Archives For past

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Do you remember a time when you were not the cool kid? Maybe you were and you fell from glory, or maybe you never were. The world is not all math geeks or super jocks – there’s a lot more to it than all that.

I grew up in a small town right in the middle of Oklahoma. We had to drive 30 minutes to the nearest movie theater, and it really wasn’t a good one. The mall kinda sucked too. One thing we did though – we all cruised Air Depot. Every Friday and Saturday night, thousands of cars driving up and down the same 3 mile stretch from about 8 pm – midnight. Hard core cruisers stayed way later. I’ve know people who were there from dusk til dawn. There was also 12th street in Moore, OK – that was pretty far away, but when they shut down Air Depot, that’s where we all went.

It didn’t matter who you were - band geek, chess geek, computer club, cheerleader, jock, hot chick or weirdo. You could at least cruise AD. There was excitement, fighting, true love, gun shots, cops, fast cars – just like in the movies. It was a microcosm of all of life. Those were some of the best days I’ve ever had!

I know many of you reading this had similar experiences growing up, and I hope you have as many great memories as I do. I love to look back and remember those times, but we can’t stay there. Life is a process, and we all have to grow into it. I hate that though, and I fought it tooth and nail. I wish I hadn’t, because I missed some other stuff along the way that I’m just now figuring out. But God is faithful, and he is redeeming all of my past mistakes.

No matter how big and bright, or how dark and aweful our past is, it’s gone! It’s true that who we are now is built upon that foundation, but that doesn’t have to be all there is. What I’ve discovered is, there is a source – of life, of light, of joy – that can make all your past worthwhile. Even those hard or terrible things, even those things you can’t even talk about.

What I’ve learned is, that in the midst of learning to love and trust God, all those things – good and bad – that I thought defined me and shaped me were just things. Like a light bulb or a piece of string. Just a thing. And if I focused on my relationship with God, it became him who defined me, not those things. My past became less of a hindrance, or less of a thing that I relied upon for strength instead of God.

My past is where it belongs – in the past. And I have a rich history. I was a goofball, I was moody, I jumped off things, into things and through things. I played pranks, I got into LOTS of trouble, most people liked me, some did not one tiny bit and probably still don’t. In spite of all that, and in spite of even the things that I can’t write here for fear of repercussions even 30 years later, I am a child of God, and everything – all those things – work together for good, because I love God!

Who or what do you love? Who or what do you look to when you seek to define who you are? If it’s your past, who you were in high school, if its your family, your accomplishments, the car you drive – you’re missing out on everything good. Only God can define a life! Only God can redeem a past – even a great past where everything went according to plan. Give it all to him and trust him with it. He can be trusted! And when you do – he will work it all out way better than you ever could.



(This is part 2 – you can read part 1 here)

Last time I was talking about how Jesus used the sermon on the mount to give the people an image in their minds of how things were during the Exodus, so let’s go back too – to the beginning of the nation of Israel.

By the time of Moses, Egypt was the superpower – everything great came from there – architecture, scholarship, technology – Egypt was the world leader in just about everything.  There was a famine which you can read about toward the end of Genesis. During the famine, all the money, livestock and land in and around Egypt was sold to Pharoah in exchange for the grain that Joseph had stored.  The people even told him that he had saved their lives, so they were glad to serve Egypt in exchange.  These people became Israel.

The first chapter of Exodus tells us that a different king came along, a king that didn’t like all these strange non-Egyptians and he feared their numbers.  So, under the new king, they went from being servants to being slaves.  This was the world that Moses was born into.

Pharaoh had it in his mind to kill all the children in Egypt, so the mother of Moses sent her son down the river to be raised by whoever found him.   And that happened to be none other than the daughter of Pharaoh himself.  Moses grew and became a man, a son of Pharaoh. Then one day, his heritage, which I’m sure was no secret anyway, came to the forefront.

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I’m a child of the 80′s.  Springsteen, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi. 501 jeans, popped collars, ropers and, yes, dew rags.  I even had parachute pants.  Lordy.  There are pictures of me all over Facebook wearing that stuff.  I can never escape that past.  I’ll admit it – I was a teenaged idiot.  If they would have had Axe back then…well, I would have bathed in the stuff.

Times have changed.  There’s a little place called Old Navy now, and the flip flops that went out of style came back with a vengeance.  We called them “thongs” when I was a kid.  No joke.  I think that means something else now, I just can’t put my finger on it.  Baggy jeans instead of skin tight, you wear just one shirt and collar is anything but popped.  At least my beloved Chucks are timeless.  But then again, everything comes back around.  Everything.

Beyond what you wear, have you ever had something you said or did in the past come back around?  Something that you would have rather forgotten about that maybe other people won’t let die?

It is like that for me every time I go home to Harrah, OK.  Harrah was a cozy little farming community of about 3500 people when I was a kid, so when I did something stupid during lunch, my mom knew about it before I got home from school.  My friends and family remember every stupid thing I ever did as a kid.  And they remind me all the time.

How do you live down your past?  How can you ever deal with the things you did that were so stupid and uncool, that nobody will let you forget?  Do like me and move away.  Far, far away.

Well, honestly, I have come a long way, and so have a lot of you I’m sure, but people never forget our bonehead mistakes.  If you live long enough, your past will always come back to the future to haunt you.  How do you deal with that?  Here’s three good ways that I have heard of, in other words these are not originally from me and I can’t remember where I heard it but I would love to give someone credit.  See – I have changed.

First you have to tell it like it was.  I Timothy 1:12-16 tells about the Apostle Paul’s checkered past.  Before he became a church planter, he persecuted Christ followers. Some of us have done terrible things that we continue to feel bad about even though we are not that person anymore.  When people bring it up, do what Paul did.  Say “yes I did those things.” And leave it at that.  Tell it like it was and move on.

Then, tell it like it is.  Jeremiah 31:33-34 tells us that God wants to forget about all the stupid things we have done.  To me that is the best promise of the Bible, because I have a long and glorious history of messing up everything good that ever happened to me.  The prophet Micah tells us that our mistakes in life are cast into the deepest sea and they will never resurface.  Forgiven sins are forgotten sins and nobody has the right to drag the sea of forgetfulness to try and dredge up all the things in your past.  If it’s forgiven, it’s over and forgotten according to God.  Tell it like it is.

Then you have to tell it where to go.  Romans 8:1-2 says we are free, not condemned, but part of being truly free is learning to rejoice, celebrate, consistently thank God for His forgiveness.  We have to rejoice in the fact that He has purified us and cleansed us from every stain and all the effects of sin.  When we do this, we tell our past sins to go back to the Devil, right where they came from.  Tell it where to go!

Listen, we all have a past.  I have things in my past that nobody can know.  Legal issues, statute of limitations, etc.  Seriously though, I can’t be beating myself up for something I did in 1986.  That’s not the freedom that Christ died to give me.  We have the opportunity to live like we are forgiven.  And we are forgiven because of God’s great love for us.

It is not my purpose to stir up a lot of bad memories for you all here today, but to remind you that there is power from the Holy Spirit to help you get past your past.  Don’t dwell on it anymore.  It’s over.  Let it be.  Take your past and lay it before the only one with the ability to put it where it belongs.  In the past.

In Student Ministry, the flagship event of ever summer, for me anyway, was always camp.  I started planning next year’s camp the day after camp was over.  I love camp.  I grew up going to Falls Creek – deep in the heart of the Arbuckle mountains of OK.  I went to camp there at least once every summer between 1980 and 2003, sometimes I went several weeks.  I surrendered to ministry there in 1982.  To say that it is a very special place to me is an understatement.

One year at camp, on Wednesday night, Cheryl decided to take Trinity with us to the worship service.  She was about 2 years old at the time.  There were not enough seats for all of us in the Tabernacle, and it was really hot, so we decided to sit on the brick wall right outside the back.  There was a nice breeze blowing, and we could hear everything going on inside.

About half way through the service, Trinity found a pothole about 10 feet in front of us.  It was full of rocks and dirt, and she would grab a handful and run back and put it in my hands.  She must have made 20 trips back and forth to fill my cupped hands with dirt and rocks.

It was invitation time for everyone in the tabernacle, and I was listening to what the speaker was saying.  He said, “I want you to close your eyes.  Think of those things in your life that keep you from living abundantly. Think of those things in your life that keep you from fulfilling God’s purpose for you.  Now, cup your hands, and hold those things out in front of you.  Give them to God.  Let him take them from you so that you can live life the way it was meant to be lived.”

I looked down at my hands.  They were full of dirt and busted up pieces of asphalt.  Now, I am not a big believer in coincidence.  I am also not a big believer in every little thing having a some big meaning.  But I had to consider that maybe God was trying to show me something.

Yesterday I mentioned here that often what happens in life is the Thief comes and steals something from us and I believe that what specifically he takes is our present joy in life.  He does this by keeping us in the past.  He reminds us of past sin, regrets, shame.  The result is that we end up living in guilt rather than living in grace.

When I looked down at the dirt and debris in my hands, I realized that my past was still a big part of who I am.  And that a person’s past can hold them back.  Your past can keep you from being free, but God can redeem your past, no matter what is there.

You know why they call it the past?  Because I has already passed.  It’s gone.  There is nothing you can do to go back and change what you have done or haven’t done.  The memories will never go away, and the feelings that come with them are sometimes just as strong as they were when it actually happened.  Your past can destroy your present.

Nothing is unforgivable.  But to have that kind of relationship with God, you have to let go of your life and the things that hold you back.  You have to let go of your past.  If you don’t, you will be living in the shadow of wrath, and not in the Light of a great and loving Father.

As for me, I have discovered what it means to live in the Presence of Greatness.  It is to open up your hands and let go of the junk that you cannot possibly deal with.  It is to be in the presence of a Father that loves you so much that you cannot possibly disappoint him.

So, I turned my hands over, let the dirt and rocks fall to the ground.  Cheryl gave me a baby wipe.  And the service was over.  It’s in the past now, along with a thousand other memories.  And now it is my choice, and your choice, to come before God and leave those things behind, and receive the abundance he offers those with the boldness to approach him.

What are you holding on to?  What is the Holy Spirit asking you to give up?  You can give it to Him and accept the abundant life being offered to you right now!  That’s what the Resurrection is all about!  The only other choice is living a defeated, crippled life.  The only other choice is living for the past.  That is not the kind of life that Christ died and lives to give you.  Let it go!  Give it to Him, and live!

Back to the Present

March 30, 2012 — 3 Comments

Several years back, I was an associate pastor in a church.  I was mostly a student minister, but I had several other responsibilities.  I had been in student ministry for about 12 years at that point, and to be honest, for several years before that, I had felt God calling me to something different, but it scared me to death, so I just kept doing what I had always known – it was easy, I had a routine, I got results.

The real reason that I didn’t pursue what God was calling me to do was because of something in my past.  What I didn’t know at the time was, the past was about to massively pile up on me and bring about a wilderness experience that would last the next 5 years.

It goes back to 1994.  I had just resigned from my first church, and was in the process of being divorced from my first wife.  There’s a lot to tell about that, and I may do it at some other point.  Suffice it to say we were both in the wrong.  Maybe I was more wrong.  I don’t know.  All I knew is that if I were to ever get married again, I would do it differently.

Fast forward several years to the already mentioned staff position, I was married, had a sweet little daughter, and was miserable.  I hadn’t learned anything, really.  I didn’t allow healing to occur from that past trauma.  I never talked to anyone about it, and I brought all that into the present.

One day, during a staff meeting at my church, the pastor announced he was firing several staff people, including me.  He said he wanted a fresh start with new people.  So I packed up and left, and started sending out resumes.  So I could start the cycle all over again.  But God had a different plan.

I had a lot of interviews at some pretty amazing churches, and in many instances, it came down between me and some other person.  They always chose the other person.  I started sending my resume out to smaller churches.  I was thinking they would be thinking they would be getting a bargain – someone with my experience, willing to work for close to nothing.  Most of them never even called me back.  Over qualified maybe?  Or God’s plan?

Somewhere along the way we tried a church plant, which went well until it didn’t.  Then we ended up at a totally different church – hurt, confused, scared, alone.

During those years, I turned and ran from God, from what He was trying to teach me.  I didn’t want to hear it.  I wanted familiar, I wanted safe, I wanted things to be like they were before.  But they couldn’t be.  I had been hurt too deeply, and to be honest, in my last church staff experience, I was basically limping along, relying on my own strength.

But this new church – it was something different.  Something special.  Exactly what I needed and exactly where God wanted me and my family, so that we could learn who God really is, what He is really like, how He really feels about us.

Two years later I am a totally different person.  I am being healed.  I am seeing how my past failures, hurts, sins can be redeemed.  What I learned is, God doesn’t want to use me, he wants to know me.  He wants me to know Him and trust Him and He wants me to run to Him and seek shelter in Him and rely on Him for everything.  I’m learning to do that, and He has given me my ministry, but in a totally unexpected way.

Do I still want to work for a church – yes!  Will I be able to?  I believe so.  Am I ready?  I believe so!  Am I scared?  Yes.  Yes I am.  But I am going to take that step, resting in Him, and I will trust Him to put me where He wants me, so that my past can be redeemed in my present, so that the future of others can be wrapped in His grace.

What have you not trusted God with?  What from your past is eating away your present?  And how can you learn to give all that to the only One who can purchase the terrible things that have happened and give you a beautiful future in exchange?