As humans, we are prone to worrying and stressing about life in the present and future leading to holistic negative effects, yet I have found myself also dwelling on memories of decisions and situations I wish would have turned out differently in order to yield results I think would have been better for my life or others’ lives. Everyone has had times of dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’ of life when we think,
“I should have taken the other job.”
“Life would be better if that would have happened sooner/later.”
“If we had moved there, then we would be happier.”
To be clear, I am not referring to tragic events which can continue to produce grieving, sorrow, and righteous anger throughout our time on Earth, nor am I addressing regrets of sin. Sin is a different topic that deals with conviction leading to repentance and freedom of guilt and regret due to Christ's atoning sacrifice and continual intersession on our behalf before the Father. If you struggle with the unnecessary regret of past sin for which Christ has already forgiven you, remember the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the freedom he gives.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Satan will use our life regrets and wishes as an opportunity to turn us away from focusing on God’s will for our lives and our future prize, Jesus. Hebrews 12:1–2, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…”
To fight these regrets and wishes, we must review our Christian worldview. God always gives me peace when I go back to the not-so-basic basics of who God is and how He sovereignly carries out His will globally and for us individually. His way is always better despite our personal feelings and opinions. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Wishing things had turned out differently misinterprets God’s providence because the root of our wish is saying that our plan would have been better than God’s plan.
If we settle in this state of frustration that our way did not turn out the way we intended, our heart and thoughts will spiral into the cycle of self centeredness, self-pity, comparison, and discontentment with where God has us in the present. These steal our satisfaction in our Maker and turn our focus to ourselves rather than others’ needs and the works God has planned for us (Ephesians 2:10). We are attempting to be satisfied by worldly wisdom instead of relying on the wisdom from above as James speaks of in chapter 3:13–18. The comparison and covetousness then put us at risk for quarreling and adultery as he explains next in James 4:1–5.
“But he gives more grace” James 4:6 tells us, so in lieu of falling into the thoughts of what “should” have been, ask God to help you remember:
“God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.” –Tim Keller
Welcome to Trending Reads, a monthly post from Pastor Travis Walker that includes current articles on all things Christianity, as well as blog posts that will help you grow in your Christian walk. Without further adieu:
One of the best practices for those who want to make sure that they are gospel-centered everyday—that they are looking into the grace of God in Christ—is to look for Christ in the Scriptures.
Most Christians understand that they ought to be spending time in God’s Word everyday but a lot of times that can just look like a checklist of religious duty. No matter what biblical text you’re in, it is important to look for the gospel and Jesus within it. This can be a little harder in the Old Testament and even in some New Testament texts. However, the aim is rather simple: look first and foremost for what God has done, notwhat you are to do...
The world can be really confusing for teenagers. We’re coming of age in a shifting moral landscape, where the most pressing challenges and culture’s loudest critics are ever changing and perpetually conflicting. We see scandals and soundbytes, terrorism and Trump, new sexual ethics and harsh racial tensions, and we wonder, How am I supposed to think about all this?
Secular society throws its own answers our way, but they’re never compatible with a Christian worldview.
I see a better tool to meet the questions of Christ-following teenagers like me: theology...
Boredom used to be a regular feature in my life.
As a kid, I was bored all the time. This perpetual boredom led me to all sorts of shenanigans, like setting the soles of my shoes on fire or digging a 4-foot deep hole in my backyard, simply because I could (kind of like George Mallory summiting Everest simply because it was there). My discovery that grapevines could be smoked like cigarettes was a direct product of the high volume of boredom in my life.
Even as I got older, I still had long stints of unoccupation. Walking to classes in college. Waiting for a computer program to compile [adjusts glasses and fiddles with pocket protector]. Long drives, doctors offices, waiting 10 freaking minutes for the America Online portal to load (I think I still have several hundred free hours to redeem).
Now I’m literally never bored...
As I set aside my Bible reading plan this year in favor of soaking in shorter passages, I realized that I didn’t need to choose between the two—nor did I want to! The benefits and joy of journeying the entire way through God’s salvation story are too good to miss, so I decided to do both.
Last year was the first time I had used a pre-made reading schedule (pdf courtesy of Ligonier Ministries), and it was helpful in numerous ways. I’d encourage you to go through the entire Bible for these 17 reasons:..
My husband and I recently sat down and calculated the number of baseball games we’ve attended for our boys. The number was somewhere in the mid seventies, and the season isn’t quite over. We have three sons who all play Little League, and one who is currently on another team as well. (Go Outlaws!!)
So, roughly seventy times, I’ve washed uniforms, packed snacks, filled water jugs, and applied sunscreen or winter hats depending on the fickle Iowa weather. I’ve nursed skinned knees, disappointed hearts and wounded pride. Baseball season has worn me out physically and emotionally.
