Oh the Shame!

The word shame is mentioned so many times these days it seems there’s no other word in the English vocabulary. It’s talked about so often in sermons, books, lectures and therapy sessions that it has lost its meaning. We’re supposed to believe everyone feels shame and it’s the biggest problem out there that people are grappling with.

That might be true if you’re trying to restore someone’s self-esteem. If it’s meant to describe feelings of embarrassment, then everybody has felt it one time or another. For example, at not being prepared for an interview and you were caught off-guard with a question. Or when you forgot your lines in the school play. Or when you weren’t dressed appropriately at a gathering. These are common experiences that make people feel insecure and unacceptable.

But nowadays shame is being used in a therapeutic sense. It’s the popular word for feeling you’re not enough, you’re wrong as a person, you’re unwanted.

Someone gave you the message and you believed it. And from that moment on you made it your life’s mission to find ways to overcome it.

While this might be true of you, it doesn’t go deep enough. God says real shame is refusing to believe who he is for you. You prefer living in unbelief instead of embracing the God who loves you. You’re holding on to the message your parents or peers gave you from the past.

Everyone has those messages living in their heads. They’re common to the human race because sin is common to the human race. 

You can overcome these messages, but that won’t win the war for your soul. Only by turning to God, the author of your life, and believing his love for you, by giving you Christ to redeem you and bring you back to your true home, will you be right with him and your own soul. 

Christ took your shame (your unbelief) on the cross and it died there. And it was buried in the tomb with him. It’s dead. And when Christ was resurrected he gave you his new life. There is no shame mixed in there. Look all you want. It’s gone. You’re now free from those condemning voices to follow only one voice – the Father’s. And his voice is affirming, loving, and gracious. 

Talk to me.

 

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Your Problems Aren’t Big Enough

The people I know who have walked away from the Lord share a similar perspective on life. They reduce their explanation to “God failed me.”  They recount how: “He didn’t give me what I prayed for,” one says. “He didn’t show up to change my circumstances,” says another. In other words, God disappointed them by not giving them what they expected from him. So they packed their bags and retreated from the kingdom.

It’s always God’s fault. He didn’t come through, he wasn’t there, he left me alone.

We are creatures stuck in the here-and-now. In some cases we can’t see beyond today, especially if we’re suffering. All we want is for the circumstances to change, or for the people who are causing us pain to treat us better. When that doesn’t happen, we grow bitter and disillusioned. We pull away. And as Christians we blame God. After all, he’s powerful and is able to change anything he chooses in an instant.

We only see our immediate needs while God sees our eternal need. We look for temporary solutions to our problems, while God looks to give us his ultimate and best solution, a solution we didn’t even know we needed because the lesser problems were muddying our vision and distorting our view of life.

How can we say God failed us when he fixed our biggest need? The need for forgiveness of sins, the need of reconciliation with the Father, the need of an inheritance, a new heart, and a new destiny. All because of Christ who purchased it for us because we were helpless to help ourselves.

We look for immediate solutions to the cares of this life, while God sees our eternal need. And he has fulfilled what he promised by giving us a Savior who is the answer to everything we truly need.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

The Cross – a Culmination of the Bad and the Good

Have you every wondered what Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane? It certainly wasn’t about showing us how to pray better. Nor was it an example of humility for us to follow.

For Jesus it was about suffering. He suffered his whole life, as Isaiah tells us, from men and from devils. Judas, Peter and Satan himself.

The cross was going to be a level of suffering like no one had ever experienced before. It was where Jesus would receive from the hand of his Father all his wrath for sin. It would also be the place the Father would turn his back on Jesus and abandon him.

Think about that. It would be the first time in Jesus’s life where the Father would disengage with his Son.

Jesus did not die for God, he was no martyr. He died under God’s wrath, the justice of God being poured out on him for the sins of the world. It was at the cross that Jesus became responsible for sin. Yours and mine.

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Knowing this, it moved Jesus to pray. He asked his closest friends – Peter, James and John – to pray with him so he would not be alone in his agony. But they failed him. They slept for sorrow because it finally dawned on them that he would not usher in their hopes for a restored Israel. Their dream was shattered. There was no crown for Jesus or for them. Instead there was a cross and death.

Jesus’s prayer included the removal of God’s wrath from him. He hoped for a reprieve. But no matter what, he was willing to submit to his Father’s will. What anchored him was the promise of the resurrection. This hope was Christ’s by right. He earned it. We don’t have that right, nor do we earn it. We have the same hope by faith.

Adam started in a garden that was a paradise, but then he ruined it. Jesus lived in a ruined world, and ended his life in an olive grove where olives were pressed to give their oil. A fitting location in preparation for the Second Adam to be crushed in order to restore us back to God and eventually to a new heavens and a new world.

Talk to me.

 

How The Gospel Changes Suffering – Part 2

In the last post, Part 1, one of the things we covered was what not to do when you’re suffering. If you’re suffering through no fault of your own, then don’t waste your time trying to ask why. It will make you turn inward and brood. That’s heaping misery upon misery, which is exactly what the devil wants because then you will be paralyzed and ineffective.

So send the devil packing.

Both Jesus and Peter explicitly stated that tribulation is part of the journey of living in this world until we get to heaven.

Nobody escapes it.

So don’t be shocked by it.

Paul, who never did anything half-way, took it a step further. He said he wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ.

There is a deep fellowship to be had with Jesus when we suffer.

Paul mentions three advantages:

1) Paul said he suffered the loss of all things in order to gain Christ. He gave up his Jewish lineage and education and status for the richness of knowing his Savior.

2) Paul no longer counted on his law-keeping to gain God’s approval. Instead, he threw that away for a life of faith in Christ because he wanted the Lord’s righteousness as his garment, and not anything he conjured up.

3) Paul’s life of faith depended on the power of Jesus’ resurrection and with that came suffering. Suffering the death of all things that the world esteems dear. Suffering persecution, rejection and humiliation for the sake of Christ. And finally, suffering in death itself.

There is a deep mystery in all of this and few enter into this circle.

If God calls you to this, you are indeed on sacred ground.

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.

It Doesn’t Get Any Worse

Are you overwhelmed, defeated, rejected, disappointed, and depressed? You’re in good company. So am I.

I wrote to Steve Brown of  http://www.keylife.org/about it. He’s a radio talk show host. He’s always upbeat. Funny. Honest about life. I love him.

Here’s what he said to me:

“As for where is God when you’re feeling like this, there are no easy answers. I wish that there were.

“I see people struggling and in pain every day who, if I loved them, I would treat them better than God does.

“Charles Spurgeon said that ‘when you can’t trace God’s hand, trust His heart.’

“The alternative to this is only bitterness, rejection and meaninglessness.

“Always remember that your faith is based on the suffering of Christ on the cross…and it doesn’t get any worse than that.

“God’s tears really do mix with our own and He says, in essence, ‘If I could have done it another way, I would have.’

“One other quote, this one by C.S. Lewis:

‘The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter is hardly less formidable than a cosmic sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good? The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For not even a modestly good being could possibly inflict or permit them it they weren’t. Either way, we’re in for it.'”

The bottom line is: God loves us so much that he’s determined to make us like Jesus. That’s what we signed up for when he took us out of Adam and placed us in Christ.

“So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.” – 1 Peter 4:19 (New Living Translation)