2020 Vision: Forgetting the Past
Intro: Good morning. This is the first Sunday of the new year. And I don’t know about you, but it feels like a new year. It feels like God is about to do something new, and last week’s sermon was about that, and I’m going to springboard off of that and start a new series, I hope it’s not too tacky, it’s called “2020 Vision” and with that, I’m going to look at what The Bible has to say about developing a vision.
Like last week, we looked at a passage that talked about God doing a new thing. But how do we get ourselves ready for whatever God is going to do? We have the promise that God does new things, that God wants to do new things, but how do we prepare ourselves for that? How do we get our hearts and minds in a position to ready ourselves?
Last week I talked about being ready, about how we need to be waiting and ready at the start line when the flag is waved or the pistol is shot. But let’s go back even before that, to the training and practice that needs to be done to get ourselves up to that point.
The summer Olympics are going to be held in Tokyo this year. And when we see a runner at the Olympics, we only see them on the track. We don’t see the many years of training and sacrifice that goes into preparing them for the Olympics. There are two young men from Dansville who are prepping themselves for the Olympics. One is a graduate who is now at Alfred State and is making his way toward running in the 2024 Olympics; and there is a senior at Dansville who is a swimmer who is also on track for the Olympics. While they have natural talent, that’s not good enough. They need to set a goal and prepare themselves.
So let’s take a look at that from a scriptural point of view. Turn with me to Philippians 3, verses 12-14.
As you’re turning there, the Olympics were something that was going on during the New Testament times. In fact, even long before that.
History tells us that the Olympic Games began in the 7th century Before Christ (BC) in Olympia, Greece, and that they were held every fourth year, almost continually, for 1,200 years. During that time period, the Greeks even marked their calendars in four-year periods called Olympiads.
In several instances, Paul used Olympic terminology to illustrate his point. And one of them is found in our passage today.
Philippians 3:12-14 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Central Truth: Paul is talking not only about his personal holiness, but he is also talking about his works and deeds, his whole self. Paul is certainly one who knows that salvation does not come by works or deeds, but by faith. But according to the NIV Application Commentary, Paul refuses to rest on his past successes but presses on toward that day when he will present the Philippians and his other congregations blameless to Christ. And we need to do the same thing. Whether it’s our own spiritual journey, or our ministries within this church building. We can’t just rest on our laurels and call it good and get into our comfort zone like we talked about last week. We need to press on to the goal and for a greater prize.
I’m going to kind of teeter back and forth between our personal goals of holiness and what kinds of goals this church needs to develop for the future. I hope I don’t lose or confuse you by switching back and forth on those topics.
Point 1: You’ll notice how Paul begins these verses: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal.” The first thing we need to do in order to obtain a vision is to come to terms with the fact that we have not yet arrived at our final destination.
Like I said, we can’t be complacent and comfortable and think this is it. We can’t think that this is all there is. We have our weekly church service, the doors are open, come on in, get comfortable, and in a few minutes we can all go home. That’s not what God has called us to be as Christians in our own spiritual walk and that’s not what God has called The Church to do.
And when I mean The Church, I mean not just this church building or church organization, but the Worldwide Church as a whole since its inception. It’s not about coming in, getting seated like it’s a movie or a concert. We have never obtained our spiritual goal; we cannot obtain our goal. Our goal is neverending. We never get to a point in our own personal holiness where we’ve arrived. This is it. My walk with Christ and my personal spiritual journey is perfect.
And our mission on earth as a worldwide church is neverending. So long as there are unsaved people on earth, so long as there is hurt and suffering on earth, our goal will never be reached. It will only be reached when there is no suffering and no need for evangelism. So, we won’t see our goals obtained until The Last Day. Until then, our personal spiritual journey should be ever increasing, and the Worldwide Church is in a neverending service. We, who are part of that church, need to persevere and press on, and be able to pass the baton when it’s time for the next runner to take the church.
We have to be able to know how to pass the torch, yet another Olympic reference and another Dansville reference. In the 1996 Olympics, a Dansville man took the Olympic torch in the Buffalo area and was one of 12,000 runners who ran the torch a portion of the way to Atlanta. I don’t know a whole lot about it, it was before my time in Dansville, but can you imagine the stamina of running? So it is with our Christian journey. It takes stamina or else we’ll succumb to falling.
