Monkey business


Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Philippians 4:8

Kudos to those who took my challenge to think a little more deeply about the song by Steve Earle, that I’ve been talking about over the last few days, “God is God.” (Go to and scroll down for the last two Catches.) We’ve seen the songwriter’s version of his own song and a Joan Baez live recording of it and followed the lyrics for two days. Why do this?

We live in a culture with truth and error, good and evil all around us. In such an environment we need to be awake to the world. We need to have our eyes and our ears and our minds open to assess and choose what we want to take in and what to reject. As a follower Christ, you cannot just turn off culture, nor do you want to absorb it either.

I grew up in a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” world. My mother used to have a little figurine of the three monkeys sitting above the kitchen sink. The thinking was that if you didn’t see any evil or hear any evil you wouldn’t speak any evil. In other words: keep the evil out of your life and you’ll be okay. That was the prevailing assumption. But there are two problems with that.

The first is: How can you possibly live and function in the real world without ever seeing or hearing evil?  It’s impossible; evil is all around us. And the second thing wrong with this thinking is even more egregious: Evil is present within us. This was the huge error of the Pharisees. They tried to keep the evil out while even worse evil lurked within. They were clean on the outside, but inside, they were full of dead men’s bones. 

For many years of my life, the words of the Philippians verse quoted above carried the same message as the monkeys. We were to avoid bad things and focus only on good things. This verse was a proof text for avoiding “secular” culture. We were to stay away from the world and think only good thoughts. (You can see how this kind of thinking also helped fund a very lucrative business of providing alternative “Christian” merchandise to think about that was “safe for the whole family.” In other words, let the Christian culture do your thinking for you.)

But a more scholarly rendering of the verse tells us quite the opposite. This verse doesn’t tell us to avoid the world, it shows us how to live with evil all around us but still focus on what is noble, right, pure, admirable, etc. If you dig for it, you can find much that is worthwhile in the “secular” world. This verse tells us what to think about, not what to see or hear. The world is full of good and evil; our job is to sort it out. It’s actually quite fun once you get the hang of it. You don’t just absorb culture without thinking about it, you interact with it. You are constantly engaged in the search for truth — you are mining for gold — and you can almost always be successful in finding it, because you are looking through the eyes of truth. “The one who seeks good finds delight; the student of evil becomes evil” Proverbs 11:27. 

So we evaluated this song and yesterday I came up with a list of questions to help do that and I was thrilled with what you came up with. So to help show what a little digging for gold can produce, I offer a few “nuggets.”

“God’s blessings don’t get exclusively handed out to believers. And every day on earth is a day that holds the possibility of moving us closer to the whole truth. Every day on this side of eternity holds discoveries to be made for people on either side of belief.” – Jack

“My dwindling money tells me to hope in God!” – John

“I felt like it was an honest song and one that a lot of people could relate to, especially non-Christians, who sense there is something greater than us.” – Lee

“I’m not schooled in the elements that make up a ‘Christian song.’ But the song helps me to think of the grace of God, and that’s a good song in my book!” – Mike

“Whether we believe it or not: God is God! Truth is truth no matter how much we try to twist it to match our philosophies.”  Laura

“Great song that really hits what matters most in our lives. This song is important to all of us as it speaks the truth.” – Toni

God is in control NO matter who’s in the White House & controls Congress! – Mark

It is refreshing to hear a mention of God in any non-religious context these days! – Jim

“Our individual belief in God doesn’t change God’s belief in, and love for us one little bit. God still blesses us all – believers and unbelievers. Faith can be a long, difficult journey for some of us. Unfathomable hardships can come and shake our fragile faith, make us angry, make us question, make us doubt, and even reject. We may walk through stages of unbelief that ultimately teach us more about the nature of God than any other stages along the way. God just keeps being God – that steadfast rock that will not be moved. I’m grateful for that, especially in times of trouble. It’s not all up to me and my strength. Our great, loving, determined, faithful God has got us in the palm of his hand, no matter what.”  Suzan

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6 Responses to Monkey business

  1. Linden Frank says:

    John, I could use your prayers. I got biopsy before Christmas. They found cancer in my prostate. Having surgery. Please pass it on t Paul Clark.

  2. John A Fagliano says:

    Thanks John, for not only telling us the right way to follow Philippians 4:8, but for also giving us a perfect example of how it’s done. You took what you thought was the best from the comments and focused on them. A lot of us commenters went off in different directions and it’s easier for me to get distracted by what I don’t agree with than to focus on what I do. I need to work on that. But I believe very much that Philippians 4:8 is the way to go.

    (I wouldn’t have chosen the quote of mine that you picked as my best, but I’m glad you liked it) Have a great weekend and I’ll “catch” you next week.

  3. Toni Petrella says:

    We should always be glad our God is here no matter what is going on all around. It can be pretty crazy at times and glad we all have such a rock that will never leave no matter what happens now and forever.

  4. Mark D Seguin says:

    Amen Pastor John to this: “But a more scholarly rendering of the verse tells us quite the opposite. This verse doesn’t tell us to avoid the world, it shows us how to live with evil all around us but still focus on what is noble, right, pure, admirable, etc. ” And “This verse tells us what to think about, not what to see or hear….”

    And another reason one of my favorite book’s has become: “What to say when you talk to yourself 365 Days of Positive Self Talk” by Shad Hemstettter, Ph.D

  5. You say I took the Name in vain
    I don’t even know the Name
    But if I did, well really, what’s it to ya’?
    There’s a blaze of light in every word
    It doesn’t matter which you heard
    The holy or the broken Hallelujah

    Hallelujah, Hallelujah
    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    I did my best, it wasn’t much
    I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
    I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya’
    And even though it all went wrong
    I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

    Hallelujah, Hallelujah

    ~ Leonard Cohen

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