How is the culture trying to absorb Christians?

Not too long after I moved to the community of Sycamore I made an interesting discovery. I was walking around the church property checking things out when I came across two trees with a board wedged between them. Evidently, the board had been there for quite some time because the trees have grown over the edge of the board, so much so that you couldn’t pull that board out of there if you wanted. You would have to cut it out.

Now, I have no idea how long that board has been wedged between those two trees. But what I do know is that those two trees didn’t grow over that board overnight or even in a matter of weeks. Instead, that board was quietly and slowly absorbed by its environment over a long period of time.

What happened to that board is a good illustration of what could happen to us and what we are in danger of every single day. As those who are supposed to live set apart lives, we are in danger of being absorbed by our environment. Specifically, what I mean is that we are in danger of losing our unique Christian identity and beliefs. To be sure, that loss isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a slow and subtle process that takes place over a period of time. A process we must guard against. But how?

How can we avoid being absorbed into our environment?

Daniel provides a good example. He lived during Israel’s exile – a period of time when Israel was carried off from the Promised Land to Babylon because of their disobedience to God (Da 1:1-4). The exile happened in several waves. Daniel and some of his friends found themselves in one of those waves (Da 1:6). It is here that Daniel begins to teach us how we can avoid being absorbed into our environment. What did Daniel do? How did he avoid being absorbed into his environment?

He Understood the Babylonian’s Plan

Beginning in Daniel 1:3 we read,

“Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.” (Da 1:3–5)

The Babylonian’s plan was to immerse the youth from high ranking families in Judah into the culture of Babylon. They would be given new names, clothing, and a new diet. They would also be taught a new language and be schooled in Babylonian literature and customs. All of this would take place over a 3 year period. Essentially, they were attempting to absorb the Israelites into their own culture by giving them a new worldview, and they were starting with their youth.

Daniel, however, wasn’t fooled by all the glitz and glamour, the perfectly prepared meals, and a chance at acquiring a high ranking position in his new home. He knew their plan and what it entailed. He knew he would have to give up his heritage, his connection to Israel, and more importantly his faith. As you read through the rest of the chapter and book, you see that Daniel resisted their attempts to absorb him into their culture. Over the years, he remained faithful to God. As a result, he was able to have an impact on their culture and king. To be sure, Daniel’s actions took courage, and he did experience persecution and suffering, but he was also successful in accomplishing his God given purpose – to glorify God. He was able to do that because he knew the Babylonian’s plan.

How is our culture trying to absorb us?

While Daniel knew the Babylonian’s plan, we may not always know how our culture’s plans to slowly absorb us. While we don’t have time to discuss them all, I do want to point out one major tactic our culture is using to slowly absorb Christians and change our worldview, and that is through the use of entertainment. Look at what one author has to say,

“Those who produce it [speaking of entertainment] want to instill their values, and thus far they have been very successful in doing so. Much of what is produced for viewing on television and in the movies and much of what is produced lyrically in popular forms of music is clearly depraved. Every form of God-hating thought and behavior, from blasphemy to sexual perversion, is glorified, and we as Christians watch or listen to it hour after hour after hour. And then we wonder why there is so little discernible difference between the thinking and behavior of Christians and non-Christians.” [1]

So the world uses entertainment. The world uses entertainment because it is a powerful worldview shaping tool that exists in many different forms – social media, news, talk shows, print media, novels, television, YouTube, video games, the arts, etc. Entertainment comes in many different shapes, sizes and forms. Americans are voracious consumers of these entertainment mediums.

Entertainment’s Ability to Shape Our Worldview

Entertainment has a powerful ability to shape our worldview because when we are being entertained we generally let our guard down. After a hard days work, the last thing we want to do is put in more work analyzing that which we are seeking to be entertained by. I know that’s true of me. After I have worked all day in my study – reading, writing, thinking, and interacting with others, after I have taken care of the kids, played with them, bathed them, and put them to bed for the night, I’m worn out. The last thing I want to do is analyze the worldview significance of the show or YouTube video I’m watching, the novel I’m reading, or the podcast to which I’m listening. In reality, I don’t want to do much of anything. All I want to do is relax on the couch as a passive consumer for a few minutes before I go to bed.

While there is nothing wrong with relaxing while being entertained, we must realize we are still being influenced, and in some sense to a great degree. Stories play on our emotions, shaping and changing us, while at the same time entertaining us. I was reading an article the other day in the opinion section of the newspaper. I can’t remember which newspaper it was, but the article centered on how to win people to your side. One tactic the article kept coming back to was the power of story. They told their readers not to enter into a debate, but to simply tell their story. They chose that tactic because stories affect and move people in a way that debate and argument can’t.

