Tag Archives: shame

“Give me a drink”–a study in shame

If you haven’t lately, I would suggest that you read John 4 before reading this.

I’ve been thinking about this woman lately. I’ve preached on this before, but this is an account that floats around the mind and hits you in the heart.

The traditional interpretation is that Jesus sits at the well, confronts the woman with her fornicating ways, she tries to change the subject and then he talks about worship.

With that interpretation, it is rather difficult to get from point A to point B. How does living water fit in with her 5 husbands, her living situation and worship in spirit and in truth?

And this got me thinking about their first exchange together, which sets the scenario for the entire discussion.

7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.”
8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
(John. 4:7-9)

A hot, dusty afternoon. Jesus is tired. He is sitting by the well. It is clear that he is Jewish and that he is a rabbi.

A woman comes alone to draw water. She is tired. She is an outcast in her own community. She knows what it is to be unwelcome, unwanted, unloved. And then she sees Jesus.

You can just see the roll of her eyes. “Great. A Jew. All I need today.”

She knew that in a Jew’s eyes, she had three strikes against her. First, she was a Samaritan. An unclean race, mixed-blood, idolatrous worship – most Jews would go all the way around Samaria rather than risk being defiled by contact with all of the unclean people there.

Second strike against her, she was a woman. A Rabbi would pray, “I thank God that I am not a Gentile, not a woman, and not a slave.”

And third strike, she was a sinner. Everyone knew it. She was living with a guy without marrying him. She had been divorced 5 times. She was probably used as an example to scare children into proper behavior.

And then she sees Jesus. “Ugh. I am so not in the mood for this today!”

And he astounds her with a few simple words. “Give me a drink”.

She is stunned. Even touching this woman would make him “unclean” according to Jewish thought. Even the dust on the ground is unclean. And he wants to drink out of MY vessel?

When you see the scenario for what it is, you realize that something far deeper is going on.

This story is about shame. Shame is universal. We all dread and fear being cast out, being despised. No one dreams of being stupid and unwanted and on the outside looking in.

I am one who knows that feeling. As a child, the congregation would gather in circles after the service to talk (watch how people do that. It is fascinating). I would try to join a circle, and my brothers would move in front of me slowly to make it clear that I wasn’t welcome there.

I know that feeling. It is called “Shame”.

You don’t belong. Get out. You aren’t one of us. You are filthy. Defiled. Unclean. Dirty. Just go away.

And people deal with it in all kinds of ways. We shame others, thinking it will take away our shame. We lash out in anger, or we boast arrogantly, or we exaggerate our successes, depending on them to give us that elusive feeling that maybe our lives aren’t useless and wasted, that maybe we are accepted and loved…

But our shame has a reason. We were cast out of Eden. We used to be in God’s presence – welcomed and loved. But then we fell. We turned our backs on God, and learned that we were naked. And then we knew what shame was. We tried to sew fig leaves together. We hid from God and from each other.

Shame makes us lonely, for we hide our true selves, terrified that someone will find us out. And at the same time, we long to be known. Longing for intimacy and terrified of it at the same time.

It is a horrible way to live.

And it is exactly what Jesus came into the world to free us from.

“Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus, greater far than all my sin and shame…”

This woman knew what shame was. She had been rejected five times, and now is trying to belong by simply living with a man who doesn’t respect her enough to marry her.

She is cast out in her own village. And she is a Samaritan woman. She knows what it is to be rejected, despised, thrown out like garbage.

And now, something astounding. “Give me a drink.”

He then talks about living water, and the thirst for belonging and purpose, the cleansing of the Holy Spirit…

But something else needs to happen. “Call your husband and come here.”

She says, “I have no husband.”

And he says, “I know. You have had five husbands. I know who you are, I know what you have done. I know what has been done to you. I know your shame. I know your fear. I know you. And I want to be with me. I want your service. I want to drink from your bucket. I want you to come with me into my father’s house.”

She isn’t changing the subject. She knows that this conversation is about cleanliness. She is unclean, meaning that she is not fit to enter into God’s sanctuary. But this man is talking about drinking from her vessel. Is she clean, or isn’t she?

