Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Passing Over the Past

On Sunday in my "learn-about-the-church-before-you-join-it" Sunday school class, we made a list. Since everybody loves lists, save for cruiseline passengers, I want to share it with you all.

We were discussing stewardship, the responsibility we have to use the gifts that God has given to each of us. The teacher acknowledged that money is the most-talked about aspect of stewardship. He added time and talent as other items of which we need be good stewards. Thus, we had the Killa' T's - Tithe, Time, and Talent.

If there's anything folks love more than lists, it's alliteration.

He then proceeded to ask us what else we are stewards of. Wha?!?!?! I thought to myself. I was enjoying a good ol' pat on the back for thinkig of these three; surely nothing else could be out there. Everyone thinks about money in this discussion. Great thinkers such as I come up with time and talent. Surely there can not be anything else! If there is, it better start with T, which makes it all the more unlikely the list contained anything else.

Forcing humility on me, the class began to list:

Leisure
Education
Physical Body
Possessions
Thoughts
The Earth
Our Past

These all refreshingly broadened my view of the subject, as I was utterly ignorant of these responsibilities before the discussion. The last one really caught me off guard though. As a general rule, I do not like to deal with my past, especially the part of it that happened before I began to know Jesus. Come to think of it, I do not like to deal with things that happened last week.

On the surface, Christian thought argues that I do not need to. Jesus died on the cross, forgiving me of all the sins I have done, do, and will do. On the cross, he dealt with my past, so there is no need to dwell on it. Guilt, after all, is a deadly thing. It is more pleasant for me, and seemingly biblical, to simply erase it all and move forward with my new self, clothed in Christ.

Yet, there on the white board sits "Our Past."

'Tis a trustworthy statement that Jesus died on the cross for sinners, among whom I am foremost. My past sins are forgiven. Guilt is dead. Yet, our God not only forgiving, he is redemptive. That is, he brings forth good from bad. Not only does he erase the bad that we have done, he uses it for our good and the good of those around us.

We see this very practically in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 where Paul writes of the "the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." Our past experiences help us to care for those around us. For example, my historical lack of faith in God's sufficiency has often led me to over-exertion, stressful anxiety, and functional atheism. This past, while painful and embarrassing, helps me to recognize this tendancy in others and convey to them that God has better things for them than stress, that he is actively working for them, that he has shown this to be true in my life. It is easier to empathize with and care for those limping down a familiar path.

Stewarding our pasts also teaches us of God's character. Observors were amazed at Christ when he claimed to have the power and authority to forgive sins. Divine forgiveness is a big deal. But our God does not cease at this miracle. He does not only defeat sin. He routs it.

God takes our hideous pasts, forgives us of them, and turns them for good. That is unexplainable power. That is unsearchable goodness. That is unspeakable holiness. These things are God.

Forgetting my past causes me to forget how great God is. The deeper I understand my sin to be, the more amazing grace becomes to my limited sight. And nothing reminds me of my sin more than my past. Freedom, love, and eternal life are great things. How great is our God that he brings forth these things from the hopelessness of anxiety, lust, and death.

God does not forget our pasts. He enters into them, engages them, and rips forth goodness from that which we thought lost. Let us, made in his image, do likewise, embracing our past to care well for others while being moved to worship a God who claims a victory beyond that which we can imagine.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Along the lines of past and God... If you look back at the Old Testament, God had the Israelites build alters in places where he had helped them. Then, when they look back (or their kids ask them, "what is that random pile of rocks doing there?") they can physically see where God has helped them, has come through when they didn't believe that he could.

For me, that's where journaling comes in. It helps to be able to look back at times and see where God has given me strength to over come temptation or to stick up for what I believe in. Then that gives me faith in him for what I am going through now. The comforting thing is that God knows that we are severely lacking in the faith department a lot of the time so he gave the Israelites a physical symbol to remember his faithfulness by. And for me, I use journaling as that symbol.