Samuel Day 31: Dealing with Disgrace

2-samuelRead 2 Samuel 13

We’ve caught up to the sermons. If you missed Pastor Sten’s message from yesterday regarding David and his family, I hope you’ll give it a listen.

Chapter 13 is one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. Some people are shocked that it’s even in the Bible. But I appreciate that the Bible doesn’t shy away from our dark side. When it talks about rape, we are forced to think about it.

Let me point out just a couple notable moments.

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. 13:1

Sin happens when you become fixated on something or someone. Years ago a pastor of mine preached that, “You think about it, and you think about it, and you think about… and then you do it.” It’s a simple truth.

It’s important to intercept your thought process when you see that pattern develop. The apostle Paul talked about taking your thoughts captive… taking control of them. It’s as if your brain falls in a rut and you can’t stop think about something. So you have to actively change things up to get your mind out of the rut: change your environment, go talk to someone, do something to keep the record from skipping in your mind. What’s your plan for when that happens?

Tamar summarized the impact of sexual sin when she said to Amnon:

Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. 13:13

Rape is often hidden in our culture. It’s not talked about. And when a tamarwoman does come forth, she’s often blamed, not believed. But in the Jewish culture a woman communicated and celebrated her virginity with her clothing.

She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. 2 Samuel 13:18,19

Tamar was too honest to cover up what had happened by continuing to wear the robe. But then she was “damaged goods:” disgraced and untouchable in the eyes of the people.

The disgust that Amnon showed for Tamar was actually for himself. To see her only reminded him of what he had done and that he was a “wicked fool.”

I’m shocked at how many people have been sexually assaulted. If you are one, I hope you will share it with a trusted friend or counselor so you can bring healing and closure to that event/s.We  have a ministry at Cedarbrook called, “Mending the Soul” to help you work through it.

God doesn’t want you to live in disgrace. There is healing for it. God wants to restore you and remove your shame.

If you are a perpetrator, I hope you will seek help as well and not keep it hidden. There is shame on both sides, for different reasons, and it needs to be dealt with. God wants to restore you as well, but you need to own what you’ve done.

All of us should be able to offer people a safe place to reveal their secrets in order to comfort and encourage them.

Today I’ll give you a few prayers to choose from:

Prayer: Father, help me to find the help I need to bring healing to my past. Show me the people that I can trust. Help me find the courage I need to not stay in hiding any longer. Please take away my shame like only you can.

Prayer: Father, help me to be a safe person for hurting people to turn to. Though I haven’t suffered their pain, help me to listen well and show them the acceptance they need.

Prayer: Father, when my brain is in the rut of thinking about sin, alert me to it and help me to take the necessary step to get out of the rut. I don’t want to sin. Don’t let my bad habits keep me trapped in it.

Samuel Day 30: Confronting Sin

2-samuelRead 2 Samuel 11 and 12

Chapter eleven tells the story of David’s sin. Be sure to listen to my message on this chapter if you missed it.

Chapter twelve starts out by saying, “The LORD sent Nathan to David.” You can always count on God exposing your sin. Not because he wants to shame you, but because he loves you and he knows that your sin will rob your joy.

When I was a kid, my dad used to pay me a dollar for every wheelbarrow of firewood that I cut. One time my blade was dull and the work was going slow. I realized that if I carefully placed each log in the wheelbarrow in a strategic way, I could “fill” the wheelbarrow with much less wood. I felt pretty smart.

A few days later my dad told me that he was at a candy store where they charged him full price for a bag of candy but when he got home he found it was only half full. I was disgusted to hear that we only got half the candy…until I realized it was just a story. My dad made his point and I remember it well today.

Regret & Consequences

God told David that his sin showed “utter contempt” (NLT) for God. Another version said he blasphemed God’s name (NASB) before other people. I’m sure David didn’t get out of bed that night with the intent of trashing God’s name. But it can easily happen if you just move with your desires.

Sometimes sin leaves you with regret. But sometimes, like David, it leaves you with consequences, and the consequences can impact those you love more than they do you. That makes it especially hard.

You might ask, “Why did the child have to die?” There are some things in scripture that aren’t explained and I find it useless to speculate. In God’s wisdom, there was a good reason. But be careful…don’t assume that every death or tragedy is orchestrated by God. This is ONE story. In THIS story God took David’s child. It doesn’t mean that every death is God’s way of punishing someone. Sometimes bad things just happen.

Forgiveness Allows You to Move On

I like David’s response. He didn’t wallow in grief. He moved through it and moved on with his life. You see, he really believed that God forgave him, and when you really believe that, you don’t have to keep beating yourself up.

