Vision

In Paul's second letter to Timothy he writes, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) My prayer for this ministry is that by rightly dividing the Scriptures, I might be able to facilitate all those aspects of the Scriptures to the benefit of all those who visit this website.

Mission

The mission of this ministry is to be consistent with Jesus' original command to his disciples: "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" Matthew 28:18-20

Personal Disclosure

I am a fellow traveler who doesn't have all the answers and still makes many mistakes. However, I am desperately in love with Jesus Christ, the one and only King of kings, and I am so amazed that he knows exactly who I am and yet still died on the cross for me, then rose from the dead and called me to be His follower!

God's Message To You

"Dear Child,

I wanted you to know just how much I loved you so I sent my only Son, Jesus, to tell you and show you. If you make the decision to believe in Him, then you and I will be able to spend eternity together! I Love You!" (John 3:16 paraphrase)

Method

“Here there is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment.

Here there is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think.

Here is vibrant evangelicalism—freedom to think within the bounds laid down by Scripture.”

Dr. Vernon Grounds

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ghosts Of The Past

(Audio Version; Music: "Rescue"--by Jared Anderson--WorshipMob--Real Live Music)



Introduction

            I read something very sad this week that came across my desk. A pregnant girl who went by the initial “h” penned an open letter to the unborn child that she planned on aborting. In the letter she spoke to her baby about not being prepared to have a child and not bringing a child into the world unprepared in the same way that she was brought into the world by a mother she seemed to think was unprepared to bring a life into this world. The letter was very moving as “h” talked about wanting only the best for her child that she believed she could not provide. She called her baby “Little Thing.” Perhaps it was a term of endearment or perhaps it was a coping mechanism to deal with the reality that she was preparing to kill an innocent child. The purpose of this writing is not to debate the issue of abortion. At this point, if you’re not convinced that mothers should not be allowed to kill their own children then there’s probably nothing I will be able to say that will convince you. No the purpose of this lesson is to address something else “h” said in her letter that I believe is at the root of her belief that killing her baby is her best option. She wrote, “It wouldn’t be fair to bring a new life into a world where I am still haunted by ghosts of the life I’ve lived.” I wept when I read those words. Whatever her past mistakes may have been, they are haunting her and driving her to perpetuate the cycle of making more mistakes. Sadly, I fear her mistakes will continue to haunt her and drive her to even greater mistakes.

            We all make mistakes. It’s not possible to go through life without making mistakes—it’s part and parcel of being sinful human beings. Some of those mistakes started out well-intentioned and some evolved from far less noble intentions. I’ve made more mistakes than I can even remember. Some of us have made some terribly, awful mistakes—mistakes that have wounded others and ourselves. Some mistakes lead to consequences that have a fairly short shelf-life. Some mistakes lead to a lifetime of consequences. However, God can use all the mistakes of our lives to fulfill his purposes. God has made it possible for us to move beyond our mistakes, find forgiveness for our mistakes, and heal from our mistakes. We don’t have to be driven by our mistakes to make more mistakes. The decisions we make today don’t have to be in response to past mistakes. We don’t have to be haunted by Ghosts Of The Past.

Subject Text

Philippians 3:12-16

            12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Context

            It’s important to remember that Paul is writing this letter to the church in Philippi while he was sitting in a Roman prison. Paul has endured much since he first encountered the risen Christ. He endured multiple beatings with a rod, death threats, shipwrecks, exposure, severe hunger and thirst, 39 lashes five times, sleepless nights, repeated imprisonments, danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, Gentiles, city, wilderness, and false believers. In short, Paul’s conversion meant a one-way ticket to a life of hardship. But hardship was only the journey not the final destination. Paul’s focus and goal was always beyond the journey to the final destination of heaven when all his sufferings would be over and the brokenness and decay of his physical body would be transformed into a glorious body much like Christ’s resurrected body. What’s really amazing is not the road Paul travelled after his conversion but the path Paul was on before his conversion. Before Paul’s conversion, most of the people of Paul’s day would have given their right arm to have what Paul had. Paul lived a charmed life; He wasn’t just a Jew but a Jew’s Jew. He wasn’t just a Pharisee, he was fanatical about observing the Law. He wasn’t just zealous about Judaism, he was zealous to destroy those who might threaten Judaism. Paul had it all; fame and fortune. The only thing Paul didn’t have was peace. He was chasing peace with God through his own efforts of meticulously keeping the Law; of being good and avoiding mistakes. The only problem—everyone makes mistakes and Paul made some really bad ones. No matter how hard he tried and no matter how diligent he was as a respected keeper of the Law, there would always be those mistakes; mistakes that would drive him to make even more mistakes; mistakes that would haunt him like Ghost Of The Past.

