No Fear

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6.

Those words from Hebrews provide us with a comforting promise, along with an insightful command as we begin the first few days of 2016. A new year, a new list of resolutions, and the same fears. Right? While our intentions are to make changes when the new year begins, more often than not, the same fears follow us into the new year.  That’s because fears are the hardest things to change. Each year we fear that our needs or the needs of someone we love are not going to be met. Or we fear that the things we think are meeting our needs are going to be taken away from us. Faith is the antidote to fear. 

Moses is an example of faith overcoming fear. Moses faced the greatest opposition you could possibly experience in life. Leading a rebellious group of complainers to standing against the most powerful government in the world, who wanted to keep Him and his people in captivity and poverty, a government that wanted to Kill God’s people and God’s plan. Moses’ faith won out over fear.

To overcome fear we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. Hebrews 13:27 says, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

Moses didn’t focus on the king’s anger, but rather focused on the One who is invisible. So what are we focusing on for 2016?

Maybe you are seeking approval and fear the loss of that approval. If making money is your thing, you probably have a fear of losing your income. Maybe you are afraid of losing your marriage. If success is your number one priority, you may fear losing that success. If your reputation is number one, you will fear losing it and always be working to bolster up your self image. There are many other fears, but you get the idea. 

Moses didn’t fear because he focused on Him who is invisible. That sounds like good advice for each of us for 2016. Focusing on God, the primary way that we see Him today is through His word. It tells us about Jesus, it instructs us, builds our faith and tells us about the plan and purpose that God has for our life. 2 Timothy 1:7-9 says, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”

We don’t know what we will face in 2016. We may face something that we don’t understand and we may face it alone. And uncertainty creates fear. I don’t know what I’m going to face next year. But there’s one thing I know. God’s Word promises that God will never forsake us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What area of your life do you find yourself consistently fearful of what might come or what won’t come?
  2. Why do you think it’s hard to let go of control and trust God for your future?
  3. Was there a time when you were fearful of the future and acted out on that fear (i.e., leading to anxiety, etc.)? What happened?
  4. What steps can you take in 2016 to settle your fears?

Value Determination

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – James 13:34-35.

Moses was born a Hebrew, but grew up in the house of Pharaoh where he was surrounded by status and privilege. Acts 7:22 tells us, “And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.”

While still part of Pharaoh’s royal family, Moses made a decision that changed the course of his life. Hebrews 11:24-26 records it this way: “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

Moses’ great decision was that he “refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and chose to follow the God of Israel. Moses chose God’s values over man’s values. He changed his life and went on to change the lives of countless others.

Most businesses list the values that drive the company on their website. Merck is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Their core values are driven by a desire to improve life, achieve scientific excellence, operate with the highest standards of integrity, expand access to our products and employ a diverse workforce that values collaboration. The Bible does not specifically give a list of “Christian values,” there are any number of values that drive how we as Christians should operate.

A few of them include: Keep God’s 10 Commandments; love God and one another; have faith and trust in God; humble ourselves as little children; do good works; cultivate spiritual gifts to serve others; seek God’s righteousness; and live at peace with others.

This is just a sampling of the many Christian values we can find in the pages of the Bible.

These are attributes we should value in our lives. Fortunately, God has provided an instruction manual in the form of the Holy Bible.  If we’re looking for Christian values, this is where we will find them. 

These values are the restraint, boundaries and disciplines we develop around our life to direct us through obstacles instead of around them. They help make us attain and maintain a life dedicated to Jesus.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you find yourself conforming to the values, practices and beliefs of the world as well as those of God?
  2. What can you point to as core values of Christianity? What are the implications of these values on your personal spiritual journey?
  3. Are these values still relevant in the 21st century?
  4. What can you do this week to begin living life by the values of God?

No Pain. No Gain.

“But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” – Exodus 3:11.

If you ever come across a burning bush that isn’t being consumed or hear an unseen voice from above that tells you that you are on holy ground, then you might be freaked out a little bit. But then in Exodus 9:11 God tells Moses “…Go in to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.”  Not only did Moses devalue himself as unworthy and unable to accomplish the seemingly monumental task that God gave him, I have to believe he was also thinking about how painful/awkward/hazardous/ this assignment could be. 

