Forget the Past

Forget It • Devotion #2: Forget the Past
Gareth Volz | 55+ Ministry Director

What do you think of when you hear the term, “Skeletons in the Closet?” For me, that term speaks of things in my past that are hidden away, things I am not proud of, and things that remind me of scary and ugly times in the past. It is those things that still trouble me, and I do not want others to know about them.

In John chapter 4, we read of a divine encounter a woman of Samaria had with Jesus. While Jews routinely went around Samaria to get to and from Jerusalem because Samaritans were half-breeds and considered unclean, John tells us Jesus had to go through Samaria. He waited by the city well for her to come and draw water. She did not come first thing in the morning with the rest of the women because she had a bad reputation, and she was ashamed of her past. However, Jesus knew all about her life and still wanted to meet with her and reveal to her who He was, and what He could do for her to overcome her past life. After meeting with Jesus her life was changed, and she could not wait to share with others that He was the promised Messiah and tell what He had done for her.

God used a woman who was married and divorced five times, and she was now living with a man. This showed me that in spite of my past and some of the ugly, sinful things I have done, God still loves me and can use me if I surrender my life to Him. Even though I have been a Christian for over six decades, I still struggle at times to do what I know is right. I am encouraged by what Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Paul forgot his ugly, sinful past, and surrendered his life to Christ and committed himself to do what God wanted him to do. He forgot his past and strained to do what God had for him in the future so that he could realize the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” If he had not done this, he would not have been able to do the work Christ had for him.

Paul is not the only one. Consider the failure of Peter and the other disciples who abandoned Jesus in the garden when the crowd came to arrest Him and demand His death. They had to forget this failure in order to do what Jesus commanded them to do after His resurrection – to take the Gospel everywhere (Matthew 28:16-20).

In the Old Testament we read over and over again how those who loved God, fell into temptation and sinned, and when they repented were used greatly by God to fulfill His purposes – Abraham, Moses, Samson, David, and Jonah.

I am reminded of the chorus I learned as a child:
You ask me why I’m happy, well I’ll just tell you why,
It’s because my sins are gone.
And when I meet the scoffers who ask me where they are,
I say my sins are gone.
They’re underneath the blood on the cross of Calvary,
As far removed as darkness is from dawn.
In the sea of God’s forgetfulness that’s good enough for me,
Praise God-my sins are gone!

Like the Apostle Paul, forget the skeletons in your closet and strain forward for what God has for you to do. When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future. We have victory in Jesus, our Savior forever.

Set It and Forget It 

Forget It | Devotion #1: Set It and Forget It
Ryan Story | Location Pastor – Burton

Few people know who Ron Popeil is. Few people would know he founded the company RonCo. However, if I told you that Ron Popeil coined one of the most famous phrases in infomercial history you might realize about whom I am talking. The Showtime Rotisserie is one of the most popular infomercial items, not because of the product, but because of Ron’s catchphrase, “Set it and forget it.” I have always loved watching all types of infomercials of items. I know that I will never buy any of these items, but I have been watching infomercials for years. I cannot say for sure why but there has always been something about that phrase that has always stuck with me. 

We all have a past. You do not have to have a failed marriage, drug or alcohol abuse, or estranged children to have a past. From the person who has been clean for three months, to the person who was in church the first Sunday they were out of the hospital, we all have skeletons in our closets. I grew up in a mess of a family where my wife grew up in a pretty godly and functional house, and we both have skeletons in our closets. Today, I want to encourage you to come to peace with the brokenness of life. The reality is sin is still triumphing over people’s lives, the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) is still wreaking havoc in our world. Life is hard, and there is some serious hurt out in the stories of all who are reading this. We live in a world that tells us to cover up the hurt, hide the imperfections, and only project that Instagram worthy selfie to the world. If you are someone who has some serious hurts in your life, know that every staff member is here to help pray with you, and we would all love helping you find Jesus in your pain. Today, I want to encourage you to set it and forget it.

Clearly, an infomercial has no real power in our world to change someone’s life, but the Word of God does. Colossians 3:1-2 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” While the target market for most people who read devotionals is most likely those who have been redeemed and saved by putting their faith in Jesus Christ and the work He did for us by dying on a cross for our sins, sometimes we may overlook this. The first part of the verse in Colossians is “if then you have been raised with Christ.” If you have not been born again, please take some time to do that. If you have any question about that, feel free to call The River Church’s offices.  But for those of us who believe in Jesus, we are told to “set your mind on things that are above.” It took me a long time to realize that God has always had a purpose for every pain I ever experienced. It may take time for us to find that purpose, but we will never find that purpose if we are always looking to ourselves, the world, or a substance for the answer. The only answer comes from above. When we set our minds to the godly things, it is amazing how everything else in life seems to just fall into line. 

So I encourage you to set your mind to things above and forget what is in the past. You cannot change the past, how you reacted, or what was done to you. I assure you though that our God is too loving not to have a plan. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to trust that God has a plan for our pain.  

