The last Sunday night of the year is a good time to reflect on the year past and to commit ourselves to the future. We have no need to remind ourselves of God's blessing in the past year. It has been a year of successful development for Wesley Mission. We have served more people in need, reached more people with the Gospel, seen our staff numbers exceed 2000, opened additional centres of care, received record income, were given the largest single gift ever received by any charity in Australian history, and ended with year with our "Australian Christmas at Darling Harbour" not only telecast nationally but also to the UK, South Africa and the USA. It has been a very good year.
God's goodness in the past gives us confidence as we face the future. We do need to remind ourselves of our commitment to the future, of our key commitments and our willingness to work for God in hope. Not many people look to the future with that kind of confidence. Bishop Leslie Newbigin, in his latest book, says that many ordinary people despair about the future: "Technology forges ahead with more and more brilliant achievements, but the novels, drama and literature of the west are full of nihilism and despair".
The American social researcher George Barna has written "THE FROG IN THE KETTLE" (Regal Books, 1990). It is subtitled "What Christians Need to Know About Life in the Year 2000". The 1990s have brought significant changes in values, beliefs, life-styles and opportunities. The book title concerns a frog which had hopped into a kettle which was switched on. It grew warmer but did not hop out.
The frog was not aware of its environment hotting-up until it got cooked. Barna warns Christians to be more aware than that. Barna believes that the only constant thing is change. Some of these changes include that belief that people are becoming more selfish and more materialistic. He believes time is replacing money as our currency of choice; that more varieties of pop religion will emerge, and that loyalty to the institutional church is on the wane. Materialism is in, commitment is out.
He believes people who come to church now want personal convenience, including child-minding, parking, and care for the elderly and the disabled. The effective church of the year 2000 will be technologically astute. George Barna believes in the next few years to the year 2000, we will continue to see family and marriage norms change. Divorce and multiple marriages will be more commonplace; loneliness will be more widespread. He says "By 2000 people will generally believe that a life spent with the same partner is both unusual and unnecessary." Multi-generational households will increase. So the church will need to model commitment to marriage vows and family life, and provide avenues for the lonely to meet each other.
Leisure is becoming a more treasured resource, so churches must adapt extra-curricular programs to focus on "value-added events". The challenge for the church is to expand people's concept of Christianity as a life-style and a purpose rather than simply a 'theology'. The middle-class will continue to shrink, resulting in an economically polarised society of haves and have-nots. A few people will have much more and larger numbers will have less.
More and more adults are being re-trained, going back to college to earn a degree or certificate. Ministries will also need to refocus on the changing needs of an increasing number of older adults. By 2010, one out of four senior citizens will also have children who will be senior citizens also!
Barna concludes the book with ten imperatives for a church like ours. He says we must seek to: win people to Christ, raise Bible knowledge, equip the Christian body, establish Christian community, renew Christian behaviour, enhance the image of the local church, champion Christian morals, live by a Christian philosophy of life, restore people's self-esteem, and focus on reaching the world for Christ. His book, in short, is about serving Christ better by being smarter! Much of what he has predicted, we have discussed in our four days every year spent in planning at Vision Valley and in deciding how we as a church will respond. George Barna has told us nothing new, but has made us re-focus for next year. Based on our experience of God in the past, we can trust Him, for the year to come. We sing:
"O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come."
What do you think you need to list as your Christian priorities in committing your future? Many people would suggest regular worship, a willing to share their faith with others, a willingness to speak out bravely in witness to their faith, a determination to grow in Christian knowledge and character, a desire to spend more time in prayer and devotion, and so on. I am always inspired by such New Year resolutions among Christians. As a church I would suggest four commitments in our future together.
1. WE ARE COMMITTED TO WORSHIP GOD. The chief end of man is to worship and glorify God. That remains our primary commitment. So many people are neglecting the habit of regularly worshipping God these days. We call you to make worship a priority in the New Year. Be regular in your worship.
Where churches neglect the worshipping heart their ministry fails. Once great churches today have little ministry, because they let their worshipping congregations die. Once great missions are only shadows of their former selves, not because the need has lessened or because they could not employ good staff, but because they let their worshipping heart die! Neglect the worship of God and the church or mission dies!
