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Breaking the steps down for moving to the high ground

Sometime back I buried a friend. He was a special man who had lived a good and meaningful life. He was authentic, joyful, compassionate and full of faith. His favorite song was the gospel rendition “Higher Ground,” and it was beautifully sung at his funeral. The words of the first stanza go like this:

“I’m pressing on the upward way,

New heights I’m gaining everyday;

Still praying as I onward bound,

Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

“Higher Ground” was not only the favorite song of my friend, but it was also the favorite theme of the apostle Paul. For Paul, higher ground was without question the major goal of his life and the all consuming purpose of the Christian community.

Paul expresses it this way: “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13,14).”

Now, in Paul’s wisdom, we find some excellent advice as we contemplate and move into a brand new year. Making progress toward higher ground would certainly enhance our lives and the life of the world as well. For the remainder of this article, I want to breakdown the prescription for moving toward higher ground.

First, walk away from yesterday. This is an admonition we never seem to hear enough.

Undoubtedly, the Apostle Paul knew that one of the real secrets of effective living and serving was having the capacity “to forget.” There are numerous things in the yesterday’s of all of us that unless we can walk away from them will bind us and defeat our growth in the new year.

In T.S. Eliot’s “The Cocktail Party” there is the memorable line spoken by an unidentified guest to Edward, “Don’t strangle each other with knotted memories.” This can happen in families, marriages, churches, businesses, communities, between friends and it can happen to us.

Simply stated, the list is endless of people walking away from yesterday — the apostle Paul, the woman caught in adultery, the prodigal son, the late Chuck Colson and on and on it goes.

Not far from New York City there is a grave. On the stone of that grave is just one word, “forgiven.” There is no name, no date and no other description. That stone should speak to every one of us.

Second, live with integrity today. “And straining forward to what lies ahead,” said Paul, “I press on.” The picture here is not a casual, laid-back stroll through life, but a vigorous energetic effort. Living with integrity means that we do the right thing. It means we constantly seek to bring the best we have to the highest we know. And doing this will help keep us from being at the complete mercy of the new year or our anxieties concerning the future.

We establish and maintain loving relationships today. We perform our duties today. We gain knowledge today. We acquire skills today. We make amends today.

A man was interviewed shortly after his small plane had crashed at a California airstrip. Fortunately, he was able to evacuate before the airplane burst into flames. A reported asked him what was going through his mind as the plane neared the ground.

His answer, “I realized I hadn’t thanked enough people in my life.”

Win with integrity today.

Third, keep priorities straight. At this time of the year, I know it’s customary to think about new year’s resolutions. However, here, rather than talking about resolutions, I want to emphasize “priority.” Priority, rather than resolutions, is the key to a meaningful new year. Priority is our blueprint to becoming stronger, more mature and more purposeful.

And I think Paul is addressing this same theme when he states, “This one thing I do … I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul says that he is trying to grasp that for which he has been grasped by God. He felt that when Christ stopped him on the Damascus Road that Christ had a dream and a vision and a purpose for his life. Thus, Paul was bound to press forward, “to prioritize,” lest he disappoint Christ. Hear me now — every one of us is grasped by God for a purpose. Every one of us is a dream of God. Consequently, we must continually press forward or “prioritize” as we move on to “Higher Ground.”

Happy New Year! May 2019 be the best year ever for you, yours, our community life and world.