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The Life You've Always Wanted #4--A life without regrets

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January 28, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 4: A life without regrets: the practice of reflection

Introduction: If we don’t learn from our mistakes and sins, we are doomed to repeat them.  Transformation requires reflection.  Psalm 139:1-4, 23-24


1. ___________________________________________________: a daily review.

1 Samuel 12:24, Psalm 119:59, 143:5, Jeremiah 2:23

2. _______________________________________________: for God’s goodness.

          Psalm 136, Luke 17:11-19, Philippians 1:3

3. __________________________________________________: admit your sins.

Psalm 32:1-5, Proverbs 28:13, 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, James 5:16, 1 John 1:9

4. _____________________: write down what God has said and you have learned.

          Exodus 17:14, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Isaiah 30:8, Jeremiah 30:2


January 28, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 4: A life without regrets: the practice of reflection


ILL: How many of you have ever watched the TV series, “The Sopranos”?  Thank you for confessing that—we’ll have prayer for you after the service!  “The Sopranos” is a very popular HBO series about modern day gangsters.  What is the secret of the show’s phenomenal success?  James Gandolfini, who plays New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, says, "We show people sometimes being at their worst and regretting it. And people identify with that because we've all had times when we were at our worst."

We’ve all had times when we were at our worst.  That’s true isn’t it?  It’s true for me.  And I have regrets about those times.  I don’t know that it’s possible to live a life with no regrets—that would be a life with no mistakes, never being at your worst.  But I think it’s possible to reduce our regrets by reducing our mistakes, and that happens when we take time to reflect on our life and learn from our mistakes.  That’s what we’re talking about today.  A life without regrets: the practice of reflection.

Offering and announcements:

          Life Groups


This series, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, is about life transformation through spiritual disciplines.  How many of you are perfect?  All the rest of us need to keep growing; we need to be transformed; we need to change.  We change not by trying harder, but by training, by using some time-tested practices that help us connect with God.  And when we connect with God, we change.  So far we’ve talked about the practice of slowing to have an unhurried life, the practice of Scripture to have an equipped life, and the practice of prayer to have a life with God.  Today, the practice of reflection to have a life without regrets.

Have you heard this proverb?  “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to…repeat it.”  That is true personally too.  If we don’t learn from our mistakes and sins we tend to repeat them.  Spiritual growth and change requires reflection: time for self-examination.  Let’s begin with a famous prayer from the Bible (read together).

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Search me, O God.  That’s a scary prayer!  Have you ever done anything you’d rather hide from God?  Have you thought anything that you’d rather He didn’t know?  Is there anything in your life you’d like to cover up?  Then the “search me” prayer can be a little intimidating…until you realize one important thing.  God already knows!  God is not searching you so He can know what’s in you—He’s searching you so you can know what’s in you and change.  Let’s go back to the start of that psalm.

Psalm 139:1-4 O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

The psalm ends with the “search me” prayer, but it starts with the truth that God has already searched me and knows me.  He knows everything about me: when I sit down or stand up, when I come and go, every thought I think and every word I say—even before I say it!  God knows me inside and out, better than I know myself! 

Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Nothing is hidden from God.  He already knows.  So when you pray the “search me” prayer, you are really asking God to let you know what He already knows.  I’m not inviting God to know me (He already does); I’m inviting God to help me know me

So this is our prayer today: search me, O God.  I’m going to give you four ideas about self-examination.  And then, at the end of this talk, we’re going to take a few minutes and do it; I’ll guide you through a time of reflection.

1. Reflect: a daily review.

This is a very simple idea: take some time each day to reflect on your life.  Do a daily review.  This is an ancient tradition known as “the examen of consciousness.”  This involves taking a few moments to reflect on the events of the day, looking at our life through two lenses: what we did and what God did.

First, think of what you did today, activities and interactions with people, and ask God what you need to learn.  Sometimes I simply start at the beginning of the day and do a quick review.  Other times, a particular encounter or event stands out and I’ll think about that.

ILL: For example, we’ve been working with a detective who is investigating my son’s death.  Jeff died from an accidental overdose of a prescription medication…one that he didn’t have a prescription for.  He bought it illegally.  I can’t say much because of the investigation, but these conversations with the detective have stirred all kinds of emotions in me: anger, frustration, a desire for justice, a desire for revenge, discouragement, disappointment, and sadness.  When I take time to pray and reflect, God helps me sort them all out.  As I reflect on courses of action that I could take, I realize that what I want to do and what God wants me to do are often polar opposites.  I was telling Laina that sometimes I want revenge.  However as I prayed and thought about this, I realized God wants forgiveness.  He brought Matthew 5 to my mind: love your enemies, pray for them, do good to them, and bless them.  I’m trying to understand what that looks like for me in this situation.

