The Bare Soul - September 14, 2008
Forgive and Forget
 

Philippians 3:13 - Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,

The following is the sermon text for a message delivered at the Kansas City Rescue Mission on September 11, 2008.

When I finally put the “plug in the jug” in 1992, I knew that I needed to make amends to all those whom I had used throughout the years. While many of them were unreachable, I did the best I could and made amends, accordingly. Most people are forgiving and understanding when you tell them what you’re trying to do. Most offer a hand of reconciliation and are glad to help patch up the past. When I say most, I am thinking of one individual who would continue to be elusive and unable to pin down regarding offering and receiving his forgiveness.

That person was me.

 Often, we are our own worst critic and we can be far more critical of our past than any of our peers. We can beat ourselves unmercifully for a lifetime of missed opportunities and lost chances. We can bemoan all the “could’ve, would’ve, and should’ves that haunt our memory. It took me several years of being sober and “giving back” before I actually felt whole again from the inside out. It took making restitution by giving of myself to others until I could finally feel healed and set free from the condemnation of the past.

When I drank, I didn’t care about you or anyone else. Most of all, I really didn’t care about me. I didn’t care enough to get up and go to work, so therefore I would lose my job. Money would run out since I wasn’t working, so I would steal from you to satisfy my addiction. After waking up from a black-out of the night before I would feel terrible remorse; but more terrible was the need to get drunk again to forget about the remorse. So, I would do what I needed to get some money to get drunk again – steal, sell plasma, collect aluminum cans, or whatever I could do to turn a dollar or two so I could get drunk and ease the pain. Alcohol had crippled me as a human being. However, alcohol was merely the tool Satan used to fan the flames of sin in my life. Alcohol had become the “rapacious creditor”, as it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “that bleeds us of all self-sufficiency”. I was wasted of SELF, and needed to find someone bigger than myself to set me free from this body of death. (That Person, the only One that can set any of us truly free, is Jesus Christ the Almighty.)

For some of us, alcohol is the symptom of the greater malady -- sin within that seeks to kill us. Maybe your symptom is drug addiction. Maybe it is sexual lust. Maybe it is greed. Maybe it is pride. All of these and many more can be the tools that Satan uses to get us mired in sin so we would sink over our heads and be lost forever. I’d like to tell you a story about a man who nearly lost his life to pride. His name was Saul of Tarsus. Later he would be known as Paul the Apostle. Saul’s addiction or “tool” of sin was his extreme self-righteousness. If there was an up-and-comer Pharisee, Paul was certainly the most likely to succeed. In the book of Philippians, Paul gives a bit of his resume by stating how devout he was in his zeal for the Law. In Philippians 3:4-7 he states:

although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

This was his testimony years after his conversion. He understood where he had been as a sinner and where he stood with Christ. Paul stood in a much different place several years before when he witnessed the stoning of the disciple Stephen. The Pharisees were driven to insane anger by the preaching of Stephen. As they drove him off to stone him, they laid their coats at the feet of another zealous Pharisee as stated in Acts 7:58:

When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Finally, in Acts 9:1-5 we find Paul in full pursuit of what he thought was God’s calling on his life – persecuting and killing as many Christians as he could. However, the Lord Jesus had other plans for the young zealot:

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,

Many years later he writes to the church in Philippi and tells them “yes”, this is what I was but I am no longer this man. God had taken hold of Saul of Tarsus and had killed the selfish person within him, resurrecting him as Paul the Apostle. Paul would spend the rest of his life making restitution for his life of sin by pulling as many souls from the clutches of hell as the Lord would enable him through His power. Paul continues his testimony in the 8th verse of the third chapter of Philippians:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Did Paul regret his past life? Undoubtedly he did. However, he also knew it was the key to his future. For only those who are forgiven much, can love much. Only those who have known how deep and dark and depraved their hearts were possessed by sin, only then can they know the width, and the breadth, and the depth of God’s love. The secret of Paul’s Christian life was that he never forgot where he came from but in the same token he knew he was forgiven and that it was forgotten by the One who saved his soul. That is why Paul states that he, too, can reach forward for what lies ahead, forgetting the ugliness of the past -- for truly the Father has taken his sin and thrown it in the “sea of forgetfulness”, never to be remembered or brought up again. Allow me to challenge you with this question: How is your “forgetter” today? Does it hold on to ugly images of your past life of sin or does it look forward to a life of freedom and happiness in the Lord? Is there a grateful reminiscence when you think about where God has brought you from, or is there a cloud of condemnation and despair when you consider your past?

There have been countless stories of countless men and women since the life of Paul that have experienced the life changing forgiveness of Christ. I can attest to being one of those. Another is a man named John Newton:

John Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. In July of 1732, thirteen days before his seventh birthday, death took his saintly mother who had since his third birthday been his teacher and friend. He took the death of his mother hard. In fact, it became evident that he was bitter at God over his circumstance because he began as one author puts it, "a decline into rebellion and degradation that lasted until his 24th year." At 11 years of age he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired. In 1744 John was forced into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich. The conditions on board were intolerable to him, so he deserted but was soon recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.

Finally, at his own request, Newton was exchanged into service on a slave ship, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He then became the servant of a slave trader and was brutally abused. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John's father.

John Newton ultimately became captain of his own slave ship. And what kind of captain was he? Lindsay Terry writes, "It is reported that at times he was so wretched that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal. Once he fell overboard and his ship's crew refused to drop a boat to him. Instead they threw a harpoon at him, with which they dragged him back into the ship." But God intervened in Newton's life and got his attention through a violent storm. The gale was so severe that all the livestock were washed overboard and the crew tied themselves to the ship to keep from being swept overboard. As he was attempting to steer the ship through the violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his "great deliverance." He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us." Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, a day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a God.

Several years later after John Newton was ordained a minister, he wrote the song Amazing Grace. In his own words, he describes the type of man he was and now is by the grace of God. Truly, John Newton was a man that forgot the clouded, sinful past and reached forward to the greater calling of his life. Yet, ironically, his past is what shaped him to be of most use for the Lord. Late in life, he joined William Wilberforce in the campaign for abolition of slavery. In 1787 he wrote a tract supporting the campaign, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade. Among his greatest contributions to history was encouraging William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament for Hull, to stay in Parliament and "serve God where he was", rather than enter the ministry. Wilberforce heeded the ex-slaveship captain's advice, and spent the next twenty years successfully working for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.

It doesn’t matter who or what you’ve done or been – whether you have been an addict, alcoholic, a murderer as Saul of Tarsus, or slave-trader like John Newton. God has chosen to forgive us all. And, if He has chosen to forgive us of all our past, shouldn’t we? Are we not saying that we are greater than God Almighty if we choose to do differently? May we all, with Paul the Apostle forget what lies behind and choose rather to reach forward to what lies ahead. There is much to do for the Lord. Truly, his Amazing Grace is there to help us! Glory to the Lord!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The following is a message titled "Forgive and Forget" delivered to the homeless
at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on September11, 2008.

Forgive and Forget - September 11, 2008

 

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