Corrupt Culture

Scriptures: Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21

Today is a tough sermon – tough to preach, tough to hear. We’ll be working from Psalm 14. We’ll talk about culture today, and some of its issues and why.

I’m going to start out with some facts. I realize that we can’t see numbers. It’s tough to picture numbers. So I ask you to listen carefully. I’ll go fairly slowly. These are some well-reported, recent (2016 – 2017) things about the United States.

Out-of-wedlock births exist among all major social groups. The national average is 40% of births that are out-of-wedlock. In some particular demographics it’s even higher, but that’s the average for the U.S.

They note that for marriages, about 41 to 43% of first marriages end in divorce today. It’s biggest among baby boomers and those who grew up during that time. It is similarly high in many of the developed nations.

As you go to second marriages and third marriages, it gets higher, I believe because once you’ve broken the commitment once, whether they did it or you did it, it’s easier to do it a second time.

There’s a wonderful illustration for a youth group, about abstinence before marriage, but it could work for commitment in marriage today. The youth leader called up a strapping young man, who had some nice hair on his arms, and he said, “I want you to think about dating and intimacy and how you get intimate and have commitment to one another.”

He said, “When you do that, it’s kind of like this,” and he put a piece of duct tape on the guy’s arm. Then he said, “Now, being teenagers, you discover that after having made these kinds of commitments and given of yourself in such an intimate fashion, that it’s just not going to work out for you. So you break up.” And he tore the duct tape off.

The young man said, “OW!!!” – which I suppose is to be expected when you put duct tape on your arm and you rip it off. The leader said, “So you get together with a second person and you form a relationship with them,” and he put the duct tape back on in the same spot.

He said, “You get intimate, and you do the high school kind of things that occur, with hormones and stuff, and then you get mad at each other and you decide to break up.” He tore it off again. And the guy said, “Ow!”

He said, “You form a third relationship and you get intimate with that one. But you know you’re a senior and you’re going to be going to college, so you decide it would be better if you break it off rather than try to keep a long-distance relationship going.” He took it off again. This time the man just kind of looked at his arm.

He said, “So by the time you get into college, when you try to form an intimate relationship there, you discover something.” He put the duct tape on the young man’s arm, and it fell off. It didn’t stick. The adhesive was all gone. Some of it was on his skin, and there was hair on the duct tape. So it didn’t stick. He said, “Each time you do that, it gets easier and easier to tear it off, and it sticks less and less.

Unfortunately, as I noted, roughly fifty percent of marriages in America end in divorce. And we as evangelicals have nothing to brag about. We’re better than the 41-43% of first marriages in the general population – we only divorce 31% of the time. One third of all marriages in the church, by people who call themselves evangelicals by the Barna Group definition, end in divorce.

We have gangs that we hear about in the news. About 1.4 million people were part of gangs in 2011. There are more than 33,000 known gangs active in the United States.

As marriage rates have fallen, the number of U.S. adults in cohabitating relationships has continued to climb. It’s up 29% since 2007. Roughly half of cohabitors, those living with an unmarried partner, are younger than 35, which is kind of what you’d expect with the millennials.

But surprisingly enough, an increasing number of Americans ages 50 and older are also in cohabiting relationships. In fact, the numbers of 50 and older cohabitating, in two years, have jumped 23%.

I don’t need to talk about drug overdoses and the drug problems here. Suicides – in 2016 there were roughly 45,000 suicides, which was up from 43,000 in 2014, according to the CDC. In between 1999 and 2014, it increased 24%.

Yet with this increase in suicides, you have TV series like 13 Reasons Why having its second – yes, second – season. It is apparently popular to watch.

Euthanasia is illegal in most of the United States, but I was shocked when I looked to see where assisted suicide is legal, how many states it is in: Washington, D.C. and the states of California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Hawaii, and Washington state. And it’s currently under debate in Montana.

Euthanasia is not just assisted suicide. It can also be where a family decides, if they have somebody who’s in a coma, but can still breathe on their own – doesn’t have to have a ventilator and such, that they want to let that person die peacefully. So they stop feeding them. (That’s different from when you pull the plug on somebody that can’t breathe on their own. I had to go through that myself with my dad, after his accident.)

