This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 23rd of April 2017.
“I HAS NO REGRETS!”
If you have seen the film, The BFG, you will know that this is the response of the evil, human-eating giant, Fleshlumpeater, when he is asked by Sophie if he is sorry for all the bad things he has done.
Regret is one of those emotions that eats away silently at our souls and rare indeed is the person who has no regrets.
Regret is so damaging to our well-being it compelled one author to state:
Regret empties anticipation, flattens dreams, and suffocates hope, because regret is a form of self-punishment … regret beats us up with the past.
I have come to realise that I have lived for far too long with many regrets and like the quote above says, they have beaten me up.
Many of you reading this understand precisely what I mean.
A father and son argue heatedly with each other and the father shouts out, “You’re not my son! I disown you!”
The door slams furiously as the son walks out and father and son never speak to each other again.
In the midst of a tense confrontation a husband spits out at his wife, “I wish I had never married you” and he opens a wound of rejection in her that may never heal.
A young girl rues the day she gossiped behind her friend’s back, wishing she could have the moment over, to take it all back.
Or a demanding mother with high expectations for her children makes it clear that she regards them as “failures” and an embarrassment to her.
Regret comes in all sizes, takes many forms and more often than not, it involves broken relationships.
Regret keeps us up at night, forcing us to maintain a sleepless vigil as we rehearse our failures and shortcomings over and over in our minds.
Bear in mind, I am not talking about hindsight.
Hindsight is that wonderful gift which enables us to process the mistakes from our past in a healthy way and, importantly, to learn from them.
I remember the time I stuck my finger into a live electrical light socket at my grandmother’s home, wondering what would happen.
I soon learned and the subsequent jolt I received taught me a valuable lesson: “I will never do that again!”
Hindsight enables us to learn from our past mistakes.
Regret wants to keep us imprisoned by them.
Consider then, how Jesus deals with regret.
On that first Easter, there are regrets aplenty!
Judas, betrayer of Jesus, filled with remorse, dies a lonely, despairing death by his own hand.
Peter is humiliated and ashamed.
Once the proud boaster who said he would follow Jesus anywhere and even die with him, he is haunted by the words that fell from his lips, three times, no less:
“I do not know the man!”
And two walk a dusty road together, filled with sorrow over the death of Jesus and what might have been.
But in the middle of all this sorrow, Jesus bursts out of the grave alive, confronting everyone’s regret and changing things forever.
Peter is restored.
Two travellers have their hope renewed.
Disciples are commissioned.
“The time for regret is over” says Jesus. “Now take this message of hope to the whole world!”
Here is what I am discovering.
I do not have to be held hostage by my regrets!
Because not only did Jesus die for my past mistakes, he completely obliterated them – and yours – when He rose from the dead!
In that decisive act, our past failures were dealt with once and for all and he has given us new life.
This changes everything, including our relationships.
We cannot change the past, but we can live free from it.
And we change our present when we rest in the fact that because of Jesus, regret can no longer “beat us up!”
IN NOVEMBER, 1990 I was standing in Pearl Harbour listening to an elderly, retired United States navy man tell his story about the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.
I had joined a free, guided tour around the harbour and the scene of the United States’ entry into World War Two.
Our guide was around 19 years of age at the time of the attack and as he retold his story the day I was there, he also spoke of the anger and rage he felt as he fired round after round into the sky at enemy planes.
Then he said something that caught my attention.
“Folks”, he asked kindly, “Have you ever felt like you are out of the will of God?”
Given the silence of the rest of the group around me, he obviously had their attention as well!
He went on to explain that in that very moment of anger, death and destruction, he knew he was out of the will of God!
Quite a statement from an elderly man to a group of tourists.
He then told us how he had signed up to the navy despite the fact he knew God had called him to be a preacher.
So, upon the conclusion of the War, having been discharged from the Navy, he obeyed God and became a Presbyterian minister for the rest of his life.
Then came the punchline to his story.
He went on to tell how one of the Japanese pilots bombing Pearl Harbour also became a committed Christian and minister after the war.
Decades later, the two former enemies met with the Japanese pastor preaching in the old navy man’s church in Hawaii!
As he brought his story to its conclusion, he held up a photograph of the two men, once alienated by culture, hatred and ideology, now embracing each other and reconciled before the Cross that stood in the church.
Every one of us is living in a world divided bitterly along racial, political and ideological lines.
News services bring us reports every day of nations at war with each other or the latest violent protest over an unpopular decision.
And we read of relational breakdowns in marriages and families that all too often end with murder or suicide as the only “solution”.
Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, once commented:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
When a marriage breaks down, it is all too easy to blame the other person, thinking he or she needs to change.
But as Solzhenitsyn points out, “good and evil” courses through the heart of every human being.
Blaming the other person will not reconcile us.
Ignoring or trying to change the past will not reconcile us.
Mere words will not reconcile us.
But Jesus will.
That is the point of the Cross. There a dying thief finds reconciliation and peace with God.
There a man, Peter, who denies his Lord, finds reconciliation.
And there I have found peace and reconciliation – with my sin, my past, with people and with God. I still struggle a lot and I don’t always love people as well as I should.
But I know this: reconciliation begins with me, reaching out to people who at times both annoy and drive me crazy but with the sincere hope that perhaps they will see Jesus in me and be reconciled to Him.
Is your marriage in trouble?
My prayer for you is that you will ask Jesus to bring His peace to your hungry and wounded soul.
Then take the first step yourself to reconcile with your husband or wife.
FOR A FEW YEARS now my wife Karen has selected a word to meditate upon and use as a theme for her life throughout the year to come. It is an enriching experience because it serves to focus her thoughts, prayers and actions at a personal level and in her relationships with others, including me!
As I reflect on my own life over the past twelve months, the word “enough” is a great description of how my life has been.
During this past year, God led me into the wilderness again, and along the way, He turned my thoughts to Psalm 63, written by David when he too, found himself in the wilderness.
David recalls moments when he has seen God’s power and glory – God Himself – in the house of worship (verses 2-5). He writes,
“I have beheld…your power and your glory…”
“What was it he saw?” I wonder. “And when have I seen evidence of God’s power and glory in my life?”
More importantly, David saw God in the sanctuary. I take this to mean that God Himself is the One we seek, a greater blessing by far than His acts of power and glory.
So right there in the wilderness, David chooses to praise and rejoice in God. His will be a life of constant praise and of giving glory to God with his words and songs. And the reason for all of this is a quite remarkable statement in verse 3-
“Because your love is better than life…”
To know the love of God in your life, and the peace, comfort and security this brings, is a greater gift than life itself, even in the wilderness. For David, this is enough –
“God Himself is enough for me and my soul is satisfied.” (v5)
The message for me was straightforward enough: “No matter what I might be facing right now, God is all I need!”
The Christmas/New Year period can be a very lonely one fore many people. They suffer through the break up of a marriage, family or friendship that “came out of left field!”
“I didn’t see it coming…” is a sad, but often heard refrain from many broken-hearted souls.
The devastation of losing someone that you had invested yourself in so completely can leave you feeling as if you will never recover or be a whole person again.
If that is you right now, I want you to know that there is real hope. Your circumstances may not change, but I can assure you that God has not forgotten you, He loves you deeply and He can be enough for you.
I am learning, in my times of being in the wilderness, to choose
To live a life of constant praise to my Father and to thank Him every day.
To live my life for His glory.
Above all, to rest in the peace, comfort and security of God’s love for me.
In the wilderness, I find I am able to tell God how much I love Him; I can thank Him for every good gift in my life – His love, family, friends, life itself – and for teaching me again about humility and my need to depend utterly on Him.
In this my soul is satisfied – in and with God Himself.
He is enough … and He can be enough for you!
Scanning through my FB feed this morning, I came across a link to a page announcing itself as the “Unchurching Community”. The initiative comes from a former pastor, Richard Jacobson, who left his role as a pastor in 2003, following a crisis in his faith. His doubts were not about God or the church. Rather, his crisis consisted of him “having doubts about the way we do church today.” Unchurching the church then, is an attempt to draw together all those people who, despite having not abandoned their faith, nevertheless are seeking “genuine church community outside the box” which they did not find in more traditional expressions of the local churches they have left.
They “unchurched” the church.
What I appreciate about the site is that the clear intent is to promote “constructive dialogue” about the church without resorting to “verbal fistfights.”
It is in the spirit of being constructive that I write this article and it is my genuine hope that it will cause us all to re-think the church.
My premise is straightforward enough: It’s time we re-churched the church.
Next March I commence as the Senior Pastor of what will be my fourth church and coincidently, the day of my induction also falls on my 33rd anniversary in pastoral ministry.
I have been a pastor since I was 23 years old!
I have seen and learned a lot in that time and my view of the church today, now in my 50s, has matured greatly to what it was when I first stood before that tiny congregation in rural Queensland. Back then, I saw a lot of what I believed needed “straightening out” in how people were living their Christian lives and I was the man for the job!
These people “need to mature in Christ” was my catch cry.
