The below sermon was shared with the congregation of Guangzhou International Christian Fellowship (GICF) Aprl 15th, 2020. We hope it will encourage you as well.

Pressing on the Midst of Covid-19 – Forgetting the Past and Pushing Ahead Toward the Goal

In GICF, each year we have a theme. I am going to send a poll to you to see if you can remember last years theme. Let’s see if we can get 100% correct answers!

So most of you know that last year our theme was Shining the Light! BTW, the other answers on the poll are previous years’ themes. We believe that last year as a fellowship we learned better how to shine the light. Some of the highlights from last year include:

  • The first GICF wide conference in Guangzhou. And then the second!
  • A men’s conference and a women’s conference.
  • Over fifty people trained in how to share the gospel.
  • Two outreach Sundays.
  • The second outreach Sunday saw almost forty different brothers and sisters lead a group to share the gospel during the service.
  • Two baptisms with over 20 people baptized.

It was a good year, amen? But that was last year. If we were in church I would ask you to say to your neighbor, “that was last year.” We are in a new year now.

In early January the elders and deacons met together to consider what theme God would have for us this year. After prayer and discussion we were led to the theme of “pressing on” from Philippians 3:13-14 – Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

We did not want to live in the past. We did not want to rest on the past successes of GICF. Instead, we hoped to press on. To go higher. To go further. To do more. To train more people. To share the gospel with more people. To disciple more people. To go deeper in the Word of God.

Well, as you all know 2020 has turned out much different than expected. This theme message was supposed to be shared in early March. GICF had a number of planned activities for this spring, women’s seminar, men’s conference, bring a friend Sunday, and more. Let’s just say the schedule has changed a bit!

Proverbs 16:9 – The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

We had a lot of plans for GICF for 2020, but God has different plans. And we believe that His plans are better than ours, amen? The virus certainly does not change our goals to disciple and equip and preach the Word. But it changes how to do that.

Like GICF, I believe that your plans have changed a lot this year. Many of you are struggling, perhaps financially, perhaps with an uncertain future, perhaps because you are separated from family, or living a in place that you didn’t expect to be. The message for you this morning from God’s Word is press on! I believe that the choice of theme in January was providential. Pressing on has an even deeper meaning for us now. We are facing many challenges we didn’t expect to be. As a body we need to press on. And as individual followers of Christ, we need to press on.

So today, as we consider this theme, we are going to look at the life of Noah and learned how he pressed on to follow God’s will for his life.

Passage: Genesis 6:11-22

Pressing on in the midst of opposition (when the world around you thinks you are nuts) (Luke 14:26-27, 2 Peter 3:3-4)

God gave Noah a monumental task, a task perhaps bigger and more important than He has ever given to anyone except for Christ. Noah was tasked with building a boat large enough to house every type of animal on the planet. He was responsible for everything from cutting down trees and getting supplies for building the boat, to gathering enough food to feed all of these animals and his family for the extended time they would have on the ark.

In Genesis 6:2, God starts the world countdown clock at 120 years. So the maximum amount of time Noah would have had is 120 years, although it could have been somewhat less than that. It was the equivalent of basically a lifetime for us.

So what was it like for Noah building this ark? The Bible does not say exactly, but there are some clues and we can make some logical deductions.

A. People at the time were very evil. Read Genesis 6:5 – The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

B. People were focused on maximizing their own enjoyment. Luke 17:26-27 – Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

C. People at that time are compared to scoffers during the end times. Although times and culture have changed, people are largely the same and so is sin. 2 Peter 3:3-4 – Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.

They say things “everything is the same since creation.”

D. Conclusion – Therefore it is almost certain that the people of Noah’s time mocked him and his attempts to build the ark.

Have you ever been out for a walk and noticed a crowd gathering on the street to observe something of interest? Things which are out of the ordinary draw a lot of attention. That is why circuses first became popular. And it is why people are interested in places like Ripley’s Belive it Or Not. Can you imagine the reaction of people at the time to Noah building a massive boat? There was no television and no internet, no cinema. So what did people do in their spare time? Well, one choice was to go and watch the local crazy guy building a huge boat. Free entertainment, right?

