With Jesus, It’s Not Where You’Ve Been But Where You’re Going!
August 14, 1994 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | II Corinthians 4:7-15
Many, if not most of you, are familiar with the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes”. Calvin is a precocious little boy who has a beloved stuffed tiger named Hobbes. They are inseparable. When adults are around, Hobbes remains a small stuffed tiger, but when Calvin and Hobbes are alone, Hobbes becomes a larger-than-life imaginary friend for Calvin. Some months ago, the comic strip depicted Calvin and Hobbes walking together in the snow. Calvin began to philosophize about how whenever he does something wrong it is not really his fault. He says: “Nothing I do is my fault. My family is dysfunctional. My parents won’t empower me. I’m not self-actualized. I function in a toxic-process of co-dependency. I need holistic healing and wellness before I will accept any responsibility for my actions!” Then with a wicked little smile, Calvin adds: “Don’t you love our culture of victimhood? It’s great, because you can always find somebody to blame things on.” Then Hobbes, the tiger, says: “One of us needs to stick his head in a bucket of ice water!”
Well, we can laugh at that, but the fact is that Calvin is expressing an idea that is pervading our country just now. I am talking about the troublesome notion that goes something like this: “Society has oppressed me, so I have a right to lash out in hostility. Society has mistreated me, so I am justified in seeking revenge. Society has cheated me, so you owe me. Society has been unfair to me, so if I do something wrong, it’s not really my fault.” Many people today are embracing and adopting and encouraging this philosophy of life which Calvin in the comic strip labeled “The Culture of Victimhood.”
Item: A few months ago in New York, a violent criminal attacked, mugged, and nearly killed a 72-year-old man. A policeman arrived on the scene and in the process of making the arrest, a scuffle broke out and the mugger was shot. Later, the mugger sued the city, citing ways in which society had failed him and protesting the fact that he had been shot by a policeman. Are you ready for this? The mugger was awarded 4.3 million dollars! The public reaction? Silence.
Item: During the 1992 Los Angeles riots, some men were filmed jerking an innocent man out of his truck, bashing his skull with a brick, kicking and hitting him repeatedly and then doing a victory dance over his fallen body. The attackers were arrested but they argued that they should not be held accountable for the attack because they were caught up in mob madness. They were found not guilty on all but minor offenses.
Item: Up in the midwest now, a college professor is being sued by a student. Why? Because the student failed a course. The student says the professor violated his rights and negatively affected his future by giving him a failing grade. The student says that he was born into a dysfunctional family which did not give him proper encouragement. Therefore, since society has failed him, he does not deserve a failing grade. Many observers think the student will win the case.
Yes, the culture of victimhood is rampant in our society today. So many people today are shackled and paralyzed victims of some past event or past situation or past decision or past relationship—and they are crying out to be freed of the tyranny of that past. That’s why the Christian faith is so potent and so relevant, because that is precisely where Jesus Christ can help and heal. He can set us free! He can give us new life. He can make us victors, rather than victims. Jesus says: “Follow me”—and anyone who says “Follow me” is obviously more interested in the future than in the past. With Jesus, it’s not where you’ve been, but where you’re going; not whether you have fallen, but whether you will get up; not the skeletons of your past, but the promise and hope for your future.
In recent years, a new approach to psychiatry has emerged called “Reality Therapy.” It’s founding mentor was a man named William Glasser. The approach is a bit blunt, but it’s actually quite Biblical. Reality therapists don’t let people spend a lot of time rummaging around in their past. Rather they say: “So you’ve had a problem, so you’ve been hurt, so you’ve had it rough. So what? Everybody has problems. Now what are you going to do about it?”
Frankly, that approach sounds a lot like Jesus. He spent precious little time talking to people about their past—instead. He focused on their future. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to him, he did not explore the circumstances that had pushed her to her fall. He simply took her by the hand, lifted her up, and said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” When Nicodemus came to him, under the cover of night, enslaved by an impossible legalism, Jesus didn’t ask him how he got that way, or fuss at him for being that way, but rather, Jesus said to him simply: “You must be born again.” What about the parable of the prodigal son? The father didn’t even let his son finish his confession. He didn’t want to dwell on the past. He wanted to get on with the party.
That’s the great good news of our Christian faith. We don’t have to be defeated by the hurts or problems or sins or slights of the past. We can make a new beginning. We can build a new life. We don’t have to be victims. We can be victors in Jesus Christ. That’s the point Paul was making in Corinthians. He describes in graphic detail the hardships he himself had endured, how he had been victimized: five times he had received 39 lashes with the whip; three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned, three times he was ship-wrecked. He had been slandered, lied about, falsely accused, and jailed. He had been betrayed, ridiculed, and persecuted. He had experienced hunger and thirst, cold and exposure. He had been victimized, but he didn’t see himself as a victim. He did not give up. He did not quit. He did not waver. He did not put the blame on anything or any one else. Rather, he raised a victorious crescendo to God. He said: “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed. So we do not lose heart.”
