Regrets - Part 1

The best definition of regret is a feeling of sorrow or remorse over something that has happened or has been done as well as the same feeling for a missed opportunity. 

We all have regrets.  Some regrets we get over quickly.  That may be because the loss was not that great or what could have been gained was either not significant or it could be gained another way.  But some regrets are significant with pain that can last a lifetime. 

I remember a conversation I had with an old cowboy rancher from western South Dakota.  He really was not as old as he looked.  He was struggling with some major health issues including emphysema.  In between gasps for air he told me that had he known he would live this long, he would have taken better care of himself.  This was certainly a regret and sadly for something that was irreversible. 

I have lived long enough to hear numbers of regrets from people who wish they could just go back and have a do over.  A man regrets not having worked harder to save his marriage.  A father regrets not spending more time with his children in their growing years.  A woman regrets the first time she ever went to a casino.  A teen regrets driving his car recklessly which caused an accident.   A man regrets not visiting his aging father more.  

Let’s face it.  Regrets mean there is pain and so often, the pain could have been avoided had only . . .  Had only I made a better choice. 

I know there are things we regret that are outside of our control.  But for today, let’s focus on the types of regrets that are linked to our choices.  They are the hardest to deal with.  It is harder to bear these regrets.  Who can we blame but ourselves? 

Regrets that burden us from carrying on with life are a form of bondage.  Bondage is never from God so it is right to conclude that God desires to set us free from this bondage.  Living in regrets is living in the past and keeps us from either enjoying the present or from making the most of present opportunities for good. 

When God forgives, He remembers our sin no more.  He doesn’t hold the wrong choices or actions against us.  With this He opens doors of hope for a better future and He desires that we look forward to this future He has planned for us.

1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

This does not change history, but it does give hope for a brighter future.

Measuring Benefits

I was recently discussing with an electrician the evolving of the light bulb.  In the last ten years we have moved from the incandescent bulb to the compact florescent bulb to LED bulbs.  The newer bulbs are more expensive but they use only a percentage of the electricity of the older bulbs.  It was an investment to switch to the CFL bulbs.  They used about a third of the electricity of its predecessor.  Now the LED has emerged which uses about half the energy of its predecessor, the CFL.  These investments in newer technology promise lower electricity bills in the future.  They are much like investing in new insulation in an older home.  There is a cost up front but the return is unending as long as you live in the home.  But we cannot measure the savings because there are other variables such as how cold the winter is, where the thermometer is set, and the always changing price of fuel.

This is similar in other areas of life.  Driving defensively prevents accidents but we don’t know what type of accident or how severe the accident would have been.  We may not even realize that an accident was prevented.  Eating healthy is good but we can’t measure the cost of a disease we don’t get. 

So it is with our spiritual health.  Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and other good things will come our way (Matthew 6:33).  We cannot measure the value of these benefits when they are received nor can we if they never come our way. 

God challenged His people to give their tithes and offerings in the book of Malachi.  He said that we should test Him and see if He would not open the window of heaven and pour out blessings.  He also said he would rebuke the devourer.  It is possible to miss out on a great blessing and not know what we missed.  It is also possible for God to protect us from something that would have eaten us alive and not realize it.

We understand the principle of investing in energy saving light bulbs or in insulation and we accept the truth that we will never be able to measure the savings exactly.  We just know there will be a saving.  So, are we able to grasp the same principle concerning the priority we give to God in our lives?

NON-CONFORMERS

On a daily basis I read or watch news stories about the radical group ISIS.  I have a particular interest in its relentless and growing resolve to attack Christians from around the world because they do not conform to a certain way of thinking.  Of a similar nature, I see stories from here in the United States where Christians are attacked, sometimes by the government, for holding to their religious convictions.  These convictions were once firmly protected as the right to free exercise of religion based in the first amendment to the constitution.  The indictment is for refusal to conform to our society’s attempt to redefine marriage and is guised under the label of discrimination.  Please note, the people not being served by those trying to stay true to their personal beliefs have other options.  They are not truly suffering.

The Christians under extreme persecution in Syria and the florists and bakers being forced out of business for not sanctioning a same sex wedding are similar in that they are refusing to conform.  I am certain there are exceptions, but generally these non-conformists are not inflicting bodily or financial harm on anyone.  Only an extremist would dare call them evil.

If the Apostle Paul were alive today, he would be cheering on the grandmother in Washington State who would rather lose her store than conform to the pressure of the State for not making floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

In the glory days of Rome, a disturbing sect called Christians came on the scene.  They had not heard the rule, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’  Rather, they refused to be absorbed into the godless society of Rome.  The Romans figured they could control one’s conscience by law, so laws against being different were made.  Non-conformists were threatened with death and many chose death rather than compromise their consciences. 

Paul, a Roman Christian, took up a pen and wrote an encouragement to Christians for all ages.  “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Times have changed, but the human heart hasn’t.  Pressures continue to bear upon Christians to conform their thinking to unhealthy and ungodly ways.  Expect it to continue, but don’t give in.  Rather renew your thinking through God’s word, and you will discover His perfect will.

