Restoring The Awe- Part Three, F. Remy Diederich

Take Off Your Sandals

“To fully appreciate God’s love, we have to first appreciate his holiness.” When God revealed his holiness to Moses, he didn’t use just words. Tune into part three of this series to find out what God did and the impact it had on Moses. Read the text of the message here, with study questions.

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3 Important Points About Abuse

Pastor F. Remy Diederich of Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin looks at 3 important facts about abuse in todays Cedarblog post.As October is National Abuse Awareness Month, I started a two part series about abuse with a blog post last week that looked at 5 types of abuse. This week I want to look at three important facts that we need to understand about abuse.

Point 1: Abuse is Prevalent

The statistics are always so shocking to me because unless you are in a home where abuse happens, you don’t see it and so it’s hard to believe how prevalent it really is.

So… a few statistics:

  1. One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. It’s the number one health risk to women. Think of that: a woman’s greatest risk of injury is from the person she is living with. For men, one out of seven will experience domestic abuse.
  2. In terms of sexual abuse, the numbers are one out of six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18 and for girls it’s one out of four.
  3. When it comes to verbal and emotional abuse, the numbers are much higher.

How do the statistics change in Christian homes? They don’t. In fact, in some ways, our faith can blind us to the abuse around us. We assume that “good Christian people” aren’t abusers. But they can be.

Someone was just telling me the other day about how an elder at their church was arrested for abusing his wife. I’d like to think that the church is a sanctuary from abuse but the church is full of sinners…so it’s going to happen.

That leads me to my second point about abuse.

Point 2: Abuse is Predictable

The Bible tells us that we are fallen people. Without Gods help, we are capable of doing all kinds of evil.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  – Psalm 51:5

There is no one righteous, not even one… there is no one who does good, not even one.   – Romans 3:10-12

We read about abuse throughout the Bible. We see it in the opening pages of the Bible in how Adam treats Eve or when Cain kills his brother.

The prophet Samuel reports how the priests took advantage of women who worked at the church:

Now Eli (the chief priest), who was very old, heard about everything his sons (also priests) were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  – 1 Samuel 2:22

And one of the most embarrassing stories in the Bible tells about how one of King David’s son’s entraps his step-sister and rapes her. I’ll let you read the story on your own, but look what happens after the assault:

Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred…He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.” So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went… And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman. When King David heard all this, he was furious.  – 2 Samuel 12:15-21

This is such a sad story. Tamar’s virtue and dreams were destroyed. Amnon got away with his reckless and demeaning behavior. And David was shamefully quiet and passive.

David was furious, but he didn’t do anything about it. What kind of message did that send? And so just like today…Tamar lived in silent shame while the perpetrator got away with it and everyone else kept quiet. It wasn’t right then and it’s not right now. We don’t want to be the people that keep quiet.

Later in the Bible you can read a letter written by James, the brother of Jesus. James zeros in on how easily we can verbally abuse each other:

The tongue … is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.  – James 3:6-10

This letter was written to believers. James is telling them, “Hey guys, we’ve got a problem. You are praising Jesus in worship but using your same lips to tear people down with your words. That’s not right.”  I’ve got a problem with this too.

I don’t know why it is but some Christians think they only have to watch their words in church but get a free pass to put down their family members, their boss, swear at the quarterback on TV, or rip the president and politicians on Facebook. I’m sorry, but that’s verbal abuse. There are no free passes for followers of Jesus when it comes to how we talk about people. If God created them, we owe them our respect.

Abuse isn’t limited to evil people who live in ugly houses in the bad side of town. Abusers are you and me. We are all capable of mistreating others and many of us do. Abusers are rich and poor, black and white, Christian and non-Christian.

Point 3: Abuse is Redeemable

I’ll say again, abuse is redeemable…that is, you can overcome it.

God is moved by human suffering. We see this in the story of Moses.  Before God called Moses to deliver his people out of Egypt it says:

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 saw their pain.  – Exodus 2:23-25

The word in Hebrew for “saw their pain” is literally, “and knew them.” The word for “know” is “to have intimate knowledge.” So it means that God understood the pain of their situation. That means he knows your pain too.

