PRESSING TOWARD THE MARK

Phil.3:14 – I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I know what pressing is, most guys do. It’s what we do when we really, really want something. Whether its that job or new position at work, or maybe that new motorcycle or new set of golf clubs, or maybe the girl that grabbed your eye; pressing is what we do when we want something desperately. It’s something you just can’t get out of your head. Paul knew about that from his old life. He had climbed to the very pinnacle of the ranks of the world of the Pharisees. He had pressed for that spot for years. Now it meant nothing. In his words he said his former ambitions were like rubbish (what he really said is that it was like a pile of, you know ….“mess”).

What was so, so valuable that his former passions meant nothing? It was what he saw on the Damascus Road, a glimpse of Jesus. The veil had been pulled back for a minute and he saw the beauty and pricelessness of the other side. Paul couldn’t get away from the joy that he had begun to taste that day and the promise of more to come. That’s why Paul was pressing. Here is what Matthew Henry says about this passage.

“A Christian’s calling is a high calling: it is from heaven, as its original; and it is to heaven in its tendency. Heaven is the prize of the high calling; —the prize we fight for, and run for, and wrestle for, what we aim at in all we do, and what will reward all our pains. It is of great use in the Christian course to keep our eye upon heaven. This is proper to give us measures in all our service, and to quicken us every step we take; and it is of God, from whom we are to expect it.”

So that was it, heaven had now become Paul’s prize. This prize had replaced all of those other prizes that had crowded Paul’s life before. In light of the power and beauty He experienced in the presence of Jesus the prizes of ambition and riches faded away into nothing. So how about you? Is your life crowded with pressing for those other things or have you been struck by the heavenly goal like the Apostle Paul?

FORGET ABOUT IT

Phil.3:13,14 – Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

This is one of those amazing Paul passages that causes us to rethink everything. Many people live their lives in the past reminiscing about glory days gone by. Paul had many great things in his past to get all nostalgic about but he would have none of it. There would be plenty time for that on the other side of the eternal curtain but as for now, He had his sights on other things. He was convinced that the daylight of this life was coming to an end and the new day was about to burst on the scene, there were souls in the balance so he was going to press in. How did He stay focused? Here is how Paul says it in his own words “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection”. Knowing Christ was His passion, out of that flowed His passion for the lost. Here is how Albert Barnes describes this passage.

“There is an allusion here undoubtedly to the Grecian races. One running to secure the prize would not stop to look behind him to see how much ground he had run over, or who of his competitors had fallen or lingered in the way. He would keep his eye steadily on the prize, and strain every nerve that he might obtain it. If his attention was diverted for a moment from that, it would hinder his flight, and might be the means of his losing the crown. So the apostle says it was with him. He looked onward to the prize. He fixed the eye intently on that. It was the single object in his view, and he did not allow his mind to be diverted from that by anything—not even by the contemplation of the past. He did not stop to think of the difficulties which he had overcome, or the troubles which he had met, but he thought of what was yet to be accomplished.”

That pretty much tells the tale. People make incredible sacrifices to win sporting events. How much work goes in to winning an Olympic medal or a Super Bowl ring? Paul teaches us what really matters, get your eyes on the eternal reward, everything else will get sorted out.

ETERNAL FELLOWSHIP

Ps.110:1 – The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

David saw some incredible things by the Spirit. This verse seems like an intrusion on the holiest ground. David is describing a conversation between the Father and the Son. It’s kind of hard to talk about past and future when talking about the Lord. After all, He lives outside of space and time. But for our purposes David actually heard a conversation between the Father and the Son a thousand years before it happened. This is the Father placing His Son, after the resurrection, as a man on the right hand of the throne of power. The beauty of this is not only the substance but the glimpse into this fellowship that the deity has enjoyed from eternity. This is the fellowship we have been called into. Incredible! This is how Spurgeon talks about this mystery fellowship.

