HOLY LOCKER ROOM SPEECHES – FORGET! STRAIN! PRESS!
February 4, 2018 Super Bowl Sunday
Today the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots play in Super Bowl LII. Respectfully, but sadly, this will mark the 10th Super Bowl appearance for the Patriots. It’s almost ho-hum.
When the Green Bay Packers returned to Super Bowl II on January 14, 1968, the legendary coach Vince Lombardi reminded his team in the locker room prior to the game what a tremendous achievement that was. And then, he went on to remind the players that it would be the simple things that would win the game…just run, just hit, just block, just tackle…and don’t forget to keep your poise. Nothing particularly earthshattering.
The Packers went out and did just that. With Bart Starr’s precision passing and Don Chandler’s accurate place-kicking, along with Ray Nitschke’s stifling ferocity on defense, the Packers soundly defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14.
Vince Lombardi never believed success in football was a complicated thing.
And the Apostle Paul never believed success in the Christian life was a complicated thing.
Listen to Paul’s holy locker room speech to his friends in the Philippian church:
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Yes, Paul shares with us the simple keys to a faith-filled life!
They are found in three words:
Forget what lies behind!
Now I don’t know about you, but I have trouble remembering things I ought to remember. Yet, Paul reminds us that there are things we ought to forget.
Paul does not rest on his pedigree, his credentials nor his religiosity. Yes, he is a Roman citizen from a devout Jewish family. Yes, he is a learned man with charisma and character. Yes, he is a Pharisee of utmost devotion to God. And yet, all these achievements and accolades mean very little to him.
Paul doesn’t think much of people who coast along, living off their past successes. It’s so easy to do. We lean back on the oars, we rest on our laurels, we become fat and lazy.
In my line of work, such persons become consultants and coaches. And they are in hot demand. The problem is what worked 20 years ago in the church or in any other field doesn’t necessarily work now.
Don’t be distracted by your past. Learn from it but don’t lean on it. Don’t long for it and leverage it and lose your future because of it.
I played baseball in high school with a big, stocky kid named Sammy. He was one of the best pitchers I’ve ever known—had a 98 mph fastball that you couldn’t see!
During his senior year, pro and college scouts showed up at most every game. In addition to various professional contracts, colleges in Florida were offering Sammy full scholarships.
He turned them all down. His comment was always, “All I want to do is to stay right here in Union Level, drink beer and raise hell.”
I ran into Sammy some years later outside the South Hill hospital where my mother was a patient. Ol’ Sammy was looking pretty long in the tooth—he had been bumming along from job-to-job, had left two failed marriages and a couple of kids in his wake. He immediately brought up his glory days of baseball back in high school. And as we parted company, he grinned at me faintly and winked, “Hey Burch, I’m still drinking beer and raising hell!”
You can’t live in the past. And as Paul reminds us, you can’t allow yourself to become paralyzed by your past.
Paul did some very bad things. He was even complicit in the murder of a Christian prior to his conversion. And afterward he had shortcomings and setbacks as a missionary. But Paul does not dwell on his failures nor his foibles. He receives forgiveness from God. He learns from the errors of his ways. And he moves on. He does not allow his past to poison and paralyze the present.
How many times do we permit ourselves to be defined and confined by a past transgression, a previous mistake? You must make amends. You must ask forgiveness. And you must move on. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But greater than that sin is the grace of God, grace that gives us a new perspective.
Yes, we cannot spend our lives fixated on the rearview mirror. Believe me, I know!
I was 17. It was Saturday morning. Main Street in Chase City was bustling with traffic as tobacco farmers came to town to buy provisions. My dad had reluctantly agreed to let me borrow his brand-spankin’ new Plymouth Fury for the morning.
I was cruising low and lean down Main St. when I spied two fine girls, Leanne and Tammy, behind me at the town’s lone traffic light. They were in Tammy’s VW Bug, and they were waving and giggling. As the light turned green, I waved coolly back, keeping my eyes intently fixated on them in my rearview mirror as we moved forward up the street. Man, they were so very, very fine!!
WHAM!!! The world came to an abrupt stop as I plowed into the back end of a Chevy pick-up. I jumped out of the car—dazed and scared.
