Humans are Bad at Measuring Things, So How Do We Measure Our Growth?

How do we measure our spiritual growth? Pastor Sten Carlson takes a look in today's important Cedarblog post. Pastor Sten is an assistant pastor at Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.For the past few years now, my wife Erica and I have taken a little winter vacation with Erica’s parent’s and her sister and brother in law.  It’s actually a place that Erica’s family has been going to for years, and it’s become a favorite spot for the two of us as well.

Every year we have more fun and develop new favorite memories.  One of the things that we have been laughing about in particular, as of late, is my father in laws navigation around town.  There’s a bit of a theme developing.  Over the course of the week we end up walking most places we go.  There are taxi’s available, but when we’re on vacation, we have no schedule, there’s never any hurry, and it’s always incredibly beautiful, so most of the time we perfectly happy to walk. However, a few of our destinations resulted in a walk that was far longer than anyone was interested in… even with the beauty and care free schedule.

You see, my father in law was usually the one to pick a restaurant for the evening and would let us know that it’s only about a 15 or 20 minute walk.  That always seemed doable.  15-20 minutes to walk for dinner, that’s perfect.  The only problem was, it was never 15-20 minutes.  After a few long walks and late nights getting back home, we soon discovered that when my father in law said 15-20 minutes, it really meant about 30-40.

It became clear, feet achingly clear at times, that my father in law was really having some issues measuring the distance we were from some of the restaurants where we wanted eat.  We learned to double all walking times that my father in law passed along.  Whether we were going to the tennis court or the pool, we double all the times he gave us.  We always give him a hard time, but the truth was he was always mis-measuring our distance to the local hot spots.

This made me realize something.

Humans are Bad at Measuring Things

We are! Humans are bad at measuring things… that’s my opinion at least.

When we’re on our way to a meeting, we say, “Ya, I’ll be there in 5.”  Well everyone knows that means 15 minutes, not 5.  When we give directions, we say, “It’s only like a half a mile, when it’s actually about 1 and quarter.  What about baking or cooking.  I’m the worst at that.  If I don’t have the measuring cups or spoons when Erica tells me to add a tablespoon of olive oil, I’m dumping in way more than is good for anyone.

So let me say it again…  Humans are bad at measuring things!! DO you ever find that to be true for you?  Maybe it’s just some small things, but maybe it’s some of the bigger more important things in life that you are bad at measuring.  I think that can be true of us all.  We’re always giving ourselves too much credit.  And that is important recognize–that we do that–especially when it comes to spiritual growth, which is exactly what we’re talking about in this post.

It’s way too easy to miscalculate or mis-measure spiritual growth and health—to assume things are better, or just at least different than they really are.  Now, I don’t say that to discourage you or make you doubt your spiritual relationship with God.  Some of you have a very faithful and healthy relationship with God and my purpose is not to cast doubt on that.  I simply want to caution us all to take a good hard look.

It’s too easy to assume we’re right where we need to be—too easy to assume that our spiritual fitness is spot on—when in actuality, we’ve fooled ourselves and mis-measured the state of our health and growth.

It’s so easy to mis-measure that even the religious elite in Jesus’ day mis-measured their own spiritual health.  If there was a religious organizational chart or a religious hierarchy in Jesus’ day, the group known as the Pharisees would be at the top.

These guys were the leading dudes when it came to all things religion.  They thought they were pretty special.  But, as we will discover, when it came to their own spiritual fitness, they suffered from major mis-measurement problems and they are served a pretty severe warning because of it.  We can’t afford to make the same mistakes and mis-calculations.  So if you want to find out where the Pharisees went wrong…if you want to learn what NOT to do when measuring your own spiritual health, turn with me to Matthew 3:1-10.

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins (turn from your sins) and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.[a]The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”[

 Verse 4 gives a brief description of John’s hippie like appearance, and then we get to verse 5

People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. (You see at this time baptism done in preparation for the coming of Jesus, and it was public declaration and a marker of spiritual growth.  It was one of the ways that you could measure someone’s spiritual fitness.  And the Pharisees, who I mentioned before, see this, and they take notice.  Verse 7 says this…

But when he (John) saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize,[c] he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. This seems to be a peculiar way to greet people coming to participate in this baptism.  You’d think this is a good thing. But John doesn’t see it that. So he rips off this question at them,  “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath?”  He’s saying “Why are you really here?!! You just want do the right religious thing huh…whatever makes you look good? “Well he warns them…. “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

It would appear to be a good thing that the Pharisees are coming to be baptized, but John seems to know better.  He’s sees right through them.  I said before that baptism became the marker of life change, but what John sees here is that the Pharisees were only interested in the public spectacle of the whole thing and not the actual life change.