“Jehovah said unto my Adonai: David in spirit heard the solemn voice of Jehovah speaking to the Messiah from of old. What wonderful intercourse there has been between the Father and the Son! From this secret and intimate communion springs the covenant of grace and all its marvelous arrangements. All the great acts of grace are brought into actual being by the word of God; had he not spoken, there had been no manifestation of Deity to us; but in the beginning was the Word, and from of old there was mysterious fellowship between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ concerning his people and the great contest on their behalf between himself and the powers of evil. How condescending on Jehovah’s part to permit a mortal ear to hear, and a human pen to record his secret converse with his coequal Son! How greatly should we prize the revelation of his private and solemn discourse with the Son, herein made public for the refreshing of his people! Lord, what is man that thou shouldest thus impart thy secrets unto him!”

It’s hard to grasp but this is why Jesus came. He purchased us from our sins so that we could be brought into this supernatural fellowship. This is our hope and this is why we preach Christ. John the Apostle said it best,

1 Jn.1:3 – “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

DELUGE OF LOVE

Rev.4:1 – After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.”

Do you ever think about life after death? What about heaven, what is heaven really like? I think we have quite a few surprises in store for all of us. I think the first surprise will be who is there and who is not there. Jesus told a parable about heaven in the form of a wedding feast thrown by the son’s father. The terrifying lesson of the story, apparently some who thought they were invited to the party were quickly ushered out into outer darkness. The reason they were thrown out gives us a glimpse as to who will be there. The ones thrown out were not wearing the wedding garment. The garment is a picture of the righteousness of God given to us by faith in Christ. Those who do not believe in the saving power of the blood of Jesus simply will not be in heaven.

Another surprise will be the very atmosphere of heaven. This is where we get to the indescribable part; heaven will be an amazing unveiling of the beauty and glory of our three in one God. Here is how Jonathan Edwards describes this incredible place.

“There Christ dwells in both his natures, his human and divine, sitting with the Father in the same throne. There is the Holy Spirit, the spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, all flows out or is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the church. There in heaven this fountain of love, this eternal three in one, is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it. There this glorious God is manifested and shines forth in full glory, in beams of love; there the fountain overflows in streams and rivers of love and delight, enough for all to drink at, and to swim in, yea, so as to overflow the world as it were with a deluge of love.”

In other words the great surprise is that IT WILL BE BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT. We will see Jesus, the Father, and the amazing Spirit of God. So I would urge you to make your preparations to be there. The other alternative is unthinkable.

ETERNAL LIFE

John 3:7 – “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

Jesus is actually blowing this Pharisee’s mind. ‘Born again! Absurd!’, Nicodemus must have thought. Nicodemus responded with the lame response, ‘How can one enter back into his mother’s womb?’. This Pharisee had no idea of what Jesus was really talking about, Nicodemus didn’t understand this spiritual birth. Jesus is telling this teacher that there is a whole new life he is unfamiliar with. Actually, true life begins with this new birth. Jesus is the way into life itself, life that come from God. The life is the very life that Jesus Himself has enjoyed with His Father from eternity. Barclay tells us about this life Jesus is offering in this famous discourse.

“Now let us take eternal life. It is far better to speak of eternal life than to speak of everlasting life. The main idea behind eternal life is not simply that of duration. It is quite clear that a life which went on for ever could just as easily be hell as heaven. The idea behind eternal life is the idea of a certain quality of life. What kind? There is only one person who can properly be described by this adjective eternal and that one person is God. Eternal life is the kind of life that God lives; it is God’s life. To enter into eternal life is to enter into possession of that kind of life which is the life of God. It is to be lifted up above merely human, transient things into that joy and peace which belong only to God. Clearly a man can enter into this close fellowship with God only when he renders to him that love, that reverence, that devotion, that obedience which truly bring him into fellowship with him.”

The amazing thing about this scene between Jesus and Nicodemus is this, spending eternity in heaven is wonderful because of Jesus. Nicodemus had a belief in spiritual things, he had never seen or tasted the reality of those things. The very source and joy of eternal life is the very One Who was calling out to Nicodemus. You must be born again; not repeat a prayer, not be water baptized, not answer an altar call, or not attend a certain church. So I have to ask you, have you been born again?