Text Analysis

            In the verses leading up to v. 12, Paul itemized his credentials as a religious leader prior to his conversion. His audience would have been well aware of the benefits that accrued to those credentials. Paul didn’t need anything or want anything until that fateful day on the road to Damascus. Once he encountered Christ, he realized that all he had and all he was paled in comparison to what he could have and what he could be. Once Paul made the choice to allow his righteousness to come through Christ’s efforts instead of his own efforts, his perspective on reality changed. Before his conversion, Paul assumed his lineage, title, and power were a net gain—religious success. After his conversion, he realized that they were actually a net loss because all those things—the lineage, the title, the power, made him believe he could rely on himself instead of God for his righteousness. What does that mean? Paul was trying to save himself through self-achieved righteousness. The end result was religion not relationship and God wanted relationship not religion when He sent Jesus. After encountering Jesus, Paul gave up his pursuit of righteousness through religion and began to trust God for his righteousness through his relationship with Jesus. Any other perceived gain through religious activity, or as Paul puts it, through the keeping of the Law, was ultimately determined by Paul to be nothing more than garbage or literally in the Greek, nothing more than a pile of shit. Consequently, after his conversion, Paul’s primary objective was to be in an ever-growing relationship with Jesus and that put him on a path of experiencing the same hardships as the Master with the hope that he would experience the same glory as the Master at the resurrection. Paul knew he was forgiven, not perfect. Nevertheless, Paul had no intention of allowing his imperfections to be an obstacle to being in a growing relationship with Jesus. Paul’s mistakes were not an obstacle for Jesus so Paul doesn’t allow them to be an obstacle from moving forward; from fulfilling his mission; from always growing closer to Jesus. Paul knew that his conversion experience didn’t mean he had arrived at the pinnacle of the life of faith, he knew that it inaugurated a faith journey that would reach its climax not in this life but in the next at the resurrection. “There are certain things which the Christian must strive after, such as hospitality (Rom 12:13), mutual peace (Rom 12:19; 1 Pet. 3:11; Heb. 12:14), holiness, love (1 Cor 14:1), doing good (1 Thess 5:15), and righteousness (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22). These are lasting objectives in the life of faith, which has as its goal the attaining of the resurrection from the dead. Paul sees the Christian life as ultimately directed to this goal.”[1]

            Again, Paul is under no illusion that he has reached the goal of his faith according to vv. 13-14. He realizes that he’s made mistakes along the way, but he refuses to allow those mistakes to paralyze him into quitting nor does he resign himself to simply being a failure. Although Paul hadn’t achieved his final goal, it appears that he has mastered living under God’s mercy and grace. Knowing that God is infinitely merciful, Paul simply put his mistakes behind him and moved on. Of his mistakes, Paul says he “forgot” about them and pressed forward. Don’t get this wrong! Paul’s not saying he ignored his mistakes, he’s saying he forgot about them—there’s a difference. Ignoring mistakes never serves to help us grow up. Instead, ignoring mistakes leaves us immature and susceptible to making the same mistakes. The trajectory of what Paul is saying is that he faced his mistakes, acknowledged his mistakes, asked for forgiveness for his mistakes when necessary, allowed the mistakes to force corrective action, then he put the mistakes behind him and moved on. When you read this, you might be saying to yourself, “Yeah but you don’t know what I’ve done. There’s no way I could forget the awful things I’ve done. And even if I try to forget, too many people know what I’ve done and they won’t ever let me forget.” You’re right. I don’t know what you’ve done but I do know a little bit about what Paul did, and his legacy, both good and bad, has been recorded in the most read book in all of history. Paul might have been able to forget and move on but we remember very well that before Paul met the risen Christ on his way to Damascus to continue on his quest to persecute the Church, Paul filled the role of being the complimentary coat-check boy as a crowd of religious leaders dragged Stephen out into the street and stoned him to death for preaching the Gospel to them. You can read about it in the Book of Acts and you’ll find Paul approving of it all. That little episode along with other incidents of persecution were part of Paul’s past. They were all events that could have crippled him from being the Paul who authored much of our New Testament. Instead, Paul leaned into the grace he received through the forgiveness of his sins and moved on to do all God prepared for him to do. I’m pretty sure Paul didn’t literally forget his past and I’m pretty sure people used his past to try and disqualify his witness. Nevertheless, Paul refused to allow the Ghosts Of The Past to dictate his obedience, his faithfulness, or his future decisions. Paul knew he had to keep his eye on the finish line which was ahead of him instead of the events of his life that were now behind him if he was going to succeed in achieving the goal of finishing strong and winning the prize that awaited him. “He cannot look back. He cannot cloud his mind with past memories. He strains every muscle in his body to achieve forward motion. Eyes focus on the finish line. Paul forgets the guilt of persecuting the church. He forgets the pain of prison and physical punishment. He forgets the frustration of disobedient church members and false teachers. He looks ahead to see the resurrection, where he will meet Jesus face-to-face.”[2]

