Summary: My goal is for you to become hopeless-give up hope of changing the past, give up hope of changing what others have done to us, and give up hope of changing ourselves.
Hopeless. Have you ever felt like that? Totally without hope? You tried everything you could think of, you’re at the end of your rope, with no more solutions in sight and you wonder—am I hopeless? Now, I hope that the video and the actors didn’t make you think we’re down on counseling—we’re not. I saw a counselor for a while and it was one of the best things I ever did. I think the very fact that we can laugh at these extreme stereotypes is a reflection of the fact that we identify with this search for hope and meaning and purpose in life, because when people get to the point where they honestly believe that their lives are hopeless, it’s all over.
That’s why today—Easter Sunday—the day we’re supposed to celebrate life and hope—my goal is for you to become hopeless. Some of us need to give up hope of changing the past. Some of us need to give up hope of changing what others have done to us. Some of us need to give up hope of changing ourselves. But before you walk out because you think this is going to be depressing or condemning, give me a few minutes to show you that, for many people, giving up hope is our only hope. In order to do this, the first thing we need to learn how to do is it…
Give up hope of changing the past
You can’t change the past. Everybody knows that! (This is the kind of profound, never-before-heard stuff we offer here.) You can’t change mistakes you’ve made and you can’t change bad things that have happened to you. It sounds obvious, but if it’s so obvious, then why do we fantasize about the past being different; some people do it constantly—even daily—walking through the details of past mistakes and regrets, imagining and wishing we could go back and do it all again?
If it’s so obvious, why are some of us letting the guilt we feel for things we’ve done wrong continually hang over our lives like a black cloud?
If it’s so obvious, why are some of us still angry and bitter because of ways in which people have hurt us?
If it’s so obvious, why are some of us going through life allowing ourselves to be victimized and exploited over and over again by people and events of the past?
Remember playing foursquare when you were little? Deep down inside, we wish the past was like playing foursquare. Because if you messed up your serve, you could call “Do-over!” Some of us are still looking for a big “do – over.” Wouldn’t that be cool? “Whoops, I screwed up. Do-over! Let me try it again.”
“I didn’t mean to say that. Do-over!”
“Wait, I don’t want to throw away everything that’s really important to me. Do-over!”
If we’re looking for a do-over, we’re hopeless, but even though a do-over isn’t an option, there’s still hope. And in order to find the hope God has for you, you have to have a big “but.” Here’s what I mean:
You can’t change the past, but God can change how the past affects you
What makes us want to change the past? Guilt, regret, and pain for the stuff we messed up in our own lives and in the lives of others. The guilt and regret are there for good reasons—we messed up! However, the good news is that, even though trying to change the past is hopeless, letting God change how the past affects you is a guaranteed opportunity. Let me read you a real-life email I received yesterday from a man I know who was describing a conversation he had with someone who’s messing with drugs. This is what he wrote:
“I reminded him of what using drugs cost me—jobs, a marriage, and being a father. I tried to convince him that a few hours of being high is never worth the life-long disappointment that follows—knowing you’ve lost things you really wanted and will never have again.”
You can’t change the past, but God can change how the past affects you. If you’re not familiar with the Easter story, here’s the quick version: Jesus is betrayed by one of the men who had been living and traveling with him for three years. He’s arrested on false charges of political insurrection. He’s subjected to six mock trials. He’s repeatedly beaten and tortured. Then he’s presented before the city of Jerusalem, who are given the opportunity to ask for his release, yet no one speaks up for him. Then it says in the Gospel of Luke,
32Two criminals were led out to be 33crucified—Jesus on the center cross, and the two criminals on either side. (Luke 23:32-33)
At this time crucifixion was a form of torture. The only people who were crucified were slaves who had no official citizenship in the Roman Empire and criminals who had no one to defend them. At any time, Jesus could have stopped the whole thing. He could have walked away from the whole thing—but he didn’t. He let them nail his wrists and his feet to the cross—feeling iron stakes the size of railroad spikes—penetrating his skin and tearing through the muscles, and shattering the arches of his feet as they were pounded through to the wooden cross.