Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Grieving Heart

To the youth of the Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church and their Christian friends:

My pastoral heart is grieving over you.


Every so often I survey your blogs and scan your Facebook pages. Why? You are in the flock I am charged by Christ to keep, one who has to "watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account" (Hebrews 13:17). I am not snooping in your private letters or peeking in your journals. I am looking at the witness you have chosen to advertise about yourself to the world through the internet. It is your testimony to a watching world. And to be honest, after spending some time doing so this morning, I feel sick to my stomach.


Certainly I saw bright spots of youthful enthusiasm for the church, encouraging interaction with others, and devotion to the Lord expressed. Yet I also see that our culture is awash in the sewage of a God-hating media, and many of you are at least giving the appearance of floating along and enjoying the ride.

Why would I say that? It was Jesus who said that what comes out of your mouth comes out of your heart (Matthew 15:18). I'm just taking Facebook at face value. Blogging stands for "web logging," so is it wrong of me to assume what you are writing there is accurately chronicling what you think and what you have done? According to Jesus, then, this is what is on your heart:
  • Look at how many R-rated movies you or your friends have listed as favorites. Do you really mean to use your internet space to promote publicly these films with their shameful scenes and blasphemous expletives? If even the world blushes a bit in rating a movie as sexual or violent, how can you not be ashamed to say to all your friends, "This is one of my favorites"? You appear to be engrossed with promoting what comes out of Hollywood. That's the witness you want to have?
  • Consider the lyrics and lifestyles of the music groups. What if I used my blog to record the antics and lyrics of these groups, then typed your name next to them as one who gives public endorsement? Do not try to excuse yourself by saying, "Just because I list a rock group does not mean I endorse all they do." You and I both know that when we see the guy walk by wearing a T-shirt with Linkin Park or Smashing Pumpkins on it, he is not just promoting the one or two half-decent songs ("decent" here not describing the quality of the music but its lyrical content) on their latest CD. He is advertising the group. And so are you when you list a group under "Favorite Music" on Facebook.
  • You show little regard for Jesus' promise, "I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they will give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Before you say you really believe our Lord's word here, go back and read some of your "Wall-to-Wall" exchanges the way your parents, teachers or elders would. I saw comments belittling people you think no one else can figure out, complaining about school, quoting movies and songs regularly but rarely the Bible, making suggestive comments, showing times when you were supposed to be in school or at work, etc. "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise," yet your mouths runneth over for all to see. If this seems a bit harsh, you recorded it! And it is written in His book also.
Don't get me wrong. You youth at Sycamore RPC are wonderful young people. I love you and want you to grow in wisdom and righteousness. I want you to shine forth with Christ, not the culture!

Now I can hear the protests to the above, only because I have heard them before:

"Mr. York, you are taking this, like, way too serious. This is just for fun. I have quiet times each day and I do love the Lord."
I do not doubt your love for Christ. I'm just calling you to a truer experience of it. And since when is the Christian life, in all its realms, not to be taken seriously (see Matthew 10:38-39)? Fun that denies Christ and His ways is not lawful fun.

"Mr. York, you are saying then that we should not watch any movie that has any immodesty, cursing, or violence? Only G-rated movies will do, huh? Is that not being legalistic?
That, my friend, is called the "straw man argument." Building my position back on a false foundation in order to ridicule it so as to make my points above appear invalid. First, note that my main point is that by posting these things on the internet you are witnessing in their favor. It is one thing to have heard a group; it is another to call it one of your favorites. Next, my concerns are aimed at the time, energy, and heart of your generation being devoted to the media culture. Also, the acceptable amount of "immodesty, cursing, or violence" any given movie may have depends on so many variables (age of viewer, purpose for viewing, way the director presents it, personal sensitivities, etc) that wisdom is needed in deciding on whether to watch a film or not. Finally, the previous sentence is still no excuse for the pervasive nudity, crudity and lewd-ity in many of the movies I saw listed. To outlaw all would indeed be legalistic; but to allow all is licentiousness.

"Mr. York, I have heard that your family - even you! - has watched some of the movies you seem to be so upset about. With all due respect, you being a pastor and all, does that not make you a bit hypocritical?"
I'll be the first to admit I have watched movies I later regretted viewing. When convicted of this, I told the others with me, sought forgiveness, and will not allow that movie to be watched again in my home. I do not agree with all the listings of my family members on the internet, and where I have the ability to change it I do. And I'll gladly make you a deal. Whatever movie you are concerned about that I have watched, please tell me. I'll remove it from my list but anticipate that you will also remove it from yours (Matthew 7:4-5).

