Push Back and Press On
Push Back and Press On
New Hope Baptist Church
New Year’s Eve 2006
Text: Philippians 3:12-14
There are many good old movies out during the holiday seasons, and at Christmas, one of my favorites is the original, 1951 Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with Alastair Sim playing Ebenezer Scrooge. A simple review would suggest that it’s a story about an old grouch who has forgotten the joys of life and makes it his business to dampen the spirits of all those around him, especially at Christmas time. On a particular Christmas he is visited by three spirits: the ghost of Christmas past; the ghost of Christmas present; and the ghost of Christmas future. He is brought face to face with how his life, or lack of it, evolved from some major disappointments in his past, and how those things from his past has dictated how he thinks about and lives life.
I want that movie or aspects of it to be the catalyst for our message this morning. Here we are, New Year’s Eve, 2006. We are almost at a place from where we can look over into 2007, yet not quite. Some of us may be in a position similar to Moses and not know it. Remember, God allowed him to look over into the Promised Land, but he was not allowed to enter. Yet, here we are. What will we do with these last few hours of 2006? Some folk have already made plans for a night of partying and celebration, and feel a little ill at ease with my mentioning it. Some will stay home and dodge bullets, or perhaps spend the last few hours alone with that special someone. Others will fill journals with plans and resolutions for the New Year. For some, it will be a night like any other; a meal, a movie, a book, and loneliness. Still others will do like many businesses and organizations, they will take inventory. They will make a list of things they intended to accomplish or to complete in 2006 and determine how much they left undone, what they did incorrectly, what they regret doing, and everything that others did to them.
From our text today, Paul is going to tell us how to complete a proper inventory, how to respond to the leftovers of our past lives and how to forge a future. It involves almost simultaneous actions of pushing and pressing. You have to push back and press on. Notice I said to push back. It may night be always easy. Sometimes, you have to shove, sometimes you may have to force, persuade and ram a thing, but the thing is that you have to do it. No one can do it for you. There are three things that Paul suggests that you must do as you take inventory of your lives and consider the possibilities of your futures. You must be delivered from your past; devoted to a present purpose; and determined to have a better future.
Delivered from your past:
Unfortunately, some people get stuck or stop, when they think about what they didn’t do, what they half did; what they did wrong; or what others did to them. The past; Stuck in the past can stall or stunt your progression into a better future. The past where there is no hope; no light at the end of the tunnel. When you spend too much time in the past, you become accustomed to seeing backwards. Let me explain: Behavioral scientists have discovered that we usually see things that we are prepared to see, and that this is all centered in a network of nerve cells called the “Reticular Activating System.” Everybody here today has a “Reticular Activating System.” It works like this: Once something has been brought to your attention and you have been prepared to see it, you will see it virtually everywhere you go. E.g.; a new car. When you decide about a new car you begin to see them almost everywhere.
This happens in other areas of our lives too. We see what we are prepared to see. If we are prepared to see doom and gloom in the New Year that’s what we’ll see. If, on the other hand, we have prepared ourselves to see sunshine and opportunities, then that is what we are going to see. If we see ourselves as failures, if we see ourselves as weak and sickly, unworthy and limited; if we see ourselves as doomed by our pasts and products of our failures, chances are pretty good that that’s what we’ll be.
Sometimes people get stuck in the past by their own doing; sometimes because of devastating experiences, and sometimes they are stuck in the past because other people won’t let them forget and move on. I propose that it makes no difference whether your past was pleasant or difficult; marked by laughter and ease or devastation and shame, the past, if visited too often or for too long, can hinder your future.
Paul had as much if not more than most people to regret. By his own testimony in the Book of Acts, Paul describes his actions against the early believers: he says: “…many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them to foreign cities”. As a Christian and chief contributor to the writings of the New Testament, Paul had a lot to push back or forget.
Most persons in my age category and older struggle to remember what we too easily forget. But please keep in mind that in Bible terminology, “to forget” does not mean “to fail to remember.” Apart from senility, hypnosis, or a brain malfunction, no mature person can forget what has happened in the past. We may wish that we could erase certain bad memories, but we cannot. In a report to the Smithsonian Institute, Dr. Wilber Penfield of the Montreal Neurological Institute said, “Your brain contains a permanent record of your past that is like a single, continuous strip of moving film…the film library records your whole waking life from childhood on. You can relive those scenes from your past, one at a time; [feeling] exactly the same emotions you did during the original experience.”
In the Bible “To forget”, means “no longer to be influenced by or affected by.” When God promises, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:17), He is not suggesting that He will conveniently have a bad memory! This is impossible with God. What God is saying is, “I will no longer hold their sins against them. Their sins can no longer affect their standing with Me or influence My attitude toward them.” Isn’t that good news?
