We are a forward-looking people in a forward-looking society. We do not dwell in the past. We misuse Phil. 3:13-14. We seek to obliterate the past. But, "he who cannot learn from the past is destined to repeat the mistakes of the past."
It is easy to forget the past because it is often routine. As long as all is normal, unchanging, unchallenging, progressing well; as long as everything is stable and routine; the past fades into a single blur. Life goes on again and again, even as the Preacher observes in Ecclesiastes 1.
Today as we begin another year, a time of new beginnings, what we do with our past? Is an individual question for college students away from home for the first time. Is an individual question for every Christian. Is a corporate question for this church.
Four suggestions from Scripture.
I. We must own our past.
A. We live in the age that denies the past, either from selfishness or fear. Today's society usually deals with the past by denying it. For some, although bad experiences occurred, in their minds those experiences never happened. These struggle in life because the problems of their past were never resolved. Two common approaches to denial.
B. We live in an age that ignores the past. We need a reality check.
Perhaps some people have been so blessed that they really have not had any bad experiences in their past, but such is not generally true. The difference is in the cope. When we run out of cope. "I come from a dysfunctional family." "Welcome to the club." Hereditary disease, grandmother got married at 13 because she had to, wild west with emphasis on wild, parents divorced through an affair, single parent home, at times rejected.... But that is not the entirety of my present identity, it is virtually out of sight. Those experiences have molded, strengthened. Illus: John Bowman, broke leg, had to rebreak to heal correctly. Second break was much worse than first, even though done by doctor. Life buffets us all, and afterward, we have new power to be strong in the broken places.
Perhaps some people have primarily experienced a horrible past. Problems come to some more than others. We wonder. Illus: Faithful Christian, serving God in foreign country, not exactly missionary, self-supporting, working for American company on foreign soil, teaching Bible studies, helping establish church, American deacon in Brazilian church, son with cancer, comes home, son dies, business bankrupt. Why? Why me? Why not me? But this family does not dwell upon those experiences, that is not their present identity.
For most, the past is a combination of good and bad. We have been blessed in marvelous, unexpected ways. We have suffered trauma. Such are neither evidences that God is for us or that God is against us. Such are neither evidences that we are good or that we are bad. Such is the reality of life on this globe.
C. We live in an age that seeks to hide the past. And some hide in the past.
Some refuse to accept any responsibility for their present life because of their past. They live life as victims. They think and act like victims--I must be like I am because of what happened to me. Therefore, I have no responsibility for my life and I am powerless to change my life. Do not blame me. It's not my fault.
Like Jonah, some run from their past, and ultimately from their God, as fast as they can.
Each of us can diminish the power of the past to create problems in our lives by owning the past. We must come clean with our past, but in a healthy way. Paul's life was dramatically redirected; his life illustrates that owning our past is the first step to accepting responsibility and developing a faith that depends upon the God who is greater than our past.
II. Not only must we own our past, we should remember our past to build on it without dwelling on it.
For the Christian, the past is stepping stone, regardless of its experiences. Remember your past, remember your baptism, remember the victories, remember the defeats.
When we own the past, we with God become master of our destiny. The past is just that--past. It serves no purpose to deny, ignore, or hide the past. The past is to be accepted, owned. With acceptance comes responsibility for the present, the ability to make choices, to grow, and to change. Ownership of the past brings the opportunity to transfer ownership of the past to God who ultimately wants to own our past. The first step in being freed from our past is owning our past. Before repentance can be meaningful, we must own our past with a resolve to build anew. Then we must courageously give up our ownership to God who alone can handle its grief and reality.
III. We should not unduly glorify the past. We should not live in the past. We must not let the past determine the future. Traditions may be an evidence of an unhealthy attitude toward our past, if we allow them to control us rather than being controlled by God and his word. Or, we may notice the lack of spiritual health in a person who is always telling what a sinner he was.
Illus: Hunter Logan, first little town I preached in. Both are unhealthy, not sound/healthy doctrine.
Paul is an example of a healthy view of the past. He owned his past as blasphemer, persecutor, and aggressor. He knew and accepted his past, he accepted responsibility and did not blame others for his actions. But, because Paul knew that he was forgiven, because he confidently trusted God's forgiveness, he did not retain the guilt of what he had done. He retained the memory, but it was his power, his strength, his motivation, his hope, and his ever present evidence and reminder of God's grace.
IV. We must be freed from our past. Such freedom comes only from God. We must resolve the past by living in the present.
Let us review in an attempt to understand the tremendous power God has put in our past.
It is time to take off the mask. Do not come to college with a mask on. Do not fool yourself, God is not fooled. God knows. Christianity is based on mutuality, meaningful fellowship. Do not respond to proposals for change with the chains of the past, but with the power of the past. Denying, ignoring, or hiding our past often serves only to resurrect it with more illegitimate power that may control us. The genuine power of the past for the Christian is in forging a new life based on truthfulness, forgiveness, assurance, and support.
Does your past own you? Have you owned your past? Have you transferred ownership of that past to the God who can make all things new. You can. Today, let us resolve that the past will be the power from which we move forward.
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