OVERCOMING TOUGH TIMES
Moving Out of the Land of Regret
April 5, 2009
In a world of pain, suffering, and chaos it is easy to get stuck in the land of regret. How do we move forward when the wound, the loss, and the guilt have us trapped? Join Ben Young in the fourth message of this series, as he takes a look at how Job moved out of the land of regret and into the light of redemption.
How many of you remember the name of your first grade teacher? Raise your hand if you remember. That’s amazing! I see those hands. That is probably 80% of us. The name of my first grade teacher was Miss Blaskowitz. I didn’t really like school, but I tended to like my teachers. I gained a lot of wisdom from “Miss B” as we called her. Then I remember other teachers I had. I had a Bible study teacher, here at the church actually, who used to be in the Moonies. If you are over 40, do you remember the cult called “The Moonies”, the so-called Unification Church? He was in the Moonies, but he got out of the Moonies and became a cult napper! Parents would pay him money to get their kids out of a cult. He had a big influence on my life.
I remember a professor I had in college who was a phenomenal influence. He was an incredible communicator. Even when I was in graduate school and would come back into town, I would try to sneak in his class just to hear this guy lecture. He would say things like, “What you don’t know will kill you!” I liked and remembered that. He said, “T.V. is a vast waste land of garbage!” I like that too!
Anyway, as I look back on my life; teachers had an incredible impact and influence. If you’re a teacher of any shape, size or form, let me tell you something: What you do is extremely important. I know you’re tired, and I know it’s tough, but it has an incredible impact on people for the rest of their lives. Even in first grade, you see 80% remembered the name of their first grade teacher.
It’s interesting though, if you look at our education system; you can go through elementary school, junior high and high school, college and graduate school, even getting a Ph.D. and never have to take a course on these three things. You never have to take a course on how to handle male-female relationships, which usually becomes a pretty important skill sometime down the road. You never had to take a course on how to handle money, which is as we are discovering, painful on a macro-micro level when you don’t handle money properly. Then third of all, you can go through all that school but never have to take a course on how to handle suffering; how to handle trials in your life.
Fortunately, if you’ve been here for the last several weeks; we have been in a series, and have been listening, really, to two teachers who have taught us how to navigate suffering. They’ve been teaching us not by saying, “All right! Open your textbooks to page 248 and blah, blah, blah!” No, no, no! They’ve been teaching us how to handle suffering by living through it.
Hopefully as we’ve been looking at a story of a guy named Job; you’ve been entering into that story with him. Job, remember, had it all! The guy was rolling! His house was on MTV Cribs. He was on the front cover of Fortune. He was on the front cover of Christianity Today. He had faith, family, fortune, fame—the guy had it all, until all of a sudden, smash! His life was shattered into a million pieces! He lost his job; he lost his company; he lost his fame; he lost his fortune; he lost his ten kids in a tragic accident, and his wife said, “Job, you’re an idiot for believing in this God! Why don’t you curse God and die!” He had all these boils all over his body that were so bad, they were oozing pus. He had a little piece of broken pottery and was scraping himself with it. Then he had these yo-yo friends come up to him and give him some really horrific comforting advice. “Yeah Job, you’re in sin! That’s why you are getting punished by God! Good people don’t have this kind of catastrophic thing just happen out of the blue! You had to have done something!”
So Job is one of the primary teachers. Look at one of the ways Job handled suffering. Let’s look at Job 19:7 and following. If you want to know how to find the Book of Job, it’s pretty easy. Just take your Bible out and open to the middle. You should run into Psalms. Hang a left, and you’ll run into the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job. If you’re going through a trial right now; if you’re going through a time of suffering and pain, or loss; it’s comforting to me to know that the oldest Book in the Bible is a Book that deals with pain and suffering in a very real and very raw way. Listen to what Job says, verse 7, chapter 19. “Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. He (talking about God) has blocked my way so I cannot pass; He has shrouded my paths in darkness. He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side until I’m gone; He uproots my hope like a tree.”
After Hurricane Ike, we saw all those huge trees that had been uprooted. Job said his hope had been uprooted like a tree. He went on to say he felt alienated, estranged and forgotten. Then in verse 17, he said, “My breath is offensive to my wife.” to add insult to injury, right? He said, “My best friends detest me. I am nothing but skin and bones; I have escaped with only the skin of my teeth.”
