One More Guilt Vs. Grace

I was once again thinking over the guilt vs. grace thing. If you want to read my other posts on guilt vs. grace go to here, here, here, and here.

So while I was driving into Gaylord the other day, I was listening to the podcast, Pray-As-You-Go. The verse for the day’s prayer was Mark 8:27-33. I had been thinking about this the other day and so when this verse came up, I decided that I needed to share this.

On Wednesday, James had a great message for the kids about the vision you have, being narrowed by the things and people that surround you. The story that he told was of a girl that he knows in a metropolitan area who knew Christ years ago (The verse from Mark 8 of Peter confessing who Jesus is.). So she knew Christ, but in the course of life surrounded herself with friends that hang at the bar all the time, so the guys she dated were losers. So her opinion of guys were that they were only one thing. She thought that maintaining her purity was unrealistic, because the guys that asked her out were always from the bar and they only wanted one thing.

This goes along with a post I recently wrote about the danger of listening to one story. Watch the video from that post (It’s 20+ minutes), but worth getting through. In this case this girl listened only to her story and girlfriends’ story that all guys are losers, and to her the life of purity and doing the things that God and Christ would want us to do, is a fairy tale.

However, as the author from the TED talk points out she would be suffering from the fact that she is thinking about only one story. The analogy of life and story is a pretty good one. So we often hear from kids that they are stuck in their story. Don Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz, often talks about life as a story, and recently offered a conference about changing your story. Write a new chapter. This also blends in with what James preached on Sunday about vision and how God and Jesus allow you to have a larger vision, and in essence, find away to write a new chapter in your story.

I think that in some ways in Sunday School and youth ministry we have taught the black and white thinking to black and white thinkers (pre-adolescent kids) that when we are sharing what should be transformative, ends up sounding like rules, and behavior modification. And while modification in behavior is a good things in some respects, I think that has left out the grace that God promises through Christ.

I’m beginning to think that the moralistic therapeutic deism that Christian Smith and Kenda Creasy Dean wrote about, is brought about by rules and behavior modification. Recently, I was reading from another youth ministry blogger, that the kids aren’t leaving the church as much as the church is leaving them. What I mean, is that we teach a form of behavior modification, and once they go to school or find jobs in the world, they get challenged. Since they are locked in on a rules based story, once they screw up with something that they think is major, they think that they can’t change their story.

Grace is the key to change this. Not the cheap type of grace that Paul preached against, but one where if you screw up, you can come back, God will take you back, and change your story. We see this in the prodigal son, and in John 21:15-19, which is where I was headed, where Jesus restores Peter.

Remember, Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and then denied Him just before He was crucified. Peter was ready to go back to fishing, seeing that he could only see the story that was laid out for him. However, Jesus shows up on the beach and Peter swims ashore (cue Far, Far Away by Five Iron Frenzy). Now Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, 3 times. While it is painful to Peter, Christ restores him. Peter then went on as a leader in the early church. Peter saw that he had a different story to live.

So what situation blinds you to a story that you think you can’t get out of? What is limiting your vision? Do you know that God wants to write a new chapter to your story?

Why am I writing on Shame and Grace?

I’m not sure why, but the last couple of months, I have been pulled into thinking about shame, guilt, and grace. Since I work with teens, I know that some of this has come about because of their questions and dramas, and some from other adults. These questions of how do I handle others sin and how do I handle my own sin have been running around in my mind. Of course, I think this started back when I wrote about things that I can’t blog about, and then about transparency.

It seems that I have been running into lots of writings and sermons with these themes as of late. Here was a great one from Imago Dei Portland:  The Gospel of Matthew, Part 22: Matthew 9:1-17

Updated: Shame and Guilt: Why Do We Put Ourselves Through It


Update: I realized later that I don’t think that I answered the question, and I read another bloggers post on grace that I want to share.  The update is after the 7th paragraph.

I do a lot of thinking. Probably too much, but it has its advantages. I’ve become quite adept at picking up on patterns. After 10+ years in youth ministry, if I get a good chance to get to know a kid, I can usually tell when they are beginning to get unfocused. The problem I run into is that I have to confront them about what I observe. I have a hard time doing that. If the kids are into something that they shouldn’t be, it usually comes out sometime down the line. However, it’s that intervening time that always amazes me. The fact that they will get themselves into something, and when they want to get out, they can’t say it. Something stops them. Usually, it is shame or guilt of the thing that they are doing.