What’s amazing to me in this story is that, even though David’s relationship with Bathsheba was illicit, God still loved their next child. God’s forgiveness allowed God to move on as well. David had a clean slate with God. God didn’t put David under a life long curse for his sin. Solomon was loved by God and became a great king.

There are some important lessons for you here as you reflect on your own sin. As terrible as was David’s sin, he admitted it, repented from it, was forgiven for it, and moved on from it. I hope you can do the same.

Prayer: Father, help me to see my sin and admit it fully. Help me to grasp how my sin shows you contempt and diminishes you in the eyes of others. And help me to receive the fullness of your forgiveness so I can live with gratitude and serve you more fully.

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.


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?


If the Old is Still There, The New Won’t Stick

The only way to truly start over is to get rid of the old thinking and start thinking new. This message is from Pastor Sten Carlson of Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.If the old is still there, the new won’t stick. That’s where I left off in my last post and I will pick up from there, today. If you missed the first part of this discussion, you can go back and read it here.

If the old is still there, the new won’t stick. It won’t stay. It’ll chip off and peel away!

You don’t put new counter tops in an old run down house until you rip out and get rid of the old ones. You don’t lay down new carpet until the old carpet is sliced and diced and thrown in the dumpster. It’s gotta be out of there!

You can’t put on what’s new until you get rid of what is old. So then, let’s bring this idea back to you. Next time won’t be better than last time just because you tried harder, or because your were more committed, or because you promised this time would be different.

Your and my last diet is evidence of how effective it is to just be more committed. “I’m serious… this time is for real, I’m committed?” You can’t promise, or try harder, or commit yourself into a new way of thinking. Something greater is at play here. So if you’re hoping you could change the way you live—or change your current circumstances by changing the way you think, Paul says you do that by renewing your mind… you need to adopt a new way of thinking.

Trying Harder Won’t Get it Done

It’s not just about trying harder. It’s about getting rid of what was old so that you can put on what is new. You can’t adopt a new way of thinking without first getting rid of your old way of thinking.

Some of you are coming in fresh off a bad relationship or right out of a marriage that tragically came to an end, and you’re looking to start over again. If you want next time to be better than last time, you have to change the way you think, and changing the way you think means you have to get rid of what was old in you in order to put on what is new.

You can’t step into a new relationship without addressing the part of you that needs to be renewed. Yes, there are times when a broken relationship wasn’t your fault, but sometimes it was… at least in part. That means the selfish part of you or the angry has to go away, in order for the new you to be ready to jump back in the game. When you change the way you think, you change the way you live.

Some of you are looking to start a new job and you want next time to be better than last time. You can’t expect next time to be better if you never address the parts of you and the part of the way you think that made last time so miserable. Changing the way you think means getting rid of your confrontational attitude. Getting rid of the continual insubordination you have for those who oversee you. The old part of you has to go away in order for the new you to be ready make next time better. When you change the way you think—the renewing of your mind – you change the way you live. You’ll be transformed. That’s what pleasing to God and you!

Some of you are looking to start a new sober life. Maybe it was alcohol or drugs that consumed you…or maybe something else. Pornography, food, spending money or anything that numbed the pain you felt. Next time won’t be better than last time if you just start “doing” without addressing your thinking. You have to get rid of the hurt, the guilt, the shame, or the pain that you feel in order to start over new again. When you change the way you think, you change the way you live.

And it’s this idea of getting rid of the old guilt, or shame, or anger, or selfishness that brings me to a few important closing thoughts.

Jesus Makes the Renewing of our Minds, Possible

The Church, Christians, Pastors—we’re not the only ones who can give helpful advice about starting over. Oprah, Dr. Phil, or just a good counselor can give you helpful advice about rethinking some of the challenges you encounter. But if rethinking… or renewing our minds, or being transformed really has something to do with getting rid of the “old” first – so that “new” is possible – there’s only one person who can help.

Only Jesus Christ makes it possible for you and for me to exchange what is old for what is new. Some of you need to hear that and take hold of that for the first time. Others of you already believe, you just need to apply it for the first time. Only Jesus Christ makes it possible for you and for me to exchange what is old for what is new.

The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. Jesus died on a cross so that the old parts of us—the parts deserving of death and separation from God—would be gone – wiped away – and so that new life would be possible when we say yes to Jesus!

Jesus makes real renewal, real restoration, real renovation possible. Jesus makes it possible to exchange what was old for what is new. It’s that exchange that brings a real renewing of the mind. It’s in that exchange that real transformation takes place. And it’s in that exchange that Jesus makes it possible for you and for me to change the way we think so that we might change the way we live.

