Archive for American culture

Influence of American Culture | Cost of Discipleship

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 25, 2010 by Mark Hanson

After looking at several different facets of American Culture and its influence such as Individualism, Materialism/Consumerism, Freedom/Liberty, and Happiness we really need to take a step back and evaluate:

  • Does the cost of true Christ following Discipleship fit with the “American Culture?”

Next we’ll look at a few passages where Christ plainly describes the kind of character and attitude a person should have if they were to really be one of His followers:

Luke 9:23-25 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Christ draws out the point of denying self and raises the ultimate question: what does this world profit? 

Luke 9:57-10:2 57 And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee wherever you go. 58 And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. 59 And he said unto another, follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 60 Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. 61 And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. 62 And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

10:1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. 2 Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.

This passage has often been preached out of its “discipleship” context which is the foundation for the missional conclusion. He emphasizes the lack of modern “comforts” not daily provision, but the lack of human comfort in the quest to follow. He then calls for the proclamation of His Gospel, His message. It must be a commitment of the whole person, its not a 50/50 deal. Relating this to semi-current American culture, people who took homesteads out West in the wilderness/territories often would never again see the family they left behind. Christ is looking for the same kind of commitment. One with many unknown dangers, discomforts, discouragements, and yet the the satisfaction of knowing that your whole person is invested 100% in the task before you with the potential for future gain.

Luke 14:25-35 25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. 34 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? 35 It is not fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

So here it is, are you willing to sacrifice everything that you are “comfortable” with to go through life following Christ? Have you really counted the cost? Some people didn’t have to give up much if all of their family has been saved, but many people have had their family and friends reject them for their commitment to Christ. So are there still things that might be holding you back from that kind of total commitment? Have you really sat down and counted the cost and put all you chips in to place your bet on Christ? Here in the end of this passage Christ asks the same question again: what profit is there in a thing that doesn’t accomplish is designed purpose. We are God’s salt, and we have a purpose. But are we trying to hold back part of our potential for our own gain? What does that profit?

  • So does American Culture promote or detract from Christ’s call to discipleship?
  • What are some ways we can be responding to and countering this influence?

In the end we need to be aware that our American culture is directly, antithetically opposed to Christ’s call of committed following. So choose wisely.

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.

Influence of American Culture | Individualism

Posted in NTBC C&C with tags , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by Mark Hanson

When thinking of American culture, what does individualism look like, how do people express their individualism?

  • This is most immediately seen in our externals. It shows up in the choice of clothes, hair style, tattoo’s, piercings, music, friends, groups, political leaning, gender orientation, homes, cars, electronic equipment, hobbies, drugs, drinking, etc.
  • But there is also the internal elements that can be effected as well. Attitude, belief, conviction, preference, morals, and conscience among other things also communicate the individualism of the inner person.

When thinking of American culture, how would you define individualism? And what does that look like?

  • Vernacular, The word individualism has been used to denote a personality with a strong tendency towards self creation and experimentation often associated and seen in various forms of art.
  • Technically, an individual unit refers to something “indivisible,” the lowest possible denominator, typically describing a singular thing, like “a person.”
  • Conceptually, individualism makes the individual its focus and starts with the idea that the human individual is the most important. It promotes a person’s goals and desires through independence and self-reliance while opposing external authority upon one’s self, whether by society, group or institution, or even considering the interests of society at large. It does not place value on the sacrifice of self-interest for any higher purpose. It is a method of giving measurable meaning to life.

Taken to an extreme individualism will result a complete rejection of all authority, in other words anarchy. Individualism in its fullest sense, is just selfishness taken to the highest degree. America hasn’t gone that far as a whole, but there are many who believe in this concept as a guiding principle for life. It has supported things like self-esteem, self-awareness, self-love, self-image, etc., often come up in conversation when someone says “what is true for you is not necessarily true for me,” which reveals their understanding of relative truth. If “I” preside over what is “individually” right for me, then ones own authority is supreme and no one else has the right or a corner on the truth to say otherwise

Is there anything wrong with attempting to be unique and stand out from everyone else?

  • Inherently, uniqueness is not wrong otherwise every person who have to be identical. Instead you have to ask yourself why you are doing something, what is the motivating factor in making the decision? Is it to make yourself more visible so you draw attention and impress others? Is it so you be accepted into another group? Is it something where the one determining factor is how it will benefit self?

Does this concept fit with what the Bible teaches about individuality for the believer?

  • John 5:30 “… I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”
  • 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 — “… You were bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit which are God’s.”
  • Romans 12:1-2 — “… Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

As Christians we must always keep in mind that American individuality is all about self, and has little to do with service. God has created us to be individuals so we can in turn give that uniqueness back to Him.

So how does individuality fit within and look like in the Church context?

I think too often we stop reading Romans 12 right after verse 2, but the following applies to how we are to then live:

  • Romans 12:3-5 — “… so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

God uses one main illustration to show what individualism within the church looks like:

  • 1 Corinthians 12 — “… But all these work from one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ… But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body… Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular…”

God grants every individual uniqueness since there are no two identical people on this planet. He also gives special gifts and abilities to individuals for the purpose of using them in service to and for God. We must be taking full advantage of the individuality that God has given us for the benefit of others. The primary place this should happen in in the church. With the analogy of the church being the “body,” each individual is required to comprise the greater whole of the “individual” church body.

>> The Point

We are individuals. God has created us that way. But we cannot place any confidence in our individual uniqueness. Our meaning in life must be derived from God and from our new family in Christ found in the church. Meaning is not created by making myself more unique, it is created when the gifts and talents God gives me are used in service, first to the household of faith, and then to everyone else rather than just consumed for selfish gain and benefit.

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?