Good or bad, joy-filled or tragic, we are all the sum total of our pasts, the product of our memories and experiences. As humans we can allow these memories to bind us with the straitjacket of guilt, shame and depression rather than free us with the lightness of joy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the Bible is very clear that, as believers, our past behaviors, habits and experiences no longer have to define us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV®).
Shedding the soiled garments of our past lives, no matter how restrictive or burdensome, is a requirement to serve effectively in the Kingdom: “‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God,’” Jesus warned in Luke 9:62 (NIV®). And through Isaiah, God clearly called each one of us to open our spiritual eyes to the wonders of moment-by-moment renewal.
“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?
—Isaiah 43:18-19a NIV®
Through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, each one of us can “forget the past,” be freed from sin and put on the robe of salvation. Like Lazarus, we can be shed of the burial cloths and allow God to clothe us in the garments of new life.
But what about the good memories, the memories that bring us gladness, faith and renewed hope in the path we’re walking? Must we shed even those to move closer to God? No, quite the opposite is true. As long as the memories don’t become a hindrance to moving forward in our faith, good memories can clarify our vision, empower us and reinforce our faith walk. “Finally, brothers and sisters,” the Apostle Paul urged in his letter to the Philippians, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV®). As Rosa Parks, the “first lady of civil rights,” once said, “Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” Goodness triumphs everything, and good memories can be the balm that soothes the weary soul, especially during this hectic time of year.
And memories, both joy-filled and tragic, can become a tool for the salvation of souls. We can bring the good, the bad and the ugly to the altar of the Most High God and sacrifice them to the One Who has the power to redeem those memories for the greater good. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV®). If we truly embrace God’s redemptive power and allow Him to restore us, to bring us into right standing by believing in the healing grace of His own Son’s sacrifice, we are renewed and made whole. By the sacrifice of faith we are freely given the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the glory of eternal life. That is the promise. That is the power of Jesus’ act of obedience. Through Him our lives can become a testimony—the good, the bad and the ugly can become a chapter in the greatest story ever told. “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story –/” the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 107:2, “those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” (Psalm 107:2 NIV®).
As each ornament on our family’s Christmas tree tells its own story, so it is with each ornament adorning God’s tree of life: His children. Yes, we all are products of our past, but it’s what we choose to do with our past that creates a meaningful present and a hope-filled future for not only ourselves, but for others. As Bob Hope once said, it’s the simplest things that give off the greatest glow of happiness. This Christmas, let your glow shine brightly in a world sorely in need of some good news.
I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes