Our Focus for a New Year

Peninsula Community Church

January 1, 2017 

Our Focus for a New Year

Philippians 3:12-16 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.

It is hard to believe that we are entering a new year. It is so amazing that it seems like it was just yesterday that we were entering 2016 with all of its promises and the unknown of a new year. As the year unfolded so many of us have experienced deep emotions and events that have rocked our world. For some health news has changed the course of our life. Others have experienced the death of a loved one. Our hearts were broken and still suffer the pain of death within us. Still others have seen relationships fall apart and they are trying desperately to restore or at least get over the broken relationship. For some, we have battled the fears and disappointments of life and many issues that have discouraged and disheartened us. On the flip side many of us have encountered new friendships and many of us have overcome past issues that have brought pain and heartache. I have also spoken to some of you that have experienced incredible spiritual growth perhaps for the first time in your life this past year.

Today, as we stand on the threshold of a new day and a new year we look back at 2016 and we all have our memories: good and bad. We all have had those things that have impacted us in a way that we will never be the same again. As we look to the new year, the fact is we don’t know what 2017 will hold for us but we know that He, God, will hold us as we begin this journey. As we pause here at the start of a new year may we realize that we have a clean page and a new chapter to be written. The past is behind us and the future is ahead of us.

The passage we just read is one of the most popular verses used at this time of year. I must confess that I have used it a number of times myself. In fact, in looking over my notes from the past, I used this passage last year at this time. I struggled a bit with using it again but felt that this was the word that God wanted to speak to our hearts today. The reason is that this passage is one that speaks of new beginnings. It is one that calls us to recognize the goals we have and the vision that drives the motivation of our heart and our actions.

As a reminder, we see in this passage that Paul continues to press on as he does not settle for the current status in his life. He continues to press forward. He presses into Christ and grows in his relationship with Christ.  Paul states that a part of his success has been that is able to forget what lies behind and he continually strains forward to what lies ahead. To be honest he did not actually forget what is behind him, he simply did not allow the things in his past to dictate his future. Instead of looking back, he presses toward the vision and hope of a new day. And finally, Paul does not just press forward, he presses toward the goal of fulfilling the calling of Christ which is Christlikeness.

So with that in mind let’s unpack this passage together this morning. The first thing we notice here is that Paul is still working toward perfection. Paul unveils the fact that he has not reached perfection yet but he is continuing to live a life of being perfected. What we must understand in this regard is that our perfection is not so much in what we do or not do but it is about what we are becoming. Paul’s ultimate goal was to become more like Christ in everything.

The word’s of Paul in Philippians 3:8-11 give us some insight into Paul’s mindset. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 

Paul’s greatest desire was to be more like Christ and that is what we need today. That is the goal of our Christian existence. It is to exemplify Christ in all we do. The old adage “What would Jesus do?” is still apropos except that it should be more of what does Christ exemplify? Who He is more important than what He does! It is noteworthy that Paul wants to make this perfection his own and not someone else’s. It is a personal perfection. He can press toward perfection because he is in Christ. It is noteworthy that this is the same Paul who persecuted Christian believers for their faith. Paul is making the point that the same zeal that pushed him to pursue Christians he now uses to pursue Christ.

If you read just a few verses prior to the one we read today, you will see that Paul suggests that he is willing to give up everything that gives him any kind of religious or social status. His degrees, his genealogy, his education, his religious affiliation, and his successes did not define him. It was not an issue of whether or not these things were important or whether they had value but he wanted to define his life by his relationship with Christ. In essence, he did not want these things to get in the way of him getting to know Christ as that was his primary goal.

His greatest desire was to be more like Christ in every way. For that reason Paul stated that he was willing to forget what was behind him and he desired to strain toward what lies ahead. If we are honest, the fact is it is impossible to forget what has happened to us in the past. That is not so much what Paul is referring to. For example, for many of us we can focus so much on the past that we are hindered in our future growth. We are negatively impacted by an overdose of past regret, sin, and hangups. The enemy of our soul is so good at reminding us of our failures, our fears, and fruitlessness that we become powerless to secure a future hope. The enemy of our souls is so good at getting us to focus on our failures because he knows that we will not move ahead with any kind of faith. Fear can control us to the point that we never make any changes that will help us.

It is for that reason that Paul says that he strains toward the goal of maturity in Christ and Christlikeness. The idea of straining carries the idea of not giving up; that is there is a constant and consistent focus on moving forward in our relationship with Christ. Paul’s use of the word strain is not a mistake as we must press forward so that we are not bogged down by the past issues of life.

The problem too often is that we can give up before we cross the line to victory. This happens when we are overly focused on the past and not the future that is before us. A couple of stories illustrate this for me. For those that are a bit older you will remember that the big thing to do in the early to mid-70’s was streaking. There were a few of our high school friends who decided to do this at one of the grocery store parking lots. It was a parking lot that you could begin running on one end run all the way through to the other end to the car awaiting them. The problem of course is that one of the guys became so consumed with the cheering crowd around him that he did not see the grocery cart corral in the middle of the parking lot. Needless to say he ran into the upright bar full speed and he knocked himself out. He ended up on the asphalt without a stitch of clothing on. He became side tracked rather than pressing toward the goal. As second illustration is the story of Desean Jackson who received a pass and had a clear shot to the goal line. But at the 2 yard line he did the unthinkable. He dropped the ball as he began his celebration too early. He did not score the touchdown and in fact he lost the ball to Dallas who recovered what was considered to be a fumble.

The idea presented by these two illustrations is that we must stay focused and we must press onward to the goal of becoming more like Christ. With that in mind, what do we need to focus on individually and corporately? First, we must focus as Paul did on becoming more like Christ. The first action to be taken in this new year is to become more like Christ so that we exemplify His life in all we do. You see it is about becoming and not so much about doing as a focus. Secondly, we need to be about the business of lifting up Jesus in all we do. We lift Him up by our testimony, our actions, and our concern for others. Thirdly, we become more like Christ by reading His word so we understand who He is and what He exemplifies.

Fourth, the greatest focus we can have in 2017 is knowing Him and making Him known. I posted in the last e-blast that I would love to see the church double our attendance by the mid part of this year. The best way to make that happen is to make Jesus known. We make Him known in our lives, in our services, and in all that we do we must make Him known. After all, Jesus said it best when He stated that if He is lifted up then He will draw all people unto Himself. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” We can not and must not lift the church up as much as we lift up Christ the Lord of the church. We can not lift up ourselves as much as we do Christ. He must be the focus and the one that we are lifting up. We have the promise that if we lift Him up that He will draw men to Him.

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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