The farmer driving the truck laughed and bragged as his bumper had withstood the impact without so much as a scratch. But, to my horror, the grill on daddy’s brand-spankin’ new Fury had a huge hole in the middle of it and a left headlight was busted. And with at least a half-dozen of our fellow church members gathered around on street corner surveying the damage, there was no chance of me concocting some story of having struck a deer or bear or gorilla.
So I swallowed my medicine. Daddy’s blood pressure returned to normal after a few days. I did not drive again for several weeks. A good bit of the money I earned from my summer job went to repair the grill on that car. And I learned one important lesson I’ve never forgotten—you can never drive forward if you’re looking back.
Yes, we can’t live life fixated on the rearview mirror, resting on our successes or dwelling on our failures. We will eventually crash!
Paul admonishes us to forget what lies behind…. and to
Strain forward to what lies ahead!
Have you ever attempted to stand still on a treadmill that is moving? It’s not going to turn out well. You’re going to find yourself either face down or hurled against a wall!
Life can do that to you also. When you give up or give in, and try to plant your feet firmly in the status quo, you will find yourself either face down or hurled aside.
Paul is a big fan of the ancient Olympic games. When he speaks of straining forward to what lies ahead, he has this image in his mind of a runner reaching with every fiber of one’s being toward the finish line tape.
I believe Paul is speaking of hope here. When you strain forward to what lies ahead, you are breaking out of the spin cycle and envisioning a brighter future, a better outcome, a new tomorrow that will be different because Christ is in that tomorrow.
We hosted 40-50 homeless guests per night this past week in our Open Doors shelter. Social scientists have long debated the root causes of homelessness for years and how it might be alleviated.
In my estimation, it comes down to one word – hope. In our particular group there were several folks who had seemingly given up on hope. The treadmill of life had gotten to moving too fast for them, conspiring against them, and threw them off. And now they live hour-to-hour, day-to-day, year-to-year simply struggling to survive and attempting to medicate themselves against despair.
But on the other hand, there were also some in our group who were straining forward to what lies ahead. They had suffered hard knocks, they had done some bad things, but through faith they have come to embrace a hope that tomorrow is going to be better. They envision a different and brighter ending for their lives. They are working at jobs, saving money, staying clean and sober, straining forward to what lies ahead. They have hope, and they are clinging to it with both fists. And they will break out of that vicious cycle they have been trapped in.
I also know that homeless people are not much different from you and me. What I’ve just described for them also describes us to varying degrees.
Paul tells us the keys to a faith-filled life: You’ve got to forget what lies behind, getting your eyes off the rearview mirror. You’ve got to strain forward with hope to what lies ahead. And, you must…
Press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus!
Yes, Paul reminds us that it isn’t enough to hopefully envision a finish line…we must put one foot in front of the other and run toward it. We must have the grit and determination to push through and push onward, sometimes overcoming great obstacles along the way.
And what is at that finish line? It is the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. In other words, what we are running to reach is the reward of our calling–the purpose for which God created us.
Sometimes that calling, that purpose, is pretty specific. My friend, Ricky May, knew from the time he was a pimply-faced teenager working in his dad’s gas station that God had made him to be an auto mechanic. He has the ability to tear down most any component of a car or truck, diagnose it, and fix it. And although 7 heart bypasses last spring slowed him down tremendously, he is still working on cars, often doing it for free for persons who are facing hard times financially.
For others, the reward of our calling from God, our purpose, is more general in nature. It may involve being faithful in providing for our family, in sharing encouragement, in making ourselves available to offer a listening ear.
In any event, our calling, our purpose– if it is from God in Christ Jesus–it will always involve some manner of making God’s love real for others. For that is why we were created and what we were put on this earth for.
Ultimately, what gives us the gumption to forget what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead, to press onward to toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call?
Paul tells us it is this: Christ Jesus has made us his own. We belong to our Lord. We are never forgotten nor forsaken. He is with us each step of the way in life’s journey. In times of discouragement, in times when we fall, he is there to help us get back up and get back in the race.
As we come to his table this day, remember the gift of that grace! Christ Jesus has made you his own. You are a child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! You are, and always will be, somebody in his sight! Amen!