Carpe Diem: Seize the Day

Philippians 3:7-16
by Stephen May

A few years ago the movie "Dead Poets Society" resurrected an obscure Latin phrase that most of us had forgotten: Carpe Diem. It means Seize the Day. It's an exhortation to live life to the fullest, getting the most out of each individual day.

If you surveyed one hundred people, probably all of them would say this is what they want from their own life. No one wants life to be mediocre, at least not many are willing to admit it. By nature, we want our lives to be full. Advertisers know about this basic human desire and build it into their slogans: Who Says You Can't Have It All, Just Do It, Satisfy Your Thirst, Life Is A Journey-Enjoy the Ride and so on.

Unfortunately, many times we get so caught up in the details of day to day living that we just don't have time to seize the day! We've got deadlines and commitments, problems and priorities, distractions and obstacles, and though we really want more fulfillment from every single day, it just doesn't seem to be within our grasp.

Well, the Apostle Paul believed in this philosophy of life--Carpe Diem--and in Philippians 3 he puts it easily within our grasp. Here he describes his own philosophy of life. If you follow his example, you can learn to "seize the day" and live life to the fullest, no matter how hectic your life may be. Paul shows us three simple steps to living a more fulfilling life. The first step is:

1. Find Your Purpose
In order for a business, church, organization, family, or individual to be successful, they must first know exactly what their purpose is.

A good example of this is the IRS. Like them or not, they know their purpose for existing. In the 1976 IRS Handbook it states: "During a state of national emergency resulting from enemy attack, the essential functions of the Service will be as follows: assessing, collecting, and recording taxes." So while everyone panics, they'll be about doing what they always do-taking our money. They know their purpose.

If I were to ask everyone in this room today "What is your purpose in life?" I would probably get several different answers. "Be a good wife or husband, be a good mother or father, provide for my family, do my job, be a good doctor, teacher, salesman, and so on." Those answers would be good, but they are all secondary purposes. The question is what is your primary purpose in life? In other words, what is your reason for living? Everything in creation has a primary purpose, or a reason for existing. For anyone or anything to be successful, it must fulfill that purpose.

Here's an easy question. What is the primary purpose of an ink pen? The answer, of course, is to write. A $95 solid-gold Cross Pen that is out of ink may be pretty to look at, but it is a failure as a pen; it is not fulfilling its purpose. It is useless. When it comes time to endorse your paycheck you'll bypass the gold pen, and use a 29? Bic that works.

Just as a pen has a primary purpose, every individual that God has created has a primary purpose. Our lives will be without meaning--we'll be failures--unless we find out what is our purpose-our reason for living. Paul stated his reason for living...

(v. 10-11) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his sufferings, becoming like him in death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul is saying "I want to know Christ so that I may be like Him." Simply put, Paul's reason for living was to be like Jesus. This is our reason for living, also.

Orison Swett Marden said "There's no grander sight in the world than that of a person fired with a great purpose, dominated by one unwavering aim." If this statement could describe any of us, then we would certainly be learning to "seize the day."

There's a second step Paul shows us in Philippians 3. In developing the ability to "seize the day" every day of our lives, he says we must:

2. Forget The Past
(v. 13) ...this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

There are two elements of the past that we must forget. First:

a. Forget the Bad. Paul had a past to forget. He had tortured and murdered many innocent people. He had caused a lot of pain and had done much damage to the cause of Christ. Now, he was faced with a choice. He could either dwell on his mistakes and let them ruin his chance for effective ministry, or he could forget about it and move on with his life.

Maybe you've had a bad experience or maybe you did something long ago that you regret. Maybe the memories keep coming back to haunt you, keeping you from living a full life today. We must forget the past. It's over. It's done. It's gone. It cannot hurt you anymore. There's nothing you can do to change it. You can only forget it and move on.

