5 Types of Abuse – National Abuse Awareness Month

October is Abuse Awareness Month and Pastor F. Remy Diederich begins a discussion on this subject in todays Cedarblog post from Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.October is national abuse awareness month. Domestic abuse has gotten a lot of attention in the media lately thanks to the NFL. I thought this would be a good chance to create some awareness about abuse in general.

Abuse is a hard topic to talk about…for a lot of reasons. It evokes deep emotions and stirs old memories of people who have experienced abuse. And for people that have no experience with abuse, it’s often something they don’t want to think about. It’s too disturbing and they can’t relate so they’d rather not think about it.

But if there is any group that should be aware of the problem of abuse, and how to help both the victims and the perpetrators of abuse, it should be the church. I mean, God has always fought for the defenseless and he calls us to do the same.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  – Psalm 34:18

If that’s what God does, then we should work to align our hearts and minds with God.

Defining Abuse

So what exactly is abuse? A simple dictionary definition is “to mistreat something.” Abuse is when you treat someone or something in a way it wasn’t meant to be treated. In regard to people, abuse means you don’t treat them with the care, dignity, and respect that God created them to have.

Here’s another definition that’s more specific: Abuse happens when someone crosses the boundaries of another person and enters their personal or emotional space for their own gain and to the detriment of their victim. Abuse involves a systematic pattern of manipulating, intimidating, or coercing their victim to gain and maintain power and control over them.  This might sound a little academic but I think it’s helpful. It’s helpful to identify abuse that might be happening to us and it’s helpful to identify how we might be abusing others.

Five Types of Abuse

Abuse takes many forms. There is physical abuse, sexual abuse, and verbal abuse. Most of us have a general idea of what those are about, so I won’t elaborate on them. But there are two other types of abuse that are subtler that I want to take a few minutes to explain.

The first is emotional abuse.

I listened to Joyce Meyers tell her story the other day online. Joyce is a well known Bible teacher and she told about how her father abused her. I was surprised to hear her say that as bad as the sexual abuse was, (and it was awful), it was the emotional abuse that hurt her the most. The way her dad talked to her was humiliating and degrading and it made her feel terrible about herself.

Let me give you a checklist to help you understand what I’m talking about here. Emotional abuse is when someone:

  • dismisses your difficulties, issues, or input as unimportant or an overreaction;
  • They don’t listen to you
  • They ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments
  • They act excessively controlling or jealous
  • They limit your use of money, technology, car, etc.
  • They restrict you from seeing friends or family
  • They constantly check up on you  Now, I know what teenagers are saying: My parents are abusing me! Well, parents have a little more right to control their kids than normal. Yes, if they go are excessive, it might be abuse. But parents should often some control over their kids to help them, not hurt them.
  • They ignore logic and get dramatic and even hostile in order to get their way
  • They make you feel responsible and guilty for things that have nothing to do with you – In other words, it’s always your fault. It’s never their fault.
  • They attempt to destroy any outside support you receive by belittling your friends, family, church, counselor, etc.
  • You “walk on eggshells” in an effort not to upset them.

I listed these out for us to help identify abuse that people might be committing against us as well as how we might be abusing others. As I look at this list, I’ve done some of these things. I have a very forceful personality and I’m capable of breaking into people’s personal space and wounding them. I don’t do it as much as I used to but it’s something I have to continually watch and guard against.

But I’ve also encountered emotional abusers in my life. Whenever that’s happened, I felt like I was going crazy. They were so dismissive toward me and so confident of their own thinking that I thought they must be right and I was the one who was mistaken. This was especially true when it happened in a vacuum, meaning that there was no one else around to help me know if I was right or not. Usually it wasn’t until years later that I was able to see that I WAS right and the other person was wrong. I’m sure we’ve all encountered someone like that.

The fifth kind of abuse is a form of emotional abuse and that’s spiritual abuse.

A lot of people don’t know what spiritual abuse is. Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship to God, to control your behavior. The physical abuser might use their fist to threaten you. The spiritual abuser uses God.

Parents can spiritually abuse their children by threatening them with what God will do if they don’t obey them. And ministers can do the same thing. I was talking to a friend once about why he left his church after going there for years and he said, “I was just tired of getting beat up every week.”  I’ve actually heard this a lot. That’s spiritual abuse.