“Our fathers taught us to worship on this mountain. But you say Jerusalem. Who is right?”

And he answers her. Worship isn’t about performing the ritual right in the hopes that God will be coerced into doing what you want. Both temples are going away. (But, as it turns out, the Jews were right about Jerusalem). But now, the reality has come.

Jesus is here. He is sent by the Father to seek and save that which was lost. He was sent to gather the sheep together into one fold. He came into the world to save his own.

And he had a woman that he loved in a little village in Samaria. The whole world might think she was nothing, but the Father was seeking her.

And Jesus found her and brought her to himself, taking her shame and giving her glory.

“The father is seeking such to worship him.”

There is much more to say here. There is a lot about thirst, about water, about cleansing, about the Holy Spirit, about the Father.

There is a lot about worship, about Spirit and truth. There is a lot about how Christ makes us acceptable.

But the whole passage is about shame and belonging. Jesus came to bring us to Himself. He desires us to be with him where he is. He seeks and saves his people because he wants to.

He took this woman, cast out as a sinner, unclean, unwelcome, alone – and gave her purpose, gave her meaning, gave her glory. In other words, he gave her himself.

Glory, you see, is the opposite of shame. And glory is belonging to Christ. We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Earthly glory fades away and is replaced with shame. In the end, those who seek glory on this earth hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Depart from me, I never knew you…” the ultimate shame.

In the world, you might be like this woman. Outcast, lonely, shamed, unwanted. Insignificant in this world. But take heart. This world is not the last word. We have laid in heaven for us a crown of glory that can never be taken away. Significance, beauty, cleanliness, the proper clothing (!), and we are accepted in the beloved.

Because Jesus took our shame upon himself, and was raised from the dead. Crowned with glory and honor, for us – just as it was for this woman.

He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Wherefore hath God highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name.

He is our glory, our crown, our purpose. When we know him and he knows us, we belong. Even though belonging to Christ means that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, often times outcast and scattered, yet he gathers us together.

The father is seeking us.

How astounding is that??

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thoughts on shame

Shame is universal. It isn’t a gender thing. All humans born of Adam are conceived and born in sin. Sin generates shame. Adam and Eve knew that they were naked.

Seeking to cover up that nakedness is also universal. We blame others. We attack ourselves. We sew all sorts of fig leaves and hide in all sorts of bushes to seek to cover our shame.

Shame isn’t an emotion. Shame is the fear that there is a standard to which you don’t measure up.

Sin misdirects our shame. We seek to meet different standards to cover our shame and continually miss the mark.

We cover our shame by destroying what we perceive to be the threat.

We cover our shame by boasting, by our feats of manliness, by works of charity, by taking a gun, by reviling others, by ranting on social media, by storming the capitol, … the examples are as varied as humans are varied…

Covering shame is universal, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Shame can only be covered one way: Come out of the bushes and stand naked before God and wait for him to clothe you (Please read Genesis 3).

We “come out of the bushes” by acknowledging our sin and shame before God without excuse.

We stand naked by acknowledging our sin without excuse, without shifting the blame on how she was dressed, how drunk you were, how someone incited you, how “the woman gave to me, and I did eat…” Standing naked means saying “Lord, have mercy upon me. A sinner.”

Waiting for God to clothe you is to receive the perfect righteousness, satisfaction and holiness of Christ which only comes as a free gift. It is never earned. It is always free. It is given to all who ask for it.

The call of the gospel is “Where are you?” We come out of hiding. We stand naked before God trembling and afraid. And we receive the perfect clothing of the righteousness and satisfaction of Jesus Christ. This is the gospel. There is no other.

Whenever a pastor teaches that shame can be covered in any other way, he has failed to grasp the power of the gospel.

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Stay-at-home mom? Or career woman?

