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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.

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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 | 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?

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.

Revealing – Part I

Posted in theoflections, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 16, 2009 by Mark Hanson

After my last post I decided to take a deeper look into each of the main points from my Love… as Christ does the church post. While this is more for my own personal challenge in being the husband God has called me to be, all of these elements should challenge us in our daily lives as we strive to reflect Christ as being evident in all of our relationships.

Revealing God

Christ’s statement: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world (the church)… I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known” in John 17:6, 26 denotes that Christ took upon Himself the responsibility of manifesting or revealing God’s very essence to His people the church.

1) Revealing God is seen in obedience.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me… I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” – John 14:23-24, 31

2) Revealing God is seen in relationship.

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples… he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” – Matthew 9:10, 12; 14:14

3) Revealing God is seen in sacrifice.

“The love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.– 1 John 4:9-11

Christ sacrificed via a human relationship by obeying God. As such He revealed more of God to us. May we strive to do the same in our relationships and marriages.

Women & Prayer in the Church

Posted in theoflections with tags , , on November 15, 2009 by Mark Hanson

My wife and I were watching a sermon on marital issues where the pastor and his wife were both answering practical questions submitted by the congregation. At the end the pastor concluded the service by having his wife close in prayer. This was not a combo husband-wife pastor team, but a pastor utilizing his wife to minister to women by having her input in questions answered in the service. So the service had a feel much closer to a hybrid Bible study or Sunday school. However since I’ve never really thought through the ramifications of having a woman close a service in prayer, I thought that would be a good issue to delve into. For those in a more traditional background, the role of women in the church tends to come into play to answer a question that falls into this practical realm. In the more contemporary realm it seems that the unity of the church is emphasized so much that most gender distinctions are played down or removed altogether.

So it raises the question, is it proper for women to open or close a service in prayer?

EXAMPLES

In the Old Testament system women were only accorded a limited amount of access to the religious system of the day. While there is no record directly addressing the issue of place  of a woman’s prayer in a public worship service, there are still principles to glean from the O.T.. A fairly detailed account of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 1:9-17 gives a little insight into this realm of the prayers of women. She was in the place of worship at the tabernacle and her request and motives were recognized by the priest Eli. Esther called upon all the people in Susa to fast for three days in preparation for her meeting with the king in Esther 4:16. While prayer is not specifically mentioned, fasting has often been closely associated with prayer in coming before God with specific issues in mind. In the New Testament, after Christ’s ascension, Acts 1:14 records that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” While not a specific mention of a service, there is an obvious understanding that this prayer was in unison as a body of believers whether physically together or separated. Therefore:

>> Individual women in Scripture set an example in pursing God through prayer both individually and corporately.

EXHORTATIONS

Paul exhorts the church in Colossians 4:2 to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Similarly, in Ephesians 6:18 he notes that Christians are to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” These general exhortations are found elsewhere in the New Testament and apply to both men and women. Another passage that is often overlooked is 1 Corinthians 11:5 which says that “every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” The positive side of this negative command is that women can and should be praying and prophesying.  Therefore:

>> Individual women are to be constant in prayer, properly led by the Spirit.

These passages however, do not directly address the role that women are to play in public prayer within a local church gathering. At this point the discussion really falls into the larger role of women in the church. While I want to keep this facet of prayer distinct, the place for women in leadership does need to be touched on to some extent. I do hold to Paul’s teaching, regarding leadership positions within the church as instituted for men, when he states in 1Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” With that said, Paul’s statement does not directly address the issue of women praying in church either. Since the Bible places women in connection to the act of prayer, it is hard to dogmatically state that women are not allowed to pray in corporate worship gatherings. The women with Lydia in Acts 16:13-14 illustrate how women can take pray in a recognized service.  This was a sanctioned meeting, and while Jewish by makeup it very much contains a strain of Christianity in that women were not accorded positions of leadership, and this very well could have been reflective of the fact that there were not enough men to start a proper synagogue.[1] This then indicates that women were accorded the privilege of praying in services without any infringement upon male leadership. In light of the fact that women are offered as positive examples of prayer throughout Scripture, as well as instructed to follow a proper method of prayer in 1 Corinthians 11:5, and not prohibited from praying in church in 1 Timothy 2:12 it would then appear that each local church assembly would need to determine if this was appropriate to their body of believers. Therefore:

>> The heart of the issue would then arise when and if a church body would understand the prayers of a woman to be some sort of leadership/teaching/authority role within the church, rather than just a universal method for all believers to commune with God.

__________

[1] John B. Polhill, Acts, The New American Commentary (2001), 348.