About 5 years ago, we had a group of kids in the ministry that were highly dramatic. One evening, one of them left the praise and worship time during the service, with at least one or two friends in tow. When I asked them what was going on, the one that left originally said that I would get mad if she told me. I reassured her that I wouldn’t, but she wouldn’t tell me. Later, I found out much later that she had been cutting herself. Shame or guilt prevented her from coming forward and speaking the thing that had her in bondage, and taking the freedom from guilt through grace.

As I think about it, this is part of the justifying grace that we talk about in church. Just as if I’d not sinned, as we like to say in Emmaus. The thing that I try to get kids to do is take that step. When I’m aware of something that is holding them back, I try to get them to speak it, as is says in James 5:16. However, sometimes that is only the beginning. Usually, the guilt or shame has to do with the feeling that they have let everyone down. Like they aren’t the good kids their parents tell them that they are. Typically, they are still good kids and the things that they have done, while not what we would want them to do, doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person.

If the guilt or shame hasn’t been dealt with in the past, it becomes a wound in the spirit that continues to require attention. It keeps bringing the wounded person back to the fact that they feel unworthy of the good things that God has given them. I know of few people that don’t have to admit their guilt in some way. Experience has taught me that one of two things happens, they find some way to numb the pain from the wound, or they admit it, get help and comfort and move on. The latter is what God wants for us. I find that with youth, they may tell their youth pastor or some adult that they trust, which may partially heal the wound, but they never tell the person that they feel won’t understand the most, their parents. Then go onto the next relationship, or drug, or drink, or what have you, to medicate the part of the pain that is still around. That pain comes around intermittently driving us into a dark place, leaving us feeling helpless.

A youth worker conference I once attended had a speaker (I don’t remember who) related a story that he had counseled a girl who became sexually active with a boyfriend who she ended up breaking up with eventually. Somewhere in the course of their escapades, she had a pregnancy scare. If I remember his story right it was after they had broken up. She wouldn’t go to her parents for comfort, but rather to her friends. She got some comfort, but was always reminded by something that she wasn’t a “good kid,” because she wouldn’t admit what had happened to her parents. He lost touch with her after she met this really great guy, and went off to college. So he doesn’t know if her pain was resolved. The one thing he said was that even though her parents would have been disappointed,  they  would have done anything for her, and walked with her through this pain. Instead, she probably still gets reminded about it. Hopefully, she won’t keep running from that pain, and has spoken about the pain.

The idea is that God wants us to be whole healthy people, not walking wounded. In Celebrate Recovery, we go through the 12 steps, one of which is realizing that we eventually have to make amends for the things we have done to others. Making amends usually helps to heal the old wound so that they can go on living their life without the pain recurring later. Something that usually gets numbed by something else.

There are times when I wish I knew how to coax the kids in the youth group into living a more transparent life. However, we adults aren’t much different. We succumb to shame and guilt to hide what we have done, only to tell people that it isn’t any of their business, when they try to help. That’s why one of my most despised phrases is, “but you don’t understand.” It’s just an excuse to throw up a wall and keep the shame and guilt in. However, pain is pain. The experiences are different, and through shared experiences we are healed and can move on. That’s what God wants. We are to be hands and feet, helping to heal and continue our short journeys, in this life.


Update:  I realized that I didn’t answer the question about why do we put ourselves through it. The simple answer is pride. We think we can do this by ourselves. We think that if we screw up, that it doesn’t really affect anybody, but ourselves. We think that we are beyond fixing. We are too bad for God to use us.  We feel that we don’t deserve the love from family, friends, and God.

So what can counter this? Adam Mclane had a great post today on grace.

Failure is a part of our walk with Christ. Some would say it is the beginning of our walk with Jesus. It’s part of being a leader. It’s part of maturing. It’s part of learning.

You simply cannot walk with Jesus in a state of false perception of yourself, your mess, and your unique ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

(Read the whole thing.) We need to embrace the fact that we are all imperfect and that walking with Christ means we have to accept our mess and that He does as well. From there, He will work to fix you.

So give yourself some grace and everyone else. God already has.

A Little More About Transparency

A little blog I read everyday, is Jessica Hagy’s Indexed. Her post from today (12/13) was great and I felt that it was something to pass along to all of my young friends in our youth group as well as a few others.

