Shame: Us, God & Psalm 25

In the beginning, God made everything unashamedly good,  “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” (Gen 2:25). Fast forward one chapter…the fruit, a serpent, temptation…being like God?, a bite…another bite, fear & shame. It went like this,

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” – Gen 3:6-10

Their reaction to their actions was a classic shame response – they tried to cover it/themselves up (with fig leaves and actual hiding) because they were afraid. Shame has a way of making us afraid to face reality. Sometimes shame comes from something we have done. Other times we feel shame because of something someone has done to us.

Recently, I have had several conversations with people who are facing tremendous levels of shame and fear. They are going through this same process we see in Genesis 3 – poor decisions were made and ever since they have experienced shame, fear and have tried to cover it up. But you can only cover it up for so long before you realize that freedom only comes in answering God’s question, “Where are you?” When God asks that, he really needs to hear our honest answer. Maybe our answer is that we are in a really dark place because of our decisions. Or maybe our answer is that we are in a mess because of what others have done to us and we just cannot let it go. If we are going to get past the shame we have to start with telling God where we are, right here and now. If we aren’t honest about that and express it to Him, it can never be fully dealt with and healing will come slow, if ever.

One of the places I have turned in helping people deal with shame is Psalm 25. I am going to let this psalm speak for itself…just notice how the end of shame comes from God and our trusting in His guidance.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
    in you I trust, O my God.
Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame,
but they will be put to shame
who are treacherous without excuse.

Show me your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you are good, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
for those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, O Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
12 Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?
He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.
13 He will spend his days in prosperity,
and his descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.
18 Look upon my affliction and my distress
and take away all my sins.
19 See how my enemies have increased
and how fiercely they hate me!
20 Guard my life and rescue me;
let me not be put to shame,
for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness protect me,
because my hope is in you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,
from all their troubles!

If you are dealing with shame, hand it over to God…follow His lead and let him redeem whatever it is that has happened to you or that you have done in order to get beyond what you are going through. When God deals with it, that is a profound act of grace.

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John Piper on What One Must Believe to Be Saved

Have a look at this video of John Piper telling what he believes one must believe to be saved. To read a transcript click here.

He includes the following:

  • Believe and confess his Lordship and his resurrection
  • Recognition that we sin
  • That God exists and that he created a world where sin is a possibility
  • That God has expectations for mankind – to trust, love and live for him
  • That we fail in those three things
  • God is holy and we are not
  • God is judge
  • Deity of Jesus
  • Jesus lived a perfect life
  • Substitutionary atonement, basically – he died in my place
  • Jesus’ resurrection
  • We receive salvation from Jesus Christ’s work on our behalf

A few things I would like to point out. The first is where is baptism? When the Ethiopian asked what he needed to do to be saved Philip didn’t give this list of core beliefs he must first understand. Undoubtedly he understood many of these things. All of these things? We don’t know. But he knew enough to realize he needed God and that what he needed to do in response was to be baptized. That is biblical but it didn’t make the list. Before you say this is a list of beliefs so no wonder something we do isn’t on there. He did mention the need for faith and for confession. To be fair to Piper, I don’t know what his view is on baptism but I suspect if he had much of a view of it being a part of what God expects of us he would have included it here.

Second, notice at the end he says God causes people to believe by the work of the Holy Spirit. I would say God certainly plays a role in our faith by revealing himself to us through the Word and in some way the Spirit plays a role in our faith. But to say God causes our faith is missing out on our responsibility to believe and have faith…two things he pointed out in his answer to the original question.

Last, his list is very logical and if you really examine the core truths of the Gospel you understand why he logically pulled these points together. At the same time he is leaving out some very plain biblical teaching that doesn’t take any logic to expand upon or to be elaborated upon. Baptism really is important not just because I attend a Church of Christ and have heard that my whole life but because God clearly teaches us that in scripture. So my list would include,

“Part of God’s expected response would include repentance (not included above), belief/faith, confession, and to submit to his will by being baptized for the forgiveness of my sins.”

Wouldn’t it just make sense those things would come ahead of understanding the nature of substitutionary atonement?

Confusing Transparency and Integrity

Transparency is highly valued. People hate hypocrisy. They despise people being phony. They would rather known what someone or something is really all about than something being presented falsely. But there is a difference between transparency and integrity. The two should never be confused. Transparency is seeing something for what it really is. If it is junk, it appears to be junk. If it is valuable that shows up as well. Integrity is impossible without transparency but not the other way around. It is entirely possible to be transparent about your lack of integrity. That is called audacity.