The Cost of Missed Opportunities

We have all heard it said, ‘what we don’t know won’t hurt us.’  Dave Ramsey calls this ridiculous.  Not knowing a tornado is coming can be deadly.  Not knowing a pan is hot will get you burned.

A similar thought but somewhat in reverse deals with missed opportunities.  Opportunities not known about bring no regrets.  Despite this, potential gains and benefits did exist and could have been attained. 

What about opportunities we intentionally miss? 

When we forgo an opportunity, we have made a decision that the benefits of the opportunity are of less value than something else.  We have many opportunities to worship and to grow as Christians.  When we say no to these opportunities, we are telling God there is something more important and of more value to us.  It is more than, I am just too busy or too tired or something else is planned.

Conditions For Following Christ

A few weeks ago we celebrated Easter.  During that week, we remembered the crucifixion and death of our Lord Jesus.  A short time before this event, Jesus was talking to his disciples in preparation for the journey into Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, condemned and subsequently die.  He told his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and then follow me.” 

This principle still applies today.  Calling myself a Christian does not make me look like one.  A Christian is more easily identified when he does as Jesus stated.  Evidence of one denying himself giving preference to the will of God and taking up his cross as he listens to and obeys Christ’s teachings in the Bible is good indication of what a real Christian is.

Today I want to address the two conditions Jesus gave.  However first I note that Jesus gave these conditions to anyone who chooses to be his follower.  Jesus does not beg, He does not coerce, he does not lay guilt trips on anyone.  He just says, ‘this is the way it is.  If you want to be my disciple or follower, two things are required.'

During Lent, it is common for many people to give up something they would otherwise partake of or enjoy.  It could be chocolate or movies.  It could be Mountain Dew.  There is nothing wrong with this type of self-denial.  Actually, we would all benefit if we practiced more self-denial.  But this is not the type of self-denial that Jesus is talking about.  In this context, Jesus is saying that one denies himself by renouncing his right to direct his own life and hands these rights to God. 

This does not look easy.  Actually it is against our very nature as all of us want to be in control of our lives.  Some of us even want to control other peoples’ lives.  But Jesus is saying that following him is inconsistent with us being in control.  Submission is the big word.  To deny ourselves, we submit to God’s plan when it conflicts with our desires. 

Jesus also said that we are to take up our cross.  He stated this before He carried his cross toward Golgotha. 

We all have infirmities or afflictions in life.  Some of these are physical hardships, maybe disease or handicaps that limit our lifestyle.  Others have afflictions in broken relationships.  Some are victims of accidents or crime or abuse.  As we struggle with these, we may reach a point of screaming at God that it is not fair.  Some analyze such conditions and conclude that God is at fault if for no other reason than not stopping something bad from happening. 

To take up our personal cross as the condition of following Jesus, we must embrace the affliction that God has allowed into our life and for whatever reason not elected to remove and we must not allow it to be an excuse for not following Him.  In other words, we refuse to allow the hand dealt us in life to keep us from choosing Jesus and putting our faith in Him. 

Many people do.  They blame God rejecting Him, the church, and even the Bible because of something they must bear in life. 

In this same passage where Jesus was teaching his disciples, he stated, “what does it profit a person if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”  We must remember that the servant is not greater than his master.  Jesus bore a cross to the end of his life on the cross.  We too have crosses to bear.  Some will not be taken from us during this lifetime.  It makes no sense to use them as an excuse for not following the one who bore the penalty for our sin on His cross.

Close is Not Close Enough

 Mark 12:28-34.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than  these."

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

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Generally when we read a passage like this, we find the biggest and most significant points from which to glean truth. Within this interaction, they are fairly obvious. The most important command is for us to love God and we are to love him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. The second point is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

These are no small commands. I know of no one who does this perfectly.  Indeed, they are goals or targets to shoot at and strive to attain. Loving God perfectly with all that is in us is a tall order. I don’t believe this is something I can do on my own any more than I believe I can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly. The same is true of loving my neighbors. It is obvious I need God’s grace.

I want to focus on a few other interesting but often overlooked parts of this story. First, I note that a teacher of the law is giving Jesus a test to see what Jesus knows. He is not asking because he wants to gain understanding from the Lord. This is clear from his later answer to Jesus’ reply about the two great commandments. The teacher basically graded Jesus answer.   

Consider the patience that Jesus demonstrated with this man. Jesus knew his heart. He played along knowing that the teacher of the law was in a sense testing Him. He even let the man feel superior when in fact he wasn’t. 

The other thing I find interesting is in Jesus’ last comment to the man. He told him that he was not far from the kingdom of God. 

This teacher, much like a Bible college professor today, had a basic understanding of truth. Maybe on this point, his understanding was right on. Yet, Jesus said he was not far from the kingdom of God. This professor was still on the outside. 

So what was needed in his life? It was the same thing needed for you and me to enter God’s kingdom. Individually, we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and entry into God’s kingdom is through Jesus alone. 

My question: Are you close to the kingdom of God? The promise of scripture is that if we believe in Jesus, we will not perish but have eternal life. Eternal life is life in, not close to the Kingdom of God.