Today we are going to finish our series on starting over. As we do, please let me remind you where we have been. The first week we learned, if we are going to start over and do things different and better than last time, we have to let go off three myths.
1. Experience makes us wiser. No, experience makes us older it doesn’t always make us wiser. It is evaluated experience that makes us wiser.
2. Since I know better, I will do better. No, just because we know right from wrong doesn’t mean we always do what is right. We need to learn new behaviors so we can do better.
3. Time is our enemy. This often leads us to make quick and irrational or unfaithful decisions. We need to see that time is our friend. Time allows us to evaluate our past experiences and learn new behaviors.
We then learned that we need to own it. We need to own our part of past failures and not just play the blame game. If we keep blaming other people for our failures we never learn what we need to do differently and how to do things differently. We need to own our piece of the past so we can make peace with it and start over.
Last week, we learned that we also have to rethink it. We literally need to ask ourselves, what was I thinking when I made the choices I did? This is important so we can think in new ways which will lead us to new attitudes, priorities and actions.
Today we are going to talk about our need to release it. So let’s go back to the idea that we need to own our piece of the past.
We need to rethink what we have owned, our piece of the pie, but we also need to release what was done to us or else we will carry all of that forward with us. This bigger part of this circle of blame is all the things that have been done to us that caused our problems. This is filled with people who have said and done things that have hurt us. It is filled with people who have let us down, disappointed and even betrayed us. This may even be filled with those who have abused us in some way, taken advantage of us and crippled us emotionally, spiritually, financially and relationally. There is real pain and hurt in this part of our live and every time we start over this stuff goes with us unless we learn how to release it. Unless we learn how to forgive.
Several years ago, I did a sermon series on forgiveness and we used the analogy of a backpack and all the hurt and pain of the past is like these rocks tossed into our pack. Everywhere we go – this goes with us, until we learn how to release it. So every time we are hurt, every time we experience some failure and need to start over we are trying to do it weighed down with the burden of our past. Because we are so burdened, when we try again, chances are we will fail, which means another burden is added to the pack, which increases our chance at failure moving forward. The only way to start over making sure that next time is better than last time is to learn how to release the pain and hurt so we aren’t carrying the problems and the people with us into the future.
Andy Stanley has said that he often asks people who are struggling to start over because of their past this question: How far into the future are you going to carry your angst? (anger, fear, doubt…) He will ask these people how long they plan to carry those who have hurt them into their future and why do you want to take them with you? How long will you allow those who have disappointed you in the past to control your future? As long as we are not willing to release these situations and forgive – then we are carrying them into our future.
It is important to us to learn from the past. It is important to evaluate and ask tough question and rethink situations but if we will not forgive then our past will define us. Those who are able to start over well have learned how to allow their past to remind them but not define them. We learn from the past but we aren’t limited by it. But releasing our past doesn’t just happen. It is a choice we make. We have to reach into the pack, reach into the past, reach into that circle of blame and take hold of someone or something and actually release it. Let it go.
Forgiveness is a choice not a feeling. Forgiveness is a decision on our part to let go of an offense so we can fully and freely move forward. When asked how often we should forgive others, Jesus said, not 7 times and not 70 times but 70 x 70 times. With this answer Jesus was not saying we only need to forgive people 4,900 times but that we need to forgive people all the time. We always need to release our anger in some way so that we don’t carry it into the future where it will continue to define us, cripple us and make us have to start over again. So let’s talk a little about forgiveness.
Ephesians 4:26a. In your anger do not sin. What is interesting about this verse is that it is actually two imperatives or commands. Another way to translate this might be to say: Be Angry. Don’t Sin. This tells us it is not a sin to be angry. There is an appropriate place for our anger but when we choose to hold on to that anger we sin. The rest of that verse tells us that we need to release it.
Ephesians 4:26b and do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. There are many couples who take this passage literally and do not allow the sun to set without resolving their anger. In fact, some bibles translate this passage, don’t go to bed angry. That might be good advice for some couples and for some problems, but let’s be clear, some problems, hurts and pain can’t be resolved in 24 hours. So let’s not look at this verse in terms of a 24 hour period but as just a period of time. At some point in time we have to release the pain. At some point in time we need to forgive and move forward and that forgiveness is a choice we make.
