Over the past three weeks we’ve been investigating the culprits of spiritual I.D. theft. We’ve looked at how to avoid being, Robbed by Relationships, Mugged by the Mirror, and Stolen by Success. This morning we’re going to complete our series by considering the role of our past… and how to avoid being pick pocketed by the past.
The question I want to pose is: What power does your past have in your life?
The past is a very powerful part of life… it’s a short little word… but it is nothing less than the experiences that have shaped us… and often tries to define us.
Of course we’ve all had a lot of good experiences in life… deposits into our souls. Every one of us has built upon so many building blocks … every meal we were fed… every moment we were learning something in school… every minute of loving commitment. There is so much good in our past that we should stop and take in.
But of course … there is the power in the negative experiences as well… experiences that can try to define us and confine us.
There are generally two aspects of our past that can try to define us…
The wrongs done to us
Maybe you have been rejected
Disregarded in a job
Been betrayed by a spouse
Abandoned by a friend
Dishonored by a child
even…Misled by a minister
And of course… we may feel we are …victims of what we were born into…of limits and losses that are inherent in a fallen world. You may resent the life you have had to rise to… family background… poverty… a parent never known or never there.
And perhaps nothing is as powerful as simply the way we were seen… or believed we were seen… in our childhood. The way other kids spoke about us… the associations and nicknames.
The wrongs we have done
We may have disappointed a parent…failed at school.. .failed at marriage. Our past may include… DUI… a financial mess… a job we blew… a substance that controlled us… sexual bonds that never should have been.
Like the crime of pick pocketing… which silently comes so close and violates so personally… so our past can be used to steal our ultimate identity. Our past is so close… inside us… so that It can easily be declared to be permeating… and permanent.
So we do well to stop and ask…
What power does the past have?
How should we relate to our past?
The enemy of our souls offers some ways to relate to our past.
Repression… out of fear of what we believe our past implies… we try to ignore it… deny it… to others and to ourselves.
I may want to ignore the reality of my dysfunctional family… or that one particular choice I made… or that night I was drunk.
Regret… out of shame… we simply accept that feeling bad is our deserving or destined consequence.
Certainly regret ca have a healthy part in a process… can be a healthy start to something… a recognizing that can lead to reckoning… and finally restoration.. But too often… it simply becomes an end in itself.
Reduction… out of a sense of futility… we simply accept that we are now defined and determined by an unchangeable past. Could use the word ‘restriction.’
Now it’s certainly healthy to embrace one’s own unique strengths and weaknesses… but are they really absolute indicators of our potential? Ask Moses… like so many lives that God called… Moses had clearly reduced and restricted his future according to his past. God calls him to lead his people out of Egypt. Moses knows he’s tried to stand up before… and it didn’t go oven too well. Besides he has a speech problem. You mat recall… God is more than willing to work with those issues… but he won’t be restricted by them.
In all tehse ways… we can discover that our spiritual enemy is not only a thief and liar… but as the Bible also tells us… an accuser. Maybe you’ve heard his whispers in you’re in your heart: “You know what you really are. You’re a loser… just stupid… hopelessly alone… you’ll always be an addict.”
I know how disheartening it is when the Devil is calling you a failure and has a whole list of things with which to prove his point. I know how hard it is to press forward when the Devil has convinced you that you are one of those people who will never go forward.
> Any and all of these will give the past the power to define and confine your identity by your past.
All of these make perfect sense in a closed world… and that is why the enemy of our souls wants to hold your attention on the past and work the logic to repression, regret, and reduction .
But good news… the world is not closed. Life is not over.
Furthermore… the devil is not authorized to give you an identity.
The God who created never said he’s finished with history (his story) nor with you and your story.. In fact it has always been a part of God to have prepared and provided for life beyond our creaturely potential for failures and falls.
God has one very different way to relate … his own.. and it is
Redemption… that which reclaims and restores our ultimate identity from the falls and failures of the past.
Isaiah 58:11-12 (MSG)
I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.
God’s very nature includes that of redeeming… and that is his plan for you.
The apostle Paul… a religious leader most passionately set against Jesus… is reclaimed and becomes the passionate leader who ushers the Gospel into the world.
CONVERTED KLANSMAN SEND ROBES TO BANDAGE AFRICANS
Paul’s testimony is repeated over and over again as persons respond in faith to God’s gift of Christ, as they are given His Spirit and become new creations. I heard of such a miracle recently. The American Red Cross was gathering supplies, medicine, clothing, food and the like for the suffering people of Biafra. Inside one of the boxes that showed up at the collecting depot one day was a letter. It said, "We have recently been converted and because of our conversion we want to try to help. We won’t ever need these again. Can you use them for something?" Inside the box were several Ku Klux Klan sheets. The sheets were cut down to strips and eventually used to bandage the wounds of black persons in Africa.
