INTRO.- ILL.- PERFECTIONISM and bowling? Odds against rolling a perfect 300 in the game are about 225,000 to one. And one bowler appropriately collapsed when he qualified to join that brotherhood of 300. Another bowler just couldn’t bring himself to play the final ball of an otherwise perfect game. Instead he silently packed his shoes and ball and walked out -- and never again set foot inside a bowling alley!
I guess he couldn’t stand the suspense of whether he could bowl that last strike or not. Nevertheless, bowling a 300 game is not perfectionism. It might be to some people but not in the spiritual realm.
ILL.- I’ve always liked Charlton Heston, who played Moses in The Ten Commandments in 1956. Heston passed away in 2008 at the age of 84. Heston may have won many awards, but he was not a man to rest on his laurels. He was something of a perfectionist.
He said, “One of the things about acting or painting or writing or composing music, is you never get it right. You can spend a lifetime and, if you’re honest with yourself, never once was your work perfect. People say to me, ‘You’ve got the awards and the parts and the money. What are your goals now?’ I say, ‘To get it right one time.’ ”
Nice thought, huh? Do you feel as though you “got it right” just one time in regard to work, sports, hobbies, etc.?
If nothing else we may have thought we could always do just a bit better. Sports are one thing and work is another. Did you ever think you did your best in your work? I have never felt that way. I guess that’s why I keep on working. Like Heston, maybe someday I’ll get it right just one time!
No, I’ve never preached a perfect sermon but I’ve preached some good sermons. I’ve never made perfect calls on people but I keep on calling.
ILL.- I remember calling with another preacher who was preaching a revival for our church in MO. We called on a young family that had been attending our church and during our revival. We knew they were Christians and wanted to encourage them to join the church during the revival. My preacher friend and I started to visit with them and I carried the conversation since I was the local preacher. I talked and we talked. We talked on and on, about the kids, about work, one thing after another.
Finally my preacher friend broke in and asked the young couple about joining the church. They were very interested and planned to join. In fact, I think they joined the church that night.
What was wrong with that call or visit? I just talked and talked and didn’t ask that couple about joining the church. My friend brought up the subject. Why didn’t I get to the issue? I guess I feared rejection. We don’t like to be told “no” about anything, especially, something that’s good for people.
Was a perfect call? No, so I just keep on trying. I admit, however, I am less fearful now about talking to people about making a decision for Christ. Why? Because I believe in Christ and the promise of the gospel more than ever before! And any time you are convinced fully about something you are not afraid to talk about it.
The pursuit of perfection. Can we ever get there in this life? Not really, but we can grow in Christian maturity.
PROP.- How about spiritual maturity then? How can we reach a certain amount of spiritual maturity?
1- Don’t think you are there
2- Forget the past
3- Press on toward the goal
I. DON’T THINK YOU ARE THERE
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
ILL.- One soldier said: In basic training, our first sergeant made things very clear. He told us, “Don’t question anything I say or tell you to do. Don’t worry—I hardly ever make mistakes. Matter of fact, I’ve made only one mistake in my life. I once thought I was wrong about something. It turned out I wasn’t.”
Was that sergeant perfect? No, but apparently, he thought he was.
Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
ILL.- What professional boxer said these words? "My power is so discombobulatingly devastating I could feel muscle tissues collapse under my force. It’s ludicrous that these mortals even attempt to enter my realm."
He also said: "It’s interesting that you put me in the league with those illustrious fighters [Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson], but I’ve proved since my career I’ve surpassed them as far my popularity. I’m the biggest fighter in the history of the sport. If you don’t believe it, check the cash register."
And great was the fall of that man. Why? Because he was so proud of himself or full of himself. That boxer was Mike Tyson, one time heavyweight boxing champ of the world. Tyson is a former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and holds the record as the youngest boxer to win the WBC, WBA and IBF world heavyweight titles, he was only 20 years old.
Tyson won his first 19 professional bouts by knockout, with twelve of them occurring in the first round. But as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. And when he fell, he fell hard.
Tyson still found the time to burn through a reported $300 million he earned during his boxing career. Sound impossible? Well it’s true. Tyson’s lavish lifestyle cost him $400,000 a month. By the time all was said and done, Iron Mike was looking in the face of a $27 million debt. He filed for bankruptcy in 2003. And Tyson’s troubles didn’t stop with losing all his money. He was in and out jail. Had problems with drugs. He’s been a royal mess.
Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Job 20:4-9 4 “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on the earth,
5 that the mirth of the wicked is brief,
the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.
6 Though his pride reaches to the heavens
and his head touches the clouds,
7 he will perish forever, like his own dung;
those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
8 Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found,
banished like a vision of the night.