In Manchester the Central Methodist Mission was founded by Samuel Collier in 1885. For twenty-one years Collier preached to the biggest Methodist congregation in the world. The Albert Hall, built in 1910, seated two thousand people. By the time of his death in 1921 Collier was running fourteen centres of work, five thousand members, twelve thousand in the congregations and two thousand volunteers. Today nothing remains! The worshipping heart died and the social services became purposeless welfare. Today we give thanks to God for our worshipping congregations and commit ourselves in the future to worship God.
The wise men Matt 2:10-12 "11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him." Worship of the Christ lies at the heart of a vibrant Christianity. We offer first our hearts in worship.
2. WE ARE COMMITTED TO PROCLAIM THE WORD OF GOD. The basis of all ministry is commitment to proclamation of the Word of God. That is the basis of all our ministry and service. Those who ignore the scriptures condemn themselves to capture by every ideological change and social trend. A strong commitment to the scriptures as the Word of God and a personal encounter with God through Christ is the basis of our faith and salvation.
We call upon Australian churches to proclaim the Word of God, to teach the scriptures, and to call men and women to personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. The reason why we have ministry on television and radio weekly and huge Easter and Christmas events is to proclaim the Word evangelically. One of the greatest preachers of this last two decades has been the American, Dr Fred Craddock. He asks, a little tongue in cheek, why so many people come to church to listen to bad preaching. "Why do people week after week return to hard pews before dull pulpits to hear a man thrash about in a limbo of words relating vaguely to some topic snatched desperately on Saturday night from the minister's own twilight zone? It is because of the nourishment they receive from a subterranean hope: perhaps today there will be a word from God. This is a hope born of faith in a God who makes himself known through words." ("As One Without Authority" Fred B. Craddock, p.24. Abingdon 1971.)
The Christian's hope is uncertain if it is grounded on ego, brash self-confidence, a baseless optimism, other people, or circumstances. Only if you hope in the living God can it be an anchor for your soul in the surging storms of life.
3. WE ARE COMMITTED TO HELPING THE NEEDY. We hold in balance the proclamation of words of truth and the practise of deeds of love. Some Christians are all talk, but we believe these must be balanced by acts of benevolence and social justice.
The Church's older denominations are committed to social justice. The gospel has implications beyond personal salvation. Yet these denominations have largely lost the Gospel of salvation, rarely preach for commitments to Christ, and fail to recognise spiritual gifts. We will not overcome the kingdom of Satan or social injustice simply by using human ingenuity, education or organisation. Sin is at the root of social injustice and you can not overcome sin solely by human effort. This results in tired, worn-out people, overwhelmed by human need and a defeated church.
Jesus taught us to help other people. We can see how that is good for them, but medical science is now seeing it is also good for yourself. Altruism benefits the giver. "American Health" (Mar.88) proclaims "in the body/mind economy the benefits of helping other people flow back to the helper. New research shows that doing good may be good for your heart, your immune system and your overall vitality." Dr James House and colleagues of the Uni. of Michigan have followed 2,700 adults for ten years and found that doing regular volunteer work in the community "more than any other activity, dramatically increased vitality and life expectancy." Men who did no volunteer work were 2 times more likely to die during the study period than men who did volunteer work at least once a week. Doing good for others is good for you.
4. WE ARE COMMITTED TO BEING OPEN TO GOD'S SPIRIT. The experience of the empowering, gifting and leading of the Holy Spirit is the dynamic source of spiritual life and Christian activity. Christian faith is more than a solely intellectual understanding and deeds of charity. The Spirit of God causes people to be healed, fills people with the vibrancy and the expectancy of faith. The Spirit of God enables a deep experience of God and His gifts.
Some Churches have professing members who are like those disciples at Ephesus who, when asked by Paul, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" replied, "No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit" (Acts 19:2). They had heard something about the Holy Spirit, but they did not realise that the Spirit was available for them. Many Christians today are the same. They have heard about the Holy Spirit, but assumed that He was not intended for them. Christianity was a matter of going to church, working hard and trying to do one's best, and believing the existence of God and the historical life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That was all. But God's Holy Spirit is available to guide and equip each of us for effective living.
The last Sunday night of the year is a good time to reflect on the year past and to commit ourselves to the future. God's goodness in the past gives us confidence as we face the future. As a Christian, commit yourself to regular worship, to telling others the good news of the Gospel, to helping others in need, and to being open to the Spirit of God. If you are not a committed Christian, then right now decide to make a commitment to the future, to be willing to work for God in hope.
Return to sermons home page