Humans are Bad at Measuring Things, So How Do We Measure Our Growth?

How do we measure our spiritual growth? Pastor Sten Carlson takes a look in today's important Cedarblog post. Pastor Sten is an assistant pastor at Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.For the past few years now, my wife Erica and I have taken a little winter vacation with Erica’s parent’s and her sister and brother in law.  It’s actually a place that Erica’s family has been going to for years, and it’s become a favorite spot for the two of us as well.

Every year we have more fun and develop new favorite memories.  One of the things that we have been laughing about in particular, as of late, is my father in laws navigation around town.  There’s a bit of a theme developing.  Over the course of the week we end up walking most places we go.  There are taxi’s available, but when we’re on vacation, we have no schedule, there’s never any hurry, and it’s always incredibly beautiful, so most of the time we perfectly happy to walk. However, a few of our destinations resulted in a walk that was far longer than anyone was interested in… even with the beauty and care free schedule.

You see, my father in law was usually the one to pick a restaurant for the evening and would let us know that it’s only about a 15 or 20 minute walk.  That always seemed doable.  15-20 minutes to walk for dinner, that’s perfect.  The only problem was, it was never 15-20 minutes.  After a few long walks and late nights getting back home, we soon discovered that when my father in law said 15-20 minutes, it really meant about 30-40.

It became clear, feet achingly clear at times, that my father in law was really having some issues measuring the distance we were from some of the restaurants where we wanted eat.  We learned to double all walking times that my father in law passed along.  Whether we were going to the tennis court or the pool, we double all the times he gave us.  We always give him a hard time, but the truth was he was always mis-measuring our distance to the local hot spots.

This made me realize something.

Humans are Bad at Measuring Things

We are! Humans are bad at measuring things… that’s my opinion at least.

When we’re on our way to a meeting, we say, “Ya, I’ll be there in 5.”  Well everyone knows that means 15 minutes, not 5.  When we give directions, we say, “It’s only like a half a mile, when it’s actually about 1 and quarter.  What about baking or cooking.  I’m the worst at that.  If I don’t have the measuring cups or spoons when Erica tells me to add a tablespoon of olive oil, I’m dumping in way more than is good for anyone.

So let me say it again…  Humans are bad at measuring things!! DO you ever find that to be true for you?  Maybe it’s just some small things, but maybe it’s some of the bigger more important things in life that you are bad at measuring.  I think that can be true of us all.  We’re always giving ourselves too much credit.  And that is important recognize–that we do that–especially when it comes to spiritual growth, which is exactly what we’re talking about in this post.

It’s way too easy to miscalculate or mis-measure spiritual growth and health—to assume things are better, or just at least different than they really are.  Now, I don’t say that to discourage you or make you doubt your spiritual relationship with God.  Some of you have a very faithful and healthy relationship with God and my purpose is not to cast doubt on that.  I simply want to caution us all to take a good hard look.

It’s too easy to assume we’re right where we need to be—too easy to assume that our spiritual fitness is spot on—when in actuality, we’ve fooled ourselves and mis-measured the state of our health and growth.

It’s so easy to mis-measure that even the religious elite in Jesus’ day mis-measured their own spiritual health.  If there was a religious organizational chart or a religious hierarchy in Jesus’ day, the group known as the Pharisees would be at the top.

These guys were the leading dudes when it came to all things religion.  They thought they were pretty special.  But, as we will discover, when it came to their own spiritual fitness, they suffered from major mis-measurement problems and they are served a pretty severe warning because of it.  We can’t afford to make the same mistakes and mis-calculations.  So if you want to find out where the Pharisees went wrong…if you want to learn what NOT to do when measuring your own spiritual health, turn with me to Matthew 3:1-10.

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins (turn from your sins) and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.[a]The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”[

 Verse 4 gives a brief description of John’s hippie like appearance, and then we get to verse 5

People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. (You see at this time baptism done in preparation for the coming of Jesus, and it was public declaration and a marker of spiritual growth.  It was one of the ways that you could measure someone’s spiritual fitness.  And the Pharisees, who I mentioned before, see this, and they take notice.  Verse 7 says this…

But when he (John) saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize,[c] he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. This seems to be a peculiar way to greet people coming to participate in this baptism.  You’d think this is a good thing. But John doesn’t see it that. So he rips off this question at them,  “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath?”  He’s saying “Why are you really here?!! You just want do the right religious thing huh…whatever makes you look good? “Well he warns them…. “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

It would appear to be a good thing that the Pharisees are coming to be baptized, but John seems to know better.  He’s sees right through them.  I said before that baptism became the marker of life change, but what John sees here is that the Pharisees were only interested in the public spectacle of the whole thing and not the actual life change.

Perhaps they just wanted to seal their spiritual fate with baptism. There was no evidence of life change, they just wanted to appear to have done what they think is right.  These guys were the religious elite, so if there was some new marker of spiritual fitness, they figured, “Ya, we oughta have that baptism thing.  We are children of Abraham. You know the song, “Father Abraham had many sons” ya that’s us!!  We’re the religious elite around here so if there’s some new spiritual activity around here, we should be the first in line…or at least we should be the ones to come make this all legit for all of you.

They don’t get it!

And here lies the mistake they made, the mistake that we should promise ourselves never to duplicate.  The mistake the Pharisees made was to convince themselves that religious activity and a religious family tree equaled real spiritual health and growth.

They thought, “hey we’re descendants of Abraham and we do all the religious stuff in the book…every last one of ‘em!! We’re good to go!”  They were guilty of mis-measuring spiritual growth and fitness.

And the scary part is, the very same thing can happen to us.

Often times, religious activity or a religious family tree gives us false security for our own spiritual growth.  We say, “I’m good…I come from a Christian family….and I do tons of Christians things.”  But hear this: Religious activity and a religious family tree doesn’t equal spiritual health or spiritual growth.

In fact, religious activity and a religious family tree can blind us to the real deficiencies of our own spiritual life with God.  They distract us so we think all is well, when it’s really not.  So here’s what we need to know:

The only way to measure real spiritual growth on the inside is to measure the real spiritual fruit on the outside.  Did you catch that?

This is they key to measuring our spiritual life and spiritual growth. The only way to measure real spiritual growth on the inside is to measure the real spiritual fruit on the outside—fruit that is evident in the we live our life.

If there’s no fruit on the outside…then there is no growth on the inside. It’s as simple as that! That’s how we know if we’re growing or if we’re healthy or not.  And verse 10 of this passage warns us that not producing fruit is problematic.  Look again at what it says. It says”

 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.

Yikes! We can’t take that kind of warning lightly. We gotta be careful. We need to take notice and ask: So what does this mean for us? We’ll find out in my next post as we take a look at the visual evidence of our growth.

Going Deeper

Tonight, I challenge you to open your discussion/quiet time in prayer, asking to God to reveal the “blind spots” in your spiritual life. 

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.


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?


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.