. . . when it’s in the bible.
Philipians 3:8, as a matter of fact, which in most translations uses the much gentler word “rubbish” to translate what Paul literally meant as “excrement.”
He was using vivid imagery to make a salient point: all his accomplishments in the past as well as all his regrets from yesterday are but a dog pile compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Paul said it, the fathers of the church under the direction of the Holy Spirit declared it to be Scripture, so it was part of yesterday’s message.
It was all part of a message in our Christmas On Memory Lane series, this one called Repaving Memory Lane.
Drawing from one of my favorite sections in all of Scripture, Philipians 3:4-14, we landed together at the day’s bottom line: When Christ Comes In, The Past Stops Being An Excuse And Starts Being Motivation.
For those of you who like reading sermons, here’s a rough transcript which includes directions for our Audio-Visual Team. This time, I embedded the Scripture verses themselves for you.
One sort of interesting (at least to me) note about the sermon below: when I first prepared it, the “bottom line” was OK, but I didn’t feel as good about it as the rest of the message. It was something about Christ putting your past in perspective. Yet in the course of getting to know the sermon last week, the bottom line became very clear and, I think, much better than the original. Hence: when Christ comes in, the past stops being an excuse and starts being motivation.
I hope you get half the joy from reading it as I did from preparing and then delivering it:
When I was 15 ½ and learning how to drive (pic), Coach Moser (pic) taught me to look in the rear view mirror every five seconds. So I did it. So now, 35 years later (!), I still do it. Without thinking. Driving. 5 count. Glance. Back. Over and over and over. The rear view mirror is a place to glance. But here’s the trut: the rear view mirror is NOT a place to LIVE. If we were to LIVE in the rear view mirror, imagine how bad driving would be? We’d be staring at what was behind us while driving along, the road in front of us would bend but we’d still drive straight and that would be that. The rear view mirror is a place to glance at not to live in.
Yet there come those times when that’s what we do with all of life: we live in its rear view mirror. We don’t glance at yesterday; we LIVE in yesterday. For some of us, it’s that nostalgia for what was good, what was treasuredabout yesterday or yesteryear. Can I confess something to you? Seven years ago we moved from what is today the K-Zone and into this room cuz we’d outgrown the other space and about two weeks in I was like, “can we go back?!” We didn’t have it right, I certainly wasn’t preaching my A game and I had the reservoir of nostalgia for the way it used to be. Two weeks earlier! But I’m sort of bad about nostalgia anyway. There are times when I long for living in Texas, for studying in Kentucky, for having hair. I can do a good job of living in & not glancing at rvm.
Some of you are probably like that. I bet we have a former Homecoming Queen or two in here. Or a cheerleader. And you’ve spent a lot of life trying to recapture that energy and that buzz. Or a district winner, all star quarterback, or state champion. Or you remember the good old days – when mom and dad were still together and still stable. When Christmas warmth was not just from the fireplace but the genuine love and laughter that covered the room. When your own marriage was healthy, whole, and yeah, passionate. When your kids were young and cute instead of grown and obstinate. When you were first converted and loved Jesus with all kinds of enthusiasm and all kinds of obedience and before some of the cynicism of life had taken over. You, too have not just glanced at but decided to live in, park in, your rear view mirror.
But but but but. For a lot of you those memories and that rear view mirror centers more on regret than on euphoria. Things you’ve done wrong. The divorce you caused. The secrets you keep. Times people have spoken failure into you. The mom for whom nothing was every good enough. The dad for whom ridicule was an assumed mode of communication. The dysfunction you grew up in the middle of and at the time you thought it was normal but now you realize it was anything but. But here’s what I’m driving at: whether the memories are good or bad, filled with euphoria or regreat, we park on that part of memory land and don’t progress. Where those memories are good, a lot of us are like, “that’s as good as it gets; I’ll never surpass THAT moment or THAT season or THAT relationship.”
And on the flip side – and this is one I see over and over – “Because I was raised that way or heard that thing or experienced that pain, that’s why I am today ALLOWED to be miserable and destructive.” We used yesterday’s pain as the comprehensive excuse for today’s misbehavior. Because everyone knows just enough psychology from watching Oprah to know the lingo behind, “it’s not my fault; it’s all how I was raised.” It happens when we live in the rear view mirror, when we park in the space marked “nostalgia” during the Christmas on Memory Lane.
Which is the place Paul tries so hard to get out of in Philippians 3. In this glorious letter to the church in Philippi where he explains that he has joy unlike his opponents because his relationship with God is NOT based on the fleshly act of circumcision but on the spiritual act of faith, he recounts some of his own story in chapter 3. Look at how he describes in pedigree in 3:4b-5: If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; Each phrase there is loaded with meaning. “Circumcised” so he has the mark of the covenant people, something we regard as a medical procedure today but they regarded as the ultimate religious symbol back then. “The people of Israel” so Paul is part of a collection of people uniquely called out by God to be his ambassadors on earth. “Tribe of Benjamin” – not just a Jew but from the tribe that brought forth the nation’s first king ever. “Hebrew of Hebrews” – an expert in the language, one not easily spoken or studied and Paul had both. “Law, a Pharisee” – all kinds of achievement and acclaim in such a way that everyone knew he was smart.
So: he was born into a great family, went to the best schools, and rose quickly up the professional ladder. Sort of like he is saying, “My family founded Charlotte, I went to Charlotte Latin, from there to Duke, and just for kicks I got a Masters at Harvard.” I had it going on.
And look at 3:6: as for zeal, persecuting the church
Persecuting the church. From there, check out Acts 7:59 – 8:1a:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
8 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.