In the same manner, you must not allow your past to hold you hostage. Your pasts, no matter how daunting, should not dictate or shape or influence your future. The story of your life has not been ruined, not by your sin or anyone else’s. God’s good plan for your life is not buried under the mistakes of the past. God has a plan for your life, a good plan, a wise plan, a loving plan, a sovereign plan, and that plan is still in effect. You haven’t missed it. He is working out that plan in your life right now, today.
I think we need to be reminded that none of us can avoid regrets. All of us have made bad choices. All of us have disobeyed God. All of us have the taint of sin in our lives. All of us are influenced by Satan’s attacks. The important thing is to deal with our past, ask God’s forgiveness and move on with our lives as we seek to serve the Lord Jesus. It’s not just our past failures we must forget, but the past failures and hurts of others towards us. Most of us have probably been hurt by others in our past. We want to pretend that we are big and have forgiven and forgotten; but until you learn to come to the place in your life where you’re not affected or influenced by it, you have not really forgotten anything from the past. I believe I’m right because there are people in the church, sitting in pews and refusing to participate further, stewing over something somebody said or did fifty years ago to hurt their feelings. Get over it! Push it back and press on! All have sinned and come short! In the Bible we see many saints who failed.
- After asking the Israelites “How long will you falter between two opinions and defeating the prophets of Baal, Elijah ran from Jezzebel.
- After coming off of the ark Noah got drunk.
- After founding the Israelite nation Abraham lied.
- After being chosen as the king of Israel David committed adultery.
- After building the temple in Jerusalem Solomon married foreign wives.
- After accepting the call of discipleship Peter denied the Lord.
All of us have failed; all of us have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. But when it comes to dealing with our pasts, we often try and coven it up, alter it, excuse it or allow it to ruin us. When we are afflicted with disease in our bodies, we want to call out to God and put Him in remembrance of some promise in scripture. When we are laid off at work, we quote popular Scripture to ease our plight. Whenever calamity hits us, we speak up and out. But when it comes to being more effective in our Christian race and work for the Lord, we sit in church, with pristine attitudes and pious smiles and Satan throws past actions in our faces, and we coward. When we run into someone from the past who knows some of the things we have managed to hide, we take a back seat. We can open our big mouths about everything else that comes up, but when Satan brings up our pasts, we falter: I believe Paul would tell you this morning that he learned two words to say to Satan or anyone who would try and block his future with the threatening of his past: those words - “Yea, and ?”! When you’ve confessed your sins and you know that God has forgiven you and that He will not remember them again, that’s all you need to say when Satan tries to make your past live again. You committed adultery before, yea, and? You stole. Yea, and? You know you said a bad word. Yea, and? You cheated and you lied. Yea, and? You’ve been divorced. Yea, and? You had children, not a child, but children out of wedlock. Yea, and? You remember how she talked to you in front of them? Yea, and? Whatever happened yesterday is in the yea, and category. Notice Paul says, “forgetting, those things...” this is not a one time action. You may have to forget time and again until those old things no longer bother you; and you may have to forget time and again because of new failures. But know that all of your sins, all of your hurts and failures have already been covered by the blood of Christ and are forgotten by God.
Even though you can be distracted by the successes of the past, most Christians are shackled by regrets of the past. They are trying to run the race by looking backward! They stumble and fall and get in the way of other Christians! “The things which are behind” must be pushed back and “the things which are before” must be pressed upon. Being delivered from your past is only the beginning step to a productive future.
Devoted to a Purpose:
You must also be devoted to a purpose in your present situation. Paul had clear and decisive focuses and purposes in life: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering”; and “that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Paul just wanted to know Christ. That’s the focus! The words, “to know” are in the aorist tense in the original language and suggest a decisive act, not a process.
Knowing Jesus Christ is not accomplished by completing a list of to-dos or not-to-dos. It is not accomplished through some ritual or routine, no. Knowing Jesus Christ is accomplished only when you make a conscience decision to know Him. When you make that decision, then your actions will change to incorporate your decision.
That follows for any other endeavor in life. Whatever you purpose, you must have a clear focus on it. I’m not talking about some picture it and it’s yours nonsense. I mean you must be determined to succeed. You know the old saying, “if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything”? Well, if you have no clear focus, if you are not decisive in your pursuits, then you leave yourself open for anything. Young people, it was not so long ago that I was in your situations; A senior in High School; on a college campus for the first time; Making decisions on my own with too much freedom and time on my hands. But I tell you, you can get lost in a cloud of freedom and time if you don’t have a focus and a determination. If you think we parents are too old to know, then at least make sound decisions based upon the future you want, not the short lived pleasures of the present. Learn how to live in the future tense.
All of us should strive to do all for the glory of God; whether on a job, in our homes, in church, in play, day in and day out, our focus, our determination, and our purpose should be to glorify God and to know Jesus Christ. We should be living today for tomorrow. Live in the future tense. Live with purpose. In the midst of pushing back the past and determining a future, there must be devotion to purpose in the now. God can use you now. He has equipped you to do a work, now. Paul said, “This one thing I do…” He was focused on the now. His focus was intent. Whatever God has equipped you to do; you need to do it, now. Don’t try and do everything, but that one thing, do it now with devotion to its purpose.