  • Hey Noah, has God been talking to you again?
  • Hey Noah, there is still no rain and no water here. Are you going to attach skis to your boat and sail on the ground?
  • Hey Noah, why don’t you let your sons go have some fun? Are they your slaves that you are keeping them here?

People are cruel. In the best of times there a preacher will face lots of opposition and scorn, and Noah was not living in the best of times. It was the absolute lowest point in human history with virtually no believers in the entire world.

He would have faced opposition from scornful individuals. He would have faced challenges finishing this huge project. Projects big and small have setbacks. How many setbacks did Noah face? Did he have problems securing tools and supplies? Did wood rot? Did he have to restart after some part of the boat collapsed? We don’t know the exact obstacles he faced, but where God is working Satan is normally also working and so we can assume he did face many obstacles. We don’t know all the details, but we do know that Noah pressed on. He did not give up. He did not stop.

Application: Our first application today is, like Noah, to press on the face of opposition.

Pressing on in ministry requires a clear purpose (Genesis 6:22, 7:5, 2 Peter 2:5)

Genesis 6:14 – Make yourself an ark.

Genesis 6:22 – Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.

Genesis 7:5 – Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.

A. Noah had a clear calling.

Noah had a clear word from the Lord. He knew exactly what God wanted him to spend his life doing. And he knew it was extremely important. Having that calling gave him direction. God’s audible word was a lamp to his feet and a light to his path. If someone asked Noah, “what is your purpose in life?” he would have answered something like, “my purpose is to build an ark in obedience to God and save my family from judgment.” He knew his life direction and the path in front of him, so all that remained was to stay on that path.

Application: What is God calling to you to do? This question can take various forms. What is your life vision? What is your goal in life? What are you here for? What does God want you to accomplish for Him? All of these are getting at the same point. Do you have a clear vision, a clear goal for your life?

Here is a simple test. You should be able to write out your vision (your calling) in simple, clear, and concise language. If you cannot write out out what God is calling you to do in your life, then how can you hope to accomplish it? How can you arrive at the destination if you don’t know the way there?

Here is an example.

GICF Vision Statement –

GICF’s vision is to glorify God by making and equipping disciples who love and obey Jesus and who are empowered to reproduce more likeminded disciples in a way that will transform their lives and families.

Here are other sample vision statements:

  • Jesus (may have been close to this) – “My vision is to obey the Father’s will by offering my life as a sacrifice to save the lost.” Many tried to distract Him, but Jesus would not be distracted or swayed from his vision.
  • Paul – “My vision is to take the gospel to the Gentiles in order to present each person perfect in Christ by making disciples and planting churches.”
  • Noah – “My vision is to build an ark in obedience to God and save my family from judgment.”
  • Doctors without borders – [our mission] is to provide impartial medical relief to the victims of war, disease, and natural or man-made disaster, without regard to race, religion, or political affiliation.
  • Pepsi mission statement – To provide consumers around the world with delicious, affordable, convenient and complementary foods and beverages from wholesome breakfasts to healthy and fun daytime snacks and beverages to evening treats.
  • A brother – I will endeavor everyday, at every moment to be in the right place at the right time with the right people saying the right things by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • A sister – I desire to know Christ and to make Him known. Specifically, I feel called to speak out on behalf of life – whether unborn life, marginalized life, or unsaved life; I want to make it known that each life is created in His image and has eternal value because of Him and for His glory.

A good vision statement should be clear and specific. It should give you a target to shoot for. Notably, a vision statement provides direction so that you can know what to spend your time doing and when to say “no.” Doctors without borders does not have a goal to provide food or clothing. To get involved with these things would distract them from their vision. Pepsi’s goal is to provide food and beverage. Making a Pepsi theme park might sound nice, but it would distract them from their purpose. Of course believers have a higher purpose to aim for.

What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When Peter told Jesus that He would not die, Jesus said, “get behind me Satan.” He reacted very strongly because Peter was distracting him from his goal, which was already difficult to persevere in. If people tempted Noah to move to another city or to start another job he would have said, “no.” Those things would distract him from his goal.