The prophet Isaiah spoke about what the messiah would be like when he appeared (he was talking about Jesus) and he said:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, he will faithfully bring forth justice. In his name the nations will put their hope.”  – Isaiah 42:3,4

I’ve always liked that image of a bruised reed. Reeds were used to make baskets, sandals, etc. What is a bruised reed worth? Nothing, right? Reeds aren’t rare. Where you find one you find hundreds. So if one is bruised you just get rid of it. You use it for kindling. But not Jesus. He cares that much. That’s the point.

If he cares that much about a reed, how much more does he care for you?

And the smoldering wick? We’ve all had to deal with them. You blow out a candle and walk away. But then you walk back in the room and it’s full of smoke because even though the flame went out, the wick kept burning. Smoldering wicks are irritating. Sometimes we feel worthless, like a bruised reed, and irritating to people, like the smoldering wick. Both are dispensable. But when the messiah comes, he won’t discard either.

Isaiah mentions the word justice here…implying that taking care of the abused is a justice issue…meaning, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the godly thing to do. You don’t look past the hurting. You help them.

If you are a victim of abuse, I want to encourage you that you are not alone. Abuse is prevalent. There are many survivors of abuse. They are probably sitting next to you. It’s predictable. But it’s redeemable. You can move beyond it.

I mentioned Joyce Meyer’s story in my last post. She was abused repeatedly by her father until she left home at 18. It was really sick what she was exposed to. She said she did the math and realized that he assaulted her over 200 times. But then she said, Look at me.  How could I do what I do if God wasn’t alive and well? God took my pain and made it my gain. God took my mess and made it my message.  And she quoted Isaiah 61 that says:

The Lord…sent me to …bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes… Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.  – Isaiah 61:7

So, no matter who you are or what’s been done to you…God can change your life and use you for good. Instead of lamenting the loss of abuse all your life, you can celebrate how God can gave you a double portion.

But I’m not just speaking to the abused here today. I’m speaking to those of you who might be abusers. The statistics tell me that there have to be a number of abusers reading this today. God has compassion for you too. If you struggle with abuse, I hope you’ll seek out help. I’m happy to talk to you and I guarantee I’ll offer you no shame.

Let me share one last verse with you. I presented at a conference for counselors in Minnesota about shame. One of the counselors came up to meet me and she shared a verse with me about shame that I’ve never heard before. It’s from Psalm 34, and it says:

Those who look to God are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  – Psalm 34:5

If you want to be radiant and never be covered with shame, I hope you will look to God. The good thing about that is you can do it right now and the healing can begin.

Let me pray to that end for us.

Father, thank you that you are close to the broken hearted. You see their pain. I thank you that you will not crush the broken hearted and that instead of shame you give us a double portion. I ask that you would bring great grace to our efforts to help victims of abuse and help both the abused and abusers find the courage they need to get help.

Amen. 

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!

The Myths that Stop Us From Starting Over

We begin this new blog series by looking at the myths that prevent us from starting over.I hate following directions.

Does anyone else? Directions are totally over rated, don’t you think? I mean, directions are for people who like to get it right the first time. That is so boring! Where’s the adventure in that?

I hate directions so much that, when my kids bought me a grill a few years back for my birthday, I said: “I will accept this gift under one condition: that you put it together.” That grill would still be in a box in my garage today if they hadn’t assembled it for me.

A lot of us don’t like to follow directions, but, you’ve got to admit: there’s a price to pay for not following directions, isn’t there? If you don’t follow directions, there is a good chance you will mess things up, you’ll waste a lot of time and money, and then you have to start all over.

Starting over… that’s what we are going talk about in the next few posts.

We’ve all had to start over. Our human nature tells us that there is a “start-over” in our future, right? That’s because none of us are perfect. We are all flawed. We all make mistakes. If you want to use a religious term, we are all “sinners.”

It’s not something to beat yourself up about, it’s just the way things are. It’s who we are. Even if you don’t believe in the Bible, or like the word “sinner,” it doesn’t matter, because you are one! You can’t help it. It’s beyond your control. We fall down, we get up, and hopefully: we start over.

Maybe you quit school and you started over.

Maybe your marriage failed and you started over.

Maybe you lost your job or worse, your career, and you had to start over.

