Archive for the theoflections Category

Influence of American Culture | Happiness

Posted in NTBC C&C, theoflections with tags , , , , on May 12, 2010 by Mark Hanson

>> American Happiness

Maybe you’ve heard people say I’m not happy with my spouse, with my life, with my job… people use happiness as a measure to refer to many different things.

  • When you hear the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” what does happiness mean to you?

  • Why do you think happiness was included as a right in the Declaration of Independence?

  • Do we have a right to happiness?

Consider Haman and what his happiness was affected by in Esther 5:8-9: 8 If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do tomorrow as the king hath said. 9 Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart: but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai.

Happiness is a fickle thing that can change as quickly as our emotions will allow it to.

Happiness must have an object or a state of reality that brings one the feelings of happiness.

  • What brings you happiness?
  • What happens if/when those things are taken away?

>> Biblical Happiness

  • Should happiness be what determines and defines “Church”?

If the church was defined by happiness who’s happiness would be the determining factor? But shouldn’t a church be known as a “happy” church? We’ll just take a look at several different verses to get a broad look at how the Bible defines and talks about “happiness:”

Psalm 16:8-9, 11; Psalm 31:7; Psalm 64:10; Psalm 104:34; Psalm 118:24; Psalm 122:1; Psalm 126:3; Psalm 127:4-5; Psalm 128:2; Psalm 146:5; Proverbs 3:13; Proverbs 14:21; Proverbs 16:20; Proverbs 28:14; Acts 13:46, 48; James 5:11; 1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 4:13-14.

  • The Point

While God has created each of us with the ability to experience happiness and we are naturally inclined to make choices which will bring us happiness, we cannot allow our culture’s understanding of happiness as the primary goal and end in life, dictating our interaction with the church and the world. Happiness is not THE end in this life, but it is a result that we can enjoy and pursue. Since our physical, mental, and emotional states can change, our happiness should primarily be bound to our unchangeable God. If that is the case our churches should be a reflection of our individual happiness in God and then our church will become all that God wants it to be because as a body we will all be focusing on Him as the focal point of our unified happiness no matter the situation.

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Influence of American Culture | Freedom & Liberty

Posted in NTBC C&C, theoflections with tags , , , on April 25, 2010 by Mark Hanson

When thinking of American culture, how would you define liberty or freedom?

Generally Americans tend to define these concepts like this:

“Freedom is the very essence of America.”

“Freedom is the right to live as you choose.”

“Freedom is protection from slavery or oppression.”

A dictionary definition of freedom is [1] physical: the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; and [2] philosophical: the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint, autonomy; self-determination. Liberty is similar but slightly nuanced as [1] the right to choose: the freedom to think or act without being constrained by necessity or force.

We must be very careful that these American concepts are just imported without clarification into out Christian understanding. When attempting to understand these two concepts Biblically, there are slight differences between freedom and liberty that should be made. Christian freedom is the absolute removal of elements of sin in our lives. And the Christian liberty is the restriction of personal choices in our lives.

The real essence of Christian Freedom is the removal of sin’s power: Romans 8:2 — For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Christian Liberty is the resulting state of that freedom where we have a greater ability and responsibility to live Biblically: 1 Corinthians 10:23,31-3323 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not… 31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:  33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

There are four guidelines that we should consider anytime we submit an issue to “Christian Liberty”

We must use our liberty to serve others rather than self.

Galatians 5:13 — For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

We must use our conscience to guide our liberty.

Romans 14:1-12 — Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations… 4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

We must limit our liberty publicly for the benefit of others.

1 Corinthians 8:9-13 — But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. 10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols… 12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

We must use our liberty for the encouragement and edification of the Church

Romans 14:15-195 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. {charitably: Gr. according to charity} 16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

We cannot do anything against our own conscience

We cannot do anything publicly against another believers conscience

We cannot do anything in opposition to love and edification in the church

We cannot do anything that would not be considered “as unto the Lord”

Christian  “Freedom entails self-discipline, responsibility, and accountability.” And those elements are often lacking in their American counterparts.

Galatians 3:23-24 — But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

John 13:14-15 — If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

1 Peter 2:21-23 — For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.

Philippians 3:8 — Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

Influence of American Culture | Consumerism

Posted in NTBC C&C, theoflections with tags , , , , on April 18, 2010 by Mark Hanson

Culture

There are many different kinds of culture. Take for example a families culture, where Thanksgiving might be the big holiday, but no one gives a second thought to Halloween. There is regional culture where its a big deal to have a Philly cheesesteak and soft pretzel with “w’ter” ice, but no one has a clue what to make of shrimp on the barbie. Unconsciously, culture shapes how people view themselves and how to interact with others. Since we live in America, we must be aware of American culture. How often do we evaluate this type of current that is like an undertow, sitting just below the water’s surface, one that can’t really be seen, but has a very real effect? Most of the major culture changes have come within this past century. Thinking critically about how our American culture can and does influence our thinking regarding Christianity is imperative today. So how has American culture had an impact on Christianity and the Church?