I’ve recently found myself without a smile on my face, and choking on my next breath out of sheer exhaustion. I feel as though I have nothing left to give at the end of the day, and that feeling usually carries over to the next morning. We’ve stretched ourselves to the max, and I’ve got no more bend in me.
I’ve heard the same things from other people lately too.
“I feel like I’m chasing my own tail.”
“I don’t know if I’m coming or if I’m going.”
“Is my chest supposed to feel this tight all the time?”
“I can’t remember the last time I laughed. I have no more joy left.”
This life has worn us ragged. We’ve undoubtedly said “yes” to too many things and haven’t put healthy boundaries around sacred things. We’ve skipped prayer and quiet time to cram in the unexpected, because we are completely out of any sort of margin in life. My quiet time the other day was spent using my carpet cleaner on an unexpected pet mess. There went my “extra” thirty minutes of the day. Another thirty wasn’t to be found, and my time budget was already in the red.
Friends, I’ve had restroom accidents three times in the past two weeks. Literally. Because I am cutting things so close, I end up making it to the bathroom a bit too late. I think to myself, “I don’t need to go before leaving the ballfields because I have to drop this kiddo off at home in the next ten minutes. I’ll just go when I get home.” It’s true... I’m not even giving myself time for my own bodily functions, and friends, the scary thing is, I know I’m not the only one. I have verbal confirmation on this.
So what gives? How do we find the right balance?
I don’t know.
I think the “fix” looks different for everyone. Every individual, couple, and family has to make decisions about schedules and commitments for themselves. This unfortunately isn’t a four step solution. However, one thing I know is true and good is the promise we have from our Savior about His abundant streams of rest and grace.
Before Jesus went to the cross to be crucified, He sought out time alone with his Father... our Father (Matt 26:36–46). Scripture says Jesus was sorrowful and troubled. However, rather than hashing out his problems with his friends, he walked away from the noise, from His companions, from the task, and talked with God.
He asked Him questions, laid out His fears, and begged for His mercy.
He let God speak the salve of peace to his burdened, unto death, heart.
He rested in the One who had the answers to the whys and the what ifs.
So in the days to come, I am committing to a few things. First, I will go to the bathroom when the urge first hits. And second, I’m going to rest at the feet of my Savior who is so capable of managing my weakness. He’s so eager to restore my soul. He’s so incredibly good. I’ll breathe in His gentle words. I’ll trust in His historically grounded promises. I’ll let my Creator nurture my weary heart.
And in all my frailty, I’ll listen and obey.
“You don’t understand. I simply can’t forgive him.”
There have been multiple times while working with people who have been hurt deeply that I have been told this exact thing. The person would insist that forgiveness was not possible.
As I have explored the why behind someone making this bold statement, I realized there is more than just resentment and bitterness behind the words. At first, I often thought the person was just choosing to be hateful instead of embracing what was best for them and mandated by our understanding Lord. I thought I was seeing the results of a cold heart and unloving spirit showing its ugly head, despite the reminders of God’s forgiveness toward us for every sin we have or will ever commit.
However, what I discovered, in many cases, was that these dear people didn’t understand what forgiveness really meant.
Many of us have heard the catchy phrase, “forgive and forget.” So much so, that people have started to equivocate the two words, thinking that forgetting is the same as forgiving. They aren’t the same!
I realized that some people were saying they couldn’t forgive because they knew they couldn’t forget what was done to them, at least not anytime soon, and perhaps never. They were being honest in admitting that they couldn’t commit to forgetting something they knew they weren’t going to; and they were totally right. Unless you have brain surgery or something of the sort, you aren’t going to be able to simply forget a memory you have stored away.
One reason I was forced to explore their reasoning further was because God promises that when we face temptation to sin, He will always give us a way out so that we don’t have to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). If that is true, then it couldn’t be true that these people couldn’t forgive, since God has commanded us to forgive others.
The problem was the fact that they thought they had to forget in order to forgive.
It was so freeing to them when they realized that forgetting had nothing to do with it. Our goal is to be like Christ, who is God incarnate. Does God forget our sin? No. He is God. God is omniscient (knows all). He doesn’t all of the sudden just “forget” our sin. He chooses not to recall it (Isaiah 43:25).
So if forgiveness isn’t forgetting, what exactly is it? Well, what does God do with our sin if He doesn’t forget it? He no longer holds it against us. He doesn’t bring it back to us and shove it in our faces (Psalms 103:12). Forgiveness is committing never to bring that sin up again for that person’s harm. That includes not bringing it back up to that person, others, or yourself. That is still quite a lot to swallow. Clarifying forgiveness doesn’t make it easy, but definitely doable.
On a practical level, that means that when you forgive someone, you are not allowed to remind them of it again. You are not allowed to talk about what they did with other people in a way that would be harmful to them. You are not allowed to dwell on it yourself.
