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Heart Cry: The Best Is Yet To Come

Philippians 3:7-17

I’m about to read for you some verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. While the words are Paul’s words, to be sure, they are in fact nothing less than the Word of God.

“But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ, Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death. And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I’ve already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the price for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too, God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Word.

Pray with me please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

I don’t really know if I should tell this little joke or not. I mean, I’ve been here a year and a quarter and you haven’t run me off yet, so maybe I’ll take a chance. It’s the story of a little boy who was pulling a wagon along the sidewalk, right in front of the preacher’s house. And the preacher was sitting on the porch. And as the little boy was pulling the wagon along the sidewalk, suddenly one of the wheels fell off the wagon and began to roll down the hill. And when that happened, the little boy immediately cried out, “I’ll be damned.” The preacher jumped up and said, “Hey, watch your language. You are not to be talking like that.” The little boy promised to do better.

The next day, wouldn’t you know, exactly the same thing happened in exactly the same place. The preacher was on the front porch and as the little boy pulled the wagon, suddenly the wheel fell off the wagon. And as the wheel began to roll down the hill, once again without even thinking, the little boy cried, “I’ll be damned.” That was too much. The preacher jumped up, came charging down to the sidewalk and he said, “Listen son, you need to straighten out. I’m going to suggest to you that you make a change in your life. When something happens in your life that goes wrong, when the wheel falls off the wagon, what you need to do is to cry out, ‘praise the Lord.’ You’ll be surprised at how much better that will be.”

Well, the little boy promised to try. The next day, little boy’s pulling the wagon along the sidewalk. The preacher’s on the front porch again. Sure enough, right in front of the preacher’s house the wheel comes off the wagon and the wheel starts to roll down the hill. And as it does, the little boy takes a sidelong glance at the preacher and he says, “Praise the Lord.” Suddenly, the wheel stops rolling down the hill, it turns around and starts rolling back up the hill, rolls right over to the axle on the wagon and reattaches itself. And the preacher says, “I’ll be damned.”

Well, let’s acknowledge that God indeed does do some rather dramatic things in life. And God certainly has done dramatic things in the life of this great church. I mean, here, God has called together an incredible company of people who are committed to Jesus Christ and committed to love one another in Jesus Christ, and committed to live for Jesus Christ every day. Here, God has called this great company of people who are serious about discerning God’s will and then pursuing that will with everything they have and are. Here, God has called this dynamic company of people who are determined with Christ’s help, to transform the city, the nation, and the world around them. This church incredibly has been marked through its history by greatness and glory and yet if I were to characterize the spirit this congregation ought to have at this very critical time of transition in our life as a congregation, I would borrow the words of Paul from Philippians.

He digs down deep into his heart and he cries out, “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind. Straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Oh yes. Today, I’d like to take those forward-thinking, forward-looking, forward-acting words of Paul and use them to call us to remember that for us as believing Christians, and for us as a believing church, the best is yet to come.

In the first place, for us as believing Christians, the best is yet to come.

Listen to these matchless words from Paul. “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His suffering. Becoming like Him in His death and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the Lord.” Oh, what incredible words. I want you to focus, please, especially on the words, “Becoming like Him in His death.” You see, Paul is desiring to become like Christ in His sacrificial love and suffering. Paul is desiring to become like Christ in giving himself away for Christ. Becoming like Him. He is calling us to become like Christ. What an incredible thing to ponder. He is calling us to become like Christ in giving ourselves away in the pattern of Christ.

A man I know—he is a prominent lawyer and a Presbyterian elder—actually described all of this in the following terms. I found it quite fascinating. He said, “I don’t know why preachers don’t explain to people that Christianity is basically basin theology.” “Basin theology?” He was asked. “What in the world is basin theology?” And he said, “When Pontius Pilate, who possessed great earthly power was asked to help someone, he called for a basin and he washed his hands of the whole matter. When Jesus of Nazareth, who possessed great spiritual power was asked to help someone, he called for a basin and he girded himself with a towel. And he proceeded to give himself away in humble, loving service.” He then went on to say, “That’s what Christianity really is; choosing which basin is going to be yours. Is it the basin where you wash your hands of all the needs of and problems of the world, or is it the basin where you try to clean up the world’s needs and problems? Christianity is a matter of which basin you choose.” I love that.

You see, becoming like Christ is not a call to pride and privilege. Rather, it is a call to sacrifice and service. Becoming like Christ is what I choose to call the nobility of humility. My guess is we’re all aware of the age-old struggle between secular humanists and Christian theologians. That struggle is especially intense in our society now. The secular humanist maintains that we as human beings are capable of being and doing anything we want to be and do. We can achieve whatever our hearts desire and we’re accountable not to God or anyone else but only to ourselves. The Christian theologians on the other hand, declare that apart from God, we cannot be or do anything good in our lives. Apart from God, we have no hope in this world, and ultimately, we are accountable to no one but God.