Our secular culture knows the power of story and they use it in the form of entertainment to try and shape our worldview.

Now, I’m not telling you this to ruin your time of relaxation at the end of the night. We can still be entertained, but we do need to think more carefully about that which we are allowing to entertain us. We should do that thinking before we get to the end of the day when our bodies and minds are worn out.

So if we want to avoid being absorbed into our environment, and as Christians we should because we can’t be salt and light if we are the same as our culture, then we need to know our culture’s tactics. While our culture uses other tactics, one powerful tactic used is stories in the form of entertainment to shape and change our worldview.

Question for Reflection

  1. What other than entertainment is our culture using to absorb us?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon How Can We Avoid Being Absorbed into Our Environment?

[1] Keith A. Mathison, Table Talk Magazine, July 2017, 16

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How Can We Find Meaning in Life? – Part 3

When I was in high school, my friends and I would pretty much do something almost every night during the summer. It wasn’t necessarily anything big or exciting. A lot of the time we would end up sitting on the tailgates of our trucks in our school’s parking lot. Even though most of the time we just sat in the Calvary parking lot, I rarely missed a night out with my friends.

Now, of course, I didn’t know this then, but I know it now, I was there every night because I wanted to be a part of it all. I wanted to be a part of it all because I was seeking meaning in the moments, in being a part of the crowd, in being in on every inside joke.

If we’re honest, we all seek meaning in something. Whether it be in the little moments of life, knowing we are in the “in crowd”, or something else, we all seek meaning in something. Maybe you are pursuing something right now that you believe will finally provide the meaning for which you long.  Or maybe that which you have pursued so long has just let you down, and that’s left you wondering: How can I find meaning in life?

In order to answer that question, the the last thing we need to look at is:

In What Do We Find Meaning?

At the very end of the book, in verse 13, the author speaks and says,

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ec 12:13–14)

So in what should we find meaning? Well, we should find meaning in our relationship with God. It’s the one thing that is not going to let us down. It’s not going to fail us. It will provide fulfillment. And that fulfillment will be an eternal fulfillment.

We should find meaning in our relationship with God because we were made for a relationship with God. As well as we were made to live according to His will, which brings Him glory. When we live in the way in which we have been made to live, we will find satisfaction, meaning, and joy. We will find fulfillment.

To try to live in any other way, then, will ultimately result in dissatisfaction, meaninglessness, and despair. Sure, those things may not come for a while. I’m certain the preacher in Ecclesiastes’ experience wasn’t all doom and gloom as he was indulging in the pleasures of the world, creating great works, building and sharing his wisdom, etc. Ultimately, however, he found those things left him wanting. They left him dissatisfied, joyless, and in a state of despair. That’s because these things and the others I discussed in Part 1 and 2 can’t hold up that kind of weight. They are like a person who walks into the gym for the first time and thinks they can bench 300 lbs. They are pumped up. Talking their strength up to their friend. They slap the weights on the bar, lay down, yell a few times to pump themselves up, then struggle to even get the weight off the rack. If they are to get it up and over their chest to press it, they soon find that their muscles are weak. Too weak to hold that kind of weight. Soon their arms have given way, the weight comes crashing down crushing their chest. That is what it’s like to ask these things to provide us with meaning in life. They seem like they can. They talk like they can. They yell at us like they can. But when it comes time, they ultimately fail us.

But God will not fail us. He will provide us with everlasting meaning because He is strong enough to hold that kind of weight.

The great thing is we can have a relationship with God because God Himself made a way. Jesus came and died for us. For our sins, so we, an unholy, sinful people can have a relationship with a holy God. If we believe and repent of our sins, we can experience that. We can experience a relationship that will provide meaning.

Conclusion

So the secret to meaning in life isn’t found under the sun, instead it’s found in God. The One who stands outside of the material world. The One who created us. The One who we should worship. So quit trying to find meaning in the things under the sun and look to the Son — Jesus Christ. He’s the One who can and will ultimately satisfy.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have you found that the things of this world let you down when you try to find your ultimate meaning in them?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Ecclesiastes – Hevel and the Secret to the Meaning of Life

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How Can We Find Meaning in Life? – Part 2

When I was in high school, my friends and I would pretty much do something almost every night during the summer. It wasn’t necessarily anything big or exciting. A lot of the time we would end up sitting on the tailgates of our trucks in our school’s parking lot. Even though most of the time we just sat in the Calvary parking lot, I rarely missed a night out with my friends.

