A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of sharing a sermon with a group of people that I have known, and who have known me, for a very long time. I was asked to preach for the Acadian Baptist Association revival service in Eunice, LA, which is my hometown. I spent my first 18 years of life in that little Cajun town, and I have many fond memories of my days there. Being a Baptist in Eunice meant that I “stood out” at times, mostly because of the prominence of Catholicism in the area. There was not a shred of animosity or strife among me and my Catholic friends; we all got along just fine. Yet, I was keenly aware that my Baptist convictions placed me in the minority among the residents of my hometown. Although I was in the minority, I never felt like I was alone, as I had many Baptist friends who helped me along the way. Greater still, there were countless other loving and precious adults who were praying for me and my spiritual growth.
So, when I returned to Eunice last week to preach from God’s Word, I was greeted by so many of those dear Christian people who had such a tremendous impact on my life and my faith. I hugged former school teachers, ministers, Sunday School teachers, family and friends that I have literally not laid eyes on in 20+ years; but it was like I had never left. And as I sat there during the “singin” time, I thought about how much those very people had to do with the fact that I was about to enter that pulpit and preach God’s Word. I don’t think anyone would have imagined that little Oren would grow up to be a preacher (although as much as I talked as a child, some might not be surprised). But looking back it was God’s plan all along to get me to where I am today, and the grace in it all is that He used each of those faithful believers to shape me, mold me, and encourage me to this point in my life. Let me clear about something: This is NOT about me becoming a pastor, rather it is about how God uses Christian unity to make for himself a holy people who love, support, teach, and encourage one another for the glory of His name. This is part of the ministry of the church that we don’t often talk about or share with one another, but it is absolutely vital that we all take time to remember God’s grace in how he uses others to sanctify us and lead us into obedience.
I have thought often about my own blessed congregation in this context as well, particularly as it relates to the 140 years of ministry and worship at FBC Baton Rouge. The joy of belonging to the body of Christ, regardless of where you might live, was on display among the people (and former people) of FBCBR. When we all got together in September 2014 for our 140th Anniversary Celebration, one of the uplifting “take-aways” for me was just how precious this church is to so many people “NOW” because it was precious to them “THEN”. As life happens and families are moved around, the church can be an anchor and a place of joy for every one of us. As jobs come and go and as children grow up and leave, very few of us forget just how special our church is to us. We know those individuals who love and support us and to this day continue to pray for us. This is the beauty of the church and the encouragement of the bonds of Christian unity.
What led me to this thought was the writing of Paul to the Ephesian church as he sought to bring them back to a place of spiritual agreement, knowing that the church is only effective when she is united in peace. Paul writes these words:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:1-3
Notice the emphasis Paul makes on the “how” and the “why” of Christian unity. We are to walk (live) with humility, gentleness, patience, and in love for one another while being eager to maintain unity in the bonds of peace through the Holy Spirit. This is how we are to live. Why should we? Because we have been “called” by Christ to walk in this particular manner for the sake of peace. This “peace” goes with us where we go because we take Christ into every place, every building, every room and relationship. So the peace that led all of those loving men and women to encourage me and build me up over the years in Eunice is the same peace which they welcomed me in when I returned. It is an abiding peace that never leaves and only grows as Christ works in his people. And when we see those old friends, mentors, and teachers our hearts are once again warmed and edified by their presence and their kindness. This is the bonds of Christian unity that cannot be broken.
Take some time today to thank God Almighty for the gift of Christian people in your life. Without them, you would not be where you are today, and without the church we suffer greatly if we are deprived of their blessed help going forward. It’s no secret that Christians are looked upon today with disdain. The reasons for that are too many to list here, but it should be no surprise to us that we will need each other in the days to come. So love your fellow Christians, keep in touch with those who have moved away, and most of all pray for them as you ask God to glorify his name through them. Jesus Christ is faithful to his people, so let us be faithful to Him and to his church.