There is an article going around by Dennis Prager. It was sent to me and I was asked to comment on it. Normally, I don’t have time to comment on every hair-brained idea that floats around on the internet, but this one is being shared positively by many Christians. I would suggest that you read it before you continue so that you know what I am talking about. Or not. The gist is the same tired thing that I’ve been hearing since the 60s. “Gals, you won’t find fulfillment from a career. You will only find fulfillment from marriage and children. Get married and have children before it is too late.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I love children. My dear wife is an intelligent, strong and industrious woman and she stayed home and took care of the house and children. That is not my beef here. By beef is that the gospel is at stake here. It really is.

For some reason, we as protestant children of the Reformation are very, very clear when it comes to debating with Roman Catholics or Arminians about justification. We are saved by the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to our account by faith alone, and that, not of yourselves. It is a gift of God.

Amen. We believe it. We confess it. We celebrate it. We can quote Edwards and Owen; Calvin and Turretin; Machen and Bavinck. We can construct fool-proof logical arguments about the dangers of a “works-based” system and warn most ominously against it. Put us toe to toe with a modernist, and we’ll go to the mat fighting, without mussing our trendy beard or spilling a drop of our IPA.

And then we talk to our wives and daughters, and all of it goes out the window. And all we can do when it comes to the women in our churches is say, “Do this, and you will live.”

But this is the law; not the gospel. Please read Romans 10 carefully, and you will see what I mean.

The problem with the article is NOT whether women should have a career, or whether they should stay at home and have children. The facts seem pretty clear. If you put every minute into your career in your twenties and thirties, you will have a hard time raising children and getting married. God only gave us a certain amount of time.

But so what? I am a full-time pastor. I could also go to work as a lawyer and become a professor as well. But I wouldn’t do all three of them very well, and I’d probably die trying. This is just wisdom. I won’t ever be infinite. Wisdom dictates that I embrace my finitudevand give God glory, as the only infinite, wise God.

If the caller had merely said, “If you pursue a high-powered career, marriage and children might be difficult. You only have a certain number of years on the earth” I would have no problem. But that isn’t what she said.

Let’s go back to the beginning of time.

27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27 NKJ)

This is the purpose for human-kind. We were never made to be originals. We were made to reflect God. We either bear the image of God, or we bear the image of the devil. But we cannot be original. In Eden, man and woman walked and talked with God. This was their purpose. In their relationship with God, they were rightly related to one another, to creation, and to their own bodies.

In this relationship with God, they found their identity, their self-worth, their purpose. They found respect and dignity. They were naked and not ashamed. The weren’t objects, but humans in God’s image.

But as you know, man fell and was driven from Eden. The desires that men and women were created with were still there, but now they sought to fulfill those desires with created things, not in relationship with God.

22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves,
25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 1:22-25)

They thought that they could restore dignity and worth, intimacy and significance, through the things under the sun.

And what they found is what Solomon wrote about in the book of Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Everything under the sun – empty, vain, useless. Is it anything?

Nope. Not here. Nothing here.

The fact is, back to our original article, you can be a career woman of the highest degree, you can accomplish everything you set your heart to accomplish – Solomon did. And you will find what he found: One event happens to all. You die. Worms eat you. Everybody forgets you existed.

OR you can stay at home and raise your kids. You can master Classical education and parse sentences in three languages while wiping spaghetti-o’s off of the kitchen counter, balancing a perfectly well-behaved child on your lap the whole time, while picking up LEGOS with your toes.

And your kids will leave the home and go their own way. You will grow older. And then you  will die, they will bury your body in the ground and worms will eat you.

You could even be buried right next to the wealthiest CEO in the world. This is what Hamlet was talking to Yorick about centuries ago. In fact, it is probably what Willis was talking about as well.

It is just wisdom. We forget it, because we have banished death to the back corners of soft organ music and the curtains of the hospital bed. We forget that it is ugly, harsh, cruel, relentless, and without regard to whether you are a CEO or a peasant.

The gospel isn’t about a rosy colored view of the world, about making your mark under the sun or finding your fulfillment in the arms of a man.

It is far more substantial than that. Please do not confuse conservative politics with Christianity. They are not the same thing.

