Making Forward Progress in 2017
Topic: New Year Passage: Philippians 3
New Year’s Message
Grace Community Church
Jan 1, 2017
Making Forward Progress in 2017
Turn with me to Phil. 3. In two weeks, we're going to be starting a new series and I want to tell you a little about it. The series is called Re:Connecting and we're going to be looking at different aspects of what God has called the church to be and to do together from the framework of connecting. The Bible tells us that our life in Christ and our life in the church is all about connecting. Connecting with Christ and interconnecting with each other. So I'm excited about this series and particularly excited that both Walt and Jeff will be sharing a message in the series. I want to ask you to be praying that the Lord speaks to us as a church community and stirs up a new vision in all of us for connecting to the Lord and one another and ministry through this series.
On this first day of 2017 we're going to be looking at one of my all-time favorite passages in the Bible, Phil. 3:7-14. Paul describes his all-out effort to make forward progress in his walk with the Lord and that's the simple challenge I want to bring to us this morning: that we make it our goal to make forward progress in 2017 in the things of God. I don't know about you, but I'm not content with where I am at spiritually this morning. God was very good to me in 2016 but I want 2017 to be a better and more productive year in the Lord. I want to make spiritual forward progress in 2017. I hope you do too.
The changing of a calendar page doesn't have the power to change our hearts, but the Spirit of God does. Let's pause and ask God not only to speak, but to stir. Stir a fresh faith and vision in each of us for this new year.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
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. 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. Phil 3:7-14 NIV
Title: Making Forward Progress in 2017
These verses are all about making forward progress. Paul hasn't arrived, he isn't where he wants to be, he's not writing from the peak of perfection. But he's pressing on, he's straining forward to reach the spiritual goals that he knows God has for him. He's not sitting around passively hoping it will happen to him, he's got all kinds of verbs happening: pressing and straining, taking hold, attaining, and pressing on again. We aren't going to arrive in 2017, we aren't going to attain perfection, but God wants to empower and enable us make spiritual forward progress this year and I want us to consider three ways we can cooperate with the Lord so that we do just that.
To make forward progress sometimes we need to look backwards
I worked in a music store for several years, and every year we would spend a few days taking inventory of everything in the store. From guitars and keyboards, to clarinet reeds and trumpet mouthpieces, everything would be counted so that we knew where we were at. It was a way of measuring the previous year but it was also important for knowing what goals we should set for the coming year.
Paul took spiritual inventory of his life and found that what once meant everything to him now meant nothing because he found something that was so much greater in Christ. Once his entire identity - everything he was - was built on his excellent Jewish upbringing and the achievements he had made in life. Once he believed with all his heart that he was in good standing with God because he legalistically kept the law, and he was so good at it he says he was blameless. But now he realizes that he can't hold onto his own efforts to save him and hold onto Christ to save him at the same time. So his own efforts are worthless to him - less than worthless, they are like a pile of dung to him.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Phil 3:7-9
The New Year is a good time to take spiritual inventory:
Reflect on God's blessings. There’s an old hymn that says, Count your blessings, name them one by one and it's good to do that. Think of the ways that God has been good to you. And thank Him for His blessings. Thank Him for answered prayers. For provision. For strength when you were at the end of your rope and didn't think you were going to make it. But God gave grace, God sustained you. Reflect on the blessing of our salvation, of the hope of the resurrection, all possible because Jesus came and gave his life for us. It's good for us to take time to reflect on the blessings of God in our life and thank God for His goodness to us.
But it's also good to take an honest assessment of where we're at. When we took inventory at Cornet Music, we weren't cataloging what we wanted the inventory to be (we bought 150 kazoos thinking that kazoos were going to be the next big thing, so even though we still have 148 kazoos, let's mark down that we only have 5 left). No, we were cataloging what we really had. Take an honest assessment of where our lives were at in 2016 - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because you and I are the same people we were yesterday. As a friend of mine put it, the way we exited the old year is probably how we're entering the new year. If you exited 2016 thankful, you're entering 2017 thankful. If you exited 2016 full of faith, you're entering 2017 full of faith. If you exited 2016 bitter, then you're probably entering 2017 bitter. How we left 2016 is probably how we're entering 2017. Do an inventory of your strengths, your weaknesses, where grace marks your life… and where sin mars your life. Assess the God-given dreams you have, and assess the things in your life that hinder those God-given dreams from becoming reality.
There are going to be things that God wants us to cut ties with like Paul cut ties with his legalistic upbringing. It could be relationships that are dragging us down spiritually. It could be idols that have gotten a hold of our hearts and are sapping our love for Jesus. Or fears that have held us back from doing things we know the Lord has called us to do. It could be a lack of discipline that has us wasting time or bad habits that have us stuck in a holding pattern. It could be that someone hurt us and now we're in a never-ending loop of bitterness, replaying what they did and how much it hurt us. There are things in our lives that, like Paul's legalism, are garbage and need to be taken to the curb.
So as you stand at the edge of 2017, consider getting some quiet time alone to take a spiritual inventory of your life - the blessings and an honest assessment of where you're at.
Press in to know Christ better
I love verse 10: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
That's really what it's all about: knowing Christ. Not just knowing about him, knowing him. Knowing Christ is the greatest treasure in our lives. He is the greatest treasure in all of creation - the pearl of great price that's worth selling everything else we have in order to get it. Heaven is more a Person than a place. Eternal life is more about knowing Someone than going somewhere. Jesus said in John 17:3, … this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. On the opposite extreme, the most terrible words a person can ever hear is Jesus saying, depart from me, I never knew you.
As Christians, nothing is more precious than knowing Christ and we will spend eternity getting to know him better and better. There are two ways that we get to know Jesus.
