"Finding Freedom" part 2
Freedom from the Past
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 7, 2010

VIDEO – HONDA COMMERCIAL - "When Things Just Work”

Isn’t that the way you want your life to work? Things just work perfectly… never a glitch… you move smoothly from one thing to the next, and when you get to the end you look back and just say, “Ah, that was great! Couldn’t be better.”

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. In fact, even in that video, it didn't work like that. It took them several takes and a lot of money to get the shot they were looking for, and even then they had to splice two videos together. Something would go wrong, they’d have to get everything set again, they’d try again, something else would happen… it didn’t go as smoothly as that video would have you believe.

And it’s that way in life. You can be sailing along, and all of a sudden something goes wrong. Something minor, something major, but something happens that throws your life off track. Maybe you experience some kind of failure at work. Maybe you have a relationship that falls apart. Maybe you are betrayed by a friend. Maybe you suffer the loss of a loved one.

And what often happens when something traumatic happens is, you get tied to that point in time.

If you’re a Star Trek fan, then you’ll understand this. If you’re not, well, try to look interested anyway.

Space Channel just recently started reairing In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from the beginning, so this is fresh in my mind. At the beginning of that series, Commander Benjamin Sisko is placed in command of a space station that is located in deep space, at least by earth standards. And shortly after he arrives, he encounters these aliens living in a wormhole in space, and these aliens live outside of linear time. They don’t experience time like we do. The past, the present, and the future are all happening at the same time for them.

Well, these aliens communicate with Sisko through visions, and Sisko tries to describe to them what linear time is. And in the vision, as he’s talking, the visions keep taking him to different events and people in his life. But there’s one vision in particular that he keeps coming back to… the day his wife died during an attack by the Borg.

See, told you you’d have to be a Star Trek fan to understand.

Well, after coming back several times to this vision where his wife dies, Sisko asks the aliens why they kept bring him there. And do you know what their response was? “We’re not bringing you here; you’re bringing yourself here. This is where you live.”

Sisko was tied to that time in his past. He was in bondage to it. And he couldn’t move on in life  because of it. It’s where he lived. He needed to be set free from his past.

Okay, if you checked out during all that, then check back in. Because even if you’re not a Star Trek fan – and I don’t know how that’s possible – but even if you’re not, then you still understand the power that the past can have on you. You understand how the fears, the failures, the disappointments, the losses, the criticisms, the harsh words, the brokenness of your past can tie you down, can hold you back, can hinder your progress in life.

And it’s not always something negative. Maybe your longings for days gone by… for what you might call happier times… those can hold you back, too.

So we’re going to talk this morning about finding freedom from our past. I’m going to give you five thoughts to keep in mind if you’re going to achieve and sustain freedom from your past. And you can use your notes to follow along and fill in the blanks as we go. The first thought is this…

Finding Freedom from the Past:

A.    If God can forgive me, I can forgive myself

The reason many people are held in bondage to their past is because they’ve messed up big time, they’ve hurt themselves or hurt others, they’ve sinned against God… they’ve done something that they just can’t forgive themselves for. And so they are constantly barraged by guilt and shame, and they can’t escape it.

What’s the problem? The problem is, they don’t think they deserve forgiveness. Whatever they’ve done was so bad, or so personal, that they can’t let it go.

But that’s not the way God would have you live. He wants you to acknowledge your sin, yes, and He wants you to do what you can to make things right when you’ve harmed someone else. But He also wants you to be able to put it in the past and keep it there.

Listen, God offers you complete and unreserved forgiveness. When you confess your sins and your mistakes and the times you’ve let Him down, and when you ask for His forgiveness, He doesn’t turn to you and say, “Okay, I’ll forgive this and this and this, but not this. What you did there was just too bad.” No, He says, “It’s all forgiven. I’m not going to hold it against you any longer. I’m the God of new beginnings, and I’m giving you a fresh start with a clean slate.”

1 John 1:9 (NLT)
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

I don’t care what you’ve done, God’s forgiveness is real. Think about the people in the Bible that He’s forgiven: David was an adulterer and a murderer, and God forgave Him. Moses was also a murderer, and he was forgiven. Abraham was a liar, and he was forgiven. Peter denied he even knew Jesus, and Jesus forgave him. Paul was a persecutor of the Church, hr described himself as the worst of sinners, and he was forgiven. Even the people who nailed Jesus to the cross – what did Jesus pray for them? “Father forgive the, for they don’t know what they’re doing.

