2018-7-01 Back from the Family Reunion—2018

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          July 1, 2018

“Back from the Family Reunion—2018”
Philippians 3:12-16

I am back, in positive answer to your prayers, from the General Assembly meeting of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church—a meeting I call the family reunion.  It is very good, at these Assemblies, to renew old acquaintances and to forge new one.  By God’s empowering grace, your deeply introverted pastor did just these in the days just after Father’s Day.  It is very good, at these Assemblies, to receive excellent preaching and teaching—and to participate in worship generally.  From these your pastor profited once again.  It was a good week—and God was merciful, for he mitigated the usual heat, if not the humidity, somewhat in Memphis during our meetings.

The theme of this year’s Assembly, drawn from today’s text, was Forward!  Our leadership, especially our speakers, focused on directing our collective focus forward during the Assembly.  Let’s examine this a bit as we look both at this year’s Assembly and at our life together here in the little blue church on the hill.  Let’s furthermore give attention to this day’s reading from God’s inerrant Word, the Bible.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

We note in today’s text that Paul presses onward and strains forward to that which he has in part now.  He calls it, by the Spirit’s leading, the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  That to which Paul strives has another name, to wit, resurrection from the dead—and that predicated upon righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus.  This righteousness, ours through faith in Jesus Christ, entails knowing Jesus Himself, knowing the power of His resurrection, and sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings.

The view and activity which Paul declares of himself to the Philippians is the view and act of the mature Christian as well.  We too press, and strain, and exert effort for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  God calls us to exert ourselves with Him in our sanctification.[1]  Hence, we press to know Jesus and, moreover, to be made like Him.  We strive to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection—both in our souls, where no one save God and us sees, and in every sphere of our lives, where many see.  We even exert, if passively, in the sharing of Jesus’ sufferings.  We grow weary in ministry, and we endure the pains of personal reproach—both from unbelievers and, alas, at times from Christians too.

Let’s see these truths applied in two spheres.  First, we see these truths applied as urged on the floor of Assembly, namely, in ministry to certain underserved populations.  Certain populations highlighted as underserved by the Assembly leadership include the largely African-American inner city, other ethnic populations

(Hispanic, et al.), and millennials.[2]  To these groups the Church—and the EPC in particular—is to advance winsomely with the Good News of God in Christ and to trust Him for the ministerial fruit.  With this I have no quarrel; these are good places to expend oneself in Christian ministry.

What I didn’t hear on the floor of Assembly gives rise to a second sphere.  There is potential ministry to certain underserved populations which did not receive mention at our General Assembly—but those populations now get their deserved mentioned.  Few generally, and none in my hearing from the General Assembly platform, urged us forward in ministry to those in small towns and rural areas—especially those of the Deep South, Mid-South, and Southern Appalachia.  I was formed in the first of these three, seasoned largely in the second, and lately am called to serve in the third.  Hence, I have keen interest in how we apply today’s text, in view of the encouragement from General Assembly concerning other situations, to our own situation today.

Let’s consider these words from Paul’s Spirit-led pen to us along three lines.  First, let us be grateful for the past.  Let us recall God’s goodness to us in time past—his goodness to us in our former pastor, now Home with the Lord, his goodness to us in former elders, teachers, and worship leaders among us, and in fellow congregants here in time past.  These are good from God, and let us praise Him for them.  Let us also be grateful for the opportunity to learn from any ministerial mistakes and missteps over the years—and for His grace to amend the same where possible and appropriate.  This congregation has a past worthy of celebrating before God, and we do well to celebrate.  Let us not stop there; too many congregations with a history never more beyond this.

Second, let us enjoy the present.  Let us enjoy God, and His goodness, right now.  Let us enjoy God in public worship, for in worshipping God, we celebrate Who He is.  Moreover, let us enjoy God in our testimony to His great works in our lives, for, in so doing, we celebrate what He does and has done.  At times we linger too long over the past, or gaze too ardently into the future, to appreciate God in this providential moment called now.  Let such never be said of us; by all means, enjoy God right now.

Third, let us focus on the future—but not to diminution either of rightful celebration of God’s history with us or of rightful enjoyment of God now.  Let us focus upon our future ministries.  Let us focus upon our evangelism—our declaration of the Good News to such as God may lead us to declare.  Let us focus upon our preaching and teaching, that it be both accurate and warm—to edify our total being.  Let us focus upon our fellowship.  How may we encourage one another, and how may we bring those outside into such an atmosphere of encouragement?  There are ways; I have some, and you know others, and we’ll put these in play as God leads—and that, above all, for His glory.  Let us focus upon our ministries of care and compassion.  People come to us hurting—and we will invite some that we know to be hurting—and may they know the care and compassion of Christ in Spirit-led loving acts discharged unto them.

There is another future focus that occasionally becomes either dim or diffuse, namely, our future eternal Home.  Let us not forget about this, either.  There is much to do now, but a day comes when our earthly labors shall cease, our earthly pains shall subside, and our earthly griefs will be eternally consoled.  We look forward to the day that all of this, and more, comes to us—either at our calls to Heaven or at our Savior’s return to consummate all things.  Let none of us lose sight of this, in this busy season of Christian life and ministry.

Our past is forgiven, our future is secure, and we can live confidently in Christ today.  Therefore, let us, little blue church on the hill, go forward into God’s irresistible future for us.

AMEN.

[1] Sanctification is the only place within the entire ordo salutis, or order of salvation, where we participate.  All of the other places in that order (effectual calling, regeneration, justification, et al.) are activities belonging to God alone.

[2] The millennial generation, or Generation Y, is defined by the U. S. Census Bureau as those born in the period 1982-2000, or those who will be 18-36, inclusive, at this year’s end.

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