And I needed to as well…I just didn’t see it myself at the time.
My point is plain enough. There are always going to be deficiencies, failings and immaturity in every local church.
There have always been and always will be churches who do community poorly. And there will always be a generation of Christians who will rise up and say, “We can do better!”
And I genuinely thank God for those who are willing to step out in faith and launch into fresh expressions of the local church. After all, surely that is what we would expect from a community that claims to have at it’s centre the Risen Jesus Who has made everything new?
But allow me to make some cautionary observations.
Think carefully about what you are looking for.
When people state that they are looking for a church “where we can all do life together and live in genuine community”, I am amazed at how undefined their idea is of what this actually looks like.
Usually the conversation turns to, “Well, we want to be like the Early Church was…you know?”
And my response usually is, “Which Early Church do you want to be then?”
Corinth was filled with partisanship, spiritual pride and sexual immorality.
The churches of Galatia struggled with legalism.
The church in Ephesus had to not only battle heresy but also the sin of gossip.
These are hardly the types of churches that we would hold up as our model for “doing life together” and yet, that is precisely what they are. These people were certainly doing life together, but it was life at its messiest and filled with shortcomings, immaturity and a distinct lack of love.
Yet Paul still called them saints, “holy, set apart ones” no less and he relentlessly called them to pursue and live a lifestyle worthy of the name.
So you want a Christian community like the Early Church? Great!
Just remember that “doing life together” is more than sitting in a circle, holding hands and singing “Kumbayah”.
Genuine Christian community is experiencing life when it is at its messiest and still loving each other.
Over a four year period in a church I was pastor of we ministered to over 200 men who had been broken by their sexual sin.
When it comes to mess – listening to the stories of men held in sexual bondage for most of their lives – it doesn’t come much messier than this. And well over 90% of them were Christians.
But out of it came genuine community. We learned to support each other, care for each other, pray for each other and hold each other accountable.
We did life together.
By all means, develop a church based on the Early Church. Just remember that it will involve a lot of mess and brokenness.
And that you do not simply “unchurch” the group when it is not living up to what your ideal is.
Remember why the church exists in the first place.
Deeper love for and fellowship with, each other is an admirable goal for all Christians.
But is not the only goal.
If you are seeking a fellowship which has as its primary aim the seeking out of other disillusioned Christians and who gather together to discuss the shortcomings of the established church, then please think again before you commit.
Fellowship is only one reason for the church.
There are also the important purposes of prayer, worship of the Risen Christ, teaching and mission. (See Acts 2:42).
The church exists for the express purpose of calling people from every nation, tongue and tribe to join a community of people who are intent on relationship with the loving God Who created and redeemed them.
The church calls out to all people everywhere to be a part of a community that is, I believe, God’s best hope for the world in seeing people restored to wholeness through a relationship with Jesus.
To belong to a community that has as its sole purpose the care of others “who think like us and are as fed up as us” is to aim too low.
Aim high! Shoot for God’s purposes and you will find that a loving community is the natural by-product.
Love the church you’re with!
“What?” I hear you cry! “Don’t you get it? The church I belong to does not know how to do community, much less know how to love each other and you’re telling me to love them?!”
So show them.
Show them how to love and how to love each other.
Among the many distinctly uncomfortable things that Jesus said, one of them jumps right out at you: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. (You choose the reference for this one – He said it a few times!)
He even went so far as to say, “Love your enemies”. (Matthew 5:44).
“Okay Lord. Loving Mother Teresa I get…but Donald Trump? Seriously?”
Jesus said that there are two distinct hallmarks of the servants of God:
Loving God seems to come quite naturally to us as believers. We are overwhelmed by His grace, love and compassion for us and our hearts open up to Him in love and devotion.
But our love and devotion is severely tested by the elderly person who scowls at us for sitting in “their” seat at church or the person who makes a point of seeking out the preacher every week in order to enlighten him about the shortcomings of his particular view of eschatology!
Nevertheless, we are called to love each other and to love each other well.
Paul’s remedy for the faction ridden church at Corinth? “Love each other!” (1 Corinthians 13).
In fact, he went so far as to say that the goal of all Scriptural teaching is that we love better; God and each other. ( 1 Timothy 1:3-5).
I love good Bible exposition but if it doesn’t challenge me, or the people I serve, to love God and people more, then what is the point?
So here is my radical thought. Rather than leave the church you are in because of its perceived failure to love and do life together, why not become an agent for change there?
In other words, love the church you’re with.
