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The Future is Here
May 18, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


A new teacher giving his first true/false test noticed in the back of the room, a student flipping a coin. He went back and asked him, “What are you doing?” He said, “I'm getting the answers. Heads means true and tails means false.” The teacher went back, shaking his head. As he was collecting the papers at  the end of the hour, the student was again furiously flipping the coin. He asked, “Now, what are you doing?” He said, “I'm checking my answers.” Sometimes life is like that. We think it would be just as sensible and just as profitable to flip a coin to decide what to do and how to do it. 

But Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, in his new book, The Third Wave disagrees with that random approach to life. He sees a great deal of sense in what is happening today. I mentioned his book a few weeks ago, in which he makes the case that we are living today in a time of great transition. An old civilization is crumbling around us and a new civilization is emerging. This makes a lot of sense and meaning in what is happening to us today. He writes, “A new civilization is emerging in our lives. The dawn of this new civilization is the single most explosive fact of our lifetime. It is an event as profound as that First Wave of change unleashed 10,000 years ago by the invention of agriculture, or the earthshaking Second Wave of change touched off by the Industrial Revolution. We are the children of the next transforming action, the Third Wave.” He says family styles, family life, jobs, ways of working, economy, the political system, everything is changing around us. He says, “Value systems splinter and crash while the lifeboats of family, church and state are hurled madly about.” 

Doesn't that sound familiar? Church, family, state are tossed madly about. This is happening today. Perhaps another title for his book might be The Future is Here. It's right in our midst, and it's causing a tremendous amount of upheaval, a tremendous amount of unrest and chaos. That’s the kind of world  in which we come together today. We gather here as victims of what's happening. None of us can escape, all of us are affected by what's happening. We are being hurled, tossed about, sometimes overwhelmed. We come apart and gather together as people who are trying to understand what's happening. We come with tremendous amounts of concern, anxiety and worries. We come concerned about our children. Some of you are very concerned about your children, or your aging parents, or your job, or your marriage, your family, or your health. We come today with a tremendous amount of anxiety and concern in this chaotic age. 

But, we also come together as the church. We come together as God's people. We come not just as individuals, but as Christ's body, together making up Christ's body. We have been created and called to God's task and to God's purpose. Our scripture lesson from Ephesians, which contained Paul's prayer for the church at Ephesus, is tremendously significant and relevant to us. Paul prayed for three things. Look upon his prayer as for you individually, and look upon his prayer for us as a church. The first thing Paul prayed, 1:16-17, “I remember you in my prayers and ask the God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you the spirit who will make you wise and reveal God to you, so that you will know him more and more fully.” Paul's prayer is that we may grow in the understanding and the experience of God through the Holy Spirit. In these unsettling times in which we live, in these chaotic times where what we believed in is changing, and as our value systems crumble around us, here is a golden opportunity to get closer to God, for God is moving in our midst. Because things are crumbling, we have an opportunity to know God like we've never known God before. We have an opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit in our lives like we've never experienced the Holy Spirit before. 

Rather than being afraid and tossed about, ask God to come. Have you ever asked for the Holy Spirit? Have you ever admitted your powerlessness and your helplessness in the face of life and said to God, “I am overwhelmed and I relinquish control over my ideas, over what I think. I relinquish control over what I have built my life upon which is now changing. I relinquish control, and I give it to you, I commit it to you. I ask the Holy Spirit to come into my life.” Have you ever prayed that prayer? Now is a golden opportunity to experience and to grow deeper. If you're not growing, you are dying. There's no standing still. If God is not closer to you today than God has ever been before, he's further away. There's no such thing as standing still. Paul prayed they may receive the Holy Spirit. We're living in the kind of times where that prayer is very real and relevant. May we as a church be open to God and the Holy Spirit, rather than to our traditions, rather than to our practices. May we be open to God. 

The second thing Paul prayed for was hope. Verse 18, “I ask that your minds may be open to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you.” How rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people! He prayed for hope. And we have hope that what is happening today is in the will of God. We have hope that what is happening today has the possibilities of being influenced for the glory of God. We have hope that God is actually working out his purpose in society and in your life today. That is our hope. How rich are the wonderful blessings that are promised! We have hope that the world is not headed for destruction, but to the fulfillment of God's glorious purpose. 

Paul says that God has a plan. In the previous paragraph, 1:8-14, Paul emphasizes that God has a plan. He says all things are done according to God's plan. The plan which God will complete when the time is right is to bring all creation together. That's the hope  and that's the goal—that all creation will come back to God. Unity is the goal. All things will be united in Christ. All families will come together, all marriages will come together. Our individual lives will come together. The church will come together. Nations will come together. Races will come together, classes will come together in God's purpose, in God's kingdom. That's the hope. That's to which everything is moving. God is in the midst of everything working to bring about his plan. 