Now, of course, I didn’t know this then, but I know it now, I was there every night because I wanted to be a part of it all. I wanted to be a part of it all because I was seeking meaning in the moments, in being a part of the crowd, in being in on every inside joke.

If we’re honest, we all seek meaning in something. Whether it be in the little moments of life, knowing we are in the “in crowd”, or something else, we all seek meaning in something. Maybe you are pursuing something right now that you believe will finally provide the meaning for which you long.  Or maybe that which you have pursued so long has just let you down, and that’s left you wondering: How can I find meaning in life?

In order to answer that question, the second thing we need to look at is:

What Tests Did the Preacher Run?

The preacher ran several tests and made a ton of observations that are grouped throughout the book. We are going to look at some of those. Some of the big ones. Some of the things we are prone to seek meaning in ourselves. The first test that we encounter is:

A. The Test of Pleasure (2:1)

We don’t have time to read the entire section, so let’s just read verses 1 and 2. I’ll summarize the specifics. Starting in verse 1.

“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”” (Ec 2:1–2)

So the Preacher begins his series of tests with pleasure. The things he seeks pleasure in are wine, great works, art, and even sex. His actions, they really represent intense consumerism, which is our society today. We are a people who just can’t seem to get enough.

While the things this world offers do provide pleasure, the pleasures they provide aren’t something that can provide ultimate satisfaction. They always leave us longing for more. That’s what I have experienced. I’m sure you have experienced the same. And Solomon, who experienced it to the max, tells us that without a doubt that is the truth. Pleasure is vanity. It is a chasing after the wind. It’s not something that’s going to provide the meaning for which we long.

B. The Test of Wisdom (2:12; 9:2)

He says starting in verse 12,

“So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” (Ec 2:12–13)

So he begins to test wisdom. In his test, he finds that wisdom is indeed better than folly. In other words, it’s better to live as a wise man than a fool. But look at the second half of verse 14,

“And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.” (Ec 2:14)

What is this event? Look at verse 16,

“For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!” (Ec 2:16)

What happens to both is that they both die and they are eventually forgotten. People may remember them for a time, but unless you are someone who has made the history books, you will eventually be forgotten. And even those who have made the history books are forgotten. It just takes a little bit longer. So while it’s good to be wise, to be skillful, to be good at what you do, we shouldn’t seek ultimate meaning in wisdom. It again fails us because death comes to us all. And time erases people’s memory of us.

C. The Test of Career (2:18)

Many people pour themselves into their career. They make it their life. They sacrifice everything for it. Sometimes people do that because they just need an escape and that provides them a sense of escape because it keeps them busy. Other times people do it because they think it going to provide them with meaning, that it’s going to fulfill them. And to some degree work can be fulfilling. I’m not saying you shouldn’t find some sort of fulfillment in your work. You just shouldn’t seek ultimate meaning in it. It shouldn’t be your everything. It shouldn’t be that which you have directed your entire life towards. Solomon tried that and starting in verse 18 he says,

“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ec 2:18–23)

So Solomon finds himself in a state of despair because he realizes that he can’t control who gets that which he worked hard for and built. Nor does his work provide him any rest or enjoyment. Even at night, when he is supposed to be resting, he can’t because all he can do is think about work. So work is hevel; it’s vanity; it’s chasing after the wind.

D. The Test of Wealth (5:10)

Look at what he tells us starting in verse 10,

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ec 5:10)

So right off the bat, he tells us that chasing wealth is vanity. It doesn’t satisfy. Then he tells us why starting in verse 11,

“When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” (Ec 5:11–12)

In other words, there’s always going to be people who want your money. That’s either friends, family, or strangers asking for it. Or thieves trying to steal it. Either way, riches can end up bring more trouble than they are really worth. Wealth, then, doesn’t bring the satisfaction we think it will. It doesn’t provide that which we are seeking. So we shouldn’t place ultimate meaning in wealth.

So those are some of the tests Solomon employees. All of them turn out to be hevel, vanity, a chasing after the wind. Now, I don’t know about you, but to know that everything is vanity can be depressing. And in some sense, I believe that’s the idea of the book. To bring you to a state of despair. And once you are there, it provides you the solution — that which you should place your hope in. That which you can find ultimate meaning in life.

Next Time

We will stop there for today. Next time I’ll answer the question: In what do we find meaning?

Question for Reflection

  1. Which test resignates with you most?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Ecclesiastes – Hevel and the Secret to the Meaning of Life

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