Archive for January, 2015

A New Series on Acceptance – my thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:13-15a (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the past and must only carry life-lessons with me.”

I used to feel that the more energy I expended on negative things in my life the more likely I was to fix them. Actually just the opposite is true.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our problems or escape reality. So often the energy we could be expending on effectively dealing with today’s problems gets diffused by carrying unnecessary baggage with us along life’s journey.

Even though I think I’ve made peace with my past there’s often a reminder that I’m not as far along in “letting go” as I think I am.  Sometimes reality has to hit before we realize how our past is robbing us of joy and contentment in the present.

Last year I really suffered with my back. When the problem started I immediately made an appointment with my physiotherapist. After she couldn’t work out the problems after almost six months of treatments I discovered Tony a local Osteopath who was recommended by some trusted friends. Tony found the solution to my back problems but also reminded me of what I knew in my head but in reality wasn’t practicing.

Tony indicated that not only were my back problems related to a past physical injury that was never resolved but they were also related to my emotional state which wasn’t healthy either. He said, “Jesse, you have to let go! You’re still holding on to a lot of things and tension is keeping your problem going! I have no clue what it is, but you have to find it and let it go.”

My weekly sessions with Tony ended up being consistent reminders to me that I cannot change the past and have to “let it go.” No matter how much I try to grasp the things that don’t seem to be resolved the only things worth holding onto are positive lessons learned through life’s failures and success. It seems we always learn a lot more through failure than success.

I think this is where the Apostle Paul seeks to take us in the passage quoted above. Even though he had a lot of things going for him as an individual, as an apostle and leader in the early church he was focused on the present and the future. The task of being a builder in God’s church in the early stages of its existence was too great a task for him to be bogged down by the past – precisely where he could not live and what he could not change.

But Paul also had the personal resolve of knowing God intimately through Jesus and was fully convinced of his eternal destiny. He took every opportunity to present Jesus Christ to others and proclaim the message of the Cross – that God’s sacrifice of His Son, when accepted, resolved his past and gave him everything he needed for the future.

To say that Paul had his eye on a larger picture would be an understatement at best.

So often when I get focused on the past I insist on carrying fear, wounds, grudges, burdens, shame, anxiety and bitterness with me. In doing so I am focused on the small picture. It usually just has “me” in the picture and no one else. We often carry scars with us that tell a story of difficult situations and perhaps others that harmed us. Carrying all the negatives with us will lead to depression and despair. I know, I’ve gone there far too often.

When we refuse to “let go” of the past we lose sight of the fact that God in His greatness can run the universe. He’s been doing it from eternity past and we can trust Him with the present and future no matter where we have come from.

So let go of the past and be grateful in the present. Be grateful for where you have come from and the lessons you carry with you instead of getting mired in the details. Be grateful for where you are headed, but be sure you are headed in the right direction.

Ultimately the only place secure in this world is the eternal world to come where we will be free from every snare that kept us in bondage during this life. There is One who goes ahead of us who is quite willing to take us there.

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No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

It’s a common human trait to get somewhat reflective as we start into a new year.  If you are like me, I tend to see old patterns and habits that seem very difficult to break out of and starting a New Year seems to be a good time to make a new resolve to let go of the past and form new habits for a healthier future.

One easy way to spot habits in life is to look at temptations we face that seem to crop up again and again. In my own experience I tend to see a pattern with these temptations that seem to keep pursuing me month after month and year after year.

Recently I began to probe why this might be the case. Some have suggested that a simple way to look at temptation is to reflect on a legitimate human need or desire and see temptation as a quest to meet that need in an inappropriate way.

In doing so recently I returned to the scene of an incident in my life in order to ask myself, “What was really going on there?”

In the days of my youth in Texas I would often go to a Methodist church camp that was located in the town of Glen Rose, the same town were my mother had grown up. My mother’s brother and his family still lived in Glen Rose and we had spent many days of my youth in their home which was located less than a mile from camp just down the Paluxy River.

One day while at a youth camp during free time I realized that I could sneak out, walk right down to the river and follow the shoreline right up to a hill near where my uncle, aunt and cousins lived. One afternoon without the knowledge of the camp kids or staff I took a little walk and visited my relatives!

When my plan worked to perfection by making it back without anyone’s notice I decided to try it again from time to time. A very clever way to add a little spice to my camping experience, but obviously outside the bounds of what was appropriate.

A few years later at an older teen camp, I got to bragging to Darrell, one of the other campers, about my antics in previous years. I also knew that there was local movie theater (cinema) in the town of Glen Rose and it wouldn’t be very difficult to sneak out via the river, see a film and sneak back in without anyone knowing!  So that’s just what I did along with Darrell, my new recruit in crime.

Looking back on these boyhood antics I see that there were certain needs in my life that were getting met by these excursions – needs for adventure and a feeling of being special – no one knew the secrets of Glen Rose and my ability to sneak in and out of a camp! A small and insignificant boy (so I felt) could be a magician and do something clandestine – so I thought!

That day Darrell and I did make it down the river and out to the cinema. To this day I still remember the film. About half way through we were shocked when the director of the camp walked down the aisle and sat down right next to us! Someone had blown our cover and we were caught in the act!

Suddenly the great and powerful plan for significance had fallen completely apart.

I’m seeing now that much bigger and more significant temptations and failings in my life have followed a similar pattern.

When I get to feeling small and insignificant I intentionally try harder to manufacture something that will build my sagging ego and fulfill an unmet need for significance.

I can easily feel that temptation is running after me when in actual fact I’m running after temptation. I’m seeking some experience outside of my relationship with God, like a trip down the river on my own, to find meaning and significance that only my LORD and Maker can legitimately provide.

When we begin to see temptation as a pursuit more than something pursuing us I think we’re in a better place to see what’s really going on there.

Where do you go when you need care, love, significance or satisfaction? All are legitimate human needs. What are the patterns that continually trip you up and what are you seeking in the process? I think honestly probing these questions may provide significant clues to breaking patterns that continue to bring us down.

For those of us, like myself, who claim to be followers of Jesus, we have One who know us intimately and always offers us not only Himself but a way of escape in every temptation we face.

That’s good news for all of us at any time of the year.

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