We too will make difficult life decisions. We may well know the right decision to make, the one that God calls us to make. However, making that decision is difficult when we start thinking about how painful/awkward/hazardous/ this decision could end up being. It would be easy to chicken out and just not make the decision. But often, these difficult decisions are the ones needed for you to grow spiritually. If God wants you to step out, I would encourage you to do exactly that. It may result in short-term pain, but the long-term benefits of obeying God are worth it.   

Moses made the decision to do what God asked him to do. This decision was more radical than the decisions we will typically make, because everything was on the line. There was no going back. Once Moses rejected his position as prince of Egypt and identified with the Israelite slaves, his choice was final. Moses knew he would be mistreated by his former colleagues who would consider his actions to be a disgrace. Moses made such a choice because what he saw made him sure that it was better to endure hardship and disgrace with God’s people, than to enjoy luxury with God’s enemies. He saw that suffering lay ahead, but he also saw that beyond the suffering lay a relationship with God. He knew that the king of Egypt would oppose him, but he also knew that the king of Egypt was nothing compared to the King of kings. You know the rest of the story.

Moses’ life is a living testimony to 1 Peter 4:13-14 which declares: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

So was the short-term pain worth it?  Did Moses make a good decision to obey God?  History answers that question. After leaving Pharaoh’s house, Moses went on to become Israel’s national hero, law-giver, and mediator with God. He became a man of unprecedented accomplishment and worldwide influence.

Today, some 3,500 years after his great decision, Moses is remembered as one of mankind’s most respected leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Tim Keller says that “suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story.” Agree or disagree? Why?
  2. Read 1 Peter 2:20-24: In what way does short-term pain deepen our trust and strengthen our walk with God?
  3. Do you believe God can use your short-term pain for His glory?
  4. Pray and ask God to help you make the right decisions in the new year?

Defining The Future

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  Psalms 139: 14-15.

The truth is that we define ourselves in relation to something or someone else. As a child, we define ourselves in relation to our parents and extended family. As we grow older and enter the workforce, we began defining ourselves by what we do. Many people believe that our vocation in life defines us. When we meet someone, the first question we ask is “what do you do?” When I tell people that I am a pastor they immediately make some assumptions about me. We can also define ourselves by where we live. And don’t forget about our vices. These are the things we try our hardest to hide from those around us and the outside world. Ironically, these are often the things that consume us the most. You can be defined by your religion. Our religion defines and identifies us in terms of who we will serve and worship. The list of things that we use to define ourselves can go on and on. All these things determine who we say we are, who we think we are and who the world perceives us to be.

So who are we and how do we define ourselves? There is only one possible basic answer, Jesus. The early believers at Antioch were called Christians. “and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) The early believers were called Christians, because Jesus Christ was clearly at the heart of who they were and what they did.

Ephesians 1:4 tells us that Christ “…chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” In Ephesians 1:13 Paul adds that “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Once we have believed in Christ, our labels from the world become invalid. We are now a child of God. Being a child of God gives us the opportunity to understand the identity of those around us, to see beyond the skin colors and the dollar signs, the skills, or education and to see people for who they truly are. “In Christ” means all can come, leaving behind their sins, and join together to be identified once and for all as children of God. This is why our identity is found in our Savior, not in other peoples perception of us.

In 2016, my prayer is that you discover who God created you to be and what plan He created you to fulfill. This discovery of you should shape the way your view yourself and shape and influence the decisions you make in the new year. It doesn’t really matter how others view or define you when God is transforming you into His image.    

Discussion Questions:

  1. What areas of your life defined you in 2015? How would you like to be defined in 2016?
  2. If you were completely honest, would you say you are more bored or exhilarated with your life as a Christian? What do you need to change to be more exhilarated in 2016?
  3. If we became more familiar with God’s character, how would that help how we define ourselves?

The Gift of Forgiveness

“ His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” – Genesis 50:18-21.

Do you remember white out correction fluid? It is the magical liquid that covers over your errors, your typos, your unfortunate slip-ups. You brush on the liquid and start all over again–hopefully this time with no unfortunate slip-ups. It was used when typewriters were used so you can correct a mistake without typing the whole document over again. Forgiveness is much like that. It does not eliminate the hurts or pain, but it does cover them over in a way that they never really happened.

All this week we have been looking at the subject of forgiveness. The bottom line is forgiveness is a promise. That’s really what it is. It’s a promise. It’s a promise never to take revenge. It is the opposite of a refusal to forgive, which is a promise to get back at the person who wronged or hurt us.