Here is the truth I want to carve into your heart. You can rise above it all! By the grace of God and the power of God and the presence of God in Jesus Christ, you don’t have to be a victim anymore. You can be a victor in Christ starting right here and now.
In Christ, you can rise above your circumstances.
Remember, the old story about the family who had twin boys. One son grew up and became an alcoholic. When someone asked him why, he said: “Because of my father!” The other son grew up and became a minister who dedicated his ministry to working with alcoholics. When someone asked him why, he said: “Because of my father.” The two sons grew up in the same environment, the same circumstances. One was trapped, paralyzed, pulled down by his circumstances. The other turned to God and rose above it all.
Too many people today, when confronted with life’s hard times, run up what Max Lucado calls “the white flag of the heart.” They give up. They surrender. They say: “If only…if only I had been born somewhere else…if only I’d been treated fairly…if only I’d had kinder parents, more money, greater opportunity…if only I’d been potty-trained sooner or spanked less, or been given the proper food…” Maybe you’ve used those words. Maybe you even had a right to use those words. But remember, please, that you are not just a physical being, you are also a spiritual being. Your parents may have given you genes, but God gives you grace—and His grace can overcome even the impact of your genes. Your parents may be responsible for your body, but God has the charge of your soul, and He will lead you aright in your life if you let Him. You may get your looks from your mother, but you get eternity from your Father—your heavenly Father. God is not blind to your problems. Not at all. In fact, He is willing to give you what your family or your environment, or your circumstances didn’t. Didn’t have a good father? God will be your Father. Didn’t have a good childhood? Take up with a new family—the family of Christ in the church. Paralyzed by the sins and slights of your past? Chuck it all, and experience the new life of faith in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we hear people say: “I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances.” Well, we don’t have to live under the circumstances. We can rise above them. We don’t have to remain victims. By the grace of God, we can be victors in Jesus Christ.
And in Christ you can rise above your defeats.
Before Johnny Cash was 30 years old, his singing of country songs made him one of America’s most famous entertainers. But unfortunately, Johnny Cash started popping pills to keep himself going. Before he knew it, he became addicted. He was taking as many as 100 pills a day. Then one morning, somewhere in Georgia, he woke up in jail. He had no idea how he had gotten there, or what he had done to cause his arrest. He asked the sheriff what had happened. The sheriff said: “One of my deputies found you stumbling around the streets. We only brought you here so you wouldn’t hurt yourself. But let me tell you something. I’m a big fan of yours. I’ve always admired you. It’s a shame to see you ruining yourself like this.” The sheriff shook his head sadly and continued: “I don’t know where you think you got your talent from, but if you think it came from God like I do, you sure are wrecking the body he put it in.” With that the sheriff opened the cell door and let Johnny Cash go. That was the turning point in Johnny Cash’s life. Later on he said: “That sheriff saved my life. It was his reference to God that suddenly cleared my mind. Until that morning, it had never occurred to me to turn to God for help in kicking my habit. I asked Him to go to work then and there—and He did. He saved me. He turned my life around.”
I don’t know what defeats you are grappling with right now, but I do know one thing: you need all the power you can get, and that power comes only from God. He can save you. He can turn it around for you. He can set you free. He can empower you to rise above your defeats. And in Christ you can rise above your despair.
Sometimes when you are in the valleys of life, you feel down and you see no way out. But if you walk with God one step at a time, one day at a time, He will bring you out of the valley to the mountaintops on the other side.
A few years ago an elderly Englishman was reflecting upon the horrible bombings of London a half a century ago. It was one of the worst, most frightening times ever experienced by the British people. The man recalled how he had stood on the outskirts of London and watched the central city go up in smoke. Bomb after bomb after bomb rained fire and destruction down from the night sky. The old man said: “It seemed to me that everything was lost—the war, England, all the values of civilization. I was filled with despair. I found myself crying like a baby. The city before me was engulfed in fire and smoke. Then an amazing thing happened. There was a sudden gust of wind for just a moment. It blew the smoke away just long enough to see, by the fire’s light, the cross of Christ atop the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The instant I saw it, I felt a great surge of hope within me. And I stopped crying because I knew, I knew as never before that there is a power stronger than the power of evil; a power that cannot be defeated, a power that would see us through.”
That’s the good news of our faith—isn’t it—symbolized in the cross. God wins. Nothing can defeat Him. The victory is His, and He wants to share it with us. We don’t have to be victims anymore. We can be victors in Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus came to teach us. That’s what Paul lived and believed. We can believe it too. And when we do, it sets us free. It lifts us above our circumstances, above our defeats, above our despair.
That’s good news—just about the best news you and I could ever hear…