And the chief instrument by which God is achieving his purpose  is the church. Paul goes on in Ephesians and says the church is Christ's body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere. The church is God's instrument. The church is Christ body bringing about God's purposes. What a fantastic idea! I heard this last week of a United Methodist Church in which the Wesleyan Service Guild and the Women's Society of Christian Service are still struggling. After all these years of the United Methodist Women they still can't come together. There’s still hostility and distrust between them in the same church. Now, isn't that a lot of ground for hope for the world? 

Well, don't despair when you look at the church and see the situation that many are in. Don’t despair, for that's our hope. The promise is that God is going to unite. God is going to reconcile. God is going to redeem and save all creation—all that he's made—and the church is the instrument by which that happens. That's our purpose. That's our task. That's our reason for being. Paul prayed that they might understand God more fully, and experience God more deeply. May we sense that hope. 

And then thirdly, Paul prayed for power in 1:19-20.  “How very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death.” Do you believe in Easter? Do you believe God raised Christ from the dead? If so, that same power is available to you, to me, to our church, to the world. God’s power is here. God’s power can sustain you. You do not have to live by rebounding from all the crises, you do not have to live like a ping pong ball with life the paddle, back and forth, and you go wherever it lands. You don't have to. Because you can use that as an occasion to know God more deeply. You can use that as an occasion to let the Holy Spirit move. You can use that as an occasion to get clear the hope and sense of direction. The power is there to sustain and strengthen. Because Christ overcame all the enemies, all the enemies that hung him on the cross, all the spiritual forces of darkness that hung him on the cross, Christ defeated them. They are forever subjected. Any enemies, any chaos, any crisis in your life Christ has conquered. The power is here. 

As a church, may we seek God's power and rely more heavily on God's power. As we today struggle together, we are the church in conflict and in struggle, and in discovery of God's will. And that's what it's all about. As we struggle together, as we work together, as we pray together, may we rely on God's leadership, God's guidance, God's Holy Spirit. These are great times in which to be alive. And these are great times in which to be the church. This is a great day for the church. 

Alan Walker, an evangelist from Australia who is now chairman of the World Evangelism Council of the Methodist Church, has written a book called How They Grow. He looked at 12 Methodist churches around the world that are growing and not declining like most Methodist churches, churches that are on the move and have discovered God's power. He's analyzed each of them. A couple in the United States are interesting, especially ones like us. He calls the Frazer Church in Montgomery, Alabama as one of the most exciting United Methodist churches in the United States. In 1968, they were forced to move because a freeway went through their property. The hierarchy of the church told them, “Why don't you just close and go to other churches?” They said, “By no means.” So they moved and built. In 1968 they had 422 members. In 1978 they had 1800 members—from 400 to 1800 in ten years, and they're still growing with a tremendous sense of power and dynamo. Walker surveyed this church to get some clues as to what had happened. 

He found four reasons why this church was growing. The first reason was the worship service—the preaching and the music. And the music had priority over the preaching. They surveyed the people and asked, “What attracted you to this church?” The answer usually was the music, the choirs, the groups, the singing was glorious. 

The second reason was they studied. The Sunday school is growing by 25% every year. They have weeknight classes, Bible classes for all different ages and people. 

The third reason was the fellowship. As they surveyed the congregation, they repeatedly heard statements like, “It's such a friendly place. I feel so welcome. People talk to me, people smile at me. People want me, I feel accepted. I feel loved. Even with 2,000 members, I feel accepted and loved.” 

And the fourth reason was the outreach. The church has a strong lay visitation program. The members of the church take it upon themselves to invite people in their neighborhood and their family and their friends. They found in the survey that there are several neighborhoods in that community where a high percentage of the neighborhood belong to the church—people inviting their neighbors. More people were won over a cup of coffee. 

Try it. “Come on over for coffee.” In the course of the conversation ask, “Do you have a church?” It's so simple. Just ask your neighbors, “Do you have a church?” If they say yes, that's fine, enjoy your coffee. If they say no, invite them, tell them about our church.

Paul prayed and his prayer is relevant today. Don't give in to what's happening. Don't be victims of what's happening. Don't be frightened of the depression and the war or everything else that people are telling us is going to happen. But use it as an occasion to let the Holy Spirit in your life and to get clear the hope, the sense of direction. Rely and trust in the power of God.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris