I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it,but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. - Philippians 3: 12-16 (NLT) As we see 2013 start to fade into history and begin to look towards the promises 2014 might deliver it is good to reflect on Scripture to find some comfort and guidance. I will not be as brash and irresponsible as modern day false teachers and declare that this coming year is going to be one of supernatural blessing and earthly prosperity for everyone lucky enough to read this writing. To do so would simply fly in the face of Scripture and make a mockery of God. Some of us will find prosperity; both earthly and heavenly. Some of us will be deep in the valley where God will test and strengthen our faith. Many of us will probably have both experiences or land somewhere in the middle. Regardless of where life leads, God's Word remains unchanged and is always there to help us in whatever state we may be found in. So I turn to a man in a prison cell. A man with only a handful of years left in his life; a fact he is well aware of. Instead of wallowing in his predicament or bemoaning the hand of cards life has dealt him, he writes. He writes to the people he has poured his life into for the past several decades. He writes to the churches he has started. The Apostle Paul does not know that these writings will become the bulk of the New Testament and form Christian doctrine for centuries that follow him. In his letter to the Church at Philippi we find the key verses above and within in them are some thoughts we can take with us into the new year as we begin to look ahead in hope. The first lesson we see in the key verses is humility. Let's think about this for a second. The Apostle Paul at this point in his life has done more for the cause of Christ than any of his contemporaries. He has undertook three harrowing missionary journeys where he has evangelized nearly the entire known world. He has started churches in almost every corner of the world he has visited. He has survived being stoned, flogged and shipwrecked. If there is anyone who could feel like he has arrived, it's Paul. It seems today in modern Christianity that far too many want you to know that they have given themselves the title of "Apostle." A title they have not earned and do not deserve. You just know deep down that Paul never introduced himself as "The Apostle Paul." He was always far more concerned about who he served. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. -1Corinthians 15: 9 (NLT) I have written before about remembering where God found you as the key to maintaining a humble approach in life. Paul remembered the Damascus Road Jesus found him on. He remembered presiding over the stoning death of Stephen, the first martyr. That is why we see this humility still dripping off the pages he writes 25 years later. This is why it is so vitally important to be wary of the new teachings in the modern church that change the role of Christ. We sing Friend of God and demand the Blessings of Abraham but rarely speak to His Lordship over our lives. Beloved, Abram does not become Abraham without God being Lord first. So Paul readily admits that he is far from perfect. Realize here that he is speaking about perfection in Christ, not perfection as the world believes. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. - 2Corinthians 3: 18 (NIV) We are supposed to be continually transformed into the image of Christ. It is a state we know we can never fully achieve because of the flesh we live in but it is what we are to aspire to. The world sells celebrities and sports stars as people to emulate and to "wish we were like them." As Christians however, it is Christ we are to try and emulate. It is Christ we are to press on to possess. Paul then make an important distinction that is often overlooked. He says that he presses on to possess the perfection for which Jesus first possessed him. There are two crucial points for us to consider. First of all, God saved us for a reason. He saved us because of His unfailing love and endless mercy but also for a reason. The second truth is that the reason really has to do with who we are not what we do. The missionary journeys were not why God saved Paul. The thousands upon thousands of people who came to Christ were not the reason. The fact that his writings would become the canon of Scripture was not the reason. These were all important and part of the overall plan of God but they were not the reason God got a hold of Paul on that Damascus Road. The reason is far more personal to Paul than that. It was to change Saul of Tarsus into the humble man Paul who now sits in a prison writing a letter to the Church at Philippi. Paul shows us here that Christ possessed him to perfect him. The missionary journeys, shipwrecks, and planted churches are all part of what God used to perfect him. God used these things for His glory and for Paul's perfection. The same goes for us today. We sometimes get confused and think that God saved us solely to do works. Our Christianity becomes external to us. It becomes impersonal. Consider Mary and Martha: “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” - Luke 10: 41-42 (NIV) This is why Mary has chosen the better thing while Martha is worried and upset. We too easily become Martha in our walk with God. We serve Him and love Him but it fails to change us. Instead of being in the process of being perfected we become immersed in the business of religion. Not that the business of religion is not important and if Christ centered serves the overall plan of God but it is not why God got a hold of us. He got a hold of us to perfect us and if we constantly find ourselves there we will serve the cause of Christ even more perfectly. Beside the humble pursuit of Christlike perfection we see the next point in the key verses is perhaps more revealing! There is a singular focus that Paul reveals as the secret for pressing on in Christ. If we were honest we would admit that our focus is often lacking in this world. We are bombarded every minute of every day with so much external stimuli that it is a miracle we all don't behave as a ferret on a double espresso. So what is the secret? Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead in Christ. Let's take these separately. There are far too many Christians stuck in their past. They are free in Christ, except for that thing that happened when they were 15. Problem is that now they are 40. I guarantee you this beloved - there is never anything you can do about changing your past. Even Jesus taught about this: Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? - Matthew 6: 27 (NLT) The answer is no but worry sure can take moments away from our lives! The past is a grade level we are to learn from not get left back in. God has so much more for us if we would just be willing to live in the present with an eye towards the future. The devil likes to remind us of our past because he knows if we are living in our past then we cannot serve God in the present effectively. The next time the devil wants to remind you of your past you just remind him of his future! Do not fall for the solutions of this world beloved. They want us to cope with our problems and pain from our past. That means how to live with them. God doesn't want us living with our problems! He wants to take them from us so we can move on to the next level of Christlikeness awaiting us. A negative past is not the only danger Paul is speaking about however: Don’t long for “the good old days.”This is not wise. - Ecclesiastes 7: 10 (NLT) The devil also likes to get us living in the past through our own personal glories and accomplishments. Sometimes we fail the test of success easier than the test of failure. Paul could have rested on his laurels and all that he had accomplished but because he stayed humble, he always realized it was God who accomplished these things through him. We need more pastors and Christian leaders to realize this about their own past successes. It does not matter why we live in the past. We need to move on. The second half of this equation is that we need to be looking forward to what lies ahead. It is not just enough to exist in the present and be satisfied. We have too many "right now" Christians, lacking spiritual vision. Let's be honest. Sometimes we get tired and sometimes we get sloppy. When we were first saved we were probably on fire for God and were constantly seeking out the things of God. Through the course of years and dealing with the politics of church, that fire has begun to fizzle. Maybe we do not pray as much. Perhaps our personal Bible reading or devotional time has withered away under the demands of the world. We know we are saved and we kind of sit down in our salvation. We get comfortable. We attend church regularly, tithe, serve in ministry and maybe even share the Gospel if someone asks. We are working out our salvation in the present and according to the seeker friendly models of churchianity, we are doing what we were "purposed" to do. Of course this is not what we were purposed to do at all. These may have been some of the things God will use to spur us on towards the prize but it is not enough to forget the past and serve in the present. We must be pressing on towards what God has for us in the future. The truth is that God always has another level for us to go to if we are willing to pursue it. Paul did not have to write his letters. He had no idea God would use them to complete the Bible. We have no idea what our future works will result in. God always provides the increase. But pressing on towards what lies ahead keeps the Christian constantly looking to God and constantly focused on what is yet to come. Humbly pursuing Christlike perfection. Neither wallowing in the past nor basking in it. Pressing on towards the future God has for us, realizing it always is all about Him. That is what we need to be taking into the new year. I love the final three points Paul makes in the key verses. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made. The first is a lesson I need to remember more. Not everyone is on the same level when it comes to being spiritually mature. All we can do is rely on the Word of God in presenting our case and use the Word of God to explain what is right. Sometimes we seek agreement with people who are disagreeable by nature. That is within the church! What is even more bizarre is when the church screams at the world because they disagree when the Bible tells us the things of God are foolishness to them! This letter of course was written to believers and the follow up point Paul makes is that he believes God will make everything plain to those who currently disagree. It is not our job to necessarily convince anyone of anything. We are simply to say what sayeth the Lord and trust that His Word will not return void and that He will make things plain to everyone in their own time. I know if I think hard enough I can come up with plenty of examples of things I disagreed with years ago that God has shown me to be true through the course of my spiritual development. These truisms are of course based upon the Christian who is humbly pursuing Christlike perfection by living for the future instead of in the past. The final point is something God had to show me personally several years ago. The Bible says that the devil is looking to steal and one of the things he loves to steal is our progress. It took the Apostle Paul 25 years to get to the point where he wrote the Philippians letter and the key verses. Our walk is perpetual. Our pressing on is always a process. It is a work in progress. A failure on the 365th day of the year does not wipe out whatever progress in Christ we might have made the 364 previous days. Sin and failure requires confession to God and repentance, not self-flagellation. The devil wants us to beat ourselves up. Less work for him. Jesus already took our beating. He took our chastisement. He took our punishment. The last thing He wants then is for us to beat, chastise, and punish ourselves. That does not lead towards Christlikeness. Confess, repent, learn, and move on. Move on into 2014 as a child of God. Loved beyond measure. The new year always brings hope and optimism as it should. But so should every day as a believer in Jesus Christ. Every day presents another opportunity to press on into Christlikeness. Humbly looking forward and forgetting what lies behind. Agreeing with the spiritually mature and trusting God will show those who may disagree. Never allowing the devil to steal the progress we make in Christ during this long race we call Christianity. Happy New Year to all... Reverend Anthony Wade - December 31, 2013.