So your life isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one you have…

I’m not sure why I titled this blog as I did, but perhaps it captures the feeling more than the content of what I am going to say. I finished reading through the Bible again. A wonderful discipline that I picked up by example from my dad. I have begun to read in Genesis again and, as is my custom, am using a different version to gain another perspective. It will take me a year and half, but who’s in a hurry?

Over half of Genesis is about Jacob; even the huge section about Joseph is about how God preserved Jacob (Israel) in famine and gave his people favor in the eyes of Pharaoh. However, the life of Jacob from beginning to end is about family dysfunction; favoritism, jealousy, abuse in all forms, rejection, hatred, incest, prostitution, to name just a few. Substance abuse is not specifically mentioned like it was with Noah and Lot, but it would not be much of an interpretive stretch to think that the fruit of the vine may have fermented and fomented much of what we see.

The point? Not much is hidden from us about the individual, familial, and generational sins of God’s Covenant people. And not much should surprise us about our own family history and the patterns of generational sin that we may have uncovered or even experienced. You don’t need to pay money to do an Ancestry,com DNA search to reveal that sin runs deep even in the people of God.

The point? The gospel of God’s gracious act of forgiveness through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (God’s Son, but also a descendent of Jacob through Judah) is the only hope we have of dealing with our individual and generational sins. We cannot undo the things we have done or have been done to us, but we no longer need to be defined by these things and consigned to live a “plan B” life. Through a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (daily preaching the gospel to ourselves), we can end patterns of individual sin, forgive others who have sinned against us, and stop the cycle of sin from being passed on to our children and grandchildren. Some of us will need a little extra help in the process and should be encouraged to seek out a Christian counselor. No, our lives won’t be perfect and, yes, we will always have our past, but by God’s grace even our sinful past can be used for His glory and not our shame.

Perhaps a personal example will help clarify what I mean. My mom wrote out some of her painful family remembrances just a few years before she died. It was a 10-page, double-spaced, typewritten document titled, “Where Would I Be Without the Lord?” In this testament she shared about growing up in alcohol-infested family where her parents were in and out of separation so much that she was shipped off to live the first 8 or 9 years of her life with three different aunts. Finally, her mom divorced and remarried another alcoholic (a hotel and bar owner), and mom was brought home to live with 4 step-siblings she had never met. Her mom, my grandmother (Nanny), also had alcohol issues, and would often take her anger out on mom by beating her with a broom and locking her in closets. Unfortunately, Nanny got the same treatment from her husband when he was drunk. Mom described one incident where he dragged Nanny up the stairs by her hair and then threw her back down. I will spare you other awful details.

My mom became a nurse and married my dad when he got out of the Army. My dad had issues of his own, which were also alcohol related. My two sisters and brother were born, and four years before I was born my mom and dad came to believe the gospel applied to them and became followers of Christ; at 34 and 36 respectively. It did not change their past or the things done by them or to them, but it did change the way they interpreted those things and how they chose to respond to them. My mom, in particular, was the most kind and gentle person you could imagine. You would definitely want her for your nurse if you were sick. She was a wonderful mother who never laid a finger on me or any of my siblings. She reversed the curse and ended the cycle of abuse and rejection with which she had lived. She loved and respected her mom throughout the rest of Nanny’s life. Mom also had a chance to reconcile with her own father (who sold her crib for booze) when she requested to take care of him as his nurse in a convalescent home where he was dying. My dad also made a 180 with alcohol and became one of the most ardent evangelists (he was a cop) you would ever want to meet.

This was the family I grew up in. My sisters became believers and married godly men. They each have four children who love Jesus and they have in turn begotten twenty-three grand and great grandchildren. My brother who passed away many years ago chose not to embrace the faith and yet had seven wonderful children who have in turn produced thirteen grand and great grand kids. Finally, Gloria and I have five kids and seven grandchildren.

The point? Fifty-six people (this is not even including the spouses of the children /grandchildren who have married into the McDowell family) whose lives have been directly affected by my parents becoming believers in Jesus and choosing to follow a new direction in life not defined by their past; “to the third and fourth generation.”

So on this Memorial Day, let us remember those who have served our country by giving their lives in sacrifice. Perhaps you have someone in your own family who has paid that price. We would also do well to remember the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross as the price for redeeming us from sin. Our life may not be perfect, but it is the only one we have. By God’s grace let us learn to deal with our sin in the light of Christ’s forgiveness.  Let us also choose not to be defined by our past, but by how God can use it to help others and glorify himself.

I cannot change the past but I can learn from it… 

I will not fear the future because I cannot control it…

I will gladly live in the present, for that is the arena in which my trust in God is displayed and his glory through me is revealed. 

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