This has been a fascinating week in our nation. Reactions to our President's statement were as fascinating as the situation. In the seven months of crisis, the President's approval rating steadily climbed. Immediately after he made his Monday evening statement, his approval rating climbed.

If I asked you to state the most important lesson to be learned from this entire situation, what lesson would you choose? Some would choose a moral lesson. Some would choose an ethical lesson. Some would choose a political lesson. Some would choose a lesson based on the media. Some would choose a global message. And all the lessons would be valid.

I want to focus your attention on a different lesson. This lesson challenges us to look at ourselves as a society.

  1. Several times I have called your attention to the fact that our society has changed in fundamental, basic ways.
    1. This week visibly documented that change is real.
      1. The fact that the President's approval rating climbed documented that the change is real.
        1. This President is certainly not our first President to do something sexually inappropriate.
        2. Other Presidents have been involved in outrageous sexual behavior while in office--behavior that went far beyond what President Clinton did.
        3. This is the obvious change: if any of those Presidents had confessed what they did, their public approval ratings would have "bottomed out."
        4. Our society has changed.
      2. The people reactions documented that the change is real.
        1. Many people are tired of hearing about something that is common in our society.
        2. Many people think that it is all a matter of politics.
        3. Many people think that all the concern is ridiculous.
        4. A lot of people think that the nation should forget it and move on to important things.
        5. Our society has changed.
      3. The fact that most personal viewpoints were unchanged by the President's confession documents that the change is real.
        1. The people who believed what the President did was terrible before his statement still believed it was terrible after the statement.
        2. The people who thought what the President did was an unimportant, private matter before his statement still thought that it was unimportant, private matter after the statement.
        3. His confession did not change the thinking of most people.
        4. Our society has changed.
    2. "David, you keep saying, 'Our society has changed.' What do you mean?"
      1. An identifiable group of Americans do not believe any absolutes exist.
        1. Nothing is always wrong.
        2. Nothing is always right.
        3. Nothing is absolute wrong.
        4. Nothing is absolutely right.
        5. Nothing is absolutely true.
        6. Nothing is absolutely false.
        7. In 1992, a credible poll was taken of people born between 1965 and 1980 (people between 33 and 18 years of age); 70% said that absolute truth did not exist. (George Barna, The Invisible Generation: Baby Busters, Glendale, CA: The Barna Research Group, 1992, 81.)
        8. Our society has changed.
      2. An identifiable group of Americans hold a relatively new concept of personal responsibility.
        1. "What I do in my private life is my business and only my business."
        2. "If I am responsible in my public life, I am responsible."
        3. "Private character and public character are not related."
        4. "Being a person of character and integrity has nothing to do with the way I live my private life."
        5. Our society has changed.
      3. An identifiable group of Americans live by the rule of pragmatism.
        1. "If I do good work,
        2. "If I provide good leadership,
        3. "If I produce good results,
        4. "If I do my job well,
        5. "If other people benefit from my abilities and services,
        6. "Nothing else I do matters."
        7. "If I can do the job well, how I live my life is irrelevant."
        8. Our society has changed.
      4. A large group of Americans believe in the rule of technicality.
        1. Criminal acts are made nonexistent through the use of technicality.
        2. Laws are set aside or rendered powerless by using technicalities.
        3. Truth can be distorted and even used to deceive--an still be truth-- by the use of technicalities.
        4. Good and evil or right and wrong are determined by technicalities.
        5. Our society has changed.