If you would like to listen to this two part series on the go, be sure to check out the podcast here!

Going Deeper:

When it comes to significant decisions in life and faith, do you find that you “just start doing” first, without addressing your thinking and previous experiences? What are the consequences with ” just doing” before “thinking?” If you’re willing, comment below and let’s begin a conversation on this very important subject.

Starting Over Begins With Renewing Our Minds

When we are attempting to start over, it begins with renewing our minds. Pastor Sten Carlson discusses this in todays Cedarblog post. This message was originally preached at Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.My wife Erica and I moved into our house here in Menomonie a couple of summers ago. In the back yard was the remnants of an old brick patio…. totally un-cared for and ridiculously uneven with moss growing out of every crack creating a nice green outdoor carpet look. It wasn’t very pretty but that space had such potential.

Well we had some friends in Chicago who had just re-laid their old brick patio, so I had a brilliant idea. Me and my 8 month pregnant wife would rip up and relay a new brick patio! So that’s what we set out to do. In the heat of those scorching summer days that year, we started ripping out bricks and carrying and stacking them off to the side.

Eventually, every brick was pulled and it was time to prep the foundation for our new patio. Well, thanks to the genius of YouTube, I discovered that in order to do this well, the next step meant digging huge pits and filling and leveling those pits with hundreds of pounds of new rock and sand and doing so with tools and equipment – and really – knowledge that I didn’t have. It was about then when I noticed a slight decrease in my enthusiasm for this project which prompted me to take short break. And when I say short break, that’s code for “a 10 month break.”

I didn’t touch that patio until May of the next year. It was at the encouragement of my wife to make something out of the mess I created in our back yard, that I finally started up the project again. I had some friends help me dig and fill the pit — you know who are… thank you!

I got the tools I needed and I was ready to roll! But as I stood in the middle of this pit I had dug, looking at stacks of different sized bricks and huge piles of gravel and sand, certain bouts of anxiety would rush over me as I asked myself this question:

What Was I Thinking?

I had no idea what I was doing. I never did from the start.

Erica must have been concerned because she knows more than anyone else, that I do not have a single handy bone in my body. And if I’m honest, I knew that too… which brings me right back to my original question, “what was I thinking?”

Now the patio is done and it’s great. We just enjoyed a bon fire out there the other night. It’s not perfect. I know and see all the wonky parts of that thing… and people tell me they think it has “character”–well we all know what that means! It was definitely a DIY project from a guy who had no tools, no idea what he was doing, and different sized bricks. But it’s done. And now that it is, I can only look back and ask myself that same question, “What was I thinking?”

The truth is, I wasn’t thinking. I knew how worthless I was at this kind of thing. But I just started doing. Have you been there before? Have you been in the middle of something, or made it to the other side only to find yourself asking that same question? Please tell me you have. I’m guessing you have, but if I can, I want to take this a step further.

I believe that in areas of our life that are far more important than home improvement, many of us are looking to start something over again—a relationship, a new job, a new career, a sober life, or just a new school year with the kids. Maybe we want to start over because of a decision or a series of decisions that we made which left us wondering, “What was I thinking?” And like me, the answer is probably, “I wasn’t… or at least not very clearly…. I just started doing and the mistakes weren’t far behind.” And the bummer part is, I don’t think we learn from our mistakes…at least in the area that matter the most.

We learn from our mistakes in the areas that matter least… like auto correct mistakes on our smart phones, spell check on the computer or our putting stroke on the greens. But too often we repeat our mistakes in areas of life that matter most… the same financial mistakes, the same dating or relationship mistakes, the same addiction mistakes, the same parenting mistakes, the same career mistakes, and the list goes on. We just jump right back into doing, without addressing that question, “what was I thinking?”

And here’s the problem with that. The problem is: If you think the way you always think, you’ll do what you always do. And that’s not helpful when you’re trying to ensure that next time is better than last time. So if we’re wedging ourselves into some tough situations in life because we weren’t thinking to clearly, then clearly it’s our thinking that needs to be addressed. And the great thing is, the letters that make up what we call the Bible, address the way we think.

In fact, one of the most well know writers is a man named Paul, and he writes very specifically – addressing the way we think for the impact it will have on how we live. So we begin in Romans 12:1-2. Here’s what Paul says:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.   – Romans 12:1-2

He’s saying, do not let yourself be shaped and molded by the people and the behaviors you see around you. Plain and simple. Offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God. In those days they sacrificed animals to God – so the people in those days understood what Paul was saying when he said to offer themselves as a “living sacrifice.” He’s challenging them (and us) to offer their  way of life as a sacrifice to God, and to do that, they need to stop conforming to what the world dictates is proper living. Instead, conform to what God says is proper living.