On New Years Day, 1929, Georgia Tech was playing California. Late in the second quarter, Roy Regals recovered a fumble for California, and in his excitement became confused and began running in the wrong direction. After racing 65 yards he was finally tackled by his own player at the California 2 yard line. California attempted to punt from deep in their own end zone, but the kick was blocked and Georgia Tech scored a safety. In the locker room at half time, Roy Regals sat in the corner with his face buried in his hands, crying. The room was silent. The Coach didn't make his usual half-time speech, but shortly before the team was to take the field for the second half, he said, "The starting team is going back onto the field to begin the second half." The whole team left the locker room except for Regals, who remained in the corner with his face in hands. "I can't do it, Coach," he said. "I can't play. I've ruined the team." The coach said, "Get up Regals. The game is only half over. You belong on the field."

Guess what? Our game is only half over. Regardless of the past, we still have the rest of the game to play. God is willing to forget about the mistakes of the first half. He expects us to do the same.

I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
...I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Isaiah 31:34)

In forgetting the past, we must also:

b. Forget the Good You've probably heard the Bruce Springsteen song, "Glory Days," about the guy who can't quit thinking about all the fun he had back in high school. He says, "Time slips away and leaves you with nothing but boring stories of Glory Days."

Many people zero in on one good period of time in their life-and spend the rest of their days reliving the past. Maybe it was high school or college, or back when the children were young, or any other special time. It's always a temptation to live in the past, especially if it is good.

Many churches have given in to this temptation. Some churches who have lost a lot of members are content just to remember the good old days when the sanctuary was full, the church was vibrant, and people's lives were being changed. They love to talk about the glory days, because that's all they have.

Paul knew that a good past was not in itself enough to guarantee a meaningful future.

(v. 4) If anyone has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But notice he goes on to say:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Paul is saying "I will not live in the past. My reason for living is to be like Jesus, and whatever happened yesterday, good or bad, is now ancient history. I will live for Jesus today."

3. Face the Present
(v. 13) ...forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

It is easy to live in the past. It is easy to dream away the future. It's a real challenge to face the present, because it means we can no longer allow ourselves the luxury of saying, "One of these days I'll do something about my commitment to God... my responsibility to my family..." and so on.

In the 11th chapter of John, Jesus' good friend Lazarus died. When Jesus arrived at the tomb, Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. Lazarus' sister, Martha, came to Jesus, and spoke that classic phrase used by people who live in the past: "If Only" She said, "Jesus, if only you had been here my brother would not have died." Jesus said to Martha, "Your brother will rise again." Martha began dreaming about the future and said, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." She knew that Jesus had power in the past, she knew that he would have power in the future, but she wasn't quite sure about the present. Jesus said to her...
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:26)
Martha's reply was, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God." By this confession she was saying "Not just yesterday, not just tomorrow, but today I believe that you are the Christ." It was at that moment that Martha began to face the present and put her faith into action.

Facing the present means that we put our faith in Jesus Christ today, and trust Him to be involved in our life today. This enables us to fulfill our purpose in life.

Facing the present means that we choose to live life it comes to us day by day. Not in the past, not in the future, but right here and right now.

A young soldier and his commanding officer got on a train together. The only available seats were across from an attractive young woman who was traveling with her grandmother. As they engaged in pleasant conversation, the soldier and the young woman kept eyeing one another; the attraction was obviously mutual. Suddenly the train went into a tunnel and the car became pitch black. Immediately two sounds were heard: the "smack" of a kiss, and the "whack" of a slap across the face. The grandmother thought "I can't believe he kissed my granddaughter, but I'm glad she gave him the slap he deserved." The commanding officer thought, "I don't blame the boy for kissing the girl, but it's a shame that she missed his face and hit me instead." The young girl thought, "I'm glad he kissed me, but I wish my grandmother hadn't slapped him for doing it." And as the train broke into the sunlight, the soldier could not wipe the smile of his face. He had just seized the opportunity to kiss a pretty girl and slap his commanding officer and had gotten away with both!

Now, that young soldier knew how to seize the day! In the very same way, we must take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way fulfill our purpose in life.

God does not want us to waste our lives away. He wants us to "seize the day" and live every day of our lives on purpose. He's given us a reason for living: to be like Jesus. It's not going to happen yesterday, so we must forget the past. We can't put it off till tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes. It has to happen right now, and it will-if we will seize the day and make it our own.

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