Several years ago I preached a series of lessons in a small town in northern Arkansas. A Wal-Mart store at the edge of town had been open for about five years. Within the time that Wal-Mart had been in business, most of the stores on Main Street had closed. Not more than three or four stores on Main Street were open.

Typically, most Mom and Pop stores cannot survive "head to head" competition with Wal-Mart. There are a few that can. Those that can fall into one of two categories. Either they sell a needed product that Wal-Mart does not sell, or they offer a personal service that Wal-Mart cannot provide.

Why? Why is it so difficult for Mom and Pop stores to go "head to head" with Wal-Mart and survive? That question has many answers. "Wal-Mart has superiority in size, superiority in cash flow, superiority in buying power, superiority in pricing, superiority in advertising, and superiority in exchange policies." And all of those are real factors. But they are not the basic reasons. Wal-Mart has correctly "read" our society in two essential matters. They have correctly targeted America's obsession with time. And they have correctly targeted America's insatiable appetite for choice and variety.

Wal-Mart has made one-stop-shopping a "science." I can make one trip to one parking lot and one store. There I can buy anything from car batteries to bagels, from dish drains to dresses, from water hoses to wrenches, from plungers to pillows, from film processing to phenergan. Wal-Mart's basic objective is to save the shopper time and give the shopper variety at competitive prices.

Whether you love Wal-Mart or hate it, you have to admit that Wal-Mart understands the reality of today--just drive by their parking lot and count the cars.

  1. Jesus understood the reality of people's lives, and he changed people's lives--profoundly!
    1. In a country much smaller than the state of Arkansas, Jesus changed lives in ways that were to change the world.
      1. Without the printing press, newspapers, books, brochures, or literature, Jesus profoundly changed lives.
      2. Without television, radio, or advertising, Jesus profoundly changed lives.
      3. Without church buildings, educational centers, schools, or colleges, Jesus profoundly changed lives.
    2. I do not mean that he changed habits; I mean that he changed lives.
      1. He understood the reality of evil in human life.
      2. He understood human need and suffering.
      3. He understood how evil worked in minds and hearts to create suffering.
      4. With his understanding, he changed the lives of everyone who allowed him to touch their minds and hearts.
    3. You can see Jesus' power to change lives clearly by looking at the twelve men who followed him every day.
      1. I thank God that I do not have to work as one of those twelve men.
      2. Most of them, if not all of them, came from Galilee, a region more known for manual labor, not religious knowledge and education.
      3. For a man who planned to teach and preach, these 12 men were a very unsuitable group of followers--they just did not seem to be the people Jesus needed to do the job.
      4. And their personalities clashed.
        1. James and John once wanted to burn a Samaritan village to the ground because the Samaritans snubbed Jesus (Luke 9:51-56).
        2. Peter dared rebuke Jesus when Jesus started talking about dying (Matthew 16:21-28).
        3. James and John asked to be given the two most prestigious positions in Jesus' kingdom, and the other ten were extremely angry because James and John dared ask for what they wanted (Mark 10:35-45).
        4. All twelve argued among themselves about which one of them was the most important to Jesus' (Luke 22:24-30).
        5. The last night of Jesus' life all of them were too arrogant to wash the others' feet (John 13:2-l7).
        6. That same night Peter cursed and swore as he insisted that he had never known Jesus (Matthew 26:73,74).
      5. Being a part of that group guaranteed stress, tension, and stomach acid.
    4. During the entire time of Jesus' ministry, these men did not understand Jesus.
      1. They did not understand Jesus, the person, when he taught.
      2. They did not understand Jesus, the person, when he healed.
      3. They really did not understand him when he was arrested.
      4. They were totally confused about Jesus when he died.
      5. They were just as confused about Jesus when he was resurrected.
      6. They still did not understand him when he ascended back into heaven.
    5. The first time that they understood Jesus, and his mission, and his purpose, and what he accomplished was in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
      1. And, immediately, upon understanding Jesus, they were profoundly changed men.
      2. After they understood Jesus, they served unselfishly, sacrificially, and powerfully.
      3. Before they understood Jesus, they fled into the night when he was arrested.
      4. After they understood Jesus, they died for him.

  2. To this very day, the same thing is true--when we understand Jesus, our lives profoundly change.
    1. You can be baptized and learn many religious truths, but you, yourself, change very little.
      1. You can change your habits, but your, yourself, change very little.
      2. You can control your behavior, but you, yourself, change very little.
      3. You can rearrange your priorities, but you, yourself change very little.
    2. However, when the moment comes that you know and understand Jesus, you will be changed as a person--and that change will be profound.
      1. Certainly, your habits, behavior, and priorities will change.
      2. But they will change because you have changed as a person.
    3. And when Jesus changes you, your understanding of the meaning of life changes, your understanding of the meaning of service changes, and your understanding of worship changes.