Conforming Gets Us to the Point of, “What Was I Thinking?”

We’re at the starting line all over again because we got to a place where we were asking “what was I thinking?” And we said the answer is often, “I wasn’t.” So when were not really thinking and we just start doing, we start doing like we see everybody else doing.

We spend like they spend. We date like they date. We talk like they talk. We watch what they watch. We treat people like they treat people. We interact with our kids like they interact with their kids. When we just pick up our feet and let the wind take us wherever, we just end up looking like everyone else around us and we begin to conform to the patterns in the world around us.

Those patterns have that kind of pull. And so we just become a mold, a cookie cutter, no different than the person on our left or on our right. Same fear, same worries, same debt, same struggling marriage, same kids that don’t want to be around, same conflict at work.

Paul is saying, don’t conform to those patterns. Don’t let yourself just get unknowingly sucked in. Don’t just be like everyone else around. Instead he says, but be transformed.

Be something different. Be something new, something unique, something other than just the same old mold like everyone else who has just been sucked in to the pattern of the world around them. So Paul’s urging to be transformed is aimed at addressing the way you live. Paul is saying, change the way that you live. Don’t just be like everyone else. And then he tells you how.

Starting Over Begins Here

He says be transformed by the renewing of your mind – renewing the way that you think.

You see, the way that you think has an impact on what you do. So you have to change the way you think. And when we put this together, here is what we learn… here’s the bottom line:

When you change the way you think, you change the way you live!

That’s how you become transformed, not simply conformed. When you change the way you think, you change way you live. A new orientation in your thinking leads to a new orientation in your behavior. That’s what you want, new behavior… new living, new circumstances in your life… so you need new thinking.

That’s what re-newing our mind is all about. To renew means to restore. To take something that was old and make it new again. Think of it as restoring a beat up, old car.

One definition of the actual word Paul used said renewing means, renovating. Think about renovating an old house. Both of these definitions give a perfect example of what renewing is all about. Whether you’re restoring an old car or renovating an old house, you’re taking what is old and making it new again.

But here’s the thing—and clearly I’m not the expert on restoring anything to brand new state—let’s not revisit the brick patio incident – but I know enough to know that you can’t put on what is new until you get rid of what is old. So in my next post, we will begin looking at getting rid of the old and bringing in the new.

If you don’t want to wait for that next post, you can listen to the entire message in podcast form, here! Otherwise, be sure to check back for part 2 of this blog post soon!


Starting Over: Own Your Past

Own your past. This is a vital step in the process of starting over as explained by pastor F. Remy Diederich of Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.We all make mistakes.

We all fall short. No one gets everything right all the time. So there will be many times in life where we need to start over. It might be in a relationship or with your finances. It could be with your education or career. Many people fall off the rails with God and so they want to start over spiritually.

So the question isn’t: Will you have to start over in life? That’s a given. The question is: WHEN will you have to start over and will you do a good job of it? But too often we sabotage our start with bad choices.

One of the ways we sabotage our start is by getting back in the game too fast. I talked about this last week. We rush to start over and fail to take responsibility for the mess we made, or take time to deal with the character flaws that caused our failure in the first place.

We get daily examples of this in the media. Right now, the NFL (National Football League) is going through a major public relations debacle for this very reason. People are sick and tired of big time athletes messing up, offering a quick apology, and getting back to business. They want these guys to take responsibility for their actions.

This is interesting to me because what we are seeing in the media today is the exact same thing we see in the opening pages of the Bible. Now a lot of people question the Bible, especially the Adam and Eve story. And I get that. I mean, how can a story written thousands of years ago have any relevance to us today? I think it’s fair to ask that question.

But when the ancient text exposes a fundamental flaw that we all know we have, I have to sit up and say…maybe there is some truth here. In fact, the Bible nails the human condition so well that it leads me to believe that it’s beyond the capabilities of any prehistoric psychologist. I’m convinced that it’s inspired by God… but I’ll let you come to your own conclusion.

I want to look at this story to see what we can learn about starting over.

