by Mark Chatfield
Sentry Magazine, December 1999
What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news? Since we want to end this article on a positive note, let's do it this way ...
Lately, the news has been making the news. It seems that CNN became so enamored with a false story about how the U.S. military gassed dissenters that it failed to check its sources. As a result, the network had to retract the story and suffer commensurate embarrassment. Since this industry has so little oversight or control, the media has been trying to clean up by self-examination ever since. If you ask me, it's the blind leading the blind (Isn't there a Bible verse about this somewhere?). Almost everybody listens to the radio news or watches the news on television. Most people read the newspapers as a matter of habit. Chances are you spend more time every week taking in the "news" than you do hearing or reading God's word. If you are not in this category, then don't waste your time reading the rest of this article because what follows is an attempt to encourage people to spend more time with God's word and less time with the "media."
People need more of the Good News from the Bible and less of the Bad News from the media. Let's take a look at what makes the headlines and what gets reported. We need to understand that the news is not the news, it is a business. In other words, since there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), the word "news" is a misnomer. Furthermore, even if we are generous in our definition of "news" and include current events, it is still more of a business than a public service. Oh, I'll admit there are instances when straight information is presented, such as the stock prices and last night's baseball statistics. Nonetheless, the goal of the commercial news services is to make money and as a sidelight, to warp the minds of its readers to the particular bias of the owner and editor.
I used to think that the Washington Post made money by making me drop my sack lunch while reaching in my pocket to dig around for two quarters to insert in the newspaper machine. Now here's a lesson in faith -- people will put their last quarter in the newspaper machine with no assurance this particular machine will be any better than the one that just yesterday ate their coins and stayed jammed shut until a little old lady showed up and gently tested the handle and had it open and graciously offer her a free paper. But newspapers make very little that way -- they probably could make a profit just giving the paper away. They make money by selling advertisements. They sell advertisements by having a high readership. They have a high readership by giving the readers something they like to read. Since most people like to read about sensational, exciting, titillating, scandalous, and outrageous things; guess what gets reported? There is no shortage of sensational, exciting, titillating, scandalous, and outrageous things to report. Just in my immediate family, I can find such things. In my neighborhood, there are several things each day that would meet the criteria. For instance, a 37-year-old roofing contractor in our townhouse complex was acting weirdly -- leaving trash out in his yard, not paying his association fees, yelling at people, and generally being obnoxious. The homeowners' association finally threatened to place a lien on his property. Things were getting nasty. Then, suddenly, the young man was not seen parking his ugly 2-ton Ford truck full of old shingles in forbidden parking zones in the neighborhood. He was not seen at all for several weeks. He had been depressed, having headaches and vision problems, and had gone to several doctors and laboratories for testing. Finally, one doctor sent him to have an MRI and they found the problem. He had developed a massive brain tumor over the past year which encroached on his thyroid and hypothalamus glands and caused behavioral disorders. Now, three months after the surgery, he is recovering, thankful to be alive. This is a story that could have made the news, but it didn't. It wasn't even in the local paper. Why not? There are stories like this in every neighborhood. The reason this story didn't make the "news" is simple. The media won't make any money reporting neighborhood stories because they are too common.
In order to increase circulation and sell more advertisements for Marlo Furniture and Shoppers' Food Warehouse, newsmen must find the spectacularly sensational, the outrageously scandalous, the weirdest of the strange. Now, when you just look at one person's life, you will find some quirky behavior. My wife, for instance, can't wait five minutes after eating before she will brush her teeth. My limit is five days. If you look at 100 people, you will find a couple of people from Ohio weird. If your base is 1,000 people you are likely to have a few alcoholics, a thief, and a number of people who cheated on their income taxes. But if you are a national news reporter, you are not limited to one or 100 or 1,000. You have the job to find America's strangest behavior and report it in the most colorful way. If you don't, your work is never acknowledged, it is never printed and you eventually must go find a real job working for the government or something. Just think how strange things might look if you found the wildest thing done out of the whole 250 million people in the United States. It might look just like the front page of the Post or the Times.