9 The eye that saw him will not see him again;
his place will look on him no more.
Proverbs 8:13 “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.”
Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
Proverbs 29:23 “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
I Peter 5:5 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
What’s the lesson? Don’t get too sold on yourself in regard to anything you’ve done in this world and even in regard to your faith. The right attitude is, “I’m not there yet but I’m working at it.”
II. FORGET THE PAST
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,
Who said these words? And in what context?
Psalm 51:1-3 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”
These are the words of David after he repented from committing adultery with Bathsheba. He said, MY SIN IS ALWAYS BEFORE ME. I’m sure that David’s sins haunted him the rest of his life. Sin has a way of doing that. Sin can drag us down in the present, that is, when we sin and sin can drag us down in the past, even after we have repented of it. Sin can drag us down by haunting us the rest of our lives. Some bad things or some bad memories never seem to go away, do they?
However, in spite of bad stuff, we must forge ahead. We must somehow put these things behind us and try as best we can forget them and live in the present.
ILL.- We know who Bernie Madoff is, but who is Mark Madoff? He was Bernie’s son. Bernie Madoff turned his wealth management business into a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars. The amount missing from client accounts, including fabricated gains, was almost $65 billion.
What about his son Mark? On the second anniversary of the day his father was arrested in the worst investment fraud in American history, Mark Madoff, 46, was found dead in the living room of his apartment. He was hanging from a black dog leash while his 2-year-old son slept nearby. HOW HORRIBLE!
People close to him said he was despondent over press coverage of his father’s case, an ongoing criminal investigation of Madoff family members in the multibillion-dollar scheme and his struggle to rebuild his life. The intense scrutiny approaching the anniversary "became too much for him," said a person who had recent contact with him, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Whether Mark Madoff was involved in his father’s Ponzi scheme or not, what took place was too much for him to handle. He just couldn’t handle the load of what happened.
Brothers and sisters, I believe strongly in the forgiveness of God, that is, I believe that God can forgive any person’s past, including Bernie Madoff’s. If a person is willing to repent and surrender to Christ they can be forgiven regardless of their past sins.
But often people and our own consciences won’t let us forget our past. This is something that is hard to deal with and/or overcome. But this is where God’s grace comes in. His grace not only saves us but it can also equip us for all of life, including putting our past behind us; good, bad or otherwise.
Hebrews 4:16 “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
III. PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
I love it when people put their head down, so to speak, and go hard to accomplish whatever it is that they are shooting for in life.
ILL.- Andrew Carnegie proved to be one of the greats of the industrial age, he was once a poor boy from Scotland. His father was a hand loom weaver, but once the industrialization of society reached Scotland, his father’s work was no longer needed. For years, his family had tough times to make ends meet, so they decided to start over and move to America. At thirteen, Andrew and his family moved to America and he got a job at a cotton mill. He was working twelve hour days, six days a week. Eventually Andrew got a job as a telegraph messenger. Because of his great work ethic, someone from the Pennsylvania Railroad Company offered him a job, which allowed him to earn more money and make his way up the corporate ladder. He soon started investing in railroad companies, and then hit the jackpot by investing in the steel industry. His investments would allow him to have his own steel company, which in 2007 would be worth $298 Billion dollars. His hard work paid off!
But here’s a better story because it deals with a pursuit of Christ.
ILL.- Dwight L. Moody may well have been the greatest evangelist of all time. In a 40-year period he won a million souls, founded three Christian schools, launched a great Christian publishing business, established a world-renowned Christian conference center, and inspired literally thousands of preachers to win souls and conduct revivals. A shoe clerk at 17, his ambition was to make $100,000. Converted at 18, he uncovered hidden gospel gold in the hearts of millions for the next half-century.
He preached to 20,000 a day in Brooklyn and admitted only non-church members by ticket! He traveled across the American continent and through Great Britain in some of the greatest and most successful evangelistic meetings communities have ever known. His tour of the world with Ira Sankey was considered the greatest evangelistic enterprise of the century.
It was Henry Varley who said, “It remains to be seen what God will do with a man who gives himself up totally to Him.” And Moody endeavored to be that man; and the world did marvel to see how wonderfully God used him. Two great monuments stand in his memory: Moody Bible Institute and the famous Moody Church in Chicago. Moody went to be with the Lord in 1899.
What does his life teach us? Exactly what Paul said in our text. 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
How do we press on? We keep on praying, reading God’s Word, and living the life as best we can!
Spiritual perfection. NO. There is no such thing. Our only perfection is in Christ, but spiritual growth and maturity should be our goal in life. Only one life. Twill soon be past. Only what is done for Christ will last.
II Peter 3:18 “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”
Steve Shepherd, Jonesboro Christian Church, AR