Summary: This sermon addressed the state of the church by asking and answering the question: Where do we go from here?


Philippians 3:1-14

September 22, 2002


The United Nations complex sits on sixteen acres of New York City’s choicest real estate, bordering the East River and Manhattan. The lean immense Secretariat building rises into the sky, the sun reflecting off its window walls. Bright flags of the nations of the world fly in the breezes off the river, the most prominent is the blue and white UN flag, its two white reeds of olive branches surrounding the world.

A visitor is immediately struck by the grandeur of the building, stirred by the sight of dignitaries stepping out of black limousines to cross the massive plaza. He realizes that if this place represents the powers of the world, one might well want to see the place of worship, where the nations bow before the One under whose rule they govern.

The information personnel are bemused. “The chapel. We don’t have a chapel. If there is one, I believe it’s across the street.” The visitor darts across the thoroughfare, dodging New York’s taxis, and successfully arrives at the opposite building’s security clearance desk.

“Well, there’s a chapel here,” responds the officer, “But it’s not associated with the UN.” He thumbs through a directory. “Oh, I see, all right, here it is. It’s across the street -- and tell them you’re looking for the meditation room.”

Again the visitor dashes across the pavement. An attendant tells him that the room is not open to the public; it’s a “nonessential area,” and there has been a personnel cutback. But a security guard will escort the visitor through long, crowded hallways and swinging glass doors. Again, there is the pervasive sense of weighty matters being discussed in the noble pursuit of world peace.

The guide pauses at an unmarked door. He unlocks it and gingerly pushes it open. The small room is devoid of people or decoration. The walls are stark white. There are no windows. A few wicker stools surround a large square rock at the center of the room. It is very quiet. But there is no altar, rug, vase, candle, or symbol of any type of religious worship. Ceiling lights create bright spots of illumination on the front wall. One focuses on a piece of modern art: steel squares and ovals. Beyond the abstract shapes, there is nothing in those bright circles of light. They are focused on a void. And it is in that void that the visitor suddenly sees the soul of the brave new world. (Chuck Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, pp. 182-3.)

The United Nations as representative of the world illustrates for us the fact that mankind tends to put too much faith in themselves. George Gordon Liddy, a Watergate conspirator made the following statement shortly after his release from prison: “I have found within myself all I need and all I ever shall need. I am a man of great faith, but my faith is in George Gordon Liddy. I have never failed me.” (The Christian Century, September 28, 1977, p. 836) Can you imagine the arrogance of a man making a statement like that after he just got out of prison? Clearly the pride and arrogance of man knows no limits.

It is this arrogance that prevents man from turning to God in his moment of need. It is this arrogance that causes the United Nations to think it can usher in world peace apart from the intervention of Almighty God. It is this arrogance that causes the United States to think it can continue to stand strong and firm even though it’s Christian foundation is being removed. And it is this same arrogance that causes the church to think that it can keep on being the church when God’s presence and power are clearly absent.

In all of these examples people believe that they can solve their problems without turning to God. It is clear that this same attitude as infiltrated the church. In the church’s case the problem is that the church is not influencing the culture so much as the culture is influencing the church. The problem is that more churches are closing their doors than opening their doors. The problem is that their is little difference in the lifestyle of the average church attender and the lifestyle of the average person who doesn’t attend church. The problem is our churches are shrinking rather than enlarging. All of that is true, however, the real problem is that the church is following the world in looking to themselves rather than God for the solutions. Our solutions go like this: If we work more... If we try harder... If we pray longer... If we do this... If we do that...

Where have our efforts gotten us? We’ve gone from being church with a high attendance average of 86 to being a church of 44. We’ve gone from being a church that was one of the fastest growing Wesleyan churches in North America in 1985 with 30% growth in one year to being a church that experienced a 22% decline in 2001. We’ve gone from being “The Church With A Vision For Today” to being a church with a vision for the past.

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