I’m learning as I reflect, and I’m avoiding some regret.

Psalm 119:59 I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.

There’s some good advice: consider your ways, reflect on what you’ve done, and then turn your steps to God’s way.  Self-examination will help you learn from your experiences…and change and grow.

          Reflection starts with a simple inventory of our day: we look through the lens of what we did, what happened.  But then we go a step deeper and look through the lens of what God did.

Psalm 143:5 I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.

The psalmist says he meditates on God’s works and considers what God has done.  As we reflect on the events of our day, we look for God’s work.  Where has God been working in my life today?  What did He say to me? 

Three years ago, in a series entitled “The God Hunt”, I gave four signs of God’s work to look for in your life.  Here they are:

·        Any answers to prayer.  Did you see any answers to prayer?  Did God speak to you?

·        Any evidence of God’s care.  Did God provide for you, protect you, help you, guide you?

·        Any help doing God’s work.  Maybe God helped you love someone, encourage someone, speak the truth, share your faith, give, or use your gifts to help someone.

·        Any unusual linkage or timing.  These are divine coincidences.  Something happens that has God’s fingerprints all over it.

I explained those four things and gave examples in a message in that series entitled “How to hunt” given Jan. 11, 2004.  And those things are listed in our Daily Life Journal, which I’ll talk about in a few minutes.

          First, reflect.  Do a daily review.  Take a few moments to think about your day, what you did, and what God did.  And what you’re learning.

2. Give thanks: for God’s goodness.

          One of the results of reflection should be gratitude.  As you think through your day, you’ll see lots to be thankful for, and then the appropriate response is to give thanks.  As I review my day, I thank God all along the way. 

·        Thanks God for my wife who pulled me out of bed and drug me out jogging in the 15 degree weather.  And who loves me in spite of all my weirdness, and has stuck with me for 31 years!

·        Thanks God for my kids who are growing up into wonderful, loving, devoted Christians.  Have I told you that my twin daughters are both engaged?  And they are both getting married this June!  A friend told me on Friday, “You’re gonna be busy and broke!”  God, thank you for my new sons-in-law!

·        Thanks God for Noel; it’s wonderful having Jesus live at your house!

·        Thanks God for this wonderful church, all these wonderful people whom I am privileged to serve and to serve with.  I thank God every day for you.

Philippians 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you.

I feel that same way…very grateful for you.

·        Thanks for my health, I’m cancer-free and kickin’ butt!

·        Thanks for my friends.  Every day I get to work and play and laugh and pray with people I love deeply.

I could go on…but I think you get the picture.  As I review the day, I see so much to be thankful for…so I give thanks as I review.  When you realize someone has been good to you, what do you do?  Thank them!  It would be wrong to not give thanks.  This is the lesson of Luke 17, the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed. 

Luke 17:15-19 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

All ten were healed, but only one said thanks, and that prompted Jesus to say, “Where are the other nine?”  I never want to be one of the “other nine”, do you?  So as I review my day and I see God’s goodness to me, I give thanks. 

          Now as I reflect, I not only see my blessings, I also see my failures.

3. Confess: admit your sins.

          This is a very important part of reflection or self-examination.  We note what we’re learning; we give thanks for our blessings; and we own up to our failures.  We need to admit our sins. 

ILL: John Ortberg shares this story.

Many years ago, early on in our marriage, my wife and I sold our Volkswagen Beetle to buy our first really nice piece of furniture. It was a sofa. It was a pink sofa, but for that kind of money, it was called a mauve sofa. The man at the sofa store told us all about how to take care of it, and we took it home.

We had very small children in those days, and does anybody want to guess what was the Number One Rule in our house from that day on? "Don't sit on the mauve sofa! Don't play near the mauve sofa! Don't eat around the mauve sofa! Don't touch the mauve sofa! Don't breathe on the mauve sofa! Don't think about the mauve sofa! On every other chair in the house, you may freely sit, but on this sofa—the mauve sofa—you may not sit, for on the day you sit thereon, you will surely die!"

