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If we can’t change the past, can we move forward?
Pastor Ben Sadler
by Pastor Ben Sadler
March 9, 2020

My favorite movie of all time is Back to the Future. It tells the story of Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), who’s a senior in high school in 1985. Early in the movie we get a snapshot of his family, and it’s a mess. Marty’s brother is stuck at a dead-end job. His sister is a loner. His mother drinks vodka at dinner. And his father is a complete chump who gets pushed around by a man named Biff, a bully since high school.

Marty has a friend named Doc who invented a time machine made from a DeLorean car. Marty gets in the time machine and goes back 30 years to 1955. He finds his father and encourages him to confront Biff, the bully. His father stands up to Biff, winning Marty’s mother’s heart.

Then when Marty goes back to 1985, his family is no longer a mess. Marty’s brother has a great job. His sister is a social butterfly. His mother is no longer drinking. And his father is a recognized writer. Most important, Biff is no longer pushing him around. In fact, Biff is outside washing his father’s car.

Because Marty changed his father’s past, everybody had a better future.

I love that movie because I always wanted a time machine. I wanted the ability to go back and fix my past. I’ve often thought, “If I could just go back and change my past, then my life wouldn’t be such a mess.” I wish I could say that this was just a passing thought. But sometimes I’m so fixated on fixing the past that I can’t be fully alive in the present.

Do you find yourself obsessing about the past? Maybe you’re drowning in debt. Maybe there’s conflict in your family. Maybe your kids have walked away from the family and from God. As you think about all these struggles, maybe you think, “If I could just go back and fix my past, then maybe my life wouldn’t be such a mess.”

Here’s the problem: Back to the Future is just a movie. There is no time machine. There is no flux capacitor. There is no going back. There is no way to change our past.

When we accept that reality, we might lose hope. We might wonder, “If I can’t change my past, can I really move forward?”

If that’s how you feel, consider the words of Joseph at the end of Genesis. Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, causing grief, guilt, and suffering to everyone involved. That one decision made a complete mess of their family.

But years later, when Joseph confronted his brothers, he didn’t get stuck in the past. He was able to move forward.

Joseph told his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19,20).

Joseph’s words remind me of a magnet that we had on our fridge when I was a kid. It was a pink magnet that read, “Relax. God’s in charge.” That’s what Joseph is saying to his brothers: “Don’t be afraid; God’s in charge. You planned evil against me. You did a horrible thing. But your evil plans would not override God’s plan. God’s still in charge. So relax.” Joseph didn’t live in the past. He forgave his repentant brothers and provided for them and their children.

This is not just an isolated story in the Bible. This is how God has always worked. This is seen most clearly in the story of Jesus. The religious leaders planned evil against Jesus and put him on a cross. But God planned it for good in order to save us all from sin and death. God’s in charge.

Back to the Future is still my favorite movie. But it’s just a movie. It’s not real. We can’t go back and change our past. But here’s the good news: Even if I could give you a time machine, you wouldn’t need it. You don’t need to fix your past because God is with you right now in the present. Instead of obsessing about the past, you can be fully alive in the present and have complete hope in the future.

Relax. God’s in charge.