Pastor Josh preached the final message at TRC Kingston Campus yesterday as we reintegrate our two campuses back into one.
I want every TRC member to read Josh’s notes (posted below), and listen to the sermon when it gets posted. This instruction is a gift of God’s grace.
So, read, hear and obey:
One Thing I Do…
William Carey- “Attempt great things for God… expect great things from God.”
Two years ago we as a church desired to attempt a great thing for God in expectation of great things from God. In February of 2016 we launched a second campus of Three Rivers Church with the goal of making disciples and reaching lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, on this last gathering of the Kingston Highway Campus, our goal remains the same. Though we have made a strategic decision to reintegrate our campuses into one, our mission is still to disciple the nations by being and producing radical disciples of Jesus Christ. And while I know that it may seem like this campus was a failure, I would strongly argue that it was anything BUT a failure.
The truth is that we took a calculated risk, and the Lord has done great things through this campus, things that I do not believe would have happened had we not church planted. May it never be said that Three Rivers erred on the side of caution. We want to be radical risk-takers for the sake of the kingdom. There is more failure today that comes from Christians being too cautious than from attempting bold experiments with new ideas. One author said it this way, “The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.”
- Oswald Sanders, in his book on spiritual leadership, quoted a friend who was a leader in worldwide missions, “When I look back on my life, most of my failures came from insufficient daring.” In other words, our failures most often come, not from attempting great things, but from not trying anything at all.
This campus is not closing because of insufficient daring. And it is not closing because it was unfruitful. I cannot tell you how blessed I have been to see so many of you flourish in your own ministries as you have stepped up and used gifts that otherwise would have been suppressed. We baptized people. We launched another church plant. We served. We made disciples. We commissioned missionaries. And we have learned more from this experience than we ever would have learned in 100 seminary classes. We walked in the good works which God prepared beforehand for us… we listened, and obeyed.
And yet there is a danger for us as we meet on this transitive Sunday. We can either view this day as the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning. We can either be paralyzed by nostalgic memories and longings for the good old days in the past, or we can be empowered by looking ahead to the glorious frontier of opportunity that awaits us in the future. We can choose to question God and ask why it happened this way, or we can trust God and believe that he is working all things together for our good. It is the Christian gospel that most clearly teaches us that great loss can often be the source of even greater gain.
The truth is that we are not civilians, but soldiers, and this campus was never our little country club, but a strategic military outpost of the kingdom of God. We cannot forget that we are in the midst of a spiritual war, and sometimes military commanders and war generals choose to relocate troops to a different battlefront. Civilians complain about the closing of a military base… soldiers only seek to please the one who enlisted them (2 Tim. 2:4). Today we are being strategically relocated to a different front, so let’s fight the good fight set before us.
What we need more than anything today is to hear from the Scripture, to be reminded of who God is, who we are, and what God has called us to. This is a crucial time for us as a church, because the future success of our ministry and the future fruitfulness of Three Rivers will depend on how we move forward in integrating as a campus.
Failure or Fortuitous? A Different Perspective from Prison
Paul writes to the Philippians from prison, a place that likely appeared to the Philippian church as a failed ministry. Yet Paul looks at a less than ideal situation and places it within the context of God’s bigger plan: “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (Phil. 1:12).
As we look at the whole of Philippians 3, I want to focus primarily on verses 12-16, especially, verse 13: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus…”
“One thing I do.” It could be argued that Paul had a lot of things to do, but he narrows his focus to one holy pursuit. The phrase “one thing” is crucial to the Christian life. And I’m thankful for Paul’s words here, because I tend to get distracted by many other lesser things.
- Jesus told the rich young ruler, “You lack one thing.” (Mark 10:21)
- Jesus explained to busy Martha, “One thing is necessary… and Mary has found it.” (Luke 10:42)
- “One thing I know!” shouted the blind man who was healed by Jesus. (John 9:25)
- “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after!” testified the psalmist. (Ps. 27:4)
What is the one thing Paul says he will do? Forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. In our culture, we usually speak of time as “past, present, future,” but instead we should view time as flowing from the future into the present and then into the past. In other words, Christians should be focused on the future, rather than continually dwelling on the past.
So using this chapter, I want to point out five ways in which we as a campus can forget what lies behind, and press on toward what is ahead. Before I do, we need to understand the biblical concept of forgetting. Often we are told in Christian circles to “forgive and forget.” The truth is, that’s impossible. No one is capable of truly forgetting an offense by someone else. To “forget” does not mean “to fail to remember.” Apart from being senile, hypnosis, or a brain malfunction, no mature person can forget what has happened in the past. We may wish we could erase certain bad memories, but we cannot. Instead I usually tell people to “forgive and forsake.”
“To forget” in the bible means “to no longer be influenced by or affected by.” When God promises in Hebrews 10:17, “And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more,” He is not suggesting that he will conveniently have a bad memory! This is impossible with God. What God is saying is, “I will no longer hold their sins against them. Their sins can no longer affect their standing with Me or influence My attitude towards them.”