Perhaps they just wanted to seal their spiritual fate with baptism. There was no evidence of life change, they just wanted to appear to have done what they think is right.  These guys were the religious elite, so if there was some new marker of spiritual fitness, they figured, “Ya, we oughta have that baptism thing.  We are children of Abraham. You know the song, “Father Abraham had many sons” ya that’s us!!  We’re the religious elite around here so if there’s some new spiritual activity around here, we should be the first in line…or at least we should be the ones to come make this all legit for all of you.

They don’t get it!

And here lies the mistake they made, the mistake that we should promise ourselves never to duplicate.  The mistake the Pharisees made was to convince themselves that religious activity and a religious family tree equaled real spiritual health and growth.

They thought, “hey we’re descendants of Abraham and we do all the religious stuff in the book…every last one of ‘em!! We’re good to go!”  They were guilty of mis-measuring spiritual growth and fitness.

And the scary part is, the very same thing can happen to us.

Often times, religious activity or a religious family tree gives us false security for our own spiritual growth.  We say, “I’m good…I come from a Christian family….and I do tons of Christians things.”  But hear this: Religious activity and a religious family tree doesn’t equal spiritual health or spiritual growth.

In fact, religious activity and a religious family tree can blind us to the real deficiencies of our own spiritual life with God.  They distract us so we think all is well, when it’s really not.  So here’s what we need to know:

The only way to measure real spiritual growth on the inside is to measure the real spiritual fruit on the outside.  Did you catch that?

This is they key to measuring our spiritual life and spiritual growth. The only way to measure real spiritual growth on the inside is to measure the real spiritual fruit on the outside—fruit that is evident in the we live our life.

If there’s no fruit on the outside…then there is no growth on the inside. It’s as simple as that! That’s how we know if we’re growing or if we’re healthy or not.  And verse 10 of this passage warns us that not producing fruit is problematic.  Look again at what it says. It says”

 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

Yikes! We can’t take that kind of warning lightly. We gotta be careful. We need to take notice and ask: So what does this mean for us? We’ll find out in my next post as we take a look at the visual evidence of our growth.

Going Deeper

Tonight, I challenge you to open your discussion/quiet time in prayer, asking to God to reveal the “blind spots” in your spiritual life. 

6 Things That Forgiveness is Not

In today's blog post from Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin, Pastor F. Remy Diederich looks at the 6 things that forgiveness is not.As I concluded my last post (which you can read here), I gave you a simple definition of forgiveness. As a reminder, here it is:

Forgiveness is giving up the right to get even. It’s giving up the right to pay someone back either directly or indirectly – for what they did to you.

Now, if that’s what forgiveness is: let me tell you six things that forgiveness is NOT. I want to strip away all the excess from our understanding to make it more doable for us.

Forgiveness is not Forgetting

We always hear people say, “Forgive and forget,” right? Well, how do you forget abuse? How do you forget betrayal? How do you forget injustice? You don’t. So a lot of people think that since they can’t forget, they can’t forgive. That’s not true.

Forgiveness is for the hurts you can’t forget. We can forget the small hurts, but the big hurts need something more: forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not Excusing

People are often afraid to forgive because they don’t want to send their offender the wrong message, like, what you did is really no big deal. But the truth is: forgiveness requires blaming someone, not excusing them. This quote will hopefully explain what I mean:

We do not excuse the person we forgive, we blame the person we forgive… we do not forgive people for things we do not blame them for…we cannot forgive a wrong unless we first blame the person who wronged us.  – Lewis Smedes

If someone does something wrong they deserve to be blamed for it. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse or diminish a wrong, and it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the consequences for a wrong. Just for example, God has forgiven everyone of us here for the bad we have done, but many of us are still experiencing the consequences of what we’ve done, right?

Or, here’s another example: Parents, if your teenager says, Mom/Dad, do you forgive me for coming home an hour late last week with the car? Your answer should be yes, I forgive you; meaning, you won’t stay mad at them or punish them with a silent treatment or denigrate them in any way. You’ll continue to feed and cloth them.

So they might say, “Great! Can I take the care out on Friday night?” The wise parent will say, “No,” to which the teenager will complain, “But you just said you forgave me!” And the wise parent will say, “Yes, I did forgive you. But there are still consequences for your actions and the house rule is: you come home late, you lose care privileges for a week.”

Forgiveness is not Trusting

Just because I forgive you doesn’t mean I trust you. If you broke my trust, I am a fool to trust you until you rebuild your trust with me. Forgiveness and trust operate on two separate timelines. I can forgive you immediately, but trusting you again may take days, months, or even years.

Forgiveness is not Reuniting

Trust and reunion go hand in hand. If I can’t trust you I may not be able to get back together with you. This is especially true in marriage in the case of abuse or maybe an affair. The offender often assumes that if they are forgiven that means they can continue with the person they hurt, just as before the offense. Sometimes they intimidate their spouse into getting back together but I would caution against that, unless the offender has shown true sorrow and has at least started the process of rebuilding trust.

Lewis Smedes put it well when he said:

Forgiveness has no strings attached…with reunion, there are several strings attached.