And then one day came the "Fall." There appeared on the mauve sofa a stain—a red stain—a red jelly stain. My wife called the man at the sofa factory, and he told her how bad that was. So she assembled our three children to look at the stain on the sofa: Laura, who then was about 4, and Mallory, who was about 2½, and Johnny, who was maybe 6 months. She said, "Children, do you see that? That's a stain. That's a red stain. That's a red jelly stain. And the man at the sofa store says it's not coming out, not for all eternity. Do you know how long eternity is, children? Eternity is how long we're all going to sit here until one of you tells me who put the red jelly stain on the mauve sofa."

For a long time they all just sat there until finally Mallory cracked. I knew she would. She said, "Laura did it." Laura said, "No I didn't." Then it was dead silence for the longest time. And I knew that none of them would confess putting the stain on the sofa, because they had never seen their mom that mad in their lives. I knew none of them was going to confess putting the stain on the sofa, because they knew if they did, they would spend all of eternity in the "Time Out Chair." I knew that none of them would confess putting the stain on the sofa, because in fact, I was the one who put the stain on the sofa, and I wasn't sayin' nuthin'! Not a word!

Here's the truth about us. We've all stained the sofa.

A great story…and a great truth.  We’ve all stained the sofa.  We’ve all sinned.  And we need to come clean.  We need to confess. 

Why do we need to confess?  It is not because God needs it.  God already knows what we’ve done—He knows who stained the sofa.  So our confession isn’t new to Him.  “You did what?”  He already knew.  And—here’s the important part—He has already forgiven us.  We don’t confess in order to pry mercy and forgiveness from His unwilling hands.  He is offering forgiveness—freely.  Confession brings us to the place where we realize we need forgiveness and receive it from Him as a gift.  Our inability to accept forgiveness is the reason for the practice of confession.  We need confession.  It’s not that God needs confession in order to forgive us; it’s that we need it to receive forgiveness. 

ILL: It reminds me of a story I heard a long time ago about a little boy named Tim who was visiting his grandparents with his sister, Sally.  While Tim was skipping rocks across the pond at his grandparents’ farm, he accidentally hit and killed their pet duck.  Sally saw it happen and told him, “You’re gonna get it.”  Tim was afraid to tell his grandparents and swore Sally to secrecy. 

          All day long, Sally bossed Tim around.  She made him wait on her hand and foot, and if Tim started to protest, Sally whispered, “Remember the duck.”  Tim was doubly miserable.  He was miserable because he felt guilty about the duck and couldn’t look his grandma in the eye.  And he was miserable because Sally was treating him like a slave.  Finally, Tim broke down and went to his grandma in tears.

          “Grandma,” he confessed, “I accidentally killed your pet duck when I was skipping rocks at the pond.  I’m sorry.”

          Grandma hugged Tim and said, “I know all about it.  I saw you do it, Tim, and I forgave you right then.  I wondered how long you’d let Sally keep you a prisoner.”

Grandma already knew and had already forgiven him; Tim needed to confess to realize he was forgiven and receive it.  In the same way, God already knows what you’ve done: you’ve stained the sofa, you’ve killed the pet duck.  Confession isn’t to inform Him of what you’ve done or persuade Him to forgive; confession is to receive the forgiveness He’s already given.  Confession isn’t for God’s benefit; it’s for yours. 

Proverbs 28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

That’s what Tim discovered.  Conceal and be miserable.  Confess and find mercy.  Here is God’s promise.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Why do we shy away from confession?  Because we are afraid of the consequences.  We have all confessed things to another person and been blasted with fury, with disgust, and with rejection.  So we are afraid that God will be furious and disgusted and reject us.  But the Bible promises that when we confess our sins, we will find mercy…every time.  He is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us…every time. 

          Two wonderful things happen when you confess.  First, you receive forgiveness and freedom from guilt.  Second, you are less likely to do the same thing again.  You will change.  Sin will look and feel less attractive.  Especially if you have to confess to another person.

          When we reflect and become aware of our sin, we need to confess first to God.  Then if our sin involves another person—and usually it does—we must make it right with them too. 

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

We need to confess to God; and we need to confess to each other.  Ruth Haley Barton says, “One thing we can know for sure is that when we are confessing our sin to God but not to the people around us in ordinary nitty-gritty life, there is not much real spiritual transformation going on.”  Admitting our failure to another human being is a powerful motivator for change.

ILL: Ruth Haley Barton tells a powerful story about her oldest daughter, Charity.  When Charity was 15, Ruth and her husband were away on a Friday evening.  When they returned, things didn’t feel right in the house.  The kitchen floor and counters were clean but sticky, and there were food containers in the trash that they didn’t use.  Charity assured them everything was fine, but Ruth continued to probe, and finally the next day, on Saturday, Charity admitted that there had been some people in the house and they had been drinking, but the details were fuzzy and kept changing.  It was clear she wasn’t telling the whole story. 

