Focus 1 (of 5)-Revisioning Civilization

Focus 1|Revisioning Civilization

Community at its biggest: Civilization and culture are too big to control, but you’re guaranteed to interact with them.
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Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
Listen to this audio clip when you’re ready to begin today’s Spotlight.
(And welcome, by the way! It’s great that you’re here!)

Clarify what civilization and culture mean, respectively.
As you consider civilization and culture and God’s use for them in your life today, these defining concepts should help. If there’s still some fuzziness around the definitions, that’s really OK.

If you have a churchy background, you might notice that there are some parallels between the way this Spotlight is talking about civilization and the way you’ve heard theology talk about government as well as parallels between culture and religion. These terms today are just a bit broader and more universally applicable.
Welcome Perspective
You interact with big things that you can’t control that influence you.
Recognize culture and civilizations the hands of God.
Seeing civilization and culture as our body and our mind is pretty human-centric thinking, as though we were the ones who developed civilization and culture. The Bible offers another way to see them—like the hands of God, reaching out for us.

When we interact with them, we are interacting with God, whether we acknowledge that fact or not.

Read how Job reflected on this in beautiful, poetic language here:
“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.

Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.

Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food?
Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Does not long life bring understanding?

“To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.
What he tears down cannot be rebuilt; those he imprisons cannot be released.
If he holds back the waters, there is drought;
if he lets them loose, they devastate the land.
To him belong strength and insight; both deceived and deceiver are his.

He leads rulers away stripped and makes fools of judges.

He takes off the shackles put on by kings and ties a loincloth around their waist.

He leads priests away stripped and overthrows officials long established.

He silences the lips of trusted advisers and takes away the discernment of elders.

He pours contempt on nobles and disarms the mighty.

He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light.

He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them.

He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason;
he makes them wander in a trackless waste.
They grope in darkness with no light; he makes them stagger like drunkards.
Job 12:7–25

Let’s investigate why. (Hint: this is really important!)
What is this interaction with God through civilization and culture for? If civilization and culture are God’s hands and your life is spent interacting with them, what does it really mean to “have your life in the hands of God”?

Sometimes, people say it’s a threat.

These are the people who see God’s hand of judgment in the bad things that happen (and who often see themselves as needing to be God’s hand of judgment.) Let’s be clear: God never uses the fact that your life is in his hands to threaten you—ever. There are times when he’ll point out that leaving his hands is not healthy for you. (And it isn’t.) But God doesn’t threaten to crush you just because you’re in his hands. In fact, he spends a lot of time promising not to crush you but to take care of you instead—no matter what.

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!
Ezekiel 18:32

That leads to the real reason he holds your life in his hands: so he can take care of you.
  1. He uses his hand of civilization—its tools and inventions, its routines and empowerment—to reach out to you and care for you.
  2. He uses his hand of culture—its practices and values, its structures and expressions—to reach out to you and care for you.

(But not just you, singular. You, plural. Us. This civilization/culture invention of God's about us, the groups of humans in which we find ourselves, and the ways he planned to use those groupings to interact with us.)

And as he does this, he hopes we will reach back toward him. This was perfectly summed up by Paul, the earliest great missionary, as he preached in Athens for the first time:

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
Acts 17:24–28
Meditate on this using Psalm 67.
Follow the following steps to complete this section. (Note: Psalm 67 actually talks about the ways that culture and civilization lead people to praise God.)

  1. Listen to this sung version of Psalm 67.
  2. Read and meditate on the text of the psalm below.

(The song is quite repetitive so there is plenty of time to consider the text and appreciate the song.)
Worship Perspective
God made these “big things” to provide for you—through them, he’s reaching to you.
Consider the lesson Belshazzar failed to learn.
Watch this video to catch Belshazzar’s story. Make no mistake: Civilization and culture are God’s hands reaching for you. They are meant to be good things, designed to help you reach back for him, like a divine hug.
Belshazzar was a man who did not react to his civilization or culture by reaching out to God and finding him, even though God was obviously not far from him at all. (Think magic hand and prophet Daniel.)
Don’t make Belshazzar’s mistake.
The civilization and culture into which you have been placed are God’s hands reaching out to hold you, and they’re meant to encourage you to reach out and hold onto him.

Discuss with your group how each thing on this list—the same list you sorted at the beginning of this Spotlight—is God’s way of holding you and drawing you to him. (As you do, try to speak in terms of groups of people. That is, say things like, “God uses __________ to hold us and bring us to him by…”)

  • Farming (Civilization)
  • Music (Culture)
  • Skyscrapers (Civilization)
  • The Space Needle (Culture)
  • Space Travel (Civilization)
  • The Space Race (Culture)
  • Philosophy (Culture)
  • Laws (Civilization)
  • Morality (Culture)
  • Calendar (Civilization)
  • Fashion (Culture)
  • Tools (Culture)
  • Social Hierarchy (Culture)
  • Wealth (Civilization)
Don’t sugarcoat it, though.
The devil has done well at taking culture and civilization and messing them up, blocking God’s good desire in them, and getting people to avoid, ignore, and reject it.

1. Come up with five ways that the devil has blocked God’s good influence using things on the list above.

2. Answer this question, now having done that: do you see why God did what he did at Babel?

3. Read and react to the setup of the story:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Genesis 11:1–7
Learn Perspective
Civilization is God’s hand, but evil can make it hard to hold.
Let’s make it practical now.
Everyone must interact with civilization and culture, but not everyone thinks about it. Most people just do it. This haphazard approach leads them to have small-picture reactions, forgetting to look for God in these interactions.

As a result, people are often skeptical, cynical, and complainers when it comes to culture and civilization. (One way you can serve the people around you is by helping them find God in these big things.)

Follow these steps to complete this exercise.
  1. Come up with 1-2 “things of culture” and 1-2 “things of civilization” that are very positive—that is, ways God’s providence is working through those.
  2. Come up with 1-2 of each of negatives—that is, ways God's providence is being blocked by them currently…
    • in your city.
    • in the midst of the pandemic.
    • broadly speaking, on earth.

Answer this question, now that you’ve worked through that: How can you use these positives and these negatives to show people that God is reaching for them?
Pray for your culture and civilization.
Use the words of Psalm 67 to pray—out loud—for the big things that you’re interacting with.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.

May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples with equity
and guide the nations of the earth.

May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.
Psalm 67
Feel free to submit a prayer request by filling out the below form.
(If you choose to make your request public, you'll see it display in the Current at the end of the Spotlight along with anyone else who did the same.)

Prayer Requests

Pray through your requests—together—as a group.
After submitting your requests in the above form, take some time to share with your group whatever requests the group might have for this week.
Serve Perspective
As you interact with “big things,” you can help them prove God’s love is big.
See the love God has worked into everything.
Sing along with (or listen to) this song to close out this Spotlight.
Feel free to sing along or simply listen. Do what makes you comfortable—but do whatever helps you focus on the song's meaning best.
Farewell Perspective
You can’t hold culture—you can see it as a way God is holding you.
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