Forgiveness is not a Feeling

Forgiveness is a choice… a choice to not retaliate. So actually, you can forgive and still feel anger. Does that surprise you? Paul told the Ephesian church to:

Go ahead and be angry…but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry.  – Ephesians 4:26

So, for example, if you hurt me, I might say, “I’m really hurt by this. I’m really mad. What you did to me was wrong. But… I’m not going to retaliate. I’m not going to spite you, or slander you, or ignore you. I forgive you, but I need some time to work through my anger.”

Forgiveness is not Conditional

Forgiveness is not based on the behavior on your offender. They don’t have to do anything to earn forgiveness. They don’t have to jump through any hoops to be granted forgiveness. Forgiveness is free. Trust is earned, but forgiveness is free.

Now, a lot of people think that’s not fair. But think about it. If forgiveness is conditional, then that means I can’t forgive you unless you behave in a certain way. But what if you don’t meet my conditions? That means I can’t forgive you. Do you see what I’m saying here?

If my forgiveness is based on your behavior…YOU are in control of me. You control my emotions, my story and my relationship to God. You are forcing me to stay angry with you, so…Not only did you hurt me in the past but I am also allowing you to infect my future. That’s not smart.

Don’t infect your future with the pain of your past. The smart thing for me to do is forgive you and take back control of my life and story. Let’s go back to what Jesus said to Peter about forgiveness. The word Jesus used here, that we translate as forgiveness, is the same word that is translated as divorce. The word means to separate.

Jesus is saying – bring a separation between you and your offender. Quit obsessing about what they did. Quit trashing them in front of your friends. Quit losing sleeping over them at night and rehearsing conversations that you will probably never have with them. Don’t get stuck in the past. Let it go and move on with your life.

I’ll use Dennis Allen as an example. I’m sure he has a long list of people that he feels let him down. Maybe the General Manager didn’t hire the players he needed. His coaches didn’t train the players well enough. Or the players didn’t play their hardest. He might be mad at God for sending him to the Raiders instead of the Packers. Or maybe he’s mad at himself for not studying enough game tape, or instructing his coaches better.

But do you see where that kind of thinking leads?


If he brings all that baggage and regrets with him into his next job, he’s doomed to fail again. He will sabotage his start over by not forgiving. The next time won’t be better than the last time. He needs to “divorce” himself from his past. That’s what forgiveness is.

He needs to release his past before he starts his life over.

Now, be careful with the word divorce. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about divorcing yourself from the person. I’m talking about divorcing yourself from the consequences of your loss. If you want to start your life over you need to believe that God can help you start over no matter how much you lost. You see, this is where people get stuck. They are in awe of their loss more than they are in awe of what God can do to help them recover from their loss. So here’s an exercise that might help you.

Write out what was done to you. You might put, “I was abused,” or “I was betrayed,” “I was lied to,” “I was taken advantage of.” This is what I call the primary loss. This is the obvious loss you experienced. But after you write down the primary loss, then write down the secondary losses.

Secondary losses are all the things that you lost as a result of the primary loss. For example, let’s say someone swindled you out of $10,000. That’s the primary loss. But that money represents many other losses we don’t see.

There is the loss of what you wanted to do with that money. Let’s say you wanted to start a business. So you lost your business. You lost your dream of becoming financially independent. Because you lost the money you had to take a second job. Now you’ve lost time away from your family and church. Or maybe your spouse had to take on a second job and that put stress on your marriage. Maybe it prevented your kids from going to college or it caused you to have to move.

There is a whole domino effect that flows from the primary loss. The list can be very long. Write it all down. When you get all done THAT is what you need to forgive. You aren’t just forgiving the person for stealing your money. You are forgiving them for all the secondary losses as well.

Most people don’t understand this, so they offer a shallow forgiveness for the primary loss and then wonder why they are still so mad. It’s because they didn’t forgive the person for everything. Other people misunderstand it too, that’s why they say things like, “Come on, it’s been ten years. They should be over it by now!” They say that out of ignorance. They have no idea what the secondary losses were in relation to the primary loss.

So, take your list and bring it to God. If you are full of faith you can say: God, you are bigger than my losses and so I will forgive them right now! But not everyone has that much faith. If you aren’t so full of faith you might say: God, are you bigger than my losses? Can you cover my losses? Can you cover what’s been done to me or what I’ve done to myself or am I stuck for life with “Can’t Win” written over my name? Then go about your daily life and see what God does.

I think God wants to show you that he will help you start over. I’m confident of that because years ago, God spoke to his people through the prophet Jeremiah about starting over:

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  – Jeremiah 29:11-14

What’s God telling them? He’s saying: I’m going to help you start over. You see, God is a god of resurrection. He’s a God of do-overs. So if you want to start your life over, call on God for help.

He said here that he will listen to you and bring you back from your captivity.

I taught on this subject in a series titled: Starting Over. If you would like to hear this message in podcast form, you can listen to it here and also download it from iTunes.