Larry Thompson was a big, fat, bully. I was in the 6th grade and the new kid in school at Rock Hill Elementary. My first day, at recess, a gang of boys (I use that term loosely, gang, not boys. I’m sure they were boys. Well, most of them.) cornered me on the playground and Larry Thompson began to call me names. He started with the obvious, 4-eyes. Well, I did wear glasses so I’ll give him that. Chicken legs. I was pretty skinny so, there you go. On down the list until he became more sophisticated in his attack. “You are a pantywaist, sissy britches, greasy headed kumquat. And your breath stinks.” Wow, that’s just hard to remember, much less to argue with.
Now there is only so much “turn the other cheek” and “be the bigger person” stuff you can do. And besides, I was NOT the bigger person. Larry Thompson was a good foot taller than me and outweighed me by 50 pounds. (I refer you back to the chicken legs comment.) But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. I took my best Smokin’ Joe Frazier stance, balled up my tiny fists, and said, “Alright buddy, (I didn’t know his name at the time,) prepare to be pummeled.” I was hoping to slip away while he tried to figure out what pummeled meant. Neither plan worked, the Frazier stance or the fancy vocabulary. Larry Thompson with his extra weight and extra foot, beat the stuffing out of me, right there on the playground in Rock Hill, SC.
For a few weeks after that, I would dread recess. Every day I’d see the gang coming my way, take off running, and spend the entire 15 minutes playing a life or death version of tag, trying to stay ahead of them until the bell rang. Two things happened. I got really fast. And I learned to communicate over my shoulder at a dead sprint. At some point, I finally talked Larry Thompson into being my friend. The chasing stopped and life got fairly normal at RHE. (Rock Hill Elementary.)
I’ve spent the better part of my life since then trying to determine when to run and when to take a stand. Especially when I am confronted with that big, fat bully called my past. About the time things are good, the playground is calm, and all of my friends seem to be, well, friends, some memory, or rumor, or FaceBook post will appear, and I am backed into a corner, surrounded by the gang of regrets, shame, guilt, should haves, and what ifs. Revelation 12:10 calls satan, “the accuser of the brethren.” I call him a big, fat bully. Either way, he sits on my shoulder and reminds me often of my faults and failures all recess period, and try as I might, I can’t seem to outrun him.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have had plenty of failures to go around. Enough to write a book about, as a matter of fact. Some have been quite spectacular, some are rather trivial. But he brings them up, throws them in my face, and uses them against me until I just want to run and hide again. I think most of us have met the big, fat bully of our past. And I think all of us have tried to run. Sometimes we run outside; move to a new church, drop that group of friends, isolate from everybody. Sometimes we run inside; mask the pain with alcohol, sex, overspending, or overachieving. Whatever method we choose, our past corners us, haunts us, calls us names, and we take off in a frenzied dash, trying like crazy to stay ahead of the thing until the bell rings. But the bell never rings and we are getting tired of running.
This morning in my devotions I was reading about the conversion of Saul, soon to be Paul, on the Damascus road in Acts chapter 9. For a long time, HE was the big, fat bully, persecuting the church, killing the Christians, chasing then all over the playground. Then Jesus comes and knocks him off his horse, (Yea, Jesus. Where were you when I was at RHE?) and sends him to wait for a guy named Ananias.
Ananias goes to Saul. (That had to be scary. That’s like Jesus telling me to witness to Larry Thompson.) He does. (I did too.) And Saul gets his heart right and starts to preach. He makes a podcast series of his greatest sermons, starts an online fan club, and hits the speaking circuit. But his past keeps following him. Everywhere he goes somebody says, “Hey, didn’t I see you at that party when Stephen was getting stoned?” Saul just can’t seem to outrun his past.
As I was reading that today, it occurred on me, that the rest of the Book of Acts, in fact, most of the New Testament, is about this guy who overcame his past to impact the world for Jesus like no one before him or since. How did that happen? How was he, the big, fat, bully, able to find forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation with his past, and move on to serve God like a boss? There is a short little phrase in verse 22 of Acts 9. “But Saul grew…”
That’s it! It finally dawned on me after all these years. My past is my past. I hate my mistakes and the stupid things I have done. I’d give anything to be able to go back and rewrite some of that. I can’t. And I can’t outrun it. There will always be some people that want to remind me, that won’t let go, that will not forgive. I understand that. And even when they don’t, the old, big, fat, devil will come at 3 o’clock in the morning and try to accuse me. Not fast enough to distance myself from all of that. I cannot outrun my past, but I CAN outgrow it.
That’s what Saul/Paul did. He spent time with the disciples, went away and prayed, studied the word, surrounded himself with good friends and mentors. And he grew. He became a better man, became like Christ, pushed on to let God change him from “glory to glory.” He just outgrew his past. And I can do that. You can do that. We can quit worrying about what other people say or think, stop focusing on our reputation, and instead, turn our eyes to Christ and become the man or woman that He always intended we would be. I don’t know about you but I have enough growing to lean into that I don’t have time to worry about running anymore.
A few years ago, I was back in SC at the church camp I used to attend. It was great to see old friends, catch up with people that I had loved and had loved me, remember great days. In the middle of that, a little, short, fat guy came walking up to me. He grabbed me, gave me a big hug, and said, “You don’t remember me. I’m Larry Thompson.” Who knew? He had pretty much maxed out in the 6th grade. He wasn’t much taller than that. I was at least a foot taller than him. (He probably still had me by 50 pounds but it wasn’t muscle.) Larry started to church when we were on Rock Hill. Stayed in the church. Went to the camp. And now, here we were, after all this time. And I had really outgrown him. So cool. In the name of Jesus, I punched him right in the nose, and then ran for my life!!!!
I’m just kidding about that part. It was good to see him. You can’t outrun your past. But you sure can outgrow it. “Forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching for what is before me, I press on toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Saul/Paul Philippians 3:13-14