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Forgetting the Past

2020 Vision  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Answer the question, "How can I forget the past?"

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Moving Past the Past

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” ― Mother Theresa
As a pastor I am provided opportunities to minister to people in situations that are not exactly typical. I have had the opportunity to encourage people that have experienced horrible things in the past. Some had been abused by family members. Some had experienced a terrible trauma. Others had made mistakes for which they spent time in jail or prison. All of them struggled with the issues of the past, believing that the past was too difficult for them and that they wouldn’t be able to have a successful future.
As a counselor and human being, I am like you and have heard stories of marriages that were on the verge of failure due to failures, lack of caring, or simple misunderstandings. I have been on the phone or sitting next to people who felt that there was no tomorrow. The past was too intimidating to continue to live.
Fortunately, you and I are testimonies to the fact that our yesterdays don’t have to control our decisions today and that our future is bright in Christ Jesus.

The Goal is Not Behind Us

It is strange how much the current pandemic is affecting our culture. Workplaces are scattered. Social distancing may extend over 1 year. The school calendar may change forever into a year-round model. Unemployment has changed careers of people. How business is conducted has shifted. It leaves us asking the question, “What now?” If there has ever been a time when we have been likely to move out of the past – it is now.
The Apostle Paul makes an interesting point in the book of Philippians that is relevant for every one of us. “Forget the past and press on toward the heavenly prize.”
Philippians 3:13–14 NIV
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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
I remember an interesting story about John Maxwell. John Maxwell is a former pastor and now a leader in the field of leadership – both within the Christian and secular worlds. I don’t know if I read it or heard it, but he tells the story of how for years and years he collected stories, anecdotes, and personal notes to help him with his writing and speaking. One day he realized that these old notes and stories had become a crutch and had limited his creativity and relevance. So, he loaded up all his past resources and threw them all away and began fresh.
I have huge respect for his decision. His willingness to clean out the old, challenge himself, and move into the future with nothing but fresh ideas is heroic.
To move intentionally from the past into the present and the future is heroic.Let’s explore Paul’s thinking in this area of forgetting the past!

Forgetting the Past

First, Realize that You are Not Perfect

Whether you know it or not, this is a controversial topic in Christianity. There are teachers out there (Quakers, Methodists, Wesleyan Pentecostals) who believe that once we are saved, we are perfect and no longer with sin.

Paul admits that he himself is not perfect

Philippians 3:12 ESV
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.
If this text does nothing else, it should put an end to all dreams of sinless perfection in this life. Paul begins with an honest admission—"I’m not there yet.” Unlike so many contemporary leaders, he has no problem admitting his own personal shortcomings. He’s isn’t perfect yet and he knows it—and this becomes the place where his spiritual growth begins. - Ray Pritchard
Paul expressed his desire to achieve what God had in store for him. Paul was in the process of achieving. One of the key words of the passage is “pursue” (“press on,” NIV; diōkō, 3:12, 14). It stresses an active commitment to the call of Christ.
Some commentators suggest that in this section Paul addressed his opponents. They say that he consciously countered a perfectionistic group, sometimes called “divine men,” who claimed their own completeness.[1]

Jesus as the Author and Perfecter of our Faith does not make us perfect people.

In Hebrews 12 Jesus is called the Author and Perfecter of our faith. In the Greek language the word ‘perfecter” is teleiotes, the Completer, the One who reached the goal so as to win the prize.
It is true that as born-again believers we are spiritually perfect through the grace of Christ, but our souls and bodies need to be sanctified by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Our mission statement as a church reflects this – “Finding true life in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit”. Paul admits that he hadn’t already arrived at the goal but was in the process of being matured just as we are as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.
The NIV translates teleios as “goal” and not “perfect” to get a better understanding of Paul’s intended meaning.
Philippians 3:12 NIV
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.
Lightner writes:
Paul’s salvation experience had taken place about 30 years before he wrote to the Philippians. He had won many spiritual battles in that time. He had grown much in those years, but he candidly confessed he had not obtained all this, nor was he yet made perfect (v. 12). He still had more spiritual heights to climb. This testimony of the apostle reminded the saints at Philippi—and it serves to remind believers today—that there must never be a stalemate in their spiritual growth or a plateau beyond which they cannot climb.[2]

Secondly, Make a Decision to “Forget the Past”

Paul makes it clear to us that it was his decision to forget the past:
Philippians 3:13–14 NIV
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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
I often use the contrast of a windshield and a rear-view mirror when I talk to people who are struggling with something from their past. We can be bound as captives to things that were either done to us or done by us. 20-33% of men and women were abused as children by the time they turn 18. Now add to that loss of loved ones, divorce, physical trauma, the effects of crime, and the list goes on. The vast majority, if not all of us need to understand that the windshield is much bigger than the rearview mirror because we need to be looking ahead, not looking into the past.

Transform Your Mind

One technique for forgetting the past in through transforming the mind.
“The mind is to the soul what the brain is to their body” – Ravi Zacharias
Hear what he is saying. The brain controls our bodies: the mind controls our soul (our emotions, thoughts, and feelings). Remember these verses from Romans?
Romans 12:1–2 NIV
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
How do we forget the past? By renewing our minds. Begin to think ‘God thoughts’ instead of ‘fleshly thoughts’. Dive into the Word of God and find out about His love for you, the extent of His forgiveness, and His grace. Practice Biblical insights into every area of your life. Turn off the news that drones on and on and put on some (Biblically solid) Christian music or podcast.

Keep Your Eye on the Goal Line

Another tactic for forgetting the past is keeping your eye on the goal line.
I vividly remember a day in high school when we were in gym class. We were learning the 440 relay, so the gym class that been broken up into four 4 man teams. I ended up with the last leg for my team. The race began and my team slowly fell behind. I seem to remember Ricky as being one of the legs, and, let’s just say, he was more of an offensive lineman than a sprinter. Anyway, by the time I got the baton, we were well behind. I took off and began to close the gap, a little more, a little more, until finally there was a chance, we could win the race! As I crossed the finish line, I had an imaginary crowd in my mind shouting “USA! USA!” The reality was I bested some non-athletic kids but for that moment I was the hero of the race!
Paul is working in this context from the metaphor of a race. He is not interested in the other runners, just the finish line. How do we get distracted by other runners? Now, I’ve run a lot of miles over the years. I have no passion for it so I’m a pretty good source of possible distractions from running:

1. “Good enough for today”

– made it 1 mile? Good enough for today! This is complacency. It settles for good enough in relationship with God.

2. “Enjoying the scenery”

– in the Army your career is based in part by your PT scores. Just scrapping by in your run meant that your overall performance falls short. This distraction forgets your purpose. Here it is easy to get burdened with all the other concerns of this world.

3. “Setting goals to beat other runners”

– This is where you focus on an individual instead of the goal. If I can just beat Pvt. Snuffy – afterall, he is messed up and I can’t let him beat me. Our pride can be a distraction. Pride focuses on me and keeps me from being dependent on God.
In Psalm 45 the psalmist paints a picture of a King receiving his bride. He is a wonderful king, both attractive and strong. The psalm offers advice to the bride:
Psalm 45:10–11 NIV
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.
As the Bride of Christ, we should take the advice of both the psalmist and the Apostle Paul and keep our eyes on the goal!

Are You on Your Mark?

You don’t have to be beaten down by the past! We read the Apostle Paul and often forget that he once was Saul, the persecutor of the Christians.
Acts 7:57–8:1 NIV
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Jewish historians tell us that the punishment of stoning could take from 20 minutes to 2 hours. Saul watched and approved of Stephen’s death. Acts tells us that Saul had gone from house to house pulling Christians out and imprisoning them. Shortly before his conversion, he is described as “breathing out murderous threats against the disciples”. I suspect Paul had some baggage he was dealing with. BUT, HE FOUND A NEW OBJECT TO FOCUS ON, AND PURPOSEFULLY FORGOT THE THINGS BEHIND!
Luke 9:62 NIV
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Luke 17:30–31 NIV
“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything.
Forgetting the past is possible.
The prize is incredible, let’s run the race!
[1] Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, p. 137). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[2] Lightner, R. P. (1985). Philippians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 661). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
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