  3. Last Sunday, 517 people (476 were members) were kind enough to fill out demographic surveys to help the leadership better understand the composition of this congregation.
    1. This morning after worship you will receive a synopsis of the survey and the written comments that were made.
    2. I want to share just a very few things about the survey.
      1. But before I do, I want to express my appreciation for members that I have always held in high esteem and great admiration.
        1. I have great admiration and appreciation for mothers and fathers of young children who bring their children.
          1. It is a struggle!
          2. Joyce used to struggle with all three of ours when they were pre-school age, and, on the very few occasions that I was free to help her, the child care exhausted me more than preaching ever did.
          3. God bless you for caring enough to bring your children!
        2. I have great admiration and appreciation for those who work with our child care services during assemblies.
          1. That is a demanding task.
          2. They provide a great blessing to fathers and mothers as well as the congregation.
        3. I have great admiration and appreciation for members who have chronic health problems and still attend.
          1. It is very difficult to sit on a pew when you are physically suffering.
          2. I admire the faith that motivates you in your discomfort.
        4. I have great admiration and appreciation for those who have disabilities and attend.
          1. None of us can imagine just how demanding and difficult it is for these brothers and sisters to get ready and be here.
          2. I also admire your faith and your desire.
        5. We have no desire to make worship more difficult for any of you--our only desire is to increase the meaning of our worship and our spiritual effectiveness as we praise God.
      2. Let me share some brief information about the demographic survey.
        1. There were 476 teen/adult members who gave us information. The information that I share with you comes only from members.
        2. Just a little over 24% indicated that they were spiritually struggling or weak.
        3. While several people wrote suggestions or expressed personal preferences, only 9 people out of 476 wrote criticisms--that is .018%, far less than one percent.
        4. I hope that you take the information you will receive as you leave and look at it carefully.
      3. Regarding the statements of preference (and it was a statement of preference and not a vote) concerning increasing our time for worship by song:
        1. 58% preferred to meet earlier.
        2. 20% preferred to extend the time of assembly.
        3. 9% wrote on their sheets that they wanted no change in the time of assembly or the amount of time we spent in worship.
      4. There were 43 people who wrote that they preferred not to lengthen the assembly. Of those 43 people:
        1. 19 (44%) come only on Sunday morning, and several of them come only for morning worship.
        2. 17 (39.5%) come all four assemblies.
        3. Of those 17, at least 8 are above 60 years of age.
      5. There is one very simple thing we can do--it would be completely painless and would make an enormous difference in our time.
        1. I am not offering this as a request; I am only making an observation.
        2. On the average Sunday, this auditorium will hold almost three times the people in attendance, and we sit all over the auditorium.
        3. If, after Bible classes, everyone would move to the front and sit in the front and center, singing would improve, serving communion would take much less time, and our fellowship in worship would dramatically improve.

Someone asks, "Why are you trying to make us to do these things?" I learned a long, long time ago I cannot make anyone do anything. When church leaders try to herd a congregation, we are not doing what God asked us to do. God did not ask us to function as cowboys; he asked us to function as shepherds.

With great respect, some told me last Sunday, "I hate name tags. But for you, I will wear one." Please don't wear one for me. I promise you that I will not pressure anyone to wear a name tag. If you wear one, wear it for the benefit of the congregation because you love the Lord and love the other members.

We live in a Wal-Mart world--that is reality. Mom and Pop congregations will struggle in a Wal-Mart world. Are you going to allow a Wal-Mart world to determine what you do religiously? Or, will you understand Jesus and let him change you as a person?

To those of you above 60 who want to go back to the "good old days" in the church just like it was in the 1950s: I remember those days well. Bible class lasted at least an hour. And the preacher preached at least an hour. And you took care of your young children on wooden pews. And you didn't have a nursery. And you didn't have a water fountain. And you didn't have air conditioning. And the congregation probably didn't have indoor plumbing. And you rarely got home before one o'clock. Has the Wal-Mart world changed you more than you realized?

I want Jesus to change you and me as persons. That will happen when we truly understand Jesus. When that happens, we will worship God from our hearts as never before.

Has it happened in your heart and in your life?
Do you understand Jesus?
He came to change you. He paid for the opportunity to change you with His own blood. Has your life profoundly changed because of Jesus?

Have you let Him change you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 20 July 1997

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