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. 

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 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!