Believe me, like you, I have many reasons for un-churching the church. When I left the first church I pastored, I was disappointed. I had not given up on God, the church or ministry, but it is safe to say that I felt that the responsibility for the church’s problems lay with the people.
Were they spiritually and emotionally immature? Certainly! But so was I and thankfully, through the work of God in my own heart, I came to see that more clearly and I began to grow.
Over the course of my next two ministries, in Cairns and then Perth, I came to understand what it meant to love a group of people in spite of their flaws and shortcomings.
And I discovered that they loved me, with all of my own baggage, in return!
This change in me came about because I began to apply a truth that had been taught and modelled to me by two or three outstanding men in my life.
Rolling what they all said together into one short statement, it was this: “Be careful how you treat the church because Christ loved her and gave His life for her…”
Looking back, the moment I began to live that truth out was when, with faltering steps, I started loving God’s people, His church. I see now that it was also the moment when I and my ministry, began to mature.
Imagine what could happen in our churches if each of us took the bold step of trying to love each other well? I believe it would launch a spiritual revolution in the wider community that would realise the vision Francis Schaeffer had: “When the church is just a little of what it should be, people will come.”
Love the church you’re with!
Loving well is about being emotionally mature.
How we love God and each other says as much about our emotional maturity as it does our spiritual maturity.
And it also involves healthy boundaries.
While the idea of being part of a community that “does life together” sounds idyllic, it can also have a number of pitfalls. Geri Scazzero highlights this in her book, The Emotionally Healthy Woman. Speaking from experience, she explains how she often suppressed her own feelings of being stifled by so much community with others, including her own desire for personal space and reflection. In time, she learned that healthy community does not mean that you have to know everything about everyone or do everything with them. Its okay (and necessary) to set healthy boundaries for yourself and others and because you do, it does not follow that you are not loving others well.
In fact, emotionally and spiritually healthy people know how to set wise boundaries while still loving God and people well.
So you want a church community that loves well and does life together?
Great, because so do I!
Will you join with me then, in re-churching the church?
WHENEVER I hear Francesca Battistelli sing “Write Your Story” I’m captivated by the idea that God is the Author of my life and He has a beautiful story that He longs to write on every page of the book of my life. And sometimes His story for my life has twists and turns that I would not have included if I was in charge of the writing!
You’re the King of everything
The One who taught the wind to sing
The Source of the rhythm my heart keeps beating
You can give the blind their sight
And You can bring the dead to life
You can be the hope my soul’s been seekin’
I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I do, that You can make me new, oh
I’m an empty page
I’m an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark
Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won’t You write Your story on my heart
This was certainly true for a young couple who found themselves in the middle of a story that neither of them could have ever imagined.
The bride found herself pregnant outside of wedlock. The groom was not the father but being an honourable man he still went ahead with the marriage. Together they had to endure the sting of the whispered innuendos and pious smirks of people that are so often prevalent in small towns. And in the midst of it all, right at the moment when the baby was due, they had to make a long and difficult journey to fulfil a Government demand for taxation purposes.
I am quite certain that an unexpected pregnancy, public humiliation and giving birth to a child in a filthy stable would not have formed the major plotline had Joseph and Mary been writing the story of their lives. But it was a part of God’s story. In fact, it was a part of God’s story for the whole world!
This story of God’s – the coming of Jesus as Saviour and Lord of the world – had been written eons ago, deep in His heart. It is His response to a creation that had decided they would be responsible for the story of their lives, not the Author of Life. In fact, His story about Jesus was written long before they decided to go their own way.
It is a story as the song above suggests, about a Man who came to give the blind their sight back, life and restoration in place of death and hope to the desperate soul. It is a story that says no matter what the plotline of your life looks like up to this point – pages of wasted, desperate and lonely years – that plotline can be changed when you invite Jesus to become the Author.
No matter how bad your plotline has been, He can make your story new!
And don’t think that when you invite Jesus to be the Author of your life that your new story will be pain and trouble free – just ask Mary and Joseph! There will be twists and turns in the plot that you will never have anticipated but because you can trust the Author, you can also trust Him with where the story is headed. Mary and Joseph discovered this.
On the night Jesus was born the sky was filled with the voices of a myriad angels, singing the praises of the Majestic Author and Creator of the greatest, true story ever told and announcing that the Saviour of all people, everywhere, had come into the world.
They had joy because they submitted in trust to the Author! So, whose story is being written on your heart..?
I have a bad habit that I need to confess to. It has got me into trouble more times than I can remember and sometimes it has caused great pain to people I love dearly.
I read minds. There, I said it!
