Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Perspective for the New Year - Free from the Past, Free for the Future

                2013 was not the best year for me. As I look to 2014 approaching (it is already here) I was already shaking due to the challenges ahead. The feeling of impotence, doubts and limitation was making me feel depressed, worried, weak, like I have nothing else to hold on but the promises. That’s wonderful, but at the same time it felt so far away. Yes, hopeless.

                As I was on my bed, this afternoon, praying, and trying to hold my tears as I felt defeated, I was listening to a song by Steven Curtis Chapman, “Finish What He Started”,

I was moved to tears, and taken to the Bible verse in Philippians 1:6: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Yes, God is at work, even though I may not see it. As I thought of that, hope started to come back to me.

                The letter of Philippians is known as the Letter of Joy, because it is one of the Bible’s books that is full of references to the word joy and equivalents. As I continued to read I got to a Bible verse that I used for a short message that my dad asked me a week earlier to write to his clients for the year’s end. Philippians 3:13b-14. I would like to share this with you also.

Philippians 3:13b,14

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

I – We can’t be bound to the past only (v.13 – “forgetting what is behind...”)

a)- There are outstanding moments in our past which are very difficult to forget due to some events and traumas that have hurt us and ended up by directing our lives. Or people who have offended us and to whom we can’t forgive; or circumstances out of our control that took our loved ones or our belongings away and cause us to consider the unfairness of life; or even decisions and attitudes which we took that have hurt and distanced people and consequently hurt ourselves as well.

b)- Even the good moments o four past can be a hindrance. To live missing long gone times of our past can be a hinder for us to live the today in a healthy way.

c)-  We have to understand that to forget what is behind means to get rid of everything that separates us from God. There are memories that can take you away from God. These things ending by becoming so big in our minds that they become the priority, taking the place that should be God’s alone. We have to cry out to God to help us in receiving the healing of the memories that bring pain, hopelessness, bitterness, resentment, disillusion, sadness. Also cry to Him for help to forgive and be forgiven so that we can follow with our lives. We have to ask God for healing, healing for the memories of the past.

d)- We have to remember that God is with us in all moments of life, including the sad and difficult ones. Ge. 46:3,4 below is a key verse that taught this reality to me. In 2002/2003 my family was going through great problems in China in what regards finances, emotions, and health. My wife was begging for us to go back to Brazil, but I was very resistant to the Idea for fear of not coming back due to the financial issues (no support). One morning, when I started my computer, this Bible verse jumped on my screen: Ge. 46:3,4. God was faithful to His word. We went to Brazil, received the needed help and after 2 years we returned to China. Genesis 46:3,4 says: “Do not be afraid to GO down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again.” It doesn't matter the size of the trouble, Jesus ensures His constant presence with us. From this I am drawn to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3), being thrown into the blazing furnace, which had been heated seven times hotter than usual, where the Angel of the Lord appeared with them, walking around in the fire. They didn't burn a hair of their heads, or even their clothes got scorched by the fire. Isaiah 43:2 tells us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze”. God is with us. IMMANUEL. God with us. God in us.

e)- We have to take time to evaluate our lives, our past and see what has worked and what has not. We have to take time to define what we must keep and what we must abandon. We have to evaluate which changes are necessary for us to have a better future. Peter had plans to work as a fisherman. Jesus calls him to go to deeper waters, be impacted with a great catch of fishes, and have his expectations of the future transformed. From now on he would be fishing people. (Luke 5:1-11).

II – We have to go forward (v.13 - “...and straining toward what is ahead...)

a)- To go forward talks of perspective, vision, future, hope. It’s the moment to look ahead, to see what I want to see transformed in my life, what I want to achieve, which areas of my life I need to change to achieve these victories, which decisions I need to take to accomplish this.

b)- What are the things that are ahead? What are the visions God has put before you? Philippians 3:20 talks about our citizenship of high heaven, Acts 2:25 says the Lord is before me. 2 Samuel 22:23 tells us that the commandments of the Lord are before me. Psalm 26:3 says that the love of the Lord is always before us. The prophets mention several times that they saw something before them. What? Visions. But in the end we always have to look to what or to whom is really important as we can read in Hebrews 12:1,2: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” Jesus must be our main sight.

c)- To go forward talks of taking on commitments and responsibilities. It talks of stopping isolating ourselves and starting to act as a family. It talks of ministering and participation. It talks of seeing the best in me and others.

III – Defining clear goals (v. 14 – “...I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus.”)

a)- We must set clear goals. We have to define goals that are clear, measurable. In this 2014 ask God to give you wisdom, clarity, and direction about how to develop these goals. Don’t waste your resources, time, and energy on what is not a priority. Cut off the roots of your problems, and not their consequences. “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” 1 Corinthians 9:26. Not setting clear goals is just like punching the air. It has no effect.

b)- Organize yourself. Be systematic. Be disciplined. I spend time here in China with several sportsmen, especially soccer players and jockey. I see the daily effort of some of them who wake up very early, train intensely, watch their diet, prepare themselves to be able to cross the line in first place and achieve the award.  Paul keeps on saying on 1 Corinthians 9:27: “No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave…” This is discipline, determination. For us to see our goals being achieved we need to persevere and act in discipline (again we need to have in mind the commitment and the responsibility).

c)- The school of life is also the school of brokenness. This brokenness happens with an intentional, personal and sacrificial effort. David had first to become the leader of a bunch of losers, journeying through the desert, before he could become the king of Israel. He himself needed to learn the lesson of perseverance, obedience, systematic discipline. We need to have clear goals to get to them. It is very easy to get lost in the daily chaos. But if we have the right, clear and defined priorities, we will continue to listen from the Lord: “This is the way; walk on it” (Isaiah 30:21).

IV - Conclusion: Therefore, in this new year of 2014

a)- Get yourself free of the chains of the past through forgiveness, prayer, trusting in God for the healing, trusting in other people to give you support and advice.

b)- Take responsibility and commitment to see the changes happening, seeking the good things God has put before you to be achieved.

c)- Set clear, measurable goals, and work with discipline and perseverance at the school of brokenness, in prayer, to see them reached.


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