At one time in his ministry Jonathan Edwards, pastor in Northampton, MA, during the Great Awakening, printed a public list of youth in the church who were reading inappropriate books. Though it made him highly unpopular and was one of the factors leading to his dismissal, these youth were disciplined for their wrongful behavior. Instead of protesting or making things difficult for the congregation, my dear young friends, listen. "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom" (James 4:8-9). For if this lowly undershepherd is grieving, is not the True Shepherd of your soul? And if He is grieving, should you not be?


Kaitlyn... said...

Thanks for posting that Mr. York!

BamFam said...

Even though I'm no longer counted among the youth, this post has convicted me. It is "a timely word."


A said...

Yes, thank you for faithfully fulfilling your responsibility as an under-shepherd of the flock. And Amen!

Even in things that are not inherently wrong, such as watching movies, listening to music, engaging in sports, or merely chatting with friends (in person or online), we should carefully consider what we are giving our heart to. Although each of those activities are allowable, none of them are commanded in scripture. Thus we should give primary attention to those disciplines which are commanded in scripture: prayer, study of God's word, fellowship with Christ, and serving the saints as well as those disciplines which are exemplified in scripture and expected of Christians, such as fasting.

Galatians 5:13 comes to mind:
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Too often I have heard Christ's lordship over the arts used as an excuse for worldliness. Christ's lordship over even worldly arts is not equivalent to Christ's pleasure with worldliness. Christ is Lord even over Satan and the demons, yet they oppose Him in every way they can. Christ is pleased with those who honor Him with obedience.

With regard to certain less-than-upright movies, there is a great difference between critically observing wickedness and glorifying it.

Two books that will greatly challenge the reader are:
Thoughts for Young Men by J.C. Ryle
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

p.s. If you ever find my heart filled with such worldly material, please do not merely post a general warning on your blog. Point it out to me specifically. I will be grateful.

William said...

Pastor York,

I was given your atricle by a friend and it prompted some good conversation. I found your article to be "spot on" on the issues you raised.

As a father of three teenagers (and a blog owner; facebok member as well) I was both challenged and convicted to pay attention to what I am posting as well as what my children are posting as well. There does seem to be a level of divorce between our profession and our worldview when it pertains to our internet writings and this ought not to be. I have personally witnessed item written on the internet by teens in my own church that would make you stop and stare in utter bewilderment. Thank goodness for a Savior who is quick to forgive sin! This was a great reminder and one that I will be sharing with others in the days ahead on my own blog, (


Charity said...

Thanks, Mr. York, for the challenge and words of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this!!
It was truly convicting.

- Addie

Bre & Em said...

Thank you so much for posting that! It's such an encouragement to see your concern for us. We love you!!!

Breezy and Emily Rose

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Jonathan Edwards could have accomplished his goal by admonishing the young people [who were reading inappropriate books] privately rather than resorting to public humiliation. His tactical choice may have cost him is job. I hope this doesn't cause some to start scouring Facebook pages to see who is sinning at the Sycamore church.

Anonymous said...

Was the Matthew 18 principle applied in this situation? I think it would have been more appropriate to go to these kids in private rather than putting them to public shame and humiliation. The "sins of youth" are plentiful, in generations of yesteryear and of today.

Barry York said...

Though my post was entitled "A Grieving Heart," my heart is also grateful for the encouraging remark many of you have left.

With respect to the concern from the anonymous source above questioning whether I have violated the principles of Matthew 18, I would respond:

I have repeatedly spoken privately to youth in the church about my concerns regarding specific matters when the need has arisen. I also have addressed these matters regularly in my preaching.

I listed no names and chose words carefully so as not to point to any individual.

I am only highlighting what they themselves have posted publicly on the internet, not broadcasting a private matter.

Most of the positive responses above are from the youth of our church. Believing they are indeed children of light, I know they want light shining on their lives and understand my ultimate purpose was not to humiliate them but call them to repentance.

Finally, do not these anonymous, public comments call into question the very point you are seeking to raise?

Nathan said...

This was vary good to read every one needs a warning or reminder from time to time of what the put on the web and how that represents what they believe and how it makes there Christian beliefs look.

I am not from Sycamore RP church, but it is just as applicable to me.

Anonymous said...

The point raised had to do with how we handle issues of sin. The youth of Sycamore RP, which is a fairly specific and narrow list, were called into account for their sin, not privately but publicly. In no way did I mean to imply that their pastor was sinning by calling them to account; therefore, the Matthew 18 principle would not apply. I was just making a point that maybe the same goal could have been accomplished by going to them and/or their parents privately rather than airing all the sins for the non-church public to view. The comment was not meant to offend in any way. The points made in the post were very legitimate and well put.

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I will be re-reading my profile and making changes. :)

Jill Hanson

Mel & Abby said...

This was very convicting--thank you for posting it Pastor York!

Daniel Ritchie said...

Mr York

Thank you for posting this challenging, yet balanced word of exhortation. There is much here which causes me to examine my own heart and motives for blogging.

