The Dark Side of Shame

Have you noticed how much the word “shame” is used in sermons, counseling and bible teaching these days?

All of a sudden it’s the word of the day, as if we’re walking around with a dark cloud over our heads feeling shame for all sorts of things, especially our past.

That may be true since we’re sinners and we don’t do life very well.

Each one of us can probably remember many situations that make us cringe and wish they had never happened. IMG_E0687

As I was reading Jeremiah, it struck me how many times the word shame came up in the book. And what impacted me even more was the fact that the real definition of shame is not what we call it today. Today the word has come to mean guilt, dishonor, and a bad conscience. All of which is true because we are sinners. But most of time shame is self-focused, it’s all about me and my feelings.

In Jeremiah the word means walking away from the God who loves you and has redeemed you at the cost of himself. See Jeremiah 13:26-27. The nation of Jews were always turning their backs on him in favor of other gods, which were no gods at all. And it’s that behavior that God calls shameful.

We’re no different. We turn away from God throughout the day in favor of our idols, too. And it’s that which should create real shame in us, knowing that the God who redeemed us is standing right here to help us at every moment of the day and night. That everything we need he’s willing to give us if we would just ask him.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

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Do You Need the Church?

Are you addicted to love?

Not the paper-thin kind in a Hollywood movie, but the love found in God’s people, the flesh and bone kind.

Are we devoted to one another? Do we share a common life with others in the church or do we walk past them as vapors?

God is addicted to us. He pours out his love to us in Christ every day. Instead of loving others in the same way, if we’re honest, we’re more addicted to our own dreams and ambitions.

I’m guilty. I lose myself in my reading and my writing. Even this blog. I can go for days without leaving the house or talking to a neighbor. And when I go to church, very often I go home afterwards and return to my interests.  Igor Mitoraj2

If we build our lives in him, it’s going to hurt. It will interrupt our habits. It will undermine our selfishness. It will change us.

God went to incredible lengths to have fellowship with us. He sent Christ because of it.

If we choose to live private, closed lives we’re living life lopsided.

Being a Christian and a member of God’s church means a level of transparency.

Jesus was put out of the camp so we could be brought in, not to live self-absorbed lives, but to be a blessing to others.

We come to church to be fed Christ in the sermon and at the communion table, and as a result we are built up in the faith, but not for our sake only, but for our neighbor sitting in the chair next to us.

How’s it going for you?

Talk to me.

How To Thrive After Being Crushed by the Church – Part 2

Do you feel the church has used you up and thrown you away?

That it was a bait and switch experience? You got in, and then they threw the rule book at you?

You were promised a life of happiness, victory over temptations, and a new power and control.

Instead you were more miserable, your vices got worse, you failed more often, and you felt stuck and helpless.

And if you dared to speak of these things, instead of receiving support you were told it was your fault. You weren’t doing enough of the things (rules) sincere Christians were supposed to do.

Like more bible study, deeper prayer, being more committed to church and community group.

So you put your whole heart and soul into being more disciplined in the disciplines.

Only to crash and burn even more.

You eventually concluded that this Christian thing didn’t deliver. And you felt betrayed and angry.

You know what? You’re right to be angry!

You have a right to expect to hear the gospel preached every Sunday.

You have a right to be reminded that your sins are forgiven, that you are accepted in Christ, that you are a new creation in Jesus, that it’s not about your performance, but Christ’s that has merited heaven and God’s affection for you.

So go ahead and be angry at the church because it prefers to dole out rules for living instead of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pray and ask God to change your pastor or find another church.

What you need to see though, is that your anger is directed at the church, not at Jesus. He’s your life and freedom and joy. He has kept his promises.

You are justified. All your sins are forgiven.

You are sanctified. You are wrapped in the righteousness of Christ.

You are loved. God chose you in love from before the foundation of the world.

You do belong to God. He loves you as much as he loves Jesus.

He’s not the one who has betrayed you!

Go ahead. Smile!

What’s The Best Story To Tell About Jesus?

This is the day of personal stories. You read them on blogs, watch them on television, exchange them among friends, and even write a few yourself.

The church has followed suit. Modern sermons are peppered with stories about people’s experiences, usually the pastor’s.

Sometimes you learn more about the pastor’s life than you do about Christ’s.

In the marketing world, that’s called the hook.

It’s meant to get your attention and engage you.

We’re naturally attracted to stories. They entertain us, inspire us, teach us, make us cry, or get angry, or applaud.

When someone asks you, “Tell me your story?” you launch into describing the events that led up to your conversion. That’s your personal testimony.

But as riveting your personal story may be, it won’t lead others to faith.

What? That’s crazy, you say.

Let me explain.

First, there’s no power in your personal testimony.

Second, it’s your story, not Jesus’.

If somebody were to ask the Apostle Paul about his testimony, you wouldn’t hear about him, how he made tents, how he studied under the best teachers of the day. He wouldn’t give you all the gory details of how he persecuted Christians to put them to death.

What you’d hear Paul tell you is about Jesus Christ. He was obsessed with Jesus.