So when I say, “forget those things which are behind,” (such as leaving this campus), I’m not suggesting some impossible feat of mental and psychological gymnastics where we try to erase the sins and mistakes of the past. It simply means that we break the power of the past by living for the future. We cannot change the past, but we can change the meaning of the past.
And the way we must do that is to rejoice. This passage begins in 3:1 by saying, “Finally my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.” These five points of forgetting/pressing on must be done with a spirit of worship and joy. Any creeping feelings of bitterness, anger, resentment, or sorrow must be overwhelmed with a sense of joy at the good things God has allowed us to experience. With that, let’s look at the text:
- FORGET your former religious accomplishments that do not count for anything towards your right standing with God. (v. 1-7)
This first point is meant to remind us of the gospel. As we go forward as a church, the gospel must not only be the foundation of what we believe, but the ongoing message which shapes our lives. If we don’t get the gospel right, we will get everything else wrong.
Paul warns the Philippian church of “the dogs, evildoers, and those who mutilate the flesh.” Those who would seek to establish their own righteousness based on their own religious accomplishments or spiritual good works. Instead, Paul says that we as Christians are “the circumcision, who glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” All of our confidence is in the person and work of Christ. We get no brownie points for our religious heritage or our spiritual accolades.
My hope is built on nothing less,
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
If anyone had any grounds for boasting, it was Paul. In fact, he says that if you think you have anything to brag about, he can outdo you. “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” He gives us his spiritual resume in verses 4-6, and every possible achievement that a human being could gain from keeping the Law, Paul did it. He got the gold star in Sunday school. He was the Awana champion. And yet he gets to the end of all his accomplishments and says “but whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ.”
Paul uses the language of an accountant as he conducts a spiritual audit of his life. The apparent assets of his former life have turned out to be worthless investments which he has now written off in light of the far greater gain of knowing Christ.
So I urge you today to take a spiritual inventory of your life and audit your soul. Have you placed unnecessary confidence in your past achievements, or have you leaned too heavily upon your identity as a member of this church? I’m not saying that these things should be regarded as bad (they may be good in themselves), but in relation to God’s audit in Jesus Christ, these things must appear as liabilities.
Your identity never was and never will be rooted in your position or participation at this campus. And this is a good thing! In regards to our relationship with God, all this must be considered as rubbish!
Now for the positive: STRAIN FORWARD to find your spiritual identify in Jesus alone.
To gain Christ is worth losing everything else, and to gain Christ means “to be found in him,” united to him and his righteous, obedient life, his sin-bearing sacrificial death, and his powerful resurrection. To gain Christ means “not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.” This sums up everything we have previously taught about Five Solas of the Reformation.
This transition back to the Unity Campus will ultimately be a test of how deeply we believe the gospel. Your identity never was and never will be rooted in what campus you attended, but in your identity in Christ as your savior. Which leads me to point #2.
- FORGET what lies behind, including your former sins and failures. (v. 8-11)
Paul goes on to say that he actually counts EVERYTHING as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. I take this to mean not only his past “achievements” but also his failures. While Paul obviously would have liked to forget his former life as a persecutor of the church and murderer of Christians, he even views his former failures as grounds for boasting in the gospel.
He later writes to Timothy, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
We can all look back at the last couple of years and find reasons for regret. Failures to obey, falling into sin, thinking we could have done more, etc. But just as our own righteousness could not bring us closer to God, neither could our acts of unrighteousness separate us from God. We cannot allow past failures to paralyze us from future ministry.
The Christian life cannot be lived effectively while looking through the rear-view mirror. If you are driving in a rainstorm, you cannot drive safely by constantly looking back at the rain through which you’ve come. You count on your windshield wipers to brush away the rain, pushing it behind you in order to clear your vision of the road up ahead. In the same way, we must allow the windshield-wipers of God’s grace to wash away past sins, forgetting what lies behind, and looking forward to what lies ahead.
STRAIN FORWARD and cling to Christ by faith, receiving his righteousness and trusting in his resurrection power.
Paul counts everything as loss, compared to the “surpassing worth” of knowing Christ. There is nothing more valuable in this universe than the worth of knowing Christ. He is the great treasure, worthy of all our pursuit.
Also, notice that this is the only time in the New Testament where Paul refers to Jesus as “MY Lord.” Our knowing Christ is personal, and when we are united to him, we are found to be “in him,” not having a righteousness of our own but that righteousness from God which comes through faith.
But Paul does not only say that we may know Christ, but that we may also know the power of his resurrection. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power from God available to all of us who believe. Christ has sent his Holy Spirit to empower us to live victoriously because he himself has already won victory for us in our place.
So as we join back with our brothers and sisters at the Unity campus, let us not only trust in Christ, but strain forward to know him and the power of his resurrection, so that we may be empowered to do his will and live victoriously in light of the gospel.
