Peninsula Community Church
Looking Back and Looking Forward
January 3, 2016
It is hard to believe that we have turned the page into a New Year. And yet, it seems that it was just yesterday that we turned a new page on the 2015 chapter of our lives. As we have turned the page into anew year, we must remember that the pages of our life for 2016 are relatively blank. Yes, we may have the same problems and the circumstances but the decisions we now make are all new.
Paul in his writings to the Church at Philippi understood this. He stated 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 (Philippians 3:12-16).
As we read this passage Paul says that he forgets what lies behind and he strains forward what lies ahead. We must realize that Paul is not saying that we should not remember the past but that the past must not dictate our present activity or our future responses to life’s issues. We have all been affected by problems and issues. Some of these are larger than life and others are those dripping faucet issues that are irritants more than anything else.
To use the vernacular of the day “Life Sucks.” Life is not fair. Life is filled with both joy and sadness and at times both occur at the same time. Life is filled with the unknown, unexpected, and the unrealized. The problem with life is that we do not know what the future holds, it is the unknown. We also know that life is filled with the unexpected. There are always great surprises both good and bad. And finally, life is filled with unrealized dreams and hopes. But as we enter a new year we can begin with a clean slate and we have the privilege of writing a brand new chapter in our life.
So with that in mind let us look at couple of things this morning. First of all we look back in order to remember what God has done on our behalf and to remember where we have come from. There are some in the church community that would tell you that we should never look back because that is somehow a lack of faith. Now I understand in part why they would propagate such a teaching, as we can be so focused on the past, that we fail to move into the future thus we fail to accomplish God’s will in the present. By being absorbed with the past, we allow the unknown, the unexpected, and the unrealized dreams of our life to determine our current state and the kind of future we will have.
While Paul states that he does not look back, the Bible is also replete with passages that encourage us to remember. To remember, we must look back at what God has done in us and around us. That is the reason I have asked these folks today to share their testimonies about what God has done in and through them in 2015. It is a way to look back and remember. We remember not so much the pain or the problems as much as we remember the grace of God and the power of God at work in our world.
In 1905 George Santayana wrote the following in his book The Life of Reason. “Those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote has been contributed to Winston Churchill who used a variation of the quote when he stated that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” The idea here is that when we forget what God has done and the victories that have been won, we can forget the lessons learned in the process. You see there is no experience in life that does not afford us the opportunity to learn and to be instructed. Every experience in life gives us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, understand those with whom we interact, and to know more about God. This does not diminish the pain, the hurt, or the anger but it does put things into a better perspective for us.
In this regard, let me share a couple of ideas with you about having a fresh start in 2016. First of all stop making excuses and stop allowing past experiences to affect where you are and what you do. In Proverbs 28:13 Solomon makes an invaluable contribution to this discussion. He states that Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. To not allow God’s forgiveness to flood our hearts is to shut off God’s mercy and grace. Too often we use our past to limit our success in the present. We can use the problems of the past as an excuse to not allow God’s grace and mercy to heal us. We then become stifled and stunted in our growth. How many people do you know seem to live their life looking backward? They count their losses, their regrets, and their failures. No wonder so many live in defeat.
In the film “The Mission,” Robert DeNiro plays a mercenary who has taken asylum in the local church after killing his brother in a fit of jealous rage. He leaves the church and heads to a mission post located above the waterfalls in a South American jungle. Because of what he has done, and how bad he feels, he ties himself to a several-hundred pound net of items that represents his sinful life. He feels compelled to drag this sack of sin around with him as a way to do penance for what he has done. Have you ever felt like that? I suspect that some of you are tethered to some transgressions this morning. Others of you are gasping under the guilt of things you did several years ago. What do you do when you realize that you’ve messed up? How do you stabilize your life when you experience more ups and downs than the stock market? Do you grab some rope and hitch it up to your sin pile and start dragging it around? Or, is there something better? We can accept God’s forgiveness and let go of the past.
The second thing we can do is to take an inventory of our lives. Take some time to list the issues you face but also list the successes. I am sure that if you will take some time to do this you will find that there have been more successes than you might imagine. By taking inventory, we can have a picture of the realities of life but we can also have a picture of God’s grace and His mercy.
Thirdly, act in faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for. What are you hoping for? What do you need to happen in 2016? What changes need to be made in your life? It all begins with faith. By faith we see mountains moved. By faith we see lives changed. When we walk in faith we do not always see positive movement but we continue to walk in faith. To lose faith is to be condemned to a lifeless journey. To lose faith sets us up to be beaten up by the obstacles, the circumstances, and the people in our lives.
Fourth, we must refocus on what is the reality of our life. When we are confronted with the problems of life we can become distracted and overwhelmed. But, as we begin this new year we must refocus our attention, our dreams, and our hopes on God’s will for our lives. The problem that occurs sometimes is that we have a picture in our mind of what life should be. That is not a bad thing as we need to have a dream. We need to have to things that we hold onto and that we hope for. The problem occurs when the picture in our mind is faulty or is based on a false reality.
Last week I mentioned how I have a dream that some day I will stand on a platform and play the drums or the guitar like a mad man. I would do rifts and drum sets that would cause people to stand and cheer. While this is a dream, I also know the reality of life. I am not musically inclined in that regard. I have taken piano and guitar and I was not successful in either. Sure I can dream about this but my focus must be on what God has called me to do.
The fifth thing we can do is to renew our trust in God. The fact is when life’s issues confront us we can loose hope and our trust in God can be shaken. Out trust in God is impacted because we can believe that God has failed us or He has let us down. We can become angry with God and dissatisfied with the actions that God has taken on our behalf. When that happens we need to refocus our trust on Him.
A number of years ago I was involved in a car accident. On my way home from church late one Friday night I had a pedestrian run out in front of me and they collided with my car. It was a surreal moment. There in my windshield was the face of this young man. My windshield shattered. He slid down the hood of my car onto the ground with no movement. My initial thought is that he was dead. But as I exited the car I began to see movement and then he jumped up to run. That accident effected me more than I imagined as I lost trust in my ability to drive in the sense that any time I saw a pedestrian on the side of the road I tensed up. I felt panic. And I became fearful that they would jump out in front of me. I had to overcome this fear. To do so, I had to trust that I could drive. I had to realize that the accident was a one time event.
You may have faced some uncertainty and difficult issues in your life. Most are probably outside your control or you ability to change and yet they are still real. They still happened. They have shaken your faith so much that you must learn to trust again. How do you do this, you do so by taking one step at a time, one decision at a time, and one problem at a time. We remember that God is still alive. He is still omnipotent. He is still saving. He grace is still amazing and He is still on the throne. We have a new chapter to write. May we do so in a way that we live in freedom and may we be empowered to live not in the past but in the present and with a hope for a new day.
For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14
Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom