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.





The Bondage of Being Free

Freedom is not an end in itself like everyone seems to think.

Think it through with me for a minute.

Let’s say you are free to commit adultery.

It might feel good for a while, but then something begins to change.

You discover your freedom consists in lying about the affair.

You’re now covering your tracks.   Guilty

You’re having difficulty remembering what you said to whom and keeping the lies straight so you don’t contradict yourself.

There’s the fear of being caught.

There’s the unknown reaction of your spouse if he or she finds out.

Before you know it you’re living like a criminal.

You thought you’d feel alive and young again. Instead you’re walking around with the burden of your guilty conscience and it’s a heavy weight.

Where’s the freedom in that?

In truth, freedom from God’s law means bondage.

We all live guilty lives. We were born guilty, did you know that?

That sweet little baby, all wrapped up in his mother’s arms, has a label on him.


That’s why we need a Savior.

Christ came and died on the cross in our place, bearing our punishment, absorbing the fullness of divine justice for us.

He died so he could free us, not to indulge the flesh,  but to delight in serving God.

God has no slaves, only grateful sons.

Now that’s a life of true freedom.

Talk to me.






Turnstile Trickster

There’s a new cheating trend I’ve noticed lately at the subway station.

There’s a few seconds delay at the turnstile after you’ve swiped the transit card to exit. And it’s just enough time for a quick footed-hoodlum to follow behind you and exit for free before the gate closes.

I’ve seen it happen several times now, especially when there aren’t too many riders at the turnstile.

Today was my turn. I approached the turnstile with transit card in hand and noticed out of the corner of my eye a tall, lanky, jeans-down-the-hips, baseball capped young man waiting for me to swipe my card.

No way, I thought.

I took a few paces back and looked at him.

In a flash he moved over to the next unsuspecting rider and followed behind her and got out for free. The maneuver was done in a blink of an eye. Talk about quick footed. He’s missed his calling. He should be a dancer.

I noticed he took the same path I take out of the station and we ended up at the same curb waiting for the light to change.

“Good morning,” I said looking up at him. He looked down at me from the corner of his eye.

“You think you can get away with cheating, but God sees everything you do, and you will have to give an account to him one day. Do you know that?”

“I wasn’t cheating,” he said.

“Really? What do you call what you just did in the station down there?” I asked.

“I paid for a ticket, it’s just I didn’t have money to add a fare to it,” he said.

“So robbing from somebody else’s ticket is okay?”

He smirked.

“Do you know who God is?” I asked.


“And what about the Lord Jesus Christ?”

“Sure.”  Wall2

“Well, you have some talking to do then,” I said.

The light had changed to green and it was time to cross.

While he shuffled away, I prayed for him.

In a way I was sorry for him, who knows what life he’s living.

On the other hand, I hope my words stung his conscience and he’ll think about them.

But probably not.

Talk to me.

In the Thick of It

If you’re like me, when I get sick I pray. When there’s an accident in the family, I pray. When someone is discouraged, I pray.

But when I sin badly, I don’t pray.

Why do I do that? I think it’s because my conscience tells me God is angry with me and I better not go near him. Just like Adam and Eve did in the garden when they sinned and then ran into the bushes. 

photo (81)

As an aside, if you stop and think about it, that’s pretty funny because God is near to you and me all the time. He sees everything, hears every thought, knows every feeling.

And he doesn’t disengage and retreat! Just like he didn’t flee from Adam and Eve. In fact, the text tells us, he went looking for them. See Genesis 3:8-9.

So why don’t I run to God when I sin badly? Because at that moment I don’t believe the gospel. Instead I believe in the law, and the law tells me I’ve blown it, God is going to punish me, and I better get out of town.

But what does Paul say about the law? It’s meant to drive us to Christ! It takes us by the hand and turns us in the direction of our Savior, who bled and died precisely for those sins I committed. See Romans 7:4.

God hasn’t moved.

Are you ready to come back?

How To Get Through the Holidays

The holidays are here.

And you know what that means.

Family. Drama. Heartache.

Isn’t it extraordinary that the people who should be our closest friends and cheerleaders are usually the ones that have hurt and rejected us the most?

We can thank sin for that.

There isn’t a family on the planet that isn’t plagued with shame or disappointment.

Just look at the families in the Old Testament. photo(73)

We see every sin under the sun displayed in all its wretchedness.

Rape. Murder. Incest. Drunkenness. Treachery. Just to name a few of the ones that make headline news.

So why are we so surprised when we see it in our own families?

It’s why we need a Savior.

The beauty of receiving Jesus as our Savior is this: he washes us clean in his atonement and gives us his life in exchange for our filthy ones.

Do you know what that means?

It means our past is gone. Our consciences are wiped clean. And now we belong to a new family – with God as our Father and a whole clan of brothers and sisters who share the same image.

That’s who we truly are.

That’s who we belong to now.

So enjoy Christmas!

Hope for the Heart

Do you have a guilty conscience?

Do you look back on your past and cringe?

What if you really committed some hideous things and you continue to live with remorse and shame?

On top of that, the enemy never forgets and delights in reminding you that you’re no good, God never loved you, and everything you believe in is a lie.

How do you respond to these accusations?

Do you get busier than ever at work? photo (15)

Or do you drink more, do more drugs, and entertain your life away hoping this will numb you from the guilt you feel?

Perhaps you’ve doubled up in church attendance, bible studies, and doing good works hoping that these will outweigh your rotten record.

The truth is none of these things is the solution.

There’s only one fix and you know it.

It’s blood of Jesus Christ that blots out all your sin.

Past. Present. Future.

“…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” – Hebrew 10:22 ESV

If you’re in Christ, all your sins are washed away in his blood.

Your rotten record is now a clean record. It’s Jesus’ record and you own it.

