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?

Nowhere.

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.

Don’t Let Your Failures Define You – Let God Define You

In today's message, Pastor F. Remy Diederich talks about letting God define us and not letting our past define us.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:

2012: 4-12

2013: 4-12

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?

 

The Myths that Prevent Us From Starting Over

One of the keys to starting over is to put to rest the myths that get in our way.In my last post, I looked at two myths that prevent us from properly starting over. Today, we’ll look at the final three.

The third myth is the Experience myth

This myth says: Experience makes me wiser, therefore I’m sure I will do better the next time.

That’s a pretty big assumption. I’ve heard a lot of people brag about having attended the school of hard knocks. They act like the bumps and bruises of life have taught them all they need to know. But the school of hard knocks doesn’t guarantee an education. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll be any smarter. The only thing it guarantees is the opportunity to learn from what worked and what didn’t work in the past.

We all know people that believe the experience myth. They never seem to connect the dots between their behavior and their failure. Their experiences did nothing for them but develop a habit that they cluelessly perpetuate.

This is the person that thinks the first few times they failed was just bad luck. Isn’t that what they say? Oh, it was just bad luck, but then they add this: but the third time is the charm.

No, it wasn’t bad luck. It was more likely bad choices, and the third time won’t be the charm, it will just be a repeat of the first and second failures if they don’t learn what they did wrong and do something about it.

Now, I realize most of us are probably thinking of some friend or family member right now. You think they really need to hear this. You are going to send them this post. But can I suggest that I might be talking about you? Just sayin’.

The fourth myth is the Exception myth

It says, I’m unique. I’m the exception. I don’t have to follow the directions like other people.

This person will tell their kids or friends how to follow the rules, but interestingly enough, they don’t practice what they preach. They think they are a little bit smarter than the rest of us so the rules don’t apply to them.

You know if you believe this myth simply by listening to what you tell your friends. You’ll say something like this; “I know I shouldn’t do this but…”

I know I shouldn’t eat this brownie because I’m on a diet, but I’ll just exercise more tomorrow.

I know I shouldn’t buy this because I’m in debt already, but it’s on sale. God wants be to save money!

I know I shouldn’t date her but she makes me happy.

I know I shouldn’t do this but I’m the exception to the rules. I can do this without it affecting me.

I’m bullet proof.

No you’re not. Time will prove that.

People who believe the Exception Myth are masters at denial. They have an exceptional ability to rationalize, justify, and minimize their dysfunctional behavior. But the truth is: you can’t start your life over and have it both ways. There are no shortcuts.

The final myth is the Time Myth

The time myth says: The clock is ticking. I’m running out of time. I’ve got to get back in the game. I mean, all my friends are getting ahead of me. I’m getting older. I’ve got an opportunity sitting right here in front of me and if I’d don’t snatch it up right now I may never get another chance. In other words, the Time Myth says: You need to start over TODAY, even if you aren’t ready to start over.

People who get divorced often think this way. Rather than deal with the root causes of their divorce, they just want to start dating again.

People who have an affair often think this way. They want to quick patch things up with their spouse and get back to normal without looking at what led to the affair in the first place.

People who have some kind of an addiction often think this way. They think if they get some counseling or read a book they are good to go and no one should worry about them.

The reality is: most of us think this way because starting over too soon keeps us from taking responsibility for the past and facing the reality of our weaknesses.

The mistake we make is believing that time is our enemy. But time isn’t the enemy. Time is our friend. God wants us to take all the time we need to get to the bottom of our failure, so when we finally do start over, we succeed.

There’s an older movie called 28 Days, with Sandra Bullock. It’s about people in recovery from alcohol addiction. There was a guy in recovery who wanted to start a new relationship and his sponsor said, “In the first year, buy a plant. And the end of the first year, buy a pet. If at the end of the second year they are both still alive, that would be when I would recommend starting a relationship.”

That’s great advice and it applies in all kinds of situations. If you’ve had some kind of major setback, you aren’t in a good mental state to make big life decisions. You need to let the air clear before you start again. If you feel like you HAVE TO do something NOW, your sense of urgency will cloud and distort every decision you make.

For example: if you just HAVE to be in a relationship, there’s a good chance you will end up in a relationship with the wrong person because the right person won’t be attracted to you. The only people who will be attracted to an unhealthy person is either another unhealthy person or someone who wants to take advantage of you. So, you think you are starting over. But in reality you just set yourself back a few years.

I mentioned that the Bible is full of stories about people who failed miserably. Once example is Moses. Moses grew up in the upper class of Egypt. He was groomed for political office. But one day he saw an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave and he killed the Egyptian.

Moses ran into the desert to hide and when he was there, he met a woman and married her. Then he ended up tending sheep for her father, Jethro. The Bible tells us that Moses lived in the desert for 40 years.

I’m sure Moses was tempted to get back in the game. He wasn’t trained as a shepherd. He probably thought it was beneath him. But his situation forced him to wait. If he went back he’d be thrown in jail or put to death. So God had him right where he wanted him, right where he could work in his heart.

Some of us are probably in a place like that. You are all frustrated because you want to get back in the game but, have you ever thought that God might want you out of the game right now? You know, coaches pull players out of the game for a reason: to rest, to recover from an injury, or to show them what they are doing wrong. The coach isn’t as concerned about you getting playing time as much as he is concerned about making you productive when you are in the game.

God does the same thing. He doesn’t mind pulling you out of the game. He’s more concerned about you being productive when you are in the game. I’m sure Moses felt like life was passing him by, that his destiny had been thwarted by the murder. But look what happened…

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help, because of their slavery, went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.  -Exodus 2: 23-25

The phrase, “During that long period…” is key here because it’s pointing to the time element. God used Moses time in exile to prepare him for his ultimate purpose: to rescue God’s people from slavery. Who’da thought, right? God’s timing was perfect. I bet Moses told God how he needed to get back to Egypt. He probably thought God had forgotten about him. But God was waiting, waiting for the Pharoah to die and Moses to mature as a leader.

God does the same thing in your life: he waits for key factors to fall into place before he releases you to move on. God knew what he was doing. Moses didn’t have to rush to get back to Egypt. In fact, when it was time for Moses to get back in the game, God came and got him:

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire; it did not burn.  -Exodus 3

And that’s when God spoke to Moses in the burning bush and called him to save his people. If Moses would have tried to fast forward the process, he would have messed everything up. He probably would have been killed or thrown in jail and God would have needed to call someone else. But what probably seemed like an eternity to Moses was God’s perfect timing.

God’s timing in your life is perfect too

You see, God uses time to shape us into the person he wants us to be BEFORE we start over. And so, if you are in a time of starting over, I want to invite you to press PAUSE on your life for the next few weeks and come back and read my blog posts. Let’s see if I can give you some helpful tips to begin starting over. Because you want to make sure that the next time is better than the last time.

This post is part of a series I did a few months back. If you would like to listen to this message in podcast form, you can listen to it here!