Summary: A changed heart doesn’t guarantee that you will change the world.

If you’re like me you’ve been keeping up with the federal government’s attempt to bailout failing housing and financial markets this week. I found an article from Reuters in which the blame for this economic slump has been traced to a decline in Christian influence in our nation.

DALLAS (Reuters) - Conservative U.S. Christians say the culture has gone to hell and it has taken the economy and Wall Street down with it. It is a view which outsiders may find puzzling but has wide resonance in the U.S. heartland: the notion that moral decay and a lost sense of responsibility has brought on the worst banking and credit crisis since the Great Depression.

Such a view helps explain the unpopularity in conservative Christian circles … of a $700 billion bailout plan which the U.S. House of Representatives rejected on Monday, rocking financial markets. Mounting consumer and household debt as housing prices fall is one of the main reasons behind the current crisis -- a crisis that religious conservatives say has moral roots.

The narrative goes roughly like this: the "collapse" of the traditional family, widespread divorce and a "permissive" culture have led to a disregard for personal responsibility. A culture focused on instant gratification -- through the overuse of credit cards to buy consumer goods, for example -- has also lost other "traditional values" such as thrift and hard work.

"You can’t have a strong, vibrant society when you don’t have strong, vibrant families. It’s a crisis of commitment, it’s a crisis of responsibility," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobby group with strong evangelical ties. "If you don’t live up to your responsibility you are going to see that in the broader culture. You see this on Wall Street," he told Reuters.

It is a view that has been echoed by other conservative commentators, on Christian radio stations and on popular "Talk Radio" programs. "To spend more than you’ve got is not the way we brought up our kids ... You have a whole credit industry that grew up around people wanting what their parents had without working 20 years to get it," said Gary Ledbetter, spokesman for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

"Although debt is not a sin, it also is not a normal way of life, according to Scripture ... debt is a dangerous tool that must be used, if at all, with extreme caution and much prayer," says the conservative evangelical advocacy group "Focus on the Family" on its web site.

“Evangelicals see moral decline in Wall St. woes” by Ed Stoddard,, 10/1/2008

I wholeheartedly agree with the Christians who were interviewed for the article. Biblical values, if accepted by a society, would lead to a prospering economy. There is one glaring insight missing from the story. Why do Christians have so little impact in our country today? It seems as if we’ve lost our ability to influence. It’s as if our light is hidden under a bushel. We’re the salt of the earth, but it appears that the salt has lost its flavor and is instead trampled underfoot. Jesus calls His people to impact the culture where they’re placed, yet we certainly seem impotent to make even the slightest change in our current situation.

How did we get here? The answer to that question would probably take longer than a 20 minute sermon. Rather than concentrate on what went wrong, I want to focus on what we can do right so that we can improve our influence and lead our families, community, and nation toward positive change.

In the Genesis story we read a few minutes ago there is a stark contrast between two men. On the one hand there’s Abraham, who impacted the world for generations to come for God, and on the other there’s Lot, whose influence was so completely impotent that he couldn’t lead his own family or much less his city to the Lord. The differences we see between these two men are instructive because from them we can understand why some people and churches influence their society while other are influenced by it.

Don’t make the mistake of concluding that Abraham was a believer and Lot wasn’t. Both men were considered righteous by God. Both were what we might today consider to be saved. I would have never concluded Lot as a godly man had it not been for two verses from 2 Peter:

… He rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)… 2 Peter 2:7, 8 (NIV)

Lot was a spiritually impotent man despite his righteousness. He failed his family, his city, and ultimately his descendants. The Moabites and Ammonites, his offspring through incest, both attacked Israel on their journey to the Promised Land and tempted them to engage in idolatry. Although he was a man of God, in the loosest sense of the term, Lot’s life for God was a dismal failure. A changed heart doesn’t guarantee that you will change the world.

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