“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Ephesians 4:29
I’ve been in Los Angeles all week. I go there a few times a year, and each trip shows more indication of moral and societal decline. There was a marked increase this trip in the homeless encamped under the over-passes and openly sleeping on mattresses sometimes hanging out into the streets. Homeless tents were lined up along many sidewalks and inoperable RVs parked in parallel spaces as permanent living quarters. I’ve experienced all this before in Portland, OR and many foreign countries, but seeing the obvious deterioration of Los Angeles hit home on a trip to Walmart.
Mid-way through the week I needed to make a Walmart run for a razor. I went to the toiletries area to buy my usual Walmart generic brand disposable razor and found all the razors behind sliding locked doors. After walking around to find an associate to open the locker it became clear items on nearly every isle were in similar lockers. After finding a store worker, I was told that only managers had access to the lockers, and one would have to be paged. I went back to the razor locker and waited. After a while an associate came and unlocked my generic disposable razor but would not give me the razor. I was told the $8 five-pack of razors could be picked up and purchased at customer service when I finished the rest of my shopping.
What I was facing is the reality of a city over-run with theft. Literally everything that wasn’t locked down was being stolen. This store was not in a “bad” section of town but had hired armed guards at multiple places in the lobby of the store and clearly didn’t even trust its own store associates to not steal from their employer. Walmart is in many ways a gauge for the general state of public society. This visit disturbed me. Where do you go from here? You can’t lock down everything in a store, or you don’t have a store anymore. Only so much can be written-off to theft, and off-set by raising prices before the store is not profitable and must be closed. Reports of such store closures are all over the news for cities like Los Angeles.
This was not an isolated situation. Even the Whole Foods Market I passed through to get a to-go dinner had an armed guard in the check-out area and homeless people wandering the isles pulling bags and suitcases behind them. People around me had clearly grown accustomed to this, like those living in a third-world country slowly declining by imperceptible degrees. At some point you ask yourself, “How did this city become like this, and what does the future hold?” Part of the answer relates to a return to basic law-enforcement principles that have been abandoned by the city at large, but this is not the foundational answer.
It’s obvious that LA is an intensely materialistic, sensual, and non-Christian place. It has descended into an every-man-for-himself place of isolation with more and more private walled-off yards, bars on the windows, locked and guarded lobby areas, and other overt signs of crime and community distrust. We must make the connection between intentionally rejecting Christian ethics and the decline of society. Los Angeles, California is one of the most taxed and government regulated cities in the world, but this has not resulted in it becoming a better place.
There are only two final authority options – God or government. Individuals will choose one or the other. Society will reflect the choices of the people. Those who believe in and submit themselves to the authority of Jesus Christ will experience a growing peace and provision in their lives, resulting in an outward stability in society as people live according to God’s will. Those who reject the gospel and the authority of Jesus over their lives will descend into personal, then societal, chaos and struggle.
The experience of this week relates to the culture of Los Angeles. It’s something that makes me want to leave the city, but it also stirs in me a sense of missional need. As Christians, we know that stealing and selfishness relates to the lost soul. For a person to instead put in an honest day of work, then hold by some to be generous to the poor is a thing of personal Christian virtue. What would it take for this to become an honest, virtuous, and personally generous city? No election can reverse this tide, only the reviving work of the Holy Spirit can convict and then save this city. As Christians, we must pray for cities like this, and develop a missional heart toward the people who live there.
We should not think that our community is immune to these same struggles. I was in Lowe’s last week in Fredericksburg and the associate helping me find a roll of wire was upset that his inventory system showed five rolls in stock, but not a single roll was on the shelf. He said that despite the cable-locks, people will climb the shelves, throw the wire off the upper shelves, and steal the unlocked rolls. We don’t have armed guards and in-store lockers in Fredericksburg yet, but they will be here soon if we don’t pick up our passion for preaching the gospel.
There is a God, the Bible is true, and salvation is only found by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We must not withdraw from the world and put our hope in government. We must speak up about the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. We must tell others about the cross and resurrection. We must never be ashamed of the cross or the ethic of Christ. We must openly associate ourselves with Jesus, raise our children in his ways, commit ourselves to the local church and understand the powerful force for good that Christians together play in our local societies.
May the Lord strengthen us to be salt and light in the world, bringing revival in His time.
I rejoice in the work of Jesus in our midst and pray for the gospel to go forth in power,