Do you ever feel that you become very busy doing things which you are not called by God to do? In the church there are many areas to serve. Worship ministry, ushering, greeting, Sunday School teaching, library, tech team, preaching, etc. The list goes on. There are many good things to do, but it doesn’t mean that you should be doing them. Repeat

After I came up with a vision statement for my own life, it was very helpful. When people ask me to participate in a project or serve I first ask the question, “will this help me accomplish the vision God has given to me?” If the answer is, “no” then I will normally say, “no.” I had a person ask me to correct the English in their graduation thesis. I told him, “no.” This would have taken a lot of time away from my family and what God is calling me to do. My vision statement gives me a direction to press on toward. It gives structure so that I can know when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”

This is what “pressing on” is all about. We have a clear goal. We know the path God wants us to walk. And then when people or circumstances try to get us off of that path, we say, “no.”

So what should a good vision statement be like?

  • It should be clear (providing direction)
  • It should be achievable (not something impossible)
  • It should be Christ centered (Hebrews 12:1-2 – Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus.)
  • It should take into account your own spiritual gifting.

B. Noah diligently fulfilled his God given mission/calling.

Noah had a clear calling to build the ark. And then he did it. It wasn’t easy. It took many decades. But he finished it. He could look back on his life and see clearly what God had had used him to accomplish. Noah pressed on to diligently fulfill God’s purpose for his life.

Application: During the small group discussion time, there will be time to share with the group your own vision statement for your life. If you haven’t ever written one, start thinking about it now so that you can be ready to share it during the group discussion time.

Pressing on to honor Christ in your family (2 Peter 2:5)

2 Peter 2:5 – And did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others.

This phrase gives us an important glimpse into Noah’s life and ministry. Was Noah doing anything else during those 100 years besides building the ark? The answer is “yes.” He was preaching about God to the world around him.

I have a question for you. Was Noah a successful preacher? Think about it for a moment before you read on.

At first glance it may appear that he wasn’t successful. Almost the entire world rejected his message and consequently was destroyed in the flood.

But lets look a little bit deeper. Noah was not alone on the ark. Firstly, his wife was with him. Evidently, she believed his message, standing by him through all those years and joining him in his mission to obey God and build the ark.

Also, three of Noah’s children believed in God. We don’t know whether he had any more children, but these three sons believed his message. It is not automatic that children would follow their father in an endeavor like this. Samuel’s sons did not follow his path. Many of David’s sons rebelled. When Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed Lot tried to appeal to his children who had already married to leave the city and they wouldn’t believe him. Three of Noah’s children did. Shem, Ham, and Japheth listened to his preaching and followed the Lord.

Exodus 23:2 – You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.

Noah’s sons certainly had many opportunities to abandon him and follow the evil world around them, but they didn’t.

Next is his sons wives. Where did they come from? Would they have been likely to abandon their families and subject themselves to the ridicule of the world if they too didn’t believe the message Noah was preaching? None of the words they have spoken is recorded in the Bible, but we know the phrase “actions speak louder than words.” They were on the boat. Whether directly through Noah’s preaching or through his sons who learned it from him, they were on board with the plan and they too followed God.

So was Noah’s preaching successful? When a person preaches about God, His Word will not return void. And it did not. It looks as if there was little fruit, but Noah’s family believed and followed the Lord. Because of this the entire future of humanity was saved and Jesus’ came as the Savior, a descendant of Noah. Of course God is sovereign and He would have made a way. But He chose to use Noah and Noah faithfully fulfilled his part and was instrumental in God’s plan of salvation for the world.

Looking back, we can see that by far Noah’s most fruitful ministry was to his family. His most effective investment of time was in teaching his own family about God.

Application: Sometimes preachers are very concerned with quantity, but quality is also very important. No one should ignore his family to do outreach somewhere else. The most important outreach you have is toward your family. Noah certainly encountered many challenges in shepherding his family, but he pressed on and he saw fruit, fruit that still lasts today.