I think one of the things we can learn about suffering and pain from Job as well as from King David in the book of Psalms, is that you’ve got to let your emotions out at some point. Weather you write it down or journal it, but you’ve got to get real, and you’ve got to get raw with God! Job did that. Job still believed in God. Job still believed that He had a plan for his life. Job somehow believed that God was involved in the shattering of his life, and that God allowed that to happen for some reason, and Job just held on to that. But while he was holding on to that, at other times, he was holding on to what? Regret, anger, and he was expressing that to God.
Another teacher who has helped us and me in this series is a guy I’ve introduced you to, a professor from the Pacific Northwest by the name of Dr. Jerry Sittser. Jerry Sittser was in an automobile accident some 10 plus years ago. He was in a mini-van, and a drunk driver hit him. It killed his mother, his wife, and his 4-year old daughter. He ended up having to raise his three surviving children alone. Dr. Sittser wrote about his struggles, and he talks about the danger of getting stuck in the land of regret when we’re going through a time of loss, a time of suffering and trial. What happens to us? We take something that happened to us, maybe last week, last year, or maybe when we were a little child, and we play it over, and over, and over, and over again in our minds. When we do that, we re-live the emotion. We re-live the pain, and there is no movement in our life. Regret. It’s easy to get stuck in the land of regret. We get bewildered, because our life is not the way it used to be. It’s not the same. Things are different now. Something has been broken. There has been a sense of loss, and we’re wondering how in the world we can move forward to the next chapter of our lives?
Let me say this about regret: It is normal and is a natural part of life. It’s what it means to be human. We live in a broken, fallen world, which we talked about last week. We live in a broken, fallen world with broken, fallen people. Because of this, we are going to have brokenness, and we are going to have regret. It’s natural; it’s a part of being human. But the temptation is to live in regret land! The temptation is, instead of moving from regret to a different place; we stay there and dig some foundations. We build a house and decorate it, and we live with the memories of these past wounds; the photographs, and the movies, and we play it over and over again in our minds. We just sit there in our little house, in our little hovel, stuck in the mud in the land of regret!
Regret is regressive because we don’t move forward. We just play back, and we get stuck in the wound, in the loss, and in the guilt. We live in the land of “if onlys.” Have you ever done that? “If only I hadn’t worked so hard… If only I had spent more time with the kids… If only, if only…. If only. If only I had taken a left instead of a right. If only I had stopped at that stop light a minute later.
If only I had changed a few things, then that wouldn’t have happened. If only I had watched my diet! If only I had stopped smoking. If only I hadn’t run away…” We live in the land of regret by living on the “if onlys.” In a world of pain, suffering and chaos; it’s easy to get stuck in the land of regret.
Can we move out? Is it possible to move out of that land into a different place?
Job, to look at it from a human perspective, had a good reason to live in the land of regret. He could live there! His life was in shambles. No one seemed to like him; everyone seemed to hate him. He lost his business; he lost his money; he lost his family; he lost everything! He could live in the land of regret, but let’s see what Job did. What did he do? Look at chapter 19 again at verses 25 and 26. Job was looking for something, or maybe he was looking for someone. It says: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God!” Job is crying out! He desires to have a go-between, a mediator who is going to plead his case before God.
The good news for you and me here today is that what Job desired; we can experience. What Job desired, a Redeemer who lives, we can experience because we know that God has entered into time, space and history. Ultimate reality has entered into temporal reality to relate to us and know us, and then to die in our place as a go-between, and to rise again on the third day alive so that we could be accepted; so that we could be forgiven and redeemed. Is it possible? Can we move from regret to redemption? Can we move from a place of regret, to a place of redemption?
I believe God does not want us to live and stay stuck in regret land! I’m not saying suffering and loss will forever change you. Suffering will shape you, but it does not have to define you. It doesn’t have to define you, because I believe God has not called you and I to live stuck in the land of regret. He wants us to live in the light of redemption. You live in the light of redemption when you let go of the loss and embrace the new opportunities that pain can bring into your life.