The power of his resurrection. Here's the amazing thing we need to know and believe: the same power that raised Christ from the dead dwells in us because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The power that raised his corpse from the dead in newness of life is in us and available to us. There is so much more power available to us than most of us are experiencing. When we live defeated lives, falling to the same sin again and again, when we are afraid to tell people that we are Christians, or find ourselves stuck in the same place and not moving forward, it's not because there's a deficiency in power. The problem isn't with Christ - he has provided all we need to live victorious lives. The problem is with us. For one reason or another we're not tapping into it. We should say - and pray - with Paul, "Jesus, I want to know you in the power of your resurrection. Empower me with your resurrection power!" I want to encourage you to stir up your faith this morning - faith to experience a greater level of power and victory than you have up until now. Believe that Christ is a living Savior, that he was resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that that same power is living in you and available to you! Let's Paul's words in the very next chapter, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13) be our confession as well.
The participation (fellowship) of his sufferings. This doesn't sound as fun as the power of his resurrection. If I had my way I'd say give me an extra side of power and hold the suffering. But there is a deep fellowship, an intimate knowledge of Christ that can only be worked in our hearts in times of suffering. If you have ever experienced it, you know what I'm talking about. Pain can move us in one of two directions - it can harden our hearts and cause us to move away from God if we allow it to. Or we can turn to God in our pain, and when we do, suffering has a way of softening and tenderizing our hearts so that we are more sensitive to the Lord's presence and come to know Jesus in a deeper and sweeter way.
Dave Ramsey experienced this when, early in his marriage he borrowed too much money, the bank called in his debts and he and his wife lost everything. He says: “I remember being so scared I couldn’t breathe. I would stand in the shower and cry. I met God on the way up, but I got to know Him on the way down.” There are ways we get to know the Lord when we're in pain, when we're down, when we're suffering, that we don't when everything is going great. Spend time with Jesus in his word, in prayer, in his service, and draw near to him. Let's say with Paul, "I want to know Christ more in both ways - the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings!"
Press on towards the goals God has shaped us for
12 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. 13 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,14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul knew that Jesus took hold of him so that he could take hold of God's greater purpose for his life. This is true for you and me as well. The Lord saved us because he loves us, but he also took hold of us so that we could take hold of His will for our lives! It's not that God needs us to accomplish His will, but He loves to use us to accomplish His purposes!
God has shaped each of us in particular ways to use us for kingdom purposes, but we can't just sit back and expect it to happen. There's a lot of action verbs going on here: press on, straining toward, taking hold, pressing on toward the goal. When Paul became a Christian, he knew God had more for him than learning more about God, soaking up God's love, and waiting for Jesus to take him home. God had a job for him to do. God has a job for you and for me as well.
Michael Nicholson is 71 years old and holds 29 degrees, including 22 master's degrees and one doctoral degree. He's shooting for 32 or 33 degrees by the end of his life. But Nicholson has never had a job using any of his degrees. He's learned a lot but never uses what he's learned! God doesn't want that for us. There's a danger that we can think that because we learned something that we are doing it. We can sit in church week after week, listen to messages on podcasts, and fill our heads with Bible truths but God wants us to use what we learn. God has a job for you to do, a spiritual assignment that He has specially shaped you for, and He wants to help you make forward progress in that assignment in 2017. So let's get in the habit of putting into action what God teaches us.
Let me share a few brief encouragements as we close:
God has already put dreams and gifts within you - if you don't know what they are ask the Lord to help you identify what they are and then begin to develop them by using them.
Ask the Lord for what I'm going to call "anointed amnesia". As Paul presses and strains on, he says in verse 13 "One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." This doesn't contradict a healthy looking back to take a spiritual inventory, but there is a way of looking back that keeps us from moving forward. For Paul, it was the pull back into the legalistic mindset he had grown up with. He never looked back on that. For you it might be something similar - a pattern of thinking that paralyzes you from going forward. Or it might be something you deeply regret or the way you were hurt by someone you trusted or anything that ends up making you live your life looking out the rear view mirror instead of out the windshield. Listen to how deliberate Paul is: forgetting what is behind. It's like he's saying, I distinctly remember forgetting that. There might be something God wants you to distinctly remember forgetting so that you can make forward progress in 2017.
God's goals always have to do with our heavenward call and the unfading, eternal prize that awaits us there. The work of the kingdom is always centered on helping people know and love Christ and building up the church. I believe the Lord will have opportunities for each one of us to connect with other people and with ministry opportunities this year, but to seize those opportunities we need to take action.
Think and pray big! Now there are two ways that God does big things. Sometimes He does big things in big ways, and sometimes He does big things through small things accumulating. Don't ever discount how God can use you in a lot of small ways that accumulate to a big thing.
One practical encouragement is to capture the action steps God puts on your heart onto the calendar. Matt Perlman, in his blog, What’s Best Next, makes this observation:
Most people don’t keep their new year’s resolutions because they don’t translate them into their schedule. It’s that simple. Getting God's priorities for our life on the calendar can be a very spiritual thing to do.
2017 isn't a destination. No matter how much forward progress we make, we won't arrive by the end of the year unless the Lord calls us home, and even then I believe we will spend eternity growing and learning and serving. Our progress in Christ isn't about arriving, it's about forward progress, knowing Christ more intimately this year than we did last year. Growing more obedient to Christ this year than we were last year. Bearing more fruit to his glory this year than we did last year.
Knowing Christ is our greatest treasure, and living for his purposes is our greatest joy. One of these years is going to be our last on this old earth and we'll be with the Lord forever. Until then, let's press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.