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 same.

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 provide blessings.

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.

  1. We live in the age of denial.
    1. The most common way to deal with our pasts in today's society is to deny our pasts.
      1. There are many ways to practice denial, but there are two very common methods.
      2. The first is to declare that the past did not happen.
        1. That did not happen to me.
        2. That did not happen in my family.
        3. I never did anything wrong.
        4. I never did anything ungodly.
        5. I never had a problem with X.
        6. My family was perfect.
        7. My world was perfect.
        8. My life was trouble free.
        9. All the influences in my life were wonderful.
        10. Nothing bad ever happened in my life.
      3. The second is to declare that the past is completely responsible for everything bad in my life.
        1. I had a terrible family.
        2. I had terrible experiences as a child.
        3. I had a terrible life in school.
        4. I had terrible experiences with my peers.
        5. I had a terrible marriage.
        6. The past totally destroyed all opportunity for me.
        7. Therefore, I am not responsible for who I am, and I have no responsibility for my life.
    2. Let's take a moment to put things in perspective.
      1. There are some people who have been so blessed that they really have not had any bad experiences in their past.
      2. There are some people whose primary experiences in the past have been horrible.
      3. But, for most people, the past was a mixed bag of experiences.
        1. They were blessed by some excellent situations and experiences.
        2. They also suffered from some traumatic experiences.
      4. Very few people have no traumatic experiences in their past.
    3. So what do we do with the bad experiences, the traumatic situations or events?
      1. Some people live in what is called denial.
        1. In reality their bad experiences actually happened, but in their minds those experiences never occurred.
        2. 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.
      2. Some people refuse to accept any responsibility for their present life because of what happened in their past.
        1. They live in what I refer to as the victim mentality.
        2. 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 their past.
        3. 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.
      3. Some people own their past.
        1. Their past is their past--it actually happened.
        2. It serves no purpose to deny what actually happened.
        3. So they accept it; it is their past; it was their experience.
        4. In the act of owning their past, they also accept responsibility for their present.
        5. They can make choices, they can grow, and both their present and their future can change.
    4. God wants us to own our past.
      1. God knows that the first step in being freed from our past is owning our past.
      2. God knows that for repentance to fully occur in our hearts and minds, we must own our past.

  2. Many of us are impressed with Paul's dramatic redirection of life.
    1. Prior to conversion to Christ, Paul was an aggressive, hostile man who brought harm and death to other people.
      1. He played a small but visible role in the execution of the Christian Stephen (Acts 7:58 and 8:1).
      2. 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).
      3. He dragged men and women who were Christians from their homes and had them placed in prison (Acts 8:3).
      4. If he found a Christian attending the synagogue assembly, he used force in an attempt to make him denounce Jesus Christ (Acts 26:11).
      5. When he had opportunity, he voted for the execution of Christians (Acts 26:10).
    2. After conversion, Paul was a self-sacrificing, non-violent man who used his mind and words to teach, encourage, and persuade people.
    3. This change occurred for two basic reasons.
      1. First, this man who believed that Jesus was an impostor became the man who placed total faith and confidence in Jesus as the Christ.
      2. Second, Paul owned his past.
        1. 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).
          1. "I arrested them and put them in prison."
          2. "I voted for their executions."
          3. "I physically abused them in synagogues."
        2. He owned his past in writing to fellow Christians (1 Timothy 1:13).
          1. He told Timothy that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor.
          2. He then explained the importance of knowing and accepting his past.
        3. Paul did not deny his past.
          1. He never said that it didn't happen--no attempt at cover-up.
          2. Paul accepted responsibility for what he had done--he did not attempt to blame others for his actions.
      3. 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.

  3. Why is it so important to me for me to own my past? Let me share with you six reasons for owning your past.
    1. First, if I am to be transformed (Romans 12:1, 2), I must own my past.
      1. God's objective in me, as a Christian, is to bring into existence a person and life that has not existed before.
      2. I doubt that change can occur unless I own who and what I was before I entered Christ.
    2. Second, owning my past will not permit me to enter denial or reject responsibility for my life.
    3. Third, owning my past is essential in the process of repentance.
      1. Repentance requires recognition of evil and the decision to redirect life.
      2. I cannot redirect my life until I recognize my evil.
      3. To recognize the evil life that I am rejecting, I must own my past.
    4. Fourth, owning my past enables me to value my forgiveness and my salvation.
      1. If I do not recognize and feel my need for forgiveness, I cannot properly value or appreciate my forgiveness.
      2. If I never felt lost, I cannot value or appreciate my salvation.
      3. Forgiveness and salvation will never mean what God intended them to mean unless I own my past.
    5. Fifth, owning my past provides me my most powerful motivation for commitment.
      1. When I value God's forgiveness, commitment becomes the heartbeat of my salvation.
      2. I am not committed because I have to be; I am committed because I want to be.
      3. I realize that it is impossible to do enough to express my appreciation for the grace and mercy that saved me and sustains me.
    6. Sixth, owning my past results in a living, growing love for God that literally consumes my life.
      1. That love is the basis of my service.
      2. I serve God willingly, freely, and completely because I love God.
      3. Owning my past deepens and matures my love.

  4. Please understand that owning our past cannot change God's opinion of us.
    1. God sees us in the clear, full knowledge of who we are and what we are.
      1. God's view of us is not limited, obscured, or distorted.
      2. He does not see us as we choose for Him to see us, or as we decide to reveal ourselves to Him.
      3. We only keep people from knowing us by wearing masks; masks cannot hide us from God.
      4. God knows everything we feel, we think, and we do--all our emotions, attitudes, and motives.
      5. Owning our past creates no problems for God--when we own our past we are only admitting to ourselves what God has always known.
    2. Owning our past cannot separate us from God, but denying our past can drive a wedge between us and God.
      1. The two most common reasons for denying the past are fear and selfishness.
      2. That kind of fear always drives a wedge between us and God.
        1. That kind of fear is never a blessing.
        2. That kind of fear is never a source of spiritual blessing.
      3. Selfishness makes us our own god.
        1. When we are selfish, we are always in competition with God.
        2. We see God's teachings, God's principles, God's values as robbing us.
        3. In that selfishness:
          1. Loving God with all our being means we lose.
          2. Loving our fellowman as we love ourselves means we lose.
          3. Generosity, kindness, showing mercy, commitment, service, etc. mean that we lose.
      4. Fear and selfishness are denial's twin children.
    3. When we work hard to deny our past, we only resurrect our past.
      1. By denying the past we empower the past by breathing new life into it.
      2. 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.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 20 April 1997

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