Now, if I went to that pastor and told him that people were leaving his church because he was spiritually abusive, he’d probably say, “No, I’m just preaching the Word of God. I can’t help it if they find it offensive.” But every Bible verse can be preached in either a condemning way or in an encouraging way. When you condemn people with the Bible that’s called spiritual abuse.

I think one of the most subtle forms of spiritual abuse is when a religious person speaks emphatically about God and faith with no room to disagree. I bet you’ve been in a group where that’s happened to you.

You were in a group and one or two people were going off on what the Bible says and it’s obvious how true it is to them and they can’t believe how the people of the world could ever disagree, and you are thinking to yourself…Well, I disagree. But you don’t want to say anything because you don’t want them to think you are a bad person. That’s spiritual abuse.

We need to be careful whenever we talk to people about God and faith. You are all ambassadors for God and ambassadors for this church. I want you to represent your God and Cedarbrook well. It’s okay to be passionate, but we need to be careful to give people the right to think differently than we do. I work hard at this. You probably notice it when I preach. I might be very passionate about some point but when I am, I typically take a step back and say, “That’s what I believe. You need to decide this for yourself.” I always want to make sure that I’m not forcing my beliefs on people. I want people to know that it’s okay to disagree with me.

That’s a brief overview of the five kinds of abuse. In my next post I will explore three important facts about abuse.

I recently spoke about this subject during one of my Sunday sermons. You can listen to the entire message here.

Something to think about until my next posting… and feel free to leave a comment about this in the comments section below: Emotional and spiritual abuse can be subtle. We don’t always perceive it as abuse at first. Where have you looked back and gone, “I think that relationship was actually abusive…I just didn’t know it at the time”? 

6 Things That Forgiveness is Not

In today's blog post from Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin, Pastor F. Remy Diederich looks at the 6 things that forgiveness is not.As I concluded my last post (which you can read here), I gave you a simple definition of forgiveness. As a reminder, here it is:

Forgiveness is giving up the right to get even. It’s giving up the right to pay someone back either directly or indirectly – for what they did to you.

Now, if that’s what forgiveness is: let me tell you six things that forgiveness is NOT. I want to strip away all the excess from our understanding to make it more doable for us.

Forgiveness is not Forgetting

We always hear people say, “Forgive and forget,” right? Well, how do you forget abuse? How do you forget betrayal? How do you forget injustice? You don’t. So a lot of people think that since they can’t forget, they can’t forgive. That’s not true.

Forgiveness is for the hurts you can’t forget. We can forget the small hurts, but the big hurts need something more: forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not Excusing

People are often afraid to forgive because they don’t want to send their offender the wrong message, like, what you did is really no big deal. But the truth is: forgiveness requires blaming someone, not excusing them. This quote will hopefully explain what I mean:

We do not excuse the person we forgive, we blame the person we forgive… we do not forgive people for things we do not blame them for…we cannot forgive a wrong unless we first blame the person who wronged us.  – Lewis Smedes

If someone does something wrong they deserve to be blamed for it. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse or diminish a wrong, and it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the consequences for a wrong. Just for example, God has forgiven everyone of us here for the bad we have done, but many of us are still experiencing the consequences of what we’ve done, right?

Or, here’s another example: Parents, if your teenager says, Mom/Dad, do you forgive me for coming home an hour late last week with the car? Your answer should be yes, I forgive you; meaning, you won’t stay mad at them or punish them with a silent treatment or denigrate them in any way. You’ll continue to feed and cloth them.

So they might say, “Great! Can I take the care out on Friday night?” The wise parent will say, “No,” to which the teenager will complain, “But you just said you forgave me!” And the wise parent will say, “Yes, I did forgive you. But there are still consequences for your actions and the house rule is: you come home late, you lose care privileges for a week.”

Forgiveness is not Trusting

Just because I forgive you doesn’t mean I trust you. If you broke my trust, I am a fool to trust you until you rebuild your trust with me. Forgiveness and trust operate on two separate timelines. I can forgive you immediately, but trusting you again may take days, months, or even years.

Forgiveness is not Reuniting

Trust and reunion go hand in hand. If I can’t trust you I may not be able to get back together with you. This is especially true in marriage in the case of abuse or maybe an affair. The offender often assumes that if they are forgiven that means they can continue with the person they hurt, just as before the offense. Sometimes they intimidate their spouse into getting back together but I would caution against that, unless the offender has shown true sorrow and has at least started the process of rebuilding trust.