There are corny sayings that come out of weight training. Perhaps you’ve heard them: “No pain, no gain.” There are some other ones too—“No weights, no dates; no curls, no girls!” But that is a whole other sermon! Sometimes I work out with the Master Blaster himself, Shawn Kelley, and another trainer by the name of Pete. When we’re working out, these guys are just muscled up! When we’re in the weight room, we’re pushing each other! Why do we do that? Why do you work out? You say “I work out so I can get pumped up and get big!”
No, no. When you work out, what happens? Your muscles are torn down. When you are working out, you are tearing down your muscles, and through and rest and eating, it will build strength into your life.
By the way, here is a little free vignette for guys over 40 that has nothing to do with the message: Weight training is just as important as cardio! Anyway…
It’s important to work out, but in working out, I know if I’m going to grow and get stronger and get into shape, whether it’s cardio or weight training; I’ve got to push myself! I’ve got to enter into a degree of pain and push myself farther than I can go to get results. Whether we like it or not, pain and suffering is a reality in our lives. You can’t escape it! As Buddha said, “Life is suffering!” That’s one paradigm to look at life. So what are you going to do with the suffering? What are you going to do with the injustice? What are you going to do with the loss? Are you going to stay in regret land, or are you going to say, “God, I want you to redeem my pain and suffering and turn something that was evil and bad into something that is good.” God can do it!
I love again what Jerry Sittser says. Here is a quote! “I must let go of my regrets over what could have been and pursue what can be.” I have to let go of playing this movie over and over again in my life, living in this hovel, stuck in the land of regret and focus on what can be. My life, my context is different now, but I’ve got to focus on what God has for me today. Redemption…
Paul said this in Philippians: “This one thing I do. Forget what lies behind! I press on to the upper call of God in Christ Jesus. One thing I do, I forget regret, what lies behind, and I press on to what God has for me today, even in the midst of my suffering and the midst of my pain.” Paul many times in the midst of being locked in prison says, “I press on… I’ve got to forget the regret and move on.”
Paul had a lot to regret if you know the story. Paul used to persecute and throw Christians, like some of you, into jail. He had them killed. Then God said, “Hey Paul, while you’re doing your business deal as a tent maker; I want you to become a missionary and a pastor.” “Who me, Lord? I used to kill Christians!” “Yes, you, Paul! And Paul, on the side I want you to write some of the Bible for Me.” “But God, I was a murderer of Christians!” “I don’t care, Paul. I’m calling you to do that!” Paul could have lived in regret land all of his life, couldn’t he? “Oh, I’m not worthy! I can’t do it! I killed Christians! I murdered them; I put them in jail, I…” When God tells you to move out of regret land, you move! You move into the land of redemption! That’s what Paul did!
Thank goodness he did that, or the New Testament would be pretty small! All of us here would be wearing Yamakas instead of a couple of us.
Live in the light of redemption! That’s what the Cross is about, isn’t it? Remember last week, for those of you who were here, Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon. Remember? Kung Fu, God’s Kung Fu at the Cross? He takes the negativity of evil and unjust death at the Cross and turns it into what? An instrument of life, love, and forgiveness. He takes a symbol of torture and pain and turns it into a symbol of love, mercy, and grace. God can take evil and redeem it, and recycle it into something great and good!
Now, the scars still remain. I was thinking about that earlier. The scars still remain; but the redemption has been accomplished. I’m accepted because Christ was forsaken, right? He was condemned; I am accepted. He died as a sacrifice in my place to redeem my soul, yes! To forgive me, yes, and somehow by His Spirit to even redeem the things that are happening in my life and in your life right now.
Christianity is a beggar’s religion. It’s one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Ultimately, it’s about mercy, grace, and about what God has done for you and for me in Christ. You’ve got to love it! Got to love God! If you don’t believe that God can take people out of regret land into the light of redemption; then you need to read the Old Testament. One of the biggest problems we have is that we don’t read the Old Testament. The people in the Old Testament for the most part were cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs, quack-a-doodle-doo! I mean these men and women were in some really good, powerful sinning! You think you’re good? Read the Old Testament! These cats could go! They rebelled and ran against God, and did all kinds of stupid and crazy things! Yet, God would call them, and they would respond, and He would take them out of this land of regret into a land of redemption. He would take their suffering and pain that was inflicted upon them and use it as something transformative in their lives. There are so many stories…
I love what Frederick Buechner says: “Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey.”
