stop? Must everyone be a guinea pig in your religious social experiment? Do your rules even matter?” I didn’t know how to answer those questions, but I had decided to draw the line at Steve, to let at least one person live.
This was the first sign that my reign of holy terror might come to an end, the first time I flinched in a standoff over The Rules. But though I may have flinched, my religious moral code was two years in the making – this wasn’t going to end after one conversation.
After leaving Steve’s house, I returned to my dorm room, where I felt no temptation to watch TV. And even if I had felt tempted to watch television, I had thrown it out a long time ago, and I was quite proud of myself for that.
I desperately hoped Jesus was proud of me too.