The first two chapters of the Bible relate the creation of the earth, including the creation of the first two people: Adam and Eve. At the end of chapter two the writer proudly announces that:

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.  -Genesis 2:25

In other words, everything was good. But then the story changes. God lays down one simple rule: to not eat from a certain tree. It proved to be too much for Adam and Eve. They both ate the fruit. And the story says:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden…And God said…Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” …The man said… I have to be fully honest here. I ate the fruit. Please forgive me.  -Genesis 3:8-12

Not quite. The Bible would be a lot thinner if Adam would have said what I indicated in the bold part of the text. This is what he said:

“The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  -Genesis 3:12,13

Rather than come clean, Adam and Eve first tried to hide from God and then they pointed the finger at someone else before they were able to choke out an admission of guilt.

In my last post I said I was going to give you four principles for starting over. The first principle I gave you was: take time… take the time you need to fully deal with your past and your weaknesses.

Here’s the second principle: own it. That’s what Adam and Eve didn’t do. You see, you can’t start over well until you first own your past. Today, I want to break down what it means to own it.

I have four steps for you.


The first step to owning your past is to admit your fault… completely. What did Adam and Eve do? First they hid their failure, and when they couldn’t hide it, they blamed others.

There is a natural progression that happens when we fail. We usually don’t own it at first. First we hide it, thinking, maybe no one will notice. But inevitably people find out. They always do.

So our next line of defense is to deny it (I absolutely, unequivocally, and categorically did not do it). When that doesn’t work we blame others (well, yes, I did it but it was because of them).

I like what Andy Stanley says about this kind of behavior. He says when we blame, etc. we are smuggling our dysfunctions into the future. That’s a very visual way to think of how we refuse to deal with our character issues and choose to sneak them into our future story. Rather than confronting our failure and our weaknesses, we just bring them with us as we start over, hoping we get away with it. And then we wonder why things don’t work out for us.

What happens with your credibility when you drag your dysfunctions with you? It drops, right? People lose their faith in you and when they lose their faith in you it’s a lot harder to start over. They aren’t so sure they want to let you start over.

If you want to have any hope of a second chance with people you need to admit everything you’ve done as quickly as possible. Don’t admit 50% or 80% or even 99% of what you did wrong. You’ve got to admit 100% otherwise people feel betrayed when the rest of the truth finally comes out. You insult their intelligence and mock their trust in you. Even though you admitted some of the guilt, you are worse off than you were.

Now, I understand that it’s hard to admit your mistakes. It’s painfully embarrassing to be fully exposed in your weakness and failure. Most of us will do whatever we can to avoid the pain and the potential rejection. But followers of Jesus have a distinct advantage here. Followers of Jesus know that they are forgiven… that their past isn’t held against them. God forgives them and empowers them to start over. So they can have the courage to admit their mistakes. If they step up to tell the truth, God will honor them and help them to get their life back on track.

Now, many times you aren’t the only one to blame. In fact, sometimes other people deserve the lion’s share of the blame. They might be responsible for 95% of what went wrong. This is where it gets tricky. You need to be careful because this is when it’s the hardest to admit your part.

Imagine a circle. Imagine that it represents who’s responsible for some failure. Let’s say, only 5% of the responsibility is yours. It’s so easy to obsess about the 95% and forget about your role.

But if you want to start over well, you need to own your part in it, no matter how small it is.

You have to get really, really honest with yourself and admit that you did have a role in your failure. For example, you might say to yourself “You know, if I’m really honest here, I saw some character defects in them a long time ago and I never said anything about it. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I wanted this relationship to work out so bad I just looked the other way but if I’m honest, I should have said something. I could have confronted them months ago and this whole mess would have never happened. I need to own that.”

My parents warned me about this. They told me not to buy that. Yeah, the owners took advantage of me but I shouldn’t have bought it in the first place. I knew better. I need to own my part of what happened. I stayed in the relationship too long and enabled their behavior. That’s my fault.

Yeah, they took advantage of me but, truthfully? I was greedy. That’s why I was there in the first place. I thought I was going to make a bunch of money so I ignored the warning signs. I can point the finger but to be fair, it was my greed that pulled the trigger on this.

The truth is: I could have left that party. I didn’t have to stay. I said I didn’t have a car but I could have called a cab, or a friend, or even walked. No one held a gun to my head.

The truth is: the coach cut me from the team because I wasn’t giving my best. Yeah, he can be harsh at times but I have to own my part. Sometimes I’m lazy. I was late to practice or skipped practice all together. I’ve gotta own that.

Okay, I spent a lot of time on this first step because if you cut corners admitting, you might as well not bother to do anything else I have to tell you. In my next post we will pick up with the next step in the process of owning it. If you can’t wait that long, you can listen to the entire message in podcast form here.