So why is it important to release the pain and forgive people? Well, let’s keep reading in Ephesians 4:27. Do not give the devil a foothold. When we aren’t willing to forgive we are creating a staging ground in our heart and life for more bitterness, resentment and angry to surface which will destroy our future and any attempt we make to start over. If we aren’t willing to own our mistakes in past relationships and forgive those who have hurt us then we take all those problems and people into all future relationships.
The word devil in this verse can also be translated as liar, slandered or deceiver. Many times the people in our past circle of blame are those who have lied to us and deceived us. So maybe we need to look at this verse this way – Do not give ____________ a foothold. Now fill in that blank with anyone who has hurt you. A parent, a spouse, a teacher, a coworker or boss. Will we continue to give these people a place in our lives where they can continue to undermine our faith and self-esteem? Will we allow them to continue to define who we are and how we live and destroy all attempts to start over? Or will we release it and move on?
Let’s look down at Ephesians 4:31-32, Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. So this is now our responsibility and work. We have to get rid of our anger. We have to forgive but maybe a better word to use would be pardon. When we pardon someone we are not always saying that they are innocent – we often are saying they are guilty but we aren’t going to hold it against them. A pardon allows us to acknowledge that what they have done to us is wrong but then release it so we can be set free and move forward.
There are times when what we need to release is the burden of our own past failures and bad decisions. At times just rethinking our past is not enough and we need to actually pardon ourselves and not allow our past to shape our future. It is important for us to learn to forgive ourselves because we deserve it. And I know we deserve it because God made the choice to forgive us. Each and every one of us deserves a better future because God loves us so much that he made the decision to pardon us and give us a better future.
In Christ God forgave you. God has pardoned us. We are guilty of sin but God was willing to release that so we can start over. God pardons and forgives because God wants us to experience a better future. God loves us and wants for us a healthier and happier future but to get there we have to forgive ourselves and others.
So let me end with two practical tips about forgiving others. The first is this: Go First. Too often we wait and tell ourselves that we will forgive once the other person admits that they are wrong. Here’s the problem with waiting. Many times that person won’t ever come to us so we can be waiting a lifetime and lose out on years of health and happiness. And even if they do come to us and ask for forgiveness we often don’t think they are being genuine or complete and so it may never really be enough for us. So we need to go first so we can go on.
Second, we need to Make a List. We need to make a list of all we are letting go of. What do these people owe us? What have they taken from us? How have they hurt us? We don’t make the list to feed our anger, we make the list so we know exactly what it is we are releasing. If we write down everything that fills in that circle of blame, my guess is that there will be more than we ever thought – which is good because they are able to then let more things go and the more we let go the more we freely we will be able to move forward.
So starting over well means we have to:
We can’t skip any of these steps and do things better the next time. We have to own our part of the problem so we know how to forgive ourselves and make different decisions. We have to rethink our priorities and attitudes and assumptions about life. We need to release the pain and hurt of the past so we don’t keep carrying that burned in to the future. Every day we are given a chance to start over because God loves us and when God looks at us God says – you deserve a better future and a healthier life filled with faith and purpose and love so go and start over.
1.Read Ephesians 4:26-27 and 31-32.
• Do you resolve your anger quickly or have trouble letting it go?
• How does your hurt and anger effect:
o Future decisions in all areas of life?
o Overall quality of your life?
2. Who is one person you need to forgive – not for their benefit but for your benefit?
• Write down all the ways this person has hurt you so you know exactly what it is you need to forgive.
• What can you do this week to take a step toward forgiveness?
3. What difference do you see between forgiveness and a pardon? Might pardoning someone who has hurt you help you release the pain of the past?
4. One reason we are to forgive is because God has forgiven us.
• Spend some time listing all the ways God has forgiven you.
• Give thanks for God’s forgiveness which helps us start over.
• How does this list motivate you to help forgive others?