Now let's think about what God did not tell us to do with regard to the "news." God never told us to seek out the spectacular or to waste our time reading the sensational. God does tell us to learn the law and to obey. In Exodus 24:7, Moses took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey." We find recorded in Deuteronomy 17 that God told the kings how to spend some of their time. The king, when he took the throne of his kingdom, was to write for himself on a scroll a copy of the law. Once he copied it, it was to be with him, and he was to read it all the days of his life. Why? So he would learn to revere God and follow the law carefully. And unlike many of our political leaders today who try to place themselves above the laws of God and man, the king was not to consider himself better than his brothers and deviate from the law. When Moses was near death, he gave to the priests and elders a copy of the law. In Deuteronomy 31 Moses commanded them: "At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people-men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns--so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess" (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
What do you listen to when you drive or ride in cars, airplanes, buses, and trains? While traveling, there are many opportunities to think about or listen to things that will permit us to learn a little more. It might even be less taxing on your blood pressure to focus on something besides that idiot in the Mercedes weaving in and out of traffic at 90 mph. When you go for a walk, it could be more healthy if you thought about positive things rather than how little attention drivers pay to pedestrians and how the city should put up another sign to protect walkers. God tells us, in Judges 5, some things to keep in mind, "You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the righteous acts of the LORD, the righteous acts of his warriors in Israel" (Judges 5:10-11).
It's hard to imagine life without electronic media, printing presses, and instant messages. Perhaps the closest parallel to a newspaper in Bible times was a letter written to nations. In II Chronicles 30, Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover. At the king's command, couriers went throughout Israel and Judah with letters from the king and from his officials, which read:
"People of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that he may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your fathers and brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD, the God of their fathers, so that he made them an object of horror, as you see. Do not be stiffnecked, as your fathers were; submit to the LORD. Come to the sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that his fierce anger will tum away from you. If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not tum his face from you if you return to him" (II Chronicles 30:1-9).
The couriers went from town to town, but the people scorned and ridiculed them. Nevertheless, some men humbled themselves. Also in Judah, the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the LORD. We could benefit by making sure that once in a while everyone has the opportunity to hear God's word. Here is one example of the way God wants His word to be imparted: Nehemiah 8 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women, and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. The Levites instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
Not everyone liked the news from God. Have you ever felt like doing to the morning paper what Jehoiakim did with the word of God as recorded in Jeremiah 36? The king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he brought it from the room of Elishama the secretary, and read it to the king and all the officials standing beside him. It was the ninth month and the king was sitting in the winter apartment, with a fire burning in the fireplace in front of him. Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe's knife and threw them into the fireplace, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire.
Jesus knew that the leaders of God's people had not learned what they should have learned from God's news. In Matthew 12, Jesus says, "Haven't you read ..." and "haven't you read in the Law ..." In Matthew 21 He says, "Have you never read in the Scriptures ..." In Matthew 22, "have you not read what God said to you, ..." I've heard preachers try to put guilt trips on people for not knowing "book, chapter, and verse." Did you know that there is no command to know "book, chapter, and verse?" Even Paul didn't know one chapter from the next because nobody had yet done the numbering. Jesus' message is light years beyond memorizing book, chapter, and verse it's downright tough. Even if we hear the word and learn it properly, that is insufficient. Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that just knowing the good news and the Scriptures is not enough. Jesus demands nothing less than our dependence on Him for life itself. "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39). Jesus wants you. He asks for your very heart and mind and soul. Now, we can go around looking for everything that is wrong with the world. We will surely find it because the slime of the sin of the world is everywhere. Just pick up the newspaper, turn on the radio, watch CNN or NBC Nightly News. But Acts 15:31 suggests that the news we take in should be encouraging. Where can we find encouraging news? You are the news. If you are a Christian, you are good news, encouraging news. Paul tells the Corinthian church that Christians themselves, by their lives and example to others, are the "news." "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody" (II Corinthians 3:2). Along these same lines, Hebrews 10:24 says, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
Finally, ... well, let's just let Paul say it as he did in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things."