What a combination of things this Sunday is, New Year’s Eve and my last sermon and what does the Lord want me to preach on. A man wrote: “Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to.” He also said, ‘An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.’ I add, an optimist can’t wait to see the new pastor and the new year. A pessimist can’t wait for the old pastor to leave and then they pray that the new pastor isn’t as bad he was.”
Make no mistake, this Sunday is a day to think about the opportunity to start fresh on things from the perspective of your life and God’s church that you call Patoka UMC. I’ve got a number of things I’d like to accomplish, both personally and with the ministry of the Otwell church, and you should feel the same way about yourself and the ministry of Patoka UMC. What do you desire to accomplish in 2018?
Personally, is it a health goal or a business goal or is it a spiritual goal? What do you wish to accomplish or contribute to the Lord or to the church or to others? It’s also a great time to turn the page on some things you should put behind you. As I reflect on things, our lives and our brains are so full of stuff, I think before we can look to what we desire to accomplish for the Lord in the future, we probably need to focus on the things we need to put behind us.
Consider this scripture from Philippians 3:12-14: Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this 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 heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Five lessons we can learn from Paul:
1. We all have an imperfect past.
None of us can look at our past and see nothing we aren’t ashamed of. We all have blemishes and stains that we’d just as soon no one knew about or that we’d just as soon forget. The apostle Paul was no different He had persecuted the Church of Christ and he had plenty of time to reflect on the shame of that. But we also have to remember that Paul was a religious guy even before he met Christ. He was an up and coming religious leader who had the trust of the religious establishment in place. He could quote Scripture, he was probably a big synagogue goer.
But all of his religion didn’t keep him from having a past that he didn’t treasure as time went by.
You might have grown up in church, you might be involved in church. But just the same, you have an imperfect past. You might be thinking you could be or have been not to close to Jesus at times this year. You might be thinking you could be or have been more involved in church, serving, volunteering, attending or participating. It’s imperfect because of the presence of sin in your life. It’s imperfect because you have chosen your way over God’s way many times. And there’s no way to get away from that fact. But the second lesson we can learn from Paul is that…
2. We don’t have to be a slave to that past.
Paul could have said, “Look. I put people in prison, and I voted for the death penalty for Christians I arrested. There is no hope for me, and there is no way I could ever be used by Christ.” But he insisted here that he had some work moving on for. He could look back on the fact that Christ redeemed him from his past, and was continually working in him. You can do that too. He says here that in spite of his past, he was moving on. How does he say it? “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
He recognized his past, but he refused to be a slave to it. Paul was a few years away from his death when he wrote this book. He could have said, “Well, I’m an old man, now. I guess I’ll just plod along here and bide my time until they chop my head off – whenever that will be.’ yet he still felt he had something to shoot for and work for. He still felt that he had a ways to go in his relationship and service for Christ.
How many people look at their circumstances and decide that it’s just not worth trying anymore? Way too many, that’s for sure. They might think they’ve got it all together and don’t need to work on strengthening their relationship with Christ. But if we look to Paul here as our example, we can see that it’s never too late to change, and our circumstances don’t need to stand in the way of our effectiveness for Christ. Lesson number three from Paul is that…
3. No matter our current circumstances, we can move on to better and greater things.
Paul was an old man and under house arrest in Rome, he could have just sat back and “retired” from living for Christ and for ministry, but he was of the opinion that he still had work to do.
And more than that, He still needed to know Christ better. He had known Jesus for 10’s of years and probably had a relationship with him that most folks could only dream of, and yet – it wasn’t enough.
It didn’t matter that he was an older man. It didn’t matter what his current circumstance was. He needed more of Jesus and he was willing to make the effort to make it happen. And that leads us to the fourth lesson we can take from Paul, and that is that…
4. Moving on only happens by intentional, determined effort.
There’s a word that doesn’t fit real well with learning to live for Christ until your last breath and serve Him: convenience. I love convenience, and I love only working or praying or studying or worshipping or Bible study or Sunday school or whatever, when it’s convenient. But listen to the words of Paul here in this passage: “straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on” I press on. Straining toward what lies ahead. I press on. That goes against what I think most Christians would think it takes to know Christ and serve Him better. I mentioned Paul’s circumstances and how he didn’t let them get in the way.
He did what it took within his current circumstance, without making excuses. He just did it. Christ was worth the effort for Paul, and if you’ll make the effort, you’ll find He was worth it for you as well. Paul was determined to move on from his past and from his present circumstances to gain more of Christ.
5. The goal is worth the effort.
Paul here calls it a prize. Not just a wage or a paycheck. A prize. When you focus on Christ and living for Him, you win. I think so many people have a lukewarm relationship with Christ and no desire to live for Him because they see the work, but they don’t see the prize. We all have “prizes” we work for: a house, a car, retirement etc. so thay scrimp and save for the prize.