We have a choice. You and I have a choice to make. We can live in a land of regret, or we can live in the light of His redemption. Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year as we surrender to Him, we watch Him start to redeem the things of our lives.
You say, “What does that look like in real life?” That’s a good question. Let me introduce you to some friends of mine, a couple in our church. Their names are Charlie and Shelley Hayden. Check out their story.
(Shelley): “When we’d been married 8 years, our daughter, Sarah was born. Then two years later, Hamilton came along. Then two years after him, Hannah, our youngest daughter was born.”
(Charlie): “They were all very playful personalities. They interacted a lot together, especially when we went on vacations. We had a good time. I think we consider ourselves a very normal family. Our son actually joined Second Baptist first before us. We started going because he asked us to go with him. We did…”
(Shelley): “Hamilton was a very strong Christian who loved the Lord. He served the Lord. That was his focus in life…”
(Charlie): “It was fortuitous to us. We lived next-door to the pastor, Ed Young, for a number of years. One day I was in the back yard, and he called over the fence and said, ‘Can I talk to you?’ I said, ‘Sure!’ I could tell that he was genuinely concerned about my faith, about my life, my spiritual life and my salvation. He prayed with me, and that night when Shelley came home, I said ‘Well, you wouldn’t believe what happened today.’ I explained to her… She didn’t (believe it). I said ‘I got the feeling that something’s going to happen, either to me or our family…’”
(Shelley): “As in Hamilton’s case, he had a mental illness—depression.”
(Charlie): “He had good episodes and bad episodes. He was experiencing some psychological problems and depression, and so we thought it best to bring him home, and we did. He seemed to be very normal. He was getting counseling and went to the Menninger Clinic for about a month. He was seeing a psychiatrist that was highly recommended to us, twice a week, and he was getting these very good reports. We thought everything was pretty much on a smooth kaleidoscope; so it was very unexpected when we were flying back from Washington, D.C.—we went up to see family. We received a phone call that alarmed us, and we started making calls. Hamilton was not responding. We found out within 30 minutes or so, while we were in transit to the airport, that he had shot himself in our home.”
(Charlie—continues): You’re shrouded in a fog of confusion, unspeakable sorrow and grief, and you really detach yourself from the rest of the world. Everything seems removed from you. You have times; intermittent times when you wake up and you think you’re going to find Hamilton in the house. You have a sense of denial that his death even occurred; so it was a real struggle for both of us.”
(Shelley): “I especially really struggled with it, knowing how strong a believer he was. Something the pastor told me—‘Don’t try to figure it out. You’re never going to figure it out. You’re going to have to let it go.’ I was like ‘Wow! How do you do that?’ I’ve heard people say they held on to God. I think we got to such a low point that God held on to us. We couldn’t even hold on to Him.”
(Charlie): “You can’t do it yourself. You can’t get there alone. Had we not been in the kind of environment that Second Baptist provided to us, I don’t know how we would have pulled out of what we were in; how far down we were in the shadow of death. We just couldn’t have gotten there without the Lord’s unconditional love, grace and redemption.”
(Shelley): “We will never recover, ever; but we’ve learned how to take that sadness and integrate it into our lives. I think the Lord can resurrect your life any time, and I feel like that’s what He’s done for us. He has given us a new life! His suffering redeemed us, and I believe the suffering He allows in our lives heals us. He has a purpose for suffering. Is this how I would have wanted it? No. Never… Is this how I envisioned it? No. But He has brought very much good from it.”
(Ben): Dear Father, I thank You that You’re a God who brings good from suffering. I thank You that You’re a God, Lord, who has come to give us life. You’ve come to give us life, and as we’re following You in our journeys God that we go through many times tunnels of darkness and chaos. We go through times of regrets, times of pain, times of doubt, and times of questioning. Just like Shelley said, even when we’re faithless so many times and we can’t hold on to You that You hold on to us! You tell us “Keep holding on! I have more for you! I have more for you…