This year you need to press on in ministering to your own family. Maybe you failed yesterday. That’s the past. Maybe you did great yesterday. That is also the past. Today is a new day. Are you investing time in your family’s souls? Here are some simple ways you can minister to your family:

  • Pray for each member of your family each day.
  • Lead your family in daily devotions.
  • Spend time praying with and studying the Bible with your spouse on a regular basis.
  • Make sure each of your children understand the gospel. Disciple your children. They are your best opportunity to make a difference in the world which will last long after you have left it.
  • Do fun things with your family.
  • Be a friend and listen to them.

Pressing on – Forgetting what is behind and pushing forward to what is ahead (Noah’s sin, Philippians 3:13-15)

Philippians 3:13-15 – Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are `perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.

This is our key verse for the year. There are two aspects to this verse. The first is to forget. Forgetting the past. Paul’s point is not that we cannot learn from the past. He is not saying “wake up with amnesia each day.” He is saying that we should not live in the past.

Forget successes – It could be that you did very well yesterday in your Christian walk. Perhaps you woke up early, spent one hour in prayer and Bible reading, were patient and kind all day toward your family, serving them with a humble heart, resisted temptation, immediately forgave those who offended you, sang praise songs all day, shared the gospel with five people, and gave your spouse a surprise dinner of their favorite food. Then in the evening you memorized ten verses, prayed another hour, and finally went to sleep. Does that sound like your day yesterday?

Even if it does, today is a new day. You cannot wake up today and say “yesterday I did well so today I will relax.” Maybe in 2019 you completed a read the Bible in a year plan. Its not 2019 anymore. Its 2020. Maybe in March you completed your application each week in your life group. It is not March anymore. It is April. Maybe last week you had a good time of prayer with the Lord each day. It is not last week anymore. Today starts a new week. Forget what is behind. Do not rest on your laurels.

As a church, I believe GICF had a great 2019 shining the light. Many people were saved, baptized, and equipped to share the gospel. It is not 2019 anymore. Success in 2019 does not guarantee success in 2020.

Forget failures – But maybe when you think of your past, you don’t think of successes. Maybe failures come to mind. Maybe yesterday was a bad day. Maybe you got up late and said, “I will read the Bible at night before I sleep” so skipped it in the morning. Maybe you had a short temper with your kids and with your spouse. Maybe you complained about the trials you are facing. Maybe you fell into temptation. You argued with your spouse. And when you went to bed you were so tired you skipped Bible reading and prayer again and said, “tomorrow.”

Whether you failed yesterday or there was some other failure in your past, you might have woken up today feeling guilty. You may be reliving this past failure. It may be chaining you and holding you back from the future God wants for you. You should learn from it and grow from it. But today is a new day. 2020 is not 2019. You have new opportunities to serve God. His grace is more than enough to cover and wash away all of your past sins and failures. Forget what is behind and push forward.

Verse on rest in Hebrews (Hebrews 4:9, 11 ) – So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God…Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

There is a rest for us in heaven. But it is not now.

Push forward to what?

Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call –

What is the prize? (Jesus saying “well done”)

What are we straining for? I believe the answer is coming into Jesus’ presence in heaven. The most glorious moment I look forward to is when Jesus welcomes me into His arms in heaven and says, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Are you looking forward to that? In a word our prize is “Jesus.” We get to have a relationship with Him. He has done everything for us. Therefore we press on living each new day by his grace and to the best of our ability to please Him, knowing that one day we will see Him face to face.

So when we say that GICF’s theme is pressing on this year, this is what we mean.

Pressing on = Live each day to please Jesus regardless of the circumstances or the past.

Press on in the midst of opposition!

Press on in ministry with a clear purpose!

Press on to honor Christ in your family!

Application: Do you have a vision statement for your life? Do you know what God is calling you to accomplish for you Him? Spend some time this week praying over this question. You can also ask some godly respected friends. Then write out a rough draft of a vision statement for your life. It can be adjusted over time as God leads, but by writing it out you will have something to start with and will have a general direction.