But they won’t do that for Christ. They’ll work for what they can see, but not for something that helps the soul. But Paul here says that everything that he’s done or had isn’t worth what he can gain through knowing Christ and serving Him. I wish more Christians could see the value of Christ like Paul did. And you know what? I fail to see it sometimes myself. God help all of us to see that the prize is worth the effort.
The bottom-line of what I want to communicate to you through Paul’s words here is that he decided to turn the page – on his past, and even on his present circumstances. He wanted to move on. And the new year gives us a great opportunity to do just that. Let me suggest five things to turn the page on over this next year.
1. Turn the page on a lukewarm relationship with Christ.
That’s not what Jesus wants for you, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want that if they really knew what God had in store for them. Jesus wants us to be on fire for Him more than the other “stuff”, like politics, sports, job, hobbies. He wants on fire loving Him and living for Him in every area of our lives. Spend time in the Word and prayer. Give up on half-hearted obedience to Jesus. Get past lip-service to life-service.
Strengthen your relationship with His bride, the Church. Attendance every week, Sunday school, start/join a Bible study, serve in mission things besides serving for fundraisors. Whatever it takes, turn the page on a lukewarm, mediocre relationship with Christ. Next…
2. Turn the page on unforgiveness.
Some of you have been hurt. Some of you have been hurt badly. Others have just gotten their feelings hurt a little. But in any case, you’re holding onto that, and you’ve refused to forgive that person from your heart. Scripture says not to let the sun go down on your anger. Some of you have let hundreds and thousands of suns go down on your anger. “But they don’t deserve it.”
I know. Believe me, I know that. But as I’ve said before, neither do you.”
Do you have the right to demand forgiveness from God? I hope not, because you don’t have that right. Now listen very closely here: you don’t have the right to withhold forgiveness of others any more than you have the right to demand forgiveness for yourself.
Don’t let bitterness and unforgiveness take root in your heart and rot your soul. Bitterness is like pus in your heart and soul. And who wants that stuff going through them? Nobody does. At least, no one should, and Scripture says we’re supposed to get rid of it. Folks, when you choose to forgive and when you choose to drop the grudge, you are set free. Think you can’t do that? All I can tell you is that there are those who have had greater hurts than you who have been able to forgive. How? They needed the help of God Almighty to help them and they asked for it and got it. Another thing you can do this year is…
3. Turn the page on THAT sin.
What do I mean by that? I think that in many, if not most people, there is something they’ve struggled with, and maybe even given up on conquering. You know what that is for you.
Maybe it’s lying. Maybe it’s gossiping or judging or anger. Maybe it’s looking at that inappropriate material on the internet or TV or the DVD player. Maybe it’s just plain laziness. Whatever it is, you can start with this year to make it a thing of the past. Ask God to help you get a handle on whatever that is, and to get hold of any resources that might help you move one.
4. Turn the page on handling God’s money your way.
Money is one of those areas that people cling to the hardest. Jesus talks more about money in Scripture than He does about heaven and hell? Why? I think it’s because He knew how tightly we want to hang onto it. Well, it’s not your money to begin with. Everything you have in terms of money or the ability to earn it is a gift from God. It’s His, and if we’ll listen to what He says about how to handle it, it’ll go farther, and we’ll have more peace about it, whether we have a little or a lot. And lastly…
5. Turn the page on mediocrity.
Mediocrity is the default position of life. Anybody can be mediocre, and most people are, especially when it comes to living for Christ and serving Him. Excellence, on the other hand, is rarely achieved without intentional effort. I’m not saying perfection, I’m saying excellence.
So let me suggest that you step it up in everything I have previously mentioned, personally and from a Patoka UMC perspective. When we work toward excellence, we reflect the work of Christ. So many people live in the rut of just getting along like they always have. Zig Ziglar says that a rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out. I want to encourage you to get out of the rut you may be in.
I want to encourage this church as a whole to show the people around you that you are always wanting to turn the page on the past, and strain toward what is ahead in your service for Christ.
Don’t let this year be the same ol’ same ol’ you’ve done all the past years. Make this year the best year yet in your walk with Christ and your service for Him.
This morning we need to pause and think and pray about what are our priorities for 2018 and what are God’s priorities for each and everyone of us. We could just rush into another year, carry on with our daily lives operating in the same way as we did last year.
But if we did that we would miss out on the opportunity to realign our plans and priorities with God’s plans and priorities for us. You know as well as I do, that God is meant to have first place in our daily lives. Each of us needs to pause and ask the question is God central to my life? Is it God first? In all things? Everyday?
When you reflect on 2017, did God have the central place, did you put His will and purposes above your own? It’s easy to get distracted, to get bogged down with the duties of the day. We have busy lives, family, home, work, school, hobbies and activities. Will you plan to live this year for God? Are you determined to live for His honor and glory in 2018?