Not long ago, as I stepped on the treadmill at the Stout gym, ESPN was on the TV. They announced that Dennis Allen was fired as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Then they posted Allen’s three year coaching record:
2014: 0- 4
Overall: 8- 28
Over the record in bold letters it said: CAN’T WIN
Can you imagine getting up in the morning, turning on the news, seeing your picture, and having that splashed in the headlines on national news?
Can’t win. Can’t succeed. LOSER. How do you start over after that?
Maybe you had to start over in marriage, or a relationship. Maybe you got laid off and had to start your career over. Or maybe some addiction got a hold of you, took you down a rabbit hole, and now you are trying to climb your way out. Or maybe you made some bad financial decisions…ran up some debt…and you are trying to get your life back on track. Or you walked away from God and now you want to start over.
Starting over isn’t so easy, especially if you feel like you can never win. If you are starting over in some area of life I know there is a struggle going on in your mind. There is a battle raging. There is a voice in your head that is mocking you: “Who do you think you are? What do you think you are doing? Do you really think you are fooling anyone by going to church? Those people have real faith. You are a phony. And besides, even if you were serious, you won’t ever change. You know your track record. You never follow through. You never succeed. So why try? Just give in. You will save everyone a lot of pain and trouble.”
When your life runs off the tracks, you are in a vulnerable place. You can make all kinds of bad decisions: often hurtful and self-destructive decisions. So how can you make sure the next time is better than the last time?” Let’s see if I can help us with this today.
The First Bad Decision: Giving Up On Yourself
There are two bad decisions you can make when you fail. The first bad decision is to give up on yourself.
You assume the worst about your future. You assume that life will never get better so you start to settle for a very basic existence. You stop trying. And you handle the pain of your existence with a variety of pain killers and cheap entertainment.
You know, I like country music, but the lyrics leave something to be desired. That’s a gross understatement! I’ve noticed lately how many songs are just about the joy of getting drunk; getting drunk in a bar, getting drunk during the day, getting drunk in a field…the latest song is about getting drunk on a plane.
It’s like, really? The highlight of your week is getting drunk? That’s as good as it gets? That’s a really sad statement…but then I thought…Remy, that’s all some people have to live for. They’ve given up on themselves. They’ve given up on starting over. They don’t know God and so, they just want to kill the pain and feel a little better…even if it’s for just a few hours.
You see, when people give up like this, it’s because they’ve lost their identity. They don’t know who they are. If you want to start over, you need to know your identity. You can’t let yourself think that you are a loser. Don’t ever let anyone stamp “Can’t Win” or “Loser” across your forehead. That’s not fair to yourself.
The Bible is very clear about your identity: You are God’s child.
A leader in the early church wrote to followers of Jesus saying that when they chose to follow Jesus something took place in their lives:
The Spirit we received does not make us slaves again to fear; it makes us children of God. – Romans 8:15
He’s telling us that the minute you decide to follow Jesus you become God’s child. You don’t have to live in fear of your past mistakes anymore. Why? Because you have a new identity. You are God’s child and all the resources of God are working for you.
When we suffer a setback in life, too often we let the setback define us. Our failure becomes our identity. For example: Some people view themselves through the lens of divorce. That’s what’s stamped on their forehead. That’s their identity. No, you are a child of God who has been divorced.
Some people claim the identity of an alcoholic or an addict it. In AA they teach you to introduce yourself by saying, “My name is Remy and I’m an alcoholic.” Be careful with that. I appreciate the idea. They want you to own your addiction. That’s good. But you need to own your relationship to God too. You are a child of God… who has an addiction.
Do you see what I’m saying? Don’t let your failures define you. Let God define you.
If God is your father, anything is possible. You can start your life over with confidence.
The Second Bad Decision: Revenge
The second bad decision people make after a setback is they feel the need to get back at whomever they think is to blame for their failure. It might be another person, it might be God, or it might be themselves.
Trust me: you don’t want to go down that road. Payback is a dead end.
Now, to be fair, I can appreciate the need for payback. If you’ve been hurt in some significant way – by abuse, or a betrayal of some kind, if you’ve been hurt in some kind of life-altering way – payback feels very empowering, like you are standing up for yourself. But listen to what Jesus had to say about payback.
Jesus had twelve followers who didn’t always get along with each other. They heard Jesus teach about forgiveness but it proved to be harder than it sounded. So one day Peter came to Jesus, thinking that Jesus might cut him some slack:
“Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he does wrong to you seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21,22
Seventy seven times was Jesus’ way of saying, you need to always forgive. There are no exceptions Peter. That’s who we are. That’s what we do. In God’s kingdom, there is no room for retaliation.
Now, the interesting thing about Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness is he never tells us how to do it. As a result, Christians always talk about forgiveness but I don’t think we do it that much. And here is our dirty little secret: if we are honest, forgiveness seems like a pretty stupid thing to do. Forgiveness seems like it lets our offender off the hook for their behavior. And that’s not right.
I mean, where’s the justice in that? We are willing to let God forgive but we are often unwilling to fully forgive those who hurt us. But I think we’d be quicker and more willing to forgive if we understand forgiveness. Unfortunately, we’ve rolled too much into it. We’ve made forgiveness so complicated It feels impossible to do.
So let me sort it out for us here by telling you what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Here’s a simple definition for forgiveness:
Forgiveness is giving up the right to get even. That’s all it is. It’s giving up the right to pay someone back either directly or indirectly – for what they did to you.
So if that is what forgiveness is, then we should have a talk about what forgiveness is NOT.
In my next post I will be giving you six examples of what is not forgiveness. If you can’t wait for the next post, I did teach this same message and it is available to listen to in podcast form through iTunes or by visiting this page on our website.
Something to think about before my next posting, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below… How does it help my ability to forgive and start over to have my identity come from God?