Pax Present: Foxy, Kimche, Dipstick, Spam, Paycheck, Bowl Cutt, Bouche, Sinamon, Pinto, Knobby, Monkey, Pom Pom, Jefferson, Band Aid.
For centuries the people of India used elephants for all kinds of hard labor though it’s less common today. One of the most remarkable practices that came out of that time was the way they kept the elephants from running off when they weren’t working….they simply tied a rope around one of their back legs and staked it to the ground. Though the elephant had more than enough power to break those ropes they rarely did. Why? From the time they were very young, their handlers would tie a rope around their back leg and stake it to the ground. Since the young elephants weren’t able to break the rope it secured them well. But it also restrained them in a different way. Over time it engrained into their minds that the rope couldn’t be broken so as they grew older they stopped trying. An adult elephant had more than enough power to snap any thickness of rope but they rarely did.
My parent’s divorced when I was 2 ½. I mostly lived with my mom growing up but I got to spend holidays and summers with my dad a good bit. As I grew up I noticed this really funny thing that dad did when we would start to have deep conversations about life. He would apologize to me for ruining my life by divorcing my mom.
I really didn’t understand it at all. Sure, I hated that my parents weren’t together and there were a lot of difficulties that came my way because they had separated but it hadn’t ruined my life. In fact, by that time in my life I had finished college, gotten married, had kids and landed a great career. The same was true for my sister. But dad still had a hard time letting it go; not matter what evidence existed to convince him otherwise.
My dad had the same problem as those elephants. What had happened in his past kept him from breaking free and becoming all that he was meant to be.
I meet so many men who are captives to the mistakes of their past. A divorce. A bad career move. A child out of wedlock. An addiction to pornography. Being overweight as a young person. A learning disability that made school a nightmare. You name it. Our pasts can powerfully define us. If we are not careful, they become the rope around our foot that makes us believe we can never be free.
The Apostle Paul had a past. Before he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was a vicious persecutor of the Church. He had been trained to be a leader in the Jewish religious community and was passionate about the traditions of his ancestors. When he heard of Christians claiming that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Old Testament religion, he was filled with rage and set out to crush the new movement. Did you know that he was responsible for the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen? (Acts 7:1-8:1) But he didn’t stop there. After Stephen’s death, Paul set out to “destroy the church.” (Acts 8:3) In fact, when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus he was traveling to that city to arrest Christians and see them stand trial for their faith. (Acts 9:1-2) But when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus everything changed. Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, showed him extravagant grace in light of all Paul had done, and gave him a new mission and purpose in life. Paul became the greatest church planter in the history of the world and ended up being used by God to write 12 of the books in our Bible. What an amazing turn around!
So how was Paul able to move forward in the power of God and not let his past define him? Two words: God’s Grace.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them; yet not I but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
This is what Paul wrote towards the end of his first letter to the Corinthian church. They were the most troubled community of faith of all the ones that Paul had planted. They were filled with former prostitutes, homosexuals, liars, adulterers, gossips, and thieves. Many of those problems were still rearing their heads in the church when Paul wrote this letter. But God’s Spirit was still at work in the lives of those baby believers and Paul knew that more growth was still to come. So he challenges them to embrace his approach to his past; own who you were and lean into God’s grace.
Paul would be the first to tell you that the man he had become was not because of what he had done but because of what Jesus Christ had done for him. All the change in Paul was due to the grace of God. That is why he could confess freely: “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” In other words, whatever you see here is only by the grace of God.
Grace is the undeserved blessing and favor of God. We can do nothing to earn it and nothing to keep it. That’s what makes it grace. It was earned for us when Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and died on the cross in our place. We were all sinners by birth and by choice and therefore deserving of God’s punishment for our sin. But because of His great love for us, Jesus went to the cross and bore the full weight of God’s punishment against our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. And for every one of us who believe these things to be true and place our complete trust in what Christ did for us our sins are forgiven. Because of the work of Christ God is able to extend grace to us even in light of our sins. Grace that can forgive our biggest mistakes. Grace that can break the power of our past.
Paul knew that His past had been forgiven and so he could own his past. He didn’t have to play games or deny it or downplay it. He could embrace the full ugliness of all that he had done because he knew that God still accepted him by His grace.
Paul was also able to live with confidence in the present because he knew that any change that had come about in his life was because of the grace of Christ also. There was nothing about the new Paul that he could take credit for; only the grace of God could have changed him.
And the grace of God empowered Paul to continue to grow into all that God desired of Him. That’s why he could say, “…and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them; yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Paul was so wrapped up in God’s grace that it motivated him to work hard to become all that God wanted Him to be leaning on the grace of God to accomplish his goal.
It was grace for Paul from start to finish.
It can be for us as well.
It’s time to let go of your past. It’s time to stop defining your life by your biggest mistake. So how do we find freedom? The same way Paul did.
First, we have to own our past. Stop downplaying and justifying your sins and your failures. Be completely honest and own the depth of your failure.
Then, bring it to God. Trust in what Jesus has done for us on the cross and trust that His blood was shed for your sins. Ask God to forgive your past and trust that His Word is true. Let His grace give you a brand new start and let go of your past.
From there, start developing your relationship with Christ so that you can experience His grace in every area of your life. The more you come to know Him the more you’ll feel His acceptance of you by His grace. That radical acceptance will empower you to become all that He desires you to be. It won’t be you trying your hardest with all your might to be good but His power working through you to transform you into His image.
About 15 years ago my dad became a believer in Christ. He asked God for forgiveness for his past and experienced his grace for the first time. He started walking with God every day and has grown up into the man God always meant him to be. In fact, today, he’s one of my few spiritual heroes. He is a completely different man than he used to be.
Something else has changed about him to. For these last 15 years, he’s never apologized to me again for ruining my life. I believe it’s because God has finally set him free from his past.
Isn’t it time you let Him do the same for you?
-Pom Pom’s sister recovering from Thyroid Cancer surgery.
-Dipstick’s wife Mandi still dealing with heart issues.
-Victim’s of Hurrican Laura.
-Ice T recovering from hospitalization.
-Iron Pax Challenge for the week.