It would appear you in the RPCNA have similiar problems to what we in the RPCI have. Though I came from a fundamentalist background, I moved to the RPs when I was 20 (five years ago). While are young people have a great interest in spiritual things, and are excellent at sharing their faith with others (much better than I am), their lack of discernment is most worrying. I suspect it is possible the side effects of state schooling. Sadly I have to astain from some of the events for the young people as the temptations are too great, and much goes on that I cannot condone.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

Luke said...

Mr. York,
Thanks for the great article! It is encouraging for me to know that there is someone who cares about my spiritual well being watching over my cyberlife.

I had always heard that Jonathan Edwards published a list of books that the youth of the congregation should not read. It sounded like in your article that he published a list of youth in the congregation that were reading these books. I haven't done much research on this, so I am not sure which it is. Obviously there is a huge difference between these two accounts. Would you mind showing us the sources you used to write the paragraph about Jonathan Edwards?

David said...

Pastor York,

Quite frankly, I actually checked what my blogger profile and facebook profile stated to see whether this applied to me or not. You don't usually think of this things very often because we automatically assume that what we say is okay because of who we claim we are.

Nate said...

Wow! Amen.

Concerning J. Edwards: There is at least one occasion where he publicy addressed the youth from the pulpit over a stolen OB-GYN book that was being passed around by the young men. It caused some to become outraged and others to bless the Lord for having a faithful and caring pastor.

By the number of thank yous here, it seems that the youth know that they have a pastor who loves them like a faithful shepherd.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I need to check up on your blog more often. Every time I come here I find your thoughts very.. applicable

Surely you are not talking to me - as I hide my Green Day work shoes behind my back.
Thank you so much for bringing this up. It is saddening to see how aware I can be of the snares of the world without seeing how I am caught in these same traps myself. I had not thought of myself as a worshiper of media - but you must excuse me as I go delete 20+ bands from my profile lists....

-ben j.

Ben Visser said...

Mr. York,
thank you for what you said about the movies, music etc. it was very encouraging especially because i am trying to not like even one of a bad groups songs. For example, i like Linkin Park sond "what i've done", it isn't bad, but Linkin Parks lifestyle and rest of their music is not okay. I am trying to get rid of those thing, it's glad to know that someone else cares.
Keep posting!

Ben Visser said...

by the way, it my comment, sond is supposed to be song.And thing at the end is supposed to be things. So sorry!

Joseph said...

Dear Rev. York:

I have read your blog addressing entertainment among a number of the youth in the church where you labor, and I applaud that you did not turn a blind eye to the situation you describe. Too many ministers today simply ignore what is happening around them, and this is ashamed. Nevertheless, I have some questions and concerns regarding your response:

· Why do you regard it as legalism for the church to forbid movie entertainment? (Note: please see resources at where I address why it is Biblical and appropriate that movie entertainment be prohibited)

· Are you sure you have sufficiently called your congregants, especially those you describe in your blog, into self-examination of whether they really are converted? In other words, do they sufficiently understand that the manner of behavior you describe may not simply bring into question their testimony before the world , but also brings into question whether they have been converted by the Lord?

· Is it the case or not that if some persist unrepentantly in the behavior you have described, that excommunication will be necessary?

· Are you suggesting that it is all right in certain cases to be entertained by R-rated movies, albeit not in the way you observed by some of the youth in your church?


Parnell McCarter

MarkPele said...

Just a random response to the last comment. I think that it's reasonable to question those things - whether it is appropriate for Christians to do X. What I would say is this: There is nothing in this life that is not tainted by sin. So, even a RPCNA movie about the apostle Paul that is based on scripture is going to be tainted with sin. Is it therefore sinful to watch or approve of a movie that is tainted in sin? I sure hope not.

Now, I want to take your argument to its logical conclusion. Hamlet, the movie is rated PG. It tends to stay pretty close to the play. So, now, I question whether the play itself is legitimate to read - you know it has sorcery, murder and suicide. The play itself must conjure up imagery of the actions - the movie just portrays one person's view of the depiction of the play. So, we've now inextricably linked the written word with the movie.

So, now, if someone wants to depict the life of the Apostle Paul, they have all sorts of things - letters to people in gross sin, being worshiped as a god, whatever. So, if it is not appropriate to depict that, then how can you call the Bible appropriate?

So, your generalization is proven wrong by example. Thus, the media, in and of itself is not the problem. The problem is how sin is depicted in movies. Jesus Himself relates sinful occurences - He talks about how the prodigal son wasted his inheritance on sinful living, how the vinedressers murdered their master's servants and eventually his son.

So, the line is not as neat as you'd like to draw. There is a place for us to dwell on the sinfulness of sin through stories, even those stories shown graphically - like the prophet who ate cakes baked over cow dung.

Daniel said...

thanks for taking the time to post this. it could not have come at a better time!