TEXT: Philippians 3:12-16
There is an old story about a happy little boy who went out into the field wearing a baseball cap. In one hand he carried a baseball, and in the other his trusty bat. His face bore a look of tremendous confidence. Cocking his bat, he tossed the ball into the air, saying, “I’m the greatest batter in the world!” Then he swung and missed. “Strike one,” he said. He picked up the ball, examined it, and then threw it into the air again. As he swung, he repeated, “I’m the greatest batter in the world.” Once again he missed. “Strike two,” he said. This time, he stopped to examine his bat to make sure there wasn’t a hole in it. Then he picked up the ball, adjusted his cap, and tossed the ball into the air for the third time. He repeated again, “I’m the greatest batter in the world,” and swung with all his might — and missed for the third straight time. Now most boys might be discouraged by that, but this boy said, “Wow! I struck out the greatest batter in the world…I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”
Today is the last Sunday of 2010, and as we look back over the last 12 months, I’m not sure whether most of us would consider ourselves pitchers or batters. One thing for sure, is that we have all struck out from time to time. So I guess it’s good to be able to start fresh.
As we anticipate the next 12 months, some people might eagerly look forward to what each day will bring. Others might be filled with dread, worried that this coming year will be worse than the last. Many had already predicted that this coming year will be worse than 2010…some say this coming year will be a year of more calamities, more people losing jobs and more storms will come…they all predicted that…But like the little boy with his baseball bat, I would suggest that our attitude will make all the difference in the coming year. How we react to its event will largely determine whether it is a year of victory or a year of defeat.
The Apostle Paul was never one to let circumstances conquer him. Rather, with the help of God, he was determined to win the victor’s crown. Let me invite you to read Philippians 3:12-16 with me and listen as Paul’s attitude shines through these words.
Philip. 3:12-16 (ESV)
 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.  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.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Paul’s personality, I believe, really comes through in these verses. And, with these thoughts, Paul lays out some principles (resolutions, so to speak), concerning our attitude that we can carry with us into the New Year. The first of those principles is.
1. LET GO OF THE PAST
At the end of verse thirteen, Paul said, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead…” Humans are very special beings, in that God has given us the ability to remember. However, your memories can be you friend or your enemy.
In our text, Paul is encouraging us to break out from the past. He is saying, “don’t allow the past to hold you in bondage. Don’t be a prisoner of your past.” He offers himself as the best example of this concept. Despite his misguided persecution of the Church, which could have resulted in immense and debilitating personal guilt, He did not succumb to its power to imprison him. He said,
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent [violently arrogant] man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:12-14 NKJV).
Paul had a dreadful past and it could have easily haunted him for the rest of his life, if he allowed it. He used his authority to kill Christians. By his own admission he said, “I am the chief of sinners.” He could have walked around all his life with this tremendous burden of guilt crippling him and he would never have become the great Apostle and missionary for God that he went on to be.
Why am I saying these things? I want us to see that many people dwell on their past failures, mistakes, and sins so much so that they become spiritually paralyzed, unable to live productively for God. Paul is telling us that we can turn our past sins and failures over to God and start moving “forward to what lies ahead.”
There are a lot of problems associated with forgetting the past. To this we may all bear witness. Some will say “it is impossible to forget the past. Why then consider it at all?” We need to consider it, not because it is an impossible task, but because it is possible to attain it and because of the benefits and blessings we will receive by doing it.
One of the things that makes this hard lies deep within the neurological wiring of our brain. Dr. Wilder Penfield, director of the Montreal Neurological Institute, said in a report to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC: “Your brain contains a permanent record of your past that is like a single, continuous strip of moving film…The film library records your whole waking life from childhood on. You can relive those scenes from your past, one at a time…[feeling] exactly the same emotions you did during the original experience.”