So the forgiveness God offers is complete… nothing held back. And maybe you have no trouble believing that. So why can’t you forgive yourself?

Romans 8:1 (NLT)
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

What does that mean? It means if you’ve been forgiven, you no longer need to live under the weight of guilt and shame. There’s no condemnation. You’re forgiven. So if you’re still dealing with guilt and shame, what’s going on? Well, that’s not coming from God. Maybe it’s an attack from Satan, maybe it’s a lie you’re telling yourself, but it’s not from God. No, what God tells us is this…

Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)
“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”

John 8:36 (NLT)
“If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”

You are not meant to live with guilt and shame. God intends for you to be set free. But in order to enjoy that freedom, you have to be able to forgive yourself. And maybe that’s not an easy thing for you to do. So whenever you start to sense that guilt or shame or unworthiness, remind yourself, “I’m forgiven. God’s not condemning me, so I’m not going to condemn myself.” And you may have to remind yourself of that a lot at first. But eventually, I think you’ll find that sense of guilt begin to dissipate.

But if you still struggle, then explore what the Bible has to say about forgiveness. You could go to a website like BibleGateway.com and do a search for the word forgiveness, and see what the Bible says about it. Discover the richness of God’s forgiveness for you, and learn to forgive yourself also.

B.    I can learn from past failures and then move on

Have you ever heard of Florence Chadwick? Florence was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. Well, back in July of 1951, she attempted another swim. She attempted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. Here you see it on the map. [PowerPoint] But this time, the challenge was not the distance; the challenge was the bone-chilling waters of the Pacific. And to complicate matters, on the very day she chose to swim, a dense fog set in over the entire area, making it impossible for her to see land. But she set out anyway, and she swam and she swam and she swam, until she couldn’t swim any more… and finally, after about 15 hours in the water, Chadwick gave up. She climbed into the boat that was accompanying her… only to discover that she was within a half a mile from her goal. She would later tell a reporter, “Look, I’m not excusing myself. But if I could have seen land, I might have made it.”

Well, she was pretty disappointed about what had happened. So she decided she would learn from her failure, and she attempted the feat again. And again, a fog set in so that she couldn’t see the shore. But this time… this time… she made it. Why? Because she had learned from her failure. So she kept reminding herself that the land was there. She couldn’t see it yet, but she knew she was getting closer. So she pressed on, and she achieved her goal. In fact, she broke the men’s record by 2 hours!

"I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." – Michael Jordan

I don’t think it’d be an exaggeration to say that we’ve all failed in life. In fact, we’ve all failed many times. And that’s okay. Anyone who has accomplished great things has also had great failures.

Like the one guy in the States…
He was defeated for the state legislature in Illinois in 1832
He was defeated for Congress in 1843
He was defeated for Congress again in 1848
He was defeated for the Senate in 1855
He was defeated for the vice presidential ticket in 1856
He was defeated again for the Senate in 1858
Until finally, in 1860, he became president of the U.S., and history remembers him as perhaps the best president ever. Who was he? Abraham Lincoln.

Paul said…

Philippians 3:13 (NLT)
…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past…

That includes your failures… they’re in the past. You don’t have to live in bondage to them. You can be set free from them. Don’t allow the failures of the past to hinder your progress from here on out. Learn what you can from them, and move forward.

But you know, it’s not just the failures that can bind us. For some, it’s your past success. You may have accomplished some terrific things in your life. And that’s great. But don’t rest there. Don’t think that you’ve arrived. Those successes are in the past, and there’s more ahead. And that’s the next thought…

C.    I can celebrate past victories, and still move forward.

By the time Paul wrote his letter to the Christ-followers in the city of Philippi, he had accomplished a lot in life. And in the letter, he talked about some of his accomplishments. He talked about the respect and prestige he had gained in the society, he talked about his conversion and his growth as a Christ-follower. But then he said…

Philippians 3:12 (NLT)
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

In other words, he says, “I’ve accomplished some great things, I’ve experienced tremendous growth, but I know that’s in the past and there are even greater things still ahead. So I’m not going to bask in the glow of past victories; I’m going to keep moving forward.

Michelangelo had already accomplished a lot in life when at the age of 72 he started work on the monumental dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Galileo was 74 when he published his dialogue concerning two new sciences.
When Stradivarius was in his early 90s he fashioned two of his most famous violins.
When P.T Barnum was 71 he joined James Bailey to form the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Whatever is in your past… whether they be successes or failures… God has greater things in store for you. So celebrate your past… learn from your past… but then move forward.

