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The Gift of Regret!

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (Acts 28:30-31, NIV) 

I have three regrets in my life. The first was not taking Spanish in high school. I believed I was going to live and die in the Black community, so I saw no need to learn another language. I’ve spent almost three decades living and pastoring in a mostly Spanish speaking neighborhood. I wish I had seen this picture in my sophomore year at Manley High School in Chicago.

The second regret was not becoming a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha social fraternity in college. I pledged the fraternity because my heroes were Alpha men – Martin Luther King, Jesse Owens, Thurgood Marshall, and Andrew Young. I pledged every weekend for seven weeks in my sophomore and junior years without making it in. I wished I had more stamina to persevere that cold night guarding my big brother’s house for several hours. I chose getting warm over becoming an Alpha man. 

Regrets can either make you afraid of making bold decisions or nudged to take more risks.

My third regret was stopping a successful youth service because it threatened certain members of my former church. In the early 2000s, I was given the green light to start a Christian Hip-Hop service. It was one of the first of its kind in Grand Rapids. After surveying young people from a basketball ministry and the data was analyzed: a service that was fun, served with food, and presenting the word that scratched where they itched, would fly.  The services drew over 100 African American and Hispanic young adults for two straight years. Without neglecting my commitment to the regular members’ needs, I enjoyed the service tremendously. However, trouble started to brew that the church's youth needs were not receiving adequate attention. In a heated conversation with leaders, I was told to choose between the young adult service that was drawing unchurched young people or the stable congregation that held my paycheck. I chose to end the service and those young people never came back. I wished I had fought more to keep the service. This is one of my biggest regrets in ministry. 

Don’t we all have moments or decisions we wished we would had done differently? Regrets can either make you afraid of making bold decisions or nudged to take more risks. According to research conducted by University of California at Berkley social psychologists, they concluded, “when we’re more accepting of our regret, we can face it more fully and learn from it rather than being in denial. If we don’t acknowledge mistakes in the first place, after all, how are we supposed to avoid repeating them?” 

Paul had ample time to work through his regrets while under house arrest in Rome. Maybe he wished he would have converted more Jewish people to follow Master Jesus. Maybe he wished he would have been allowed to minister in Spain, but was prevented by the Spirit. For the doer that fitted his personality, Paul had to wait - which was doing ministry in a completely new way. Instead of racing all over Asia Minor, he was under house arrest in Rome and people were coming to him. Rome would be the location where he would live and die without regret. 

Paul, bold and unhindered, and never regretted what he couldn’t change nor what he should have done.

Paul was practicing waiting. Lord knows, we do not like to wait. However, the Lord may be trying to teach something that took Paul his entire pastoral career to learn. The ministry of waiting reveals to us the God who works even in our waiting.

Two words tell us Paul was not waiting in regret, but ministering in hope are “boldness” and “unhindered.” These two important words in the text are essential for understanding the context of Paul while in Rome. The late author and New Testament scholar Eugene Peterson accurately reflected Paul’s state of mind and heart. Peterson wrote, “I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I have been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I have been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, The Message by Eugene Peterson) Peterson captured the inner confidence of Jesus-alive apostle even at the end of his days. Paul was not waiting to die, but to engage in deep conversation convincing leaders and onlookers that nothing was better than knowing Jesus as God’s answer spoken in the Hebrew Scriptures. No regrets.

I am learning from my own regrets through Paul’s last two years under house arrest that he accepted, embraced, and thrived as a living, hopeful participant in the Jesus movement. Paul does not try to find a new way to speak in the room. He brought old words for the new context. The words of Isaiah were the only tools that could open up clogged bodily parts. Paul, bold and unhindered, and never regretted what he couldn’t change nor what he should have done. He leaned into the kingdom vision he shared with others and taught Jesus as knowing it was best thing on earth. Paul’s heart was changing for the better. Regrets can nudge us into new places of joy if it’s accepted as a way to see Jesus clearer.


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