The only power to lead someone to faith is in the story of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

That’s why if you check the sermons in the book of Acts, they tell the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Paul, Peter and John, and the other apostles could have told wonderful stories about their life with Jesus, but they didn’t. The few times they did they highlighted their failures and fears.

The gospel, which is the testimony about Jesus, is the power of God.

It is the message that announces the lengths God has gone to save us from sin and death. It tells sinners that Jesus came to abolish who they are in Adam (dead in trespasses and sins), to cut off their life in Adam because it cannot be rescued or repaired, and to raise them from the dead and give them life in Christ.

How did Jesus do this? By nailing your long list of sins to the cross. Since the paycheck for sin is death, Jesus paid the legal debt for you and secured your release.

That’s the story to tell.

Go out and tell someone!

How The Gospel Changes Suffering – Part 1

Suffering is a fact of life.

Some people suffer more than others, but nobody is exempt from suffering. The bible says so, and universal experience confirms it:

“Man that is born of woman is few of days and full of trouble.” – Job 14:1

Suffering in a world made by a loving God is not easy to explain or understand.

Some have tried, however. The Stoics grit their teeth. The Optimists whistle in the dark. The Mind-Over-Matter types dismiss it. Until they break a leg.

None of these positions really help. But before we look at how the gospel changes suffering, let’s be clear about 3 things the gospel does NOT do:

1. It does not prevent suffering – Christians suffer like non-Christians do

2. It does not minimize suffering – the gospel is not an anesthetic – it does not numb your heart, your body, or your mind

3. It does not remove all pain – the gospel does not promise relief in this life

Then how does the gospel change suffering?

1. By taking it seriously – by pointing you to Christ on the cross who felt intense agony in his body (physical pain), who reeled from the abandonment of his Father while he was left dying (emotional pain), who writhed in fear and shed drops of blood in the garden (spiritual pain), who lived his life in sorrow and grief and rejection from the very people who were his kin (social pain).

2. By not telling you lies that your suffering will soon be over, that it’s just for a little while – how do you know?

3 questions to avoid that add to your suffering:

1.”Why me?”

2. “What did I do wrong?”

3. “What am I supposed to learn from this?”

All three add to your misery. They make you turn inward instead of trusting God.

Instead, this is the question to ask when you’re suffering:

Q: “Where is God in my suffering?”

A: Right there with you.

How do you know God is there when you are in so much pain?

Because of the cross. It was there that Christ suffered all your pain.

Keep the big picture focus:

One day there will be an end to all your suffering. It’s the day of Christ’s return when he ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. And you’ll be there in a resurrected body that will never feel any pain ever again.

And that’s a promise.

Why Doesn’t God Answer Me?

Have you ever wondered why God sometimes doesn’t answer your prayers?

Well, you’re not alone.

Not all of Jesus’ prayers were answered either.

C.S. Lewis has some stunning thoughts on the subject:

It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough for that.

You’re in good company if you have prayers that have gone unanswered.

It’s also the experience of every Christian. Paul didn’t have his prayer answered for the thorn in his flesh. Instead, he learned that God’s grace was sufficient for him, especially in his weakness, so God’s strength could show through.

If you’re struggling with this, here are 4 things to comfort you about unanswered prayer:

1. God hears every prayer

2. Every prayer will be answered in its fullness when Christ returns

3. Even if your prayer is answered here and now, it still is not fully realized until the Kingdom comes

4. The Holy Spirit, which God has given you as His guarantee of the coming Kingdom, is God’s promise of all your hopes and dreams for yourself, your family, your ministry, the masses of people who don’t know Christ that you have been praying for — all will be fulfilled in Christ.

God invites you to trust him because he’s up to something far more grand!

Why Do You Call Yourselves ‘Bad Christians’?

We call ourselves ‘bad Christians’ because that’s what we are. By ‘Christians’ we mean people in relationship to Christ and other believers. By ‘bad’ we mean, we do plenty of nasty things and leave a lot of good things undone.

God took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. In other words, the life we have now is not something we produce or sustain; it is given to us for Christ’s sake and maintained by the gift and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Any applause we might receive for doing good belongs to God alone. It’s his mercy alone that keeps us. We need him to forgive us every second of every day, while the blood of Jesus keeps on cleaning us from all our filthiness.

Also as ‘bad Christians’ we need the community of other Christians, the preaching of God’s Word, communion, the prayers of God’s people, and the very needful help they can, and often do, give us.

We’ve tried the books, the counseling, and the retreats, but success alluded us. What progress we make as Christians comes as a gift from God. We have no idea how or why God gives it to us except for the fact it gives him pleasure.

The truth lies elsewhere: to live successfully as a Christian we need to recognize that no matter how hard we try to manage our sin, the oil-spill of our pollution continues to spread. That’s because we cannot remove the source. The problem will not be fixed until that day when God exchanges our corruption with the incorruptible. Meanwhile, we live by faith. Daily we seek forgiveness and strength by looking away from ourselves to our Savior. Our faith rests in his completed work and trusts God to make us holy as he sees fit.