I wanted to post my sermon from this Sunday…
Always Going Forward
This Weekend we have set aside time to celebrate and give thanks. A heart of gratitude marks the Christian life in a way that should shine forth to the world around us.
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.
–1 Chronicles 16:8
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to look at the tension for what we have and still striving toward what God wants. We can have a heart of joy while pressing on in this thing we call life. The faith journey is something over a life time refined and worked on.
Paul understood this most of all as he saw everything he gave up to follow Christ and more than that how truly knowing him was the goal of his life.
12Not 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. 13Brothers, 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,
14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
This is a goal of Paul’s and he paints the picture of a race or a journey. We will look more at this metaphor as I also share the narrative of a marathon.
In my senior year at Life Pacific College, http://www.lifepacific.edu, (while suffering from a problem that plagued me most of my school years, senioritis), I decided a distraction, ummm a challenge was in order. My roommate, Jim Henderson, and I talked each other running the LA marathon. The goal is to finish, but a marathon is much more than the actual race…it includes, training, planning, preparing and finally the race. My problem with this race came in the preparing. We trained well, but on race day the heat destroyed me and my lack of preparation. I did not hydrate enough, and at the 15-mile marker, I succumbed to the heat with heat exhaustion. However, when I was nearing that mile-marker in life of 30-years old, I decided to finish what I started, one day before I turned 30. I ran and completed my first marathon. Let’s paint this picture of a marathon or journey with what Paul is talking about spiritually in knowing Christ.
The first point is that we have not arrived.
I. Not arrived
First, Paul is talking about not yet or a future anticipation. He twice mentions this in the two sentences here in v. 12-14. His key idea is pressing on or moving forward, but he begins with the fact he has not yet obtained this. Actually, better way to say this, is I have not yet achieved the goal.
For me, I had run in a marathon, but I had not yet won the prize. You see in a marathon, everyone receives a prize for finishing. I now have two medals for finishing the LA and San Diego marathons. But in preparing to run the marathon for a second time to finish what I had not yet accomplished, I had to know what I did not yet obtain.
I had to find a new running partner. My roommate was no longer around, so a friend in church, Joe Cleland took up the duty of guiding me in the run. This was an adjustment as Jim and I were in simpatico. Joe and I worked out the kinks by bumping our way through things.
As this is Thanksgiving, let me remember to say that even as life gets difficult, or we feel so far from the goal, we still are called to give thanks.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
–1 Thessalonians 5:18
Even when things aren’t happy, we give thanks, and having a heart of gratitude for everything helps us move forward in our journey with God. I was always thankful to have some one willing to help me run. I knew we would figure out how to work well together even if it was not always perfect, yet…
One story comes to mind from bumping into a fire hydrant. We crossed a street, and as we were running up the sidewalk, he looked back to see that I would hit the curb (or not hit the curb) at the right spot. I was right behind him making the curb, but two steps ahead was a fire hydrant. He didn’t notice it as he was watching me step on the sidewalk, and his shout to go left just wasn’t soon enough. My knee banged off the fire hydrant as I did my best to avoid smacking directly into it. I was sore, but not too much worse for the wear. This leads me to part of what Paul is saying in pressing on to take hold of that which Christ took hold of us. We are moving and looking forward in this race as what is behind only distracts us from the object of our desire.
So that leads to the second and most important point, to keep going…
The picture of a race is best seen as Paul twice uses the verb press on. We push forward or persevere in our faith journey to know God more intimately. Paul wants to know God deeply and in the Old Testament understanding of how a wife and husband knew each other. He presses on past any hindrance and with singular focus to know and take hold of that relationship with Christ Jesus.
And whatever we do as we press on, let’s do unto Christ with thanksgiving,
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
A marathon best paints this picture of pressing on as you hit that thing they call “the wall”. After about 18-miles, it literally feels like you have hit a wall and can go no further. However, you just push forward. One step at a time, you just keep moving forward toward the finish line. There were times, we just talked to each other up and down the hills through that period before the second wind, and told each other to just keep going; we can collapse at the finish line.
