Dealing With the Past

Publication:Pastoral Letter, July 2019

Dear Friend in Christ:

We must properly face the past in order to have a better future. Too many people are trying to carry the burdens of the past into their future. I have been reminded once again of this principle.

After downsizing our office space, we have multiple storage units containing books, audio masters, and publishing archives that go back more than 50 years. In addition, we have other storage units for our family; after some of our family members have passed away, we are curating what they left behind. Some were collectors of rocks, bells, books, antiques, and various paintings. In addition, there are pieces of old furniture and other items. Some of this stuff goes back five generations! I have a beautiful old pump organ built in the 1920s.

Some of this has monetary value, but most of it does not. Sorting out which is a great challenge! So why now? The cost of carrying the past into the future is just too much. And that fact brings us to a spiritual principle: Sooner or later, we must deal with the past or it will burden the future.

Peter’s Past
The Apostle Peter had been a commercial fisherman and by his own admission, a sinful man. He was an outspoken, sometimes brash, sword-carrying man who was in his own way, a leader. Then he became a follower and disciple of Jesus. But Peter’s mistakes were not all behind him. He misunderstood the kingdom of God and he argued with Jesus about his loyalty. Then, tragically, three times Peter denied even knowing Jesus; the final time with an oath! In that crucial moment Jesus looked at him and Peter wept bitterly.

Of course, Peter was not alone in his failure. All the disciples except John had run away. Then Jesus was crucified, and after three days was resurrected. Jesus had appeared to the women, to the disciples more than once, and so the past was passed, right? Not quite. Peter and others went back to Galilee and back to fishing—even after the Resurrection! Why? I believe it was because they had not dealt with the past.

Perhaps Peter and the others thought that they could return to something that they did understand. But after fishing all night, there were no fish. As the dawn of a new day was breaking, a man was on shore preparing breakfast and He called across the water to the fishermen, “Have you any fish?”

They responded, “No!” They did not recognize the man, Who was actually Jesus.

“Cast your net on the other side of the boat,” He said. Perhaps with reluctance, they did so and caught a heavy load of large fish. Yes, this had happened in the past (see Luke 5). Then they recognized that it was Jesus.

Sometimes it is necessary to see Jesus in our past in order to move on into our future. So the disciples went ashore to eat again with Jesus. I believe that it was a quiet breakfast as they pondered their journey from their early call to follow Jesus, to the miracles and mistakes over the 3-1/2 years, and finally the trauma of the Cross and amazement of Resurrection. Then the silence was broken by Jesus asking a simple, but piercing question.

The Question
Jesus was looking at Peter, but He could have looked at all of them.

“Do you love me?”

Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”

Jesus responded, “Feed My lambs.”

But Jesus didn’t stop there; He asked again, “Do you love me?”

“Yes Lord, You know that I love You,” Peter replied.

Jesus responded, “Tend my sheep.”

But there it was third time, “Do you love me?” Peter was grieved; I believe they all were. They all knew of Peter’s denial and they knew that they had all run away (with the exception of John). Then Jesus said again, “Feed My sheep.”

Much could be written about this simple but vital question, “Do you love me?” as well as Jesus’ responses. It should be apparent that in this simple, uncondemning way, Jesus addressed the past. What mattered was that He not only addressed their past, but He told them their future: If they loved Him they would care for His people and they did. But they had to deal with their past in order to prepare for their future. Loving Jesus leads to caring for people.

Dealing with the past is a great challenge! Sometimes we could call that, “repentance.” There are things for which to be sorry, and there are things to keep. Fortunately for us, God forgets our failures—He casts them away as far as the East is from the West. He casts them into the deepest part of the sea. He can even use our failures to remind us of our fallibility while not counting them against us. Our Lord is so forgiving if we will just deal with it.

But there are things that we should keep such as experience gained, wisdom, humility and the grace that we have received and must give to others. We must keep all of that in order to prepare for the future that God has for us. I believe that the disciples did. They were able to forgive themselves, each other and their persecutors. They were finally in one accord and prepared to receive the Holy Spirit. The grace and power that they received, they gave to those that would be given them.

