Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” ~ 2 Cor. 5:17

Did you ever wish you could change your past? Do you ever think that maybe what you've done is the worst thing and that there is nothing that can change and you're doomed to be a "bad person" for the rest of your life? I think we all have moments in our past that we wish could be different, that we wish we could be better or do better.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I have a soft spot for villains and "bad guys." Like Heathcliff from the book Wuthering Heights, Lex Luthor from the TV show Smallville, or Regina and Rumplestiltskin on the TV show Once Upon a Time. What I have is hope for them - hope that if they received a little more love, affection, affirmation...then they might be able to rise above their evil nature and become good. We all want love and sometimes when we don't get it, some choose to seek out attention in negative ways. Some choose to hurt other people, some choose to hurt themselves.

We are created with a deep desire for love. God made us this way and in a perfect world we would receive this love easily. But our world is broken and sinful and often we don't receive love from our parents and our family or friends the way God intended. We feel lost and alone and unloved. We seek any kind of attention and "love" that seems to fill our need. Or we turn hard and bitter and lash out at anyone who tries to get close. We feel love is a lie and not to be trusted. All of this can lead to choices that we might come to regret.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” ~ Romans 3:23-24

But there is hope - and His name is Jesus! God loves us - individually and unconditionally - and even though our world is broken He created a plan to allow us to come back into relationship with Him. By the life and death and resurrection  of His only Son Jesus, we are able to confess our sins and accept His sacrifice in our place and have that loving relationship we've been searching for! Isn't God good? He's made a way for our past to be forgiven and forgotten and for us to have a hope and a future.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19

The experiences of our past may be difficult and we may wish that we didn't have to go through them. But God can use all of our experiences and bring good. Sometimes through the ability to share with someone that they aren't alone - that they aren't the only one. Sometimes our struggles help us to realize that we can't do something on our own and that we need to depend on God. Every single thing we go through helps to shape us into the person we are and how we deal with those experiences helps to determine who we will be.

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

“It’s the hard things that God really uses. The things we hate going through, the things that push us to our limits. When we look back, we may never want to go through the pain again, but we’re grateful for the results.” ~ Jeri Odell

“But if I would show the good that came of it I must talk about things other than the good.” ~ Dante

When we come to discover that we aren't capable on our own, that we need something more...and we realize that what we need is Someone more, that is when there is light at the end of the tunnel. When we can see God for Who He is and we accept the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. It isn't about doing something or working hard or becoming "good". All we have to do is plop our messed up, hurting, scarred and unloved selves in God's open arms and say "I'm sorry. I need You. I love You." We aren't expected to be perfect, we don't have to be "fixed." It's not about what we do, but about what God will do in us.

"Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.” ~ Anne Lamott

“God loves you not because of who you are or what you have done but because of who he is. Our behavior does not impact the heart and character of God. We think that on good days, God is proud of us; and in our not-so-attractive moments, he loves us less. This is applying human logic to the heart of God, and it will always come up short. There is life-changing truth in the message of these three little words: God loves you!” ~ Sheila Walsh

As we turn over our lives to God, and turn over our past, He begins to work in us and the more we trust Him the more like Him we'll become. As we come to know God by reading His Word and speaking to Him through prayer we start to see how much He loves us. As the more we feel His love, the more we will want to chose to do those things He calls us to do. Not because He will love us more, but because we love Him more. Just like in our relationships with other people - when we love someone we want to spend time with them, to do special things for them and with them, we want to shower them with our love and attention and affection. And no one who loves us - even those who love us a lot - can ever love us as much and as unconditionally as God loves us.

I read this quote somewhere (wish I could remember where) and it's been taped to my computer at work ever since as a daily reminder:

God didn't even love you....He so loved you.

Not - "Oh, I guess God loves me, even though I did this and that and I fail and I'm not perfect and so on and so on..."

But - "God loves you soooooooo much, not because of anything you've done or not done, but just because He's chosen to."

We will never be perfect and we will make mistakes and fail sometimes. But what happened in our past, once we've asked God for forgiveness, is gone. We don't have to worry that He might bring it up again to throw in our faces when we fail. Satan will do that to us...he'll try to convince us that we aren't truly forgiven. That we can't possibly do good or get better. But we have to remember that he is a liar. God forgives and, even more amazingly, He forgets.

“If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves otherwise it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once we give our lives to God, we will still have struggles. We will still be tempted and we may sometimes succumb to temptation. The key is to admit our failure, ask for forgiveness and move forward. Give it to God and then let it go. We will face difficult experiences, we may feel overwhelmed by our fears and doubts, but if we remember to turn to God, to remember that we can depend on Him, then we can have a firm foundation. God will never leave us, even when we feel alone - He is always there.

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” ~ 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

God works everything together for our good. The bad times, the hard times, the good times - all of it works together to create in us the purpose He has for our lives. And through it all, we can depend on the truth that He loves us. He loves us completely and unconditionally. It's never dependent on what we do or do not do. It's all Him and when we know we are loved, we can be who He has made us to be. We don't have to be afraid, we don't have hurt ourselves or others, we can rest secure in the love our heavenly Father showers over us day after day.

“Jesus never fails to see us with love, even though we have scars of sin and a rumpled nature that shows in our stutter-step faithfulness.” 
~ Our Daily Bread devotional 3/15/13

“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

Our past does not have to define us. God can take the experiences we've had and turn them around for His good and His purpose. He showers us with His overwhelming and unconditional love and fills the empty places in our lives and heals the hurts. Once we know how much He loves us, we are able to overflow with that love onto others and toward God. We can be a new creation in Christ - we can turn away from our villain status and become a hero. That is the power of love - God's love. We are made new. What an amazing gift!

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the wonderful gift of Your incredible love. Thank You for making the sacrifice of Your only Son so that we can be reconciled to You. Even though we may not always be proud of our past experiences, thank You for the ways that You use our past to teach us, to draw us closer to You and to share our lives with others. Thank You for your gift of forgiveness. Help me to desire Your will for my life, to trust You when I feel afraid and to remember that You are in control and that You love me. For those who feel that their past is too bad, that they are too "villain-like", that Your forgiveness can't possibly apply to them - help them to see the truth. Help them to see that You do love them, that You will forgive and forget, that Your grace is sufficient. Thank You for loving us. We love you too. Amen.

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