Return of the Old Man

“You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” ~ Jan Glidewell

Picture yourself walking alone on a beautiful Wednesday late afternoon. You’re walking along the road, when you pass a graveyard. You maybe think about the souls whose mortal husks lie beneath the ground, or how their lives were like or different from yours or the people that miss them. You walk on down the road and the graveyard is soon out of view. The sun goes down behind the hills and your path darkens. As you pass through the branches of closely growing trees, you hear a sound behind you. You turn and see someone else walking down the road in your direction. Nice night for a stroll, you think, as you turn around and continue your walk. A branch lashes across your face and the air is turning chilly. You glance behind you and notice the pedestrian is closer. Wow, a power walker, you say to yourself, as you zip your jacket up a bit more and pick up your pace to make it home by dark. Gradually, you hear the approach of hurried footsteps. This time you turn and find yourself face to face with the rotten flesh and reeking death-stench of a zombie!!

Freshly turned dirt covers their clothes and the creature’s hands are scratched and bleeding from their fight to rise from the grave. It turns its face toward you with sightless eyes, looking not at you but through you. Bracing yourself for an attack, you hold up your arms and eye the nearby scenery for something with which to defend yourself. The creature stands still, as if waiting for you… if summoned by you. Upon further examination, this dumbly-blinking monstrosity has some familiar characteristics.  Dripping with mud and debris, wearing sodden and rotting grave clothes, this horrible being clutches in its hands the remnants of a life long gone. A startling realization dawns on you that this creature actually resembles you! That’s right, Ladies and Gentlemen, you’ve come face to face with the “Old Man”.

Your bad habits, your failings, your slip-ups, your pride, your wounds, your betrayals, your lies, your shame, and your wretched, wretched sin…..everything that you never wanted to remember about yourself, everything that makes you want to hide, all this and more you see plastered from sole to crown on the thing that stands before you. Like a creature from the trash heap, everything in front of you is something you wish you could throw away, you have thrown away. Why then does this thing stand before you with vacant eyes, drawn like a magnet to your side, like the vomit that the dog left, refusing to be left behind.

“Be with me. Let me stay with you. Love me. Excuse me. Pity me”…the Old Man seems to say. “This is who you are. You cannot escape from me. We are one forever.”

Before today, you may have succumbed. Before now you may have sighed and accepted what you believed to be inevitable and resignedly taking the hand of this putrid maggot fest you would have allowed you to lead you back to the graveyard, to defeat, to your past. Today, however, you have made a decision which has loosed the hold that you could not have previously broken, filled your lungs with the fresh air of hope, and put the starry light of love in your eyes. Today you met the Lover of your soul and He has set you free.

Today, for the first time ever, you are able to calmly turn your back on your past as it stands there silently beckoning, and continue on the path set before you, making it home in plenty of time for dinner. Today a new pattern has emerged. Now when you glimpse the sad-eyed, un-dead thing looking in at your happiness and fried chicken, you can simply close the curtains. If you’re feeling aggressive, you can even run it off. Occasionally, you will notice it shambling through an open door in your heart, not wasting any time as it tries to set up its own living space. Again, all you have to do is notice (it always give themselves away with its smell of death and misery) and firmly kick it out. Sometimes it is possible to be so overwhelmed by the grief and pain and toil of this life that you will be shocked to find one day this unwelcome creature has made itself at home and has been camping out once more. However, you have all the authority now to kick this interloper right out on its tombstone! It doesn’t belong with you any more. You were made for life!