It could hardly be more dramatic--from symbols of hatred to bandages of love because of the new creation. Nothing else matters, says Paul.
-Maxie Dunnam, "Commentary on Galations"+
Romans 8:1, 28, 37-39 (NIV)
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, …28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
• No condemnation… implies imprisonment… for the wrongs we have done.
• And even the wrongs done to us… God is able to sovereignly work good from.
This is the defining word over the past. How should we relate to our past? As redeemers… re-claimers… restorers.
Let me close with a few ways that I believe become for us…
To reclaim my identity from the past I must…
1. Embrace God’s sovereign ability to work good from all of life’s wrongs.
Important to note that this never implies that we must call all things from our past “god.” It says God can use all things… including bad things.
It also doesn’t imply that we will understand the good that is being worked. Sometimes we will… especially over time… but sometimes within our temporal perspective… we won’t.
But we can embrace that good is at work. The God who took the human choice to crucify Christ… and redeem all humanity… I sovereignly at work.
2. Recognize the difference between disposition (shaped by past) and determination (of future).
He past certainly can shape us. We are born with different dispositions (‘pre-dispositions’) and we develop different dispositions due to the different dynamics that influenced us… our parents, culture, and such. Recognizing this can help us have grace with people who both achieve and struggle in different ways. BUT… it is equally vital that we recognize that disposition is fundamentally different than determination. Recognizing that you are disposed towards certain fears… is not an absolute determination of what you will do… courage is always at work as well and nothing is settled in what can unfold.
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall!
We fell down the first time we tried to walk ... We probably almost drowned the first time we
tried to swim. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs.
Yesterday does not determine today… there always lies the possibility to rise beyond the past.
EX - Today’s Super Bowl game is being played between a team with the most famous record breaking quarterback, Tom Brady… who was initially drafted 199th overall in 2000… not until the sixth round by this team. His team is playing against The New York Giants, the league’s third-youngest team, come into Super Bowl XLII after starting the season 0-2, and falling behind 17-3 at halftime in their third game, the Giants. They lost four times in the final eight games…ending at just 10-6.
Your season isn’t over. Your career isn’t over.
Philippians 1:6 (NLT)
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
3. Enact setting any wrongs to right… through confession (of our wrongs) and forgiveness (of others.)
If we really take hold of God’s redemption… then we will really take part in it. This includes…
• Confession to God…
1 John 1:9 (NIV)
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
I think there is an unspoken tendency to think that the past can be forgiven when we first turn to God… that amazing grace comes to wipe the slate clean… but after thatwe doesn’t really deserve it.
We may tend to believe that God forgives sinner but not own children
• Confession to others…especially those we have wronged…–
Story of returning to gay bar to ask forgiveness to harsh ways I had attacked the establishment when I was a teenager. Yes it was in the far past… but I needed to reclaim my identity as one who was created to redeem.
• Extending forgiveness…cancelling the debt we may hold on others.
4. Let God’s grace silence my shame.
We will work with the gift of guilt.
Guilt is like a ‘check engine light’ that can serve us well… if we know how to resolve it well. When unresolved… the enemy will transform it into shame. … from what we do… to what we are… and now it can claim us define us.
“A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy or not fully valid as a human being.” – Merle Fossum, Facing Shame
John 8:1-11 (Paraphrase story) - Woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus silences the shame that is being projected upon her… but then says… get up.. go and sin no more. Once the shame is silenced…grace has called her.
Shame meets it’s match in God’s grace.
- Shame suggests that I’m defective… Grace declares I am valuable.
- Shame suggests that because I’m flawed I’m unacceptable… Grace says that even though I’m flawed I am priceless to God.
- Shame suggests I must hide from others. Grace declares that God’s opinion is all that matters.
As we close this series… I want to underline a central truth… identity is central for living. Some of us are so concerned about what we are supposed to do. Quit worrying about what you are supposed to do and figure out who you are supposed to be.
When you settle the identity the destiny naturally flows in your life.
We were created as incredible models of our Father. We bear such a striking resemblance to our Father that His enemies hate us just because of who we are!! They will try to get is to forget who we are.
If we have given our identity to others … if we have allowed our view of our physical bodies determine our inner personhood… if we have allowed an image of success to define us… if we have allowed the past to confine us… God says you are my beloved child... reclaim that central and centering identity.
(This message drew upon Mike Breaux’s “Identity Theft” and others drawing upon it including Joseph Rodgers and Wayne A. Lawson.)