Lewis Smedes put it well when he said:

Forgiveness has no strings attached…with reunion, there are several strings attached.

Forgiveness is not a Feeling

Forgiveness is a choice… a choice to not retaliate. So actually, you can forgive and still feel anger. Does that surprise you? Paul told the Ephesian church to:

Go ahead and be angry…but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry.  – Ephesians 4:26

So, for example, if you hurt me, I might say, “I’m really hurt by this. I’m really mad. What you did to me was wrong. But… I’m not going to retaliate. I’m not going to spite you, or slander you, or ignore you. I forgive you, but I need some time to work through my anger.”

Forgiveness is not Conditional

Forgiveness is not based on the behavior on your offender. They don’t have to do anything to earn forgiveness. They don’t have to jump through any hoops to be granted forgiveness. Forgiveness is free. Trust is earned, but forgiveness is free.

Now, a lot of people think that’s not fair. But think about it. If forgiveness is conditional, then that means I can’t forgive you unless you behave in a certain way. But what if you don’t meet my conditions? That means I can’t forgive you. Do you see what I’m saying here?

If my forgiveness is based on your behavior…YOU are in control of me. You control my emotions, my story and my relationship to God. You are forcing me to stay angry with you, so…Not only did you hurt me in the past but I am also allowing you to infect my future. That’s not smart.

Don’t infect your future with the pain of your past. The smart thing for me to do is forgive you and take back control of my life and story. Let’s go back to what Jesus said to Peter about forgiveness. The word Jesus used here, that we translate as forgiveness, is the same word that is translated as divorce. The word means to separate.

Jesus is saying – bring a separation between you and your offender. Quit obsessing about what they did. Quit trashing them in front of your friends. Quit losing sleeping over them at night and rehearsing conversations that you will probably never have with them. Don’t get stuck in the past. Let it go and move on with your life.

I’ll use Dennis Allen as an example. I’m sure he has a long list of people that he feels let him down. Maybe the General Manager didn’t hire the players he needed. His coaches didn’t train the players well enough. Or the players didn’t play their hardest. He might be mad at God for sending him to the Raiders instead of the Packers. Or maybe he’s mad at himself for not studying enough game tape, or instructing his coaches better.

But do you see where that kind of thinking leads?

Nowhere.

If he brings all that baggage and regrets with him into his next job, he’s doomed to fail again. He will sabotage his start over by not forgiving. The next time won’t be better than the last time. He needs to “divorce” himself from his past. That’s what forgiveness is.

He needs to release his past before he starts his life over.

Now, be careful with the word divorce. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about divorcing yourself from the person. I’m talking about divorcing yourself from the consequences of your loss. If you want to start your life over you need to believe that God can help you start over no matter how much you lost. You see, this is where people get stuck. They are in awe of their loss more than they are in awe of what God can do to help them recover from their loss. So here’s an exercise that might help you.

Write out what was done to you. You might put, “I was abused,” or “I was betrayed,” “I was lied to,” “I was taken advantage of.” This is what I call the primary loss. This is the obvious loss you experienced. But after you write down the primary loss, then write down the secondary losses.

Secondary losses are all the things that you lost as a result of the primary loss. For example, let’s say someone swindled you out of $10,000. That’s the primary loss. But that money represents many other losses we don’t see.

There is the loss of what you wanted to do with that money. Let’s say you wanted to start a business. So you lost your business. You lost your dream of becoming financially independent. Because you lost the money you had to take a second job. Now you’ve lost time away from your family and church. Or maybe your spouse had to take on a second job and that put stress on your marriage. Maybe it prevented your kids from going to college or it caused you to have to move.

There is a whole domino effect that flows from the primary loss. The list can be very long. Write it all down. When you get all done THAT is what you need to forgive. You aren’t just forgiving the person for stealing your money. You are forgiving them for all the secondary losses as well.

Most people don’t understand this, so they offer a shallow forgiveness for the primary loss and then wonder why they are still so mad. It’s because they didn’t forgive the person for everything. Other people misunderstand it too, that’s why they say things like, “Come on, it’s been ten years. They should be over it by now!” They say that out of ignorance. They have no idea what the secondary losses were in relation to the primary loss.