The problem with this woman was NOT that she had a career. It is rather that she thought that a career would give her life. She thought that if she did things right, and climbed the ladder high enough in the corporate world, she could kick her way past the flaming sword and crash her way into Eden.

And then when that failed – when she found that she still was unhappy, unfulfilled, empty – she mourned the loss of children and husband. She wished she had substituted on law – corporate climbing – for another law – married with children.

But whichever way she went, neither way was back into Eden. Career woman? Or married with children? Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. The voice in the back of all of our minds is still shouting, “And then what? What good is it?” This is the knowledge of the wrath of God. It is shame, that voice that tells us that we aren’t enough, we aren’t loved, we aren’t worthy. And it won’t be fixed by mastering a career, or by having a thousand children. Our worth can only come from one place, and that place was lost to us when we were thrown out of the Garden.

There are a lot of ways to move away from Eden. But there is only one way back in.

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19-22)

Jesus is the express image of the father. He is the second Adam, who fulfilled what the first Adam failed at. To use the Old Testament imagery, he took the sword of the wrath of God against sin, though he was without sin. And since he is perfect, without blemish and without spot, he now stands before God in our place.

And if we are united to him by faith, we are already there.

Women, I will speak to you directly now, for you probably haven’t heard anyone say this before.

You  will never find fulfillment and purpose by a career. And also, you will never find fulfillment and purpose with a husband and a quiver full of children.

Notice how the writer of this article depends upon the approval or disapproval of a man for her own worth. “Men don’t want competitors. They want a partner.” True. Probably. I don’t know. Who cares?

Your life will not be found in the arms of a man.

Just like all of you men reading this. Ecclesiastes spells it out perfectly. Under the sun, all is vanity. Married, career, pleasure, mirth, wisdom, foolishness…

There is no life there, for the ground is cursed. The relationships are cursed. Bearing children is cursed. Unless God does something to restore Eden, what does it matter if you have 10 children or die childless?

But God has done something. He sent his Son, the perfect image-bearer of the God, so that in him we DO have purpose, meaning, significance.

He took the thorns of the ground on his head, so that work was no longer cursed, but had eternal blessings – the cup of cold water and the meal prepared for the hungry. He was stripped naked, so that we might be clothed and dignified. He was beaten for our iniquities.

In him, we have significance and worth, and we will never, ever find it under the sun. You will never find pleasure in your work, and you will never find peace in your home as long as you continue to think that life will come by doing everything right. Life comes only by faith.

So should a woman in her twenties strive for a career? Or should she strive for a husband and children? Should she somehow do both?

Here’s the answer:

If Christ has died for you, then God already has accepted your work. In him, you have life and love and joy and peace. In him, you are complete. Now live like it.

10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. (Ecc 9:10)

Or, to put it like Paul does:

31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1Co 10:31)

If you get married, marry in the Lord. Look for worth in the arms of the savior, and be a wife and mom to the glory of God, if that is what you choose to do, and God gives you children.

If you work as a lawyer, a doctor, a police officer, a mail carrier, do it well, reflecting the image of God in your work, to the best of your ability.

And whatever else you do, don’t get caught up in the opinions of men. You have one master, and he is in heaven. His yoke is easy. His burden is light.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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How Shame Drives Us From Christ

This story came up in my newsfeed today. I am taking a sick day today, but there is so much wrong here, and it is so prevalent, that I wanted to make a few comments.

For some reason, Evangelical America has decided that shame is an effective way to battle sin. My whole life, I have heard that “Israel forgot how to blush” (Jer. 6:15) which led to their destruction. Therefore (so it is taught) when we catch someone in some kind of sin, the best thing we can do for them is publicly shame them so that they won’t sin any more.

This is actually practiced in so many churches, but it seems to always be selectively applied. The only people I have ever heard of being publicly shamed like this – forced to stand before the whole church, or the whole school, and confess their sins – are teenage girls who are found to be pregnant. I find it abhorrent, and contrary to the gospel of  Christ. And yet, it still seems to be the consistent practice of Evangelical America.

The article linked above does an excellent job in its critique and how it actually encourages abortion. But there are a few theological issues as well.