- FORGET what lies behind because the race isn’t over. (v. 12-14)
We are in a spiritual race, and no athlete who continually looks back at ground already gained will finish well. Paul says in verse 12, “I don’t consider myself to already be perfect.” In other words, “I haven’t spiritually arrived.” Paul isn’t where he wants to be yet, but he continues to press on because Christ has already taken hold of him. Rather than looking back at what he has accomplished, Paul sets his pursuit on one person.
If we get distracted during this transition and take our eyes off the finish line, we won’t hit the goal we should be shooting for.
Luke 9:62 “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Remember Lot’s wife! (Luke 17:32)
STRAIN FORWARD because there is a prize to be received for finishing well.
Paul says, “I press on for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The prize is the fullness of blessings and rewards in the age to come, most especially being in perfect fellowship with Christ forever.
But how tragic for us to forfeit this glorious prize because we are so distracted by looking behind us on the track!
We must not rest on past successes, but earnestly strive to take hold of the one who has already laid hold of us, to love him who first loved us.
So as we transition, let’s make sure that we don’t botch the passing of the baton or trip as we make the turn in rounding the track, but keep our eyes fixed on the finish line and strive toward that end.
- FORGET what lies behind in order to show Christian maturity in moving forward. (v. 15-17)
Paul says in verse 15, “Let those of you who are mature, think this way…”
“Maturity is a matter of refusing to focus on the spiritual attainments of the past and of realizing how much effort must be expended on the course that lies ahead.” – Frank Thielman, NIV Application Commentary
The word “mature” here is the same word Paul uses earlier to say that he is not yet “perfect.” Yet he says in verse 15 that he is “perfect.” What does that mean? He means that one of the signs that you are “perfect” is to realize that you’re not yet perfect. This also means realizing that your fellow church members are not perfect, including (and especially) your pastors.
So I say this with all love: Don’t let bitterness of the past hinder fruitfulness in the future (Heb. 12:15). If you have grown in your faith during this time, don’t let your spiritual growth be forfeited by allowing a root of bitterness to defile yourself or others around you. Please hear Paul’s words in verse 16:
“Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” In other words, don’t turn back from the progress you’ve made. If you have questions about decisions that have been made, please ask them, but don’t let your personal agenda get in the way. Show your spiritual maturity by putting things in perspective. Rather…
STRAIN FORWARD to what lies ahead because there is much work to do.
Put your hand to the plow and don’t look back. And if you don’t know how to move forward, let me give you three very simple suggestions from Scripture:
- Imitate me (your pastors). Paul says in verse 17, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Paul says elsewhere for Christians to imitate him in as much as he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1). In no way am I claiming perfection (far from it actually). But if you want to know how to act going forward as we integrate to the new campus, watch me. I promise to do my best as one of your pastors to set the pace and show an example for you to follow as we seek Christ together. Hebrews 13:7 is helpful here: Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Heb. 13:7)
- Trust me (your pastors). The last few weeks have not been easy for any of us, especially the pastors who prayed through this decision and sought to do what we thought was best for the church. Trust me that we deeply love you and constantly pray for you as we serve as your pastors. Again, Hebrews 13 is helpful here: Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb. 13:17) You will not have to give an account for Three Rivers Church. But I will. And Mitch Jolly will. And Emmett Long will. And all of our pastors will. So trust me when I say that we take this decision VERY seriously. And if you find that there is absolutely no way that you can obey this verse, in submitting to our leadership with joy and without groaning, or if you sense that this is a time in which the Lord is leading you to a different place, I truly wish you the best. As must as I would want everyone to go with us, I know this may be unrealistic. But please trust me that every decision that is made by your pastors is always with the glory of God and the good of our people in view.
- Pray for me (your pastors). Once more, Hebrews 13:18 is appropriate here: Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. (Heb. 13:18) Above all I would ask that you, Three Rivers Church, would continue to pray for your pastors as we lead during this time of transition.
- FORGET what lies behind, for there are some who will miss the prize and face God’s judgment. (v. 18-21)
Paul warns of people who are “enemies of the cross” whose end will be destruction. Their god is their belly, meaning that they worship themselves and are consumed with earthly things.
The warning is clear for us in the church. Judgment is at stake for those who miss the prize. This is why it is essential for Christ to be our one pursuit. All other pursuits lead to destruction. So seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that way is narrow that leads to life.
STRAIN FORWARD to the future glory you will receive as a citizen of Heaven.
Paul’s final reminder is that our citizenship is not in this world, but in the world to come. And as citizens of God’s future heavenly kingdom, we will receive glorified bodies by the power which Christ has to subject all things to himself. In other words, Jesus is Lord, and he has promised us a glorious future in his kingdom. This should put everything in perspective. One day there will not be a Three Rivers Church at all, but there will be one Church, the glorified Church, the One True Church, gathered together in unity to worship the Lamb slain for us. This is a prize worth pressing on towards.
Three Rivers, this is a prize worthy of our celebration today. The Lord Jesus deserves glory and adoration, which brings us back to Paul’s first exhortation… Rejoice! Sing with joy today, not only at what God has done in our past, but more importantly what he has guaranteed us in our glorious future.
Don’t get left behind because your looking back Church… Our God is marching on!