“Are you ignorant of the fact that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by the baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious [power] of the Father, so we too might [habitually] live and behave in newness of life. For if we have become one with Him by sharing a death like His, we shall also be [one with Him in sharing] His resurrection [by a new life lived for God]. We know that our old (unrenewed) self was nailed to the cross with Him in order that [our] body [which is the instrument] of sin might be made ineffective and inactive for evil, that we might no longer be the slaves of sin. For when a man dies, he is freed (loosed, delivered) from [the power of] sin [among men]. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, Because we know that Christ (the Anointed One), being once raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has power over Him. For by the death He died, He died to sin [ending His relation to it] once for all; and the life that He lives, He is living to God [in unbroken fellowship with Him]. Even so consider yourselves also dead to sin and your relation to it broken, but alive to God [living in unbroken fellowship with Him] in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore rule as king in your mortal (short-lived, perishable) bodies, to make you yield to its cravings and be subject to its lusts and evil passions. Do not continue offering or yielding your bodily members [and faculties] to sin as instruments (tools) of wickedness. But offer and yield yourselves to God as though you have been raised from the dead to [perpetual] life, and your bodily members [and faculties] to God, presenting them as implements of righteousness. For sin shall not [any longer] exert dominion over you, since now you are not under Law [as slaves], but under grace [as subjects of God’s favor and mercy].” Romans 6:3-14 (Amplified version)

When the Past Comes to Call…

“All our experience with history should teach us, when we look back, how badly human wisdom is betrayed when it relies on itself”

Martin Luther (German Priest and Scholar whose questioning of certain church practices led to the Protestant Reformation. 1483-1546)

Henry loved Dora very much. He couldn’t wait to be with her and every minute apart was filled with him thinking about her. When he slept, he dreamed of her face. One day, Henry learns that Dora has “a past”. They were in a garden when she told him. Henry heard a faint “hiss”, and slowly the green snake of jealousy sunk its teeth into his heart. Reacting to the venom, he felt queasy and his face grew hot. He was heartbroken. His perfect angel now seemed tarnished. How could he continue to love a woman with “a past” and marry her??

The story above is completely made up. (My apologies to any real life couples bearing the names of Henry and Dora.) In the age in which we live, it is not uncommon for people to have many life experiences before settling down. This includes relationships and all that follows them. As difficult as these things can be when faced knowingly from the beginning, they can be fatal to the bonds of trust when they spring up, unannounced somewhere down the path of the future. What we have to remember is that the past is gone. It cannot be re-done or undone. Think of the many things in your past that you would change if you had the chance. When you think of your own past, you might remember that you no longer live there.

So Henry is now faced with a choice. He can let his hurt and wounded pride fester. He can stew in it and let it grow bigger and bigger until he is almost convinced that Dora ‘s former experiences are current experiences that she can’t wait to throw in his face! He may feel that their romance was a lie, based on an understanding between him and a person who is not who he thought she was. He can choose to end the romance and walk away from this woman who has become his life. He can even conveniently forget about the fact that he has his own past and hold his beloved Dora at a distance, until both of their hearts are broken and they lose the something very rare and precious that they have found in one another…


He can remember the many, many things he would rather he had never done and said, many of them, truthfully, MUCH more shocking and horrible than the simple fact of Dora’s loving someone else, however unwisely. He can see Dora in the new light of the present and the wisdom she has gained from her failings. He can realize that Dora is his beloved and she is with him, not because she has to be, but because she chooses to be. He can further realize that holding Dora’s past against her is like digging up graves  to call the bones to account.

There are times when we come to a fork in the road and our choices right then decide our futures. There may be someone, or more than one, whose past you find hard to accept. Maybe they have spent time behind bars, or in bars, or strip clubs, or as strippers, or prostitutes, or drug addicts, or stalkers, or murderers, thieves, liars, cheats, abusers, the list goes on. Perhaps they have hurt you, or someone you love. Perhaps you are holding their past up as a shield to keep from dealing with them. Perhaps you think you are better than them, even though you would never admit it. This is a slippery road to travel, my friend. I can tell you this from experience. The problem is that when we hold other people to a certain standard, we become responsible to live up to that standard as well. We accuse others and excuse ourselves.

The truth is, however, we have all been forgiven MUCH that we can never repay. We can never make restitution for our own pasts, why do we demand this from others? The truth is, yes, you and I have things in our pasts that we may regret, they may shame us, and they may have hurt us. The people around us share similar experiences of regret, shame, and pain as well. When we hold things over people’s heads, we only add to their hurts and stand as roadblocks to them having a different future, with us included that is.

So, you may be wondering, what did Henry do? Did he walk away from Dora, or did he look at his own past, and hold on tight to her hand? What would you have done? What path do you choose?

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold  was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18 : 21-35