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Worship Theme: The Church hears God's warning about unfaithfulness

Sermon Theme: Press On Toward the Goal

Tiny, black cinders spit from his track spikes as he churned his knees higher. But it was Chris Brasher who had set the pace, fifty-eight seconds for lap one and one fifty-eight at the half mile mark. Then Christopher Chataway surged to the front and maintained the pace with a 3:01 split at the final lap bell and the lead until Roger Bannister began his finishing kick on the back straight-away with two hundred seventy-five yards to go. Running the last lap in just under fifty-nine seconds, the exhausted twenty-five-year-old medical student, eyes closed and mouth agape, huffing and puffing, threw his arms up and became the first in recorded history to break the four-minute-mile barrier on that grey, golden Oxford-England evening of May 6, 1954. Amazing! What is even more amazing is that hundreds of athletes have done that since then, and it is likely that there are athletes here today who have gotten close.

How fast can you run a mile? If you timed me, you’d need a calendar and not a stopwatch. But even if you’re not in the best of shape and have not been jogging every other day, you know what it’s like to run around like a chicken with its head cut off because that’s the pace of our lives today. I don’t know too many people who say, “I have too much time on my hands.” Even retired folks will tell you that their calendar is jam-packed. Time management has become quite a target for webinars and podcasts. Just ask a young professional how he or she is able to balance work, home, personal time, and add in the desire to refuel spiritually through worship and Bible study. Ask a single person who has to do grocery shopping, oil changes, garbage takeout, cleaning, and laundry alone. Ask someone wrapped up in schoolwork, job seeking or new job performance, and relationship building, “What are your plans for the future?” and you might hear, “Future? I have a hard-enough time seeing to the end of the week!” This fast-paced life we live may be exhilarating for some and exhausting for others, but when we get caught up in the day-to-day rush, we run the risk of running right by what counts the most and losing sight of the ultimate goal.

Whoa! Let’s catch our breath and pause over today’s second reading from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians as he helps us get a clear view of the past, cope with the present, and look forward to the future with joy, urging us to “press on toward the goal.”

By looking into the Word

When you and I think of what has marked our past, when we think of words that squirted out of our lips which we wished we could suck back in seconds after we spewed them, when we think of the people we have hurt, when we consider the opportunities to help others which we shuttled by faster than the priest and Levite scooting by the injured man in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, how are we going to go on with a smile in our heart and a spring in our step, “I can’t wait for the next week to get underway?”

The past wasn’t exactly picturesque for the Christians in Philippi. Many were retired soldiers who were awarded real estate in Philippi as severance pay. But service in the Roman legions twenty centuries ago didn’t necessarily carry with it the integrity and honor of service in the armed forces of the U.S.A. Many of those retired soldiers had a checkered past and skeletons in the closet. How could they deal with the guilt and shame about their past? Paul wrote, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” What did the apostle model? “Whatever were gains for me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ … because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord ... I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection.” I know there are days you feel almost embarrassed about your past. But there still is joy because of what God has done about it.”

Do you want that kind of mindset and attitude? Then, look back not just at your sinful past, but look back into the Word of God to see forgiving love from Jesus flow like a glimmering stream throughout the entire Bible and right into your heart. That love is an unchangeable, historic fact. Look back not just to read stories about seas parting, city walls crumbling, and giants toppling – all fabulous truths – but to see God operate in his unending drive to wipe your sins away from his sight. That love is yours! He has forgiven you! That is a lynchpin for pressing on toward the goal. Paul wrote, “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 … All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” We press on toward the goal by looking into the Word of God and seeing his love for us in Jesus.

By looking out for the world

COVID quarantining may feel like house arrest, but at least we’re not jail because of our Christian testimony. Yet, who would deny that the fast-paced society in which we live has created mind-numbing pressures? Sometimes those pressures come from outside with deadlines and due dates. Sometimes they come from inside as we sense our inadequacies, deal with personal insecurity, and battle the in-born tendencies that play to our weaknesses and tempt us to leave the path of God. With all the pressures going on around us and in us, how are we going to go on with a smile in our heart and a spring in our step, “I can’t wait for the next week to get underway?”

The present situation wasn’t very pleasant for the apostle Paul. When he wrote this letter, he was under house arrest in Rome because of his testimony about Jesus. He could receive visitors but his activities and movements were severely limited, hardly a joyful experience. Much worse, he had to contend with the sad fact that many people were rejecting the saving message of Christ. “As I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Their outlook on life could be summed up in the ancient philosophy being lived out by plenty of present generations, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” Paul must have been tempted to turn his back on people like that, and say, “Go ahead! Greet the devil when you see him! Serves you right!” But that wasn’t his attitude at all. Instead, he wept at their blind plunge into eternal darkness just as Jesus wept over the people of Jerusalem who had rejected him. He was challenged by his present circumstances and sad about the reality of Jesus-jeering going on around him, that didn’t change his personal status with God thanks to Jesus.

We can cope with politicians wrangling like children, COVID mandates, economic instability when we apply the consistent goodness of God in the past to the present. It’s like planning to travel in a foreign country. You’ve heard that their security is questionable. So, you listen to the advice of others who have been there. “Don’t leave your bags unattended.” “Watch out for crooked cab drivers.” “Stay on the main roads.” “Don’t drink the water.” When you are aware of the pitfalls and look out for them, you can have a more enjoyable visit. In the same way the apostle is saying, “Don’t be naive. Look out for the world.” Follow the news. Study the trends. Watch the time management webinars. Listen to the podcasts. Be aware of the realities of life in this imperfect world, and know that none of it changes the status you have with God thanks to Jesus. If you want to have a more enjoyable visit for the eighty- or ninety-years God gives you on this planet, press on toward the goal by looking out for the world as you continue to look into his Word.

By looking up to the Lord

Think of the rapid changes in technology and communications in the last few years. Even a couple years ago we didn’t have HD cameras for better quality live-streaming. We didn’t think too often about Zoom meetings and hybrid education. Surely more changes are yet to come in the future. How are we going to keep up? How are we going to go on with a smile in our heart and a spring in our step, “I can’t wait for the next week to get underway?”

The future for the Philippians wasn’t particularly bright. Many of those retired soldiers were at poverty level. We wouldn’t blame them if they wanted help from Paul to suggest how to change their situation. The apostle assured them, “If you are able, do what you can to change the difficult situation you are in. But remember that you will not be able to create a heaven on earth. Instead, rejoice because our citizenship is in heaven ... And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enable him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Did you notice that Paul did not say, “Our citizenship will be in heaven?” He said, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” That means that the future of life in heaven has a direct bearing on how we live right now. If you want to have a positive outlook on life, look up to the Lord. The future is bright! Jesus is coming in glory, and he is going to transform us so that we will enjoy his loving presence without interruption or distraction in perfect bliss forever.

You know it’s a sin to dabble in what God does not want us to know. That’s called the occult. But there is one future reality he has revealed. We know where we are going – heaven. Press on toward the goal by looking up to the Lord!

Given his description of some type of physical problem, he calls it a thorn in his side, it’s likely the apostle Paul didn’t think about qualifying for the Olympic games or breaking the four-minute mile. But he did know the track of life, and he did know at the finish line Jesus will had him a crown of victory. That’s what God wants for each of us, so press on toward the goal by looking into his Word, looking out for the world, and looking up to the Lord. I can’t wait for the next week to get underway. How about you? Amen.

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