It is important, I think, to understand at the outset that when Paul talks about forgetting the past he is not referring to erasing the past. Those of you who are familiar with how a computer handles the information that we input to its memory know that there is a “delete” key that is used to remove information we don’t want stored in the computer. To some, “delete” means to remove permanently as if it was erased, completely purged. This doesn’t happen. When a person hits the “delete” key the information disappears from the screen but it is still in the computer’s memory. Although it has been deleted it may still be found. The information is not erased or permanently and irrecoverably gone. It can be recovered. We cannot erase our past. This does not mean we cannot forget the past in the sense that Paul has in mind.
I believe Paul is saying that we are to forget the past in the sense that we do not allow our past failures, hurts, and disappointments to keep us from experiencing God’s best for our lives today.
In a Nike advertisement some years ago, a voice came over the television saying, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Those words were spoken by Michael Jordan, by most standards the greatest basketball player ever to play the game.
Someone once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” We’ve failed many times, although we may not remember.
- We fell down the first time we tried to walk;
- We fell down the first time we attempted to take a step on that stair;
- We probably almost drowned the first time we tried to swim.
We can’t allow ourselves to become fixated on our failures. We are all human. We make mistakes. We sin. We fail. But what is worse, is missing the opportunities that God puts in front of us because we always look back on our so called sad pasts.
Paul’s testimony provides a window of hope for anyone who would insist “I am who I am, I cannot change…my circumstances, my situation is set in concrete it cannot change.” Paul is simply telling to us, “See the grace of God at work.” Past blunders, mistakes, failures and hurts need not have a stranglehold on your life. Grace is a key that opens the door to freedom from the tyranny of the past. In essence he is saying that the “exceedingly abundant grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is available to everyone who wants to “close some doors of yore.” God’s grace is as freely available today as then. God’s grace will allow us to move past our failures. If not, our failures may keep us from experiencing God’s best today.
God once told the prophet Jeremiah that He would, one day, establish a New Covenant with the children of Israel. And when He did, He said, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:34). That covenant was established when Jesus Christ died on the cross. Since that day, God’s forgiveness is so complete that it is forgetfulness. If we have been washed in the blood of Christ, God has forgotten all of our failures and sins. It is time that we forget them as well.
Let’s follow Paul’s example here, “forgetting what lies behind…The first principle Paul teaches us for the New Year is Forgetting the Past, and the second is…
2. SET YOUR PRIORITIES RIGHT
In verse fourteen Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He prefaced that statement in verse thirteen with “but one thing I do.” Obviously Paul did more than one thing. He made tents. He preached sermons. He planted churches. He wrote books. Paul did a lot of things.
But what he is telling us is that his top priority in life was to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.” The other translation paraphrase renders this verse, “I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Paul’s number one priority was the Kingdom of Heaven! He was running straight toward that goal, and he was not going to let anything distract him from it.
As you look ahead over this year, what are your priorities? Can you make an honest list on your mind about your priorities this coming year? Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
Let me make it straight and clear…there’s nothing wrong with doing your business on a greater level, being a good student, aiming for a big goal on your career, there’s nothing wrong with that…but let me tell you that those things are temporary…I want us to understand that Paul was trying to tell us that we aim for something that would make an impact even in eternity…things that matters most.
- Drawing closer to God through worship; (resolve this year, you’ll worship God more)
- spending time with Him in prayer; (same)
- seeking His guidance for your life by reading His Word; (same)
- serving Him through ministry (same).
These should be placed on our priority list.
It is a sad, but persistent, about the fact that many Christians do not make God’s Kingdom a priority in life. Those who feel like they are doing their spiritual duty by going to church once a week — punching their spiritual timecard — are not seeking “first His kingdom.” If we intend to press on “toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers,” then we need to make God and His kingdom our top priority in life. SI JESUS DAPAT ANG UNA! I want you to understand that if you will put God first in all the things you will do, will give Him top priority…let me assure that in all your ways you will succeed! Oh no, I’m not saying that there will be no more problems in life, what I’m just trying to say is that even at times of trials whenever you’re making God your top priority in life, enough grace will be showered upon your life…blessings will come…things more than you ever asked or think of will take place in your life – just learn to put HIM first. Tell to the person next to you, “Put GOD first in 2011.”