Consumerism

Just to give you some facts and figures of what American consumerism looks like.

Our Gross Domestic Product, or what the U.S. sells every year is over $14 trillion. Basically, that means people spend a LOT of money.

Nearly 70% of spending is on services. Things like insurance, electricity, telephone, tv/cable, medical, garbage, mechanics… beneficial things, but not all apply to direct physical needs.

American culture is a consumer culture. The customer is always right. If its bigger, faster, and more expensive its better.

Consumerism – Influence on Doctrine

Some aspects of Christianity have been influence by consumerism. One genre is called the “health and wealth” or “prosperity” gospel. They use verses like the following to support their belief that God provides material prosperity to His followers:

Malachi 3:10 | Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

Deuteronomy 8:18 | But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.

John 10:10 | The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

3 John 1:2 | Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.

Some people think that God will constantly bless and provide physical health and wealth to the spiritual. They also view God as directly judging sin when periods of material need and want arise.

Consumerism – Influence on Practice

In addition to doctrine churches can get caught up in the consumerism element in their buildings and programs. One such movement is called being “seeker-sensitive” which when churches take the American business model and apply it to making decisions in the church. Their focus is results by sending out as many mailers, making phone calls, having a certain kind of music, building these kind of buildings, have this kind of service, so that the church grow. These kind of elements can be practical, but they can also be driven by consumerism. Their focus is to give the “customer” what they want. When this thinking takes over the gospel bears the brunt of the editing because it contains elements that some “customers” don’t want to hear, and they might not come unless they can be accommodated. The building or the program should never be our singular focus in drawing people to Christ. While it may make it easier at times, to have that focus relegates truth as a minor point and makes “stuff” the major point for the sake of growth and numbers.

Why do you follow Jesus?

While you may not be under the influence of prosperity theology or the seeker driven movement,  think about how our culture of consumerism can influence the church and your own personal life.

  • Can you think of any ways you have you been influenced by consumerism?
  • Do your spending habits in your personal life reflect dependence on God?
  • Does your prayer life reflect dependence on God? Do you just pray for God to do things for you?
  • Does your free time reflect dependence on God? Where does your time go? God gives us 24 hours, do you consume all your time? Or are you giving some back to Him and to others?
  • When you look for a church, are you looking for something bigger and better? Just what you can get out of it?

>> THE POINT <<

Consumerism draws us into Idolatry when we desire cheap creations rather than desiring God the creator. Sometimes bigger isn’t better, sometimes more is really less, and sometimes faster slows us down. If it does not draw us to God it draws us away from Him.

Isaiah 55:2-3,6 | Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live… “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.”

Matthew 6:25-26 | Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

how our American culture can and does influence our thinking regarding Christianity is imperative today.
So what is American culture generally known for?

Some things you just can’t visualize…

Posted in theoflections with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2010 by Mark Hanson

You know… there are some things you just can’t visualize. What is the breadth of this seemingly endless universe? How do you visualize that? When we try to relate an experience we’ve had, often phrases go “oh well you know its kinda like…” or “just picture… it’s similar to that.”

When I was younger (talking single digits now) I received a picture Bible during Vacation Bible School one summer. I remember that Bible fondly as I would enjoy following along in church since I could visualize with the pictures. I know my mother probably has that book packed up somewhere in one of my boxes. I’ve been trying to visualize what the pictures look like in Romans where Paul floods his book with abstract concepts…

SIN – “No one understands; no one seeks for God,” “Their throat is an open grave,” “The venom of asps is under their lips,” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness,” “Their feet are swift to shed blood,” “Their paths are ruin and misery.”

Paul uses visual imagery to help capture emotive power to project a tangible sensation to associate with a concept, in this particular instance–sin.

And yet even with all the visualization we have both mentally and now through technology, there are somethings you just cannot translate into an image. The above example of sin illustrates the fact that to capture the breadth, depth, height, nuance, power, importance, etc., it requires multiple visualizations. But even with a multitude of images one can draw one, it still does not ever fully communicate the whole truth in a single moment.