But some of us make a habit of starting over. We are in a vicious cycle of starting and stopping. You relapse into your addiction and then recover: relapse, recover. Some of you fall away from God and then return: fall away and return. Others lose your temper and ask forgiveness: over and over again.

Or there are the smaller things like diets and exercise programs: you start and you stop, start and stop. I mean, we are starting, stopping, and restarting something all the time! And we keep asking ourselves: When will I ever learn? When will I get it right? How many times is this going to have to happen before I learn?

Now, if you fail to read the directions for installing a ceiling fan, you might waste a day, but you can probably recover pretty well. Not a big deal. But if you rush into more important matters without knowing what you are doing, like a relationship, or finances, or your career, it can take years to recover… sometimes decades. Sometimes people never recover.

So, what if there were directions for the big decisions you make in life? What if you could avoid repeating past mistakes when you start over? What if you could have a plan in place – a process – for starting over?

Over the next few posts, I’d like to offer you principles as a process for starting over. A lot of people come to Cedarbrook Church because they want to start over. I love that. I love helping people start over. Usually something bad happens and they say: “I’m so desperate I’m going to go to Cedarbrook, maybe they can help.” They might not believe in God, or Jesus, or the Bible, but they say: “Hey, what have I got to lose? What I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. So…I’m open…talk to me.”

If that describes you, I’m glad you are reading this. Let’s see if we can get you some help.

Today we aren’t going to get into a deep Bible study. What I want to do today is lay some groundwork for this series. I want to look at why it is that our do-overs haven’t always worked; why is it that we seem to sabotage the success of starting over.

I’d like to focus on five myths that keep us from starting over. We’ll look at two of them in today’s post and then hit the other four in the following days.

The first myth is the Failure Myth

The Failure Myth says: I’ve made too much of a mess of my life to start over. So…why bother?

People who believe this myth spend half their time beating themselves up for their mistakes and the other half of their time feeling sorry for themselves and hoping other people will feel sorry for themselves too.

People who believe the failure myth will often say: I have so many regrets. I just can’t forgive myself. I don’t deserve to start over. They might not realize what they are doing but not forgiving themselves and not starting over are their ways of punishing themselves.

What they don’t realize is that: by not forgiving themselves and failing to start over, they only slide deeper into their mess. The illusion is that, by not starting over, they remain in the same place. But that’s not true. It’s like being in a boat and failing to row on a windy day, you just keep drifting farther and farther from the shoreline.

You need to know that when you fail to start over, you aren’t just punishing yourself, you are punishing everyone around you…the people you know and love. If you want to do something about your regrets, and something for the people that love you, don’t beat yourself up; start over.

Thankfully God has never met a failure he can’t turn into a success. The Bible is full of comeback stories. In fact, three of the biggest names in the Bible: Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers. But they were successful because they didn’t quit; they started over.

The second myth is the No-Fault myth

The no-fault myth says, My failure wasn’t my fault. I only ended up this way because of them. “When I start over, I don’t need to change anything about myself. I just need to start over with the right person, or the right job, or the right church.” – sure, that’s the ticket!

These people refuse to take responsibility for their problems.

This is the person that has gone through five girlfriends, five jobs, and five churches in the last two years and is amazed at their string of bad luck. They never realize that they are the one thing that each bad experience has in common. For example: a woman who has had five consecutive bad dating experiences might say, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with men. I think they are all losers.” Well, hey, maybe it’s not them. You picked them. Maybe you are a part of the problem.

Now, sometimes we aren’t at fault, but the way we respond to the person who wronged us sidelines us just the same. It takes a lot of courage to look in the mirror and admit that you are a big part of why you haven’t been able to get any traction in your attempts to start over.

I love it when I find biblical principles in secular books. In the business book, Good to Great, Jim Collins does a good job talking about the No-Fault Myth. He calls it “facing the brutal facts.” He says:

You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.  -Jim Collins

In other words, if you try to start over, thinking that this time is going to be different, but you haven’t been honest with yourself or others about your own part in past failure, you are only setting yourself up to fail again. That’s the no-fault myth.

We’ll look at the rest of the myths in my next post. But if you can’t wait that long, I did a sermon series on this very subject and you can listen to the entire message as a podcast, here!