What I mean is that when I am in a conversation with someone, instead of listening to what they might be really saying, I tell myself, “I know what you’re thinking” and I base my response to them on my faulty assumption.
It’s a nasty habit.
I end up believing things about the person that are not true and my wrong assumptions have also caused unnecessary hurt in my relationships.
I have hurt my wife Karen at times when I have “read her mind” instead of allowing our conversation to flow in a natural and open way.
And I have also been hurt by others who have attempted a little mind reading with me.
It’s a nasty habit.
I have found that it has been a difficult one to break and my progress has been slow over the years. But I have also discovered some incredibly simple tools that I have endeavoured to put into practice and they have made an amazing difference in my conversations with others.
If I find myself beginning to “mind read” someone I will now ask them a question along the lines of, “Can I check out an assumption I have?” or even just “Can I check something with you please?”
In effect, I am asking their permission to read their mind! But if the person is willing to answer my question honestly then I am more likely to hear what they really think and respond to them accordingly, rather than basing all of my responses on what I think I know.
Asking a simple question like this clears up a lot of confusion, prevents misunderstanding and promotes healthy, honest conversation.
It also saves me from a lot of foolish anger because I am no longer basing my attitude on negative thoughts that are designed to bring the other person down in my mind.
An old proverb warns us of the danger of mind reading when it says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions…”
The second tool is also in the form of a question and is asked as a follow up to the first one.
“I think that you think…Is that correct?” or “I’m wondering…is that correct?”
If the answer is no, then things have been cleared up.
If the answer is yes, then it will lead to further positive conversation!
If all of this sounds simplistic or childish to you, then I would caution you to think again with the following true story.
At a marriage seminar we led, Karen gave the couples present an exercise based on these questions around mind reading in relationships.
As she moved around the tables to see how they were each doing, one lady admitted to Karen that she had just worked up the courage to ask her husband about an assumption she believed about him for twenty years.
She discovered that she had been wrong and that she had been hanging on to much unnecessary hurt for all of that time!
A whole new world of communication for this couple was opened up that afternoon through two simple, but powerful questions.
Relationships in our world are dogged by wrong assumptions and the faulty things that we have come to believe about each other.
We see it every day in TV programs, social media, friends, families and husbands and wives.
But there is a better way and it starts with the courage to ask two simple questions that begin with:
“Can I check…?” and “I think that…Is it true?”?
If you wanted to develop and deepen your communication with your spouse, where would you begin?
The answer may surprise you!
In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle says that it begins with a conversation with yourself.
Since the 1970s, Turkle has been studying the impact of technology upon our ability to engage in conversation with one another and, while she is writing about relationships in general, her observations also apply to married couples.
With the advent of the “smart phone” and other electronic devices, we are constantly connected and yet, we have grown more distant in our desire to relate to others at a meaningful level.
Turkle notes that there has been an increasing loss of empathy between people and the reason behind this is because a phone or computer makes no emotional demands upon you, there is no need for you to enter into what the computer might be feeling and there are no requirements for intimacy at any level.
So when it comes to real relationships with real people we are unable to empathise with them and we have no desire to enter into their world in any meaningful way.
And this is disastrous in friendships, especially marriages.
So if you want to change this, you may like to begin a conversation with yourself!
“Because it is in solitude,” Turkle says, “Where we learn to concentrate and imagine and to listen to ourselves.”
Just think about that for a moment.
Time alone with ourselves means that we need to give it our full attention and put away our electronic devices. You cannot pay attention to what is going on in your inner life if you are constantly distracted by who is saying what on Facebook or engaging in a text conversation.
And it holds true for our conversations with one another. The human brain is only able to give its attention to one thing at a time so if you are reading a Facebook status while you are talking with your spouse, then you are not giving the conversation (or the person) your full concentration.
Think also about the importance of being able to listen to yourself.
In times of solitude we are able to make space in order to process our internal world. It is here where we take time out to reflect on how we have responded in certain situations and to what feelings, good or bad, we might be experiencing at the moment.
“Why was I so angry when…?”
“What is it that I am grieving at this time?”
These are just a couple of the questions that it is important to ask of ourselves.
I have found that by making regular time for solitude in my life, I engage at a much deeper level of conversation with Karen.
It is a discipline that we have practiced for many years but which has grown significantly over this past year of our life together.
We have found that when we take the time to understand ourselves then we are in a much better place to also understand each other.
Turkle describes it like this: In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.
So let me finish by asking you some questions:
What is making you happy or sad right now?
What is your biggest dream or hope?
Where are you grieving loss right now?
If you cannot answer those questions with any clarity then it is time you had a conversation with yourself?