I need to say, James was joking. He had a great time. I could tell from the twinkle in his eyes, but not from the smile on his face. He would be a great poker player - except they probably didn't let him do that, either, growing up in those churches!
+++James' jokes about his own past prompted me to think about universal a topic it really is. Leaving things from the past in the past has a great scriptural tradition. Moses had anger-management issues. Matthew was a tax-collector working for the wrong side. Paul was an upcoming leader who used his power to hunt down and have Christians killed. Yet, all of them were used by God despite their pasts. All of us have experienced those moments when our past makes an appearance in our present. It is said that God does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called. I agree. I would add that God's call is not for those with perfect pasts. If it worked that way, our pews would remain empty.
The very same Paul mentioned above, after an encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus, would leave his past behind him and go on to start churches and write letters that would make up half of the New Testament. He spoke often of his past, every time referring to the new life he had in Christ. He says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." Paul would have known the passage from Isaiah 43:18 that said, "Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past."
Unlike the jokes James and I shared over the weekend about being taught to not listen to or sing along with 'that kind' of music, I am glad we are able to come together and do a new thing now. I am glad God has forgiven our pasts and freed us for abundant futures. May the grace and peace of the very God who makes all things new be with you, Amen!