The Gospel According to…
May – June 2002
Are you one person on Sunday night and somebody entirely different on Monday morning? Tonight I want us to talk about the newly crowned Queen of Pop, little Miss Britney. Britney Spears is quite a phenom. She has an incredible story. She was born in a very, very small town in Louisiana—Kentwood, Louisiana. The population in Kentwood is about 1,200 and something, not counting dogs and cats. She was born on December 2, 1981, and like Oprah, she grew up in a Baptist Church, and she sang in the choir and she loved to perform.
She entered all the hog calling and Miss Whatever Biscuit Queen contests there in Kentwood, growing up. She loved to perform at a very young age. She used to listen to some of the top 40 numbers back then—Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, as well as Madonna. She decided at a very young age: “This is what I want to do with my life.” So, by the age of 8, she had an agent in New York City. She was doing some stuff off Broadway, and she tried out for the Mickey Mouse Club. She probably would have gotten it, but she was too young. So, three years later, when she was 11, she finally landed a spot in the Mickey Mouse Club down in Orlando, Florida, and that is where she met her first love, Justin Timberlake, who is in the group N’Sync.
At age 15, she began to audition for different record labels, and she was turned down by two, but one was still in the running—Jive Records. When she was auditioning for Jive Records, guess what song she performed? You will never guess. “Jesus Loves Me”…that’s what she did. They saw the talent in her. (I guess they took away a lot of the Jesus.) Anyway, in 1998, she released her very first single, which was “Baby, One More Time,” and that song went to No. 1 on the charts. Her album was No. 1 simultaneously, which was the first time in pop history for a female artist to do that.
She has really cranked out the numbers over the years. She has put out three albums, which have sold a combined number of 40 million copies. She has a multi-million dollar deal with Pepsi. If you watched the Super Bowl you know that, and she was recently listed as number four on Forbes Magazine’s Top 100 Celebrities.
To sum it up, Britney Spears is blonde. She is beautiful. She is young. She is talented. She loves Jesus, America, and her boyfriend, too. So it’s very difficult, in one sense, to criticize her. When you look at her life story, and I’ve seen a biography on her and also read bits and pieces of her autobiography that she co-authored with her mom, she is a very driven and determined young lady.
She did not grow up in a wealthy home. Her uncle was not Berry Gordy, nor did she have some contact to the record business or to the entertainment business. She took gymnastics. She took ballet. She took singing. She paid her dues working as an understudy off Broadway and really just hit the pavement. She was on Star Search, if you remember that, and she got beat. And that was really devastating for her, but, obviously, she has made a comeback since then.
I do admire her for her drive and dedication. She is talented, unlike some of the people that these pop culture machines produce; synthetic stars who really have no talent and are just all looks. She can sing and has been able to sing since she was a little tot. She can dance and she is a very gifted and talented performer. Her songs are interesting. I had a chance this week to read some of her lyrics—not really deep. They are nothing Sting or Bono is going to be jealous about, but she does know how to connect with her audience.
A lot of her songs are about puppy love and about having crushes on guys: “My loneliness is killing me” and “I can’t believe.” It’s about this obsession love that you have, that girls sometimes have for guys, starting around 11 or 12, and when you are a teenager. So a lot of her songs talk about that kind of the angst that you experience when you are making that big transition from boy to man or from girl to woman. She does connect with her audience in a very real way, and her songs, though she has not written many of them except in her last album, really do connect with her generation.
Tonight we are looking at The Gospel According to Britney Spears, and I think it is difficult to have a gospel, something you believe is the truth, at her age. If I had to put Britney’s gospel on paper and put it in a sound byte, it would be this: Girls just want to have fun. Her message is: Be sexy, be young, be cool, be passionate, and pursue your dreams. That’s what she tries to communicate to young people, through her songs, her music, books, website, all the Britney paraphernalia that follows. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with having fun. There is nothing wrong with being young and celebrating your youth. There is nothing wrong with sexuality, if it is properly understood. I believe Britney’s real gospel [when it comes to sex is]: Sex is power, and you can use sex as a toy, as a tool to manipulate and to get what you want out of people. That is her gospel.
I think her problem is one that many of us have, and that is Britney Spears is really comfortable with duplicity. She is comfortable in the church on her knees, praying, reading the Bible. She is comfortable practically doing a striptease in front of millions of people on the MTV Music Awards. She is comfortable in both arenas. Here is a quote from her as far as her spirituality is concerned. She says, “I keep a prayer journal, and I write in it every night. I pray all the time. Every night before I go to sleep I thank God for what I have, and I ask Him to watch over me and all the people I love.” That is Spiritual Britney.