Today I had lunch with someone from whom I had been estranged. We addressed the past and exchanged grace. It was a wonderful time! Reconciliation is a beautiful thing but requires honesty, love, and grace. Those times release us from the past and prepare us for the future.

Run for the Prize
The writer of Hebrews addresses some very important issues in chapter 12: He tells us that history and heaven are watching us, lay aside all the unnecessary weight and sin which can ensnare us, run with endurance —pace ourselves, look to Jesus as we run (not the grandstand). He reminds us that Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our faith and that He endured because there was a “joy set before Him.”

Runners run light; they don’t run in overcoats and big shoes. They take off the unnecessary. They run for the prize, not the crowd; they are looking ahead to the potential joy. They pace themselves to be there at the end. We can learn from the runner. Ask yourself, what do I need to lay aside? Where should I be looking? What is the joy that is ahead? The past is passed but the future lies ahead; am I ready to run?

If we fail to address the past with Jesus, we are not ready for what is ahead. Remember, Jesus loves us and wants to lighten our load so that we can run free of the unnecessary. Also remember that if we love Him, we will care for His people; it is not about us.

All Things Work for Good
This is not the only example of addressing the past; I will mention one more. In Genesis chapter 50, it is recorded that Joseph’s father, Jacob, had died and Joseph’s brothers were afraid that Joseph would hate them and repay them for the evil that they had done to him. Remember that they had sold him into slavery and told his father and mother that the blood-stained “coat of many colors” was all that was left of him. Jacob assumed that Joseph had been attacked by a wild beast and killed. Jacob could not be comforted.

The pain and agony caused by the brothers’ jealousy were incalculable! On the other side, Joseph had gone from slavery, to managing his master’s household, being lied about by his master’s wife, cast into prison, and finally became second in command to Pharaoh. Now he had the power to punish!

But how did he address the past? His brothers were at his mercy and fell down before him. Joseph said, “Am I in the place of God? You meant it for evil against me; but God meant it for good” (see Genesis 50:19-20). Nearly 4000 years ago, Joseph understood what Paul would later write in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” All things are not good, but can be woven into God’s good purpose.

What a difference it makes if we can release the past, see God’s long view, and the joy set before us! Joseph knew what to lay aside. He knew where to look—to God. He knew the grace of God that had brought him through it all, and he gave that grace to his brothers. When we encounter Jesus, He puts the past, present, and future into a much better perspective!

Everlasting Love
All of us, like the disciples and Joseph’s brothers, have records that we wish were not there. Sometimes we just “box them up” and store them for another day. We all have “come short of the glory of God.” But our Lord is not like the internet, He will remove our sins from the record. He will not “unfriend” us if we love Him, because He loved us before we knew Him, and loved us through it all. He has seen the end from the beginning with an EVERLASTING love. Nothing that we have done has surprised Him.

The issue is, can we deal with it? Can we receive His grace? Can we lay some things aside? Our failures? The rejection of others? Can we run light? If we can, there is a joy set before us. “The best is yet to come,” as my father so often said. Sometimes it takes time to gain perspective. The past is done, toss away what you don’t need. The future is before us if we can look ahead, not back, and trust our faithful Lord as we did at the beginning. The reality is that He got us here and He wants to take us on, but a little lighter, a little wiser, a lot more humble, and more dependent upon Him.

By the way, we don’t get our faith and our courage to go forward from the “news.” We get it from the “Good News!”

In Christ,

Brother Charles Simpson

P.S. Would you please continue to pray for CSM and remember us in your giving this month? We face both challenges and opportunities in sowing the Good News among the nations, publishing outreach, church planting and equipping, and more. Summer is often “tight” financially, but the needs do not take a vacation. Thanks for being a key part of this ministry!  For more information visit us online at


Scripture References:Luke 5: Hebrews 12; Genesis 50; Romans 8:28

About the Author:

Charles Simpson

Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.