Thursday, December 12, 2013

Living for Jesus in a Culture of Hedonism

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God has His witnesses in all corners of this fallen planet and among all different cultures. From the Aborigines to the Pakistan culture to the Russian and French and Japanese culture God has His witness. But the challenge for believers has always been to live within those cultures without becoming a part of them. We are in this world but not of it. And part of our witness should be how remarkably different we are than the surrounding culture and its values and practices. For example, the Amish people do not evangelize nor do they mix with other folk, however many people feel an unusual attraction to that way of life simply because they are so different and unaffected by their surrounding culture. You see, just living a different kind of life makes an impact of people. It is many times the hallmark of certain cults.

And here in America we live in a culture that is profoundly hedonistic and revolves around entertainment, individual achievement, and a pursuit of wealth. Throughout the New Testament being poor is not identified as being a virtue, however there is much deference shown to the poor. It seems as if showing compassion to the poor is often taught as a tenant of the faith. But conversely, being rich is often addressed in rather stern language.

Jam.5: Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.
Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten.
Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.

Here is a dire warning to the rich on this earth. You see money changes people. When people seek money it changes their perspective of the world and also of people. And when people have wealth they become different people. Extremely rare is the person who has great wealth and yet lives very modestly and has no airs about him and is not concerned with keeping his wealth. Wealthy people think constantly about money and wealth. In fact, in a culture such as ours almost everyone thinks constantly about money. We are bombarded with commercials, billboards, advertisements, insurance, and opportunities to make more money. And of course there is the lending institution complex.

But at the very center of it all is the strongest of all pursuits – the desire to please one’s self. And the embodiment of pleasing self in this kind of culture comes in the form of money. Money buys temporal happiness. It buys more opportunities and better material advantages. It helps your children achieve their earthly dreams. Very few famous people are paupers. Money makes people show deference to the wealthy in all sorts of venues. The more pricey the restaurant, the more the honored service. The more expensive the home the greater the taxes and the more money is needed to sustain it. And on and on it goes.

And so the pursuit of wealth fuels the culture. But that not only cannot be found in the New Testament, but the exact opposite can be found through the New Testament teachings. Take this one verse:

I Tim.6: And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

Now just what attitude is at the heart of this one verse? If anyone attempts to manipulate it and marginalize it to mean that you can have all the money you want as long as money does not have you, that person is more than disingenuous. He is a liar. This not only disembowels all the prosperity teachings, but it also sheds a light on the church in general in America. Without even addressing the issue of how many believers are actually content with food and clothing, let us ask ourselves how many churches teach this kind of attitude without diluting it in order to accommodate some facets of this hedonistic culture? Just look at the pastor’s “salary package” and you need not even hear him to understand the profound Scriptural compromise that is embraced within the evangelical community. Many pastors from all kinds of denominations and theological persuasions are involved with secular investments. And if you become famous enough through the spreading of your own ecclesiastical brand you can write books and distribute CDs and even your own personal “study Bible” and reap the financial rewards.

And please do not be ignorant about what lies at the center of nationalism. It is money and the American Dream as well as this comfortable lifestyle about which we will kill to maintain. If you have done any traveling you will see that other countries have their own brand of patriotism, but nothing compares with the American patriotism. It stands head and shoulders above all the rest. And if we peel away all the layers we will find money at the heart of that patriotism. The Revolutionary War itself was about money. In the movie “The Crossing” which was about how George Washington defeated the Hessians, Washington speaks contemptuously about the Hessians they are mercenaries and they fight wars for money. Gen. Nathaniel Greene tells Washington that the war that they are fighting is about money as well.

So here we are living in a hedonist culture which unabashedly embraces the pursuit of wealth and the personal advantages to having that wealth. Even our money has pictures of men who represent this nation. Without a divine perspective we cannot fully grasp the enormity of just how sinful this culture is and just how great are the compromises of the church. Yes we love to boldly confront the gay agenda or the abortion clinics and say with melancholy just how the culture is spirally downward, but we do not fully address the pungent atmosphere of sin concerning money. We hide behind homosexuality and abortion while we practice hedonism along with the heathen. The church has become very skillful at projecting condemnation while avoiding an open and honest inspection of our own lusts and practices.

For every New Testament Scripture that addresses homosexual behavior even in part there are at least ten that address sins concerning money. But the protests and disgust and outrage is overwhelmingly centered about gay marriage of the gay agenda. And why is that? It’s because of an old and time tested tradition in the church. The sins which we do not commit can provide cover for the ones we do commit. John McCain’s divorce was not a big deal to the church, but if he had been gay he would have been vilified. Why? Because the church accepts and practices divorce.

Here is a profound question that is never addressed in the church. Was the lifestyle of Jesus a template for His followers or not? I do not mean that everyone is called to walk thousands of miles and preach and minister. But was His observable moderation and rejection of wealth an object lesson for us or was it just for Him? And of course when you add His teachings you then come to another question. Are the teachings of Jesus literal and to be understood and followed as such or were they like Grimm’s fairy tales which had a “moral to the story” but which were packaged in allegory, metaphor, and a general understanding that they were vehicles rather than outright commands to be followed?

So in general the church gets all riled up about a few moral issues while professing believers embrace and enjoy a hedonistic culture which is completely at odds with all Jesus lived and taught. Somehow we have gotten the impression that Jesus lived the way He did so that we do not have to. That, my friends, is some creative and self serving theology. So we can be followers of Jesus but without following “in His steps”.

I Jn.4: 17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

You say you love God? Well the proof and perfection of that love is found in that phrase, “as He is so are we in this world.” Pretty astounding wouldn’t you say? Think about the profound implications and applications of that one single Scriptural phrase. And yet we can live so attached to this culture that we would die to protect, defend, and sustain it? How can we justify defending that which is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus? In order to do that we must change the Scriptures, and like Captain Barbossa said about the pirate’s code, “the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.” In many ways the Scriptures now are more what you would call guidelines than actual truths.

And when it comes to issues of money and wealth, well the Scriptures are treated as if they came from some unenlightened time before the Industrial revolution when ignorant men penned the Scriptures without the expansive cultural insight we have today. Well what are we supposed to do, move to a forest and live like Ted Kaczynski and live in a cabin? Probably not but perhaps we could begin there and work our way forward instead of starting with Donald Trump and gently allowing some alterations.

But in the final analysis who really wants to take a week or a month and seek the face of Christ with fasting and prayer and study the New testament free from the influence of friends and preconceived ecclesiastical thoughts? We already know what we believe and all our church friends live like us and all of us could never be wrong. And many who we believe are well respected men of God today live like us and are not calling for a complete reevaluation of the practices of believers and the church. Yes this culture of money has imprisoned our hearts and minds and its bars are so strong we will not even test their Biblical truth. 

And if this is to you a “tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” then I bid you “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

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