Remember: Set it and forget it!

The Making of a Gathering Pastor

Define It | Devotion #6: The Making of a Gathering Pastor
Caleb Combs | Gathering Pastor

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV) 

I have had many “aha” moments in my life when it comes to my walk with Christ. I think one of the most monumental was watching God direct my path in the ways He wanted me to go, once I finally gave in and let Him. In 2006, I was a 22-year-old newly married immature kid who did not know what I was doing with my life. I had just taken a sales job across the country and decided to move with my wife to a place where we knew no one and had no connections to any sort of church. Growing up, we were both church kids to the core. Being extremely involved in the church was a part of our everyday lives. It was who we were. Yet, even though we went to a Bible college (where we should have been spiritually thriving), we both fell out of the church kid lifestyle. Throughout college and the first year of my marriage, I began to backslide in my walk with Christ. I knew that by following my own path, I had lost my way. I knew this move to Florida was bringing me to a crossroads, and I could go one of two ways. Would I make the Christian faith my own, not just something my parents made me do as a kid? Would I make Christ the center of my life and my marriage? I knew I believed in Christ, but would I make Him Lord of my life? The simple answer was yes, of course, that is what I wanted. Yet my actions up to this point did not portray it. I knew that it was time to make a choice. As a control freak, letting God direct my steps was very difficult. I enjoyed the benefits of having Him in my life, but I still wanted that control. So here I was at the crossroads. Would I give my life to God? Would I let Him be real and active in my life? 

Sierra and I looked at many houses throughout the central eastern coast of Florida and ended up settling on a little beach town called Edgewater. I would be traveling for work, so I wanted to be close to the interstate, and my southern California raised wife wanted to be close to the ocean and not too far from Disney. Edgewater seemed to be the perfect fit. When we found a house just a couple miles from the beach, Chick-Fil-A, and a really good Chinese takeout place, we were instantly sold! My wife and I committed to making church apart of our lives again, which we had let slip over our years in college and beyond. We had attended periodically, but truly getting involved in a church was not something we had done. So when we arrived in Florida, it was a commitment we decided to make. We began to acknowledge our need for God in our marriage and understood we could not do it on our own. We tried a little church down the street on our first Sunday and knew right away it was not for us. I began to get discouraged and prayed, “God I am trying to follow you, but you need to help me here. Please show us where to go and lead us to the place where you want us!” All that was left to do was trust. Wow, did He come through in answering that prayer quickly and specifically!  

The following Saturday, I felt an intense and unusual urge to exercise (yes, I realize I need to get this urge more often). Our neighborhood had a clubhouse and gym, so I headed there for the first and maybe the only time in the whole time we lived there. I began to workout and minded my own business. I was not there to talk to anyone, and I was a little annoyed when I saw a lady coming over to start a conversation. Out of the blue, she asked, “Where do you go to church?” At first, I was stunned and then realized I was wearing a Providence Church t-shirt. It was a ministry of a friend of mine in Pontiac, and he always hooked me up with gear to wear. I told her that we had just moved and did not have a church as I went back to my workout. She interrupted me again and said, “You should go to Edgewater Alliance Church, they have a lot of families your age there.” I instantly felt in my heart that God was telling me that this was the place for us and He was leading us there. I later found out that that lady did not even go there. In fact, she was not even a believer! How cool is it that God can use whatever and whoever He wants to deliver a message?! The next day, Sierra and I walked into that church like most visitors do, timid and keeping to ourselves. We enjoyed the service, but what really hooked me was the announcement that today was softball sign up day. Another confirmation that this was the church for me. The service ended, and before we could even exit our row, a lady and her husband came over and asked us if we were new, where we lived, and basically our whole history. She then began to walk us around the auditorium and introduced us to couples. It was horrifying, but I knew it was exactly what God wanted for us (I am forever grateful to you Steve and Michelle for being used by God to connect us!). 

It was like an instant connection with these people. We had dinner with several families during the first week. I started softball, and as it turned out, most of the families we had met on Sunday were on the softball team and invited us to Orlando to go to Universal Studios the following Saturday. By the end of the Universal trip, we had made ten new best friends. God instantly grew us close with our new church family, and through growing close to them, we grew in His Word and as a couple. We began serving in the student ministry, ushering, and hosting a small group. God truly directed our paths to this church. Most of the people we met there have become family and lifelong friends. I can truly say I would not be in ministry today if God had not directed my paths to that gym and then to that church. 

It is amazing to see God direct our paths when we give up the control. We went into this journey not knowing what the future held, but He knew exactly what He was doing. I encourage you today to let go of your past, your failures, and your mistakes, and trust God for your future. Though you may not know what tomorrow will bring, when you place your trust in Him He will prove faithful and direct your path according to His perfect plan.