Naughty Britney, on the other hand, practically simulates sex on stage in her videos, strips down to her undergarments, and supposedly lives with Justin Timberlake. It is weird. When she is criticized…she had some rather wild photos, I understand, in Rolling Stone Magazine, and people came down on her and said, “Why are you dressing that way? Why are you showing your belly button and wearing these halter-tops and doing these suggestive poses?” She was really offended. She said, “Don’t criticize me. I am a Christian. I go to church. I say my prayers. That’s simply your opinion, and your problem.” So, again spiritual Britney says, “I love God, I pray, and I’m going to be a virgin until I get married.” That’s good.
Naughty Britney says, “Use your sexuality to tease people.” Somehow I think, in our culture today, she has settled into a duplicity, a double life, that she is really comfortable with. She sees no incongruency between being a good old southern gal, who loves Jesus, her mom and dad, has a very wholesome home and a very simple background. But she also embraces this whole kind of twisted view of using your body and sex as power to get what you want.
Here is what Jesus says about duplicity, and here is what Jesus Christ would say about Britney’s gospel, or perhaps about your gospel or my gospel, where there is duplicity in our life. He says this in Matthew Chapter 6, Verse 24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” You cannot have it both ways. You can’t say on Sunday at Logos (at church), “I’m going to worship God, and I am going to be real spiritual. And that’s the God part of my life. Then on Monday, when I go to the office or when I go to work or when I am in my relationships, I’m going to do whatever I want because that is an entirely different realm,” and you do what I call compartmentalization. You compartmentalize your life. You have your nice spiritual life on Sunday or maybe during the week when you pray or listen to a Christian tape, and then you have your own relationship life. You have your own work life, school life, and family life, and there is no consistency or integrity flowing through every area of your life. You become comfortable with duplicity. As Jesus says you can’t do that: “You can’t say you serve me on one hand, and serve yourself and your own interests on the other.” He says to leave that behind. We can’t get comfortable with duplicity.
I was talking to some friends of mine recently about a movie I wanted to see. It always amazes me when you ask your friends for a movie review when they’ve seen it and you haven’t. The variety of answers you get! Some people, when you say, “Hey this movie that’s out, is it good?” They say, “It’s good.” Other people, who may be a relative of yours or someone close to you, they, “The movie stinks.” Maybe you don’t have that problem. I have that problem. I was talking to some friends of mine, and I asked them about this particular movie. I said, “What is it like?” They said, “Oh, it’s not that good. It’s all right. The makers were trying to make some point, and its kind of trite,” and blah, blah, blah. On that advice I went to see the movie anyway.
It was interesting when I saw this particular flick. It was a very strong, ethical message, and it talked about people living double lives. It talked about lying and trying to cover your tracks. It talked about ethics and having a sense of right and wrong in the business world. And then, I thought, “Aha!” No wonder these guys I talked to didn’t like that movie. It hit way too close to home.
Duplicity! It’s interesting, we live in a time where it’s okay to be split. It’s really strange to me. We live in a time where it’s okay to say, “Yeah, I’m into God. I’m into Jesus. I’m into prayer. And, yeah, I’m into sex. I’m into drugs. I’m into doing my own thing.” Or, “I’m into twisting numbers and cheating at work or whatever.” It’s into being duplicitous, and no one sees anything wrong with it. The Bible is very clear. What you do is what you believe. So if you say, “I believe God,” if you say, “God, come into my life. God, I receive of your mercy, I receive of your grace,” then His Spirit is going to come into your life, and your life will be changed.
You are probably thinking, “Well, Ben, you are not being very fair,” because all of us at some level are duplicitous, aren’t we? This is what Paul talks about in Romans Chapter 7, and in Galatians Chapter 5. Remember the battle between Rocky and Drago? The battle we have is between the Spirit of God and our flesh. Paul says this in Romans Chapter 7: “The things that I want to do I don’t do. The things that I don’t want to do, I end up doing.” And we all feel that tension. But here’s the difference. The difference is, Paul is grappling with that tension. Paul has the desire to root out that duplicity and double life that he sees inside of himself and in practice.
Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity to do whatever in the world you want to do. Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your lower desires. It’s one thing to be leading a double life or struggling with sin. It’s another thing to be content with this as your persona, with this as who you are. You become a hypocrite, a play actor. You put on one mask, the “hallelujah” mask, at church and the “I’m going to get you” mask at work, right? One world, one mask. Another mask, another world. Jesus Christ calls us away from duplicity into integrity. That’s one weakness I would see. If I could talk to Britney Spears, I would say, “It looks like to me you have become comfortable with duplicity.“
As I studied this and thought about that, I thought, “Ben, have you become comfortable with duplicity? Are you living a double life? If you are, Christ says to us tonight, “Wake up. Wake up! You can’t serve two masters. Root this out of your life. Get it out. “
Another thing I would to say to Britney and about her gospel is this: Not only is she comfortable with duplicity, I would say, second of all, she is clueless about influence. She is clueless about her influence and her power over the millions and millions of people, not just in the U.S., but also around the world who adore her and worship her. She says, “I don’t want to be a role model. I want to be an inspiration.” What kind of Clinton speech is that? I just don’t understand that. It’s like when Charles Barkley said, “I’m not a role model. I’m a basketball player. Parents should be role models.” I understand what Sir Charles was saying. I understand what Britney is saying. But Charles, Britney, and everyone here, we are all role models. Everyone is watching us. We are influencing someone for the good or for the bad.