So, take your list and bring it to God. If you are full of faith you can say: God, you are bigger than my losses and so I will forgive them right now! But not everyone has that much faith. If you aren’t so full of faith you might say: God, are you bigger than my losses? Can you cover my losses? Can you cover what’s been done to me or what I’ve done to myself or am I stuck for life with “Can’t Win” written over my name? Then go about your daily life and see what God does.

I think God wants to show you that he will help you start over. I’m confident of that because years ago, God spoke to his people through the prophet Jeremiah about starting over:

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  – Jeremiah 29:11-14

What’s God telling them? He’s saying: I’m going to help you start over. You see, God is a god of resurrection. He’s a God of do-overs. So if you want to start your life over, call on God for help.

He said here that he will listen to you and bring you back from your captivity.

I taught on this subject in a series titled: Starting Over. If you would like to hear this message in podcast form, you can listen to it here and also download it from iTunes.

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

In today's message, Pastor F. Remy Diederich talks about letting God define us and not letting our past define us.Not long ago, as I stepped on the treadmill at the Stout gym, ESPN was on the TV. They announced that Dennis Allen was fired as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Then they posted Allen’s three year coaching record:

2012: 4-12

2013: 4-12

2014: 0- 4

Overall: 8- 28

Over the record in bold letters it said: CAN’T WIN

Can you imagine getting up in the morning, turning on the news, seeing your picture, and having that splashed in the headlines on national news?

Can’t win. Can’t succeed. LOSER. How do you start over after that?

Maybe you had to start over in marriage, or a relationship. Maybe you got laid off and had to start your career over. Or maybe some addiction got a hold of you, took you down a rabbit hole, and now you are trying to climb your way out. Or maybe you made some bad financial decisions…ran up some debt…and you are trying to get your life back on track. Or you walked away from God and now you want to start over.

Starting over isn’t so easy, especially if you feel like you can never win. If you are starting over in some area of life I know there is a struggle going on in your mind. There is a battle raging. There is a voice in your head that is mocking you: “Who do you think you are? What do you think you are doing? Do you really think you are fooling anyone by going to church? Those people have real faith. You are a phony. And besides, even if you were serious, you won’t ever change. You know your track record. You never follow through. You never succeed. So why try? Just give in. You will save everyone a lot of pain and trouble.”

When your life runs off the tracks, you are in a vulnerable place. You can make all kinds of bad decisions: often hurtful and self-destructive decisions. So how can you make sure the next time is better than the last time?” Let’s see if I can help us with this today.

The First Bad Decision: Giving Up On Yourself

There are two bad decisions you can make when you fail. The first bad decision is to give up on yourself.

You assume the worst about your future. You assume that life will never get better so you start to settle for a very basic existence. You stop trying. And you handle the pain of your existence with a variety of pain killers and cheap entertainment.

You know, I like country music, but the lyrics leave something to be desired. That’s a gross understatement! I’ve noticed lately how many songs are just about the joy of getting drunk; getting drunk in a bar, getting drunk during the day, getting drunk in a field…the latest song is about getting drunk on a plane.

It’s like, really? The highlight of your week is getting drunk? That’s as good as it gets? That’s a really sad statement…but then I thought…Remy, that’s all some people have to live for. They’ve given up on themselves. They’ve given up on starting over. They don’t know God and so, they just want to kill the pain and feel a little better…even if it’s for just a few hours.

You see, when people give up like this, it’s because they’ve lost their identity. They don’t know who they are. If you want to start over, you need to know your identity. You can’t let yourself think that you are a loser. Don’t ever let anyone stamp “Can’t Win” or “Loser” across your forehead. That’s not fair to yourself.

The Bible is very clear about your identity: You are God’s child.

A leader in the early church wrote to followers of Jesus saying that when they chose to follow Jesus something took place in their lives:

The Spirit we received does not make us slaves again to fear; it makes us children of God.   – Romans 8:15

He’s telling us that the minute you decide to follow Jesus you become God’s child. You don’t have to live in fear of your past mistakes anymore. Why? Because you have a new identity. You are God’s child and all the resources of God are working for you.

When we suffer a setback in life, too often we let the setback define us. Our failure becomes our identity. For example: Some people view themselves through the lens of divorce. That’s what’s stamped on their forehead. That’s their identity. No, you are a child of God who has been divorced.

