161016 Philippians 3:13-14

Last Updated on Sunday, 16 October 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Philippians 3:13-14
Theme: Forward!

How many of you think you can identify the motto of the great state of Wisconsin? If you are a out-of-state visitor and while driving you notice the words on the license plate of the vehicle ahead of you, you might be tempted to think that our state motto is "America's Dairyland" (show license plate slide). Or if you have ever been to the state fair, or a Culver's restaurant, I can see how you might conclude that the state motto is this: "Try the fried cheese curds" (show red slide).

As good as those guesses are, they are both incorrect. If you want to find Wisconsin's real state motto, you need look no further than the state flag (show blue slide). Above the yellow seal, above the hovering badger, is a white banner. And that banner proudly displays our state motto, a single word printed in bold capital letters, "FORWARD."

"Forward" has been Wisconsin's state motto almost as long as Wisconsin has been a state. For over 150 years Wisconsinites have prided themselves on being forward looking, forward thinking people. And that might explain why a church with deep roots in Wisconsin, a group of Christians with an eye toward the future, would choose "Forward" as the theme of a capital campaign (show the Forward logo slide).

The difference is that our inspiration doesn't come from our state flag. It comes from the inspired words of Scripture. It comes from the inspired pen of Paul. And as we meditate on these words this morning, as we apply these words to ourselves and our congregation, the Holy Spirit will give us the courage and the conviction to go (show the Philippians passage slide)...


"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 me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul's words paint a vivid picture, but instead of trying to describe that picture to you it might be easier for me to show you (show the slide of the runners leaning at the finish line).

These runners are straining every muscle, stretching for ever inch, doing everything in their power to reach the finish line. And you probably noticed that none of them are looking back. Track coaches teach their athletes to not look behind them, and if at all possible, to not even glance to the side to see their competition. Why? Because looking back, looking to the side, not focusing on the finish line can make the difference between winning and losing the race.

Maybe that was what Paul had in mind when he told the Philippians that he was "forgetting what is behind." So what things from Paul's past did he not want to distract him? What exactly was he trying to forget? Perhaps some of his past sins?

Before God made Paul a missionary, he wasn't a Christian. He hated Christians. He persecuted Christians. And I can only imagine how many times the devil must have tried to throw Paul's past in his face: "Paul, remember all those terrible things you did. Remember all the people you hurt. You are such a hypocrite. You are the last person who should be telling people about Jesus. You should just quit."

Or when Paul talked about forgetting what was behind, is it possible that he was referring to some of his past successes? As a missionary he had traveled thousands of miles and preached to thousands of people. And thanks to a special revelation from God he had even been given him a glimpse of heaven. Paul was a humble servant and a tireless worker, but he wasn't perfect. He was still a human being. He was still a sinner. And how easy it would have been for him to look back at his accomplishments and puff up with pride.

I would never want to compare my ministry to Paul's, but we do have at least two things in common: a sinful nature and an active conscience. You have both of those things too. And because you do sometimes it can be hard to forget. It can be hard to forget about the sinful oats you sowed. It can be hard to forget about some of the hurtful things you said. It can be hard for us to not think about the wicked things we have done and the eternal death sentence we deserve. The guilt that clings to us can distract us and overwhelm us and even paralyze us. Those feelings of shame have a way of keeping us from keeping our eyes focused on the prize.

The truth is that we will never be able to fully put Paul's words into practice. We will never be able to totally and completely forget about our past. But God can. God can do anything. God can do the impossible. The God who sees and knows all things can even make himself forget. It's not that he winks or nods or looks the other way. God hates sin. God punishes sin. Or to be more specific, he punished his perfect Son for our sins.

Jesus lived a sinless life on this earth. That means he never did anything he ever regretted. And after thirty three years of sin-free living Jesus allowed himself to be punished for the sins of the world, the guiltless for the guilty. It wasn't just. It wasn't the least bit fair. It was grace. It was an act of pure, unadulterated, undeserved love that followers of Jesus will never forget. Christ's once-for-all sacrifice has set us free, and his love now compels us to go forward.

"Straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Paul knew Jesus. Paul knew that his sins were forgiven. Paul knew that he was going to heaven. Paul had been doing God's work for decades, but you don't get the sense that his work was finished. His ministry wasn't winding down. He wasn't considering retiring and moving to Florida.

Why not? In spite of his age, in spite of his circumstances (he was writing from prison), why was Paul still filled with such passion? Because the world was filled with people who didn't know what he knew. Because he knew from personal experience what it felt like to live in the darkness of unbelief. Because there were so many more places to preach, so many more souls to reach, so many people who needed to hear the gospel message because the gospel is the only message that saves.

That is the also the reason for our "Forward" campaign. In a few minutes we will watch a video that will lay out the details of the program. It will highlight the blessings God has poured out on our congregation in the past. It will cast a vision for where God may be leading us in the future. It will talk about new opportunities and new facilities and the funds that will be needed to help us reach our goals.

But before we watch that video I want you to remember something. At its heart at core this campaign is not about money. It is not about bricks and mortar. It is about our God-given mission. The mission statement printed on the back of your service folder is not just a bunch of words. They are our marching orders, the reason St. Matthew's exists, the reason God has not already called us home to heaven. We have important work to do, and now is the time to move forward.

Very few churches and very few church members ever have the opportunity to consider an opportunity like the one God has placed before us. Your church leaders are invested. Your called workers are invested. But we don't want to have all the fun. We want you to join us. We want every member of St. Matthew's to be a part of this effort so that with one heart and one voice and one united purpose we go forward together.

I can see the next question in some of your eyes: "How can I help? How can I use my gifts to serve? What can I do?" Let's start here (show the praying hands slide). We are asking every member of St. Matthew's to pray boldly and specifically during the five weeks of this campaign. Ask the Lord to open the hearts of his people so that we can reach more people with the good news of God's love.

And if you are ready to make a commitment, if you are eager to pledge your financial support, you will have the opportunity to do that...just not today. In a couple weeks every St. Matthew's family will receive a special mailing that will include a commitment card like this one (show commitment card slide). As our campaign continues and the momentum builds, we want you to talk and pray with your family about your commitment. We want you to ask God to challenge you to offer him your first and best. And then we want you to bring your commitment card to church on Sunday, November 13, Saints Triumphant Sunday, also Lutheran Education, a very special day in the history of St. Matthew's, a day for us to celebrate God's grace and respond to God's grace with our gifts of love.

Our Commitment Sunday will be here before you know it, but today I am simply asking you to do this, to make a commitment to make a commitment, to consider how richly you have been blessed and how you are able to pay those blessings forward (show Forward logo slide again) to future generations, to your children and your children's children and children who haven't even been born.

As much as I like our new logo, I have come to realize that it isn't entirely accurate. The goal of this campaign, the goal of St. Matthew's entire ministry doesn't really point forward. It points upward. With Paul we press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. And we are confident that the Holy Spirit will bless our efforts to bring along as many people as possible. Amen.

Our Mission Statement:

Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


Worship Schedule

8:00 A.M. & 10:30 A.M.

9:15 A.M. Bible Study for All Ages

Monday at 7:00 P.M.

Television Broadcast
Thursday at Noon & 7:00 P.M.
Sunday at 10:00 A.M.
on Charter Cable Station 985 or on-line


St. Matthew's Lutheran Church
818 West Wisconsin Avenue
Oconomowoc, WI 53066




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