We’re supposed to notice the contrast: dead Stephen and approving Paul. Only by the time of Philippians, of course, the former accomplice to murder is now a Christian pastor. So doesn’t that influence his look in the rear view mirror?! It’s a mixture of pride – look where and how I was born and then what I did what those inherent advantages I had!! — and regret: I killed that guy because he testified to the same Savior I now serve. What a complicated legacy and one that whether it’s from euphoria or regret could park him permanently on Mem Lane.
But look at 3:7, and notice the but now: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ His pedigree, his accomplishments, even his regret, all loss for the sake of his new Lord. And then v. 8 repeats and MAGNIFIES the same thought: What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. Guess what? What is rather tastefully translated as “rubbish” in you NIV is more accurately rendered as “excrement” in the original language. All that stuff, my corked fury of fond nostalgia and painful second guessing is really a dog pile compared to knowing Christ. And it made it past the bible’s censors!
But then, Paul goes where I think he is just hilarious. Look at 3:13: Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead
Forgetting?! What?! He’s just spent some time in some very impassioned writing rememberinga great deal about his past. Takes a trip down memory lane and then says forget all that. Forget all that stuff he just went to great lengths to remember?! But then I realize, oh, he’s saying something very creative here. Forgetting DOESN’T mean removing it from your mind or pretending it never happened. Those two things are impossible. Forgetting instead means using your time in the rear view mirror as motivation. The “behind” and “ahead” of 3:13 is the key, as it helps you realize that Jesus cleanses what is behind so that he can prepare you for what is ahead. He’s the God of “ahead.” 3:14 wraps it all up: .I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. And from all that, here’s the bottom line: When Christ comes, the past stops being an excuse and starts being motivation.
See, whether it is at Christmas or any other time of year, the Lord does not want you marinating in nostalgia or wallowing in regret. Instead, it’s the knowing glance, the lesson learned, the slate wiped clean, that recognition that whether it is your spiritual growth or your professional accomplishment or even your personal trauma, it is a pile of _________ compared to what is ahead. Christ brings his healing power to your painful past so he can prepare for you for the higher calling that is ahead. And he sheds new light on your past accomplishments that makes you realize that’s NOT as good as it gets; What he has gotten me for in the future is even better.
My goodness it’s a lot like that escalator in the department store that kept breaking. Just stopped. And each time, they’d have to put up a sign that said, OUT OF ORDER. And then it happened one more time and one thoughtful store manager put up a new sign. THIS ESCALATOR IS TEMPORARILY A STAIRWAY. Love that! Past hurts but the promise of the future is different, better.
Or even the man named Jerry who was actually shot and wounded during a robbery. And as they were wheeling him into the OR, he said to the doctors, “I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.” As if he spoke it into reality. REFRA
Again, this is all so critical because when we have good memories we want to RE-LIVE them and when they are bad we use them as an excuse. In Paul’s world, neither is acceptable. Particularly in terms of his spiritual life and spiritual accomplishments. Paul’s “pressing on” in 3:12 and 3:14 is his way of saying he has never “arrived” spiritually; that in terms of his relationship with Jesus he can never rest on his laurels. Some of you are really strong in your faith . . . and you think back perhaps to seminary classes or you realize you know the bible better than most and you’re tempted to have contentment that you are “mature.” Don’t buy it! Don’t settle! You’ve never arrived! One of the best things in my own life over the last few years is that I have learned so much from some of the other teachers here. People of wisdom and bible knowledge and I get to sit at their feet! Because at 50+, in my love for Christ and knowledge of Christ, I have never arrived. Still arriving. Jesus even puts my past of loving seminary in perspective – a PILE! – compared to knowing him better and deeper tomorrow.
And what is that future with promise to which he calls? For some of you it is a call to serving. TO LEAD HERE. I did a wedding awhile back in which I said something I have never come close to saying in a wedding before. I looked at the bride, a woman who is just smart, and said, “I think this marriage might just be a call for you to have broader ministry and deeper leadership here. And for others it is a call to growing. You’ve got a good mind and the Lord wants you memorizing a new verse of Scripture each week. We’ve got a month’s worth to get you started (provide). And for others it’s a call TO LEAVE HERE. To finally surrender to God’s call to full time ministry, get your education or experience and bring a little bit of the GS spirit to some church or ministry or counseling practice somewhere else.
And I have to say this because I know some people here need to hear it: the future to which he is calling you is one in which you stop using the past as an excuse. There. I said it. Now I’m savvy enough to know that, as I said last week, the past is never history; it’s never really past. But this series and this Philippians passage can never be an excuse to park there. To excuse misbehavior and wrecked relationships today. By Christ’s power, use those painful memories to propel you to a much dif future.
I heard about a boy who many years ago was graduating from 8th grade. He’d come from a rough family, full of fighters and law-breakers. Anyway, his 8th grade principal pulled him aside and said, “Now there’s no need for you to go to high school at all. You’ll just end up in jail anyway.” Talk about a memory! Talk about a temptation to use that memory as excuse to live into the failure already surrounding him. Except this 8thgrader didn’t do that. The memory didn’t paralyze; it mobilized.
Went to high school, admitted to college, from there a scholarship to, of all places, law school. Where he went and finished first in his class. At a school to which he returned a few years later and became a faculty member. Would-be high school drop out instead law professor at a major university! And he never spent the first day in jail.
And I know that’s all true because that man was my dad.
I’m glad I come from a line of people who use yesterday not as excuse but as motivation. Will you? REFRAIN