Scripture explains it is only man who measures time, “…all is as one day, with God; and time only is measured unto men;” Alma 19:38. Once again we have reached that milestone that we enter a new year. For the majority of people, we tend to take stock of our lives, interests, accomplishments, and failures. This can be good or bad for our faith and hope, according to what we do with our assessment of how the previous year unfolded and exactly what we were looking for in it.
Let us consider this reading, “But behold, the Jews were a stiff-necked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall:” Jacob 3:22-23
This description of, “looking beyond the mark”, refers to the Jews who looked for a Messiah to rise up to deliver them from the oppressing worldly powers. However, their focus should have been on the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who the prophets foretold would come and deliver them from the power of Satan and the enemy of man, which is death.
Even though this quote from Zenos’ prophecy, recorded by Jacob, is referring to the Jews, this concept of having a proper focus is applicable to every generation. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi to encourage them as well as exhort them to press towards that same mark. He begins by telling them how he remembers them, his friends, in his prayers, and he is confident that God, who had already done a good work with them, will continue to do so even until Christ’s return. “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” Philippians 1:5-6
Surely trouble, struggles of life, evil workers and enemies to the Gospel would be ever present in coming against the Church in Philippi in an attempt to drive them away from truth. Undoubtedly some may have fallen to evils of this world.
As we reflect back on the previous year, we as a church organization have faced many struggles, temptations and losses. Many of our beloved members have passed on from this life, and we mourn, knowing in this life we will not fellowship with them again. Some of our members in the Philippines have suffered great loss when nature unleashed three major earthquakes which ravished the area causing them to evacuate their homeland, and when they did this, Communist rebels came in and pilfered their remaining belongings. In a remote village of Ethiopia many members were attacked by a neighboring tribe who inflicted grievous injuries and destroyed their homes, crops and livestock. They relocated to a refugee camp for protection, where they suffered hunger and an attack of cholera, which took the life of some of their children. This past year we have also seen spiritual predators come into the midst of Christ’s Restored Church in Kenya and Honduras, and have preached a new gospel, and some members have departed the truth to follow a promise of carnal sustenance.
Paul also warned the people in Philippi to be aware because the adversary will come among the sheep: Paul says, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Philippians 3:2-3. Jesus also gives such warnings and calls these predators, “false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves”. Matthew 7:15
As we reflect on those who have passed away from this earthly world as faithful believers and followers of Christ, we are confident they dwell in Paradise: “Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked; yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful, looking for, of the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.” Alma 19:47
Considering those who suffered loss of home and property by nature’s fury, we understand this is not punishment but a part of living in the temporal world. As Jesus put it, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45
As we weep for those who have suffered sickness and tribulation but stand firm in the truth of the gospel, we can consider the Apostle Peter’s words, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” 1Peter 2:19-20
And as it pains us to have members fall away from the truth and pursue the temporal temptations Satan has placed before them, we must remember God has given men a free will to act for themselves. Paul tells us, “(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)” Philippians 3:18-19
Entering this new year, where are we looking, forward or at the past? What are we pressing towards: increased spirituality, building up the Kingdom of Heaven, or backwards to the struggles and difficulties over the past year? Returning to Philippians, Paul states, Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind. Philippians 3:13
According to Strong’s Index: G1950, this word, “forgetting” means, “to lose out of mind” or, in my words, let them go, do not dwell upon them.
With this understanding, it is clear we, as a people, should strive to move forward into a new year reaching forth unto those things which are before, as Paul states: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14
We cannot allow the sad and negative events of the past to discourage or cause us to lose faith; raising doubts that clutter our mind to God’s purpose in us? God does have a purpose in us; to labor alongside Christ in this world, to bring souls to the truth of the gospel, and to prepare ourselves to be Christ’s bride when He returns. Paul states, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” Philippians 3:15-17
As we move forward into the new year let us strengthen our resolve, doing all we can for the Lord and the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us not focus on what this world will deal us but look towards the mark of eternal life. We can leave behind the mistakes we have made or perhaps those things we neglected and push forward to “improve our time,” increasing our efforts towards being perfected in Christ.
“For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.” Philippians 3:20-21