Friday, January 4, 2013

Living Under Grace in the New Year

Every New Year there is a lot of talk about making resolutions.  Most of those resolutions have to do with exercising.  However, I’d like to start the new year on PointOfView316 by discussing exorcising instead of exercising.  I’m referring to exorcising the ghosts and demons of past mistakes which keep so many of us trapped in a cycle of depression, guilt and a lack of self-worth.

 We’ve all made our share of mistakes and as the commercial jokes if you live long enough you too can have “a past”.  Christians are no exception. In fact, some of us have very colorful pasts with more ghosts, demons and skeletons rattling around in our closets than most. If we let them, our ghosts can haunt and torment us forever.

I’m not talking about acts of the devil or the torments of hell.  No, I’m talking about something more down to earth and close to home.  For most of us, our ghosts are flesh and blood and/or the systems that keep track of our every misstep and failure.  There will always be the person who remembers playing doctor with you in nursery school; the old classmate who can’t wait to tell how you stole another child’s lunch money in grade school; the ex-boyfriend who will brag about being  “your first”; the fellow church member who saw you coming out of the club; the neighbor who saw you come home; the former coworker who thinks that really knew you well; or the family member who just can’t wait to set the record straight.  If you’re really unfortunate there will be an ex confidante or two who thinks they know your whole story and have an axe to grind.  Those are just the human demons. In life you will also have to deal with credit bureaus who monitor your spending habits; educational institutions which keep your test scores; and, if you were ever arrested, that incident will follow you wherever you go.  Let us not forget those hideous driver license photos.  I am not alone in the belief that there is a conspiracy by people who work at DMVs to make us all look dreadful J 

People and institutions have long memories, are very unforgiving and often, are all too eager to tell what they know, especially if it’s not about them. That is why psychologists and counselors often advise persons who are in recovery or who wish to make a fresh start to leave their old environment and separate themselves from their former associates.  The first example of this is in the Bible passage Genesis 12:1

God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.
2-3 I’ll make you a great nation
        and bless you.
    I’ll make you famous;
 you’ll be a blessing.
    I’ll bless those who bless you;
 those who curse you I’ll curse.
    All the families of the Earth
 will be blessed through you.”

Of course most of us should not expect to become rich and famous if we leave home. In fact when we make the acquisition of wealth and fame the goals instead of the added benefit of our real calling we are asking for more trouble than we can handle. The principle being addressed in this story of Abraham is that in order for God to do something special in Abraham’s life he had to remove him from his current surroundings.  Unfortunately, Abraham did not exactly follow God’s instructions and took his nephew Lot along with him.  That proved to be a very problematic decision later on. 

The same principle applies when we try to get a fresh start in a new year, a new home or a new relationship. If we are not in tune with God’s will for our lives and willing to follow His instructions, even when we don’t understand why, we are destined for headaches and setbacks.  And if we rely on the counsel of other humans, they may or may not give us advice that is in line with God’s perfect plan for our lives.  We each have to be receptive to listening to that still small voice that speaks directly to our hearts.  And once we hear it, act on it.

So how do we exorcise the ghosts and demons of our pasts?  We can’t. That is where Grace comes in.  Only God’s grace can allow you to move past your mistakes and shut out the voices that try to condemn you and prevent you from living the life God dreams for you.    Non-Christians often accuse people who speak about God’s grace as “living in denial” or “trying to run from the past.”  In some cases this might be true but for most of us who have accepted the forgiveness that can only come from God nothing could be further from the truth. Grace doesn’t tell you that you never made the mistake. Instead it tells you that you made the mistake and you are forgiven.   You will never silence your critiques.  To believe that would be living in denial.  However, once you are living under grace, you can enter a zone where the ghosts and demons of your past failures cannot enter.  Your past failures will be neutralized and therefore are rendered powerless over your future.  For me, this is grace.    

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