D.    I may have been tripped up in the past, but that doesn’t have to mean defeat.

Failure does not have to equal defeat.

One of my favourite Olympic stories actually comes from the Summer Olympics… the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968. I’ve told you this story before. During those games, Momo Wolde (Wold-ah) of Ethiopia won the marathon, the most historic of all the Olympic events. The silver medal went to Kenji Kimahara of Japan, and the bronze medal went to Mike Ryan of New Zealand. And they were awarded their medals during the final track & field award ceremony of the Games.

But while they were celebrating and receiving their medals, many other athletes were still running the marathon. In fact, it wasn’t until a little over an hour later that the final competitor, John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania, entered the stadium.

Apparently, Mr. Akhwari had fallen early on in the race and had injured himself. And as he entered the stadium, the people who were still present could see his heavily bandaged left leg. Understanding that he must have been in a great deal of pain, the crowd cheered as he struggled toward the finish line and eventually crossed it. He was seen as a winner, although he would receive no medal for his accomplishment. His only reward was the satisfaction of persevering and finishing what he had started.

One journalist wrote about this event:

“Today we have seen a young African runner who symbolizes the finest in the human spirit, a performance that gives true dignity to sport, a performance that lifts sport out of the category of grown men playing at games, a performance that gives meaning to the word ‘courage.’”
~ written of John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania, competitor in the 1968 Olympics

Many people were inspired by the enduring determination and perseverance of this one man. And when he was asked why he didn’t just quit, his response was simple:

“My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5000 miles to finish the race.”
~ John Stephen Akhwari

He had fallen, but he was not defeated. Take another look at this verse…

Philippians 3:12 (NLT)
But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

Notice that Paul wrote, “I press on”. That’s in the present tense. It’s not, “I’m going to press on. I’ll recover and press on someday.” No, it’s, “I press on even now. Despite any setbacks I’ve encountered, any times I’ve fallen, I’m pressing on.”

In another letter that Paul wrote, he said…

2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 17-18 (NLT)
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed…
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

E.    I can overcome the past by looking to the future

Have you heard the numbers for the Canada/U.S. gold medal game last Sunday? It averaged 16.6 million viewers here in Canada. That’s about half of the population. And about 80% of the population saw at least part of the game, which was shown on nine different channels in 8 different languages. It became the most watched program in Canadian television history.

Pretty impressive numbers. And at the end, even though it went into overtime and we didn’t know when it would end, when Crosby scored that final goal, Canada celebrated, the U.S. was disappointed, and the Russians who expected to be in that game were whining.

But you know, there’s another event that’s still to come… and it will have an even greater audience. Every person on the planet will see it. And there will be celebration, there will be disappointment, and there will be whining. That event will be the second coming of Jesus Christ, when those who are part of His spiritual family will go to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

And when you get discouraged, when you feel like giving up, when you feel defeated… look to that promise. One more time… back to that passage in Philippians…

Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)
…Looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

One of the inspiring things that took place a couple weeks ago during the Olympics happened during the 5000 meter women’s long track speed skate. Our flag bearer, Clara Hughes, at the age of 37 skated her way into a bronze medal and her sixth overall Olympic medal, putting her in a tie with Cindy Klassen for the most ever by a Canadian.

And in that 5000 meter skate, she put it all out there. She fought through the pain, and kept on going until she crossed that finish line. In fact, I remember watching her in that same race four years ago in Torino. And when she crossed the finish line that day and claimed the gold medal, she collapsed in exhaustion.

Now, I’m sure she felt like collapsing one or two laps earlier. But why didn’t she? Because she was looking ahead to the finish. She knew what her goal was, and she wasn’t going to give up until that goal was realized.

She was looking forward to what laid ahead, and she pressed on to reach the end of the race and receive the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:25 (NLT)
All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.

And that prize is our motivation. That prize is what enables us to leave the past in the past. So keep your eyes on the prize. Strive for it. Don’t get discouraged, don’t get distracted, and don’t give up. Because when you finish, it will have all been worth it.

James 1:12 (NIV)
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

When all is said and done… when you cross that finish line… may you be able to say along with Paul…

2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT)
I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.




Copyright © 2010 SunriseOnline.ca