It happened again. Just over a week ago a thirteen-year-old seventh grader allegedly shot a teacher in Lake Worth, Florida. This seventh grader was an honor student with a perfect attendance record who had never been in trouble. The teacher killed was his friend. The teacher was a very popular teacher in the school. He is survived by his wife and two small children, one an infant.

This morning I do not want to focus on school violence, or guns, or basic problems in our society. I am not so foolish as to suggest that there are simple solutions for such problems. Simple solutions do not exist.

People commonly declare that such problems have a simple solution. Today's American society typically focuses the primary concern on (1) controlling events and (2) preventing consequences. A popular conclusion seems to be, "If we just prevent the events, we solve the problem."

It is very easy for Christians as individuals and as the church to accept that reasoning. It is even convenient to believe that we can solve problems and prevent consequences by controlling events.

We desperately need an awareness of a basic, more important reality.

  1. Early in Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome, he declared that ungodly people needed a way to be saved that is based on faith (1:18-32).
    1. In the context of his day and age:
      1. These people worshipped created objects instead of the God who created.
      2. Their actions were determined by their physical desires.
      3. They were obsessed with sexual indulgence.
      4. And this was the impact on their lives:
        1. Their existence was guided by depraved thinking.
        2. Their depraved thinking expressed itself in greed, murder, deceit, hate, slander, arrogance, and their disobedience to parents.
        3. Such thinking affected them by making them people without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.
    2. When Paul wrote the letter we call Ephesians, he reminded those Christians they were that kind of people prior to coming to Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1-3).
    3. What was "wrong" with people like this?
      1. They would say quickly nothing was wrong with them.
      2. They would say something was wrong with people who were not like them.
      3. The question: why did those people live as they did?
        1. Why were they capable of such awful behavior?
        2. Why did they place a high value on things and no value on people?
        3. Why were they ruled by the moment's desire with total disregard for the future?
        4. The basic reason: they were a people without values.

  2. Many people, both religious and nonreligious, ask, "What is happening in our society?"
    1. We are rapidly becoming a people without values.
      1. When we become a people who are self-centered and selfish,
      2. When possessing things is more important than kindness to people,
      3. When our standard of living is more important than our relationships,
      4. When our personal pleasure is more important than our personal commitments,
      5. When "I" am "my" most important consideration in everything,
      6. We are a people without values.
    2. Only people with values treat everyone with respect, mercy, and compassion.
      1. The New Testament has many examples, but allow me to share just one.
        1. The one I share reflects a common theme in the New Testament letters written to congregations, groups, or individuals.
        2. Some form of this illustration exists in many of those letters.
      2. I call your attention to Ephesians 4:25-32.
        1. Do not lie to anyone.
        2. When your angry is stirred, let it pass quickly.
        3. Stop stealing, go to work, and help people who are in need.
        4. Use your words to encourage people; never use your words to hurt people.
        5. Let God's Spirit live in you without opposition; do not grieve God's Spirit.
        6. Replace your negative, hateful emotions with kindness and forgiveness.
        7. Allow God to be the foundation of your values.
    3. Statements like these give us a valuable insight into the primary objectives of Christian behavior in the first century.
      1. The objective for people with values in first century (Jewish people, or converts to Judaism, or the people who were not converts but who attended the assemblies of the Jewish synagogue): allow Jesus Christ's teachings to provide you a higher value system than exists in Jewish law.
      2. The objective for people who had values based in a system of idolatry: allow Jesus Christ's teachings to provide you a superior value system.
      3. The objective for people who belonged to a system of philosophy that was not based on the living God: allow Jesus Christ's teachings to provide you a system that is based on eternal principles.
      4. The objective for people who had no values: allow Jesus Christ's teachings to create the values which will give your life a foundation.
    4. Positive changes occurred in the world when values changed.
      1. When conduct is based on godly values, the person's behavior changes.
      2. When people's behavior changes, societies change.
      3. When social orders within a nation change, the nation changes.
      4. But it begins with godly values becoming personal values.

  3. It is not difficult to see that changing values changes the direction of society and the nation.
    1. For forty years the American nation has been changing its values.
      1. Those of us who were adults throughout this time period witnessed it.
        1. We remember when the value system said unmarried people must not be sexually active.
        2. We remember when the value system said married people were not sexually active outside of their marriages.
        3. We remember when the value system said that you honored your commitments.
        4. We remember when the value system said accept responsibility for your actions.
        5. We remember when the value system said keep your word and be honest in business.
        6. We remember when the value system said that people always were more important than things.
      2. We remember when the value system was based on God and Jesus Christ's teachings.
    2. Was that a perfect world? No.
      1. Did murders and crimes happen? Yes.
      2. Did some people do ungodly things? Yes.
      3. Most of today's problems existed in some form then.
      4. Then what is the difference?
        1. When problems occurred those people were out of step with society.
        2. When problems occurred it was commonly understood that it was an issue of values.

  4. We Christians as the church share a significant part of the blame for today's conditions.
    1. We failed to trust the values enough to live by them and share them; that caused others to reject those values.
      1. Too often we did not inspire respect and appreciation.
      2. Too often we created and emphasized values that Jesus did not teach.
      3. Too often we used our values to judge people, not to direct our lives.
    2. May I make two observations:
      1. Observation one: if Christians do not trust God's values enough to live by them, we condemn our children and grandchildren to a life in a nation that is depraved beyond imagination.
      2. Observation two: if our children do not see those values functioning in our daily lives, our children may never see those values function.

Each time you read about or see the report of some horrible thing done by people, ask yourself two simple questions: what were the values? What was the foundation of those values?

As a whole, the American society has been moving away from godly values for forty years. We are not going to "fix" anything in a short time with a simple decision. We desperately need to restore godly values. The issue is not when will society begin that restoration. The question is when will you begin that restoration?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 4 June 2000

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