As you all get older you will discover more about yourselves and in so doing, begin to discover what you know about others. I think this goes along with my post about being transparent. Some recent events have lead me to think that you can tell the people who don’t know much about themselves, because they don’t have such a hard time with knowing others.  I’m in youth ministry because I have felt a call to help the teens and young adults know who they are and thereby, know others. Those alive in Christ know themselves, and can be transparent about who they are. This is a never ending process, as the graph would suggest. As I admit in my previous post, as transparent as I try to be, there are aspects of me that are still unknown to me and probably the world. So I keep trying to allow people to know about me and in turn know them.

A Post on Things I Find Hard to Blog About

This little discussion has come about from a few youth group conversations and some recent conversations with family members. Earlier this year, with the church split, I was basically in a meltdown mode. I was emotionally all over the place. My dad suggested that I blog about it. I did, kind of. However, I knew that if I did there might be people hurt, confused, or mad with what I have wrote. So for the detailed stuff, I went to my Evernote account. Evernote is a note taking service. I can write notes and stuff and keep it behind a password. This has helped me get through some of the more difficult days as of late, without putting strange, depressing status message on FB and Twitter, or post that would hurt on my blog. I struggle with the balance of speaking truth in love. I love all of my friends and family. I would love some to be able to read some of these posts, but they would have to be put in context on what I was feeling and why I felt that way when I wrote it. Not that there is anything mean or nasty, but I have said things, when I was younger, that was meant to be positive, only for it to come across poorly and what was received was less than being loved by me. So I resort to having to put these things behind a password. The only exception is my wife, well my parents too. We usually talk about everything.

However, (now the real post is beginning) that isn’t what God meant for us. The original idea was that we were to be transparent with God and with each other. This is illustrated, by the fact that in Genesis 2:25 where it is said that they were naked and felt no shame. Isn’t that what we strive for? Being naked, well, in this case in metaphorical terms of being transparent, and having no shame. Obviously, there was nothing that came between Adam and Eve. They may have been physically naked and not had any shame, but I’m of the opinion that they could talk to each other and to God for that matter without holding anything back, and still feel no shame.

It is when “the fall” occurs that the transparency is gone. In Genesis 3:6-11, as God was walking through the garden, they hid because they were naked. Because they had done the wrong thing (eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil), in this case they became aware of the fact that they had disobeyed God. So they try to sew fig leaves together to cover themselves. This is pretty typical. Do the wrong thing, and cover it up when you realize that it was the wrong thing, and don’t tell the ones you love that you messed up, or even blame them.

Ever since, we have constantly had a disconnection from God…and from each other. I think it is important to point out that when the fall of man occurred, that there wasn’t just a separation from God, but in our personal relationships. Even the best relationships still hold back information afraid or ashamed to admit something from our past. However, through Jesus Christ, he comes to bridge that separation with God, and each other. Imagine that we did nothing for selfish gain, but in a true Spirit of love. Even if we did mess up, even if it was something that was considered major, and in most people’s eyes you were considered bad, that family, friends, and the community would rally around you and not excuse the sin, but help to restore you to wholeness. This is possible with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

“But you don’t understand…,”How many times have I heard that? In 10+ years of youth ministry, I’ve heard that so many times, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. God has put people in your path, that are full of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you! So you may not have experienced the same thing, but pain is pain. In my post about how I was leaving Facebook for a while, I shared that it was as painful as two break ups with girls I dated. One of which, was a girl that I lost my virginity to. The pain from each break up and the church split were on par with each other. Soul ties were made, in some case from physical intimacy, and in the other from close friendships that are for now not necessarily lost, but at least awkward because of the fall out from the split. In the case of the girls, I wandered around disconnected from most people and ashamed of what had happened. In the case of the church split, I am healing well, as friends, family, and community, not caring what side of the line I stood on, have rallied around me in the spirit of love, and restored me, well at least some of them. So remember, find someone you trust, to be transparent with, and follow James 5:16. To confess your sins to another and God, will set you free. It did me, so many years ago.

While I am more transparent with people now than I was 10, 15, 20 years ago, I still have more to do. However, what holds me back, are the ones who are not as spiritually mature and would have a hard time being transparent themselves. So I continue to work on the way that I love people, being as transparent as possible. I pray that they are with me. That way one day, I can post things that I find hard to blog about, currently.