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What's So Real About Reality TV?

As Christians we can do serious damage to our cause when we pretend to have it all together.

Reality TV is certainly popular among TV viewers today. Survivor, The Bachelor, Temptation Island, Manhunt, Married by America are just a few of the 176 reality TV shows that have been broadcast over the past few years. This surge in reality programming coincides with a new generation of TV watchers who are bored of the polished, seamless 30-minute solutions to the world's problems found in many sitcoms and soap operas.

I believe both the Christian and non-Christian community can learn a lot from this recent trend. People are looking for reality, not a show. They are hungry for people, organizations and solutions that are authentic. They want the real thing, not a bunch of smoke and mirrors, or neat, temporary quick-fix solutions to life's issues.

It is interesting that one of Jesus' main thrusts during His public ministry on earth was to attack and condemn religion that was fake and unreal. He called the religion of His day a big façade: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" (Matthew 23:27, NIV). In this passage He uses the word hypocrite to describe the religious of His day. The word hypocrite comes from the Latin hupocrites, which means an actor or one who wears a mask or costume. Jesus' desire was to get the acting out of religion and make it real. He wanted people to put down the masks, to stop pretending, to wipe off the happy face and stop the glib little answers to humanity's hurts.

As followers of Jesus became organized and churches were formed, the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:10 that we should focus on what really matters and that Christians should "be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ." It is widely believed that the word "sincere" comes from the Latin sine cera, which means "without wax." When dishonest potters in ancient times had a crack or flaw in the pots they made, they filled the cracks with wax and painted over them. As soon as the new owner brought heat to the pot, the wax melted and the crack was exposed. Paul told Christians that they needed to be real, genuine, authentic—not pretending to be perfect when in fact they still had flaws.

Jesus was real; He is the genuine article. There was "no wax" in His life. It was transparent for all to see and was recorded for us to read. He spent time talking to sinners. He got mad, He laughed and He cried. The original followers of Jesus were all real people with real lives. Some were fishermen, some were builders, some even worked for the government! Jesus would use these normal, genuine, authentic people to change the world.

As a Christian I think we do serious damage to our cause when we pretend to have it all together. First, we send a message to those who aren't Christians that this is a perfect persons club. Bad people need not apply! Second, we rob ourselves of God's ongoing saving grace in our lives. James 4:6 states that God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud. It would be nice if once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we no longer have any bad habits or problems in our lives, but that is not reality. Christianity is all about our growing relationship with God. It is about Him dealing with our realness with love, mercy and compassion.

Reality TV is popular because people want authenticity, sincerity and transparency—they want reality. Next time you watch reality TV, next time you want reality, think of Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of Hebrews 4:15. Speaking of Jesus he writes, "We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin" (The Message). Jesus is all about reality; in fact He is the only true reality we will ever know.

Todd Martin is the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, Abbotsford, BC.

Originally published in Northern Light Magazine, July/August/September 2006.




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