“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves….” I John 1:8
I do a lot of that these days. I suppose it’s human, seeing as how I’m about to hit birthday number 79 in a few days. There are a lot of days back there to look at! I’m so grateful to be active and energetic and still in the Lord’s field working alongside younger men and women called to His work.
The days behind me far outnumber those in front.
I do not sit around wallowing in regrets, let me make plain. But sometimes before rising in the morning, I lie there reflecting on times gone by, experiences in churches I served, remembering when my family was young, calling to mind conversations and decisions.
I have many a regret.
I wish I’d said ‘no’ to a lot of requests. As a young husband and father and ambitious pastor, I accepted many an invitation to speak or travel or serve on a board because it felt like the very opportunity for which the Lord had called me and for which I’d been prepared. But it took me away from my young children and my over-wrought wife.
Did I really need to serve as a trustee of that denominational board? It required me to travel out of state a half dozen times a year, two or three days at a whack. Over a four-year term, that adds up to a lot of time away.
I think about the two weeks I spent in Singapore helping the missionaries conceive an evangelistic comic book at the time my three children were 10, 13, and 16. Such critical ages, so formative, so needy of their father to be hands-on. Poor Margaret, looking after them, doing all the things a faithful mother does, chauffeuring them to everything, and all the while working on her degree from the local university. What was I thinking?
I remember all too well what I was thinking. I was a cartoonist and a minister, and Margaret and I had both seen the notice in The Commission, our denomination’s foreign mission monthly, at the same time on opposite sides of town, asking for a cartoonist to come to the other side of the world and assist the missionaries. This one had my name on it, we felt. The project was a mammoth one, since all the artwork and hand-coloring of the acetate cels had to be done after I returned. (The project consumed much of 1977.)
Was it worth it? God knows. Did my children turn out all right? I think so. But I was so caught up in my own ministry (I’m bending over backward not to refer to this ministry as ‘my career’) that I scarcely knew what was going on in my children’s lives. I hate that as much as I regret anything ever.
I have more stories not unlike that one. But I’ll spare you.
You have them too?
Once when I was a member of the staff of the church where I presently belong, I told my pastor (and boss) of invitations I was receiving to speak in other churches. There were far too many to accept. He said, “Do you know what will happen if you turn that invitation down? They will ask you again later.” The point being that I should lose the sense that if I turn this down, no one will ever again ask me to do anything. That dread was a constant companion, as I recall.
In the past week, as I write, I turned down three invitations to minister due to schedule, personal situation, or knowing my own limitations. It’s still hard.
I wish I’d said ‘no’ to so many things over these decades. Wish I’d decided differently on some choices. Wish I’d answered inquirers and troublemakers differently. I wish I’d led the church better.
When a young man told me he had questions about Jehovah Witnesses and would I meet with him to discuss this, I agreed and we set up the meeting. But when he showed up with his father and two aggressive members of the JW’s–all primed for warfare while I walked into that room unprepared, completely caught off guard–I should have turned around and walked out. Instead, I subjected myself to the worst hour of confrontation and verbal attacks I’d ever known. The Witnesses were mean and hostile and I was so ignorant, I’m embarrassed. The memory of that pain lingers to this day.
I wish I’d turned down the invitation from a local college campus ministry to serve on a panel discussing other religions when I had no clue what the format was or who else would be talking, and was given no time to prepare. Members of the local Mormon community sat in on that meeting and when I showed my ignorance about their teachings, they branded me in their congregation as hostile and hateful. That one pains me. I should have declined the invitation.
I have always wanted to please people. It’s a failing I have long accepted and had to deal with.
I’m not doing an autopsy on myself. That’s all the self-recriminations I’ll be laying before you the reader today. In fact, I suspect that what I am going through in reliving these experiences is fairly normal. We have all fallen short. None is righteous.
No one gets it right all the time.
I do know a few things, however.
–I know that I am but dust. I know I see through a glass darkly. I know it is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps. And I know that even though our Lord instructed us to “be ye therefore perfect even as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect,” He knows we cannot pull that off. That’s why He built in a fail-safe mechanism from the beginning. Jesus Christ is the “Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.” He is the propitiation for my sins.
The chapter that gives us the Ten Commandments–that would be Exodus 20–also makes provisions for an altar (20:24-25) where we may find forgiveness for not keeping them.
–I know our Lord is a God of grace and love. His very nature is love. That is Exodus 34:6-7, among other places. As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is God’s love toward puny weaklings like you and me who put our trust in Him (Psalm 103).
When they looked at Jesus, “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1).
–I know that being a God of grace and love, God shows infinite patience and forgiveness toward His children of dust. “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103). He forgives me, so I will accept His forgiveness and go forward.
–I know that God uses our pitiful efforts even though they are flawed. “God makes all things work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called….” (Romans 8).
–I know that sins dealt with are gone forever. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The sins He has forgiven He has forgotten (Hebrews 10:17). They were dealt with on Calvary (Colossians 2:14).
–So, while I may remember my sins and failures and shortcomings, my goofs and slipups and stupidities, I will not dwell on them. I will forgive myself since Christ has forgiven me and His standards are infinitely higher than mine!
And I will press forward, forgetting those things which are behind (Philippians 3).
As much as I can.
And when I cannot forget them, I will thank Him for a) forgiving them and b) using them for His purposes.
God is good.