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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Oh for the Love of God

How do you know you are born again?

Some people think it’s because they said a prayer. Or they raised a hand in a service. Or they called out to Jesus in the midst of turmoil in their life.

So many people are trusting in the church. Their leaders. The sacraments.

All of these things spell trouble. love

How to know you’re born again is simple: you believe in Christ.

You believe in him because you are born again, otherwise he’s the furthest thing from your mind and heart.

Faith that believes that Jesus is the Christ produces love for God and love for others.

But love for others is the difficult part. People are a problem. Let’s face it, some Christians can be boring, depressing, unattractive, wet blankets, repellent, and pains in the neck.

And then throw in the devil, the world and your flesh and the mix will keep you from loving others. Culture becomes more important than Christ. Popular opinion, too. Laziness sets in. And narcissism takes over.

But loving others is sweet when you know God wants you to do it. And he will give you the heart for it.

The truth is we’re all depraved. We share an equality in guilt. And an equality in grace.

The one place where everybody is equal is at the cross. Even the cool people.

If you don’t have a love for other Christians, especially inside the church, then you’re presuming you love God. You can’t love God without including his people.

Ask him to give you his love for the family. You’ll be glad you did.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain is a Gift

According to John Newton, legalism is weariness. Justification is joy. We are forgiven and accepted through the work of Another. It’s done. Our job is to rejoice in that truth and serve God out of gratitude.

I think he was onto something. Paul expressed the same sentiments.

Even though we may know this, we don’t live this way. Instead we live in the mirage of self-sufficiency. It’s our default position. We really do believe there’s something we can do without God’s help. A lot of things. Broken

It starts in childhood. Babies learning to walk shove their parents away and tumble. Toddlers running into furniture when they think they have a clear path for wandering. High-schoolers who think they have the future mapped out only to make huge course corrections when they get to college.

Never mind the daunting tasks of choosing a spouse, the right job, buying a home.

Do we consult God?

No, we’ve been told it’s up to us to hit these milestones.

Some people succeed but many don’t. How many people do you know who are doing everything they want in life? Who are the happy ones in their work, with their children, and their body image?

Maybe you’re one of the unhappy ones. Have you settled in a job because of the security it gives you more than anything else, but now it’s strangling the life out of you? Are you in a loveless marriage with no way out? Or maybe you’re struggling with your health? As a friend told me recently, “I want my old life back.”

Life rarely turns out the way we envisioned it.

Thank God for that.

It’s God’s gift to us. If life turned out just as we wanted it to, we wouldn’t turn to him for anything. It’s a mercy that we struggle and suffer. It’s God’s language reminding us we were made to turn everything over to him because he cares for us. It’s his way of saying that what we long for is not here, but in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus comes back.

In the meantime, even as forgiven sinners, we suffer with our fellow human beings, knowing that Jesus himself also suffered for us so we could share in his glory one day.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

The Solution to Our Need

The bible teaches us everywhere that we are sinners and that we owe God our devotion. The truth is, not one of us has made good on our obligation. The main thing we owe God is to love him with all our hearts, souls and minds. This is our baseline responsibility. How are we doing with this? If you’re like me, not so good. In fact, most days my heart, soul and mind is riveted on me. My feelings. My expectations. My wants. Even at my best, which doesn’t exist, I have never loved the Lord this way. I break the first commandment  every hour of every day. FullSizeRender (42)

What can be done for this kind of life? Never mind the really bad things we’ve done, but even the good things we’ve done, which aren’t really good enough. Our warmest and most heartfelt moment with the Lord falls short of the standard of perfection that God requires.

If we can’t even live up to our new year’s resolutions – in my case I don’t make them anymore because of past failures – what hope do we have to do better in the sight of God? Self-improvement won’t get us nearer to God. Despair isn’t the answer either.

The only solution is to run to Jesus who purchased our acceptance with God through his perfect life of obedience lived for us, and his death on the cross in payment for all our sins. Both have been credited to our account in God’s eyes.

Even if we can’t live up to our best intentions, Jesus has for us. He’s all we need!

Talk to me.

Not Here

I have two friends who are suffering physically and mentally. One suffers excruciating pain down her right leg as the result of a stroke. The other is bipolar and refuses to take any medication for it. Both insist that God heal them directly. So far he hasn’t even though they pray fervently for it.

Both suffer from believing a lie. That type of mental anguish is worse than the physical ailment. This lie is dispensed every Sunday in church like the drinks at the coffee bar. It’s called having your best life now. It’s a theology of glory. God is supposed to keep us healthy, wealthy, and satisfied Christians.  Broken

But God has promised no such thing this side of heaven. What we long for – perfect health, perfect harmony in our relationships, perfect families and perfect joy – will be a reality when we’re living in the new heavens and the new earth, but not here.

While the longings of our hearts are right, our timing is off. This is the wilderness we’re trudging through, just like the Israelites did. Canaan was their destination, not some plot of sand with a well and a palm tree. Like them, we are headed to where all our longings will be fulfilled, but at the moment we keep our sandals on and keep walking.

The only one who had his best life was Jesus because he lived in heaven. But he willingly left that behind to live his worst life for 33 years. There’s reason why Isaiah describes him as a Man of Sorrows. We never read of Jesus laughing or telling a joke. He lived with suffering every day. The worst kind in the rejection of his own people he came to save. Day in and day out he suffered with people’s unbelief and hatred.

He owned nothing except the clothes on his back. He went hungry. He wept. And yet with this example we’re taught to expect God to give us everything he never gave his Son.

We hate living ordinary lives. We crave notoriety, we demand to live our potential, we love unearthing the divine spark within. Except there’s nothing biblical in any of it. It’s worldliness disguised as philosophical fast food.

The only Person who lived up to his potential was Jesus. We can’t because sin holds us back.

The only One whose life was not ordinary was Jesus’s. Ours are routine and unexceptional every day.

The One who lived by God’s every law was Jesus thereby meriting heaven. We live to break every law and merit hell.

Knowing this, we still demand our best life now. It’s insanity. No wonder we’re depressed and despairing.

The only course correction is to read the bible with fresh eyes and ask God for new understanding of life under heaven. Who is with me?

Talk to me.

 

How to Be Happy

I’m always taken aback when I’m reminded that God wants happy people around him. I’m generally not a happy person. Nobody would call me a bubbly personality. Just the opposite, I tend to brood and be serious about practically everything in life.

So to call me to be happy is a tall order, one which I fail at. photo(43)

That’s because sin damages happiness. It’s twisted, mangled and polluted. The world is choked with sin, but thank God, there’s always a flash of glory we experience every so often. We see this is the narratives of the bible. God covered naked Adam and Eve with animal skins. He preserved Noah and his family during the flood of judgment. He gave Esther favor and audience with the king, which ultimately saved the Jews from extinction.

His greatest flash of glory was sending Jesus, his Son to be our sin bearer so we could be reconciled to him. God didn’t have to do it, but he did because he wanted a people for himself to share his glory.

The world knows nothing about this. Instead it pins its happiness on things – possessions, wealth, health, leisure, and good relationships – but these are fleeting as most people eventually discover. There is no anchor for the soul here. Only a series of missteps that run into a dead end. However, when we realize that everything our hearts long for is found in Jesus, then he becomes our treasure, and as we live our lives in his presence, we are drawn into the happy fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

What could be more sublime than that?

Talk to me.

 

 

 

I Can’t Hear You’re So Loud

I got off the phone with a caller that never stopped talking. He’s someone I’ve never met and yet he felt the need to tell me about his life, never taking a breath to see if I was interested or even listening.

I’m sure you’ve had those experiences with people.

As much as that caller irritated me, I had to admit I had done the same thing over the years.

I’m a fix-it-all kinda person. You come to me with a problem and I have a solution for you and I’m happy to tell you about it.

Don’t we all.  painting24

I’ve realized over the years that maybe that’s not what people really need. Maybe it’s something else.

Maybe Jesus is calling us to a different kind of help. Help as in listening to the person. We’re so prone to listen with a mind that is more attentive to what to say next to the person. We miss the cues, the body language and facial expressions that way.

Even more importantly, we miss what God is showing us about himself in that person’s life.

I often forget that when someone asks for my counsel, she comes to me with Jesus in her life. It’s my job to listen well. I’m quick to fix, he’s not. I want to come across as helpful, when Jesus is already her helper.

What people need most of all is someone who will listen to them with a full heart that is not rushed, and who can help locate God in their lives so they can rest in him. This won’t happen if we’re preoccupied with what to say next, or if we’re in a hurry to get the visit over with.

We all need to enroll in the school of active listening. I know I do.

Talk to me.