OWNING OUR PAST
This week will be a very difficult week for many people in this area. The first
anniversary of a tragedy is commonly an emotional, grief filled occasion. A year ago
today, everything was normal, opportune, and progressing well. Things were stable and
routine within the community. People's lives were following their usual course.
Then, a year ago tomorrow, in a matter of minutes, things radically, abruptly
changed. The tornado struck, and nothing was normal. What had been an opportune
life for many was literally blown away. It would take months for life to return to normal
for some. For some, life has still not returned to normal. For many, life will never be the
There were many good things that happened after that disaster. There was an
outpouring of love and concern. Many whose property was unharmed altered their lives
and schedules to assist those who were devastated. Without effort or difficulty, those of
you who lived in this area a year ago tomorrow can remember where you were and what
you were doing when the tornado stuck. You have vivid memories of what happened in
the days that immediately followed.
As you or your family or your friends experience the grief of remembering these
next few days, I hope that you will remember with honesty and with gratitude. Be honest
about all the things you experienced and felt. Be grateful for the help and support that
was given. Be grateful for the life lessons that you learned.
When it comes to remembering the past, we prefer selective memories. We like
to remember the good and to forget the bad. We don't care to be reminded of events or
situations that revealed our mortality, that declared that we really are not in control, or
that proved life can change completely in the flick of an eyelid.
The past gives all of us problems. When we want to live in the past, we have
problems. When we hate the past, we have problems. When the past controls our
present, we have problems. When the past destroys our future, we have problems. In
many people's lives, the past has greater potential to create problems than it has to
So, individually, personally, what should each of us do with our past? We should
own our past. It is ours. Whatever happened actually happen. Each of us can reduce
the power of the past to create problems in our lives by owning the past.
- We live in the age of denial.
- The most common way to deal with our pasts in today's society is to deny our
- There are many ways to practice denial, but there are two very common
- The first is to declare that the past did not happen.
- That did not happen to me.
- That did not happen in my family.
- I never did anything wrong.
- I never did anything ungodly.
- I never had a problem with X.
- My family was perfect.
- My world was perfect.
- My life was trouble free.
- All the influences in my life were wonderful.
- Nothing bad ever happened in my life.
- The second is to declare that the past is completely responsible for everything
bad in my life.
- I had a terrible family.
- I had terrible experiences as a child.
- I had a terrible life in school.
- I had terrible experiences with my peers.
- I had a terrible marriage.
- The past totally destroyed all opportunity for me.
- Therefore, I am not responsible for who I am, and I have no responsibility
for my life.
- Let's take a moment to put things in perspective.
- There are some people who have been so blessed that they really have not
had any bad experiences in their past.
- There are some people whose primary experiences in the past have been
- But, for most people, the past was a mixed bag of experiences.
- They were blessed by some excellent situations and experiences.
- They also suffered from some traumatic experiences.
- Very few people have no traumatic experiences in their past.
- So what do we do with the bad experiences, the traumatic situations or events?
- Some people live in what is called denial.
- In reality their bad experiences actually happened, but in their minds those
experiences never occurred.
- Though they struggle in life on a daily basis because the problems of their
past were never resolved, in their minds those problems never occurred.
- Some people refuse to accept any responsibility for their present life because
of what happened in their past.
- They live in what I refer to as the victim mentality.
- Because they were victimized in their past, they still think and act like a
victim--they must be who they are because of what happened to them in
- Since they must be who they are because of their past experiences, they
accept no responsibility for anything occurring in their lives, and they
accept no responsibility to change themselves or their lives.
- Some people own their past.
- Their past is their past--it actually happened.
- It serves no purpose to deny what actually happened.
- So they accept it; it is their past; it was their experience.
- In the act of owning their past, they also accept responsibility for their
- They can make choices, they can grow, and both their present and their
future can change.
- God wants us to own our past.
- God knows that the first step in being freed from our past is owning our past.
- God knows that for repentance to fully occur in our hearts and minds, we must
own our past.
- Many of us are impressed with Paul's dramatic redirection of life.
- Prior to conversion to Christ, Paul was an aggressive, hostile man who brought
harm and death to other people.
- He played a small but visible role in the execution of the Christian Stephen
(Acts 7:58 and 8:1).