If you want a simple definition then of forgiveness, think of it as a promise never to take revenge. It is a statement of obedience to God that affirms, “I hold no anger, I hold no hatred, I hold no bitterness against you. I won’t ever bring it up to you, I won’t ever bring it up to anybody else, I won’t ever bring it up to myself.” That’s forgiveness.

It will take an act of love.  Because forgiveness is the most Christ-like act a Christian can do.

Never are you more like God or Christ than when you forgive, because that is what Christ does. The personification of forgiveness is when Jesus looked at His crucifiers and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)

A prime example of forgiveness is the story of Joseph. When presented with an opportunity to exact vengeance on his brothers, Joseph chose, instead, to point them to the overarching plan that God has for His glory: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 60:20)   

Joseph understood that God’s plan was bigger than his revenge. Joseph served a God that enabled him to love those who had sinned against him. Joseph was able to do this, not because they were inherently deserving or because he was inherently righteous. He was able to forgive because he understood that God’s providential hand had guided him to this point, and that God’s plan was bigger than his hurt, just as it had been bigger than the jealousy that lead to that pain.

We serve the same God. We serve a God who enables us to love and forgive others, not of our own power, but from God’s forgiveness that has radically changed our view of the world. Because Jesus loves, we love. Because He forgave, we forgive. 

During this Christmas season I hope you will learn to forgive those around you.  It is one of the best Christmas presents you can give yourself.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Does Christmas change the idea of what forgiveness means for you? 
  2. What is most important to you in your life and how can forgiving help?
  3. What do you dislike about the idea of forgiving? What do you like about it?
  4. What is reconciliation, and how is it different from the act of forgiving?
  5. Why do you think forgiveness takes courage?

How Can I Forget?

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” – Colossians 3:12-13 

There is no waffling about forgiveness in the Bible. Matthew 6:15 tells us:”But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? The question that often surfaces is something like this: I understand that I should forgive, but how do I know whether I have truly forgiven them? Can we forgive yet not be sure how we did it? Forgiving, and knowing that we’ve truly forgiven, comes easier when we understand a few things about forgiveness. 

The first thing we need to remember is that forgiveness takes time. We expect change and peace to be instantaneous, but the reality is that while God can forgive in a fraction of a second, we need time. Just before he died, C.S. Lewis wrote: “I think I have at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my youth. I had done it many times before, but this time I think I have really done it.” As you’re forgiving someone or yourself, know that forgiveness takes time. It’s a process. You will have to be honest with yourself and accept the fact you were hurt, but there are ways to not stay bound to the hurt.

The second thing is forgiving does not require forgetting. Forgive and forget—it’s a cliché we all know. But honestly, will we ever forget the wrong someone did to us? What if someone abused you? Cheated? Lied? You may try to dump those things out of your head, but they’re things you will probably never completely forget no matter how forgiving you are. It is impractical and ineffective for us to try to forget. Rather, the goal is to detoxify the memory to the extent that it no longer controls our lives. Philippians 3:13 says, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”  Ask God to heal and defuse the power of old memories and empty out stored emotions so you can find peace.

We have the example of real forgiveness in our Lord and Savior. Think about Jesus when He was on the Cross, taking on our sin and dying one of the most agonizing deaths so that we could experience true forgiveness.

But while Jesus does forgive, He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t remember our sins either. Isaiah 43:25 says, “(43:25), “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jesus never said He would forget our sins, but instead that He won’t remember them—He won’t bring them up again because we have been forgiven.

Isn’t that beautiful to know that God won’t throw our past sins in our face?

My prayer is that we will trust God to redeem the failure and pain of the past and that we can forgive even if we can’t forget.

Tomorrow: The gift of forgiveness.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe you can forgive even though you can’t forget?
  2. What do you have to change in your mind in order to give yourself permission to forgive?
  3. Picture the person who has caused you the most hurt or the person who has greatly offended you. Imagine forgiving that person, and imagine what that would look like. What is the biggest obstacle to making that happen in real life? 
  4. Pray and ask God to give you the strength to forgive those who have hurt you.

Why Should I Read Philemon?

“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.” – Philemon 1:17-21. 

Nestled between the books of Titus and Hebrews in the New Testament is the book of Philemon. The book of Philemon is a letter written by Paul while in prison. The key personalities of Philemon are Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. It was written to Philemon as a plea to request forgiveness for his runaway servant Onesimus, who was a new believer in Jesus Christ. The book of Philemon consists of only one chapter and 25 verses.