Some people claim the identity of an alcoholic or an addict it. In AA they teach you to introduce yourself by saying, “My name is Remy and I’m an alcoholic.” Be careful with that. I appreciate the idea. They want you to own your addiction. That’s good. But you need to own your relationship to God too. You are a child of God… who has an addiction.

Do you see what I’m saying? Don’t let your failures define you. Let God define you.

If God is your father, anything is possible. You can start your life over with confidence.

The Second Bad Decision: Revenge

The second bad decision people make after a setback is they feel the need to get back at whomever they think is to blame for their failure. It might be another person, it might be God, or it might be themselves.

Trust me: you don’t want to go down that road. Payback is a dead end.

Now, to be fair, I can appreciate the need for payback. If you’ve been hurt in some significant way – by abuse, or a betrayal of some kind, if you’ve been hurt in some kind of life-altering way – payback feels very empowering, like you are standing up for yourself. But listen to what Jesus had to say about payback.

Jesus had twelve followers who didn’t always get along with each other. They heard Jesus teach about forgiveness but it proved to be harder than it sounded. So one day Peter came to Jesus, thinking that Jesus might cut him some slack:

“Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he does wrong to you seventy-seven times.”   – Matthew 18:21,22

Seventy seven times was Jesus’ way of saying, you need to always forgive. There are no exceptions Peter. That’s who we are. That’s what we do. In God’s kingdom, there is no room for retaliation.

Now, the interesting thing about Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness is he never tells us how to do it. As a result, Christians always talk about forgiveness but I don’t think we do it that much. And here is our dirty little secret: if we are honest, forgiveness seems like a pretty stupid thing to do. Forgiveness seems like it lets our offender off the hook for their behavior. And that’s not right.

I mean, where’s the justice in that? We are willing to let God forgive but we are often unwilling to fully forgive those who hurt us. But I think we’d be quicker and more willing to forgive if we understand forgiveness. Unfortunately, we’ve rolled too much into it. We’ve made forgiveness so complicated It feels impossible to do.

So let me sort it out for us here by telling you what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Here’s a simple definition for forgiveness:

Forgiveness is giving up the right to get even. That’s all it is. It’s giving up the right to pay someone back either directly or indirectly – for what they did to you.

So if that is what forgiveness is, then we should have a talk about what forgiveness is NOT.

In my next post I will be giving you six examples of what is not forgiveness. If you can’t wait for the next post, I did teach this same message and it is available to listen to in podcast form through iTunes or by visiting this page on our website.

Something to think about before my next posting, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below…  How does it help my ability to forgive and start over to have my identity come from God?

 

Starting Over: Owning Your Past Mistakes

Pastor F. Remy Diederich of Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin, continues his blog series on Starting Over by first owning up to your past mistakes.In my last post I talked about the first step to owning your past mistakes. That first step was to admit your guilt or the role you played in the past mistake. Today we pick up with steps two through four.

The second step to owning your mistakes is to express true sorrow for what you’ve done. People not only want to hear you admit to doing something wrong, they want to know that you feel bad about it.

Have you ever heard an apology that sounds like this… usually from an athlete or politician? “I’d like to offer an apology for what I said or did. I understand some people are upset about this. It was never my intention to offend anyone, but if anyone was offended then I’m sorry.”

What’s wrong with this apology? What’s wrong is that there’s no admission of guilt. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I’m sorry you are so overly sensitive that you were offended. What they’v done is manage to flip the guilt onto you. But just because they used the word “apology” doesn’t mean they actually apologized. Be careful you aren’t guilty of the “non-apology apology.”

The key to expressing sorrow is to do it with empathy statements. Empathy understands what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes. So an empathy statement expresses my sorrow in your terms.

If you think about it, there are many reasons I might be sorry that have nothing to do with your pain. I might be sorry I got caught, sorry for the bad consequences that impact me, sorry it made me look bad, sorry others are mad, or sorry you think less of me.

But if I’m not sorry for the hurt I’ve caused you, then it’s not the sorrow you are looking for. So I can tell people, “Hey, I apologized.” Yes, but you apologized for the wrong thing. It was a self-serving apology, and self-serving apologies just make people madder.

The kind of sorrow you want to hear from me is that I understand your pain; you want to know I spent time thinking about how I hurt you and how you feel about it. My apology needs to address your feelings if you are going to accept it. I need to carefully choose words that convey that I understand the impact of my actions.