Imagine if I did a video. Imagine if I did a music video and in this video I am wearing these fatigues. I have these two huge magnums, these guns, and I am just blowing away people. I have the grenades from the Galatians series and I am blowing up hordes of folks like that. I’ve got these neat little weapons I’m using—an Uzi—and I’m just mowing people down. Then after this video I go into a press conference and hear, “Man, Ben. That video is violence. Are you promoting violence?” “No, no, no. I am a passivist. I am totally for gun control. I am totally against violence. I’ve never practiced that in my entire life.” They would look at me like, “What kind of goon are you?” That’s what I think about what Britney does. Britney says, “I am for sexual purity. I think you need to save sex for marriage.” I hope that she does that and sticks to her guns there. What’s wrong with this picture? That would be like me saying, “Hey, I am a passivist. I am a peacemaker,” but I am having this video that is extremely violent.
See Britney is in an environment because of her mom and dad. She has a good family. Now she has bodyguards and security around her. She is in an environment where she can use her sexuality. Ladies, she can use that and tease people and no big deal. No one gets hurt because she has the infrastructure to fall back on. Now, I am not saying it is right and what she is doing is right. I think it is wrong; I think it is twisting the sexuality and the power that God has given her, but she has the infrastructure to fall back on. There are people who will emulate Britney in the way she dresses, in her songs, and in her movements and who will want to adopt this playful attitude with sex and sexuality and use that. Many of the people do not come from stable homes and many of them do not have the support she has. It is going to be like them playing with hand grenades and guns and Uzis. They are going to experience some major, major destructive consequences in their lives.
“Hey, I don’t want to be a role model. I just want to be an inspiration.” You can’t have it both ways. Whether you are in the public eye as a pop culture icon or whether you are a common Joe or a common Jane like us, it doesn’t matter. People are looking at you and me, and we are role models and we are influencers. We just can’t be naïve. We can’t afford to be naïve. Again, God calls us to be influencers. He calls us to be salt and light, not sex and sweat. To me it’s sad, because it is so subtle.
God is pro-sex. God knows more about sex than Madonna, more about sex than Britney Spears, than Dr. Drew, than all the sex experts that you know. God knows sex. So God is not anti-sex. He is not anti-sexuality – us expressing ourselves. He is not against that, but He says sex is saved (at least sexual intercourse) for the safe confines of a marriage relationship.
Anytime you pull sex or manipulate sex outside of that context, you will have catastrophic consequences. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you believe. That’s simply the way God has set things up. “Well, I just don’t believe that. I don’t believe in that.” Well, you know what? You may not believe in the law of gravity but if you jump off the top of the Astrodome, guess what! You are going to hit pavement. If you use sex outside of the context God has prescribed in the Bible you will get burned, you will hit the pavement in your life no matter what, no matter who you are, no matter what you believe.
It is sad that Britney Spears is someone who is very talented, who is gifted, who can sing, who can dance, who has a charisma about her, and I don’t think she needs all the other stuff to make it, to be the star, the celeb that she is. I am not saying if Britney Spears is really spiritual that she would not sing pop music and be in the secular music industry. I don’t think that at all. I think God needs people who are sold out for Him in all realms of life—in music, in acting, on TV, in all different fields, but I would say I would pray for her like I would Oprah. “Britney, wake up! Come back to your roots of your faith. Come back to the Gospel,” if she has ever really heard the Gospel, “and understand that and use your influence to make a positive impact on young people.”
Psalm Chapter 139 says it for us. This is a great Psalm about the power of God and His knowledge of us, and His love for us, and how God knows when we are sitting down. God knows when we are standing up. God knows what we are going to say before we say it. This Psalm tells us we cannot go anywhere from God’s presence, that God is everywhere present. End to end, there is a prayer that kind of cuts us to the heart about duplicity, living a double life, and about influence. Here’s what the psalmist says: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the everlasting way.”
That’s my prayer. Make it your prayer and commitment tonight: “Lord, I want you to root out, to take out any area of duplicity in my life. Lord, test me; show me before I become comfortable with duplicity. God, I want to be an influencer for you. I don’t want to be clueless. I don’t want to be just living this carefree life. I want to live my life in a way that will truly honor you, where people will see that I am a product of your grace. God, take out that offensive way in me. Take it out, Lord, and lead me into an everlasting way.”
If you are comfortable with leading a double life, pray that prayer. If you want to be an influencer for Christ in your schools, in your relationships, at work, if you are tired of wearing masks and being a hypocrite, pray that prayer everyday: “God, search me, know me, and test me. Take out the offensive way. Father, by your Spirit, lead me into an everlasting life.”
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]