Onesimus was clearly in the wrong, was clearly a criminal who had violated his master’s trust, and now Paul says, “Maybe that’s the way God wanted it all to work out.” You see, Paul knows that Philemon has a clear case against Onesimus, but that’s not what is important. Onesimus has become a believer and now that he has experienced a change of heart and character and conduct, Paul is making a final appeal for Philemon to receive this guilty slave with mercy and forgiveness.

We all experience times in our lives when it is highly difficult to forgive and be restored to someone who has hurt us.  The question is “how?” How do we forgive someone who has hurt or wronged us? First, consider the providence of God. Paul and Philemon both knew that Onesimus was in the wrong, but what Paul so masterfully pointed out was that God had allowed it for a higher purpose.

During the message on Sunday, I’m sure most of you were thinking about one person or maybe several people that you have had trouble forgiving. What they did is still so fresh in your mind. Or maybe what they did takes them outside the realm of possibility for forgiveness in your mind. 

But have you ever considered that maybe God allowed that thing to happen in your life for a higher purpose? Could God have allowed some bad thing to happen in your life in order that you might experience the greater good?  All you know is what was done to you is still an obstacle. But is it an obstacle? Or is it an opportunity for you to grow and to manifest the love, compassion and mercy of God to an individual that does not deserve it.

Philemon 19-20 says, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.”

When Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus and forgive him those old debts, he reminded him that he too was once a man with a terrible debt that had also been forgiven. When we can’t forgive someone, we need to pause for a second and remember what God did to forgive you. I understand that forgiveness may cost you something.  It may not be easy. And it may require sacrifice. But whatever it cost you in terms of sacrifice will pale in comparison with what has been done for you by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Tomorrow: How can I forget?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read the book of Philemon. Can you identify with Philemon?
  2. One of the greatest gifts we receive from Christ becomes one of the greatest challenges to following him: forgiveness? Agree or disagree?
  3. Have you ever considered that maybe God allowed that thing to happen in your life for a higher purpose?
  4. What steps can we take to forgive others.

Why Should I Forgive?

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” – Psalm 103:8-12 .

When most think of the classic Francis Ford Coppola film, The Godfather, images of violence and the mafia most likely come to mind.  The movie is about revenge. The film opens with the undertaker, Bonasera, asking the Godfather to avenge the violence committed against his daughter.  In the movie, his wish for revenge is granted. There are so many movies that are built on revenge or getting even.

And no wonder. There is something sweet about getting revenge for a wrong done you. There is something about holding a grudge that seems to be the right thing to do. It makes us feel more fulfilled. After all, wrongs should be righted. And we deserve to feel anger and contempt for those who hurt us. The problem is we are the worse off for seeking revenge or holding a grudge.  I don’t think I can give a single example of any good coming out of refusing to forgive. This is why Jesus said we are to forgive one another seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We should forgive so much that it becomes second nature—our automatic response to those who have hurt us.

God gives several good reasons in His word for why we should forgive. First, God commands us to forgive others. Matthew 18:23-25 says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” 

Second, it is in our best interest to forgive. Mark 11:25 says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”   And Luke 6:27 says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.

God is telling us to forgive. He is not talking about what is in the best interest of the person who needs to be forgiven. We are the ones who God is trying to protect. We are the ones who receive the most benefit from forgiveness, not the person who wronged us.  A lack of forgiveness complicates and compromises our walk with God. Forgiving others releases us from pent-up anger and allows us to receive the healing we need. God does not want anything standing between us and Him. Anything that stands between or hampers that relationship is not good for us. 

Charles Spurgeon had it right when he said: “To be forgiven is such sweetness that honey is tasteless in comparison with it. But yet there is one thing sweeter still, and that is to forgive. As it is more blessed to give than to receive, so to forgive rises a stage higher in experience than to be forgiven.”

Tomorrow: Why Should I read Philemon?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why should we forgive?
  2. What do you see as the benefits of forgiving others?
  3. What have you found helpful in forgiving those who have wronged you?
  4. How has God’s forgiveness affected your life and your willingness to forgive?
  5. Is it harder to forgive others or yourself?

