5/17/98, E6C

“Help Me Make It Through The Night”
Acts 16: 9 & 10

rank Boggs handed me a book last Sunday as I was leaving for a preaching mission in North Carolina: He said, "This book changed my life." Since I was staying with my Mother and only preaching in the evenings, I had time to read it. (Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Zondervan, 1997). It is the compelling story of a broken, yet willing, young pastor finding direction from God to continue in a failed congregation in one of the toughest center city congregations in America. To make a long story short, The Brooklyn Tabernacle has grown from 25 to over 6,000 members since Jim Cymbala’s initial vision. Frank was up there to sing at a Tuesday Night Prayer Meeting with 1,400 present. Can you imagine the impact that this congregation has in this drug infested community? Thousands have experienced new life in Christ during these 25 years of continued guidance from God. The choir was started by the preacher’s wife, Carol, an untrained musician who today directs a choir that packs the 6,000 seat Radio City Music Hall each time a new album is released. There are no two local churches the same, but if it could happen in Brooklyn, it could happen anywhere.

Many of you know what Pastor Jim is talking about when he speaks of a vision, or dream, from God. You have had similar, if less dramatic, experiences in discovering God’s will for your life. You have placed your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee, and He has led you in the way. You are the person you are today by his guidance and grace.

Our text from the missionary journeys of St. Paul is about his finding God’s guidance. "During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them."(Acts 16: 9&10, NRSV).

All along my spiritual journey I have often times felt like a spectator as I have watched God at work in and around me. Several weeks ago I was back on the campus where I first felt called to preach. Later, on that same campus, I met Marilyn. We struggled over where I should go to seminary and soon the door open to come to Atlanta. The North Georgia Conference took me in and gave us a student circuit. We have continued to serve for 31 years and have felt the hand of God in every situation. Not that the conference is 100% right in making these assignments, after all it is a collegial process of frail humans; but, God has always taken the assignment and made it his will after we arrived in the scene. At times my direction from God has been as clear as Paul experienced in his call to go to Macedonia, the first venture of Christianity into the European continent, which in time became a vast Christian world, and led to western culture as we know it.

Our calling has never been more clear that it was a year ago when the door opened for us to come to Atlanta First. We did not hesitate then and have not. In time, God is going to do his greatest work yet through Atlanta’s first Christian congregation. My vision is so clear that the implementation of it is something of a future reality. Yes, that sounds like an illogical term: How can a thing still in the future be a reality now? Well, when God is in it, it seems that way. More and more of you have plugged into this dream that we share.

I see Methodism as it ought to be lived out right here in the center of this great city. We still have a viable ‘Method--- it’s just the ‘ism, the carrying it out, where we have staggered lately. Methodists standing up for what is eternally true today and forever. I know that folks are hungry for good old fashioned Sunday School, Christian fellowship, programs that build up the body, concern and prayer for each other, worship that speaks to the heart, singing that blesses the soul, preaching that lifts up Christ and points to new life in Him. The key to it all is prayerful surrender to His will.

Sometimes we feel like we are stumbling around in the dark, but it’s our fault for not turning on the lights. Prayer is the light switch that illumines our darkness. Prayer is the way we talk to God from day to day. Continual prayer keeps us on the correct pathway.

I realize that much of this language is foreign to unchurched folks who often think of dreams and visions in a negative sense. Their hope is to just have enough intervention from God to help them make it through the long night troubled by nightmares. Any idea that God wants to give them new life, inner peace, and good dreams, is foreign. Yet, the promise of the Spirit is peace, guidance, and assurance. We proclaim the good news that we can discover God’s dream for our personal lives that will fit us perfectly within his place for us.

But, one might ask, "How exactly do I find it?" Well, how did Jim Cymbala discover God’s vision? He was broken and willing and he called out to God. The best definition of prayer is "Calling Out To God." Seeking help from the helper.

This is good news to all who have made mistakes and bad choices. It is good news to those who have lost their way.

I have been lost in New York. The first time I ever drove through the Holland Tunnel I came out into Manhattan and did not know whether to go right, left or straight. I stopped for directions at a gas station, but nobody spoke English. However they did have a detailed map, and our family finally made it up Broadway to our hotel at Central Park. I still remember the feeling of temporary lostness. Wouldn’t it be awful to go through your entire life lost?

Just as God came to Paul in a dream, and to Jim Cymbala in his desperation, He wants to help you make it through the rest of your life following His perfect plan. In simple prayer you can begin that journey right now.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

5/17/98, E6C