And for the church? Think about the planning and logistics that it entails to successfully make sure the Olympic torch is carried with 12,000 runners for three months in two countries over 16,000 miles. To pass our torch as a church, we need to plan. There are logistics to passing the torch. There are people that God is preparing in this generation whom He wants the torch passed onto. We need to make sure we’re ready to hand it off when the time comes.
Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon called, Onward said:
The Christian is compared to a warrior, a wrestler, a competitor in the games: these figures are the very opposite of a condition in which nothing more is to be done. They imply energy, the gathering up of strength, and the concentration of forces, in order to the overthrowing of adversaries.
The Christian is also likened to a runner in a race, and that is the figure now before us in the text. It is clear that a man cannot be a runner who merely holds his ground, contented with his position: he only runs aright who each moment nears the mark.
Point 2: In the next verse, Paul says: “13 Brothers and sisters, 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,”
Like I said last week, it’s not a bad thing to remember the past, so long as we’re not living in it. So long as we’re not stuck in a rut and unable to get out. So long as we’re not resting on our laurels and thinking this is it, this is all we need to do. Just make sure I make it to church, don’t do this and don’t do that…too often, and when it comes to my place within the church? Well, all I to do is hold down the fort until Jesus returns.
H G Bosch wrote in Our Daily Bread that:
Many years ago, a promising Greek artist named Timanthes was under the instruction of a well-known tutor. After several years, the young painter created an exquisite portrait. He was so thrilled with what he had painted that he sat day after day gazing at his work.
One morning, however, he was horrified to discover that his teacher had deliberately ruined his painting. Angry and in tears, Timanthes ran to him and asked why he had destroyed his cherished possession. The wise man replied, “I did it for your own good. That painting had stopped your progress. It was an excellent piece of art, but it was not perfect. Start again and see if you can do even better.” The student took his advice and produced a masterpiece called “Sacrifice of Iphigenia,” regarded by some as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.
God never wants us to be content with our accomplishments. He wants us to reach even higher plateaus of service and Christ-likeness.
What God calls us to do requires us to keep challenging ourselves and to keep working and to keep hearing His voice as to what He wants us to do. Just like that artist, God wants to be our master. What He wants is for us to grow and change. Last week’s sermon, God promises change. He wants us to change into a greater inner, personal holiness and we have to seek God for what kind of change is right for this church. Whatever God is calling this church to do, we have to remind ourselves to not just sit back, but to trust and obey.
We need to understand that God knows what is going to reach this generation and the next. The world is lost and looking for answers. But if you were to ask many Gen-Xers and Millennials, they’ll tell you that church is unattractive. Established religion has not helped either communicate the gospel, or exemplify it. It’s just a bunch of hypocrites with a bunch of outdated rules. How can we be salt and light to our children’s and grandchildren’s generations? How can we pass the torch to them if we’re stuck looking back to our parents’ and grandparents’ generations?
I came across something from an unknown source which said:
Determination and tenacity are requirements for success in almost any worthwhile endeavor. Note how a hungry cheetah displays such single-mindedness when he chooses one specific animal in a herd of deer or antelope and goes after it. Ignoring others less desirable, which might easily be caught, the swift predator has been clocked at nearly seventy miles per hour in his hot and unrelenting pursuit of his intended prey. Think of the many scientists who, in spite of discouraging setbacks and negative attitudes on the part of their fellow workers, have persisted year after year in carrying on research in order to find a vaccine for some specific disease. Such tenacity of purpose is highly commendable. What boy has not thrilled to the popular tale of the western rancher who, having set his mind upon capturing a certain wild stallion, did not give up until he had corralled and trained the creature? To attain success, both determination and perseverance are necessary!
In like manner, to live a victorious Christian life, a steadfast resolve and a constancy of purpose are needed. The apostle Paul declared that a desire to experience the fullness of Christ’s resurrection power so gripped him that it became the controlling factor in his life. His words “I press toward the mark” describe a runner racing hard with his head forward, body bent and angled, and eyes on nothing but the final tape. Such was Paul’s zealous attitude in reaching out toward the spiritual goals of service and blessing. If we would show the same oneness of purpose, we would likewise be filled with joy, experience victory over sin, and possess a deeper sense of God’s constant presence.