          By Sunday, they had pieced together who had been in the house, but still weren’t getting the whole truth.  So Ruth told Charity that she was going to call the parents of each teenager who was there, and tell them there had been a party at their house, and invite them come over with their child and get to the bottom of it.  As you can imagine, Charity was scared to death.  They assured her that their intentions were loving.  But they had a right to know what had happened in their house.  And the parents had a right to know what their kids were up to.  And the kids needed a chance to take responsibility for their actions.  And the parents needed a chance to say that they loved them too much to let this kind of thing go on without dealing with it.

          By Monday night, before everyone arrived, Charity had told her parents the whole story, but the meeting went on as planned.  About thirty people gathered in the Barton’s living room—10 teenagers and all their parents.  With no place to hide, each young person had to take responsibility for his part of what happened.  Charity confessed she invited a few close friends over—something she wasn’t allowed to do when her parents were gone.  Some other teens found out there were no parents in the house and showed up with booze; Charity let them in.  One young man confessed that he had stolen a bottle of vodka from his girlfriend’s grandparents’ home.  Another confessed to taking his mother’s car out of the garage without her knowledge to go buy beer.  Another confessed to drinking so much that he couldn’t stop vomiting—hence the sticky floors.  Another young man was so drunk that the Bartons’ neighbors drove him home.  It was a shocking and sobering evening. 

          When the whole story had been told, Charity made her confession.  She could have fudged and blamed those who brought the alcohol.  Instead, with tears and brokenness, she took full responsibility for her actions.  “This is my fault.  If I had not had people over when I wasn’t supposed to, this would not have happened.  If I had not opened the door and let everyone in, this would not have happened.  If I had called someone to help, this would not have happened.  I am sorry. What hurts me most is the thought that you might not trust me anymore.  I hope you can forgive me and that you will trust me again to be a good friend to your son or daughter.”  By this time almost everyone was crying.

          When it was over, there were hugs all around and a deep sense of gratitude.  Many of the parents hugged Charity and told her that they loved her and did forgive her.  After everyone left, Charity said with shining eyes, “I don’t care what happens to me now.  Now I know I am forgiven.” 

This is power of confession to God and to others.  We receive forgiveness.  We know we are forgiven.  And we are far less likely to do the same thing again!

          First reflect on your day.  Second give thanks for God’s goodness.  Third, confess your sin to God…and if need be, to others.  Finally…

4. Journal: write down what God has said and you have learned.

          The point of reflection is to learn.  The point of writing it down is to remember what you learned. 

          How many of you forget things unless you write them down?  I’m terrible. 

ILL: I carry this around (Treo).  It’s my calendar, my contact list, my to-do list, and my notepad.  I also have 3 Bibles on here, a few books, a word processor, an mp3 player, a camera, a calculator and an alarm clock.  Oh yeah…it’s also my phone.  If there’s something I need to do, I write it down on my to-do list.  If I don’t write it down, I forget.  If I make an appointment, I write it down on my calendar.  If I don’t write it down, I forget.  If I need to remember something, I write myself a note in the notepad.  If I don’t write it down, I forget. 

How many of you are like me…if you don’t write it down, you forget?  So when God teaches you something, when God does something in your life, and you don’t want to forget, write it down!

The word “remember” shows up over 200 times in the Bible.  Most of the time, it’s God telling us to remember what He tells us, or what He’s done.  And one of the ways we do that is by writing it down.  I’ve given just a couple references. 

Exodus 17:14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

God told Moses something that He wanted Joshua to remember after Moses was gone, so God told Moses to write it down. 

          If you want to remember it, write it down.  This is one reason we journal.  Our journals are written records of what we’re learning and what God is doing in our lives.  Our journals are records of transformation, how we’re changing.

          Journal to remember.  Journal to reflect.  Another reason I journal is because it helps me to reflect.  Is there anyone else who finds that you think more clearly when you take time to write it down?  Writing slows me down and helps me reflect.  When I’m going through a difficult time, I journal my way through it.  I take time each day to reflect and write down what I’m thinking, feeling and learning.  Writing slows down my racing RPM’s so I can think more clearly. 

          If you’ve never journaled, or practiced reflection, let me encourage you to stop by our resource center and pick up one of our Daily Life Journals.  You’ll find instructions in the front that will help you get started.  And we’re going to practice right now.  I’m going to lead you on a short guided time of reflection. 

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