Because transparency is so highly valued some Christians have fallen into the trap of thinking evil can be alright as long as they are being honest with themselves and others about it. This is confessional complacency at its best and it results in transparency being a rationalization for sin rather than a means to integrity. The race away from hypocrisy has led many to integrityless transparency rather than using our shortcomings to help our faith and integrity grow.

It is important that we are people of integrity. One of the first steps toward getting there is transparency, that we are real with ourselves and others about our shortcomings. For integrity to grow from there it is going to take more than a complacent acknowledgment of problems. We have to let that knowledge and experience refine our lives into a more holy existence. That can only be done in partnership with God and a community of faith.

“Falling into Sin” – A Phrase We Need to Drop

I hear it all the time. It sounds so passive. I did it again…I fell into sin. It’s like a “woops” or an “uh oh.” I was walking along just doing the best I could and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back looking up at the sky…I slipped. I fell into sin. It sounds so accidental, so casual. It sounds like we really didn’t have a choice, as if it was something that happened to us rather than something we conceived and acted out in an evil and deathly way.

13When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” – James 1:13-15

Let’s work backward through the James passage. Death results from sin which results from OUR evil desire. This is no accidental slip up. It is a choice and because it is a choice we have responsibility for our actions. No one faults anyone for slipping on a banana peel or falling in a hole because no one means to do that. But we have to be honest with ourselves when it comes to sin. We choose it. We plan it. We do it. We reap the consequences. So let’s rid ourselves of that phrase once and for all and own up to our own weaknesses and faults and also realize that God is gracious and good. But as long as we just want to make excuses will just keep making the same mistakes and feel like we were the victim rather than the perpetrator. So let’s drop the falling bit. It is beneath us.

Living By Faith, Not By Exception

“So this guy is walking up to the baptistry…he has repented and made his confession before the congregation and just as he steps in the water he slips hits his head on the floor. He dies right before he is baptized. Is he saved?”

The point normally being made with this type of question is whether or not baptism is really necessary for salvation. First, we aren’t the judge. We leave that to God. Second, we can only answer that question (if we actually want to try to) based on what He has told us in scripture. We could go into a long discussion about the thief on the cross, Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit apart from baptism and all the rest but I am going to save that for another day because that isn’t the point of this post.

Here is the question I want to pose. Does God want us to twist and turn and contrive all possible exceptions that we can come up with in order to replace what He has clearly told us in scripture. Let’s say you take the above example…he had faith, confessed and repented and had a heart to be baptized and was even acting on that desire. Let’s say you concluded that he was saved. Is it really appropriate then to say that God desires the exception to be the rule? Does God really want us to be loophole minded rather than just do the obvious? Why not live by faith and take God at His Word. There is no doubt that baptism is important from a scriptural point of view, why develop and form your doctrine out of the exception that is not even found in scripture but is rather contrived from our own thinking rather than from scripture?

Why is it so hard to look at where Jesus told his disciples what to do to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19 and conclude that Jesus thought baptism was really important? Why is it so hard to read Paul and the burial illustration of Romans 6 and conclude that clearly (not maybe…clearly) Paul thought baptism was extremely important. Even if you concluded that it wasn’t necessary for salvation wouldn’t someone devoted to God want to do it anyway and teach others its importance? I wonder sometimes if people try to live by exception rather than by faith and just take God at His Word. Imagine if Paul wrote his letters but made sure to footnote any possible logical exception…it would be a madhouse rife with abuse. Instead, he laid out his theology very plainly and it is up to us to believe it and live by it as best we can and let God make up for any of our short comings.

The question I am asking here is not about baptism…it is about the heart and what attitude we have when we approach God and scripture. Do we legalistically look for loopholes or do we do as Paul said in Romans 1:17 “the righteous will live by faith.” If we are living by faith, wouldn’t we in good conscience try to live our lives as closely in line with what we find in scripture as possible? And don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying we are saved by our own good works (See this post for more on that).

Learning from Jesus’ Disciples – Sin and Reconciliation

In Matthew 26 Jesus lays out a series of predictions regarding the failure and desertion of his disciples. He predicts Judas will betray him (26:21), that the disciples will desert him (26:31) and that Peter in particular will disown him three times (26:34). In the same chapter they go on from there to the garden of Gethsemane where his inner circle can’t see fit to stay up and lend their support to Jesus (26:36ff). Starting in verse 47 everything begins to happen just as Jesus said it would. Judas betrays, disciples flee and a few dozen verses later Peter disowns him.