In life, there are many things that try to hold us from knowing God more closely. Friends, entertainment, work, sin, busyness, and not all of these are in and of themselves evil. But we need to focus on always moving toward Christ. Sometimes there are things that get in our way.
forgetting what is behind in the second sentence. He continually forgot what was behind him. Rahter, more accurately he overlooked or paid no attention to what was behind him. In comparison to what was ahead, what was behind was nothing.
One time in our training, Joe and I were doing sprint work out sup a hill. We found a hill that was about 100 meters (which happened to lead into a hiso neighborhood. Did I say, gated neighborhood. We would sprint as fast as we could four or five times up the hill. One time, we ran our lungs out, and Joe could barely say stop. When he did it was too late as I banged into the gate. I hobbled my way back to his car and sat the rest of that day out. However, I knew I had to keep going in the training. And I did.
Paul twice says press on preceded by the fact he has not yet arrived. But the second time, he adds forgetting what is behind. When life knocks us down, or when good things are in our past, we need to literally pay no attention or disregard them in comparison to pressing on. We need to keep going in order to achieve, the prize.
The third point is to remember the goal
And we will receive the prize if we keep going. Here is a great thanksgiving verse relating to victory.
Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 15:57
The victory will come, but we need to hold on to that in Christ Jesus. We need to focus on it. We need to strain forward as a runner stretching toward the finish line. The kind of runner not worried about what is around him.
This brings to mind the famous story of the miracle mile. The first time two runners ran the mile in under four minutes in the same race. John Landy (from Australia) was leading the whole way, but knowing Roger Bannister always had a last burst of speed, he looked to see where he was. As he looked back, Bannister passed him. There is even a statue of that famous image outside the Empire Stadium in Vancouver, BC. We need to fix our eyes on the goal. For a short story, http://sports.jrank.org/pages/262/Bannister-Roger-Miracle-Mile.html
And for video, http://archives.cbc.ca/sports/athletics/clips/7607/
Even if I tripped and fell a few times, I knew I would get up again. I wasn’t going to allow anything to stop me this time. I was prepared, I would eat the right food, and I would drink plenty of water. We made strategies and determined exactly how we would run the race that day. The good news is we finished, and I have the medal to show my accomplishment. The story can continue as I still want to beat my time and run under 4 hours.
We should never be satisfied with where we are. Paul understands he is not yet perfect, but he is straining ahead toward the goal. We need to always look to the finish. We are nearing the completion of a new building, but that is not the goal. The goal is to use that as a lighthouse to draw people into relationship with God. The goal is have more people know God because we have a building that can support the ministry. Once the building is finished, we are not going to stop working. We just will be working on different things.
Paul never slowed on his work to know Christ more. I think about that idea of the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. I get the idea that the prize is far more than heaven. What the Bible is saying is that the goal is a perfect relationship with God. We strain forward to one day realize the true nature of our relationship with God as he intended it.
Let me conclude with one more story to illustrate the journey of faith we are in, that we have not arrived, but we keep going fixed on the goal.
Finally, this story can summarize the whole thing. When I was training for the San Diego marathon, we had one last long run to complete before tapering for the race. We were running 20 miles this day on a bike trail. Joe and I ran side by side in our group of running buddies. We were coming up on a narrow spot as we would go under a bridge, when a bike rider came toward us. I tried to go out to the left to allow the biker to go between us. But when I felt like I was running off the trail, I came back to the middle right as the biker rode toward us. He had no where to go, and we smacked into each other. I flew back onto my butt. Scrapping on the path.
Everyone stopped, stunned at what happened. I got up and brushed myself off with only one thing on my mind. I wanted to keep going and finish the final five miles on our run.
The pint is that life will often knock us down. Things get in our way or hold us back from the goal. We need to remember that we have not arrived; we need to keep going and focused on the goal.
Never give up. God has great things ahead for your life with him.