What I Learned About Forgiveness

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  Isaiah 55:6-7

Remember the book, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum? The book is predicated on the idea that all I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten; how to live, what to do and how to be. His premise is that wisdom is not found in an ivy league university, but there in the sandpile at school. It was there that we learned to share everything, play fair, not hit people, put things back where you found them, clean up your own mess, don’t take things that are not yours, and say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Now forgiveness is not something we learn early on. It is not intuitive and is not natural. While I may not have learned much about the subject when I was five, I have learned a whole lot about the subject since then. I certainly have not mastered it, but I do know a whole lot more than I did back in my early school years.   

For example, I have learned that forgiveness is not always fair. There can be a pretty big dose of inequality in forgiveness. I have learned that forgiveness is not easy. In fact it is hard. Another thing I have learned is that forgiveness has little to do with how deserving the person is or whether they have asked to be forgiven. God expects us to forgive even the unforgivable. C.S Lewis summarizes this idea when he said, “ To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” And that means forgiving somebody who has wronged you even if they are not sorry.

Another thing I have learned is forgiveness is an act of faith: trusting God to work in every situation, knowing God has greater plans and knowing God will handle any justice, mercy, or grace that needs to take place. Still another thing I have learned is that forgiveness is a choice; a choice I make. And I have learned that forgiveness is not about “letting go” pretending we can “just get over it” without addressing the heart.  Moving on without addressing the heart accomplishes little.   

There is one last thing I have learned. We know we should forgive, not only from the Bible, but also because of our relationship with God. Because He forgives us, we should strive to forgive others in the same way. 

Tomorrow: Why Should I Forgive?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your initial reaction to the concept of forgiveness? Do you react in denial, anger, self-righteousness, or judgment? 
  2. What have you learned about forgiveness in your life? Are you seeking relief or release?
  3. What characteristics in your life might indicate that you haven’t fully forgiven past hurts, even if you know in your head what you need to do?
  4. Read Luke 5:17-26, the healing of the paralytic. What does this passage imply about the relationship between forgiveness and healing?

Marriage and the Past

“Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find? The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him! A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes. Who can say, “I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?” – Proverbs 20:6-9.

As you well know, marriage is a subject near and dear to my heart. Marriage is a gift from God that He wants you to fully enjoy. But if the pain you’ve suffered in your past is still impacting your relationship now, you can’t fully embrace the new life God offers you because you’ll be stuck in a frustrating rewind of the past. 

When I married Angela I didn’t know everything about her. Nor did she know everything about me.  Neither of us knew much about married life, but we wanted to figure it out together—the two of us. I was learning how to be her husband, and she was learning how to be my wife. And that included dealing with any issues in our past. The truth is the past isn’t the past until it has been dealt with properly, because our past affects today in a negative manner. Therefore, it is still the present.

We must look back and deal with the past in order to move ahead. Your best bet for a successful future is to own your share of the past. In order to deal with your past, you first of all have to be willing to be blatantly honest with yourself. We need to honestly look at some of our less than stellar qualities and ask this question: “Could I be this way because of something in my past that I haven’t dealt with?”

The answer could be yes because we are the sum of all our experiences. The good things in our past show up in the positive aspects of our lives today. But here is the thing. The bad things in our pasts that we haven’t dealt with can create personality problems, emotional issues, relational difficulties and potentially, trouble in marriage. Those same bad things can also show up as positive aspects of our lives if we give them to God and we learn from them.

Jean Paul Sartre once said “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” So what are we going to do to dissolve the hold the past has on us? In marriage as in very phase of life, the first thing to do is to surrender to Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you anything or anyone in your past you need to deal with. And that includes forgiveness. Forgiveness is an essential part of marriage and when we forgive, we give up the right to punish others. The simple act of forgiveness can set you free from your past and free from your future faster than almost anything else you can do.

When Angela and I stood hand in hand at the altar, promising to stay in this covenant for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until one of us died, we knew little of each other’s past. But it really didn’t matter unless we let it matter.  We were focused on our future and what God planned for us. We were focused on loving God and loving each other.   

Now, after all these years of marriage, we know much more about the past. We have learned to look past what is not important down to the terra firma. And that is one relationship with Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Talk about a time when you’ve seen someone repeat mistakes from the past because that person didn’t take ownership of his or her part of those mistakes.
  2. Why do you think it’s so difficult for people to recognize their roles in past mistakes?
  3. What are some things in your past from which you’ve hidden? In what ways did that make you unavailable for the people in your life?
  4. What is one area of your life where you haven’t owned your part of past results? What can you do this week to begin to own your part?