Jesus said some things that seem very harsh out of context.

For instance, a man said “I will follow you, but first let me go home and bury my father.” Jesus’ response was: “Follow Me; and let the dead bury their dead.” Out of context, those words seem insensitive to a man’s grief. In context the man was asking Jesus to wait for his father to die before committing to becoming a follower.

Today’s invitations to follow Jesus are no less immediate. The New Testament emphasizes that “Today is the day of salvation; now is the accepted time.” But too often we wait for “the right time” to decide.

I spoke with a person who made a resolution to change something in his life. Three weeks later he has forgotten his vow. Why? The past had become a habit that he thought could not be changed. All of us get used to things the way they are and find it difficult to make or keep changes in our behavior or thinking. Let’s examine those “limits.”

The past is a major force because we don’t like change! Like an old pair of shoes or a comfortable shirt, we stick with the familiar. Dangerously, even when we know the thing we are “keeping” may be harmful, we choose what is known rather than risk the possibility of a better unknown. It takes courage to change! But it can be done. Remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

For most of us, the “tapes” in our brains (perhaps we should say the CD’s or Mp3’s now) have recordings of discouraging messages. Some are words of destructive criticism we heard from our parents as we grew up. Angry words spoken by a spouse in fights or divorces are played again and again in our minds. These echoes of the past are like chains that bind us to failure. We can’t embrace the joy of the present because of the lingering memories of the past.

A friend shared how he helped another friend begin to “free himself” of his past. They each wrote down as many memories that had haunted them – the “sins of the past” for which they could not accept forgiveness. After some tears and confession to each other, they agreed to burn their lists of transgressions together. They read Isaiah’s word, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” For some time to come, when they thought of the past, they reminded each other that the sins were “gone.” Freedom began to grow an each of them found relief.

I love how children reason. A little boy was told in Sunday School that God forgives us and puts our sins behind His back. When he told his Dad what he had learned, the man asked sarcastically, “And what if God turns around, what then?” For a moment the little boy was stymied but he finally answered, “Well, Daddy, I guess His back will still be behind Him.” The wisdom and simple faith of a child.

Don’t be pushed back to the past by your problems. Let this be a new day and be pulled into the present by your dreams.

Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as president of the International Family Foundation Inc. and is a resident of Canton.

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