TIME IS PRECIOUS

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Col. 4:5 ¶ Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Time is precious. We may not often think about time in this way but time is part of God’s creation. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and at the same time created time and space. Just as the Lord has His existence outside of space, He also lives outside of time. That seems so strange to us because the world of time is all we know. Just as God’s creation is a gift to us, so is time. We have a carefully measured amount of it allotted to each of us. No one knows when our time is complete. That’s why the apostle Paul told us to redeem the time. Redeem means to buy back or in other words make the most out of every moment we have been given. Time is short and precious, eternity is near. Here are some thoughts from Albert Barnes on today’s verse.

“There are many allurements and temptations that would lead you away from the proper improvement of time, and that would draw you into sin. Such were those that would tempt them to go to places of sinful indulgence and revelry, where their time would be wasted, and worse than wasted. As these temptations abounded, they ought therefore to be more especially on their guard against a sinful and unprofitable waste of time. This exhortation may be addressed to all, and is applicable to all periods. The sentiment is, that we ought to be solicitous to improve our time to some useful purpose, because there are, in an evil world, so many temptations to waste it. Time is given us for most valuable purposes. There are things enough to be done to occupy it all, and no one need have it hang heavy on his hands. He that has a soul to be saved from eternal death need not have one idle moment. He that has a heaven to win has enough to do to occupy all his time. Man has just enough given him to accomplish all the purposes which God designs, and God has not given him more than enough.”

People are perishing without Christ all around us. Part of our responsibility as Christians is to let people know the importance of knowing Christ in the light of this shortness of time. Soon, we will each give an account of our stewardship as Christians when we stand before the Lord. Paul was keenly aware of this, that’s why he says “Redeem the time”.

When our life or death equally magnify Christ

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MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.

Phil.1:3

Paul lived on the edge throughout his short ministry life so that whether he lives he will live to the Lord, or whether he dies, he will die to the Lord. He had so completely accepted it as his life’s purpose to magnify Jesus, that the most extremely possible changes of condition came to be insignificant to him. He had what we may have, the true anesthetic against life’s storms. He saw himself changing from one citizenship to another in the blink of an eye.

One of my dearest friends passed away this week to Glioblastoma after two years of fighting. The past few years some very close friends of ours have died of this same brain tumor so we were very much aware of the fight she faced. Upon her diagnosis I paid her a visit that made a huge impact on my life. As we sat over tea she was so thankful to be have been given “the time to prepare for heaven”, to forgive all those that hurt her, seek forgiveness for any wrong doing and finish what she felt the Lord would have her do. While she believed in healing she accepted the challenge to take each day and live it to the fullest. I was thankful to be able to visit her on and on throughout the last two years, each visit leaving the aroma of Christ upon my life. The same day of her arrival in heaven was my Marysong Banquet. Throughout the day I found my self between tears of joy and tears of sorrow for my friend who will be surely missed by many people. She left a huge family behind. At the Banquet it was such an honor to be around the girls that we have poured into over the years sharing their story of redemption. I felt proud to know that Susie would share the same joy with me. We both, I guess you could say, are fulfilling our destinies. She ran her race with such beauty, her life challenges me to press on toward the mark.

McClarens commentary says, “If we magnify Christ in our lives with the same passionate earnestness and concentrated absorption as Paul had, our lives like some train on well-laid rails will enter upon the bridge across the valley with scarce a jolt. With whatever differences–and the differences are to us tremendous–the same purpose will be pursued in life and in death, and they who, living, live to the praise of Christ, dying will magnify Him as their last act in the body which they leave.”

I will see you soon enough Susie! You inspired us all!

Anticipation

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Rom. 8:19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

There is something inside of all of us longing for the coming kingdom. Paul himself said that all creation is waiting in anticipation for the return of Christ and the glorification of His sons and daughters. The Message Bible says it like this “The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens”. The joyful anticipation is growing and surging inside of His sons and daughters. What we will become and enjoy is beyond our ability to understand or say, the taste we get now is awakening our appetite. If the signs in the heavens are crying out, how about us? Jonathan Edwards often spoke of the coming kingdom; here are some of his thoughts.

“The creature thus earnestly expecting this glorious manifestation and liberty of the children of God, and travailing in pain in order to it, therefore the Scriptures, by a like figure, do very often represent, that when this shall be accomplished, the whole inanimate creation shall greatly rejoice: that “the heavens shall sing, the earth be glad, the mountains break forth into singing, the hills be joyful together, the trees clap their hands, the lower parts of the earth shout, the sea roar and the fullness thereof, and the floods clap their hands”.

