I remember the first time that God used an unexpected source to reach me. I was driving around, obsessing about a situation beyond my control, feeling tired and lonely. I was trying to pray, but only succeeding at whining through my tears “It’s not fair! Why, God?!” Driving and listening to the radio has been a favorite pastime of mine for years. It’s a place of solace. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling much peace that afternoon. All of a sudden, the song “Ball and Chain” by Social Distortion came on the radio. “It’s been 10 years and a thousand tears and look at the mess I’m in” I certainly could relate to that! As I listened to the words, it was as if I heard the song for the first time. As I sang along, I made the chorus my prayer. “Take away, take away, take away this ball and chain. I’m lonely and I’m tired and I can’t take any more pain.” As I sang, the weight I was carrying lifted. I felt peace and I knew it was a holy moment.
I know it probably seems odd, but ever since that day, I’ve had several experiences of hearing a song a just the right time or seeing a movie or TV show that opens my eyes to our living God. Songs that answer those deep groaning prayers I have. Scenes that reveal Jesus, even when the author didn’t intend it. In spite of all the controversy about whether Christians should listen to secular artists or watch movies not starring Kirk Cameron, I’d have to say that pop culture is one of my spiritual pathways. It illustrates truths revealed in the Bible in clear dynamic ways. It asks questions and reveals longings that Jesus answers. Most importantly, it is smack dab in the center of where most people live their lives, so it is accessible to a broad audience, just like Jesus’ parables were to his original audience.
I have a deep conviction that our living God will find ways to teach us, even when we’re not looking for him. Even when we try to stop up our ears, he can speak clearly and unmistakably. Those moments have been incredibly powerful for me because they remind me that I am in a relationship with a God who hears, a God who is active in my life, and a God who cares, even when I’m annoying myself with my insecurities. He is still my teacher, reminding me of who he is and what he has said. What an amazing thing!
God has broken through the noise of my world to speak, just as he did when he lay in a manger centuries ago. This is precisely why I unapologetically use clips from the Family Guy, songs from Katy Perry, Green Day, or even the aforementioned Social Distortion to illustrate my sermons. I want that same living, caring God to continue to break through in the worlds of everyone sitting in the church, when they head back out the doors. I want them to hear his voice in their day-to-day lives as they turn on the radio or veg in front of the TV at night. I want them to be reminded once again just how awesomely alive Jesus is and how worthy he is of our worship every moment of every day. I want those songs & clips to become reminders of the hope we have in Jesus forever, just as they have to me.
Everything for His glory.
P.S. Lest I get a bunch of complaints from my orthodox-obsessed friends (husband), I want to point out that I by no means think pop culture replaces the Bible. God had chosen to reveal himself and his redemptive plan in the Bible. Any other way I see God revealing himself in this world is in line with what I already know from Scripture, just reminding me in a timely, unexpected way. As I just read after I posted on Margaret Feinberg’s blog, “If we want to know God and recognize His voice and presence in our lives, the Bible is the foundation and the filter for this journey.”