For example: “I’ve been thinking about what I did and how it impacted you. If someone did to me what I did to you, I’d feel disrespected and abandoned. I’d feel taken for granted, and I’d want to shut them out of my life. I just want you to know I appreciate any hard feelings you might have toward me. They are totally justified. And I want you to know that I’m very sorry for what I did to you.”

If what I say matches how you feel, then your trust for me grows. You might say to yourself, “Amazing. He actually gets it. I finally feel understood. Maybe there is hope after all.” Okay, so now, you’ve admitted what you did wrong and you expressed sincere sorrow.

Ask Forgiveness

The third step in owning your failure is to ask for forgiveness. Too often, when we say we are sorry, we hope the person we offended understands that we want forgiveness even if we don’t specifically ask for it.

You see, asking for forgiveness is very humiliating. Asking for forgiveness puts you at the mercy of the person you offended and gives the other person control of the relationship. No one likes to give up control. You might have the guts to say you are sorry, but if you ask for forgiveness, they could say “No.” So we typically just say: “I’m sorry,” and leave it at that, or we might go as far as to say, “I hope you can forgive me.” But few of us come right out and ask: “Will you forgive me?” and then be quiet and wait for the answer.

Asking to be forgiven requires a death: a death to all of your self-preserving justifications and rationalizations. It’s a death to the perfect image that you try to project to people. But if you are willing to die, there is a good chance your relationship will be resurrected and you will be given the chance to start over.

Asking forgiveness is the only way you will know if a person truly forgives you. It’s the only way you know that you have a chance at starting over with them.

Rebuild Trust

The final step in owning your failure is to rebuild trust. If you’ve broken trust in a relationship, you are just kidding yourself to think you can start over if you don’t do the hard work of rebuilding trust. Forgiveness is free. But trust is earned and it proves whether or not your apology was sincere.

In July, Pastor Sten preached a sermon on confession and he said: “Genuine confession leads to genuine change.” That’s what I’m talking about here.

In the early church, Paul wrote to a group of Christians, reprimanding them for their immoral behavior. After they changed their ways, Paul wrote them a second letter saying this:

I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to change your ways. Godly sorrow brings a change of behavior …and leaves no regret…  -Corinthians 7:9,10

A change of behavior is the ultimate proof that I am truly sorry for what I’ve done and am serious about starting over.

If your failure involved money, you need to pay for the loss. If your failure involved lack of follow through, you need to start following through on your promises. If your failure involved immoral behavior, you need to provide people with assurances that your behavior will not happen again. Sometimes rebuilding trust involves doing things you’ve never done.

Now, I’ve shown you some bad examples of people owning their mistakes. I want to show you a good example. Marion Jones won 3 gold medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She was considered the fastest woman in the world but was later stripped of the titles after admitting doping.

Marion has had to start over. She spent six months in jail, so she started over socially. She went bankrupt and had to sell her home, so she started over financially. She got divorced, so she started over relationally. And she lost her running career so she had to start her sports career over again too. It all started by her admitting, expressing sorrow, and asking forgiveness. Today she rebuilds trust by offering the “Take A Brake” program to help young people make better decisions. I like this quote from her:

It’s important for people to know that it’s possible to make a mistake in your life, but it’s what you do after the mistake that people are going to remember you by.  -Marion Jones

If you’ve made a mistake, I hope you want to start over. But before you do, own it. Before you can start over, you need to own your past. Some of you started over without owning your past, and you feel it. Something has never been quite right even years after your failure. You need to press pause on your life and own your past, so you can successfully move into the future.

Many of the issues I talked about in these last two posts are complicated. For example, one person asked me who you should admit your faults to. Should you tell the world like Marion Jones did? Marion told the world because she lied to the world. So it was appropriate to hold a press conference. The rule is, you only apologize to the people you offended or to whom your failure affected.

If you are unsure of what to do, contact me and I’m happy to meet and help you walk through some next steps. I want to help you get your life back on track.

If you would like to hear this entire message in podcast form, you can listen to it here. If you know someone who could really use this message right now, be sure to share this post with them. And if you’d like to talk about some of these issues, please comment below. I’d love to talk more about this important subject of Starting Over.

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.

Admit

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.

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!