People who are depressed, people who have terminal illnesses, deciding that it’s time to end their life, and they want to get help from a doctor.

I believe that all of these trends have their roots in the same cause, which is described in Psalm 14. I want to say, first of all, that there were really no atheists in the time of the psalmist. The sacred and the secular were joined together still. The presence of God (or gods) was much more immediate to people. So even though a lot of preachers like to talk about atheism and being foolish (which it is), it was more than that.

In fact, the Hebrew word ayin is, according to Strong’s Concordance, and for those of you that are English teachers and such, a “substantive, particle of negation.” I’m not sure what that means. But it does mean, apparently, “no, nought, nothing” and about 32 other things dealing with negatives in the Bible.

So I would suggest that perhaps a better translation of verse 1 is “The fool has said in his heart, ‘No, God.’” Or “Negative, God.” That no, ayin, like a lot of Hebrew, can be read in multiple ways. The fool could be saying no to God. The fool could be saying “no god for me,” as in God isn’t present, God isn’t needed, or God doesn’t count. Or it could be the traditional interpretation of “God doesn’t even exist.”

I like to say the Bible is as relevant today as it was when it was written, because human nature hasn’t really changed. If we look at culture, we can certainly see that today. No matter what the “advances” some in society claim have been made, the fools in it show the same attitude toward God as the psalmist describes. They don’t want God. They think they don’t need God.

This word fool – the Hebrew for that is nabal – means a moral problem in the heart, not a mental problem in the head. They’re not idiots. The American evangelist Billy Sunday used to say that “Sinners can’t find God for the same reason criminals can’t find a policeman. They aren’t looking.”

A lot of people look at God in this way, particularly those that have left the church. A woman’s husband had been slipping in and out of a coma for several months, yet she had stayed by his bedside every single day.

One day when he came to, he motioned for her to come nearer. As she sat by him, he whispered, eyes full of tears. “You know what? You have been with me through all the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started to fail, you were still by my side. You know what?”

“What, dear?” she gently asked, smiling as her heart began to fill with hope. “I think you’re bad luck. You should get away from me.”

That is the fool’s attitude toward God. Man is a food because he thinks there’s no need for God, or he thinks that God being with him is a cause of those things that are rough in his life. Nobody in society today – and I would include in the church – wants to take responsibility.

How many times have you heard “it’s genetics, I can’t help it”? “It was my upbringing, I can’t help it.” “It was society’s institutional oppression that got me going that way.” The Menendez brothers, in New Jersey – I lived in New Jersey during their trial. They killed their parents, and said it was because they had been abused, and weren’t responsible for what they did, even though they were 16 and 18.

People want to shun God, or the concept of God, because that means there’s someone that can hold them accountable. But we can’t sit in the circle here of our church family and look down on the world, and say, “What do you expect of those people out there?” Because frankly, even in the church, we often shun God.

Scores of us are foolish enough, rash enough, to act as though God did not exist, practically speaking. We fools have said in our heart, “Oh come on, I agree there must be a God, but practically speaking He doesn’t matter, not really.” The fool in his heart has said, “No, God.”

We come in here, we hear the Word, we listen, we might even feel good about ourselves. Then we go out, and we pay no attention to what God has commanded and called us to do.

In Bible study on Wednesday, they had a big discussion coming out of the Scots Confession, talking about the Ten Commandments. The first four of the ten are about our relationship with God, the next six are our relationship with people in a way that honors God, because that’s the way God would treat people. And we don’t bother to do that.

Some people out there, even within the church, aren’t sure there is a God, and they are therefore willing to think there is none, because it’s safer. “No man will say ‘There is no God’ till he is so hardened in sin that it has become his interest that there should be none to call him to an account.” (Matthew Henry)

And we do it with a straight face. I’ve said before about the sin nature in children. Anybody who doesn’t believe in original sin has never had children. I won’t go through all that and Genesis 3 today, but I’m sure that you can remember it.