The runner analogy that Paul uses here, sets his eyes on the goal and with eyes locked on the prize keeps going. It doesn’t mean that we forget what was behind, it means we don’t look back, we don’t turn back and we don’t stay back. We keep pressing on with face like flint, looking forward and full steam ahead.
Point 3: Verse 14 says: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
I’m going to give you another artist story. In his painting “An Allegory of Prudence,” 16th-century Venetian artist Titian portrayed Prudence as a man with three heads. One head was of a youth facing the future, another was of a mature man eyeing the present, and the third was of a wise old man gazing at the past. Over their heads Titian wrote a Latin phrase that means, “From the example of the past, the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future.”
You’ve heard the phrase, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it?” I’ve used that phrase before, and there is a time and a place for needing to think that way. But we can’t always think that way because sometimes, the future will come and we won’t be prepared for it, we’ll be stuck where we’ve always been because we’ll always be in the present and soon, the present will be in the past and the world will revolve around us and we won’t even realize it. We need to plan prudently for the future now.
Put your eye on the goal, and keep it there; and, forget the past. One thing I have learned about running a race: You cannot run a good race by looking over your shoulder. It’s a good way to fall. Forget the past.
Lot’s wife looked back, turned into a pillar of salt. A little boy in Sunday School said, “Well, that’s nothing. My mother was going to the grocery store, looked back, and turned into a telephone pole.” In other words, you can’t drive a car looking back. Now, you can’t run a race looking back.
In our own personal spiritual journey, we can’t look back either. Adrian Rogers says “Satan binds us to the past, but Jesus frees you for the future. Satan would like to keep you bound to the past.” That means, we have to get over what Jesus forgave. We have to forgive ourselves, or maybe we have to forgive others and let go of that grudge.
Here we are in 2020. Look how fast the past 20 years has gone. Friday, our youngest turned 16. All of our kids are over the age of 16 now. It seems like it should still be something in the future. But the future is now. 2020 is now. And like Paul, I can’t look back. Either good or bad. There are bad things I need to forget. There are people I’m still learning to forgive. There are regrets I’m still learning to let go of. I can’t bring the past back for a second shot and I can’t stop the future from coming. So what do I do? I keep running ahead.
My kids are all in a stage of life now where they’re making plans for the future. When we look to the future, some plans are more solid and others are more fluid, you gotta go with the flow. But at least you have to have a goal in mind.
There are plenty of times when I look back and think, “if only…” We can’t do that. There are plenty of times when I look back and want to stay there. There have been times when I was my kids’ age and wanted to stay 16 or 18 or 19. I couldn’t do that either. I couldn’t stop time then, I can’t stop time now. The church can’t do that. The church can appreciate the past, but not stay there. It’s time to move forward into the next decade with purpose.
Conclusion: As we close, I just want to remind you that we should never be satisfied with where we are in our own personal spiritual walk. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over our imperfections either, because, just like The Church, we’re not going to hit our goal until we see Jesus face to face.
So I want to challenge you today to two things this new year. First, where do you see this church body in three years? Or five years? How do you see it engaging with Watkins Glen? With the other churches and ministries in the area? How do you see it engaging with the next generation? How can this church pass the torch a decade from now in 2030 to the next generation so they can pick it up and run with it?
And second, I want to challenge you to seek running the race, looking forward and not in the past in your own personal spiritual journey. How can you stay focused on God and on the prize of Heaven and the reward that awaits you when you cross that finish line?
Prayer: Dear Lord, I pray that you would give a unified 2020 vision to the leaders of this church and to the next pastor. Lord, I pray that you would stir within their hearts your plan, your will and your desire for this church. What ministries will it have? What is the strategy for it to get done? I pray for divine revelation and wisdom so that this church can pass the torch to a new and on-fire generation in 10 years.
And I pray for a new on-fire anointing for those who are here today, in their personal lives. May they be running the race, ever moving forward in their relationship with you. May you call them to run, not walk. May you call them to move forward, not stuck in a ho-hum relationship with you. May they not get stuck looking back at past mistakes or fall behind in the race but give them a second wind of joy and vigor with eager anticipation for the prize ahead at the finish line.
In Jesus name, amen.