Straining Forward

Straining Forward
Philippians 3:12-14
January 1, 2017

I remember many, many years ago, when I was just a young kid – – – I remember being outside with a basketball and shooting baskets.  There would come a time during my shooting where you would have a final countdown.  The game is on the line.  It’s the NBA championship, and I get a pass from Michael Jordan . . . I make a move, shoot as the clock hits zero and – – – – I miss!

UGH!  Ever been there?  But here’s the beauty . . . it’s all imagination.  I guess I never heard the whistle for the time out.  Then I shoot again, and miss again!  Oh, but wait, I was fouled by that imaginary player.  The scenes play out time after time, and you know what?  Somehow my team never, ever loses the game.  Something always happens to help me get another chance to win the game.

We’ve entered the new year 2017!  I wonder how long it will take me to get that straight in my head, it’s a new year, a new number to write down.  One thing is for sure, we’ve all missed that last shot.  But it’s okay!  It really is, and today is a great reminder that it’s okay!

It’s good to be able to start over fresh.  This week most students will return to school, as will some college students.  Most of us are recovering from the Christmas activities and have already forgotten about the festivities of the past couple of weeks.  Many are back at work after vacations.

What do you anticipate for this year?  Are you full of enthusiasm, passion and eagerly looking forward to what each day of this new year will bring?  Or are you filled with a sense of dread, worried that this year will be worse than last year?

I would have to say, just like most of us when we miss that shot, but eventually win the game with that same shot, it’s your mindset, your attitude, your reaction to events which will determine whether this is a year of victory or a year of defeat.

The Apostle Paul was never one to let circumstances defeat him.  With God’s help, he was determined to win the victor’s crown.  Listen as his attitude, dedication, and determination shine through in these words found from Philippians 3:12-14.  Paul wrote these words to the people of Philippi, while sitting in prison ~

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.

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,

14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is referring to prior verses in Philippians 3.  He wants the people of Philippi to know he has not reached the goal yet.  His goal is the resurrection!  For this to occur in Paul’s life, he believes and hopes he may suffer for the glory of Christ.  That he would be used by God in any manner God chooses, so that the message of Christ is passed on.

Paul wanted the Philippians to understand he didn’t have all of the answers.  He had not already obtained the resurrection or for that matter been made perfect.  He still lived in a fallen world.  He was still a sinner and a sinner could not attain perfection in this world.

If we want to live beyond ourselves, we have to face an ugly truth . . . none of us are perfect.  If you question the truth of that statement, I’m sure someone really close to you would be happy to correct you.  None of us are perfect.

And in a strange way, that’s comforting.  As much as we want to be perfect, we are not!  We may come close on occasion, or we may bowl a perfect game or pitch a perfect game, but the next time out, don’t expect it to happen again.  It’s so difficult in major league baseball, that in all of the years of baseball, over 210,000 games – – – it’s only happened 23 times – – – that’s 1/100 %.

So, if we want to move beyond where we’re presently at, we need to admit, like Paul, we’re not perfect!  As believers in Christ, we will achieve perfection upon death.

In verse 12, when Paul says I PRESS ON to make it my own.  The phrase to PRESS ON literally means ~
to aggressively chase, like a hunter pursuing a prized catch.  To pursue with all haste, earnestly desiring to overtake or apprehend.

We’re going to see that same Greek phrase again in a couple of verses.  Here is Paul’s rationale in all of this.  Since Christ came into this world.  Since He came as the Savior, the Messiah.  Since He suffered and died an excruciating death – – – all for us . . . and Paul!  Because Paul believed so strongly that Christ did this for him, Paul believed that he should give Christ everything he had.

It makes sense – – doesn’t it?  When someone does something extraordinary for you, you want to do something to say thank you, somehow, you want to pay them back.  For Paul, in some respects this was payback.  Not that he owed Christ anything, not that he had to pay Christ back for his salvation, but in Paul’s eyes, Christ sacrificed Himself for Paul, so Paul needed to strive, to push, to show the world who Jesus was.

So, Paul reminds us to press on.

He then adds, he  forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead,

We are called to learn from the past, but not hold onto the past so much, that we cannot grab ahold of what the future offers us.  This doesn’t mean you just dismiss the past.  You learn and grow from it.

Here’s the point – – – none of us are perfect.  God knows we are sinners and not perfect, so He sent Jesus for us.  We need to remember God’s grace — God’s unmerited favor on our behalf.

We need to forget the sins we’ve dumped at the cross.  If we’ve repented and we claim God’s forgiveness, we can put those sins behind us.  Hold onto these great words from David in Psalm 103 ~
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him;

12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.

The German poet, Goethe, put it this way ~ “The glorious fact is not that the past is sullied, dirty, unclean, but that the future is unsullied.”  Every one of us has a future ahead of us, if we are able to claim God’s grace and put the past in the past.  We need to learn and move beyond the negative.  We let go of the past.

It’s a reminder that we cannot live in the past.  We cannot hold onto the sinfulness and negativity of the past, nor can we live in the past glories and accolades as well.  We must learn from the past – – from the good and the bad – – – we then forget what lies behind on the basis of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Finally, Paul tells us ~
14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Again, Paul uses that same phrase from Greek – – to PRESS ON.  He’s going to push and strain and aggressively pursue that goal – – and that goal — the prize — is the fullness of blessings and rewards in the age to come, being in perfect fellowship with Christ forever.

Do you remember the London Summer Olympics.  There was a woman who gave it all in a way which made people angry.  Her name is Shaunae Miller.  She’s from the Bahamas.  In the 400m finals, Miller beat American Allyson Felix as Miller crossed the finish line, falling across the finish line.

Do you remember this picture?  Miller won the gold medal over Felix, by .07.  It was either brilliance, madness or a combination of a desire to do everything possible to win a gold medal.  Even if it meant falling to the ground on that surface and scratching up her body.

As we’ve now moved into 2017, how will you PRESS ON?  What will you do to make 2017 a year in which you experience the great power and presence of Christ?  How will you make this a year in which you help make a difference in the lives of those around you?

What is your goal for this year?  I’m not talking about New year’s Resolutions?  I’m not talking about school or business or investment success . . .

I’m talking about what are you going to aggressively pursue
what are you seeking after, chasing after

as it relates to God!

Are you willing to compromise or is there no compromise, just giving it all you have to grow into the person God is calling you to be.

Take the steps today,

Forget what lies behind you.  Know and trust God forgives you.
Press forward, seeking what God offers you in 2017.

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