There is just one more principle that Paul offers us for the New Year, which is…
3. LIVE IN THE PRESENT
Please notice verse 13 again. Paul said, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do:” Notice that Paul did not say, “one thing I will do.” He didn’t say, “one thing I’m going to do,” or “one thing I will get around to someday.” He said, “one thing I do.”
This clearly implies that Paul was living and acting in the present. Many people today try to live in the future. Do you know what the busiest day in the world is going to be? It’s not Christmas. It’s not the day after New Year. It is “someday.” Everyone in the world has something scheduled to do “someday.” PAGDATING NG PANAHON…BALANG ARAW!
Just last Sunday, I was talking with a sister in Christ after our service in Novaliches…I discussed the role of the church in making an impact in our society. She told me that she felt very inspired after the preaching and that someday she wants to help. And while that is such a noble desire, the problem is that “someday” is not on any calendar. I’m sure that we’ve all made plans for “someday,” but the fact is, “someday” will never come. If you’re not intentional of today, “someday” will never come at all!
Paul is the ultimate example of living each day to the fullest — living each day as if it were your last. When he was imprisoned in Rome, he didn’t sit there stewing, thinking about all the things he would do when he got out of jail. He wrote letters to churches, sang praises to God, and even converted some of the people who had imprisoned him! Paul used every day to the uttermost.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Do you love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff that life is made of.” It was Abraham Lincoln who first said, “The leading rule for a man of every calling is diligence; never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Oh don’t get too far, the Bible tells us that “WE MUST REDEEM THE TIME.” AVOID PROCRASTINATION! “Mamaya na, bukas na lang…tsaka na lang!” The Psalmist wrote, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end & the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life” Psalm 39:4. There is only so much time available to us. A wise person uses time, a foolish person wastes it.
Perhaps, the saddest example of procrastination is found in the life of the Roman Governor Felix, who listened to Paul “speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ’Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.’” (Acts 24:25).
Never again did Felix listen to God’s word. Once he had put it off for a time, as with so many things in life, that time never came.
We all ought to be more like the psalmist, who wrote, “I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments” (Psalm 119:60). Now is the day to obey God’s Word, not tomorrow or on the coming days! It’s now!
- What if there were no church tomorrow because we were too busy to worship God today?
- What if God could not hear your prayers tomorrow because you were too busy to pray today?
- What if there were no Bible tomorrow because you would not read His Word today?
- What if there were no forgiveness tomorrow because you did not stop sinning today?
- What if there were no invitation tomorrow because you did not respond today?
I want us to understand what the Word of God is telling to us, that you and I can never brag about tomorrow, because tomorrow may not come at all!
As we embark on the journeys of the New Year, let us determine ahead of time that it will be a year of victory! Let us choose our own attitudes and follow the advice of the Apostle Paul. Resolve to…
Forget your Past: Look beyond the sins and failures of yesterday; learn from them, repent of them, and then move forward.
Fix your Priorities: Place God at the top of your “to do” list every day. Worship Him. Study His Word. Put His Kingdom first in your life and everything else will fall into place.
Function in the Present: Stop living in the future. Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
This morning the absolute best way to start this year is to become a part of God’s eternal Kingdom. Focus your priorities by making Jesus the Lord of your life, allow the cleansing power of His blood to wash away your past sins, and start living your life for Christ everyday!
The Bible says, “Behold, now is ’the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ’the day of salvation’” (2 Cor. 6:2). The invitation is open to all! If you are ready to be baptized and begin your life anew today — or if you are already a Christian but need a fresh start — the Lord invites you to please come…
— Dr. Newland
— Brian La Croix
— Dr. Charles Stanley