  2. As the church and as Christians we are poorly positioned to constructively address these changes within our society.
    1. Our past often destroys our credibility.
      1. We have a history of heated arguments about things that no one understands but us--and many of us really do not understand them.
        1. Should communion be served with one cup or many cups?
        2. Should congregations teach the Bible by using Bible classes?
        3. Should congregations cooperate with each other in doing a godly work?
        4. Which translation of the Bible is acceptable?
      2. A person who is not a Christian and who listened to us argue about what is progressive, what is conservative, and what is liberal would quickly conclude that we have a peculiar concept of truth.
      3. The nature of our disagreements and the methods we use in disagreeing often destroy our credibility.
    2. Ungodly lifestyles often destroy our credibility.
      1. I am speaking of Christians who knowingly, deliberately live by double standards; I am not talking about Christians struggling with problems or seeking to overcome a failure.
      2. Too many preachers do the things they strongly condemn.
      3. Too many elders live one life at the church building and another life in private.
      4. Ongoing adulterous affairs are not unusual in any congregation.
      5. Lying, stealing, or defrauding are not unusual in any congregation.
      6. It is not unusual for individuals or families to wear their godly appearance to church on Sunday and be very ungodly at home.
      7. To people outside the church, these people just do not look that different.
      8. Ungodly lifestyles often destroy our credibility.
    3. No one uses technicality better than we do when we discuss "church issues."
      1. A discussion of what is and what is not worship quickly involves technicality.
      2. So do many other discussions including:
        1. Honesty.
        2. Purity.
        3. Lying.
        4. Hate.
        5. Evil.
        6. Vengeance.
      3. It is not unusual for someone to declare, "Somewhere a verse says . . ."
        1. Who wrote it? "I don't know, but it says . . ."
        2. What was the context? What was the writer discussing? "I don't know, but the verse says . . ."
        3. What subject was he teaching? "I don't know, but the verse says . . ."
        4. What problem was he addressing? "I don't know, but the verse says . . ."
        5. The conviction: "When I can find that verse, technically, it will prove my point."

  3. In Isaiah 5 God said, "Judah, I have a question I want you to answer" (5:1-4).
    1. I planted a vineyard of choice grape vines on a fertile hill side, built a wall around it, and built everything needed to protect it and to make wine."
      1. But when the vineyard produced grapes, they were sour and useless.
      2. I ask you, what else could I have done? Was it not right to expect that vineyard to produce sweet grapes that would make good wine?
      3. Let me tell you what I am going to do to that vineyard.
        1. I am going to tear the wall down so that the livestock can eat the vines.
        2. I am going to let the briars and thorns grow up and destroy it.
    2. Then God said, "Israel and Judah are that vineyard" (5:7).
      1. I expected you to be just and righteous, a godly people.
      2. Instead you are a blood-thirsty people who abuse the innocent.
      3. You buy up houses and land so that the poor have nowhere to live.
      4. Your ignorance of Me has destroyed you.
      5. You tie evil and sin on a rope and drag it with you everywhere you go.
    3. Now listen carefully to Isaiah 5:20-23:
      Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink, Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right! (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Judah did everything "by the book."
        1. They worshipped at the right place on the right days offering the right sacrifices.
        2. Technically, they were correct.
        3. But their hearts and minds were corrupt.
      2. Their definitions were horrible--they called good evil and evil good; darkness was light and light was darkness; bitter was sweet and sweet was bitter.
      3. According to them, they were very wise; their understanding was clever.
      4. But their conduct was horrible and ungodly.
      5. The moment of truth had come; the consequences were inescapable.

God will separate the righteous from the unrighteous on the judgment day. If you find yourself with the unrighteous, what will you say to God? "God, technically I don't belong here. I know that I didn't love You and that my heart and mind did not really belong to You, but there are some things You need to remember. Technically, I was baptized for the remission of my sins. Technically, I attended worship every Sunday. Technically, I took communion every week--even if I had to leave before preaching. Technically, I followed the five steps of worship. So, technically, I should be on the other side." If, technically, that is your argument, God will say, "You are where you belong. I never knew you. The truth is that you worked iniquity."

How can we restore our credibility and become a positive influence in our society? "We should take a strong stand against the evil going on. We should condemn these changes in our society. We must raise our voices and be heard." The Churches of Christ have existed in the United States for 200 years. For 200 years we have taken a stand to condemn virtually anything you can name. For 200 years we have commonly condemned changes. For 200 years we have raised our voices. And we have little credibility and little influence.

If we are serious about establishing credibility and being a positive influence in a misguided society, we must become godly persons who have godly minds and godly hearts living in godly relationships as we exist as a godly church.

There has never been a time in history that there has been greater opportunity to be a Christian. Even with all that is happening, no time has been better for being a Christian. Be serious about belonging to God. Our society needs Christian influences. Our society can be powerfully touched by godliness. People who know God can redirect lives. Hearts must change. Is it obvious in your life that you belong to God and that Christ is your Guide? Powerful things can be used in your life to touch others if you will be God's person. Don't worry about "building" influence; let influence happen. When Christ makes a difference in your life, you can make a difference in this world.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 23 August 1998

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