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Dealing with the Past: Don't Look Back!

By Terry T. Lester

 Philippians 3:13-16

It was Satchel Paige, the great baseball player who paved the way for blacks to play in the major leagues, who made famous the saying, "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you!"

Long before Satchel Paige ever gave his advice, the Apostle Paul was telling Christian folks, in so many words, "Don't look back!" Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, "Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

God's word to us is, "Don't look back!" Like the Apostle Paul we must forget "what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead."

There is a natural, human tendency for us to look back. Life magazine has the "Year in Pictures," Sports Illustrated has the "Year in Sports." We have history books, yearbooks, photo albums, home movies and memories that allow us to look back.

And there can be great value in looking back. We look back to learn. We look back to affirm the places and faces and circumstances from whence we have come.

In The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner writes, "it is mainly for some clue to where I am going that I search through where I've been; for some hint as to whom I am becoming or failing to become that I delve into what used to be." So there is, indeed, a time for us to look back, if that looking back carries with it a positive purpose.

At the same time Paul tells us to "forget what lies behind." But Paul is saying don't look back in a way that will keep us from going forward. Don't look back in a way that makes us prisoners of our past, because looking back in the wrong way enslaves us or enslaves others to past mistakes and sins. Looking back in the wrong way does not allow the healing of old hurts and painful memories.

Even looking back at past accomplishments and successes can keep us from discovering what lies ahead. So the advice that's given to us is, "Don't look back!"

Imagine how miserable the Apostle Paul would have been if he had not put behind the sins and mistakes of his past. Think back on Paul's earlier years.

Before his conversion Paul was named Saul, and he was the number one enemy of the church. He was responsible for the gruesome persecution and even the murder of people who professed faith in Christ. When Stephen, the great witness for Christ, was stoned to death, Luke tells us that "Saul was consenting to his death."

In Acts, Luke goes on to say "that a great persecution arose against the church" and "Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison." Paul's past was cluttered with atrocious acts of evil. And he wasn't perfect after he became a Christian. He, like us, continually struggled with his sinfulness.

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