Press On to the Goal

If you've ever played golf you know that on the golf course, from time to time, you'll hit a great shot, it feels right, it looks right, and it even lands in the spot you were aiming for, but then it takes a bad bounce and ends up in a bush, behind a tree, in the water, or in a sand trap.

Has this happened to anyone?

The same happens in life as well. Sometimes it seems life isn't fair, we do the right things, say the right things, mean the right things, but then something happens, and we hurt someone or someone hurts us, perhaps not purposefully but nevertheless life isn't so perfect anymore.

You know there are no absolutes in life. In our finite scope as human beings we must accept the fact that our earthly life is temporary, but God is eternal. Just because we're Christian doesn't mean everything is going to go our way, just because we pray and attend Church doesn't mean we won't stumble and fall sometimes.

Life isn't always fair; life isn't always going to yield the results we want. We're imperfect humans, and we often times find ourselves in situations we wish we could have avoided, we get caught up in situations that keep us from remaining focused on the ultimate goal in life, or we don't put the past behind us thus keeping us from what Paul says, "pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us (me) heavenward in Christ Jesus."

During this season of Lent you probably have now noticed we've spent a great deal of time talking about healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Well this is what the cross is all about. Through God's grace we are being forgiven and healed, so that we can be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And if you read the scriptures carefully, or even go see the movie The Passion of Christ, you can understand and feel just how great a sacrifice God made.

As we all strive to live the perfect Christian life we will fail, we will fall short of the eternal goal. Trying to live the perfect life, just like hitting the perfect golf shot, only to see it go somewhere else, can be discouraging and can leave us worn out.

Yes the goal is to know Christ, to be like Christ, and to be all Christ has in mind for us. And we ought to work hard at not taking our eyes off of this goal. Paul offers the image of a race as an analogy to the Christian life. Yet the race Paul speaks of is not one of competition where only one person wins. The race Paul speaks of is one that is open to all people, a race in which all participants ultimately win.

Triathletes look at their race this way. The goal isn't so much to win; it's to finish the race. A triathlon is a grueling race requiring preparation, training, endurance, and perseverance. Not a whole lot different then trying to live a Christian life. Like the triathlete, our goal too is to finish the race, to claim the promised prize, which is a gift freely given to us only by a loving and merciful God.

And like the triathlete, to run a good Christian race, to live the proper Christian life also requires preparation, training, endurance, and perseverance. And like the triathlete training for a race, we must lay aside all that is harmful and distracting to participating in the race, all those things that keep us from being effective Christians.

This includes putting the past behind us. Now I know I've mentioned putting our past behind us on several occasions recently, but I raise this issue again, because putting the past behind us, like a triathlete putting previous portions of the race behind them, is what allows us to keep focused on the final goal.

We all have done or said things for which we are ashamed, and we live in the constant tension of what we have been and what we want to be. Paul himself, when he was known as Saul, persecuted and killed Christians. Yet he was able to put his past behind him, so that he could keep his eyes on the eternal prize. And now we revere Paul as one of the great apostles.

Faith for Paul involved running, wrestling, striving, and fighting, none of which would end until the day of Christ. For Paul all of this effort was not for merit, but was rather the activity of one who had abandoned all claim to merit and personal gain.

Paul placed his trust in God's grace, which in turn set him free to run the great race without watching his back, without allowing the past bog him down, without competing with other servants of Christ. Paul's goal is clear: to be with Christ in the resurrection. Paul ran the good race and fought the good fight, and received his prize of eternal life.

Because our hope is in Christ, we can let go of past as well, and look forward to what God will help us become, we too can receive the eternal prize. Don't dwell on the past, and don't get bogged down with the temptations of the present, instead grow in the knowledge of God by focusing on your relationship with him. Know that you are forgiven and then move on to a life of faith and obedience. Look forward to a fuller more meaningful life because of your hope in Christ.

No, life isn't always fair, but when we experience difficulties we have to look at God and try to draw strength from what happens to us. We ought to look at what we can learn from our experiences, and how we can improve our relationship with God and others through what we've learned.

I would like to share with you this true story as told by Paul Harvey.

Years ago a hardworking man took his family from New York State to Australia to take advantage of a work opportunity there. Part of this man's family was a handsome young son who had aspirations of joining the circus as a trapeze artist or by becoming an actor.

This young fellow, biding his time until a circus job or even one as a stagehand came along, worked at the local shipyards, which bordered on the worse section of town.

Walking home from work one evening this young man was attacked by five thugs who wanted to rob him. Instead of just giving up his money the young fellow resisted. However, the five thugs bested him easily and proceeded to beat him to a pulp.

They mashed his face with their boots, and kicked and beat his body brutally with clubs, leaving him for dead. When the police happened to find him lying in the road they assumed he was dead and called for the Morgue Wagon.

On the way to the morgue a policeman heard him gasp for air, and they immediately took him to the emergency unit at the hospital. When he was placed on a gurney a nurse remarked to her horror, that this young man no longer had a face.

Each eye socket was smashed, his skull, legs, and arms fractured, his nose literally hanging from his face, all is teeth were gone, and his jaw was almost completely torn from his skull. Although his life was spared he spent years in the hospital. When he finally left, his body may have healed but his face was disgusting to look at. He was no longer the handsome youth that everyone admired.

When the young man started to look for work again he was turned down by everyone just on account of the way he looked. One potential employer suggested to him that he join the freak show at the circus as The Man Who Had No Face. And he did this for a while. He was still rejected by everyone and no one wanted to be seen in his company. He had thoughts of suicide, and this went on for five years.

One day he passed a church and sought some solace there. Entering the church he encountered a priest who had seen him sobbing while kneeling in a pew.

The priest took pity on him and took him to the rectory where they talked at length. The priest was impressed with him to such a degree that he said that he would do everything possible that could be done to restore his dignity and life, if the young man would promise to be the best Catholic he could be, and trust in God's mercy to free him from his torturous life.

The young man went to Mass and communion every day, and after thanking God for saving his life, asked God to only give him peace of mind and the grace to be the best man he could ever be in His eyes.

The priest, through his personal contacts, was able to secure the services of the best plastic surgeon in Australia. There would be no cost to the young man, as the doctor was the priest's best friend. The doctor too was so impressed by the young man, whose new outlook on life, even though he had experienced the worse, was filled with good humor and love.

The surgery was a miraculous success. All the best dental work was also done for him. The young man became everything he promised God he would be. He was also blessed with a wonderful, beautiful wife, and many children, and success in an industry, which would have been the furthest thing from his mind as a career if not for the goodness of God and the love of the people who cared for him. This he acknowledges publicly.

The young man was and is, Mel Gibson, the direction of the movie The Passion of Christ.

Mel Gibson was able to put his past behind him, he was able, with help, to keep his eyes on the goal, and despite the persecution he and his family are now going through because of the movie, he continues to be a faithful witness of Christ by sharing the message of the Gospel to the world in new and creative ways.

Paul challenges us to press on to the goal regardless of what this world's life might throw our way. Paul tells us the prize of eternal life; the prize of hearing those words, well done thy good and faithful servant is ours, not through our efforts or good works, but by the grace of God through his Son Jesus Christ.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade