Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The Past


The Past

For many people the past is not something pleasant to ponder. It could be filled with abuse, failure, and all sorts of painful memories. Clearly, dealing with the past is not something new to our generation. Rahab’s past was filled with unpleasant memories (Hebrews 11:31), and so was Paul’s, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15)“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1:13). Added to this, it looks like, from what is said in the Epistles, that many of the early Christians came from very unpleasant backgrounds (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 3:5ff; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Peter 4:1ff). In this lesson I want to explore ways in which we can make sure the pain in the past does not destroy our future happiness and the accomplishing of our goals and purposes for being created.

Why Having God Matters

Many people have noted that what makes the difference in overcoming something is having someone there who believes in them and can be trusted. Certainly, in His omnipresence, omniscience, and in His omnipotence, the most reliable “someone” to have in our corner is God Himself. Even David said, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). The Hebrew writer adds rhetorically, “So that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?’’ (Hebrews 13:6). Still another writer has noted, “Why does a relationship with God help so many people? I believe the answer is manifold. First, people feel loved and therefore worthy and valuable. Second, religious values and commandments give them direction when they may not ever have been taught morals or about resisting temptations. Temptations, with their immediate gratification, are attractive to people with pain and rage. Third, religious perspective is out-ward-focused, while victimhood is inward-focused” (Bad Childhood, Good Life, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, pp. 13-14).

More Is Possible Than Mere Survival

God desires that our lives be far more than just surviving. He wants us to flourish, to enjoy life abundantly. Consider some of the many passages that stress our victorious conquering through Him. “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). In Ephesians chapter 6, the Christian is not pictured as a refugee, but rather as a soldier, fully clothed in armor and armed to the teeth. In addition, we are pictured as standing firm in the evil day (6:13). The book of Revelation repeatedly offers a promise of eternal life to those who “overcome” (Revelation 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7). Added to this, Christians were spoken of as having actually overcome evil (1 John 2:13-14). The wonderful thing about the gospel is that is offers us far more than a “victim identity”, and there are many reasons why we need to move far beyond such an identity. One is that nobody expects much of suffering people. Secondly, if I view myself as being “damaged”, I will avoid challenges. No matter what we’ve endured, we, in Christ, are conquerors.

The Myth of Helplessness

It is ironic how the Universe works, how the humble are exalted, and the proud brought down. On the one hand, for those who are critical of God or perceive themselves to be self-sufficient, God reminds them that they have zero power and are, in reality, rather helpless: (Job 38:12,16,18,34-35,39; 39:10,26; 40:10-14). On the other hand, for those who are humble and faithful, God reminds us that we have access to tremendous power:

  • “Grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence” (Acts 4:29).
  • “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).
  • “And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19).
  • “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).
  • “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Indeed, we are never powerless in the face of oppression, temptation, trials, injustice or any other hardship. The Living God is on our side, we have immediate access to Him in prayer and He hears us! Never fall for the lie that there is “nothing you can do”. We can do plenty of things: we can pray, spread the gospel, shine the light, spread the salt, reprove, rebuke and exhort. We can preach the whole counsel of God, we can stand firm in the evil day, we can save ourselves, we can remain steadfast, we can refuse to give up, we can keep on overcoming evil with good (Romans 12:21), we can remain holy, we can keep our behavior excellent, we can reach out with compassion, we can keep up the good works, and we can continue to glorify God. Resist the temptation to be controlled by fear. Instead, make your decisions based upon the facts. Lead with your head. Always. And your life will be better-off at every turn.

Be Thankful for the Good People

So often we become preoccupied with the wrong people, the wrong situations and the wrong events. The world is filled with people who could have obsessed about something in their past: Rahab being a prostitute, Moses failing to deliver Israel the first time, Abigal in being married to a fool, Paul being a persecutor of the church, Peter denying Christ three times, Mark leaving Paul and Barnabas, and so on. Yet I think we can agree in all these cases focusing in on the failure in the past would have been the wrong reaction. Let us learn to focus on the right people in our lives, that is, the people who have helped us, and the great friends that we presently enjoy. Let us likewise dwell on the right events from the past, like our salvation, our baptism, the exciting years of our early Christian growth, and the people we have been able to influence for good. I never find God telling anyone that they can refrain from giving thanks, because they have nothing in the past to be thankful for (Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). It is simply assumed that all of us have blessings and have always had blessings in our lives for which to praise God and give thanks.

Stop Listening to the Devil

The devil wants us to believe the following:

  • You are not worth much: Not true! (Matthew 12:12).
  • Personal relationships are a threat: Not true! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11).
  • Effort and intent never pay off because life is never fair: Not true! (Galatians 6:9)
  • No one could love you. Not true! (Romans 5:8).
  • You could never be happy. Not true! (Matthew 5:3-12; Philippians 4:4)
  • You are too far gone or too damaged to get better or do better. Not true! (John 8:11)

Avoid This...

  • Victim Identity: We need to move from the person who came from a difficult background or situation, to the warrior for God. There is a difference between being an individual with a past, versus an individual who is completely defined by that past.
  • Getting comfortable in misery: Even misery came become a comfortable routine after a while. At least you know what to expect. Avoid the temptation of going from one miserable relationship to another simply because that is what is familiar.
  • Unhealthy secondary gains: Being in pain has given you the advantage in relationships, you might even have manipulated others, they do your bidding because they felt sorry for you.
  • Becoming “the center of the universe”: Pride can make one the center of the universe, yet suffering can do the same thing if we are not careful. When you go through something, resist the temptation of insisting that everyone else adjust to your moods. Do not expect friends and family to pamper you if you are misbehaving.
  • Seeking love from the devil: There is nothing wrong with desiring a good relationship with a parent that was a horrible example, yet there is something wrong about rejecting all the other evidences of love in your life if love from some wicked person is not present. Do not allow yourself to fantasize about a lovely relationship with somebody who is evil. Anyone who is a devil in our life needs to be confronted – not idolized. Have the courage to identify and acknowledge them for what they are, even if they are related by blood to you. Abigal had the courage to call her husband a fool – for that is what he was (2 Samuel 25:25). If you are going to daydream or obsess about love, then you’re best off pondering God’s love for you – and all the people who already love you.

Do This And Be An Inspiration...

I am impressed with the young man described in Ezekiel 18:14. Here is a young man who had had a horrible father, and his son has seen it all (18:14). So what does this son do? He makes a conscious effort to do the exact opposite of all the wrong his father did (18:15-17). I am equally refreshed by God’s attitude. It is still, as it was then – many expected the son somehow to forever be tied to repeating the sins of the father. God’s vision for us is instead glorious! (18:19-20)

How to Be Saved

  • Hear the Gospel: Mark 16:15
  • Believe in Jesus as the Son of God: John 3:16
  • Repent: Acts 17:30
  • Confess Christ: Romans 10:9-10
  • Be Baptized for the Forgiveness of Sins: Acts 2:38

Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017