Philippians: God’s Story in Ours Philippians 3: 12-21 “Pressing Forward”
Rev. Shari Jackson Monson
I have a friend whose son is keen runner. At the peak of his running career, as a senior in high school, Devin and his teammates traveled to Oregon to compete in a prestigious invitational cross country meet. He had never felt better about his capacity to run a solid race. The day was glorious and the course was beautiful but unfamiliar to him. So Devin set out on a warm up jog to look around. Somewhere along the path, he took a wrong turn and missed the race. There’s more to the story but the sad truth is despite being in terrific physical shape, and eager to run, Devin missed the goal. He did not finish the race.
Paul’s message to the church in the book of Philippians is “don’t miss the race!” As chapter three wraps up we hear Paul pleading with Christians to stay focused, run well together, and remember you run the course as citizens of heaven.
Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time on the phone with church consultants. My goal has been to gain wisdom from them that might be helpful as we prepare to call Hamblen’s next pastor. Two weeks ago I spoke with William Vanderbloemen. He leads one of the nation’s top church staffing agencies. One of the most helpful practices I have gleaned from William is his advice to “Take the Long View”. To illustrate William points to Billy Graham and asks, what do you think has been the biggest accomplishment of Billy’s ministry? I thought about this a long while.
I had the privilege in the 1980’s of watching Billy Graham up close during a conference for international itinerant evangelists held in Amsterdam. It was incredible to see the worldwide impact of this man’s ministry. I’ve been fascinated by Billy Graham ever since. Last month he turned 96. Goodness what a life. Biggest Accomplishment: was it meeting with and influencing world leaders? Preaching to stadiums packed with people? Praying at Presidential inaugurations or funerals?
I have come to agree with William; Billy’s biggest accomplishment is the consistency of his ministry over a long period of time. Billy Graham as a stellar example of what it means to ‘Take the Long View’. He writes, “I’ve been in around ministry for a long time now. I’ve seen lots of people start well in ministry. They come out of the blocks as fast as Usain Bolt. I’ve seen a lot of people finish well. They sense the end of their career and hit the gas for a final sprint to the finish. But I have seen very few run the entire race well.”
The key as I see it to ‘Long View’ living is to set a manageable pace for life. Churches are wise to hire pastors who model a pace of life that takes a long view. Pastors with a disciplined focus lead themselves and their teams at a healthy pace. Churches thrive under such care.
We would all be wise to take the long view in life. Aiming to run the entire race well is a daily discipline. And the good news is each day offers a new start.
This morning on your bulletin cover there are six blank spaces. The blanks are there as a workspace for your creative response to the sermon. Living in the present with a future focus is the essence of Christian life. Boiling this truth down to just six words is our challenge. (A word of encouragement: try this with any sermon and see what you discover).
One option for six words related to our passage is: Take the Long View Each Day.
Paul says something very similar in our passage when he invites Christians to look at his life and notice what he does. Not that I have arrived fully at the goal, but this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind; pressing forward. I strain toward the heavenly call of Christ.
How can we do this? Paul’s own life says ‘be eager about knowing Christ’ – eager in the way a kid is eager to grow up. Does it not seem as though children continually wish to be just a little bit older?
How does this happen – how do we get good at living an eager Christian life? The first step is showing up for practice. Making it a priority the way we make it a priority for our kids and their music, sports, art, dance, voice and other lessons. Worship is showing up and taking part. Worship is an essential our whole lives long.
After you show up for a while – and get the drills down by learning to move a ball down the field, or read the notes in a music score, or sense the rhythm in a dance, something important begins to happen – players become a team, musicians form an orchestra, dancers become a troupe, and so on. In the church this is called building community. It is an essential step in our maturity in Christ.
In Christian community we learn to get on track and stay on track. We learn to show up and share our lives and pace ourselves. We do this in the form of small groups; collections of people who aim to be on the same course.
In the Message Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words in v 17-19 like this:
Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
This is very practical theology:
- Stick with me and keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for the same goal.
- Do not be fooled into thinking there is an easy path to a heavenly goal.
One way we are pressing forward as a church is by forming Lenten small groups. For six weeks we are asking each of you to join with others and engage a study around what it means to be ‘Called’ by God. One of the premises of this study is: We do our best discernment with other followers of Jesus. A six word truth about this might best be summed up: Lean into community; hear God’s voice. As pastors we are hoping each of you will find a way to join this important church-wide conversation.Living in the present with a future focus is the essence of Christian life. Boiled down to six words Paul can be heard saying = I’m off, running, not turning back. (from The Message) Or put another way: Forgetting what is behind; pressing forward. (NRSV)What would happen if we truly lived like this? Thanks be to God we can. Our future is bright with hope – so much so that we no longer dwell on things in the past. This hope is ours because of God’s provision in sending Jesus into our world. Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live, and died the death we should have died, and rose from the grave marked for us. Because Jesus ascended into heaven our call is to live as if Christ moved heaven and earth. Because he did, and he does, and he will come again to restore it all right again. And in the meantime, the church is called to bare evidence of this once ancient, present, and future hope.
Let’s pray, Almighty God, we are humbled that you would send your own Son Jesus Christ to secure our lives safe in you. Thank you for the Call to follow Christ in the midst of our present life. May this Call unify us to live with such hope that the world might marvel at the future you are building now among us. When things get hard remind us that the battle belongs to the Lord, to whom we give all glory and honor. AMEN.
Sermon Reflection Questions:
- In what way do you live with the “Long View” in mind?
- What is most challenging to you about Paul’s instruction to forget what lies behind? Why is it so hard to live this way?
- In Luke 9:62 Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Some find an echo of Jesus’ words in our passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Do you hear it?
- What is your six word summary of this passage?
- In what way might apply the truth of this passage to your life this week?
- Describe how the song sung after the sermon, “The Battle Belongs to the Lord”, helps or hinders our understanding of this passage. Lyrics: Verse 1: In heavenly armor we'll enter the land; the battle belongs to the Lord. No weapon that's fashioned against us shall stand the battle belongs to the Lord. Chorus: We sing glory and honor power and strength to the Lord (repeat) Verse 2: The power of darkness comes in like a flood; the battle belongs to the Lord. He's raised up a standard, the power of His blood; the battle belongs to the Lord Verse 3: When your enemy presses in hard do not fear; the battle belongs to the Lord. Take courage my friend, your redemption is near; the battle belongs to the Lord.
Reflection Questions for Interim Ministry:
- Taking the long view during interim ministry is vital to personal and corporate health. In what ways is the interim pastor investing a long view? To whom are you accountable for this aspect of ministry? Consider forming a cross-disciplinary team of leaders to offer feedback.
- If you are engaged in the interim task of raising up new leadership in this season consider how they are being formed spiritually.
- What resources have you found most helpful in the spiritual formation of leaders? Please add your insights to the Interim Ministry Resources page.