To Know Him is to Love Him

Define It | Devotion #5: To Know Him is to Love Him
Holly Boston | Women’s Director

Take a few minutes and read John 4:1-45. In this story we find a Samaritan woman performing an ordinary task, and she ends up having an extraordinary encounter with Jesus. She goes to a well to draw the water she needs for the day and enters into a conversation in which Jesus offers her “living water” (verse 10) that will satisfy her thirst completely.  Ultimately, this unlikely woman receives Christ, becomes God’s vessel for the Gospel, and is used to transform many in her town (verse 41).

There are many truths taught from this one story: salvation is for all, Jesus knows our past and still loves us, Jesus meets us where we are, and too many are looking for love in all the wrong places. As I look back at my own story, I realize I have a lot in common with this lady, and I have drawn my own truth from it: to know Jesus is to love Jesus. 

This lady was an unlikely recipient of an encounter with Jesus, let alone His gift. Jewish men were not to be seen or to associate with Samaritan women. Samaritans were treated with prejudice and disdain because they were the product of intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles. Jewish people avoided passing through Samaria, but Jesus did not. I was also an unlikely recipient of an encounter with Jesus having been raised in a non-Christian environment and never having heard of Jesus’ life and sacrifice for me. But the most striking commonality between this woman and myself is a lack of understanding, stemming from a wrong perspective. 

After Jesus offers the woman “living water,” she responds with these words, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:15). She did not get it! Jesus was offering the “living water” that would completely quench her spiritual thirst and meet every need she would ever have. She was focused on her worldly, physical needs and Jesus was focused on eternity and the condition of her soul.

In 1995, I met Jesus and received His gift of eternal life. The cares and struggles of this life had broken me, and I needed to be saved. My parents had just divorced, and my own marriage was not the heavenly union I expected. This anxious, controlling woman was becoming more anxious and realizing how little control she really had. Meeting Christ was followed by three years that were riddled with heartbreak and struggle: job loss, home loss, health problems, and a child diagnosed with Autism. In 1999, I called my sister and told her that if this was life with Christ, I am out. Where was Jesus who loves me and would never leave me? How could Jesus offer me rest and peace, take control of my life, and then allow such pain? Two minutes later my brother-in-law called and said: “I do not understand. You gave your life to Christ, and now you are ready to walk away and do not even know Him.” He was right. I received Christ and then continued attending my church, which was steeped in legalistic ritual and absent of any instruction on the Word of God.

I immediately enrolled in a Bible study and began to learn the truth about my Savior. I expected Jesus to end my struggles but Scripture says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). He goes on to say, “For you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). I was stunned to learn that my pain was actually part of His plan and allowed for the purpose of transforming me. These truths were only palatable when I learned His promises:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

When I was led by misconceptions and half-truths about my Savior, I felt angry and abandoned. With the understanding I have received from studying His Word and walking with Him, my relationship has grown, and my love for Jesus has deepened. I love Him because He first loved me!

Long-Term Memory

Define It | Devotion #4: Long-Term Memory
Richie Henson | Production Director 

Each day, our brains are flooded with mounds of new and differing information. Some of it is sensory, like all the cars, trees, and the buildings we see while driving. Others are more intellectual in nature, new ideas we come across while reading or skills we develop through training or conversation. No matter how “busy” you feel on a given day, there is no doubt that your brain is under constant bombardment. I think that is why God designed long-term memory the way He did. As part of God’s great design, our brains consolidate information we receive during the day and items that are repeated multiple times make their way into our long-term memory. Our brains preserve these memories and store them throughout our brain ready to be recalled when the time comes. This is an amazing function that God has placed in us, but like most things in this fallen world, it can be a stumbling block in our walk with God. 

I grew up in the church, but my relationship with Jesus did not become my own until I was 17. Since that time, I have been trying my best to lay down my life and pursue the purpose God has for me. However, there are days when all I can think about are memories of my past life that plague me. There was a time in my life when I was full of hatred, and I took it out on everyone around me. I remember fights at school or with my parents that got out of hand. It makes me wonder if I can ever be the person God wants me to be. It makes it hard to feel that I could ever change.

I think the woman at the well probably lived this experience. Jesus called out the sin she was living in so that she could understand her need for Jesus to save her. I believe the woman at the well got saved, but I also know that her long-term memory was filled with actions she could never take back. It can be a struggle to live in the present when your memory banks are filled with the regrets of your past. 

I believe Paul is a prime example of someone who worked to combat this. He was haunted by a recent past full of hatred towards Christians, but he was able to overcome his past by the power of God to be the greatest leader of the early church. Paul gives us a glimpse into how he did this in Philippians 3:13, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Our brains are designed to remember the big events from our lives. There are times where this can be painful as we consider our poor choices and actions. However, Jesus did not save us to live in our past, and He saved us to strain forward to what lies ahead. Your past is exactly that, past. I pray we all would work to leave it there.

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