First, to clarify the Jeremiah passage, the prophet was not addressing those with tender consciences who needed comfort and hope, already plagued with guilt. He was speaking to the hardened, oppressive, idolatrous leaders who were casting their children into the fire, crushing the poor and the widows, and abusing and destroying without any twinges of conscience whatsoever. Jeremiah is rebuking their hardness of heart and was not expecting any repentance from them. It was not written to teach us that shame is an appropriate corrective to sin but to warn us of those with “seared consciences”. There are those who can do the most horrific things and feel no pains of guilt whatever. To apply this passage solely to teenagers found pregnant is simply abusive.

There is no biblical warrant for public confession of private sins. And, no, sex before marriage is not a sin against the whole school – or the whole church, for that matter.

Even in the Old Covenant, before the Gospel of Jesus Christ was fully revealed, two kids who got pregnant before marriage was not considered the worst imaginable sin that must be publicly exposed and shamed. The boy was either to provide a dowry and marry the girl. Or if the father thought that marriage was a bad idea, the boy was to provide a dowry and leave town.  Neither one was stoned or publicly shamed.

That being said, it might be good for us to remember our first parents after their first sin. Shame drove them into the bushes, hiding from the face of God. It was the voice of God that lovingly drew them out of the bushes. “Adam, where are you?”

They didn’t die. God told them the truth, but he didn’t shame them. Rather, he provided for them coverings, pointing to the perfect sacrifice of His Son, to be revealed in due time. Now that the gospel has been revealed to us, we know that the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ covers our sin and our shame and brings us out of hiding. That is what being a Christian is. We live openly and honestly, not seeking to cover our shame by shaming others, but by coming again and again to the cross. Why an organization that calls itself Christian would drive sinners into the bushes is beyond my understanding.

The kind of “Christianity” practiced by so many, which publically shames young girls for sin, is not the Christianity of the Bible. Shame is intolerable to the human spirit and must be covered. We have only two options: Cover with fig leaves of our own making, or come to Christ for what he has offered us. When we come to Christ, shame is taken away so that we might stand before God and one another. When we try to cover our own shame, we increase it. We may temporarily feel better, but eventually, the shame returns.

The worst part of what happened to this young woman is that she learned about a false Christ – a Jesus who shames sinners, who turns an angry and harsh face on those who confess and repent, who demands his pound of flesh before he offers peace. She was taught that Jesus first ridicules and gleefully watches us weep before he grudgingly offers forgiveness. She was taught that even after she goes through all of that, Jesus is still ashamed to be seen in public with her. She was taught that Jesus was ashamed to be her God, ashamed of her and her baby!

No wonder the young people are leaving the church in droves! They aren’t leaving the Church of Jesus Christ, they are leaving the Church of the Blind Leaders of the Blind.

Jesus came to call us out of hiding. To offer covering for our shame by taking it upon himself. He came, not to ridicule and mock us, but to bear all of that shame and guilt and take it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Heb 2:11 ESV)

Jesus offers salvation, not shame, to all who come to him in faith. Shame is reserved for those who refuse to come, who refuse to repent. Shame is reserved for the Day of Judgment, but it has no place in the Gospel.

How should the church respond then when a young girl is found to be pregnant?

First, reach out with love and support. Do not pretend that sin is not sin, but respond to it honestly according to scripture. I would hope that the pastor and elders have forged an open relationship with this girl before this happened, so that she will feel safe with them, because there are some important questions. Was this assault? Who is the father? Did she feel compelled? Was there a power imbalance?

If this is simply a boyfriend/girlfriend situation that got out of hand, they will need counseling and help to deal with the shame and guilt that they already feel. Otherwise, if they get married, they will carry that shame and guilt into their marriage bed, which will be damaging to the “one-flesh” relationship. But those are topics that are far bigger than can be addressed here.

But more importantly than all of this, they need to know again the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers his perfect righteousness without shame, without reproach, without grudging, to all who come to him. No strings, no penance, no public ridicule. This is what the free offer of the gospel IS. It’s about time we got it right.

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