Tell the devil that. Out loud.

Now tell yourself.

And then go out and live like the new person God has made you to be.






How To Deal with Christmas Letdown

The day after Christmas.

That’s when Letdown slips in.

Usually around 7 a.m.

It slithers under the door wearing grey.

“You dashed expectations for another year,” Letdown whispers in my ear.

I slice through the wrapping paper, limp bows, and empty boxes on the living room floor on my way to the kitchen for coffee.

Come to think of it, gifts and food and twinkling Christmas lights are appealing but there’s no magic in them.  palm tree

The magic comes in the shape of people, with one person in particular, and he was poor and marginalized from birth.

“I’m in good company. Jesus dashed all expectations, too,” I tell Letdown.

He has no response and slinks away.

Even Though You Fail, But God

The gospel shows us that we fail to obey God.

Not sure that’s true?

Try this on for size: How well have you loved God and your neighbor today? Yesterday? How about last week?

If you’re like me, you must admit your failure. photo(43)

But not only do we fail to obey God, we dupe ourselves into believing that our imperfect obedience somehow is sufficient for God to fully accept us.

That’s because we’re trusting in our own performance.

We insist on being our own Messiahs.

Even people without faith in Christ are believers – in themselves, their performance, or the idols of their own making.

Christians struggle with the same issues.

Failure to believe the gospel results in our problems in church, in our relationships, and in our work.

We all agree that belief in the gospel is the way into the kingdom of God, but then we forget it’s also the way of life in the kingdom.

We never graduate from the gospel.

It’s essential for kindergarteners as well as PhDs.

It’s the only way to grow and be transformed by Christ.

So what is the gospel again?

To quote Question 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.











How To Thrive After Being Crushed by the Church – Part 1

Are you someone who has grown up in church where performance defined who you were?

Where most days you were a miserable failure?

And love and acceptance were foreign concepts?

I have good news for you.

You didn’t grow up with the gospel.

You grew up with moralism (law).

The law is harsh. It beats you up. It tells you what you must do in order to please God (and others), but has no power to help you get there.

So you looked at your life and said, “I can’t do this,” and got depressed.

Or you admitted your failure, got furious, and walked away.

Here’s what happened to you.

You came into the church by faith in Jesus. He loved you so much he died for you. And you accepted his gift of salvation with gladness.

Then week after week you listened to preaching about moral behavior and living, and in a flash you plunged into despair because you didn’t measure up.

Your joy in Jesus went up in a puff of smoke. You even went so far to say that this Christian thing doesn’t work.

If you can relate to this, then here’s a question to ask yourself:

Is the cross and blood of Jesus sufficient to save you even while you are still sinful? Even while you continue to fail at living the Christian life?

You know what?

Heaven is filled with Christian failures! There aren’t any other kind of people there!

Jesus’ death on the cross and his shed blood for you is all you need.

Jesus himself will welcome and embrace you!

How’s that possible? It’s because God has given you the gift of the righteousness of Jesus. You had it the moment you came to faith.

It’s the only performance that counts!

Grab a hold of it and never let it go!

How To Be A Recovering Pharisee

Are you fussy, small-thinking, so engrossed in following the rules that your heart is brittle?

Of course not! Nobody wants to admit to that.

The truth is you and I are like that. It’s called Pharisaism and it’s a real problem. In some people it’s obvious, in others not so much, but all of us are affected by it.

6 Symptoms Of A Pharisee

1. Pharisaism is subtle. You don’t notice it so you don’t do anything to kill it.

2. It’s self-righteousness. Thinking better than other people.

3. It’s contempt for others who don’t live up to your standards. Looking down on others who aren’t as good as you.

4. It’s wrong priorities. Majoring on the minor details while missing the big picture of God’s grace and love in the gospel.

5. It’s not having a tender conscience. Being religious is more important than loving God.

6. It’s loving to tell others how to live. Then jumping all over them when they fail.

If you see yourself in these descriptions, you’re not alone! And you’ll want to know what to do about it.

3 Things That Won’t Help A Bit

1. You can’t learn your way out of it.

2. A good scolding won’t do it.

3. Being threatened until you quake won’t help either.

These three are aspects of the law and the law does not change the heart.

The solution lies elsewhere – in the gospel.

4 Ways To Fight Pharisaism With The Gospel

1. The Gospel tells us how bad we were. How much did Jesus suffer on the cross? His sufferings were infinite. Why did He suffer so much? Because He died in our place. What does this mean? It means our sin is infinite. ‘Sins’ can be counted—I lied once, stole twice, committed adultery three times. But ‘sin’, that native rejection of God, defies all calculation. The Gospel means we are thoroughly bad—not decent people in need of a hand, but sinners in need of a Savior!

2. The gospel tells us how needy we are still are. Where did Jesus go after dying on the cross and rising from the dead? He went to heaven. What’s he doing there? Hebrews 7:25 says he’s gone there to—

Make intercession for us.

He’s there praying for us. Why do you pray for someone? You pray for him because he needs something. This is why Jesus never stops praying for us, because we’re always in need. Now, it’s hard to square being in constant need with being proud of yourself or looking down on others, whose needs are no more than your own. The gospel means we are deeply and always dependent on God’s grace, and believing that will keep you from being a Pharisee.

3. The gospel reminds you that Jesus laid down His life as a ransom for many. That means you’ve got to love and respect your brothers and sisters in Christ, and let Jesus be the Lord of their consciences! Counsel them? Of course, but nitpick and micromanage them? No, not if the gospel has gotten into your heart.

4. The gospel saves you from being a Pharisee by telling you:

God loves you as you are, and thus you don’t have to pretend to be better than you are, and you don’t have to hunger for the praise of men.

That’s freedom!