Now, I stand with the Christian theologians because, among a whole host of wonderful reasons, I simply cannot abide the secular humanist arrogance, braggadocio, and obnoxious self-centeredness. And besides that, secular humanism has become the pattern of thought in the worlds of politics and academics in our society. And look at the mess the world is in because of it. No, I stand with the Christian theologians, unashamed, unapologetic, because I believe in what the gospel of Jesus Christ has to say. That you and I by God’s grace, and by God’s power, and nothing else. By God’s grace and by God’s power, we can become what God wants us to be in life.

Now, I know there is sin in all of us, yes. There is profound pervasive, maybe even perverse sin in all of us. Yes. But I believe and I believe the Bible affirms it; that God sees in us something we cannot see in ourselves. God loves us with an undeserved love because, by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, he gives us the capability of magnificent living through Jesus Christ. Becoming like Christ, giving ourselves away in service to Christ. That my beloved, that is the nobility of humility. And that is why I hope and pray that here in this great church, at this very critical time in our life, I hope that we will continue to deliver a sure and certain message to the people around us.

The message is this—that they have been created by God as one of His masterpieces. That they are priceless to God. That God desires to save them for eternal life through Jesus Christ. And that by God’s grace, they can strive to become like Christ in their everyday living. That’s true for them and it’s also true for us. And that is why for all of us as believing Christians, the best is yet to come.

And also, for us as a believing church, the best is yet to come.

Once again, the eloquence of Paul is so inspiring. “Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect. But I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead; I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Focus, please, on those words. “I press on toward the goal.” That’s the call of God to this church.

I played basketball in college. One year, we had a terrible record. We lost nearly every game. And after every one of those loses, one of the fellows on our team would say to the rest of us, “Well guys, at least we did our best.” I hated when he said that. And I hate it still because it wasn’t true. We hadn’t really done our best. And besides that, by saying what he said, he was tempting us to mediocrity on the basketball court. The same thing happens to us in life. We cannot say we’ve done our best. We know better than that. I certainly do. I would never stand up here and declare to you that I’ve done my best in life. I’ve failed and failed to measure up to God’s standards more times than I can count. Now, I don’t think that’s all together bad. Oh, understand me. I’m not suggesting that failing in not doing you best is good. It’s not. What I am saying is that the recognition that we have not yet done our best for Christ is that which spurs us to move beyond mediocrity in our faith.

Acknowledging that we have failed and we are attempting to become more and more like Christ, that is the spur that will lead us on to all that God wants us to be in life. In other words, the best is yet to come. The splendid is still ahead. And what’s true in our lives is equally true in this church. Oh, to be sure, this church through its history, has been blessed by extraordinary leadership, and as a result, this church with its incredible congregations through the years has been marked by greatness and glory. But that does not mean that this church has not experienced along the way some measure of failure or setback or defeat or tribulation. It has and it will. And that’s the truth. Ah, but then you remember that Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” I find it absolutely fascinating to note what Jesus was really saying by using that word. You see, the word that Jesus used for tribulation is a word which literally means pressing the grapes for wine.

Years later, when that word was translated into Latin, it was translated with the word for threshing. That is forcibly separating the wheat from the chaff. Do you hear what Jesus was saying? Jesus was saying we are going to encounter forces in life and forces in the church that, yes, produce tribulation. They will press us and thresh us. They will pressure us and pull us apart. Yes. But, those forces of tribulation are actually at work, and will bring good. In one case they bring the wine. In the other case, they bring pure grain. They will bring the good. They will separate the valuable from worthless in our journey. They will separate the good and the not so good in the way we as a congregation serve our Lord. And so Jesus is saying, “Yes, you will have tribulation but, oh, there is a powerful message beneath that word.” Jesus is saying to us that when you encounter trials and troubles and tribulations, those things will ultimately produce good. Those things will lead to making you better and stronger. That’s the Word of Jesus Christ and I take Him at His word.

Back in 1801, Napoleon’s forces were in retreat from the city of Moscow. And as the retreat unfolded, many of the French soldiers died in the deep Russian snow. The man who wrote the most detailed account of that retreat was a man named the Duke of Vicenza. And in his account, he tells how he would move along the ranks of the troops and he would see them topple over into the snow trying desperately to sleep; they were so exhausted. But he knew that if they went to sleep they would die in the snow. And so he went along pulling them up one after another, pulling them up, tugging at them, urging them to get up and to move ahead, because that was the only way they would ultimately survive. They pleaded with him to leave them alone. He would not do it. He would not let them sleep. My beloved people, I cannot let us sleep either. In fact, I believe that that is a part of why God has called me here at this very critical time in the life of this great church.

I believe that God has called me here because by His power, I cannot let us sleep. We cannot relax. We cannot let down. Not now, not at this very critical moment. We have to get up and get moving, and move on ahead in the faith. You see, the truth of the matter is, this church has not yet done its very best for Jesus Christ in this world. This church has not yet become all that God intends for her to be. And so, therefore, it is the call of God, I believe, to all of us. Forgetting what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead. God is calling us to press on toward the goal, to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Jesus Christ.

So as long as I am here and as long as I can breathe, we shall press on. Why? Because, my beloved people, because for all of us and for all of us in this church, by God’s power and by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, the best is yet to come.

Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.

 

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