There was a time when the sense of "community" and the sense of "family" were powerful. In this time, it was not unusual for a person to allow each of these to affect his/her behavior. The bond with one's community or the bond with one's family was more powerful than selfishness. Thus a person might restrict his or her personal behavior because he or she did not wish to reflect poorly on the community or on one's family. The primary issue was not, "What would I like to do?" but was, "How will this affect people who are important to me?" Was that not one of the major points of Jimmy Stewart's classic movie, "A Wonderful Life."
In our society, there has been a significant shift. This shift occurred for many reasons, not just one. One prominent influence in this shift has been [and is] a shift in what is important to us. Self has emerged as the most important consideration in many people's thinking. With the emergence of self there has been a corresponding loss in the sense of community or the sense of extended (and too often immediate) family.
One illustration. In many past generations, most people lived quite close to their place of birth. It took a major emergency to motivate people "to leave home." For many who left, the "other place" was viewed as a "temporary" situation that existed only to take care of the emergency. There was only one geographical place that was "home," and the common plan and intent was to return "home."
Today, people live in many places. They all are "home" because "home" is where you live. I, myself, have lived in seven places that were "home" at the time I lived there. The "community" I was in was "my" community. I had no intention of leaving and no plan to return anywhere. When I took a trip, I was always glad to get back "home."
Today I know a number of people who commute long distances in their jobs. "Home" is not where their job is. "Home" is where their immediate family resides. Because of job demands, they often move significant distances. The job may dictate a move, but job never defines "home." "Home" is defined by where the immediate family is. When the job demands a move, rarely is there any intent to go back. Rarely is there any intent eventually to return to one's area of birth unless some emergency demands a return.
In our mobile society and loss of roots, we pay significant prices. (1) Selfishness continues to escalate. (2) Our sense of community has been lost. (3) Our sense of family is quite restricted and very fragile. (4) Our basic past concepts have changed radically.
In none of this am I implying that the past was perfect and situations were not abused.
First, I want to suggest that the church of today suffers enormously because of these shifts.
One adverse effect: some are convinced that we as a church would solve all our problems if we would just return to the past.
In the first place, that is not possible.
We, and most everyone around us, live in the now, not in the past--if we are to reach others we have to function in the now or they cannot relate to us or to the message we share with them.
The only way to retreat to the past would be to build walls around us and be preoccupied with defending ourselves.
We would have to deny our identity and our mission to retreat to the past.
Jesus wants us to be light and salt in an existence filled with darkness and ignorance of God.
Matthew 5:13-16, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
Jesus prayed this about the 12 and us the last night of his earthly life.
John 17:14-20, "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word ..."
We cannot live for ourselves and be the spiritual influence Jesus wants us to be by retreating to the past.
A second adverse effect: Often younger adults do not feel the commitment to the Christian community that older adults feel.
It is always difficult to make this point without offending Christians who have no reason to be offended.
I am deeply grateful for and encourage all the people in this congregation of all ages who are active in or involved in our many activities here.
A number of the young adults invest major time and major energy to make many of our activities possible.
However, too many look at the congregation in the same way people look at an institution or a civic club.
Often we look at institutions and clubs in this way: "I am glad it is here; I like to use it; my basic question is how it can benefit me?"
The congregation is a community of Christians, a family of people who recognize God as the Father and Jesus Christ as the older brother.
Christians do not look at a congregation as "existing for my benefit" but as "existing for my involvement."
As the concepts in society of community and family diminish, congregations suffer.
Often I hear people say, "Who is going to fix the meals? Who is going to visit the suffering? Who is going to give and attend the showers? Who is going to teach? Who is going to provide leadership? Who is going to organize things?"
Good things do not just happen.
When good things happen, several "someones" work hard and give time.
Adverse effect three: Christians are changing the concepts on which a congregation is built in fundamental ways.
We live in a consumer society.
If we do not like the way you do business, we will not do business with you.
If we do not like the way you provide service, we will not let you serve us.
If we do not like the product you produce, we will not buy your product.
Too often we make the congregation a consumer institution.
Come hear our preacher; he is good!
Come to our youth program; it is wonderful!
Come to our Care Groups or Life Groups; they will be concerned about your needs!
Come to our programs; they cannot be beat!
So people come until they get a better deal offered to them or their family.
Congregations contribute to the problem when they compete with other congregations on a consumer basis.
People who follow God in every age have the faith of commitment combined with the courage to face adversity.
I want you to consider (briefly) three Old Testament men you likely know: Abraham, Moses, and David.
If you know these men, you likely think highly of them.
You probably assume everyone in their day thought highly of them.
God said in Genesis 12:1-3,
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
If you think that is a "no brainer" covenant, you need to consider it closely.
Would you leave the known for the unknown? It is considered crazy now; it was considered more crazy then.
Would you dream of your descendants becoming a great nation if you were 75 and had no children?
Would you leave the only security you had (the security of an extended family) on the basis of promises from a God your family did not know?
Would you dream of blessing every person who lived in the future when you were 75 and childless?
In Abraham's day what Abraham did was considered stupid.
If you did the same thing Abraham did, most people who know you today would consider you stupid.
Moses had it made!
He was born a slave.
He grew up as royalty.
All he needed to do was sit pat, and he was a rich man who belonged in the highest circles of the greatest nation on earth.
Moses risked everything to help his people.
His people did not appreciate his effort.
He was fortunate to escape with his life.
He lived in exile as a shepherd in the remotest place he could find.
When God asked him to return to Egypt, he was extremely reluctant to go.
His former royal family wanted him dead.
His people did not appreciate him.
He would have to abandon the security of his exile.
He finally went because God was persistent.
Even after he went, he lived a hard, lonely life in a wilderness with a mass of griping people.
Would you call that a wise choice?
He helped King Saul in wonderful ways: killing Goliath when no one else would face the huge man; playing music to the king when the king became depressed; fighting the king's enemies--the Philistines; making the king's rule more secure.
His payment was the king's distrust and jealousy.
The king took his wife.
The king forced him to live as a fugitive.
The king chased him so hard the he forced David to turn to the Philistines.
The king forced David to relocate his parents in Moab (1 Kings 22:3).
Twice David could have killed King Saul and refused to do so.
Never was King Saul in any danger because of David.
In this period of David's life, would you consider him a wise man?
Following God in any age has never been popular. Having the courage to do God's will has seemed an act of stupidity in every age. Such is seen as wise only by people who know God.
Godly behavior has never been accepted nor popular. It will not be today.