            It can be a little confusing when we get to vv. 15-16 because they don’t appear to be connected very well with the preceding verses or those that come after. Unfortunately, that’s because the NIV (and a number of other translations) doesn’t translate one of the original Greek words from the text to add the word “therefore” or “so” at the beginning of v. 15. Nevertheless, it does belong in the final translation which would then tie it directly to the previous verses. It’s a minor detail I know but it serves to anchor the “view” or perspective Paul says mature Christians should have—learn to forget what has past and focus on the task before us. Additionally, we shouldn’t focus on our imperfections or where we still fall short in our Christian journey to be faithful but to build on the transformations that have already taken place in our lives. Just like you can’t win a race at the starting line or during the middle of the race, we won’t be all God intends us to be until we complete our Christian journey; until we are fully transformed at the resurrection. “Paul defines the meaning of the word teleioi as mature. His definition of maturity is contained in the encouragement that we should take such a view of things as he as just expressed in the previous paragraph. Maturity is taking Paul’s view of things, having Paul’s attitude, and adopting Paul’s way of thinking…When Paul decided to consider everything a loss because of the surpassing knowledge of knowing Christ ([Phil] 3:7-8), his attitude reflected that of the one who made himself nothing,…humbled himself and was obedient unto death—even death on the cross! ([Phil] 2:7-8).”[3] Paul’s not saying that he’s better than anyone else only that they, and by extension we, can use his life and attitude as a living model of how they should live. He’s also not insisting on complete agreement as to all aspects of what maturity looks like. “Paul emphasizes the importance of having the same attitude on the major points of principle and recognizes the reality of a difference of attitude on some minor points. The difference of attitude is not radical, but only a difference on some points…He recognizes that there will be differences on some points even when members of the community sincerely desire to have the same attitude in the pursuit of Christ as Paul has. Paul does not demand total uniformity or coerce absolute agreement on every point. Without any sign of anxiety or resentment, he allows his readers freedom to discover how to develop a mature attitude with the assurance that God will make clear to them how to handle their differences.”[4]

Application

            I love Paul’s attitude and ability to forget and press on but I know from personal experience that it’s not as easy as Paul makes it sound. For some of us, forgetting what is behind means relearning who we were created to be. Let me try to explain: When I was growing up, my dad had little patience for my mistakes. When he wasn’t in a position to crack me in the head for some mistake, he would chastise me by calling me a “dumb jackass.” It sounded somewhat innocuous in German, which is what we spoke around the house, but the effect on me was the same. Eventually, he didn’t need to do or say anything whenever I did something wrong—I just replayed the tape in my head that I was a “dumb jackass.” You’d think that a person could outgrow such childish things but something happens in the mind of a child when something is repeated enough times by someone who has influence over them—they begin to believe it. Add to that other harsh words, a few ill-timed beatings, and the way God intended us to think about ourselves becomes rewired to be something God never intended. God never intended for us to be defined or controlled by our mistakes. For me personally, until my mid twenties, I allowed a life’s worth of mistakes to define me and I spent most of my time being driven by the Ghosts Of The Past—one moment trying to prove they didn’t define me, and the next, surrendering to their influence over me. It wasn’t until I surrendered myself fully to the One who I claimed as my Savior that I began the process of relearning who I was always created to be. It hasn’t been an easy or smooth road. Sometimes I still hear the Ghosts Of The Past howling at me and sometimes I still listen. But I also know that over the last thirty years, their voices aren’t the only ones I hear and more often than not, they aren’t the first voice I hear. More and more, I hear the forgiving voice of Jesus talk me through my mistakes to help me grow, forgive me and then help me move on. It’s a magnificent relationship of love that drives me to strive to become more like Jesus every day. I am learning to lean into God’s grace found in a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t ignore my mistakes but I’m learning that mistakes are sometimes what I do not who I am. I’m slowly learning how to put my mistakes behind me and press on to becoming the person God created me to be and do the things God has ordained for me to do.

After reading about “h”, the woman I told you about at the beginning, I spent a good part of the next morning praying for her. I prayed that she would somehow change her mind and not kill her child. However, what I really prayed for was that she would encounter Christ at some point. As awful as it is to kill her own child, I know how hopeless it is to live in the shadow of past mistakes; to be driven by the Ghosts Of The Past. I can guarantee that this mistake won’t solve any of her problems. In fact, this mistake will only serve to add a dead baby to the ghosts that will haunt her into making still other mistakes.

            If your story is similar to that of “h”, I want you to know that I’m praying for you too. I’m praying that you don’t allow yourself to be defined and driven by your past mistakes. I’m praying that you will instead take your mistakes to Jesus and listen to His voice of grace, mercy, and love and not the voices that have been driving you to go from one mistake to the next in your life. Most of you have never met me and only know me through this ministry, but I’m asking you to trust me when I tell you that you can pack up all your mistakes, as awful as they might be, and drop them at the feet of Jesus without fear of being condemned. There isn’t anything, anything, you can do that Jesus can’t forgive. There are no events in your life, none, no matter how awful they might be, that God can’t use to help you grow into the person God created you to be. I promise you that if you will surrender the mistakes of your life to God, He will begin to direct your steps toward an amazing life of relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. Give your life fully to Jesus and you will be driven by the hope of future glory and not by the Ghosts Of The Past.





[1] Colin Brown, Gen. Ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), pp. 806-807.
[2] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians—Holman New Testament Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), p. 245.
[3] G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians—The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009). p. 258.
[4] Ibid., p. 259.