“Brothers and sisters, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13-14).
The first Scripture that made an impact on my life was Philippians 3:13-14. The impact was not great, but it was the first time God’s Word would nudge itself off of my shelf and into my daily life. I don’t think I knew much about what it meant in context, but like many teenagers flirting with God there was something about the message that touched my life at that moment.
The moment I speak of was my senior year of high school. I was preparing to graduate, leave a significant part of my past behind, and set out into college life. I was growing in my faith, hanging with Christian friends, even helping start a Bible Study with the bar tender at a local Golf Club where I worked. My faith was real, but my understanding of Scripture extremely sparse. But this verse fit with this transitional moment, and so when it came time to write something of lasting significance under my yearbook photo, I chose to mark myself forever with a Bible verse by my senior photo. Here it is in all its glory. (Notice my smooth, silky blonde hair carefully combed in the style of the late 90s — I call it the “golden arches.”)
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Phil 3:13-14 NLT).
Now, I think I included this verse in my yearbook because I liked the bit about leaving the past behind and looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I was also big on working hard, pressing on in life goals, and trying to achieve things of value. And I knew by now that I wanted God to be one of those pursuits in my life. That’s about all I think this verse meant.
The irony of it all, looking back now, is that if I had read and understood the full context of this passage, I would have seen a young, zealous man named Paul who had achieved a lot in his early life and had a spiritual trophy case full of proof of hard work. Yet, he now looks back on that old life and all his achievements and declares them as worthless garbage (“shit” in the original Greek) in comparison to his new life in Christ.
Friends, what blows my mind is that about one year from when I put this Scripture in my yearbook, I was about to have my own “Damascus Road” encounter with Christ in college, and I was about to clean house of all my former idolatrous pursuits and declare all my high school achievements as dog dung compared to my new faith in Christ.
But my yearbook is evidence that I still was not there yet. How so? Humorously, if you look at the photo and caption again, you’ll notice that before you get to the Bible verse you have to read through my list of athletic honors at the top. Decoded it reads:
BASKETBALL 5 YEAR LETTER WINNER
1,000 POINT SCORER, I DID IT!
Next I made a few comments about my group of friends in code and finally I’d tip my hat to God at the end. The truth is Basketball was my obsession, my number one pursuit, my “all in all” in high school. My identity and self-worth, as I would soon discover in college, was wrapped up in my basketball abilities and accomplishments. Next in importance came my friends, and God was at least in third place in my life.