What is remarkable to me about all of this is that they all fell short. Not one of them did what they said they would do. They all shirked their responsibilities and showed the extent of their loyalty (or lack there of) when the rubber met the road. We can learn a lot about how what we do with sin and falling short when we look at what happened next. Judas didn’t seek reconciliation. He took his life instead. The eleven were all able to return to Jesus and benefit from his grace and mercy because they had a desire to be close to Jesus.

We all sin. We all do some things we shouldn’t. Maybe we aren’t kissing Jesus in a garden to hand him over to angry soldiers. But maybe in our own subtle ways we push him to the fringes of our life. Maybe we don’t sit by a fire and flat out say we don’t know him but maybe our lives and words don’t really say that we do know him either. What is so hopeful to me in these verses is that those who want to be reconciled can find it. Those who do not seek it out are left to work it out on their own (and fail).

Maybe you have struggled with a particular sin for a long period of time and wonder if God could find it in him to forgive you even one more time. The answer we find in Matthew 26-28 shows us that those who desire to be close to Jesus own up to their mistakes, repent of them, and seek to do better. We can’t let our pride get in the way. We can’t get hung up on having to admit we are wrong or say we are sorry. Instead, we have to do as Peter did and run to Jesus. I wonder how easy that was for Peter to do? The last time he saw Jesus he was disowning him…I bet that took some pride swallowing to run to the tomb when he heard he had risen from the dead! What do you let get in the way of finding reconciliation with Jesus Christ?

10 Dangers of Authenticity

There is a great desire today for people to be real. People want to be told like it is…no hypocrisy, no glossing over and certainly no “holier than thou” approaches. What we have seen has been refreshing for the most part – a real desire for authenticity among Christian leaders, teachers, and preachers. This is a good thing for the most part. It is good to realize that we are all sinners. It is good to realize that we don’t try to put ourselves above people who have problems when, in fact, our problems may be worse than those we try to “one up” spiritually speaking. But authenticity can have some drawbacks and pitfalls. Here are ten to consider:

  1. The first is the danger of the illusion of transparency. We let people in on bits and pieces that are convenient to say at the time. We confess certain things, while other things we hold tight to our chest. All the while, we tout our authenticity but we still have our secrets that we wouldn’t dare let someone else in on!
  2. The danger of authenticity for the sake of expediency. This is where authenticity is used as a means to an end. We aren’t authentic to be authentic. We are authentic in order to accomplish an alternative agenda (to appear to be a better speaker, teacher, preacher or just to get someone else to open up about their own lives quicker). Authenticity becomes a tool rather than a quality.
  3. To be cool. Believe it or not, some people preach about their faults in order to sound cool. They want young people to know they can relate and connect. Ironically, authenticity itself can become a facade.
  4. The easy way out – we get in an accountability discussion and instead of really being authentic, we pick one of those “little sins” to confess to the group. People give us praise for being willing to share something like that…but if only they knew what we weren’t telling them! The more compliments we get, the more we might actually believe we are genuinely authentic.
  5. Authenticity to elicit compliments. Here we aren’t so concerned about being real as we are about getting praise from others.
  6. Authenticity for the sake of shock value. You don’t see this one as much although it does exist. This can be used to make the point “see how far I have come” or it can just be an attention grabber. Either way, if the focus is on self rather than God working in you then it becomes pointless.
  7. To think authenticity can happen in a room with between 15 and 1000 people in it. It just can’t. In churches we have to provide more means for people to meet together in smaller groups and away from the church building.
  8. To think authenticity is not important. You know how it goes…you ask someone how they are doing, they answer you honestly, and you wish you never had asked!
  9. Thinking honesty about sin might make a weak brother more likely to stumble. There is a fear among some that if you start getting honest about sin in our lives that it might make more people stumble if they knew we did this or that ourselves. We do have to be honest about our shortcomings and honest about just how devastating the effects are in our relationship with God. We can never make sin seem appealing, acceptable, or beneficial.
  10. To think it is okay to do as long as you are honest about it. This one is a real biggie. You see this all the time…someone does something heinous and their rationale was “at least I was honest about it.” As if that makes it alright! Authenticity does not mean something loses its shame or is no longer destructive. In fact, I believe sin can be even more destructive once we fool ourselves into thinking its not.

What would you add?