God is described as a Father, a husband, as having human-like manifestations such as eyes and hands, He can hear, He can turn away… He is the ultimate judge both in mercy and justice, He is the king, He is sensitive, He is harsh. And yet each one of these elements is just scratching the surface of the whole. Thinking about my little picture Bible, I’m wondering how they portray God. I want to look back and see how they visually represent the person of God. He is too much for one image to contain. And He is the ultimate example of why there are some things you just can’t visualize.

Calvinism vs. Arminianism? Or something else…

Posted in theoflections with tags , , , , , , on March 23, 2010 by Mark Hanson

Reading some Spurgeon lately I stumbled upon a few of his musings that fairly succinctly sum up my own personal position on the subject:

The system of truth revealed in Scripture is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines are one. For instance I read in one Book of the Bible, ‘The Spirit and the bride say come. And let him that heareth say come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him come and take the water freely.[1] Yet I am taught, in another part of the same inspired Word, that ‘it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’ [2]

I see in one place God in providence presiding overall; and yet I see, and cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. Now if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism and if, on the other hand, I should declare that God so over-rules all things that man is not free enough to be responsible, I should be driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism.

That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory but they are not. The fault is in our weak judgment, two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can never contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.” [3]

I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian. Both systems touch on elements of truth contained within the Bible. But neither can fully explain the whole, so I opt for the “Two Lines” or “Parallelism” that Spurgeon articulates here. I want to hold the same tension Scripture reveals. I know that God in His sovereignty can reconcile the irreconcilable. Without that fact there could be no hope of our own salvation. In the end God will take all of the mysteries and seeming contradictions our finite minds perceive, and will reveal them as perfectly, seamlessly crafted puzzle pieces within His master plan. §

__________

[1] Revelation 22:17

[2] Romans 9:16

[3] Charles H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. 1 (Passmore and Alabaster, London; 1897), 176-177.

Lent… what to make of it

Posted in theoflections with tags , , , on February 18, 2010 by Mark Hanson

Since I personally don’t celebrate Lent as any particular holiday during the year, I tend to not give it much thought when it does arise. This morning I did run across a short article over at Resurgance that challenged me to actually think about it. One of the posts was Why Bother With Lent? (PDF) which had a couple key points that I thought were interesting:

“To be sure, the Bible doesn‟t require us to recognize seasons like Lent or even Advent. In Romans 14:5, Paul writes that the celebration of holy days is a matter of Christian liberty. Paul continues, ‘The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord’ (Rom. 14:6). Therefore, any recognition of Lent must be done in a way that honors God.”

“The Lenten season starts on Ash Wednesday. For many recognizing Lent, that day marks the first day of a forty-day fast from something. The day before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras
(French for “Fat Tuesday”). Many people have at least a day of feasting before the season of fasting. Perhaps no city in America celebrates Mardi Gras better than New Orleans. Many revelers gather on Bourbon Street on Tuesday evening. The party goes long into the night, ending at Midnight on Tuesday night. Since Lent starts at 12:01 a.m. on Ash Wednesday, the New Orleans Police Department gather at Midnight on Mardi Gras, form a wall of officers and horses, and use that wall to clear Bourbon Street. In the minds of many, that‟s a great picture of Lent: Party up to the last minute before the Lenten season starts. Get what you can before you have to give it up. Feast before you have to fast. It‟s the reason the celebrations associated with Mardi Gras are often referred to as Carnival—the Latin for “goodbye meat.” In the minds of others, that‟s also what makes the Lenten season at best a disappointment and at worst a farce. It seems almost hypocritical to celebrate the Seven Deadly Sins before suppressing them.”

Even with its brilliantly coloful parades and costumes,  after the party is over, the city is left in a condition worse than when it started. Trash and litter fill the streets. Slowly be surely an ultimate “resotration” takes place. The police force clears the streets of wandering partygoers to end the partying. And the city crews get to work attempting to renew the streets to some level of cleanliness. Surprisingly, even in times of outright wantonness there are still elements of decency and order.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans serves as good illustration of how the height of man-made revelings ends in utter chaos and emptyness. God allows men to have the freedom to choose such activities which might seem good for a “season.” But at the end of the day the parties will come to an end. An ultimate restoration will take place. God will clear the streets and set everything back to His perfect order. Even though I don’t specifically fast for Lent, even the feasting beforehand is a great reminder of God’s ultimate plan to restore His world back to himself.

Failure of Reverence

Posted in theoflections with tags , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by Mark Hanson

I’m reading a book by Steve Gallagher, At the Alter of Sexual Idolatry, and he makes a rather astute observation:

“If God’s wonderful presence alone does not capture their devotion how will they ever be satisfied with anything else?”

It makes for a good reality check to reflect on whether or not God’s presence really is enough alone to keep one satisfied in a world that vies for ones affections.