But I did see a notation in my research this week that reminded me of that. It reminds me of what the scientist and philosopher Aldous Huxley said about his little grandson. “Isn’t it something, the way he looks you straight in the face and disobeys you?”

“You can’t eat that cookie.” “OK” [looks up and nods as though responding to a parent, then mimes sticking a cookie in his mouth]. “Don’t draw on that wall.” “OK” [pretends to draw].

We do that with God. We look Him straight in the face, saying “We believe in you, we believe in our need for you,” but then we disobey Him. Every time that we make a decision, and we could pray about it, we should. If we just barge ahead as though God were not there, we have become the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God.”

And I have to say, I’m one of those people. I tend to barge ahead. I’m impulsive. That’s why I’m so grateful that I married the person that I did. I give her some spontaneity. She gives me some continuity.

Every time we face some moral dilemma, some temptation, and, though we know what God’s will is, we just look past that and see only what we want to see, we have again played the fool, saying at the core of his being that God doesn’t count.

Walking around with blinders on [holds up hands like blinders]. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. We shouldn’t speak any evil, but we shouldn’t have blinders on either.

Every time I interfere in someone else’s life and try to play God, every time I try to compromise the holy freedom which the Father has given every other human being, I have in effect become the impudent fool who in everything he does proclaims, “I can get along well enough without God” or even worse, “I’m as good as God.”

When we manipulate people, we interfere with them. I’m not talking about an intervention in an addiction and things like that where it’s necessary. But there are times when we want people to do what we want them to do, and so we take steps. Sometimes directly, sometimes through a third person – it’s called triangulation.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Everywhere in the world there is a knowledge that God is. It says it in the book of Romans. It says it in the Psalms. But everywhere there is also an attempt to make end runs around Him, to ignore him, to count him out.

Let me remind you, there is a worldwide and universal remedy to this, to this human predicament. That is Jesus Christ – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we focus on Christ and we make Him first. When we focus on the Word of God and we study it and we learn it so that it is deep in our hearts.

We sang a song in Morning Sun this morning, a kid’s song, for fun – “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart.” How many of you remember that from when you were children? Deep in our hearts, we need to take His Word. Sometimes we tend to make fun of the Baptists about memorization of Scripture.

But in all truth, it’s never a bad thing. You take it in, you memorize it. You take it so deep it’s in your core. You respond to Scripture without even realizing it sometimes. You come up upon a situation or a need. You automatically begin to move in God’s way and God’s love, because you know it so well that God’s Word is written on your heart.

If we keep Christ as our focus, not just in here, not just in Sunday School or Bible study where we talk about it, but how we treat our church family here, and even more so when we go out into the community at large. That means reflecting the love of God in its fullness – compassion, care, love.

It can also mean asking the Holy Spirit to help us convince sinners of the evil and danger of the way they are in, however secure they are in that way, to show him three things they are not willing to see—their wickedness, their folly, and their danger, since they are apt to believe themselves very wise, good, and safe.

After all, it is a truism but it is nevertheless true – you can always find somebody worse than you, at least in your own mind. Somebody who acts worse, somebody who’s worse off, somebody who’s just not as mature as you are, anything – you can always find somebody worse. But that’s not the point. The point is to be used by the Holy Spirit.

Let the Holy Spirit move him and convict him. Let the Holy Spirit move and convict us, so that we stay connected with God. That’s what reconciliation is all about, that relationship with God. It takes work. It takes practice. It takes effort. Holding each other accountable, so that we don’t fall into the same kind of statistics that are so prevalent today.

And I ask you to remind yourself, don’t say “I could never do that.” Because you don’t know, until you’ve lived that situation that that other person is in, and you have not done that. Until you’ve known the desperation of an addict.

Until you’ve known the fear of someone who’s been abused as a child and has inappropriate relationships because that’s all he knows. Someone who has been through the pain of divorce as a child and doesn’t want to get married because they don’t want to put their children through the same thing that they went through.

Love them. Show them the way that is right and good. Stay by their side, to lift them up, calling them to account, and being the kind of person, that disciple that God wants each one of us to be. And in the end, they will give Him praise for His love, reflected through you. And that’s something that you can always be joyful about.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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