The glorious inhabitants of the heavenly world, the saints and angels there, that rejoice when one sinner repents, are earnestly waiting, in an assured and joyful dependence on God’s promises of that conversion of the world, and marriage of the Lamb, which shall be when that glorious day comes; and therefore they are represented as all with one accord rejoicing and praising God with such mighty exultation and triumph, when it is accomplished, in Revelation 19.”
This week we were all treated with the rare spectacle of a solar eclipse. The image is stuck in my mind of the moon covering the sun in a line across the entire continent. Every time I think of the precision in God’s creation I am totally astounded. Stunned silence and waves of joy are my response. I agree with Paul, the joyful anticipation depends as the day draws near.

TO DIE IS CHRIST

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Psa. 23:4 ¶ Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.
Have you thought about the day of your death recently. Jonathan Edwards said that we need to think of that day everyday of our lives. Why? You ask. Thinking about dying and what comes next tends to have a great and dramatic effect on the way we live our lives right here right now. Of course for the Christian, that leads us to thinking about heaven. Heaven will be better than you think. The Father, the fountain of all life, will be there. Jesus, His only begotten Son, will be there ruling with His Father. The Holy Spirit will be there; He will be the atmosphere we breathe, the life that we live, and the veritable ocean of God’s love that shall swallow us. I guess the thing that keeps us from reflecting more often on heaven is that shadow of death that we have to pass through. Here is how Spurgeon sees it.

“The dying saint is not in a flurry, he does not run as though he were alarmed, nor stand still as though he would go no further, he is not confounded nor ashamed, and therefore keeps to his old pace. Observe that it is not walking in the valley, but through the valley. We go through the dark tunnel of death and emerge into the light of immortality. We do not die, we do but sleep to wake in glory. Death is not the house but the porch, not the goal but the passage to it. The dying article is called a valley. The storm breaks on the mountain, but the valley is the place of quietude, and thus full often the last days of the Christian are the most peaceful of his whole career; the mountain is bleak and bare, but the valley is rich with golden sheaves, and many a saint has reaped more joy and knowledge when he came to die than he ever knew while he lived.”
We are all headed for that valley one day, our approach to the valley is determined by our vision that lies beyond it. Heaven is real and nearer than you think. We live one breath, one heartbeat from our eternity. This life matters, it will determine what the next one is like.

ETERNITY

Eccl. 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

There is something amazingly different about man than all of the other creatures in our world. We are not holy like the angels, not as powerful as a lion, not as fast as a cheetah, and maybe not as intelligent as a dolphin (it is said that an average dolphin has a higher IQ than a human). What makes us unique? We are the only creature that is created in the image of God. We have been created with eternity in our hearts and somehow only knowing and relating to God Himself can ever complete and satisfy us. Nothing in this vast and beautiful creation can every satisfy that eternal part of us. This is what makes a lot of the modern day preaching so disturbing. Just thinking that Christianity is about living a better life with better things and accomplishments in this life sells the gospel short, eternally short. God is bigger and better than any part of His creation and nothing in this life comes even close. Here are some thoughts from Tozer on eternity.

“We must meditate on the eternal nature of God in order to worship as we should. You know, I often refer to Frederick William Faber, whose great adoring heart pressed into these mysteries during his lifetime in the nineteenth century, and he celebrated the vision of God’s eternal self-existence in these warm and wondrous words:

‘Father! the sweetest, dearest Name

That men or angels know!

Fountain of life, that had no fount

From which itself could flow!

When heaven and earth were yet unmade,

When time was yet unknown,

Thou in Thy bliss and majesty

Did’st live and love alone.

Thy vastness is not young or old;

Thy life hath never grown;

No time can measure out Thy days,

No space can make Thy throne.’

Brethren, surely this must be one of the greatest and grandest thoughts we can ever know: that it is the living and eternal God with whom we are concerned, and we acknowledge that only in God can there be causeless existence!”

So maybe that’s why you can never be totally satisfied no matter how good or how bad things go. You too have eternity in your heart and nothing less than God will do for you.