- He directed a house-to-house search for Christians in the city of Jerusalem,
intent on destroying the existence of the church (Acts 8:3).
- He dragged men and women who were Christians from their homes and had
them placed in prison (Acts 8:3).
- If he found a Christian attending the synagogue assembly, he used force in an
attempt to make him denounce Jesus Christ (Acts 26:11).
- When he had opportunity, he voted for the execution of Christians (Acts
- After conversion, Paul was a self-sacrificing, non-violent man who used his mind
and words to teach, encourage, and persuade people.
- This change occurred for two basic reasons.
- First, this man who believed that Jesus was an impostor became the man who
placed total faith and confidence in Jesus as the Christ.
- Second, Paul owned his past.
- For example, He owned his past in a Roman court before an elite group of
government officials, "In the past I did many things that were hostile to the
name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9-11).
- "I arrested them and put them in prison."
- "I voted for their executions."
- "I physically abused them in synagogues."
- He owned his past in writing to fellow Christians (1 Timothy 1:13).
- He told Timothy that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a
- He then explained the importance of knowing and accepting his past.
- Paul did not deny his past.
- He never said that it didn't happen--no attempt at cover-up.
- Paul accepted responsibility for what he had done--he did not attempt
to blame others for his actions.
- Because Paul knew that he was forgiven, because he confidently trusted
God's forgiveness, he did not retain the guilt of what he had done; but he
retained the memory of what he had done.
- Why is it so important to me for me to own my past? Let me share with you
six reasons for owning your past.
- First, if I am to be transformed (Romans 12:1, 2), I must own my past.
- God's objective in me, as a Christian, is to bring into existence a person and
life that has not existed before.
- I doubt that change can occur unless I own who and what I was before I
- Second, owning my past will not permit me to enter denial or reject responsibility
for my life.
- Third, owning my past is essential in the process of repentance.
- Repentance requires recognition of evil and the decision to redirect life.
- I cannot redirect my life until I recognize my evil.
- To recognize the evil life that I am rejecting, I must own my past.
- Fourth, owning my past enables me to value my forgiveness and my salvation.
- If I do not recognize and feel my need for forgiveness, I cannot properly value
or appreciate my forgiveness.
- If I never felt lost, I cannot value or appreciate my salvation.
- Forgiveness and salvation will never mean what God intended them to mean
unless I own my past.
- Fifth, owning my past provides me my most powerful motivation for commitment.
- When I value God's forgiveness, commitment becomes the heartbeat of my
- I am not committed because I have to be; I am committed because I want to
- I realize that it is impossible to do enough to express my appreciation for the
grace and mercy that saved me and sustains me.
- Sixth, owning my past results in a living, growing love for God that literally
consumes my life.
- That love is the basis of my service.
- I serve God willingly, freely, and completely because I love God.
- Owning my past deepens and matures my love.
- Please understand that owning our past cannot change God's opinion of us.
- God sees us in the clear, full knowledge of who we are and what we are.
- God's view of us is not limited, obscured, or distorted.
- He does not see us as we choose for Him to see us, or as we decide to reveal
ourselves to Him.
- We only keep people from knowing us by wearing masks; masks cannot hide
us from God.
- God knows everything we feel, we think, and we do--all our emotions,
attitudes, and motives.
- Owning our past creates no problems for God--when we own our past we are
only admitting to ourselves what God has always known.
- Owning our past cannot separate us from God, but denying our past can drive a
wedge between us and God.
- The two most common reasons for denying the past are fear and selfishness.
- That kind of fear always drives a wedge between us and God.
- That kind of fear is never a blessing.
- That kind of fear is never a source of spiritual blessing.
- Selfishness makes us our own god.
- When we are selfish, we are always in competition with God.
- We see God's teachings, God's principles, God's values as robbing us.
- In that selfishness:
- Loving God with all our being means we lose.
- Loving our fellowman as we love ourselves means we lose.
- Generosity, kindness, showing mercy, commitment, service, etc. mean
that we lose.
- Fear and selfishness are denial's twin children.
- When we work hard to deny our past, we only resurrect our past.
- By denying the past we empower the past by breathing new life into it.
- We breathe new life into it by giving control of our present to our past.
Do you own your past? Or does your past own you? Every day of your life, give
your past, your present, and yourself to God.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 20 April 1997
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