TONY ELDER: Let a sinful past remind you to be thankful for the grace of God

At various times during an election season the concept of vetting candidates gains attention. Vetting refers to closely examining and investigating the backgrounds of those who are running for office.

I find it interesting that the word itself originated from the idea of a veterinarian examination. I'll leave it to others to speculate as to whether or not that may indicate what we think of our politicians.

Such investigations are often used to screen out unfit prospects or to discover issues that might come up and need to be addressed. Opponents may use that process to dig up dirt on someone in order to use it against him or her.

By today's standards, some might suggest that Jesus didn't do a very good job of vetting the Apostle Paul before calling him into an influential position of ministry. He had a huge stain on his resume. For a while he had become obsessed with persecuting the followers of Christ, sending them to prison, and had even consented to the wrongful execution of their first martyr, Stephen.

That would be a huge black mark on anyone's record who was applying for a position in Christian ministry. It caused some people to be scared of Paul and to be skeptical of this flip-flopper's supposed change of heart.

But don't we all have black marks on our records? We've all done things in our past that would disqualify us from going to heaven, from being part of God's family and from serving the Lord. Maybe we didn't chase down Christians and throw them into prison, but we've all sinned against a holy God.

As we consider our stained pasts, let's remember several things. We need to acknowledge and confess those skeletons in the closet, not try to cover them up. Over the years political candidates have gotten into trouble not just from what they did in the past, but also over their attempts to hide it through denials, lies, and excuses.

Similarly, in order for us to make things right with God, we need to come to terms with the fact that we've done wrong and are sinners. We need to confess those matters to God with an attitude of repentance so that we can find forgiveness. Too many people ignore those stains, letting them lie there under the surface as an unseen negative influence on their present lives.

The recognition of our past sinful lives should also give us a greater appreciation for God's mercy and grace. It reminds us of how unworthy we are to receive the wonderful gift of eternal life. It stirs up a greater love in our hearts for the God who would love us and save us in spite of who we were and what we had done.

We also need to realize that God can use us in some form of ministry regardless of our past sins. Our past doesn't disqualify us from present service. It might even direct us toward a particular ministry -- like the woman who reaches out to help prostitutes as a result of her having come out of that situation herself.

In other cases, our past may restrict us from certain areas of ministries -- such as youth ministry not being an option for a former child molester.

But whoever we are and whatever our past, God can use us in some kind of service for Him.

Jesus knew everything about Paul's past, and He knows everything about our previous sins, too. But He loves us anyway, is willing to forgive us and has a place of ministry for each of us.

So don't let your past drag you down. Rather, let it remind you to be thankful for the amazing grace of God.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.