In his book entitled “Developing the Leader within you” John Maxwell quotes William H. Hinson on why animal trainers carry a stool when they go into a cage of lions. “They have their whips, of course, and their pistols are at their sides. But invariably they also carry a stool. Hinson says it is the most important tool of the trainer. He holds the stool by the back and thrusts the legs toward the face of the wild animal. Those who know about lion training maintain that the animal tries to focus on all four legs at once. In the attempt to focus on all four, a kind of paralysis overwhelms the animal, and it becomes tame, weak, and disabled because its attention is fragmented. So we too become, if we are not focused and purposeful and future oriented in our actions.
Determined for a future:
In the movie, The Christmas Carol, The most effective spirit was the ghost of Christmas future, for it revealed the complete nothingness that Scrooges’ life would have served unless he changed his course; a dark, bleak, lonely, nothingness.
Paul described two actions for a determined future. Not only was he “reaching forward to those things which are ahead”, but he also said, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”.
Michael Jordan once said: “I play to win. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.” That’s it! That is what Paul had in mind when he said, “reaching forward”. The word reach has the connotation of stretching. It means to try hard to get something; even to put on, like clothes. You totally identify with the thing that you are after. It is with you all of the time. It is more than a goal, it’s an endeavor. It’s more than an objective or an aim; it’s an undertaking, a conscience effort. Sometimes as you reach you have to withdraw or take away. You may have to let go of some people now to get to the future. You have to abstain and avoid old places and habits, you may even have to drag yourself everyday, but you never let up, you are always reaching.
In the same way and at the same time, you have to press toward the goal. The word Paul used for press here is the same word that he used to describe his persecution of the early church. Paul was saying that with the same intensity, with the same determination, with the same singleness of focus that he persecuted and prosecuted the church, with the same strength he used to make the early followers of Christ run into foreign lands, he used that same intensity in his pursuit of knowing Christ Jesus.
How sad it is to observe someone who has never lived up to his/her real potential. It is tragic to watch an individual who has great ability that is never used simply because he or she lacks the incentive to pursue a worthy goal. Similarly, it is disappointing to see a Christian fail to evidence spiritual growth of any kind. Scripture teaches that Christian maturity or Christ likeness is a process in which we advance from one level to the next, step by step. But the secret of such development is to have an intense desire to fulfill the purpose God has for our lives.
Oh, brothers and sisters, we have to press our way on to a brighter tomorrow. Don’t worry about the year 2006 or those years before, but fix your mind on Christ Jesus and knowing Him and completing those things that He has prepared for you to do. Push back the past that would hinder you, but press forward at the same time. Don’t hold yourself or others hostage by the past. Help somebody instead. (In Ms. Scrooge, story of hell and Heaven). There can be a better tomorrow; there can be a brighter day. There can be joy in living; accomplished goals; revived marriages; fulfilled relationships; better grades; better parents; obedient children; stress-free jobs; better finances; resurrection of dreams deferred; there can be peace within; all things are possible in Christ Jesus. But you have to push back the past and press your way to the future. The Psalm writer asked a question: “I look at the hills, but from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord”. Paul said he found Mercy in Jesus and you can too. There is a plan for your life in Jesus. He’s bigger than your past. He’s more powerful than your memory. Jesus is worth pressing toward. He holds the keys of life; He holds our rewards; He holds the future. Take your inventory, review the race you’re running, but don’t you get stuck in your past. Push it back and press on toward Jesus. Jesus, who did not hold your past against you but died for you; Jesus, who knew that you would fail Him, yet died anyway, just for you. He died, so you could have a future. He died, so you could press on. He died one Friday and stayed in the grave all that day, He stayed, all day Saturday, but early, on Sunday morning, He got up from the grave to ensure your future. He got up and pushed back your every failure, your every sin; He got up to protect your future. Go ahead, take stock of where you are, but push back and press on and go higher in Jesus.
Johnson Oatman, Jr., a businessman and ordained Methodist minister who wrote 3,000 gospel songs wrote these words in 1898 that were often sang in camp meetings during the turn of the 20th century:
I’m pressing on the upward way; new heights I’m gaining every day— Still praying as I’m onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay; tho some may dwell where these abound, my prayer, my aim is higher ground.
Chorus: Lord, lift me up and let me stand by faith on heaven’s table-land; A higher plane than I have found—Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
I don’t know about you this morning, but I want to go higher in Jesus. I want to know Him, I want to experience Him in every area of my life. I want to love Him, I want to please Him, I want to go higher in Jesus. My past promised hell; my future holds Jesus for all eternity. I just want to go higher in Him. Press your way on this morning. Don’t you let anything stop you. I want to tell you that the ghost from the past has been defeated. It can have no power over your life if you are determined to have a future with Jesus. Whatever your past excuses or fears have been, push them back and press your way forward to Jesus.