Now this is where the difference between forgetting and dwelling on it comes in. It isn’t wrong to remember it (you can’t help it), but you aren’t allowed to continue thinking about it when you remember it. You can’t replay it over and over, and remember how angry it made you feel, and consider the best ways of revenge, etc. When the memory returns, strive to remember that you’ve committed to forgive them just like God has forgiven you, and then move on to a new topic of thought. Not always easy, but right and best.
There can be times to bring that sin up to that person again, if there is a recurring pattern, but that would be an example of bringing it up not for their harm, but in order to help them see a pattern of sin in their life that needs to be addressed. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to forgive it, but we could rightly bring it up in order to help them be more like Christ by changing that pattern in their life.
Thank the One who not only gives us commands that are best for us and show His beautiful character, but also gives us the ability to follow them. Committing not to bring up a sin to someone, others, or yourself in order to harm the offender is one of the ways God brings peace to us that is beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7).
As I write this blog post, I am with our Utah Mission Team as we conclude our 2016 trip to Manti, Utah. Our team this year consisted of 37 folks; 26 from First Family Church, and 11 from Crossway Community Church in Wisconsin, where John and Jenny Andrus are members. Keith and Nikki Ryan and their two oldest daughters also joined us from their new home in Reno, NV.
The most exciting aspect of our Utah Mission Trip is seeing our young people engaging in ministry and in street evangelism. What else can top seeing a 14 or 15-year-old student sharing their faith and the gospel with an LDS student of the same age? This is the cherry on top of all of the hard training and preparation for the trip!
Nothing can help cement the gospel into the heart of a young person like being forced to defend their faith in conversation with a person with a very different belief system.
Utah is a changing landscape when it comes to the LDS church. Not unlike the evangelical church, the leadership team in Utah sees a massive shift towards secularism within the younger generation of Latter Day Saints. Because of the Internet and the influence of television and movies, the Mormon church is struggling against a tide of secularism that is invading their ranks.
One Manti veteran who is on his 17th annual trip to Utah told our team he has seen a seismic shift in the last 10 years. There was a time when he knew what answers to expect when in conversation with a Mormon regardless of the age. Now, he sees a distinct difference between the older generations (35 years and up) and the younger generations. The younger generation sounds more "Christian" in their conversation, but they are just as lost. This makes witnessing to them even more difficult, because their doctrine is a blend of Mormonism and Christianity, yet they are missing the essential elements of the gospel, and are therefore unbelievers.
There is still a tremendous need for solid, Christian churches in Utah. Those who live in Utah tell of news reports that suggest as many as two-thirds of Utah Mormons are not active in the church and are transitioning out of Mormonism, but instead of turning to a healthy church, they simply fade into agnosticism or even atheism. One Utah resident, who is active on a weekly basis ministering to Mormons, told our team there is a tremendous need for churches that would simply focus on reaching families who are transitioning out of Mormonism.
For those of us who are comfortable and secure in our Christian homes and churches, we need to observe what is happening to the Mormon Church and how it is being impacted by the secular society in which we live. Sometimes it is easier to see how trends like secularism are impacting someone else than to see how the same trends are impacting us.
As I watch the shifting landscape within the American Church, I see several trends that suggest to me we are approaching a tipping point within the Church. Each generation must struggle with new dynamics within the culture and how they impact the church. The last major shift within the Protestant church happened in the 1960s. Visit with our grandparents, who were Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or any of the other mainline denominations, and we would learn how orthodox and doctrinally sound these churches were in the mid-20th Century. Yet, we would also see liberalism invading the church and destroying the institutions of the church, starting with the seminaries.
In response to the shift to liberalism, we saw the the rise of the Evangelical Megachurch movement. By the mid-1970s, churches like Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church were starting to form, and by the mid-to-late 1980s, these churches were transforming the model and philosophy of the church. They were no longer strongly tied to a denomination, and essentially began to serve as their own denomination in areas of missions and church partnerships.
Today, I believe we are seeing a shift away from the Megachurch model. Many of these churches are becoming murky in their doctrine and beliefs and continue to follow the impulses of culture in an effort to grow their church. These multi-million dollar corporations continue to expand their influence through franchises and largely human-driven efforts, but their impact is diminishing. In 10 years, I believe we will see many of these Megachurches following the way of the mainline churches--physically large an impressive, but spiritually dead.
Over and over again, starting with the Tower of Babel, we see God frustrate and ultimately abandon movements by man that begin to build upon the strength and wisdom of man. God desires a faithful people who have one desire––to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. It is His Kingdom and His dominion, but man is often motivated by building his own kingdom and spreading his own dominion. Even when we do so in the Name of God, our motives can easily become infected with pride.
For me, this has been one of the lessons we need to take away from our time in Utah. It is a blessing to see our young people growing in their faith and striving to share the gospel with others, but at the same time, we are not immune to the disease that is impacting the LDS Church. The world and its ways are attractive, and each generation must make the choice whether to go the broad, inviting way of the world or follow God along a narrow, ancient path.
Thus says the Lord:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’"
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